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Baroness Billingham: My Lords, I too add my warm congratulations to my noble friend Lady Gould on initiating today's debate, which allows us to take stock
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of women's role in society. It is also a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Giddens and his extremely thoughtful, as ever, contribution. But I feel that I should share with the House that when my noble friend Lord Giddens and I play tennis together, as we frequently do, he still insists on trying to pinch my volleys. However, I am confident that other speakers will look at areas where women play their partfamily, business, politics and indeed all facets of our societyand I shall listen with great interest to their contributions.
I will concentrate on just one area todaysport. I hope to assess the part that women play in that aspect of our lives. It is, I believe, an area where much has been achieved but where much more has to be done for women to take their rightful place in the complex arena that embraces sport. But why do I think that women should concern themselves with sport? Quite simply, because sport plays such a major role in our society, and because women become second-class citizens by allowing themselves to become marginalisedindeed, patronised. A glance at any TV schedule or newspaper confirms the view that sport is the hottest topic. So can women afford to shrug their shoulders and be left behind? I certainly do not think so, for a variety of reasons. We have never had a more sport-conscious time: we have the 2012 Olympics, the scourge of obesity, and the value of social inclusionall reasons to take sport extremely seriously.
I could devote my entire speech to the plethora of virtuous government initiatives, all targeted at improving the active participation of women and girls in sport. Let me say briefly that the Government are alert, sensitive and proactive, and that things are getting better. But when I take stock of current statistics, I must say, in the words of the old Virginia Slim slogan, "We've sure come a long way, baby, but we've sure got a long way to go". So why do I take a rather pessimistic view of the current situation? First, I have considered a wide range of statistics and analysis from a variety of sources, and they do not make good reading. Here is a sample. By the age of 18, 40 per cent of girls have dropped out of sport. Women occupy only 26 per cent of the membership of all sports boards and committees, and make up only 15 per cent of the board membership of all national governing sports bodies. Only 10 per cent of all British coaches who went to the 2004 Athens Olympics were women, and there are currently no female sports editors in national or regional print media.
There are many more statistics to give, but I think the point is made. It is against that background that the Government have to perform and show that the resources and initiatives that they have channelled into sport are paying dividends. At present, women and girls barely feature on our screens, except for a very few national heroines such as Paula Radcliffe and Kelly Holmes. It is a bit like coming into a tennis match where you are already a set and four-love down before a ball is struck. But I am not totally despondent. The tide is slowly turning. Public opinion is with us, and people are waking up to the fact that the obesity
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crisis can be solved only by a balance of a better diet and more exercise. Frankly, it matters little what form the exercise takes. Formal sports, swimming, cycling, walking or dancingall can play their partbut the secret is to get into the sporting habit. Some sports, such as women's soccer, are a steep upward curve. Excellent; let's encourage more. From junior to secondary school, the Government are making two hours of PE per week compulsory. There will be more sport in after-school sports clubs. Excellent, but more is needed.
But what happens at the end of formal education? Why is there is a huge decline in girls' participation? Here is more analysis. Girls and women have less disposable income than men, and taking part in sport is expensive. They also have less disposable time because of family responsibilities, which take up more of their time than that of their male counterparts. I must say that sport in general is still run by men for men. Female participation is closely linked to social class. The longer a woman is in education, the more likely she is to take part in lifelong sport. As for ethnic minorities, the details are even worse; only 19 per cent of Bangladeshi women participate in any sport, against the national average of more than 30 per cent.
How can these very depressing statistics be improved? The Government are determined to improve the situation. All grants, whether from Sport England, from the Government directly or from governing bodies, must now have equal expenditure for men and women.The pledge to provide multi-sports complexes in every area will certainly make inroads. These complexes have swimming pools, badminton courts, five-a-side football pitches, gymnastics facilities and so on. They are ideal for families to share their sporting experiences.
It is on the equality factor that I believe we can learn something from the USA. Two weeks ago, in Florida, I switched on my TV. Among all the weird programmes on endless channels I found no fewer than four channels showing women's sport, and to a professional standard. These were tennisno surprise therewomen's soccer, women's basketball and women's baseball. That would be unthinkable on British television, where the coverage of women's sport makes up less than 5 per cent of sporting programmes.
So why is the USA so different? I do not have to tell many of your Lordships that the answer is Title IX. In the mid-1970s, a highly controversial piece of legislation was passed in the United States which guaranteed equal funding for all sports for boys and girls in the high school and college system. More than that, it demanded equal coverage in reporting. I know that we do not have a similar system of sporting scholarships in our schools and collegesalthough perhaps specialist sports colleges will be a forerunnerbut I believe that public service broadcasting has an obligation to give more balanced programming. Yes, in the first instance there may well be viewer objectionsbut familiarity breeds appreciation.
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I hope that I have not painted too gloomy a picture of the status quo of women in sport, especially to my noble friend Lady GouldI hope that I have not rained on her paradebut perhaps I may finish on a positive note. Some 10 days ago a tiny bit of history was made: the Lords and Commons Tennis Club voted for a new chairman/captainand, for the first time in its history, that new chairman/captain was a woman. If we can do that, then anything is possible.
Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde: My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lady Gould for introducing the debate today. As she said, it is not the first time she has done so; she has almost become the key-holder to this issue for the House, and we are all indebted to her for that.
We have had similar discussions over a number of years, but very little changes in some respects in the make-up of the House for these debates. I in no way challenge the commitment of both noble Baronesses on the Conservative Front Bench, but I would not feel too lonely if I were them because, regrettably, it is the usual format.
Demonstrably, much progress has been made by women in society generally and in business, where we are seeing increasing numbers of women not only starting their own businessesthe proportion of women in business start-ups is significantly higher than it has been over the yearsbut also running large companies. In the professions, more young women are entering training in both the medical and legal fields. This will start to impact and we will probably see more women Law Lords, I hope, in this House. Who knows, we might have a woman Black Rod at some point. That really would be a starter. We are also seeing more women coming forward in the services and running voluntary and charity organisations.
Importantly, there are more women in public life. Before this debate, I read the debates that took place in another place and in this House that led up to the Equal Pay Act and the Sex Discrimination Act, headed so bravely by one of my heroines, Barbara Castle, as she then was. Those debates really are an education. It is like another ageit was another age. The legislation was passed despite enormous opposition from the opposition Benches, not only in another place but in this House as well. Reading the debates is of great interest. One would have thought that the introduction of the Equal Pay Act and the Sex Discrimination Act would have led to the complete demise of the nation. One was terrified reading about some of the stuff that would happen if we passed these Acts. That did not happenwe had a brave Prime Minister in Harold Wilson, probably held up by Barbara Castle, who was not going to be put off what she intended to achieve.
That government believed in progress for women, and so does this Labour Government. Since 1997, we have seen substantial change in the area of women. We have seen it, importantly, in Parliament, in the appointment of women Ministers at all levels, be it Secretary of State or supporting Ministers in
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departments. We see it, too, in this House, on all Front Benches, which is very welcome. Without wishing to sound patronising, the women Ministers in this Government and those whom we have had since 1997 make me feel very proud of the role that they have played in government and in pushing forward policies which have been good not only for women but for British society as a whole. Their performance has been exceptional, and continues to be.
We have a Government who have been proactive in supporting women, not only in employment but in family support policies. This debate is not just about womenit is about the whole of society. Indeed, who would have thought 10 years ago that we would have had a Bill like the Work and Families Bill?
We have seen amazing progress since that day in 1974, in the lead-up to the Equal Pay Act, when, as a very nervous young union official, I was asked by the TUC to be one of the speakers in Trafalgar Square. I was terrified out of my wits, but I had enough sense to realise that I was participating in something significant. Of course the media trivialised it. Remember them saying, "Burn your bras"? A lot of our women in factories said to me, "Brenda, if we burn our bras there'll be an increase in industrial accidents in this factory". Despite the media trivialisation, real change was taking place.
Not only are more women involved but there has been an impact on the way in which we debate things publicly and the issues that we debate publicly. Such issues were felt before to be a bit wimpishnot macho. The nature of the dialogue we are having has changed.
Economic security and equal treatment in pay are crucial to everyone, not just women. Today, part-time work accounts for something like a quarter of all the employment in the UK. This was trailed in the changing nature of workinstead of the job for life, people are increasingly changing jobs and doing different types of work. More than three-quarters of that part-time workforce is made up of women. Yet, despite the legislation and the progress we have made, proportionately they earn today the same as they did 30 years ago. That is not progress; it is not even standing stillit is going backwards. This was clearly pointed out in the recent report from the Women and Work Commission, so ably chaired by my fellow trade unionist and noble friend Lady Prosser.
After suffering discrimination in working life and reduced income, many women face a miserable retirement of poverty and deprivation. Much of that is because of the nature of payment, but also because of the pension rules and the structure of our welfare provisions. The Turner report on pensions recommended some key and important changes which, if instituted, would bring some relief to the miserable existence that many women have. It would not be retrospective but would provide the same kind of hope that the Equal Pay Act and Sex Discrimination Act did all those years ago. My noble friend Lady Lockwood, the first chairman of the Equal Opportunities Commission, set out down that path,
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and the Turner report would provide that opportunity. No doubt the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, will cover this issue in her important contribution.
Equal treatment and opportunity are essential. Pensions are critical. I am disappointed that the Government whom I support have not been more progressive in this area. The Turner report is only a few months old. I hope that the Government will make a positive statement about the way forward. I hope that it will not be a triumph of hope over aspiration and that we can make progress. If we cannot do so, it will not be helpful to women.
Pensions are one of the key issues which we must face today. They will not go away. If it is thought that the Turner report can be buried, a lot of us will campaign to make sure that it is not. Essential though equal treatment and opportunity are, visibility is also an issue. Recognition of the work that has been done by some quite remarkable women is another. The names of many of them are not known. I pluck one out of the air: Octavia Hill. She was the founder of professional housing management as we know it todayof the concept of people working together in their own homes. In my view, she was the founder of housing associations. She was also the real founder of the National Trust and she worked in occupational therapy, so she was an eminent lady in her own right. Her contribution was important because more than 50 per cent of tenancy owners in social housing today are women. The majority of households in Britain are led by women. Housing is extremely important.
One aspect of visibility which concerns me is this House. Women are not terribly visible in pictures or as statues, or in any manifestation other than the women who work in this Chamber. As many of your Lordships will know, I am interested in, and committed to, the Sylvia Pankhurst statue. I am puzzled as to why a difficulty surrounds a statue of a woman who in my view was the key suffragetteit was not her mother, nor her sister, Christabel. Sylvia was the kind of woman who, had she been in this Chamber today, would have spoken up for the radical policies. Yes, she supported votes for women, but she supported also the full empowerment of women. She lived and worked in the East End. She believed in women having the right to choose and in women's education. She was not going to pack her bags and go when women won the vote. The statue is quite an issue for me, which neither I nor many Members of this House will let go. I am sure that we will find a successful outcome. This House usually gets there through the usual channels.
I pay tribute to a number of women. Although we have policies and rules, individuals can make the real difference. Eminent examples are the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, and the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, who is not in her place today. Another example is my noble friend the Leader of the House, who was at the EOC too. The EOC has pushed for women throughout the past 30 years, sometimes when women's issues have not been fashionable. I therefore
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regret the indication that its budget will be cut by between 10 and 20 per cent. I hope that that will not be the case. If it is, I suspect that the Government will be given an uncomfortable ride by some of us, because the work that the EOC does today is as essential as it was when it was founded.
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