In Great Britain, we institutionalised discrimination against women. Within the last 100 years, women could not vote or be elected. Indeed, it was only last year that this House saw females join the Bishops’ Bench. Although thousands of entrepreneurial women ran all manner of small businesses in this age of discrimination, they did not really run large businesses. Systems like this gratuitously waste half the brains in

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the land and ignore half the entrepreneurs, which is the biggest waste of resources that any country can engage in. Wasting resources on this scale means less help for those who cannot work. I am glad that we have changed.

When I ran Manganese Bronze, the company which manufactured London black taxis, I used to have many conversations with drivers about all sorts of issues. As technology developed, these conversations increasingly moved online. Once, I engaged perhaps six or seven emails with an Australian taxi driver about the unusual regulation of taxis in London and the great advantages for disabled people. It was only at the end of the conversation that I realised that the driver was in fact a woman. Of course, it was wrong of me to presume that a cab driver was a man. It was a timely lesson, which I have not forgotten. Not only did I not know that she was a woman, I did not know whether she was deaf or in a wheelchair.

That made me realise that the internet is the greatest technological force for good and will allow women to drive future economic growth. Indeed, it will allow anybody with a good idea to drive future economic growth. Doing business over the internet can abolish the cause of discrimination. It takes away the excuse that has been used by so many people in the past.

The problem with discrimination is that it is often in the eye of the beholder. There are differences throughout our human race, which is what makes life such fun, but these differences should not be important and should not hold back individuals. Men are statistically more likely to take risks than women. Men are also more likely to commit crime, from murder to drug-taking and fraud. They are also more likely to drink themselves silly on champagne, rendering themselves useless to run a business and leaving the Veuve Cliquot to step in and run things. Thank goodness those entrepreneurial widows saved champagne.

Many countries still practise institutionalised discrimination. That is their idiotic privilege, I suppose, and we must respect the rights of sovereign countries to make complete buffoons of themselves. What worries me is when immigrants from those countries come to Britain with the intention of bringing those discriminatory systems into our society. It is said that the Pilgrim Fathers travelling to America on the “Mayflower” did so not to escape religious oppression but rather to find a vacant land where they could introduce it.

My worry is that some of the recent arrivals to Britain, very welcome as they are, seem to carry on with discriminatory practices in their new communities. They need help to appreciate that this is not the way we do things in Britain. An example is female genital mutilation, which colleagues both here and in the other place have done much to outlaw and, crucially, start to bring prosecutions against those who perpetrate that hideous act.

There should not be a separate society of hidden women in immigrant communities in any town in Great Britain. Everyone should have the chance to make the most of their brains, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation. An example of this is sexually segregated audiences for political speeches. That should be offensive to the speakers of whatever

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parties are addressing them. The great universities which host them, such as the LSE, should be appalled.

I am told that this is not discrimination because the audiences are separate but equal—just the same arguments that were advanced for apartheid. In December 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, Mrs Rosa Parks got arrested for sitting in a so-called whites-only seat in a bus. This led to the rise of racial equality as a political movement that changed America, but three other black people moved from their seats that day while Rosa Parks sat firm. All it would take is for the politician speaking to a segregated audience to denounce sexual segregation to that audience rather than mutely accepting it. After all, what is the difference between black citizens sitting in one part of a bus and female citizens in one part of a hall? I am not so sure that there is one.

Business has shown the way in eradicating discrimination, and I very much welcome the chance to celebrate this with colleagues on both sides of this House. Lessons from business should be heeded in other areas of society. I repeat the words of Charb: “No form of discrimination is better or worse than any other”.

5.08 pm

Lord Taylor of Warwick (Non-Afl): My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, for securing this debate. She and other speakers have demonstrated much wisdom and expertise, and we have heard two excellent maiden speeches.

I am delighted to be a supporter of a new initiative called Women’s Work Global, which aims to help professional women who need to take time off work to have children or care for other relatives. All too often, these responsibilities can unfairly disrupt and impede the career of women.

When I was still a junior barrister, one of the few female members in our chambers told the senior managing clerk that she would need some time off to go on maternity leave. He rolled his eyes and moaned, “Oh, all right then, if you must. I had hoped you were taking your career seriously. I tell you what, if you can arrange a morning birth, then I can have you booked into court again for a 2pm start”. Now I know he was only joking, but 30 years afterwards the difficulties that women face in juggling careers with domestic life is still an issue.

There are also unfair perceptions that women have to deal with and overcome. Ridiculous phrases such as “the weaker sex” come to mind. When I was in my teens, I was excited to be selected for the Warwickshire County Cricket colts. It was our first day training. The coach walked over and announced, “Right lads, you are going to have the honour and privilege of bowling at the captain of the England cricket team”. There was a gasp among the squad and our chests filled with pride. Then the England captain came out of the dressing room. There was a shocked silence. One of the squad groaned, “But, sir, it’s a woman, sir”. The coach bellowed, “Well done, lad, you are very observant. Now if you want to stay as a member of this county squad, you will do as you are told”. So, for the next 20 minutes, we aspiring professional male cricketers bowled, without success, as she outplayed us each

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time. The England captain, we later learned, was Rachael Heyhoe Flint—now the noble Baroness, Lady Heyhoe Flint, of Wolverhampton—and a very successful businesswoman.

Women from black and ethnic minority backgrounds have historically faced the double obstacle of racism and issues relating to gender, but there are role models who have triumphed over these. I was privileged to conduct a project recently looking at positive aspects of diversity. This has included me interviewing some successful women from BME communities. For example, Pinky Lilani OBE came to Britain from India more than 40 years ago. She said that when she came to Britain she could not even cook, but in order to get to know her neighbours she started inviting them in to taste this exotic food called curry. She now owns a global food business. She writes cook books and advises restaurants. She is also the founder and chair of a number of awards events, including the Asian Women of Achievement Awards and the Women of the Future Awards.

I also had the pleasure of interviewing Christine Ohuruogu MBE, the Olympic and world 400-metres champion and captain of the England athletics team. She is a businesswoman, too, in that her running success has brought her into the world of sports brand marketing. She explained how she has learned never to give up. In the world 400-metres final in 2013, she was fourth coming round the final bend but went on to win. Christine won by 0.004 of a second, by dipping her head at the winning tape. “It’s never over until it’s over”, she said, smiling. I am not suggesting that every woman, or indeed man, can become an Olympic or world champion, but the principle is that it is never over until it is over. That can apply to all of us—black, white, male or female.

These women have shown, by inspiration and, indeed, perspiration, that success can be achieved. Although 20% of small and medium-sized companies are run by women, there is still so much untapped business talent among women, especially in the BME communities. There are ongoing issues, as we have heard from other speakers, such as the pay gap between women’s and men’s earnings, the cost of childcare, the need for more women in science, technology, engineering and as university vice-chancellors. We have heard that more women now are getting on to company boards, but we still need to make more progress there.

If she does not mind me saying so, I hope that the success of the noble Baroness, Lady Brady, at West Ham United, will inspire the appointment of more female chief executives in the sporting business world, for example, at football clubs, which are still very male dominated. Perhaps I can put out a plea to the noble Baroness, Lady Brady, that she might like to take over my club, Aston Villa. It is a very strong club because, like Samson, it manages to lift up the other 19 clubs in the league. In other words, it is at rock bottom of the league table. Baroness Brady, we need you.

Women-led businesses contribute around £82 billion gross value to the UK economy. I acknowledge that the Government support them in a number of ways, such as helping more women to get online with their broadband challenge fund and their Get Mentoring

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project, but the budgets are modest and I would like to see such projects better resourced and expanded.

Women making a contribution to an economy is not a new thing. There were prominent women business leaders in the Bible, over 2,000 years ago: in the Book of Acts, Lydia ran a fashion company, Priscilla owned an up-market residence franchise and Queen Candace governed her nation’s economy; and Deborah, in the Book of Judges, was the nation’s chief lawyer. There are many more examples. Those biblical heroines—and, indeed, women of today—show that women can be a voice, not just an echo.

5.15 pm

Lord Lansley (Con): My Lords, it is a great privilege to take part in this debate; I am glad to do so. I thank my noble friend Lady Wheatcroft for initiating it. The purpose of our debates is often to decide how we should spend the wealth of this country; it is great to have a debate in which one of the central purposes is to show how we can maximise wealth creation in this country. We have heard in the debate, not least from my noble friend Lady McGregor-Smith, about the availability of productive potential. If women were as entrepreneurially active as men in our economy by 2030, something like £60 billion could be added. That is fantastic, dramatic potential.

We have heard two really impressive maiden speeches, each demonstrating the contribution that the respective speaker has made already to business, the economy and public life in this country—and, if I may say so, what a tremendous contribution they will make to this House. We very much look forward to that.

Why should I say something in this debate? I declare an interest: those who look at the register of interests will find that I am cited as an associate of Low Associates, the company founded in 2009 by my wife, Sally Low. I wanted to bring to this debate a number of illustrations from her experience. The first is that, as my noble friend Lady Wheatcroft said, we cannot ignore but have to live with the characteristics of the challenges that women often face. In 2009, my wife was trying to maintain a long-hours job as director of policy at the British Chambers of Commerce; at the same time, we had two children reaching school age, we lived in Cambridge in my constituency, and I was shadow Secretary of State for Health. The combination of all these things was frankly unsustainable, especially with the high cost of childcare, which has been cited by a number of contributors. So setting up their own business, using their own expertise and doing so from home is the experience of many women. The question is: can they overcome the obstacles?

One might ask my wife, “What are those obstacles?”. Actually, I have never heard her say that they were the consequence of being a woman; if anything, being a woman was an opportunity, bonus and benefit in trying to establish her business, especially since it was all about creating imaginative, high-quality conferences and events principally in Europe; I was occupying Britain, as it were, so she decided to occupy the rest of Europe. Running those kind of events in other countries is all about teamwork and, as has been cited, women

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are often excellent at creating that kind of teamwork—and that is what she has done. Seven years later, she has 16 associates and staff and runs major conferences, but the obstacles were ones that Members of this House will recognise face many small businesses—cash-flow management and trying to win tenders. Particularly in the European context as well as in British public procurement, sometimes those who issue tenders unwittingly discriminate against small businesses and very much favour large businesses, because they put arbitrary size criteria or cash-flow requirements on businesses—whereas, in my experience, often they get better service from small businesses than they do from larger businesses. But we shall leave that aside.

One of the conferences that Low Associates was responsible for managing was the Small and Medium Enterprises Assembly in Luxembourg last year. That was the fourth year they did it and they won the contract to do it again this year and in 2017, bringing that assembly—the leading SME assembly in Europe—to this country when we have the presidency of the European Union. I hope that we will then be looking forward to the continuing benefit of EU membership in a reformed Union.

The focus last November was in part on women entrepreneurs. It illustrated, right across Europe, that much of this is cultural. The data show that women are less likely to start up a business, very often because they see obstacles to being able to launch out on their own, for reasons of financial and other security. They are more likely to close a business for personal reasons. The statistics say that more than 25% of the reasons why women say that they close down a business is for personal reasons; it is about only 14% for men. So women are less likely to start up a business and less likely to grow it, seeing the challenges of personal and family life as impeding that. We should not do that. The cost of childcare should be as much an issue for men as for women. The sharing of parental leave should be the starting point of a cultural shift that says that men and women in partnerships who have caring responsibilities for children or for older people should absolutely share them. They should be no more an obstacle to women’s entrepreneurship than to men’s.

Government cannot legislate for changes in culture. As has been said, sometimes attitudes change slowly. But, just as the gender pay gap is so much smaller among young people, we can hope that there is a generational shift we can push forward on entrepreneurship as well. It will need role models. We have seen some fantastic role models for women here this afternoon and there are many others. If you believe the media and look at the statistics, three years ago, 16 to 21 year-olds asked about who their role models were for entrepreneurship talked about the noble Lord, Lord Sugar, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Richard Branson and, I fear, Donald Trump. We want women role models to be out there in the media. We want women mentors and that mentorship has, quite rightly, been illustrated here.

We want entrepreneurial aspiration. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, that one of the speakers in the assembly last November was Amy Millman

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from Springboard Enterprises. It is an American organisation, but it is about putting money behind women-run and women-owned businesses—since 2000, 599 such businesses, 11 of which have gone to initial public offering, with investment of $7 billion. It is a rational investment because we know that women-owned businesses, when you adjust for every other factor, perform better. That is the economic potential that this country could realise if we push this agenda forward.

5.22 pm

Baroness Burt of Solihull (LD): My Lords, I feel immensely privileged to have been in the Chamber this afternoon. Since I have been here—not a huge amount of time—I cannot think of a debate I have listened to that has been better informed, more interesting and more inspiring.

I add my congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady McGregor-Smith, on her excellent maiden speech, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Rock, on another really fascinating and interesting speech. The noble Baroness, Lady McGregor-Smith, as chairman of the Women’s Business Council, has already made an incredible contribution to the cause of women in enterprise in this country. I know that both new noble Baronesses will make wonderful additions to this House.

As other speakers have said, the potential for women’s contribution to the economy is phenomenal. We contribute much, but even so we are undervalued and our potential is underutilised. It is to one particular aspect of that underutilisation that I address my remarks today: women in enterprise. In the last coalition Government I was the Women in Enterprise champion and published a report urging the Government to do more to help women entrepreneurs by being much more inclusive in their approach and the way they help businesswomen. Some progress has been made but more needs to be done.

However, I will begin at a much earlier time, before I ever thought about a parliamentary career, when I created several small businesses. Those businesses were much more modest than those of the vast majority of contributors to this debate. Nevertheless, I can speak from experience in describing the life of a woman entrepreneur balancing the needs of family and children with growing a business, and all the challenges and uncertainties that that involves. We still succeed, but we could be even more successful if the Government did a few small things.

Only one business in five is majority-owned by a woman, but there could be many more. We have heard some awesome statistics this afternoon but my favourite is from the Women’s Business Council, which estimates that if women set up businesses at the same rate as men, there would be 1 million more businesses in Britain today.

So what can government do to encourage would-be entrepreneurs and help their businesses to grow? During the last Government, several initiatives, such as tax-free childcare, the employment allowance, shared parental leave, and others which other speakers have mentioned, were introduced. However, more needs to be done, as the noble Baroness, Lady McGregor-Smith, said.

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As the Women in Enterprise champion, I pushed the Government to be more inclusive in the way they communicated with women business owners. There is much improvement since the days when some civil servants believed that to be inclusive it was enough to use “gender neutral” language. The My Business Support tool on the Great Business website is much improved, but practical help on the ground is still lacking. The coalition Government abolished regional development agencies and gave local businesses and local authorities a blank sheet of paper on which to create local enterprise partnerships. I am all for devolution, but the lack of guidance and funding has resulted in a very varied group of LEPs, in terms of not just how they function but how well they function. I believe that some LEPs still have no women on their boards, let alone focus on specific local help for women entrepreneurs. Therefore, the first thing the Government could do is ask all the LEPs what they are doing to support women entrepreneurs. That would raise the matter in their awareness, if nothing else. Before the RDAs were dissolved, they had many support schemes for women entrepreneurs. Most of those disappeared, but the more enterprising of them stayed afloat. However, coverage is patchy, to say the least. Every LEP should give some thought to what resource it has in its area, and what is needed by all the diverse people who generate wealth on its patch.

Finally, government can help enormously through having a diverse and inclusive procurement policy. The case for procuring from companies which look like the people who government serve is not only a moral imperative but an economic one. Diverse businesses bring a greater understanding of customers’ needs, services and products are more appropriate and speed to market is faster. The noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, made that point very strongly.

One of the Liberal Democrat contributions to the coalition agreement was to build an aspiration that 25% of government procurement should be from small businesses. It would be a simple matter for this Government to have a similar aspiration for women-owned businesses.

So I say to the Government: please think inclusively when you are communicating with and planning help for business. Look at the performance of the LEPs and ask them, “What are you doing to encourage female entrepreneurs on your patch?”. Set an aspiration of, say, 20% of government procurement to come from women-owned businesses. The percentage figure is less important than bringing diversity of procurement on to the radar of government purchasers. While you are at it, why not appoint another champion for women in enterprise—there are plenty of excellent people in the Chamber this afternoon who could do that job—who could continue the work of bringing a cross-cutting focus from the woman’s perspective to help create greater self-fulfilment for women entrepreneurs and more wealth for Great Britain?

5.30 pm

Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town (Lab): I add my congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft—herself a notable role model—on this debate and the chance it gave us to hear two such

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imaginative and high-quality maiden speeches from the noble Baronesses, Lady McGregor-Smith and Lady Rock. It is good to welcome the sisters, especially to a debate such as this. We have celebrated some notable examples of women in business, such as Dame Stephanie, and we have been particularly honoured to hear some of the high achievers speaking in today’s debate. We need more of their sort.

The noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, told the FT:

“Gender equality in the tech sector will benefit the global economy”.

So will gender equality in every sector benefit the wider economy. Women’s advancement produces better outcomes and prosperity. Indeed, a trained, productive and better-paid female workforce is a surefire way of boosting economic growth, as suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady Brady. As the President of the World Bank said,

“gender equality doesn’t require trade-offs; it only has benefits. And the benefits accrue to everyone, not just women and girls. Societies benefit and as even men are beginning to understand, economies benefit, too”.

It is the responsibility of all of us—government, business, women and perhaps especially men—to make this happen so that UK plc can benefit from this underused talent, by increasing entry into higher-paid and more productive jobs; by extending opportunities, training and promotion to women; and by removing the barriers to better employment for women.

We start, as has been made clear today, from a poor position: 96% of chairs or CEOs of FTSE 100 companies are men. As the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, said, more chairs or CEOs are called “John” than are women. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, reminded the House, the percentage of senior women in the private sector—19%—puts the UK in the bottom 10 countries globally, despite companies in the top quartile of gender diversity being 15% more likely to outperform the industry median, as the noble Baroness, Lady Mobarik, said. Given that women are key consumers, making eight out of 10 purchases, having them shape companies is bound to be good for business.

We can help women progress. Young Enterprise’s Women in Business programme encourages women-led creative start-ups, giving all-female teams the opportunity to set up and run their own businesses, gaining advice from mentors and in workshops, and on bringing a product to market. Participants increased their soft skills by 34%, with improvements in work-readiness and financial capability.

But encouraging and training alone will not help. We have to tackle that gender pay gap, which, to use the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, again, is glaring. At 19%, it is well above the EU average and, sadly, is larger in the private than in the public sector. Overall, it means that, relative to men’s year-round wages, women stop earning on 4 November. Furthermore, the gender pay gap is highest in London and in financial and insurance services. In particular, and perhaps of note to some of us in this House, women in their 50s earn 18% less than men. They are often the “sandwich” carers, looking after children or grandchildren as well as elderly parents.

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Mandating gender pay transparency in large companies will help, but it ignores those millions of women in SMEs and is no substitute for better recruitment, training, promotion, fair pay and the flexible work patterns that were stressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Rock. Transparency alone does nothing about low pay in predominantly female labour forces—retail, hospitality, personal services and residential care—which have a poverty rate of 17% after housing costs, twice that of other employees. Training is key but while the majority of apprentices are women, they are underrepresented in construction and ICT while dominating in health, social care and hairdressing—the low-paid sectors. Indeed, on average female apprentices earn £1 an hour less than their male equivalents.

That gender inequality is felt not just by the people concerned but by the whole economy. The loss of women in science, for example, costs the economy about £2 billion a year. Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum said:

“Only those economies who have full access to all their talent will remain competitive and … prosper”.

The Government themselves have said:

“Our economy is losing out due to women’s academic achievements, experience and talents not being effectively utilised”.

But what are the Government doing about it? They are making work less attractive to women by allowing maternity discrimination to almost double in 10 years, with 54,000 pregnant women and new mothers—that is, one in nine—forced out of their job. They have created barriers to justice for victims of maternity discrimination by their cuts to legal aid and upfront tribunal fees of up to £1,200, leading to Maternity Action’s helpline getting 42 times more calls than it can answer.

Even the Conservative MP Maria Miller has tweeted:

“We cannot allow up to 54,000 new mothers a year”,

to,

“feel they should leave their job”.

So I am afraid that it is no good the Commons Minister admitting that,

“far too many women … face unacceptable treatment in the workplace”—[

Official Report

, Commons, 3/11/15; col. 322WH.]

It is her Government who have made things worse. Labour in government did an enormous amount to increase the fair treatment of women in work through the Work and Families Act, which extended maternity leave to a full year for all employed women, and tripling the number of nursery places. This Government must follow our example. They must walk the walk and not just talk the talk.

5.38 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Baroness Neville-Rolfe) (Con): I thank my noble friend Lady Wheatcroft for securing this debate and for kicking it off so persuasively and amusingly. It is a pleasure to have listened today to so many excellent points and examples of good practice, and to speak on such an important topic.

First, I welcome my noble friends Lady McGregor-Smith and Lady Rock, who made their excellent, interesting and very personal maiden speeches. They

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will contribute strongly to our deliberations over the coming years and it is a real delight to have them on our Benches. As others have done, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady McGregor-Smith, on her work on the Women’s Business Council. I was also glad to hear about the brilliant mentoring of my noble friend Lady Noakes, who helped me to cope with the terrors of the Dispatch Box. She is very strict, for example, about getting titles right for noble Lords and noble Baronesses, which I always struggle with. My noble friend Lady Rock—the lady of imagination, as my noble friend Lord Borwick has christened her—joined other noble Lords in saying that the answer to success in this area is not to impose quotas but to open up the huge potential of women’s future economic contribution.

It might be helpful for a moment if I take a broad view, because like my noble friend Lady Wheatcroft, I love history. I am very conscious that 150 years ago, women were excluded from large parts of economic life as well as suffering other legal disadvantages. The transformation since then, for all sorts of reasons, has been amazing. Although it is always right to concentrate on the task in hand, sometimes we need to look back and remind ourselves what has been achieved.

Women did not start to enter the workplace uniformly across all sectors. They probably first entered new areas of work where they thought they were more likely to be treated fairly. Indeed, that was one of the reasons why, when I left university as recently as the early 1970s, I joined the Civil Service. In particular, there were for a long time relatively few women in the business sector—at any rate at the top level to which I aspired.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Lane-Fox and Lady Uddin, and others said that Steve Shirley—as I will always call her—was an inspiration to many people. That includes me. She gave me my early interest in ICT after I heard her at a management course. I have dealt with technology in almost every job that I have done in a long career in government, retail, media, consultancy and politics, and I very much agree with the importance of technology to today’s debate. We need more women entrepreneurs in the tech sector. I had a round table today on an aspect of the digital single market and was delighted to see a good turnout of senior women.

I also feel that technology is a great enabler. I know how my life changed as a senior executive when I had access to top-quality IT including phones, tablets, computers, videoconferencing and other equipment, and I believe that, as my noble friend Lord Borwick said, it helps to reduce discrimination. It helped me to get on and to juggle my domestic duties with my work duties, although a supportive partner is also incredibly helpful and important. It was good to hear from my noble friend Lord Lansley, who is clearly an example of this species.

The situation is now changing rapidly, and for the better, which must be to the advantage of UK plc. Overall, there are now 14.6 million women in work—more than ever before. This is an increase of nearly 1 million since May 2010, and 200,000 higher than a year ago. In part, this reflects developments such as parental leave, flexible working and state help for parents with the cost of childcare and the sort of provisions we

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have in the Childcare Bill. I do not agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, as there have been improvements, although we can always do better.

I am a glass-half-full person. It is encouraging that the gender pay gap, though far too high, as many noble Lords have said today, is at its lowest on record, at 19.2%, and is virtually eliminated among full-time workers under 40. We are already working with businesses to make sure that all large employers publish gender pay gap information, including bonuses. Indeed, we grasped this issue in this House during the passage of BIS legislation, which the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and I worked on last year. I believe—this is a personal reflection—that some of the differences may reflect the fact that, in my experience of female executives who used to work for me, they are less prone to demand pay rises than their male counterparts. This is worth reflecting upon.

Of course, everything starts with education, and here success has been startling. Girls’ achievements surpass those of boys at almost every level. I agree about the buzz and enthusiasm of girls when one encounters them while visiting schools. But I also noted recent comments from an authoritative female source—the head of UCAS, Mary Curnock Cook—that helping boys should now be the priority, because there are difficulties there as well.

This bodes well for the longer term success of women in all areas of work. Nevertheless, it is still important to seek to raise the aspirations of girls so that they all have a chance to fulfil their potential, and to ensure that success in school and at university is reflected in the workplace.

Encouraging a modern workplace is one reason why the Government have made a commitment to reach a figure of 3 million new apprenticeships in England between 2015 and 2020. Unlike most countries, women are well represented within English apprenticeships. Last year, 233,000 women, or 53%, started an apprenticeship.

Women entrepreneurs—business founders, as my noble friend Lady Jenkin rightly described them—are important in opening up the kind of opportunities that we seek in today’s debate. As my noble friend Lord Lansley said, we need to take advantage of the generational shift. Around 1 million of all SMEs in the UK—more than 20%—were majority-women led in 2014, which was an increase of 170,000 from 2010. In 2015, the Global Entrepreneurship and Development Institute ranked the UK as the best country in Europe and third best in the world for female entrepreneurs. More mundanely, I was delighted to discover recently that, at the British Library intellectual property centre, 58% of users were women. I felt that that was helpful and important for the pipeline.

My noble friend Lady Mobarik said that diversity was very important to successful entrepreneurship and in successful companies. The noble Baronesses, Lady Falkner of Margravine and Lady Uddin, added fascinating insights into the contribution of ethnic and Muslim women. I assure them that we are doing more to encourage diversity on boards and, indeed, in the public sector. That includes a review by Sir John Parker into BME on boards, working towards having no monocultural FTSE boards at all by 2020.

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Finally, I want to talk about one of my own ministerial responsibilities, women on boards. Here, we have benefited, as many have said, from a successful voluntary initiative supported by government and led by the noble Lord, Lord Davies—not only noble but determined and dynamic—who has done a great job. On his watch, female representation on FTSE 100 boards has expanded greatly. There are now no all-male boards in the FTSE 100, and only 16 in the FTSE 250. This was frankly unimaginable not long ago.

We now need to focus on the talent pipeline of capable women, executives and emerging NEDs, to ensure we continue the good work. I hope soon to announce a new chair to lead an independent review, following on from Lord Davies’s work. In addition to maintaining the momentum on FTSE boards, the review will focus on improving representation of women in the executive layer of the FTSE 350.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Rebuck, said, this is critical. The Government have tried to do more in the public sector. In the previous Parliament, we set an aspiration that 50% of new public appointments should be women by 2015. We are all trying hard to achieve that in the public appointments we make. It was ambitious, but it was right to be ambitious, and we are making real progress: 44% of all recent new public appointments where the gender is known went to women. For many years, that figure was stuck between 32% and 36%. In my department, BIS, the executive board and the BIS board are 44% women. That is a long way of saying that it is important to lead from the front. I have always felt that everywhere I have worked.

The excellent suggestions that have been made today can and should play a part. Noble Lords spoke about mentoring, which I found very useful both ways, and about the need for more women and more work in tech and FinTech. We talked about building on success where it exists, as in publishing, and on the recent initiatives on STEM, which are wide-ranging and good. I also believe in using academia as a pipeline for business appointments on boards. It can be a good way of broadening diversity in the corporate world.

I should briefly comment on sport because that was mentioned by my noble friends Lady Brady and Lord Taylor. It is very important. There is a slightly disturbing statistic—again, this is a personal comment. It is that 40% of CEOs in the US played university-level sport. So involving women in sport, sports management and government, as the Government are trying to do by encouraging good practice in our new sport strategy, can be helpful.

My ever-challenging noble friend Lady Jenkin and my noble friend Lady Brady asked whether we should do more and how we can make sure that the great initiatives we have heard about in this debate are more widely understood and expanded—so that we get a mushroom cloud effect to share best practice. We have a joined-up approach in government. The Secretary of State, Nicky Morgan, and the Government Equalities Office try to draw together all that we are doing and go beyond party to bring together the effort on women, but of course we can do more and we will be looking carefully at all the suggestions made in this debate, including those of the noble Baroness, Lady Burt. I

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shall not comment in detail on all the specific points, but I think we all agree on the potential for bringing in extra ideas and moving forward, as I have sought to show.

Both male and female talent grace this Chamber and, indeed, nearly everywhere else where human endeavour is displayed. It is a delight to work with so many women on both sides of our House and to find such a relatively strong representation of women with a business background, which is strengthened by new talent today. We must all work to ensure that women continue to play an increasing role in UK business and in our growing economy.

5.54 pm

Baroness Wheatcroft: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. Her determination to increase the women’s input into the economy is clear, and I have no doubt that she will succeed. I thank everyone who has taken part in the debate today; we have heard some excellent speeches on a wide-ranging band of experience.

We have also heard two brilliant maiden speeches. When I made mine, I took the opportunity to apologise to anyone in this House whom I might have offended by what I had written in a previous incarnation. However, the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, was not a Member at that stage, so I take this opportunity to apologise to her. It was clear from her speech today that such is her passion for getting more women involved in tech, and for spreading the tech gospel, that it would be impossible ever to overhype the noble Baroness.

I know that the clock is against me so I shall wind up there. I thank all noble Lords for taking part.

Motion agreed.

ISIL in Syria

Question for Short Debate

5.55 pm

Asked by Lord Truscott

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their strategy to defeat ISIL in Syria.

Lord Truscott (Ind Lab): My Lords, I thank the Government Whips’ Office for finding time for this debate, and I am grateful to the Minister and other noble Lords for participating in the last business of your Lordships’ House this week.

I commiserate with the Minister, who has been given the rather short straw of defending the Government’s strategy against Daesh. The strategy proposed so far is threadbare and lacking in detail, but more worrying is the fact that the public have no confidence that the Government are capable of finding a solution to the huge issues that they face in Syria, from achieving peace to solving the refugee crisis.

Since I tabled this debate, events have moved swiftly, with the other place voting in favour of air strikes against Daesh in Syria. The Government’s action to combat Daesh in Iraq has been superseded by the

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strategy outlined by the Prime Minister in the other place on 26 November 2015, and again during the debate on 2 December. It is a four-pillar strategy. We were told last November that pillar one represented a counterextremist strategy, meaning,

“a comprehensive plan to prevent and foil plots at home, and to address the poisonous extremist ideology that is the root cause of the threat we face”.—[

Official Report

, Commons, 26/11/15; col. 1492.]

Just how do the Government aim to achieve the latter? Given Daesh’s successful manipulation of the internet, what is required is a comprehensive cybercampaign to discredit Daesh and the hateful extremist ideology that it represents.

The other three pillars of the strategy refer to humanitarian aid, military action and support for the diplomatic and political process. Humanitarian support is of course vital for refugees and those, like the citizens of Madaya, who are starving. Her Majesty’s Government have already given more than £1 billion in aid and pledged £1 billion more for reconstruction. What strategy do the Government have for dealing with the 11 million Syrians in the region who remain displaced, and under what circumstances would Syrian refugees in Britain be repatriated? All this lacks clarity.

The UK’s military action in Syria is largely symbolic in the scheme of things, and I cannot believe it will make a material difference to events on the ground. Still, what are the operational objectives of the UK’s intervention in Syria, how long is it expected to take and at what human and financial cost? Perhaps the Minister can give an update on the UK forces committed to Syria, the number of aerial sorties and the co-operation with local forces such as the Kurds. Are the Government in favour of a grand international coalition of all the major powers to defeat Daesh, including Assad’s Syrian army? Lastly, after the incident when a Russian military plane was shot down by Turkish fighters, is he satisfied with the co-ordination between all the different anti-Daesh forces in the region?

More important is the diplomatic and political process itself. The UN special envoy to Syria has set 25 January as a target date to begin talks aimed at ending the five-year civil war. In late December, building on the work of the International Syria Support Group and the Vienna process, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2254, which called for a Syrian-led political process facilitated by the UN. The aim is to establish within six months credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance, setting a schedule for drafting a new constitution and free and fair elections to be held within 18 months under UN supervision. A ceasefire is also envisaged under a parallel process. That is an ambitious target. Do the Government think it is feasible? Can the Minister say how Her Majesty’s Government aim to ensure that this diplomatic process ends in success and in peace for Syria and the Syrian people? What is the Government’s assessment of the likelihood of a ceasefire over the coming months?

May I also inject a heavy dose of realism into my remarks? No one is suggesting that a solution to the Syrian conflict, which has cost hundreds of thousands of lives and displaced many millions, will be easy. It has helped fuel a refugee crisis which has shaken the foundations of the European Union and, without a

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European-wide strategy to deal with it, may influence the UK’s decision whether to remain in the EU or not. A failure of British government policy here, or just the mere perception of failure, may have a profound effect on the country’s future in Europe. A whole series of proxy wars are being fought out in Syria, with Sunni ranged against Shia and Sunni against Sunni. It is a battleground for a regional power struggle between Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran, which has been discussed in your Lordships’ House before. It is also the focus of an old-style “great game” involving Russia and the United States and its allies. It is not a new Cold War; it is simply that the old one never ended.

In your Lordships’ House last week, several noble Lords asked whether Russia knew what it is doing in Syria, and the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, appeared perplexed that Moscow had focused much of its attention on supporting Assad. Whether we in the West like it or not, Moscow’s assessment is that what weakens Assad will strengthen Daesh and vice versa. Russia would hardly concentrate all its fire on Daesh merely to watch Damascus fall to the rebels. However, it is also clear that Moscow is not wedded to the brutal Assad regime itself but rather to protecting its vital strategic interests in the country and the region. It fears a Libyan-style disintegration of the country and a consequent loss of influence. It also fears the export of Islamist radicalism. I hope that the British Foreign Office’s assessment of Russia’s motives is merely disingenuous and not born out of lack of understanding.

Like any great power, Russia is acting in pursuit of its interests, and whether we disagree with it or not, its strategy is at least clear and supported by the Russian people. Apart from its military bases and long alliance with Damascus, Moscow is acutely aware of its own 21 million indigenous, mainly Sunni Muslims, its own militant insurgency in the Caucasus and the possibility of contagion. Recently, our Prime Minister said that we maintained a relationship with Saudi Arabia, despite its appalling human rights record and military attack and intervention in neighbouring Yemen, because:

“For me, Britain’s national security and our people’s security comes first”.

Militarily, a solution to the Syrian conflict looks unlikely anytime soon. Even if your Lordships were to accept the Prime Minister’s unlikely figure of 70,000 non-extremists willing to fight the Assad regime and added in the 20,000 Syrian Kurds, this would still be fewer than the 240,000 soldiers in the Syrian army, backed by Hezbollah, the Iranians and the Russians. In any event, the UK Defence Secretary concluded that a majority of the posited 70,000 were non-secular Islamists, disinclined to support a western-style democracy. As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Richards of Herstmonceux, former Chief of the Defence Staff, has said, the most capable forces on the ground to defeat Daesh in the absence of western forces are Assad’s Syrian army and the Kurds. Incidentally, his assessment was also that around 40% of the population supported Assad. The remaining rebels are largely a disunited rabble, of varying degrees of extremism.

The West’s policy of regime change in the Middle East has been an abject failure. There was an interesting exchange on this at a meeting of the Liaison Committee

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in the other place, held on 12 January last, between MPs and the Prime Minister. Some MPs felt that getting rid of Saddam Hussein in 2003 and Gaddafi in 2011 had been a terrible mistake, as brutal as those dictators undoubtedly were. We are now seeking to do the same in Syria. Prime Minister Cameron seemed to make the same mistakes in Libya that had been made by his predecessors in Iraq, with the implosion of both states. By removing these dictators forcibly by western intervention, we have opened a can of worms in the region. For most people in these countries, life has got worse instead of better.

While we are in the West are not morally responsible for the horrors of Daesh, it is undeniable that we were partly responsible for its creation. It was former disgruntled Sunni officers of the dismantled Baathist regime which created Daesh in Iraq, as the police and army were forcibly dissolved by the western coalition in the hubris after victory. We should not make the same mistake in Syria. We should put the UK’s weight behind a diplomatic and political solution in Syria, but allow the people of the country to determine their own future.

6.05 pm

Baroness Falkner of Margravine (LD): My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Truscott, and congratulate him on securing this debate. He has rather surprised me, because I expected his contribution to come from a certain perspective that would go along the lines of, “Russia good, Russian intervention good, and everything else we’re doing is a complete disaster”. He and I are old sparring partners and friends, so I do not think that he will mind me speculating that that is what I expected him to say, and I think he would admit that it would not be entirely without foundation. But the noble Lord asked a number of extremely pertinent questions. I hope that in replying the Minister, the noble Earl, Lord Courtown, will be able to touch on them because they are extremely relevant.

My concern about many of the debates on Syria that we have had in this House recently is that a trend seems to be emerging, particularly on government Benches, whereby there is a view that two things have happened which should make us change the strategy that we held in Syria between 2011, when the conflict started, and early in 2015.

The first—rightly—is the rise of ISIL. I cannot say that it was entirely unforeseen. In the numerous debates that I spoke in between 2011 and 2014, I warned that extremism was filling the vacuum that was increasingly existing in Syria. What was unforeseen was the dramatic capturing of territory and the dramatic collapse of the Iraqi forces, which happened so suddenly. Not only did they abandon huge parts of the territory but they left behind huge financial resources, as well as the oil wells and many other aspects of infrastructure, that enabled ISIL to continue to hang on to territory.

The second factor that implies that we need to change our strategy is the entry of Russia into this quagmire. One gets the impression in this House that people are now beginning to say that because Russia is there and because we need to deal with Russia and

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come to a diplomatic solution to solve the problem of Syria, we can somehow ignore Russia’s malign influence in all other areas of international life. It seems to me that this analysis suffers from a couple of fundamental errors, the first being that the Russian writ does not rule in Damascus. We know that it does not because, when there have been movements towards compromise, and when concessions have been offered about protection, training, arming and other viable alternatives, Assad vetoes even relatively positive Russian influences. So the constructive elements of Russian thought are not necessarily embraced wholescale by President Bashar al-Assad, Russia’s protégé.

The other reason why simply trying to do a deal with Russia will not wash is what I would describe as the very positive turn of developments with Iran. By saying that, I am not trying to suggest that Iran’s influence in Lebanon and Syria is entirely constructive or positive. I would not say that for a second. I think that the House knows well what I think of Hezbollah, Hamas and other organisations that are terrorism-inclined, if not clearly terrorist organisations. But the point I am trying to make is that since we are now in a position where we are co-operating with Iran, the idea that Russia should be the focus of our endeavours is rather misplaced. The focus of our endeavours should be Iran, because Iran has far more authority in Damascus with Assad than the Russians.

I was not able to be in the Chamber, but I read carefully the Statement made by the Home Secretary in the other place and repeated here by the noble Lord, Lord Bates, on Russia’s nuclear terrorism on the streets of United Kingdom. There are also Russia’s malign actions in Crimea and Ukraine, Russia’s record on human rights, Russia’s abandonment of the rule of law, and Russia’s pernicious hostility towards settling many outstanding disputes around energy, security, the Baltics and so on. So allowing Russia too large a space in what is happening in Syria will be counterproductive.

The noble Lord, Lord Truscott, mentioned Russia’s vital strategic interests. I assume that he is referring to the Russian base at Tartus. But besides that, Russia does not have vital strategic interests in Syria. If it did, it would not have stood on the sidelines for as long as it did. If we allow the international community to recognise these vital strategic interests, as they are described, we will be in danger of allowing that country to beat us around the head when its other, plausibly more significant strategic interests, which are nearer to our shores in the case of Belarus, Georgia, Ukraine, the Stans, the Baltics and other countries—where we have far greater and clearer obligations in terms of our NATO membership—are imperilled. I am trying to say that we need to be extremely careful about giving Russia too much credibility and too much space in resolving the conflict.

But resolve the conflict we must, and I want to pose some questions to the Government in terms of what will happen in the forthcoming 25 January Geneva talks. It appears that the Assad Government’s strategy in approaching these talks—and I am sceptical about whether they will take place—is simply to brand everyone on the other side as a terrorist group. We know that several of the people who have been vetoed by the

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Assad Government, Russia on the sidelines or the Saudi Arabians, who are themselves a hugely malign influence in Syria, are not terrorist groups. We also know, as we know from our experience with the IRA—and my God this country knows this better than most others— that when you need to get peace you need to talk to some pretty unpleasant people. The idea that we allow these vetoes to continue to hold imperils any attempt since Geneva in 2012 to get to the end of this crisis. We have had five years of it—we are now approaching the anniversary—and it seems that we will not get anywhere if we do not accelerate a resolution to the conflict.

The noble Lord, Lord Truscott, referred to the Foreign Affairs Committee meeting of 12January. I also saw the transcript of that and noted that all three experts who spoke on the prospects for progress were profoundly pessimistic, noting that the persistence of the Syrian regime in labelling various groups as terrorists did not bode well for any positive developments or even for attendance.

The Prime Minister made an impassioned defence when he came to the House of Commons of a transitional plan—a peace plan—and said that extending military action into Syria, which he asked the House of Commons to approve last November, had to be accompanied by a political solution. We are now three months down the road. I accept that there has been some success in Iraq—the Iraqis have taken back some of the land mass—but one cannot see evidence of any military success in Syria.

Three months is not a long time and I am perfectly prepared to give the Government some more time on that. But what I would like to hear from the Minister in his concluding comments is an explanation of why only a few months ago the Prime Minister was so optimistic about a transitional plan, a peace process moving forward and involving the UN Security Council and so on, when we do not see any sign of accelerating what was the Vienna process and is now the Geneva process. Also, we are not getting any tangible messages from the Government as to where we are heading in terms of a longer-term strategy in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon—essentially across the whole of the Middle East, which is more or less predicted to be unstable for the foreseeable future, with all the side-effects that that entails.

6.15 pm

Lord Williams of Baglan (CB): My Lords, the defeat of ISIS is of paramount importance for the future of Syria, but it is of even greater importance for the future of the Middle East. ISIS is a transnational movement. It will not be defeated in Syria, it has to be defeated throughout the region. Although as the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, mentioned, some progress has been made in Iraq in pushing ISIS back, let us not forget that it controls the city of Mosul, which is larger than the city of Manchester. I think that it will be a long time before it will relinquish or be forced out of Mosul.

It goes without saying too that ISIS poses a substantial threat to the security of this country and indeed to the democratic world as a whole. In our actions, and

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especially as a permanent member, we must pay special heed to the need for UN Security Council backing wherever possible. Here I gently note the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner. We need Russia because it is a member of the UN Security Council. Peace processes will not go forward without support from Russia. That is a fact of diplomatic life.

Four of the five permanent members, China excluded, are of course engaged in military action in Syria, although there is a sharp difference between the three western powers, the UK, France and the US, in their attacks on ISIS and those of Russia, which, while it is hostile to ISIS, has adopted an overt stance of supporting the Government of President Bashar al-Assad. Progress in addressing the long-running civil war in Syria is essential if a campaign against ISIS is to be successful. Last month, the Security Council issued a rare unanimous show of support for the negotiations between the Assad Government and the opposition. I should be grateful if the Minister could update the House on the present situation regarding the talks which we are all hoping will proceed next week in Geneva. Perhaps I may take the opportunity to commend the role of Staffan di Mistura, my former colleague in the UN and a friend, in leading the UN’s search for peace.

In the 19th century the great German Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, is reputed to have said that making peace is like making sausages, you do not want to see too closely what goes into the process. Indeed, the Government need to be mindful of the compromises that are inherent in the necessity to silence the guns and to end the appalling humanitarian situation that prevails not only in much of Syria, but throughout the wider Middle East. UN missions in which I served in the 1990s had to negotiate with the likes of the Khmer Rouge and later with indicted war criminals such as Milosevic, Karadzic and Mladic. That is often the case when there is a need for a diplomatic solution. We must do that if we are to make progress in the search for peace. If we do not make progress in that regard, I fear that it will impede our strategy to defeat ISIS, the subject of this debate, and indeed perhaps even embolden it.

One of the few glimmers of hope in recent months in the Middle East, and here I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, has been the nuclear accord between Iran and the P5 plus Germany. I hope that hard on the heels of this very welcome accord we are talking seriously with Iran about the compromises that the country is going to have to make to see a more broad-based and representative Government in Damascus, and I would be grateful for the Minister’s acknowledgment that that is indeed the case. If we are going to find a way out of the bloody maelstrom in Syria, we need more engagement with Iran, not less.

Similarly, while we can abhor the practices and conduct of the Assad regime, we need to reach an understanding as to why so many Christians, and especially Alawites, of that country still support the regime. I recall one Syrian friend pointing to the example of Tariq Aziz, the late Foreign Minister of Iraq and saying to me rather provocatively, “When do you think we will see a Christian again as a cabinet minister in an Arab country?”. That was provocative,

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because there are Christian Ministers in Lebanon and Jordan, but it is true that one of the great losers from the UK-US invasion of Iraq and toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003 was the Christian population in Iraq, the vast majority of whom have now, sadly, left the country.

Underlining my friend’s concern was the fear that in the sectarian storms between Shia and Sunni, there would be little room left for minorities. The Alawites are an important presence in Syria and, to a lesser extent, in Lebanon. It is important that in all our public messaging with regard to Syria, we underline our commitment to the continuing role and presence of minorities. Without them, ISIS will be that much harder to defeat.

Let me end by referring to some remarks made yesterday at a meeting in Paris between the US and French Defence Ministers, Ash Carter and Jean-Yves Le Drian. US Defense Secretary Ash Carter pointedly called on Arab countries to do more in the fight against ISIS. In this regard, he said that the United States was very much looking to countries in the Gulf. Does the Minister agree with that, and with the conclusion that Gulf countries have shifted their key military capabilities away from fighting ISIS to involvement in the Yemeni civil war? That is where the Saudis and Emiratis are concentrating now: on a conflict built on sectarian strife which pales compared to the need to defeat ISIS.

I believe that the figures for involvement in air strikes against ISIS in Syria show a diminishing involvement on the part of Arab air forces and a rising involvement on the part of western air forces. That cannot be how the struggle against ISIS will be successful. We cannot win this fight without the wholehearted support of the Sunni countries, but that engagement seems to me to be flagging somewhat.

6.22 pm

Lord Oates (LD): My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Truscott, for initiating this debate, and I am pleased to follow my noble friend Lady Falkner and the noble Lord, Lord Williams. I am slightly nervous about following such expertise, but I must confess that I am even more nervous about speaking in the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Powell of Bayswater. I have known him for 33 years, ever since I was a school friend of his son Nick and rather foolishly and precociously decided to provoke an argument with him about the then Conservative Government’s Budget. It is fair to say that he fairly comprehensively defeated me in that argument. Given that his expertise on foreign affairs is even greater than his expertise on economic affairs, it is nerve-wracking indeed to speak opposite him.

Last year, the Prime Minister set out the Government’s strategy to defeat IS, or Daesh. I have to say that I was not terribly convinced about it then and am not much more convinced now, but I will listen with interest to the Minister’s answers in the hope that I can be reassured. It is not clear to me how it is possible to defeat Daesh without credible forces on the ground, and the 70,000 so-called moderate forces seem to me

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neither a credible number nor a credible description. Those who have spent time on the ground in Syria are clear that the dominance of extreme Sunni groups in the armed opposition is almost total.

In Iraq, where the RAF has been operating for some time, there are ground forces with whom we can co-operate—both the Iraqi Army and the Kurdish Peshmerga forces. That is why the coalition decided that it should focus its efforts on Iraq rather than Syria: there was a coherent strategy in Iraq and an absence of one in Syria.

For understandable reasons, post-Paris, the Government felt they had to act. I understand that sentiment but to act without a credible strategy is a dangerous thing to do. To act when one cannot answer the question “And then what?” as we did in Libya can have horrific consequences directly impacting on our country.

Even if we have a credible strategy to defeat Daesh, that is not enough. We will have gained little if another violent extremist group takes its place. That is why we have to have a strategy to fill the vacuum and to bring peace and order back to Syria. More than that, we need a much wider strategy to tackle violent extremism around the world because, of course, it is not just Syria and Iraq that are afflicted by this curse, but Libya, Yemen, the Sinai peninsula, Afghanistan and Nigeria. The attacks recently in Ouagadougou and Jakarta also highlight the global phenomena that we are facing. If we do not develop a comprehensive strategy to tackle this problem, we will find that even if we are successful in Iraq and Syria the problem will emerge elsewhere, whether it is called Daesh, al-Qaeda or whatever new formulation emerges, and it will threaten and menace us still.

As we go forward, we must learn from our mistakes. I know that Governments and countries are not always good at doing this, but given the menace we face it is critical that we get better at it. The first lesson we need to learn is that fermenting regime change has proved comprehensively disastrous for us in this region, whether in Iran in the 1950s with the overthrow of Prime Minister Mossadegh, the invasion of Iraq overthrowing Saddam Hussein, or Libya more recently. We have to learn that we do not have sufficient understanding of the complexities of these societies or of the consequences that flow from our actions to keep blundering in, in the way we have done in the past.

Moreover as Libya shows, we lack the attention span or the resolve to tackle the problems arising from our interventions. Our insistence on the removal of Bashar al-Assad was foolish. It was foolish because we had no way of effecting it, foolish because personalising the issue on Assad showed our lack of understanding of the regime and foolish because it helped scupper any chance that the original peace talks might succeed.

We must not let it scupper the next round of peace talks. As the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, pointed out in her speech when we debated Syria last year, to bring peace in the former Yugoslavia, people had to make peace with Milosevic. No one liked that; he was responsible for terrible brutality but that was the price for peace and it was one that was worth paying.

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Indeed the best way to get rid of Assad, as was the best way to get rid of Milosevic is to end the war, particularly as there are many people in minority communities who, as long as the war continues, see Assad as the best of a lot of bad options. If we make Assad going a precondition we will simply ensure that the war continues and Assad remains, and as a consequence many more people will die. Everyone, including the Prime Minister has accepted that we cannot ultimately defeat Daesh until there is a political settlement. On 26 November, the Prime Minister told the House of Commons:

“We are now seeing Iran and Saudi Arabia sitting around the same table as America and Russia, as well as France, Turkey and Britain. All of us are working toward the transition to a new Government in Syria”.—[Official Report, Commons; 26/11/15, col 1492.]

The difficulty is that so many of these parties want such different things. I hope the Minister can update us on progress towards convening the all-party talks proposed for 25 January. Can he tell us whether he sees any prospect of such talks taking place this month, as planned? It has been widely reported that in briefing the Security Council on 18 January the UN special envoy on Syria, Staffan de Mistura, expressed his frustration about the many obstacles being placed in the way of his ability to convene a broad representation of opposition groups at the talks. As my noble friend Lady Falkner has already suggested, in particular Saudi Arabia may be playing an unhelpful role in that respect. It is reported that Turkey is blocking the attendance of the Kurdish YPG and the Democratic Union Party, that Russia is blocking attendance of Saudi-backed groups such as Ahrar al-Sham and Jaish al-Islam, and that Saudi Arabia is insisting that the Riyadh-based and Saudi-aligned high negotiations committee is exclusively to be given the status of the opposition delegation.

Can the Minister assure us that the UK gives its full support to the UN special envoy in dealing with these issues? Can he give us some indication of the role that the UK Government are playing in ensuring that the talks take place as soon as possible? Finally, can he tell us what progress the International Syria Support Group has made towards securing a ceasefire among non-Daesh and ANF forces, which it agreed as a priority in October? Given the central role of the political track in the ultimate defeat of Daesh, it is concerning that we hear so much about the military effort and so little about the diplomatic track. I hope that the Minister will put that right this afternoon.

We must hope and pray that the peace talks bring some results, and that we can get to a position where coalition air forces can work with a reformed Government and reformed Syrian army to finally defeat Daesh and bring peace and order back to the Syrian people. I fear that that happy day may be some way off but, even when we achieve it, we will not have resolved the threat of extremist violence around the world. To do that, we need to look much more carefully at our strategy and how we adopt it across the region, instead of adopting a piecemeal approach. The establishment of the National Security Council by the Prime Minister under the coalition Government was a hopeful step forward, but I regret very much that it did not take a much more

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strategic view of issues, as we had hoped, and that there were few strategic discussions on areas such as the Middle East. We need a comprehensive approach.

I understand the difficulty that Governments face in tackling as complex a threat as Daesh, and how much easier it is to be critical when you are outside government. However, I hope that the Government will work as hard on the diplomatic track as on the military track. When peace is finally restored to Syria, I hope that the UK Government will not allow their interest and attention to wane, as they did so tragically in Libya.

6.32 pm

Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab): My Lords, the war in Syria has killed 250,000 people, contributed to the biggest refugee crisis since World War II, and become a breeding ground for Daesh and other extremist groups that threaten not only Syria’s neighbours but all the powers supporting one side or the other. I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord for initiating this debate and giving the House the opportunity to look beyond any one specific action and to consider what is meant by a “strategy” in the context of defeating Daesh.

The lesson from previous conflicts is that having a strategy is one thing but it needs to be followed through to fruition, with clearly defined objectives. The current situation in Syria and beyond highlights that a strategy to defeat Daesh cannot be limited to Syria alone, much as the conflict cannot be confined to its borders. In this context, modern conflict is not just physical so a strategy needs to be comprehensive, targeting Daesh not only in Syria but in cyberspace and at home as well as abroad. A strategy needs to be a broad approach recognising globalisation, the conflict and Daesh itself, otherwise it risks overly focusing on one aspect.

A strategy needs to be proactive and offensive, but also defensive, in the sense that care and attention need to be paid to how the strategy, and, indeed, Britain’s involvement in Syria, is presented. To my mind, too much attention is paid to the RAF bombing missions and not enough to other aspects. If we are to have international security and stability, development, defence and diplomacy have to go together. We need a joined-up, whole-government approach to this conflict.

If there is one lesson that should be learnt from more than a decade of combating Daesh and its previous incarnations, it is that no amount of foreign force can defeat the organisation without enlisting the help of an armed local resistance. Daesh strategy in Iraq and Syria is built around the objective of subduing locals and leaving them with no viable alternatives. The targeting of oil facilities and trucks may be paralysing the economy in Daesh-controlled areas, but we also need to understand how sometimes this pushes people to join the only employer in town to generate income for their families.

As Daesh embeds in residential areas to evade air strikes, it continues making money through taxation, extortion and other means that enabled it to take most of the areas now under its control before it laid its hands on the oil infrastructure. It is also quietly expanding in less strategic but vulnerable areas, such as those

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between Palmyra, the city of Homs and southern Syria, to avoid intensive bombardment or heavy military deployment.

The Secretary of State for Defence, Michael Fallon, said this week that we are entering a new phase,

“where we aim to systematically dismantle Daesh’s structure and capabilities … That means striking harder at the head of the snake, with an increased focus on infrastructure, lines of communication and supply routes”.

While that element of the strategy may be vital, it should not be the sole focus. We need to encourage local forces to fight Daesh. I therefore ask the Minister: what steps are the UK Government taking to work through existing and new channels to advise, network, train and provide non-military services to armed fighting groups in different parts of the country?

One example highlighted in a recent Chatham House report was support for a unique programme to promote moderate imams in an area controlled by various rebel forces, instead of extremist clerics affiliated to jihadi organisations. Part of the moderate clerics’ focus was to educate worshippers about the danger of takfir, or pronouncing fellow Muslims infidels or apostates. According to a field commander of the faction overseeing the programme, the culture of takfir is a major impediment to getting fighters to combat groups such as Daesh, especially if the faction is backed by western countries.

On the peace process, the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, referred last week to the fact that, as a result of efforts by the International Syria Support Group over the past three months, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2254 on 18 December, requesting the UN to convene the Syrian Government and opposition for negotiations on a transition process. As we have heard, these negotiations are due to start on 25 January and will be a welcome step towards ending the conflict, but it seems that Russia is determined not to let Assad or his party lose power. Although I hear what the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, says, I am of course aware that it remains the Government’s hope that Russia will use all its power with the Assad regime and persuade him to come to the talks and ensure that the team is engaged in true negotiations about peace to achieve a transition process.

However, does the Minister think that the UN process outlined for a new constitution and elections within 18 months is practicable in that timeframe? Are we actually predicting failure if we do not meet that specific target? Obviously, in any road map for peace, you need certain milestones.

The strategy also needs to focus domestically. I was pleased to note from yesterday’s Evening Standard that Scotland Yard’s anti-terrorism chief praised Muslims in London for coming forward to help fight extremism. However, anyone who watched Channel 4’s programme on Tuesday night this week will have seen it highlight the threat of jihadist extremists and how they can evade prosecution. Is the Minister satisfied that the counterextremism strategy is fit for purpose in such circumstances?

Refugees have, of course, to be a major part of the strategy. Yesterday, the Minister for International Development said:

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“The overwhelming majority of refugees remain in the region and this is where our support is targeted. We have been at the forefront of the response and have pledged more than £1.1 billion to the crisis”.—[Official Report, 20/1/16; col. 760.]

However, I remain concerned for the millions of Syrian refugees in the region who remain displaced and, in particular, those in neighbouring countries or in transit. What representations have the UK Government made, for example, to the Lebanese authorities, about the forcible return of Syrian refugees?

6.41 pm

The Earl of Courtown (Con): My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Truscott, said that I had possibly drawn the short straw in replying to the last debate of this January Thursday. However, I could not agree less with him to be perfectly honest, because the high quality of the speeches made by all those who contributed on all sides of the House certainly impressed me. I am only too happy to admit that they have increased my knowledge of this issue. So I am grateful to all noble Lords for their contributions. A number of detailed questions were asked. I will do my best to answer them, but I hope that noble Lords will allow me to reply in greater depth in writing.

The Government’s strategy to tackle Daesh in Syria and globally is comprehensive, spanning political, diplomatic, humanitarian and, of course, military action. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, said, it is the combination of all these factors that is so important.

The horrific attacks this month in Istanbul and Jakarta, as well as those elsewhere, demonstrate the very real threat that we all face. Our law enforcement and security and intelligence services are working constantly to keep the people of this country safe and secure. We are taking all necessary steps to make sure that they have the powers, the capabilities and the resources they need. I say to noble Lords who asked about our capabilities that that is why we are spending 2% of GDP on defence, recruiting an additional 1,900 officers for our intelligence agencies—which will also help with cybersecurity, about which noble Lords asked—doubling our investment in equipment to support our Special Forces and protecting counterterrorism policing.

As noble Lords also said, tackling Daesh requires a global response. The United Kingdom is a leading member of a global coalition of 65 countries and international organisations, including many in the region, united in our aim to defeat Daesh on all fronts. The United Kingdom and the coalition will work with any countries which prove they are serious about fighting Daesh and protecting civilians.

British and coalition efforts are focused on five areas. We are attacking Daesh militarily; restricting its finances; disrupting the flow of fighters; challenging its poisonous ideology; and working to stabilise liberated areas. To tackle the funding, the United Kingdom has led efforts to create and enforce an international legal regime, underpinned by UN Security Council resolutions, which we co-sponsored. We are working with our regional partners to ensure the implementation of UN and EU sanctions, to stop Daesh’s ability to trade outside the formal financial system and to prevent smuggling out of Syria.

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The military campaign, as mentioned by noble Lords, is also crucial. The RAF carried out 15% of air strikes in the global coalition’s recent offensive targeting Daesh oil facilities. This offensive destroyed 25% of Daesh’s daily oil production capability, equating to approximately 10% of its total income.

Noble Lords also mentioned strategic communications. The UK is leading the effort to counter Daesh’s poisonous propaganda, co-chairing the coalition’s strategic communications working group with the United States and the United Arab Emirates. In September my right honourable friend the Prime Minister announced that the United Kingdom would create a coalition communications cell in London, with staffing and financial support from coalition partners. I am pleased to say that this coalition cell is now up and running. It will ensure that no communications space currently exploited by Daesh is left uncontested. It will generate a full range of communications at a pace and scale necessary to highlight Daesh’s perversion of Islam, its barbaric treatment of individuals under its control and its failures on the battlefield.

Military operations need to be followed by stabilisation efforts to provide security, governance and services to populations in areas liberated from Daesh. The United Kingdom is supporting the work of the United Nations Development Programme in Iraq. In Syria, the situation is more complex. The United Kingdom is working with existing local Syrian institutions, as well as with moderate partners on the ground. This will establish a strong foundation to support transition and restore stability as quickly as possible.

All noble Lords, I think, questioned the political future of Syria. Ultimately, a political solution in Syria will be key to stabilisation, reconstruction and the defeat of Daesh. We need an end to the civil war and to have in place a transitional Government with whom the international community could co-operate fully to help restore peace and stability to the whole country. That means a Syrian Government broadly accepted by their people. As the Prime Minister said to the Liaison Committee last week,

“as long as you have Assad in power, you are in danger of having a Daesh-style, Sunni … terrorist … state in western Syria”.

Assad cannot be part of the future of Syria. That is why we are putting Britain’s full diplomatic weight behind political talks to secure a transition to an inclusive Government in Syria who respond to the needs of all the Syrian people.

A number of noble Lords mentioned UN Security Council Resolution 2254, requesting the United Nations to convene the Syrian Government and Opposition for negotiations on a transition process. These negotiations, due to start on 25 January, will be a welcome step towards ending the conflict. I confirm to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, that Her Majesty’s Government are throwing the United Kingdom’s full diplomatic weight behind the efforts of UN Special Envoy de Mistura to bring the Syrian parties to talks on 25 January.

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As noble Lords will know, the situation is highly complex and fragile, but we remain hopeful that both sides will agree to take part in the talks. There is still clearly a long way to go on the political talks but also the best chance for peace that we have seen in four years.

The United Kingdom, as a member of the International Syria Support Group, is working with a host of countries including Russia, the United States—very importantly—France, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Nations towards negotiations between the Syrian parties on a transitional Government. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary attended the last meeting of the International Syria Support Group, which noble Lords have mentioned, on 18 December in New York. The subsequent ministerial meeting of the UN Security Council which passed the resolution was an important step forward in the international community’s efforts to bring about political transition in Syria. The resolution is supported by all members of the ISSG, including Russia and Iran, and of course by the entire Security Council, but there is still a long way to go.

In Riyadh earlier in December, more than 100 representatives from a wide range of Syrian opposition groups met to form a common negotiating position, ahead of intra-Syrian talks convened by the United Nations, which the United Nations special envoy hopes will begin and continue next week, as I mentioned earlier. This is an important step on the political track.

The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Baglan, mentioned the importance of the minorities in this area. The situation is quite desperate for many such communities within Syria and Iraq. We condemn in the strongest terms the atrocities committed by Daesh against all civilians, including Christians, Mandeans, Yazidis, and other minorities—as well as against the majority Muslim population in Iraq and Syria, who continue to bear the brunt of Daesh’s brutality. Ultimately, the only way to protect the Christians and other religious minorities from Daesh is by defeating this organisation, which in turn requires, among other things, ending the conflict in Syria.

There are a number of questions that I have not answered in great detail, but I will write to noble Lords on those various issues.

To conclude, the Government’s strategy to defeat Daesh in Syria is a comprehensive one. We are working within the region in a global coalition across political, diplomatic, economic, humanitarian and military fields. We are also working with the international community to end the civil war and support a transitional government in Syria. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has said, we face a generational struggle. However, our strategy is the right one. Let me assure the House: the defeat of Daesh is a goal to which the Government are utterly committed.

House adjourned at 6.52 pm.