They were Lord Deben (Conservative), Baroness Drake (Labour), Baroness Parminter (Liberal Democrat), Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Labour), Baroness Liddle of Coatdyke (Labour), Lord Black of Brentwood (Conservative) and Baroness Smith of Basildon (Labour – pictured).
Lord Deben spoke of his abiding commitment to social justice, which he said must lead to a recognition ‘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.’ Citing the progress gained by women in the last century, he called for women who choose to bring up their families and not pursue a profession to ‘be honoured to at least the same extent.’
The Conservative life Peer is former Secretary of State for the Environment and former minister for Employment and Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
Baroness Drake highlighted the contrast between the performance of women in education and their representation in public life, citing a report of the National Equality Panel that found women have higher education qualifications than men in every age group up to the age of 44; however, the representation of women in Parliament is a little over 20 per cent, and far less in other professions. She said ‘underutilising a large proportion of the country’s talent is not good for UK plc.’ Equality of access is not exclusively ‘an issue of social policy,’ but also ‘matter of economic importance.’ Countries were increasingly considering the merits of positive action on gender representation, she said. ‘The democratic process and business decision-making can only be enhanced by the increase in women's representation.’
The Labour life Peer is former Commissioner to the Equal and Human Rights Commission, acting chair of the Personal Accounts Delivery Authority, and Governor of the Pensions Policy Institute
Baroness Parminter’s maiden speech focused on flexible working and the role it could play in tackling three areas where she feels discrimination towards women still persists in UK society: politics, business and pay.
That women are ‘principal carers in many families’ is the reason men still ‘vastly outnumber’ women in democratic bodies is, she believes. Flexible work patterns have allowed women to successfully perform other demanding, high-profile jobs she said and ‘it might be time to look at the issue of MP job shares.’ Flexible work patterns would help address the issue of companies choosing far more men than women for senior roles. Baroness Parminter called for Government to act to ensure that the boards of companies take the issue seriously.
Quoting figures that show the highest paid female director of a FTSE 100 company received almost 10 per cent less than her highest-paid male equivalent, Baroness Parminter said removing ‘gagging clauses in City contracts’ may help to increase the transparency of debate but that much more needs to be done ‘not only in the issue of equal pay but in the equally important area of flexible working.’
The Liberal Democrat life Peer is former councillor of Horsham District Council.
Lord Kennedy of Southwark
Lord Kennedy of Southwark focused on the working patterns and career paths of the rising percentage of women in employment. However, despite increased participation in the labour market over recent years, women are ‘still more likely than men to be low paid,’ he said. Lord Kennedy also spoke about the additional challenge faced by women workers in their journey to and from work: ‘They are more likely to travel off peak, either early in the morning or late at night. Women are far more likely than men to use public transport.’ He said safety while travelling is an issue that concerns many women, particularly low-paid workers and wished the Government well in dealing with this and other issues for women raised in the debate.
The Labour life Peer is former deputy leader of London Borough of Southwark Council
Baroness Helen Liddle of Coatdyke
Baroness Liddle of Coatdyke drew attention to the careers of the sponsors who introduced her to the House, Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale – former diplomat and minister, and Baroness Ford – entrepreneur, chair of English Partnerships and chair of the Olympic Park Legacy Company. Paying tribute to the new Prime Minister of Australia Julia Gillard, the Governor-General of Australia and human rights lawyer, Quentin Bryce and Mary MacKillop who set up a series of schools for deprived people in Australia, Baroness Liddle referred to their family roots in the UK and the role of her own upbringing in her ‘journey to the House of Lords’.
The Labour life Peer is former Secretary of State for Scotland and former minister for Environment, Transport and the Regions and Trade and Industry.
Lord Black of Brentwood
Lord Black of Brentwood spoke about the ‘pivotal’ role older women whose children have left home or who have recently retired play in society. Citing surveys showing the extent and breadth of volunteering by women aged 65 to 74, he called for recognition of the potential of such women in ‘powering’ the ‘big society’. Enabling this requires ‘looking very carefully at the special health needs of older women.’ A number of health issues affect twice as many older women as men, he said and called for the provision of specific and widely available services that address them. Lord Black said ‘older women should, in Belloc's phrase, be preserved as our "chiefest treasure".’
The Conservative life Peer is a former councillor of Brentwood District Council.
Baroness Smith of Basildon
Baroness Smith of Basildon said the position of women across the world and in the UK depends so much on access to education.
While great women are achieving high office in many parts of the world, ‘for many ordinary women across the world life has changed little.’ Ninety per cent of people say they support equal rights, though few thought it had been achieved; ‘when difficult economic times bite, that becomes harder to sustain. There is a gap between the belief that so many articulate and the reality,’ she said.
She cited an assessment of impact of the recent Budget on women by the House of Commons Library, which found that of the £8.1 billion net personal tax increases or benefit cuts to be implemented, women were paying an estimated 72 per cent and men only 28 per cent. ‘I hope that this is something that the coalition Government will want to look at again,’ she said. ‘If we are to truly develop the potential of women in society, we have to address the disproportionate impact of our own economic policies and ensure that we provide those educational opportunities and economic equality.’
The challenge ahead is to build on the advances made over the decades in the role and position of women in society to widen opportunities in education and employment for women and young people from all backgrounds and all countries so that they can fully realise their potential. ‘Society as a whole will benefit from the knowledge and skills that they have,’ Baroness Smith said.
The Labour life Peer is a former Cabinet Office minister and former Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and Communities and Local Government.
The term 'maiden speech' refers to the first time a new Member gives a speech in the House of the Lords. A maiden speech usually takes place during a general debate and is uncontroversial.
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