Anna Mary Healy, having been created Baroness Healy of Primrose Hill, of Primrose Hill in the London Borough of Camden, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale and Lord Macdonald of Tradeston, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): My Lords, I find that a strange Question from a noble Lord who has been in this House for 37 years. In our debate on 12 July, a number of noble Lords defined what they thought their role here was. One said that it was as a parliamentarian, another said that it was as a legislator, another said that it was to hold the Executive to account, another said that it was to influence government policy and yet another said that it was to make a nuisance of themselves. I think that that combination makes a full job for a Member of this House.
Lord Selsdon: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, but perhaps I can inform him a bit better, having been here 10 years longer than he said. My noble friend will, of course, know that the House of Lords Library and the SSRB have declared that a Member of the House of Lords does not have a role or a job to do. The only people who do are Ministers and office holders, who are remunerated. The rest of us are holders of a dignity. Could my noble friend describe to me what a working Peer is? I would like to be one but, if I have to stand upon my dignity, I am concerned that there will be nowhere to sit down when the new Peers arrive.
Lord McNally: First, I have checked and, yes, the noble Lord has been here for 47 years, which may explain why I am in the Ministry of Justice and not in the Treasury. This definition of dignity, which is the last refuge of-
Lord McNally: I am thinking of those wishing to talk to the Inland Revenue. I go back to what I said. It is very interesting and like Attlee's definition of an elephant: when you see a working Peer, you recognise one. I recognise a lot around this House.
Baroness D'Souza: Does the Minister agree that the main functions of this House-to revise legislation and to hold the Government of the day to account-would be adversely affected by the Government having an overall working majority?
Lord Maclennan of Rogart: In the lead-up to the publication of the reform Bill at the end of this calendar year, will the Government consider proposals to delimit the functions of the two Chambers better to share out the burdens of parliamentary scrutiny and to enhance the effectiveness of our oversight?
Lord McNally: I think that that is the kind of discussion that can go on in parallel with the proposals of my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister on the reform of this House and the work that is going on in reforming the working procedures of the other place. The activities that are going on at both ends will help to make both Chambers more efficient and better at doing their proper job of, as my noble friend said, holding the Executive to account and properly scrutinising legislation.
Lord Anderson of Swansea:Does the Minister have any special means of ensuring that, with the new arrangement, the House fulfils its historic function of keeping the Government under control and does not become a poodle of the Government, particularly if, as rumoured, there is to be a new wave of appointments that will further bolster the majority of the coalition?
Lord McNally: I think that the best way we can ensure that is to move quickly to reform this House. We will have that opportunity in the Bill that my right honourable friend has promised for the end of this year and the pre-legislative scrutiny that will take place next year.
Lord Kakkar: My Lords, is it the view of Her Majesty's Government that your Lordships' House is currently failing the people of our country? If it is, how best should we correct ourselves at the moment?
Lord McNally: On the contrary, I think that successive Governments have the scars to show that this House does a very good job. One reason why this House has survived is that it has shown an ability to bend rather than to break-to recognise the case for change. We need only look at what is happening now, long before any Bill, to see that the process of change is already carrying on-and we are all the better for it.
Lord Tebbit: Would my noble friend like to think about this? At the moment, we seem to be having more introductions to this House than one would find at the average dating agency, yet my noble friend seems to be-if I may put it this way-slightly less than coherent in explaining to the House what it is that these people, including us who are already here, should be doing. Should we not get a little more precision and coherence into it before we provide for a new system for bringing more people into the House?
Lord McNally: I am sure that when my noble friend-I could tell how easily "noble friend" tripped off his tongue-looks at Hansard tomorrow and reads my first reply today to the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, he will see perfectly encapsulated the job of a working Peer. As to new Members and the size of the House, this is one of the problems that a House with no retirement age but with a need to be constantly refreshed will run into. We look forward to the report of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, who is looking into these matters for us.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: Does the noble Lord agree that the role and function of this House are extremely important to society as a whole, which is why reform of this Chamber is a profound constitutional issue? If so, does he further agree that the people of this country should be able to make their views known about such reform in a referendum on the issue?
Lord McNally: I noticed and I readily acknowledge that that was the policy put forward by the Labour Party at the last election. We will be bringing forward a Bill, which will go to pre-legislative scrutiny. I cannot imagine that somewhere along the way, as a good and effective Opposition, the Labour Party will not put down an amendment to that effect.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, the Government have not undertaken any assessment of the number of illegal motorway advertisements. The enforcement of advertisement control is a matter for the local planning authorities, which have a range of powers to take action against advertisements displayed in contravention of the Town and Country Planning (Control of Advertisements) (England) Regulations 2007. Guidance has been issued in CLG Circular 03/2007 which emphasises the importance of amenity and public safety in advertising control.
Lord Harrison: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer and for his continuing interest in this matter, but does he agree that motorway adverts are not only illegal but often ugly, badly designed and represent a driver hazard? After all, they would not be succeeding unless they distracted the driver's attention. In the light of that, will he renew the 2007 advice to local councils with increased vigour, and study the research by Brunel University which suggested that some 20,000 accidents and 300 deaths might be ascribed to the hazard of adverts aligning the motorways?
Earl Attlee: My Lords, I pay tribute to the persistence of the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, in his campaigning on this matter. He is right to do so and I agree with much of what he said about these advertisements. He identifies a lack of definitive scientific research. The Highways Agency has advised me that there is no obvious pattern of accidents near these advertisements. There is no cluster effect. It is therefore difficult to give the necessary research much priority. The Highways Agency informs local authorities of any infringements and it is up to them to determine their priorities. But the noble Lord's Question will do much to raise the profile of the issue.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, in my opinion most of these advertisements are illegal but the difficulty is one of enforcement. An advertisement on a vehicle is not subject to control under the 2007 regulations, provided the vehicle is normally used as a moving vehicle and is not used principally for the display of advertisements. When a vehicle is used principally for the display of an advertisement and is parked in one place for a prolonged period, the land can be regarded as a site for the display of an advertisement and then would require express consent from the local planning authority.
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, does my noble friend accept that the same hazards described by the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, can occur in road signs? I am thinking in particular of the one in Lincolnshire, which directs you "To Mavis Enderby and Old Bolingbroke", under which somebody had written, "the gift of a child".
Earl Attlee: My Lords, I am not familiar with that particular sign. The regulations we have in place are comprehensive, reasonable and effective and I pay tribute to the party opposite for the 2007 regulations.
Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: My Lords, as the noble Earl identified, the problem is one of enforcement. How do the Government intend to ensure that we have proper enforcement in the future and, given that police forces in the country are saying they cannot face the cuts that are coming their way, how we can expect to see any improvement in enforcements? Might he suggest that, under localism, individuals should take it into their own hands to start enforcing?
Earl Attlee: My Lords, it is a matter for the local authority to enforce the regulations. The problem is the exploitation of the flexibility in the regulations that allows an advertisement on a vehicle to be exempt. Farmers are leaving a trailer parked in the field for months; it is very difficult for the local authorities to prosecute but it is for them to determine their priorities.
Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is not the illegal advertisements that are dangerous and distracting to drivers-because a good driver pays no attention to them? Rather, it is the totally unnecessary and frivolous legal notices, which say things like "Please drive carefully" in lettering a little too small to be easily read.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, following the point made by the noble Lady, and given that motorways are covered in signs saying things like "Check your fuel"-put there at great expense-what on earth is the harm in small businesses being able to put advertisements for their products in fields on the sides of lorries? Surely at a time of recession, with a Government committed to encouraging free enterprise and reducing regulation, this cannot be a priority?
Earl Attlee: My Lords, I thought someone would make this point. It is because of our comprehensive regulations that we do not have the situation seen in overseas countries, where roads are littered with advertisements. We have an effective system.
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, the Office for Civil Society will support charities, social enterprises and voluntary organisations in their pivotal work, encouraging a big society and addressing disadvantage by making it easier to set up and run such organisations, easier for them to work with the state, and by getting more resources into the sector. The office will co-ordinate work across government to implement the big society and establish a number of flagship big society projects.
Baroness Andrews: My Lords, I am grateful for that encouraging Answer. However, does the Minister not agree that if the big society is to become a reality, the capacity of the voluntary and community services will have to be built up? At the same time as the NCVO is talking about a tidal wave of cuts, local government is cutting back on funding and contracts. Does the Minister see, as I do, a real and fundamental contradiction in that? Can he therefore assure me that the funding for the OCS programme budget will be protected so that the sector can not only continue to provide services but take up the challenge of making the big society a reality?
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, there is no escaping the need to tackle the deficit, but we are in this together. Those on the Benches opposite are well aware that cuts need to be made in the deficit. But where cuts are made, they should be conducted in accordance with the principle of the compact between government and the sector. We are committed to helping the sector access a wide range of funding to increase its strength and independence. We are establishing a big society bank to lever additional social investment into the sector and reviewing ways to incentivise further philanthropy and charitable giving.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: The noble Lord, Lord Peston, will of course have remarked that, immediately before he stood up, we had a question from the opposition Benches. It is time for a question from a Liberal Democrat; otherwise there will be two opposition questions consecutively.
Lord Maclennan of Rogart: I am grateful to my noble friend. Can the Minister say whether, in seeking to get more resources into the sector, the Government will consider the forms of tax incentives to philanthropy which are pursued very successfully in the United States? Does he recognise that, in this way, the Government can assist more readily than can their newly created quango?
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: The big society is not a quango, it is a concept, and I think that it is very important to see it in those terms. It is utilising the resources that exist within the voluntary sector. Of course funding of voluntary organisations is very important. The Government are looking at the role of gift aid because that is an extremely important source of funds for all voluntary organisations and charities. It is under review to try to make it less burdensome on the administration of charities so that they can benefit to the full from this situation. However, I take great note of what my noble friend has said about other systems that might encourage funding for voluntary organisations.
The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, does the Minister agree that for the third sector and charities to be effective they need to be supported by excellent social workers, excellent youth workers and other excellent professionals? Will he discuss with his colleagues whether the superb Teach First scheme might not now be spread in some form towards social work and youth work so that people who might have thought of entering the City will instead at this time of recession consider other areas and we can have the benefit of their enthusiasm and expertise?
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I thank the noble Earl for that question, as it enables me to draw attention to the role of the noble Lord, Lord Wei, who sits on our Benches and has been appointed as a government adviser to the big society. As a social entrepreneur he was one of the founders of Teach First and Future Leaders, and his current interests include work with the Shaftesbury Partnership, a professional services network designed to ensure social impact and absolute return for kids. The professionalism which the noble Lord, Lord Wei, brings to the creation of the big society underlines the important relationship between professional support for voluntary organisations and the volunteers themselves in building up this concept.
Lord Peston: I apologise to the Minister because I was under the impression that the noble Lords opposite were part of the alliance and were not a separate political party. Therefore, I had no precedence when it comes to asking questions. If I may, I will now get round to asking my question. The Minister said that the big society was a concept. It is a concept which is totally meaningless to me. Following the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, will he give us a definition so that those of us who would like to follow this analysis can actually find out, apart from the extreme vulgarity of the expression, what concept the noble Lord and the Government are referring to?
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I hope that Question Time gives me an opportunity to do so. The big society is a concept that is running throughout the Government. It is an approach to the coalition, redistributing power from the state, from the centre, to local communities, giving people the opportunity to take more control over their lives. I hope the Benches opposite will support that concept.
The Lord Bishop of Liverpool: My Lords, I was very pleased to be in the audience for the Prime Minister's speech on the big society in Liverpool on Monday and I welcome the emphasis on the renewal of civil society. Many of the Ministers at that meeting referred to DCLG officials being available to community members in order to help create civil society. Can the Minister advise the House on whether these officials will be available in London or locally, because London is a long way from many of these local communities?
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for his personal endorsement of the scheme. There are going to be four test-bed projects spread throughout the country, in the Eden Valley in Cumbria, Liverpool, the London Borough of Sutton,
21 July 2010 : Column 972
The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): My Lords, Physical Control in Care was a system of restraint techniques approved for use in secure training centres in circumstances where the risks arising from young people's behaviour could not be dealt with by any other means.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for answering the Question. Of course these young offenders can be very difficult people-otherwise they would not be detained-but does he realise that many of us were shocked that this secret manual indicated that it was permissible to inflict pain on young people, some of them as young as 12, in circumstances that led to at least one inquest saying that this represented an unjustified use of force? Would not the right course be to withdraw this document and to produce something publicly that is more humane?
Lord McNally: My Lords, since the document was published in 2005, the Government have had a thorough review of it and are in the process of producing new guidelines on restraint and behaviour management designed to replace the existing document. The new system will be assessed by medical and other experts on the new restraint accreditation board. In the mean time, as I said, a new version of the manual is being drawn up and will take account of the changes that have taken place since 2005.
Baroness Linklater of Butterstone: My Lords, although the manual is going to be revised, it is currently in use, including, theoretically, on children as young as 12 who are the most damaged and difficult in our society. Is my noble friend aware that the advice given is that, in extremis, a member of staff can drive his fingers straight into the young person's face and then quickly drive the straightened fingers of the same hand downwards into the young person's groin area? A great deal is wrong and I hope that the Minister will agree that what is needed is proper, adequate, suitable and relevant training and not this kind of restraint.
Lord McNally: I can assure my noble friend that suitable, adequate and proper training is exactly what is under way. It has been suggested, particularly in the media, that some of these techniques were in general use. The techniques are for when an unarmed officer is under attack. I have looked at the manual and at some of the techniques highlighted by the media. On almost every occasion, the last line is: "The member of staff exits". These are not techniques to inflict pain on
21 July 2010 : Column 973
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, in view of the considerable concern that has been expressed about these techniques, which have been used even quite recently, will the Minister undertake to ensure, while the review is under way, that a report is made to Parliament of every incident that takes place?
Lord McNally: No, I do not think that I can do that. There are regular reports and there is a body that reviews these incidents. I share some of the concern, but we are talking about 3 per cent of young people who are put into custody. As I emphasised in response to a question the other day, this is very much a last resort. The number of people going into custody has fallen dramatically in recent years-I pay tribute to the Front Bench opposite for what it achieved-but we also have a duty of care, both to the staff who deal with these often very violent young people and to other inmates, who may themselves be the subject of attack. I have committed to visit two of the institutions, to look at them and to talk to the staff. As I said, a thorough review has taken place and a new manual will be published imminently.
is the behaviour of a civilised society? I was deeply shocked by this and I continue to be so. I sincerely hope that we go back to the old common-law doctrine of minimum force, as opposed to these actions, which sound like those of a pub brawl and nothing less.
Lord McNally: Minimum force is the guidance. The opportunity to treat young people in different ways is being explored. The institutions concerned have had the highest recommendations from Ofsted. Nobody is more enthusiastic about freedom of information than I am, but is it really in the public interest for a manual such as this to be available for distribution on the internet and for people to look at these techniques, which, as I said, are used in extremis by staff under threat of physical danger? We have approached this matter, as did the previous Administration, with due responsibility. We have taken note of what has happened since 2005 and acted on it.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, immediately after the proceedings on the Misuse of Drugs Act order, my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford will repeat a Statement entitled "Kabul Conference".
Twenty-eight speakers have signed up for today's debate. The debate itself is not time-limited, but it may be helpful if I indicate that, if Back-Bench contributions were kept to eight minutes, the House would be able to rise this evening at around the target rising time of 10 pm.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Neville-Jones): My Lords, the Order in Council was laid before Parliament on 12 July. If it is made, it will bring a group of cathinone derivatives-so-called legal highs, which include naphthylpyrovalerone, known as naphyrone and commonly branded as NRG-1-under the control of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 as class B drugs. There it will join mephedrone and other cathinone derivatives which were brought under the control of the 1971 Act as class B drugs from 16 April 2010, with cross-party agreement in the final days of the last Parliament.
The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs indicated in its cathinone report of 31 March that it would provide further advice on this additional group of cathinone derivatives as a priority. That is what we are dealing with today. They are familiar but sufficiently different from mephedrone and other cathinone derivatives that the ACMD needed to consider them separately. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary received the council's report on 7 July and she was pleased to accept the council's recommendation for control, on which this draft order is based. She did so on behalf of the Government.
The council is to be commended for using this extra time well to provide a further thorough, forward-looking piece of work. The proposed control of naphthyl analogues by a wide-ranging generic definition, as set out in the draft order, is consistent with the UK's legislative approach to other synthetic drugs. Now that we have the council's advice, we are asking for Parliament's agreement to expedite control without delay and before this House rises for the Summer Recess. We need to learn the lessons from the UK's experience on mephedrone, which became rapidly established before it was controlled in April. It is proposed that the order will come into force on the second day after the day on which it is made. That could be as early as 23 July and the legislation would therefore have an immediate impact, not least on the current music festival season, as supply and possession of these drugs would become unlawful with immediate effect.
Action to address the health risks arising from the use of existing so-called legal highs and the issue of further legal highs coming on to the market is a priority for the Government. We need to consider how we can reduce the supply and demand for new substances; our response must be wide-ranging, encompassing prevention, education, treatment and enforcement. That is at the core of our legislative response. There are those who look to subvert our laws and sell potentially harmful drugs advertising them as legal. This can lead people, especially young people, to think that these drugs are therefore safe. We need our drug laws to move faster to protect the public and to combat these unscrupulous manufacturers and suppliers.
As we set out in the coalition agreement, we will introduce a system of temporary bans on new psychoactive substances while health issues are considered by independent experts. The underlying purpose of the temporary banning power is to enable Parliament to be highly responsive to emerging new psychoactive substances and, at the same time, provide the advisory council with the time or space that it needs to formulate its full advice. Full details of the temporary banning power will be announced shortly. It is the intention to undertake legislation on this later this year.
While the temporary banning power will be a key and necessary tool in our legislative response to this changing landscape, our preferred approach to drug control will remain one which the advisory council and the Government have adopted for the past 40 years: a full assessment by the council before any controls are invoked by Parliament. The order before Parliament is an example of that process working. We need to add naphyrone, and related substances, promptly to the cathinones already controlled under our misuse of drugs legislation. This is because they are structurally similar to cathinone derivatives, such as mephedrone, which are already classified under the 1971 Act as class B drugs, and they pose similar harms to those who use them.
The advisory council commented that, consistent with the known or reported harms of the cathinones and traditional amphetamines, the predicted harmful effects of naphyrone include adverse effects on the heart and blood vessels, hyperthermia, dependence liability and psychiatric effects, including psychosis and anxiety. However, the more concerning aspect of the advisory council's advice is that naphyrone has a high potency by comparison with other cathinones. This suggests that its use is likely to be associated with a higher risk of accidental overdose. I also emphasise that we are not aware of any legitimate use of these chemicals.
Enforcement action has been, and is being, applied to naphyrone. This included an immediate worldwide importation ban on naphyrone under the Import of Goods (Control) Order 1954 on receipt of the advisory council's advice. The open general import licence was amended to exclude naphyrone from its scope. The UK Border Agency has been instructed to seize and destroy shipments of this, and related drugs, at the border; and we will also continue to work with other law enforcement agencies to strengthen their enforcement response to the identification and sale of illicit substances being mis-sold as legal highs.
The Serious Organised Crime Agency is actively developing approaches to identify websites offering mephedrone for sale, both at home and abroad, so that it can take action at an international level to close these down. This action will be extended in scope to include naphyrone.
Enforcement action of this sort is effective. We continue to monitor the impact of the ban on mephedrone but it has curtailed the availability of the drug, enabling enforcing authorities to take action to seize mephedrone at our borders and on our streets. Since the ban has been introduced, the UK Border Agency has made a number of detections and stopped more than 115 kilograms of chemicals that it suspects to be mephedrone from entering the UK. We also know that the legal-highs market self-regulates and withdraws banned drugs. The ban has also provided the strongest support to our public health message about the harms of mephedrone and like drugs.
Control of naphyrone also provides us with the opportunity to repeat our public message that although this drug may currently be advertised as legal-as a so-called legal high-it does not mean that it is safe or that it is necessarily legal. The advisory council's report on naphyrone highlighted research from test purchases. Clearly, sellers are using the brand NRG-1 and masquerading it as naphyrone-and therefore legal-and marketing it as a mephedrone substitute. A branded product of this sort may, in fact, contain a number of illegal cathinones, legal stimulants or other active or inactive constituents. Any brand name that purports to be legal cannot be trusted. It does not mean that they are safe or legal. Users are putting their health at risk and could be committing a criminal offence.
We have taken a number of actions based on this information. It is now a key message for the FRANK service-which is available to users-on legal highs. Last month, the Minister for Crime Prevention-my right honourable friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup-wrote to organisers of music festivals to make them aware of this information, asking them to review the measures that they put in place to ensure that their festivals are as safe an environment as possible.
The department has also called on local trading standards teams through local authority chief executives, to work in partnership with the police to deal with the sale of any legal highs, taking full account of this latest evidence, and to make appropriate referrals to the police and otherwise apply their responsibility for enforcing offences under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. The Association of Chief Police Officers for England, Wales and Northern Ireland will also update its enforcement guidance on new psychoactive substances.
It is intended to make two further related statutory instruments, which will be subject to the negative resolution procedure. The Misuse of Drugs (Designation) (Amendment No. 2) Order 2010 will specify naphthylpyrovalerone analogues including naphyrone as drugs, which have no statutorily recognised medicinal or other legitimate use. The Misuse of Drugs (Amendment No. 2) Regulations 2010 will similarly amend the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001 to include these drugs. These instruments were laid on 14 July to come into force at the same time as the Order in Council, if it comes into force as proposed.
The Government will publicise the approved law changes on naphyrone and related substances through a Home Office circular and the Talk to Frank and drugs.gov.uk website. Reference to the law changes and health risks relating to the drugs will be included in future government materials for young people. I commend the order to the House.
Lord Brett: My Lords, I thank the Minister for the detailed explanation of why this order is both important and necessary. In proposing this order, the Government are continuing the policy pursued by the previous Labour Government. I commend the Minister for this and suggest that continuing the policies of the previous Government in a number of policy areas in the Home Office would also be commended as useful. Beyond that, I applaud the Pauline conversion of the minority party in the coalition to the policy set out in the Minister's explanation. As I recall, it showed far less support when the same policy was put forward previously by the last Government.
My colleague, the Opposition spokesman in the other place, sought and gained the assurances from the Government that I would have placed before the Minister today. On that basis, it remains only for me to indicate support for this order and commend it to the House.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, we discussed the last misuse of drugs order less than four months ago. Speaking on behalf of my Liberal Democrat colleagues, I supported the order, so I am a little confused by what the noble Lord has just said. There were several comments about designer drugs and so-called legal highs, and that the so-called designers would always work on the next drug. Those predictions were clearly right. I am very happy to support this order, but I have a number of questions, to some extent following from the previous order so that the House can understand the success or otherwise-I hope success-of that approach.
The Minister has told us that 115 kilograms of mephedrone/cathinone derivatives have been seized. I know that it is asking her to prove a negative, but does she have any information as to how much might be getting through-the converse of that coin? What steps have been taken to publicise the dangers of legal highs? Welcome was given around the House to the steps that were being taken then, and the noble Lord, Lord Bates, mentioned the use of social media, which struck me as entirely sensible in this context. She has mentioned today steps that might be taken by trading standards officers under consumer protection legislation. Naphyrone and naphthylpyrovalerone analogues apparently have no legitimate purpose in the same way as mephedrone. I do not suppose that they are any more effective as bath salts or fertilisers than mephedrone. Have trading standards officers in fact had any success in using their powers under consumer protection legislation?
I hope-and I think that I understand this correctly from what the Minister said-that enforcement will concentrate on dealers rather than on users. She mentioned the border agency and SOCA; clearly enforcement is a matter for them as well as for the police, but I think
21 July 2010 : Column 978
I support the order and welcome debating the more permanent steps which the Government will take. They extend beyond the health issues that the Minister mentioned to matters involving the Ministry of Justice, the Department for Education and so on. Drugs are such a complicated issue that they need a very thoughtful, very broad-based approach. I am happy to support the measure.
Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: My Lords, I welcome the Minister's explanation of the order and add my support for the actions which the coalition Government are taking. It is difficult to stay abreast of the technological changes in the drug field and to restrict the spread, but I was interested to hear that an attempt will be made to intervene in websites which sell these drugs. I would be extremely grateful if the Minister would keep the House informed about what happens on that front.
It was before the Minister's time, but some of us, many years ago, were complaining about the increasing strength of cannabis-skunk-which was being advertised widely on the internet and which many of us claimed was a cause of concern to public health. At the time our advisory council saw no evidence of increasing strength in cannabis. Subsequently it changed its mind and recognised that there was an increasing problem, but I do not think that anything has really been done about the websites which are still advertising skunk and similar cannabis items for sale. In doing something about these particular drugs, would the Government be prepared, if this order is successful, to see whether similar measures could be taken against the advertising and sale of skunk and high-potency cannabis on the internet?
Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the House for the support which has been given to the order. A number of extremely relevant points have been made. The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, talked about the use of websites; this does concern the Government and it is a matter of public concern. It is also relevant in the terrorist context and it is a matter that we are looking at.
One of the problems with the internet, as the House will be aware, is that it is not under the unilateral control of this country; we have to get international co-operation in order to take effective action, which then involves freedom of speech legislation and so on. It is not a simple matter to take websites down-it is very important to get the co-operation of the ISPs. We are working on this on a broader front, not excluding drugs, to try to do something about websites that contain information which is clearly contrary to the public interest and which induce violence and harm in society.
My noble friend Lady Hamwee made several points with which I will try to deal. She said that she supported the order, for which I am extremely grateful, and asked a number of questions. We are taking actions very much with an eye to getting the message out to young people that these substances are harmful to them. I mentioned the FRANK line and the information available to young people on that messaging system. As I said, we have written to festival organisers to try to alert them to the fact that these substances, which are often advertised as being legal-what is more, they are not always what they are advertised as being; they may contain quite other substances-are really dangerous and will be illegal. I emphasise that we have discovered no legitimate use for this particular substance. It is designed simply to give people a high, with very great subsequent potential harm to their health.
I do not have information on whether trading standards officers have used their powers successfully. We are using the device of the temporary banning order to prevent a market for naphyrone developing in the first place so that we do not have to try to clear up a further substance which has already taken a grip on the market. This is meant to be protective and pre-emptive action to prevent greater harm occurring.
As has been spotted, effective enforcement must rightly concentrate on tackling dealers, to prevent the substance coming into the country and reaching young users. So far as we can tell, at the moment there is no great prevalence of this drug but we and our advisory council are clear that it is a very harmful substance which should not be allowed to gain a grip on the population.
I am grateful for the support the House has given the order. I am certain that it will help to ensure that the necessary controls are in place to protect the public, particularly the health of young people. We will continue to monitor trends and give the House information on how this approach is proceeding as it is a new and very necessary one in tackling synthetic drugs. We will assess the impact of the controls in the order and keep the House informed.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford): My Lords, with permission, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. The Statement is as follows.
My right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister today paid his respects to the four servicemen to die in Afghanistan in the past week. They died in the service of their country and the whole House will join me in expressing its gratitude to them and the British forces in Afghanistan. The past month has been a difficult
21 July 2010 : Column 980
I would not want to minimise in any way to the House the immense challenges that we and our allies continue to face in Afghanistan, or the difficulties and dangers we continue to encounter on a daily basis. Bringing security and stability to Afghanistan remains an exceptionally demanding task for the men and women of our Armed Forces, our diplomatic service, and those involved in development. Their work is rarely less than outstanding on a daily basis. There will continue to be setbacks and discouragements, even while progress is being made. We must therefore always guard against over-optimism, but we must equally guard against listening only to bad news or failing to notice the millions of Afghans who want us to succeed.
In the past six months, our troops have consolidated their position in Helmand, taken the fight to the Taliban and trained hundreds of Afghan troops; our diplomats and aid workers have worked with Afghan colleagues to promote a more inclusive political process and intensify our work, including on education and governance; and the Government of Afghanistan have acted on their London commitments and drawn together for the first time a cross-government strategy to deliver widespread reform.
As the Prime Minister said, our objective is a stable Afghanistan able to maintain its own security and prevent al-Qaeda from returning, so that within five years we can drawdown British combat troops.
The NATO objective in Afghanistan is simple-to assist the Government of Afghanistan in exercising their authority and influence across the country, paving the way for reconstruction and effective governance. This requires the protection of the population, the provision of more effective governance at every level and the creation of an Afghan security force able to maintain security and prevent the return of Al-Qaeda. This is the strategy that UK forces are helping to implement, through their training and partnering of Afghan troops, and their efforts to create the opportunity for more effective local governance in central Helmand. General Petraeus, the newly appointed commander of ISAF, has made clear that this remains his approach.
Together with my right honourable friend the International Development Secretary, I attended the Kabul conference yesterday, following visits I made to China, Japan and Oman. Some 40 Foreign Ministers and international organisations-including the UN, NATO, the EU and the World Bank-attended, in what was an unprecedented event for Afghanistan. It was also unprecedented in the number of Muslim partners represented at such a conference. It showed the world that Afghanistan is increasingly able to run its own affairs, and was a further step in the process of transition from direct international military and civil intervention to Afghan leadership.
The conference issued a communiqué agreed among all participants, which builds on the progress made in the last six months. It establishes the Kabul process, an Afghan-led process which aims to accelerate Afghanistan's ability to govern itself with accountable government,
21 July 2010 : Column 981
The Afghan Government made yesterday a number of important commitments: to concentrate efforts on a limited number of national programmes and projects to transform the lives of people and reinforce the relationship between state and citizens; to have Afghan security forces take the lead on security throughout the country by 2014 and to set up an Afghan NATO board to analyse whether provinces are ready to begin the transition process; to create a lean, effective and appropriately paid public service, retiring those civil servants who are unable to perform or are not needed in a renewed and revitalised civil service; to ensure that the wealth generated from the mining sector is invested to benefit future generations; to require new national development programmes to be designed with international partners to ensure the highest standards of accountability and transparency; to amend the criminal law to increase penalties for the failure to disclose assets and to take to trial Ministers and other high-ranking officials who do not comply; to strengthen the High Office of Oversight for Government Accountability and the Major Crimes Task Force in order to tackle corruption; to establish a commission to find ways to bring together the public and private sectors to stimulate accelerated economic growth; to work with parliament to strengthen its constitutionally mandated role; to improve financial management and agree a system with donors in order to allow more donor funds to be channelled through the Afghan budget.
This Afghan plan will be supported by the UK Government and by international partners. On 10 June, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister announced an additional £200 million in funding to promote stability and development over the next four years. My right honourable friend the International Development Secretary will set out further details on this in a Written Ministerial Statement tomorrow.
Britain will intensify and reinvigorate our development efforts, increasing the pace of work and the achievement of specific results, in line with the Government of Afghanistan's priorities. We will work closely with the Afghans, the United States and others to accelerate the stabilisation effort in central Helmand and the 81 key districts targeted under the ISAF plan. We will work with others to ensure the successful implementation of the agreed peace and reintegration programme and help to support the forthcoming elections, and we will invest in improving the quality and effectiveness of the police. Our overall aim is speeding up the pace of transition to Afghan security leadership.
We will also support the Afghan economy and help new jobs through investment in mining, roads, power and irrigation, and by bringing community-driven development to isolated areas of the country. We will
21 July 2010 : Column 982
Our international partners have committed themselves to do their part to support the Kabul process. Afghanistan's near neighbours will work to accelerate regional economic co-operation. An important milestone was reached in the days before the conference with the conclusion of the Afghanistan-Pakistan trade transit agreement. This much desired economic measure has taken some 40 years to achieve.
The Kabul process is a major step forward for Afghanistan and an important staging post in Afghanistan's development. There remains more to do, notably in the areas of governance. Measures to enforce transparency, anti-corruption and accountability have slipped and need to be brought back on track as soon as possible.
We will pursue this and other issues as part of the follow-up to the conference. The Kabul process contains strengthened review mechanisms, which include a more robust Joint Co-ordination and Monitoring Board in Kabul and an overarching annual assessment, which will report to an annual Kabul ministerial conference. My department, the Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development will be closely involved in that process.
The Kabul conference has established a road map for more professional, functioning and mature institutions. There will be other important milestones this year, including parliamentary elections, the NATO Lisbon summit and President Obama's review. Her Majesty's Government will build on these steps to help to put in place the conditions for a stable, secure and increasingly prosperous Afghanistan".
Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Foreign Secretary's Statement made earlier in the other place. We all join the Foreign Secretary in his words of support, gratitude and condolence offered to our Armed Forces. Their courage and fortitude, and indeed their family support, continue to be hugely valued and respected by the whole nation.
Clearly, we are looking forward to the moment when the Afghan authorities can take responsibility for their own security, and we all want to do all that we can to see support for their efforts on peace and security. We also all want to see support for their efforts to advance the provision of essential public services, including education and health, which the Minister mentioned and which must be delivered in an efficient and accountable way.
The Secretary-General of the United Nations said in Kabul that the aim has to be to stay engaged for the long term and to see the establishment of effective democratic governance. There is still a great deal to do and a long way to go if we are to see, in the timescales envisaged, a safer, better-served and well-governed Afghanistan. Does the Minister agree that we need to
21 July 2010 : Column 983
The Foreign Secretary's response in the other place on security policy made no reference to the considerable investment by the European Union in, for example, policing or support for the judicial system. This is done through trust funds and through EUPOL. It is worth acknowledging that these investments are making a difference and that we are taking them into account when we discuss our engagement with matters in Afghanistan.
Can the noble Lord confirm whether the UK is encouraging the European Union to continue to support the elections due to be held in September, which again have not been mentioned? The noble Lord will, I am sure, agree that the electoral structures and institutions need to be strengthened after the last election-we saw some flawed evidence from that election-if the people of Afghanistan are to feel confident about the credibility and transparency of the election processes.
Does the Minister agree that the focus must be set on objectives, not on predetermined timetables? While we are told that we will not be there in 2015, there have been some mixed messages and inconsistencies. For example, the Foreign Secretary said that he would be surprised if the security transition took longer than 2014, while the Prime Minister confirmed 2015 and, in Washington last night, said that withdrawal would begin next year. Timetables are all well and good, but clocks are ticking away while the insurgency continues and the casualties grow.
Can the Minister give the detail of any current thinking on the likelihood of some sort of negotiation with the Taliban? Are the Government aware that the Taliban has already said that talk of withdrawal in July by the United States shows that it is on the road to victory? How does the Minister respond to these assertions from the insurgents? Also, is there a proposal to present a clear plan for the critical period between 2011 and 2015 and is not clarity really necessary-essential, in fact-in the context of the Taliban position? It is very clear that, as far as it is concerned, talks will not begin until foreign forces leave Afghanistan. There are those who intimate that unthinkable compromises will have to be made, but political settlement and reintegration got scant mention in the Foreign Secretary's Statement.
Finally, I turn to the importance which must be attached to women's rights in Afghanistan. We know that, last year, President Karzai signed the Shia personal status law, which forbids women from refusing sex with their husbands or leaving home without their husband's permission. Will the Government press for stronger diplomatic efforts to support groups working with women, especially Afghan groups? The Minister will, I am sure, recognise and reiterate advances which most certainly have been made by and for women, but many experts and many women that we have spoken to doubt the depth of the cultural and institutional
21 July 2010 : Column 984
The women of Afghanistan want peace with justice, and I fear that even in these meetings in London and Kabul not enough understanding or attention was given to the demands that women are making. They fear that the progress they have seen will be jettisoned in favour of deals which the authorities will want to make with the fighters. They feel that their presence at the conference was symbolic and that they were not consulted. They are, justifiably, demanding guarantees of equal protection under the law and that their rights should not be compromised in any peace negotiations or agreements. In order to get what they want, some may be prepared to sacrifice the interests of Afghan women. Whatever objectives the Afghan Government may have, they must not be made at the expense of the women and children of that country. A lot needs to be done. The average life expectancy for a woman in Afghanistan is 44-the worst in the world-and one in eight dies in childbirth, which is one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world.
The Minister mentioned the Ministerial Statement tomorrow but I would appreciate more detail now or in a letter on how DfID funds will be used to deal with inequities such as access to professional training, which I know the US is focusing on, and all the other important areas of concern in relation to gender inequality. A great deal is at stake at this time for the people of Afghanistan and, indeed, for the whole region and the world. They demand strong and effective leadership from the Foreign Secretary, the Prime Minister and the Government.
Lord Howell of Guildford: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her considerable number of very important questions. I shall do my best to answer them, taking them in the order in which she raised them.
A functioning justice system is vital-the noble Baroness is completely correct about that-and we welcome the progress which the Afghan Government have made already in crucial areas of justice reform. We are working with the Afghan Government to clarify how they intend to drive forward progress, and with the wider international community, including the European Union-which the noble Baroness rightly raised and reminded me of-to establish how best we can support justice reform in Afghanistan. This is a vital area. I leave no one in any doubt about that.
The noble Baroness said that no mention was made of the parliamentary elections. I thought that there was a mention but, if there was not, I will say now that
21 July 2010 : Column 985
On the general question of objectives between now and 2015, there is a clear and firm commitment to work for the withdrawal of all combat troops by 2015. That was the clear statement by the Prime Minister yesterday and by other of his colleagues. Obviously after 2015 some troops will still be there for training purposes but that will be the end of the combat involvement. It seems more than reasonable-indeed it is a sensible and strategic task-to place that date. This is not a rush for the exit; it is nothing like that at all. This is a firm harness of pressure on both the Karzai Government and the Taliban underlining the fact that there will be an exact and organised timetable up to that period. It makes sense to have the firm date which has been agreed. Of course, there is a dovetailing with the plans of Mr Obama, which my right honourable friend the Prime Minister discussed with him yesterday.
The noble Baroness asked about Taliban negotiations. Our view is that there are Taliban moderates-that not all Taliban are extremists. We support any moves which President Karzai makes in making contact with them if they are people who commit to the overall framework of a unified Afghan nation and to the conduct of that nation in a civilian, non-violent and democratic way. If they are prepared to talk, we support President Karzai making contact with them.
The noble Baroness asked about the need for a firm plan. The Kabul process, which my right honourable friend has worked on in the past two days, is the transition plan. The long list of commitments that I read out in the Statement made by my right honourable friend describes the bones of the plan. Obviously one cannot work out exactly to the minute at which point different bits will be achieved, but here is a very detailed set of commitments which will be monitored.
The noble Baroness then turned to the immensely important issue of women's rights, and she is absolutely correct to lay emphasis on this. The conference communiqué contained clear commitments on women's rights, including implementing a national priority programme for human rights and civic responsibilities, mainstreaming gender equality across all programmes, and undertaking a human rights, legal awareness and civic education programme targeting communities across Afghanistan.
The noble Baroness is not right in saying that there were no representatives of women's organisations at the conference. Representatives of civil society, including women's organisations, were at the conference and presented a statement to participants on behalf of civil society organisations including women's groups. In addition, a separate conference on women's rights was organised by the Afghan women's movement, which was attended by around 200 women from all 34 provinces in Afghanistan and played a key role in contributing to the civil society statement made at the conference. So, although I totally understand her concerns and priorities, I hope she will accept that the problem is at least recognised and is of course vital and central.
21 July 2010 : Column 986
I think that that covers most of the noble Baroness's points. On the question of how the extra moneys will be spent, I cannot give precise details at this point, but a system has been set up to monitor them very carefully indeed. We are determined to see that there is no filtering away of these funds into corrupt practices or dubious activities. We will make absolutely sure that they are spent in effective programmes in line with what I know will be the wishes of your Lordships and indeed of the whole British people.
Baroness D'Souza: My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. May I, on behalf of the Cross Benches, offer profound sympathies to bereaved families and, once again, pay tribute to the courage of the forces fighting in the south of the country?
I would like to ask two very brief questions. First, in view of very recent events-the killing of soldiers-what measures are being taken to prevent and/or weed out any Taliban presence in the Afghan national army? The second question, which the Minister certainly alluded to, is what new measures will now be taken as a result of the Kabul conference to ensure that aid is actually used to build and improve infrastructure in the form of transport, health and education facilities?
Of the tragedies which we have seen in recent times, the appalling killing of military personnel, very tragically including three British soldiers, by a member of the Afghan forces was a horror. There have been other incidents of a similar kind, but I think that my answer has to be that there is no question of this being a general problem. It does not in any way deter us from the overriding commitment of moving forward to the transition and enabling a proper, well-trained Afghan force, and indeed Afghan police force, to take over the security of their own country. However, there has to be very careful monitoring and watching to make sure that this kind of tragedy does not occur. It is something that one just has to watch for. There can never be any guarantee that personnel will not somehow be perverted, twisted or lose control of themselves and do terrible things; but the whole system is being very carefully monitored and watched, and we hope and pray and work to ensure that it does not happen again.
As to the destinations of aid, these can be tightened up. Of course there have been criticisms that not all aid is reaching the right points. We have strengthened a number of the monitoring processes, and they will be even more strengthened as a result of the Kabul conference in order that we may continue with the infrastructure development, which has gone on apace. We should not underestimate the fantastic things that have been done in the years since the original invasion. I shall share with your Lordships one figure that quite surprised me when I looked at some of the briefing for today. The Afghan economy is growing incredibly fast-last year it grew at 22.5 per cent. We could do with that kind of growth here.
Baroness Falkner of Margravine: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Statement and welcome the £200 million in additional funding to support stability and development. I recognise that the Afghan Government, with our support, favour a broad dialogue with the Taliban-the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, spoke at some length today about what that means-but I wonder whether we are exercising leverage with Pakistan, which is critical to the success of our mission given the role of the Inter-Services Intelligence Agency in supporting the most violent and reactionary elements of the Taliban in terms of the reconciliation. Unless the Pakistanis lean on their friends to desist from disrupting the peace and reconciliation that there is, we are not going to get very far. I notice that the Foreign Secretary sets great store by the UK-Pakistan strategic dialogue. Does that include a security dimension, and are these talks happening in that format? Finally, will the Minister tell us whether the Prime Minister intends to appoint a new special envoy to Afghanistan given the departure of Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles? Surely a regional approach dealing with India, Pakistan and Afghanistan would be facilitated if we did not rely solely on the Americans and had our own sources of influence in those capitals.
Lord Howell of Guildford: I am grateful to my noble friend. On her second point, William Patey, a very able ambassador, is appointed to be our man in Kabul and fulfils that role. I had the pleasure of meeting him only two or three days ago when he was here. I was enormously impressed by his experience and grasp of the complexities. This is, in effect, not quite the replacement but the development of the role that Sherard Cowper-Coles had previously. He has now completed his assignment there.
Pakistan's role is vital-my noble friend is completely correct. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has visited Pakistan and discussed in detail with the Pakistani leadership how we can work more closely together, how we can support them, and how in particular they can achieve their twin aims: to defeat-that is a strong word-the Taliban elements on their own territories and their side of the border; and to help contain-that is perhaps not quite such a strong word-the Taliban activities on the other side of the border in the Pashtun-related areas. This dialogue is crucial. Without sensible progress on that front, there will be no stabilisation in Afghanistan. That is why we place the highest priority on a very close dialogue with our Pakistan colleagues.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: I agree with every word that the Minister said about William Patey. He is an excellent diplomat, one in whom we can have the utmost confidence. Perhaps I may remind the Minister that, on a recent occasion when we discussed this issue, he assured the House that the 2015 date was not a "deadline". It now seems that it is a firm date. It is a bit hard to discriminate between a firm date and a deadline. The problem is the implied comfort that it gives to the Taliban.
Can the Minister tell us what action is being taken in relation to Yemen? There is a genuine fear that the Taliban are melting away in the way that Osama bin Laden has evaded all capture over recent years, however
21 July 2010 : Column 988
I return to the point made by my noble friend Lady Kinnock. She did not say that there were no women at the conference. She said that the women at the conference did not feel that their concerns were being taken seriously. I can understand that. There are 10 important commitments in the Statement, but there is not a single mention of women, although the noble Lord in answering the question said that the issue was immensely important. If it is immensely important, why is it not mentioned properly and prominently in the Statement?
Women had a terrible time under the Taliban. We all remember those terrible newsreels of women being shot in the football stadium. The Government have to do better on bringing women's points more to the fore. I would suggest that, among the many able women I see on the government Benches, it might be sensible to ensure that there is an envoy on women for Afghanistan so that we can be assured that women's rights are being properly dealt with.
Lord Howell of Guildford: The noble Baroness again raises a vital point and perhaps I may reassure her. The communiqué also develops and strengthens commitments made initially at the London conference in January to implement the national action plan for women and the elimination of violence against women in law. The noble Baroness probably took part in that very constructive conference. Certainly, I would be the first to recognise the valuable work done by the previous Government in creating that conference and in providing a foundation on which to build.
We welcome the Afghan Government's continuing commitment to protect the human rights of the Afghan people, which is enshrined in the Afghan constitution and the national action plan for women. If it was not in the 10 commitments in my right honourable friend's Statement, I will note that and see that it is pointed out in my department. It is certainly plumb in the middle of the communiqué, which is valuable.
As to what women's organisations felt, I am sorry if I got that slightly wrong. I thought that the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, was saying that they were not represented, but she did not say that; she said that they were not satisfied. I obviously cannot comment on the state of satisfaction except to say that the endeavour was there and the realisation is there, as is the central importance of women's role in all this. Given the horrors of women's treatment in the past and the evil viciousness with which under Taliban rule girls' schools were closed, women were abused and so on, this issue could not be other than absolutely central to the future. I emphasise that and I am glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, raised it again.
On the date by which combat troops will be withdrawn, I think that I said the other day-I am always ready for correction-that it was an aspiration. Perhaps that word was a little weak, because of course it remains an objective. However, one cannot in a thousand years be sure that everything will work exactly to plan. We just do not know. I think that the Deputy Prime Minister in another place made a point about it not necessarily
21 July 2010 : Column 989
As to the Taliban melting away and the old story that the Taliban disappears by day and comes back by night, one would not want to underestimate the fact that in the next five years-five years is a long time-there will not be a free ride for the Taliban. The combat troops-our marvellous troops-will continue to fight and to carry on their operations. The American surge army is still not complete. There are another 30,000 American troops to come. The Taliban will have a very hard time. If it thinks that at the end of five years it will be intact, it will have another think coming. I hope that that will reassure the noble Baroness to some extent on the important points that she raised.
Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that there will be considerable sympathy in the House that he has to face these attacks over the incredibly difficult situation that this Government have inherited? I think that a more constructive approach would be generally welcome.
I quickly make the point that the noble Lord did not answer one question asked by the noble Baroness, which was whether there is any evidence that the Taliban has gone to Yemen. Al-Qaeda certainly has. Yemen is an extremely dangerous place. However, most of the Taliban who are killed by coalition forces are dying within 20 miles of where they were born. I strongly support the suggestion that the Government should not treat the Taliban as one uniform mass of hopeless people but recognise that in many cases the Taliban represents villages, different outlooks and different tribal backgrounds. We need to see whether we can establish a sensible dialogue with those who do not wish to see their country destroyed.
Undoubtedly, one of the most disappointing things relates to the amount of money that has gone-or was meant to go-into improving the condition of the people. Much of it has been wasted and or has not been possible to spend because of the lack of security. I welcome in the Statement the idea of concentrating on a few simple objectives so that the people of Afghanistan can see ringing benefits. In that connection, if we can concentrate on safe transport on main roads-so that people can get their goods to the market-electricity and water, people in Afghanistan will be able to see some real benefit coming from the brave work and tragedies that have gone into attempts to make the country secure.
This is going to cost a lot of money. One of our complaints in NATO is the lack of active military support from a lot of NATO members. Can I take it that those NATO members will at least be prepared to make substantial cash contributions to this continuing effort?
Lord Howell of Guildford: I thank my noble friend for his wise words. He is right, of course, that part of the battle is against young men who are near the homes where they were brought up, which makes it a local battle and not a nationwide battle at all. As to driving out al-Qaeda, there is evidence that there may be some al-Qaeda training units left in Afghanistan, but they have dispersed. People ask whether, in that
21 July 2010 : Column 990
We are contributing more resources and we are looking to our allies to make similar contributions-obviously, the Americans are making a substantial contribution. We think that this money can be focused on the real needs of the Afghan people, although I repeat that we should not underestimate the fact that in some areas-not all-very remarkable progress has been made in recent years. There are signs of the return of real economic growth and growing prosperity for a people who have suffered very greatly in the past.
Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, I presume that the clearly stated NATO aim in the Statement applies also to all other countries that are at this moment helping and supporting Afghanistan. We hear quite a lot about Pakistan and its involvement but we hear little about India, yet there are reports of considerable and growing Indian influence within Afghanistan. Can the Minister tell the House whether India was represented at the Kabul conference and whether it is a signatory to the motives behind the NATO objective?
Lord Howell of Guildford: I am pretty sure that India was represented at the Kabul conference, as were the other regional powers. We are concerned to see that regional co-operation is strengthened. As to the particular documents that India signed, I will have to write to the noble Lord with the details, but clearly India is a key part in this. I have absolutely no doubt that, when my right honourable friends visit India in considerable numbers the week after next, this issue will be high on the agenda.
Lord Rowlands: In order to help us to assess progress in the future, can the Minister tell the House in how many of the 34 provinces the Afghan Government's writ effectively runs? When we talk about an Afghan Government, in how many of the provinces does that mean anything?
Lord Howell of Guildford: I cannot say precisely because the situation is fluid and any figure that I hazarded for the noble Lord at this moment may well be wrong. Certainly the strategy is to increase the number steadily over the next five years. As each area becomes manageable under the Afghan authorities and Afghan security forces, it will be possible for the international military forces to run down. I cannot give him a precise, mathematical figure. I shall try to find out for him and send him a note about it.
The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, I welcome the Statement on the Kabul process but feel that an opportunity has been missed today. The Minister referred to the Written Statement that is to be issued, but why could we not have had a joint Statement on development and diplomacy at the same time? That would have
21 July 2010 : Column 991
I echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord King, and point to the corruption that has occurred in large projects, many involving American security firms and people with whom the Afghans have nothing to do. If we are to have an Afghan-led process, must we not now concentrate on the non-governmental organisations, which are not mentioned today but will be in the Written Statement from DfID? I hope that the Minister will emphasise that to his ministerial colleagues.
Lord Howell of Guildford: I am grateful to the noble Earl. My department is working extremely closely with DfID and the Ministry of Defence on all these matters. This was a question of the best method of informing both the other place and your Lordships' House. It was deemed that the Foreign Secretary should set out the overarching details today, which I have repeated, and that other of my right honourable colleagues should set out the parts that they are going to play. I have no doubt that there will be Statements beyond the one from the Secretary of State for International Development. That is the way in which information will come forward. My Statement was long enough; if I had covered other departments' aspects, your Lordships would have become a little weary. However, I take the point. This is an overarching and coherent strategy that runs across departments here and right across the scene in Afghanistan.
The question of sub-national governance activity is very important. The task force co-ordinated by the Afghan Independent Directorate of Local Governance and UNAMA and the sub-national governance policy passed by the Afghan Government in March are being strengthened. They are important steps towards strengthening local government and district delivery. The noble Earl touches on the even more fundamental point that, although in every one of these endeavours Governments can do great things and signatories can approve government documents, it is at the sub-governmental, semi-governmental, non-governmental and voluntary level that often the real weaving together of a better future is achieved.
Baroness Verma: My Lords, it is a great privilege to introduce this debate, the expansive theme of which will ensure that women remain in the headlines and will continue to challenge the systems that still actively work against them.
I pay tribute to those present for their tireless work in ensuring that the cause of equality for women is enhanced at every opportunity. I am also honoured that we are to hear seven maiden speeches in today's debate from such eminent Members of the House. Your Lordships' House will be enormously enhanced by their contributions and I feel privileged that they have chosen to make their maiden speeches in this debate today.
We have made great strides in this country towards gender equality at many levels in society, thanks mostly to the struggles women have fought over the generations. Many of the myths surrounding women have been removed-whether women should vote, work and govern. Our daughters and granddaughters certainly have more choices than many of us would have had in the past. Today in the UK women make up nearly half the workforce. Girls are outperforming their male counterparts at school and graduating with better degrees. Women now contribute throughout the economy and in almost every sphere of life. Women have explored the infinity of space, pioneered cancer-beating therapies, discovered the first radio pulsars and won Olympic gold medals. They have led countries, run their own businesses and served as High Court judges. The list can go on. And often at the same time as managing this, they are managing households and caring for children and sick or elderly relatives. These are achievements we should all be proud of and celebrate. They show that, given opportunities, access, an even playing field, support and the right environment, all things are possible.
But the reason for calling this debate is that, for all the progress that has been made, too many women in this country and around the world are still not being given the chance to fulfil their potential. Too many women still have too few or no rights. Too many women are still refused choices. It is a real tribute to your Lordships' House that so many noble Lords are taking part today because it shows the importance attached to this area. Noble Lords will share my sentiment, and that of the new coalition Government, that not only is tackling the many challenges women still face fundamental to women and to their rights, but the empowerment of women is linked to economic growth and the development, prosperity, stability and strengths of countries across the world. Women make up half the people available to any country. If they are not channelled into the economy and used as part of the decision-making process, that country will fail to maximise the real potential, value and economic strength that women bring.
As we face these economically turbulent times, we must work to ensure that the worst affected are not women. We must utilise this difficult period to maximise all our capabilities in helping the economy recover. Our first challenge is to ensure that the progress women have made does not take a step backwards during these difficult economic times. The recession affects
21 July 2010 : Column 993
For those out of work we are providing support through a voluntary employment programme that is encouraging lone parents to improve their employment opportunities, and we are stepping up our support for disadvantaged families-for example, by increasing Sure Start's focus on the neediest of families by putting in place 4,200 new health visitors to help ensure that families have access to information and advice from the onset. We recognise the importance of early intervention and assisting families to prevent problems rather than intervening after difficulties have set in. These centres also show our plans for a big society at work. Empowering voluntary, community and neighbourhood groups can help initiate change and provide support to women and their families. It is not just about breaking down the barriers preventing women from fulfilling their potential; it is about ensuring they have greater support in all the roles they play, from parenting to employment and from caring to civic involvement.
Some of this requires debate and a legislative programme, but we must ensure that, where possible, legislation does not impose overly bureaucratic and costly processes, particularly on employers and businesses. It is vital that we work with them and not against them to develop policies which are proportionate and effective, so that we can see real changes being delivered on the ground. I am pleased that the main provisions of the Equality Act, legislation which has important simplification benefits, are to be implemented in October. We will work with all partners to ensure that it is implemented effectively.
We are also clear that Parliament cannot on its own get to the root causes of persisting gender inequality. We must find measures that ensure that all are shareholders and willing partners in this ambition. That is why our policy is to include intelligent and targeted solutions. A concerted effort must be made at changing mindsets and culture across the population, from employers to communities. As someone who has supported women who have suffered terrible abuse at the hands of men, often in cases of violence that have been justified under the pretext of tradition and culture within communities right here in the UK, I know how hard it is to change mindsets, but that has to be our ultimate goal if we are to make a real and long-lasting change to our society.
I turn to women in the workplace. It is only right that we look at what competitive global markets demand, knowing that the workplace has changed as flexible working becomes more available. We know that work patterns have greatly changed in response to the 24-hour global clock, but we cannot afford to lose sight of the other demands put predominantly on women. Even after the historic equal pay legislation of 40 years ago, a working woman can still expect to earn an average of 12.2 per cent less than a man. The situation is even worse among some ethnic-minority groups.
I shall highlight three factors which contribute to the slowness of progress towards equal pay. The first is occupational segregation. The second is the fact that women are underrepresented in senior positions; for example, of the directors of FTSE 100 companies, just 12 per cent are women. The third is the effect of women's caring responsibilities on their working patterns. The Government's commitment to providing affordable childcare for all parents will help, but this alone is not enough. Workplaces have to become more family friendly.
While there are many examples of excellent practice, there remain large gaps in the form of employers who do not realise the benefits of flexible working opportunities at different levels. This often leads to women working in lower-paid or part-time jobs where they may not reap the full benefits of their training or qualifications.
The current economic crisis, although difficult, may also create an opportunity for change, to rethink the way we do things, and to ensure that we draw on the widest pool of talent and meet the demands of an ever changing environment. The Government face huge economic problems. We have become indebted on an unprecedented scale. Difficult decisions will have to be made. While we have to make cuts in some sectors, we want to open up opportunities in others where there is need and demand. This will involve promoting women in key sectors. In science, for example, one in three graduates is a woman, but only 18.5 per cent of them work in the industry. This is despite the fact that the European Commission has predicted that Europe will suffer a shortfall of 20 million skilled workers in science and technology by 2030. We will work with education providers to ensure that women are able to make broader career choices, and with businesses to support them in recruitment and retention of female employees.
To help to address work-life balance, we are committed to introducing an historic extension to all employees of the right to request flexible working. To make sure that we get more women in decision-making positions, we have pledged to look at the ways in which we can promote gender equality on the boards of listed companies. Alongside all these commitments, we will be working with employers to communicate the enormous benefits that gender equality practices can bring to their organisations.
The issue of the underrepresentation of women in Parliament and senior political positions continues to pose a big challenge. The presence of women in Parliament and their contribution to debate have introduced a whole new set of perspectives to those debates. Issues such as childcare, tackling domestic violence, human trafficking, maternity and paternity leave and after-school
21 July 2010 : Column 995
Women still account for only 22 per cent of Members of Parliament. In looking to see how we can make further progress, we will be considering the report of the cross-party Speaker's Conference on Parliamentary Representation as we agree our priorities. We have already followed up on one of the recommendations of the Speaker's Conference by committing to introduce extra support for disabled people who want to become Members of Parliament, councillors or other elected officials.
One of the more serious challenges that the new Government and our society face is the persistence in various forms of violence against women. More than 1 million women experience violence each year in the UK, through domestic violence, rape, trafficking, honour-based violence and other less obvious forms. We want to increase the level of support offered to victims of violence. That is why we will look to putting funding for existing rape crisis centres on a more stable and longer-term footing. We will establish new rape crisis centres where there are gaps in provision. I look forward to hearing the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, today. I pay tribute to the excellent work that she has done in this area through her review. The Home Secretary recently announced that we will be responding to it shortly.
Another unacceptable form of violence against women is that of forced marriage. That is not something that just happens in far-off lands; it happens here. In 2009, the Government's Forced Marriage Unit dealt with nearly 1,700 calls for help from women who feared for their freedom. I would like to read a short extract from one woman's testimony. Her name is Farzana. She said:
"I was told that I had to go back to Bangladesh to learn how we behave properly. My Mum came with me and we stayed with my uncle. After a couple of weeks, I started to hear things about a marriage and soon worked out it was my own. I was terrified and one evening grabbed my Mum's mobile and locked myself in the bathroom. I rang Sam, my best friend, in the UK and begged her to get help. My uncle broke the lock and hit me across the face. From then on, I was watched even more closely and didn't leave the house at all".
Prevention is as important as protection. During the school holidays, there is often an increase of incidents of young people being taken out of the country. It is important that teachers, police and members of the community are able to identify situations and know what signs to look out for in order to intervene confidently. Guidance issued to schools, colleges and other public bodies must be followed actively and we must not shy away from intervention because of community sensitivities. It is important that the Forced Marriage Unit, through its extensive awareness-raising and outreach programmes, will be speaking at over 80 events a year and working with schools and other organisations to tackle this issue.
Not least of the challenges that we face is that of addressing the poverty and injustice that women face around the world. Some argue that, in the current economic climate, aid should be a casualty as we look for savings in public spending. The Government do not take that view. We are committed to increasing our aid budget to 0.7 per cent by 2013 and enshrining that commitment in law. Surely it cannot be acceptable to see a world where 70 per cent of the world's poorest are women. We must maintain our commitment to help women around the world, not only because it is right but because women hold the key to development in the world's poorest countries. In a world where our economies are so dependent on one another, that is something that we must nurture.
However, the privilege of a ring-fenced budget does not mean that we do not have to watch where our money is going. We need to make sure that every penny reaches those who need it most. What matters are tangible results. The Muskoka initiative is a good example. Today, in the UK, the chance of dying in pregnancy and childbirth is one in 8,200. In parts of Africa, it is as high as one in seven. This is something that we can change. That is why the UK Government have made a significant contribution to this initiative, which will help to save the lives of an extra 1.4 million mothers and children over the next five years.
As well as giving our support to important projects, we must clearly be vocal about where we stand on women's rights. If we are to improve the outcomes for those women who depend on us to be their voice, whether we witness cruelty and abuse here or know of its practice in other countries, we need to challenge those countries to respond. We must do this in partnership with our European partners, members of the Commonwealth and the UN. I am encouraged by the recent agreement to form a powerful UN agency to advocate women's rights. Until now, there has been a fragmentation of women's issues in the UN, with no fewer than four separate organisations. We will work closely with the new agency to ensure that it has a strong focus on achieving results and delivering value for money from the outset.
These are just some of the commitments to women that we have announced as part of the new coalition programme for change. In the forthcoming months, we will build on these commitments and outline in more detail how we will carry them forward. I, along with the Government, recognise the great depth and breadth of knowledge and experience in your Lordships' House. We are keen to listen carefully to noble Lords' views and advice and I look forward to their valuable contributions. I beg to move.
Baroness Gould of Potternewton: My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing this debate and for doing so in such a detailed, extremely informative and sensitive way. The debate gives the House the opportunity to hear about the Government's future strategy for women, which has now been well explained to us. I pick up on one point that is fundamental to all the discussions that we are going to have, which is the question of women's rights, whether in the UK or abroad. That has to be the basis on which we have all our discussions.
I declare an interest as chair of the Women's National Commission, a non-departmental government body that is under review. I cannot resist the opportunity to say that I trust that the Government will appreciate and respect the value of the WNC in hearing the voices of women throughout the UK. It is a model that is envied and has been adopted by many other countries. We look forward to seeing what the future brings.
We have had many successful debates in your Lordships' House, but I do not think that we have ever had the privilege of hearing seven maiden speeches in our debates. We sincerely look forward to hearing them all. I had a dilemma today in thinking of what to speak about. I might have known more had I heard the Minister's speech in advance. Many subjects come to mind, but I decided to take my theme from a conference that I recently chaired-jointly organised by the health department of Birmingham City University and the National Council of Women-on vulnerability across one's lifespan.
The conference made me recognise the large number of women who, for very differing reasons, are at some time in their lives in a vulnerable position. It also took me back to 16 and a half years ago when I made my maiden speech, standing somewhere over there, on vulnerable women in the criminal justice system. It was 25 October 1993-never to be forgotten. I asked the Library to find it for me, which it kindly did, so that I could see how much of that speech was relevant today.
One of the findings of the Runciman report, which was what we were debating that day, was that all within the justice system should be treated fairly, reasonably and without discrimination. In spite of that, the report failed to address the position of women within the system, which is primarily geared to men. Nor did it take account of the marked gender differences in the pattern of offending, often resulting in disproportional punishment. That principle has not, I am afraid to say, absolutely disappeared. As the Minister said, sometimes it is hard to change one's mindset.
Last month, the number of women in prison in England and Wales was 4,302, which is 60 per cent up on the last decade. That sounds like a big increase, but the question has to be asked how many of those prison sentences were justified. For instance, in spite of evidence that women defendants rarely commit offences on bail, half of women entering custody each year do so on remand. These women spend an average of four to six weeks in prison and 60 per cent do not then receive a custodial sentence. Very often, these women in custody for that short period are five times more likely to have a mental health concern than women in the general population. Many self-harm, more than one-third are alcoholics, 58 per cent are on drugs, more than half have experienced domestic violence and one-third have experienced sexual abuse. There is no denying that these women have committed a crime, but do the punishment and its consequences fit that crime? Is a prison sentence always necessary?
At a meeting last month held jointly by the Women's National Commission and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Penal Affairs, the governor of Styal women's
21 July 2010 : Column 998
The question has to be asked whether it is right to impose those short sentences. It is, therefore, encouraging to hear the Minister for Justice, Ken Clarke, arguing the case for a more constructive approach to sentencing. However, I hope that in his deliberations he will also have a constructive approach to sentencing women. I hope, too, that he takes into account the findings of the Corston review on women in the criminal justice system who have particular vulnerabilities. Unfortunately, the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, cannot be here to take part in the debate today.
The review was commissioned by my noble and learned friend Lady Scotland after a series of self-inflicted deaths of women prisoners in Styal prison. The review raised the issue of the appropriateness of custody at huge public cost for women who pose no risk to the public. It called for the introduction of small custodial units for serious dangerous offenders and, for most women who come before the courts, a larger network of support and supervisory centres, based on existing successful women's centres, as alternatives to custody. I am proud to be the patron of one such centre, of which there are now 38.
At the all-party meeting, we heard many examples of the value that the centres have had to women. A woman from Wales, now aged 31, had been in and out of jail since she was 19, all in short sentences. She had been introduced to drugs in prison and needed money to feed the habit. She saw a leaflet about the women's centre, the Women's Turnaround Project, in Wales. With its help, she is now clear of drugs and is planning to go to college to train to do a job in which she can give something back to society. We need many more examples of that being possible.
Of course, all those centres require funding. What plans are there to retain this incredibly valuable resource to help vulnerable women to restore their lives, to prevent them from reoffending and to steer them from drugs and alcohol? I do not have the time to go into the consequences of these short-term prison sentences, with the loss of jobs, the risk of losing children and the risk of ending up homeless, adding to the growing number of vulnerable homeless women who are not only ex-prisoners but also survivors of domestic and sexual violence. A report by Crisis identified that 20 per cent of homeless women were escaping domestic violence; many of them then enter into unwanted sexual relationships to secure accommodation and basic necessities, or are housed in mixed accommodation, which, because of their experience of abuse and violence, is seen as threatening and unsafe.
Violence against women, so explicitly described by the Minister, takes many forms, whether it is domestic violence, which affects one in four women in their lifetime, sexual violence-and it is vulnerable young women, normally aged between 16 and 19, who are
21 July 2010 : Column 999
I could go on, illustrating the incidence of women who, at some time in their lives, are vulnerable. This is an area to which we should give much more consideration, because it often affects those women from whom we hear nothing; they are hidden and unheard. It is clear that improvements can continue to be made to the lives of those vulnerable women by cross-government working on violence against women, by further implementation of the Corston report, by the valuable use of the women's centres working within the community and by other initiatives which should be maintained and developed. I was pleased to hear the Minister's remarks on the disadvantaged community-these women are sincerely and severely disadvantaged. I hope that we will hear more from the Minister in the future about this agenda and what the Government plan to do to help those women.
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Verma for giving us another of our regular opportunities to talk about the position of women in society. She made a number of very important and welcome announcements, particularly about rape centres, forced marriages, an increase in the right to ask for flexible working and, of course, the very important commitment to international aid.
In the past we have normally been led in our discussions on women by the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, and I pay tribute to the indefatigable way in which she has returned us to these important matters-we have heard yet another very fine speech from her today. I, too, look forward to the galaxy of maiden speeches that we are about to hear.
I was interested in the wording of the Motion. It mentions not the role of women in society, but the position of women in society. It is a sad fact that the position of women is too often at the bottom of the ladder in employment, on the floor in the home after a violent blow from a violent partner, or on her back, either willingly or unwillingly, but without any contraception or health protection. It is these things that I wish to address today.
There is no doubt that the key to the progression of women to their rightful place in society-equal to men and full partners with them-is education in its widest sense. Education is the route out of poverty, the key to independence, self-respect and self-confidence and the
21 July 2010 : Column 1000
It is important that we recognise that boys and girls, though equal, are different. Having taught both teenage girls and teenage boys, I would say that is particularly so when the boys are stuffed with testosterone and desperate to show how manly and forceful they are and the girls are showing their feminine side. Interesting work has been done on attainment in science subjects which showed that girls taught in single-sex groups did far better than when they were in with the boys, who tended to take over all the experiments and answer all the questions put by the teacher unless that teacher was very careful. That chimes very much with my experience.
Therefore, I have a lot of sympathy with the view expressed in one of the briefings that came to us before this debate that we need to look carefully at gender-specific services where it has been proved that these work better. However, while young people are in their compulsory schooling years, we have a big opportunity, which we must not squander, to ensure that they have the right knowledge, skills and values as well as the ability to get qualifications and earn a living. Yes, it is important that boys as well as girls have high-quality sex and relationship education-after all, it takes two to tango-but it needs to be in the context of a broad and balanced PSHE curriculum which helps them develop understanding of all kinds of relationships and gain the confidence which will keep them safe in future. In other words, I am not in favour of sex and relationship education on its own. I want the curriculum review that we are about to have to embed SRE within a holistic PSHE programme based on sound principles for all pupils in all schools. No aspect of our lives is an island; all are affected by all others. Learning how to make money and then manage it is as important as contraception to prevent young women feeling that they have to have a baby before anyone will take notice of them.
In so many discussions about women, the elephant in the room is population growth. In 1950, the global population was 2 billion; it now stands at 6.5 billion and is likely-I am told-to rise to 9.2 billion by 2050. The majority of this growth will take place in the poorest countries, where parents cannot guarantee that their children will live long enough to support them in their old age, so it is hardly surprising. Women will take the strain of this growth and continue to be poor and downtrodden unless something is done. The trouble is that once a woman gets into early pregnancy, it tends to become a cycle in her family. Recently, I
21 July 2010 : Column 1001
The work that Plan and other charities such as UNICEF are doing to educate girls around the world helps not only this generation but generations to come. Will the Minister say what DfID's business plan contains to rectify the most off-track millennium development goals; that is, goals four, five and six, on child and maternal health and combating HIV/AIDS? These, along with universal primary education, are the ones which will benefit women and girls the most.
Finally, although we are debating women, we really need to be saying just as much about men. It is time that some men, in some societies, took their responsibilities more seriously. Society should have no patience with the baby-mother and absentee father concept, if it means that the mother and child are unsupported by the father. To quote one famous author, one of the biggest problems these days is men with the three Cs-cash, car and cellphone-but lacking the fourth, a condom. Family planning saves women's lives, but it goes much wider than that, and it is time that men in all nations and all cultural groups took that to heart. When we are cutting all the things we are forced to cut, I am delighted that we will not be cutting international aid. However, I trust we will also ensure that family planning at home and abroad is not cut also. Other kinds of snips, yes, but not a snip in the budget for family planning, please.
Baroness D'Souza: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, for introducing this debate, and offer my congratulations in advance to all those Peers who will be making their maiden speeches in this debate today. I start with a mantra we all know but too often do not implement-educating girls is development's magic bullet. We all know this. Wherever you are in the world, if you invest in the education of girls, you will get development-by which I mean later marriage, better family spacing, smaller families, reduction in infant and maternal mortality and morbidity, involvement in and contribution to the economic and
21 July 2010 : Column 1002
Updated research tells us that women are better at consensus, interaction and complexities. On the whole, women are less aggressive and competitive than men. Given these facts, why do we not put all our aid into educating and promoting women?
We must be thankful that the Government have committed themselves to maintaining and even increasing overseas development aid. Furthermore, there is a strong verbal commitment to include gender parity in each and every DfID programme, and a focus on enabling women to have a choice in family spacing. It is reliably said that only 23 per cent of women in sub-Saharan Africa have access to contraception. The Government are also fierce about measuring outcomes in order to both justify the taxpayers' contribution to aid, and to learn what works and what does not. To underline this, they are setting up an independent evaluation unit which will look at both outputs and outcomes. All this is more than acceptable.
However, in the light of the most recent announcement by the Government that aid to Afghanistan is to be increased by up to 40 per cent, I would like to give a very short example to illustrate some of the obstacles that might stand in the way of achieving laudable objectives, namely education. Here I would like to register an interest as co-founder and long-time supporter of a high school in Afghanistan, in a district of Kabul which was greatly brutalised by the Taliban, and before that by the civil war and before that by the Soviet occupation.
The school is based on the vision of a single man, called Aziz Royesh, who was himself a refugee in Pakistan during the time of the Soviet occupation. He returned at the end of 2001 and set up a school in a bomb-damaged building with no windows and a mud floor. He divided up the space with a torn sheet, to have two classrooms. He had 30 students, many of them children who provided newly returned families with their only source of income as carpet weavers. He ran three daily shifts. With the first tranche of money he did a very wise thing-he repaired a larger building in this war-torn area of Kabul and put in heating. This drew in the entire community, being the only heated space during a bitter winter. During that time, Aziz took the opportunity to provide adult literacy classes, and gradually the fear of educating daughters-remember this was in the immediate aftermath of the Taliban-began to diminish and parents agreed to send them to school. The community was involved at every stage: parents helped to build the new school, a local businessman provided a bus to bring girls from more outlying districts and others paid for the diesel for the generators. The parent-teacher association grew and grew. In the 2004 elections the school was given over to mock elections so that everyone, but especially the women, knew not only how to vote but what the elections were about.
Children I first saw nine years ago toiling as carpet weavers in the early morning have now graduated from the school following a liberal arts programme and gained entrance to the hugely competitive Kabul
21 July 2010 : Column 1003
There are many private initiatives of this kind resulting from visits abroad-the right people being in the right place at the right time-and there must be several in your Lordships' House who contribute directly to the education of girls in particular. The overheads are bypassed but, perhaps more importantly, these initiatives are built on something which already exists. Few of us in the middle of chaos and unfamiliarity believe that we can, for example, build a school for girls that will succeed beyond our expectations. No, what tends to happen is that, with luck, we stumble across some tiny initiative-something which the community has got itself sufficiently co-ordinated to achieve-above all recognising that everything starts with a leader from within the community. These are the projects that succeed and make a real difference.
Perhaps the more usual aid programme route is to assess needs from our own western perspective-whether they be clean water, primary health or whatever-and go about putting them into the society. Too many of these projects fail, and they fail because, however wonderful and however needed, they are not owned by the community, and because therefore the continuity of these projects, by which I mean their flourishing and growth, will continue only in so far as there are funds and external support.
In dealing with a society such as Afghanistan, which due to tradition, religion, tribalism, decades of war and poverty is deeply suspicious of external inputs, the problems of promoting the education of women are quadrupled. It has to start from within the community; it has to be sustained by the community; and it has to be governed and owned by the community. Perhaps here I may remind your Lordships of the contribution by my noble friend Lord Sandwich to the foreign policy debate held at the beginning of the month, in which he pointed out that, however generous and well thought through an assistance programme, you have to involve the local community to build trust. Anyone who has any familiarity with Afghanistan will, as he does, know this.
The announcement of up to 40 per cent more aid to Afghanistan at the same time as the US Congress has ordered the suspension of US aid due to corruption gives cause for concern. Will more aid promote the education of and contribution to the politics of the country by women, or could it simply add to the disillusion and corruption rife in that country, as many Afghans themselves believe will be the case?
If we were to use the considerable funds available within the DfID budget to scour the poorest and most conflict-laden parts of the world for leaders who can
21 July 2010 : Column 1004
I end by asking the Government to report on a much wider policy area-namely, the national action plan for the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325. Can the Government confirm when they will publish their revised strategy on women, peace and security, and say what indicators and benchmarking might be included? The 10th anniversary of 1325 will be in October this year. Can the Government say what plans they might have to mark this significant milestone? Finally, what arrangements do the Government have to involve additional departments not involved in the previous plan, such as the Northern Ireland Office?
Lord Deben: My Lords, if it were not for the helpfulness and kindness of those who work here and of my noble friends, it would in fact be even more overwhelming to speak to your Lordships' House than it is, but being a new boy-so many here recognise that-is easier at 13 and at 18 than at the age which I will not now refer to. It is a great pleasure and privilege to be here, not least to follow what seems to be an age-old ritual of referring a little to oneself personally although, in my view, there is much in the public world already, and rather too much for most. However, three things have motivated me throughout my political life and I hope that there will be opportunities here in your Lordships' House to continue that work.
The first is what brought me into politics and what has kept me there: a commitment to the closer unity of Europe and my belief of Britain's place in the European Union and the importance of the European Union within the world. It is sad that the narrowness of view has not seen this as it should be seen: as the most exciting peacetime achievement of the peoples of these ancient countries, which have so much in common and so much to do together. Secondly, there is the environment, not least the battle against climate change. Europe is of course crucial to achieving that end, but climate change is the biggest challenge to human beings that, in material terms, stands before us. Thirdly, there is a commitment to social justice. We are not going to solve the issues of climate change unless we have a more just world, for there is no reason for poor to join with rich in defending the world if the poor feel that the rich are merely going to gain for themselves the advantages which the better use of our resources will provide.
It is a pleasure, then, to be able to make one's maiden speech in this debate, which was so fascinatingly introduced by the noble Baroness. Of course, the truth is that that understanding of social justice must lead one to recognise not only the importance of combating the extreme forms of attack on women but the natural, day-to-day damage done to women by poverty. There is the simple matter that women, even where the social mores are more advanced than some of the horrible examples that have been given, bear the burden of
21 July 2010 : Column 1005
I add my voice to those who congratulate the Government on their insistence that the one piece of spending which cannot be cut is our contribution to foreign aid. One of the saddest things about the British and their media is the attack on this objective and wholly laudable decision. I am sad that very well-paid journalists should find it possible constantly to attack this and to talk about charity beginning at home. Those who say that mean that charity should end at home and that there should not be much charity either, so it is necessary for the whole House to say that, in this, the coalition Government have set an example which other nations should follow and which should deserve the support of us all, whatever background we have.
At home, if we are to do more, we ought to recognise first how much has to be done. I declare an interest because I employ quite a number of women, while one of my problems is to employ enough men. That is because in the jobs that we do, in looking after people's corporate responsibility, dealing with climate change and the issues of bribery and corruption-I mean avoiding rather than encouraging them-and seeking to help people throughout the world, the applicants for jobs among women are almost always significantly better in quality and experience than their male counterparts. I almost need to have a bias towards men. This seems to me to be something that we should be pleased about, because it helps us in trying to improve things in areas where we have, so far, not reached the same kind of result.
I am also pleased to speak in this debate because I come from the county that produced both the first woman doctor and the first woman mayor in Britain, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and indeed, of course, her sister Millicent Fawcett. Suffolk has had a proud part to play in the history of women, as Members of this House from Suffolk, including two diverse but very feisty ladies of crime, remind us what has been done for women from the county from which I come.
I am pleased to speak, too, because I have two daughters. I want to emphasise the points about science education. We in this House should press for universities to provide the ability for girls who have not had access to science education early on, or even had the intention and desire to do science, to catch up much more easily than they can at the moment. Some universities demand that girls should have done physics at A-level when they could perfectly well do their physics in the gap year. They have the other subjects, but not that, and the system has not helped them-and will not help them because a big change needs to take place before it will. I believe that universities should do much more to help girls with that.
I, like my brother, the noble Lord, Lord Chadlington, owe a great deal to our mother. Oddly enough, when people say how much our parents would be proud of us, they always say how much our father would be
21 July 2010 : Column 1006
I end with a simple example. Today one of my colleagues said that his wife had had a telephone call from somebody doing a survey. When she was asked what she did, she replied, "I am a housewife". "No", said the person on the end of the phone, "What do you really do?". My colleague's wife repeated that she was a housewife and in the end she was rather angry because the woman at the other end of the phone would not take that as a serious profession. I believe that one of the things that we can best do for women is that when they make the choice, we should accept it as their choice and honour them for it.
Baroness Seccombe: My Lords, it is a pleasure to have the privilege of thanking and congratulating my noble friend Lord Deben on that outstanding, elegant speech. He is a devout Christian, a true parliamentarian, and many in this House would find it difficult to believe that it is 40 years since he entered the other place where he held very high office.
The Gummer family is becoming quite a political dynasty. My noble friend joins his brother here, as he told us, while the other place will still hear a strong voice of yet another Gummer, his son Ben who was elected just recently as the Member for Ipswich. I know that my noble friend has special concern for the environment, Europe, climate change and, as he said, social justice. We can all look forward to a feast of other major contributions that I know my noble friend will make on these and other subjects.
Last Thursday I celebrated, with other Conservative women, the anniversary of Emmeline Pankhurst's birth. As we did so, I mused over how far the lot of women in this country has changed in every way since the days when those brave women withstood the establishment to obtain the vote for women.
There are, of course, still issues to be resolved, but today I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I concentrate my few words on women who live in such bleak and distressing circumstances in Africa.
I congratulate my noble friend the Minister on initiating this debate and add my congratulations to the coalition Government for ring-fencing our contribution to developing countries. We in this country have a strange definition of poverty. It is all about financial differentials, and not-as I think it should be-about support for families who would otherwise face intolerable living conditions. I know I could be challenged on this view, but in this country the universal benefit system means that no one in the UK need go without support unless there are very special and unusual situations.
It is because of my fear for the millions of people in Africa that I believe we should all do our bit; so I now turn to overseas aid. It is unacceptable just to fling
21 July 2010 : Column 1007
I have been much impressed by one charity involved in aid, and I know that there are others doing equally good work along the same lines. Send a Cow works on the premise that educated women can lift themselves and their families out of poverty. In Africa, many women raise their families single-handedly. Most of them have had little formal education because their parents lacked the money to send them to school.
Education is much valued in Africa. Where children attend school, they are well turned out, alert and ready to learn and profit from all that it has to offer. Projects run by Send a Cow empower women to take control of their lives while learning a wide variety of skills which give them the knowledge they need to grow food, generate income, and so change the lives of their families and communities.
Many charities do important and necessary work worldwide, and I applaud them. However, there is something special in contributing to a smaller charity knowing that your contribution, however small, is chosen by you. For example, £40 will purchase 10 chickens, £80 will establish an orchard, £125.00 will buy a goat-and if you have a goat, you have the kids-and £250 will provide a dairy cow. All these gifts come with training, livestock and ongoing support.
A recent Send a Cow project in Uganda assessing the impact on participating women and families revealed that basic literacy is a vital ingredient in order for women to truly flourish. The project disclosed positive results with increasing food, income, production, nutrition, hygiene and sanitation all showing improvement, and with a new sense of confidence and self-esteem among the women.
I am confident that the Government's priority is to ensure that state funds are spent on worthwhile projects only and are seen to be doing so. It is vital that all projects are carefully assessed and then closely followed and scrutinised. After all, it is too easy to allocate funds, but a careful watch on progress can make all the difference between a success or a dismal failure.
I have spent my political life promoting the role of women, but I have never been dedicated or even attracted to numbers, percentages and the feminist cause. However, I wholeheartedly believe that any society which is underrepresented by women loses out on a huge resource. Women are really good at juggling many balls at the same time and are nearly always the family managers, seeing to the family's needs, so I have a sense of excitement and optimism for the future. I am hopeful that we can succeed in elevating just a few of those women-all too few, I fear-in developing countries who have never had the opportunities that we in this country take for granted and in many ways seem not to appreciate.
Baroness Drake: My Lords, I begin by thanking your Lordships warmly for the quality and depth of the welcome I have received. I am also most grateful to my sponsors, my noble friends Lord Young and Lady Warwick, for their kindness and their generous support. I wish to thank all the staff who have been so helpful, and for the courtesy extended to my father on the day of my introduction, it being necessary for him to use a wheelchair and his portable oxygen cylinder. It made the day so memorable for him and I extend my heartfelt personal thanks.
I was born in a small Devon village not far from Plymouth, which makes me a Plymouth Drake. As a little girl I gazed in wonder at some of the great ships moored at Devonport dockyard, so it was fitting to see the Armada exhibition in the Royal Gallery. In 1588, the English-including Sir Francis Drake-were the beneficiaries of a kind of stand-off between the Dutch and the Spanish. Unfortunately, in 2010, an almost equally belligerent contest between those countries in the World Cup was final confirmation that the English had already been sunk.
I worked for many years in the trade union movement. I was an equal opportunities commissioner on a commission which, with a small budget and talented staff, was able to punch well above its weight. For the past eight years I have been engaged in pension policy and reform, whether as a member of the Pensions Commission chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Turner, at the Pension Protection Fund, or in the building of the National Employment Savings Trust.
When young, I purchased a copy of the May 1909 edition of the journal Votes for Women, edited by Frederick and Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence. I reread this precious purchase recently and was reminded of the intensity of that campaign. Perhaps I may share with noble Lords an extract from that edition, which refers to the occasion of a visit in that year by Mr Winston Churchill to Manchester:
"Wherever he went he found that he could not get away from the subject of 'Votes for Women' and although the most elaborate precautions had been taken to exclude women from the great meeting in the Free Trade Hall ... when Mr Churchill raised his voice to congratulate himself on the absence of suffragettes ... he was immediately interrupted by Miss F Clarkson and Miss Helen Tolson ... who had been hiding [there] all night".
"I am very conscious that, except for Her Majesty's gracious Opening of Parliament, probably this is the first occasion in 900 years that the voice of a woman has been heard in the deliberations of this House".
We have come a long way since 1909, but 10 years into the 21st century we still see substantial under-representation of women in political and public life. It is not the ability of women but the barriers they face which prevent them from contributing to their full potential and to being effectively represented. This point was recognised by Lady Elliot in that first speech. She acknowledged that she was making history but concluded insightfully that,
Women are performing strongly in education. The report of the National Equality Panel in 2010, headed by Professor Hills, confirmed that of every 100 pupils, girls have a median achievement ranked between eight and 12 places higher than the median achievement for boys. More women now have higher education qualifications than men in every age group up to the age of 44.
This performance by women, however, contrasts negatively with their wider representation in public life. In 2010, the percentage of women MPs and lady Peers had increased to a little over 20 per cent, but the figures are far fewer, as has been demonstrated, for FTSE 100 directors, editors of national newspapers, senior police officers, high court judges and a long list of so many other professions.
However, underutilising a large proportion of the country's talent is not good for UK plc. Equality of access should not be seen exclusively as an issue of social policy; it is also a matter of economic importance. To borrow from a UK Treasury Committee report published earlier this year,
There are many causes contributing to the underutilisation of women's potential, but these matters should not be solved by an over-reliance on litigation. There needs to be a collective will to address these issues. With the growing acknowledgement of the basic fairness in representing half the population and enriching decision-making by drawing on a full range of experience and expertise, countries are increasingly considering the merits of positive action on gender representation. The democratic process and business decision-making can only be enhanced by the increase in women's representation.
Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, I should like first to congratulate my new noble friend, Lady Drake, on her wonderful maiden speech. Its wisdom and humour showed what an asset she will be to your Lordships' House. She has worked solidly in the trade union movement and was president of the TUC from 2004 to 2005. She was deputy general secretary in the Communication Workers Union from 1996 to 2008. She has served on many councils and public bodies, including the employment tribunal, the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Equality and Human
21 July 2010 : Column 1010
Now for something of the secret life of my noble friend Lady Drake, but do not get overexcited. She is a collector of first edition children's books. Inspired by her art teacher at school she bought her first book with the proceeds of her Saturday job, which shows initiative. She also collects suffragette posters and has fine examples of both collections. She says that she has got used to being teased about her short stature. Let me remind noble Lords of the comment made about Hermia in "A Midsummer Night's Dream":
I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, for introducing this debate on women so passionately and for securing such a wealth of talented speakers. I shall refer first to women as a force for change and then focus on the imperative to help women who find it difficult to fight for change due to being overwhelmed by circumstances which undermine the very structure of their lives. This theme has already been referred to and will no doubt recur during the debate. I shall speak in particular of the need to help trafficked girls and women.
Many women over the years have fought to improve women's potential. Women were not given the vote in this country, they fought for it, and fight is what women have often had to do. Women, and of course many men, have worked for change in politics, the law, social justice, the arts, health, industry, sport and so on. The noble Baroness, Lady Verma, made many other suggestions. Women have often, although not always, worked collaboratively to achieve their aims and supported each other during difficulty. That supportive nature seems to be one of the strengths of women's activity. In working for change, women are frequently optimistic, thoughtful, empathetic, considerate and brave. The noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, has also mentioned other qualities.
I remember, years ago, going to Greenham Common with our daughter, then aged about eight. She was quite excited at the thought of being arrested. Something from the wool around the Greenham Common barrier obviously wore off on her. At the age of 12 she was arrested when leading a protest of schoolgirls against the closure of the South London Hospital for Women.
I tell this story because many girls aged 12 around the world are faced with horrendous treatment and abuse which disables them. Two weeks ago, I met a young woman of 18 who, at the age of 12, had been
21 July 2010 : Column 1011
Earlier this year the Anti-trafficking Monitoring Group published its report Wrong Kind of Victim?, and its findings are chilling. The UK Human Trafficking Centre reported that of 527 potential victims of trafficking, 74 per cent were women or girls being trafficked for sexual exploitation. Of course, thousands of trafficked children are never identified or helped. Barnardo's alone worked with more than 2,000 children in 2004-05.
In December 2008, the UK ratified the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings. This convention is the first international treaty obliging states to adopt minimum standards to assist trafficked persons and protect their rights. The monitoring group states that the UK is not yet meeting its obligations under this convention.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|