Women and Girls: Economic Well-being, Welfare, Safety and Opportunities

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Excerpts
Thursday 14th July 2022

(1 month ago)

Lords Chamber
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Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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My Lords, I too congratulate my noble friend Lady Gale on providing us with the opportunity to have today’s debate, and on giving me the chance to make a brief contribution from the Opposition Back Benches. The part of the Motion to which I draw the House’s attention is the reference to “opportunities”. To get straight to the point, I want to talk about women and girls and their opportunities to study science. Perhaps I should refer to my entry in the register of interests as president of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee.

I thank the Campaign for Science and Engineering, the House of Commons Library, and the Royal Society for providing far more statistics in this area than I could ever fit into the speech time available to me, but I want to refer to a few. The Higher Education Statistics Agency publishes data on student enrolment, and it shows that there are small increases in the proportion of women students in STEM subjects, but nothing dramatic. A Royal Society report in 2019 showed a 1% rise in the number of women fellows, from 9% in 2018; and 34% of researchers offered fellowship grants were women. The Royal Society also highlights that at the end of 2019 just 27% of the STEM workforce were women, although women in the workforce as a whole comprised 52%.

So there are still areas where progress needs to be made and where we may be going backwards. For example, take mathematics, a fundamental science that underpins all other areas. The latest figures produced by the Protect Pure Maths campaign, of which I am a supporter, show that the proportion of women enrolling in first degrees in maths actually fell from 39.3% to 37.7% in the space of seven years. This is not good news. The 1% of women enrolling in doctoral research in maths slipped from 29% to 28% over the same period—again not good news—and in the 2017-18 academic year 89% of maths professors were men while only 11% were female. In the chemical sciences, the retention and development of women into senior roles remains poor. The higher up the career ladder, the fewer the proportion of women. At professional level it even drops below that for physics; only 9% of chemistry professors are women, whereas the figure for physics is 10%.

There are many strategies that the science community could adopt to address the leaky pipeline. In particular we must do more to encourage women taking career breaks to keep in touch with their science, and to make it easier for them to return as soon as they want to, and not to positions clearly less senior than those they occupied before taking a maternity break, for example.

It is a well-known fact that female scientists frequently fail to get proper credit for their research. Rosalind Franklin—I agree that this example was 70 years ago—was the person whose X-ray crystallography made it possible for Watson and Crick to discover the double helix, for which they got the Nobel Prize. I am not saying that they did not deserve it, but she was not even referred to in their paper, which is a scandal. The problem remains. A new study published by Nature found that women were 13% less likely, on average, to be named as authors on scientific papers to which they had contributed. When it comes to the patents that emerged from the research, women were 58% less likely to be named as authors than men who spent a comparable time in the laboratory. In other words, at every level, women are less likely to get the credit, although they spent the same time at work as the men.

We must not forget that people can still suffer from a great deal of sexism. I remind the House of the experience of Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, probably Britain’s most distinguished living astrophysicist. As the House will know, in 1967 she personally discovered pulsars, a most remarkable discovery, for which she did not get sufficient credit—she has now, but not then. She was left off the paper, other people got the Nobel Prize, and she has written in a recent book, The Sky is for Everyone, about her experience. Her supervisor at the time—the press was very interested in the discovery—was asked about the astrophysical significance of the discovery. What was Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell asked about? Her bust size, her hip size, and how many boyfriends she had had—you could not make it up; it is astonishing. I like to think things have changed since then, but there will be many people in this Chamber who are not so sure.

Thank heavens, we have more women now active in science who can inspire. Anyone who has listened to Maggie Aderin-Pocock, who has presented “The Sky at Night”, will know how inspirational they can be. My time is fast running out so, with the indulgence of the House, let me just get in a reference to some more women scientists. For example, the first Briton in space was not Tim Peake but Helen Sharman. Then there are the women scientists at Oxford who spearheaded the development of the AstraZeneca vaccine, Sarah Gilbert, who was recognised with a damehood for science in public health, and Catherine Green, who received an OBE for the same contribution. You may remember the moment at Wimbledon when the crowd discovered that Sarah Gilbert was in the royal box, all stood up and gave her a standing ovation, which she certainly deserved. I understand that Sarah is now being celebrated by the toymaker Mattel, which is making a Sarah Gilbert Barbie doll, one of six to honour women in STEM.

I must not test the patience of the House, but this week, the James Webb telescope produced the most fantastic, beautiful images of deep space. I am very pleased and heartened to tell the House that the BBC interviewed the following people about what those images mean: Sarah Kendrew from the European Space Agency, Jane Rigby from NASA, and Becky Smethurst from the University of Oxford. If only the media had been present at the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee meeting—I am coming to the end—last week when we had two brilliant young women who were chief executives of start-up companies.

In conclusion, my message is very straightforward: our country cannot afford to waste the talents of half the population. Science needs access to the full range of talent, and women and girls need science.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I remind noble Lords that five minutes is not an advisory speaking time for this debate; it is actually a limit. If we go over, the Minister will not have as much time to respond.

Scotland Act 2016 (Social Security) (Adult Disability Payment and Child Disability Payment) (Amendment) Regulations 2022

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Excerpts
Tuesday 15th March 2022

(5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott
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That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 24 January be approved. Considered in Grand Committee on 10 March.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lady Stedman-Scott, I beg to move the Motion standing in her name on the Order Paper.

Motion agreed.

Autocrats, Kleptocrats and Populists

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Excerpts
Thursday 3rd February 2022

(6 months, 2 weeks ago)

Grand Committee
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Viscount Eccles Portrait Viscount Eccles (Con)
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In following the noble Lord, I very much agree with him that we should refer ourselves back to the creation of the United Nations, the World Bank, the IMF and the other institutions. Indeed, the Motion refers to co-ordination, which is a very important point.

I move on to sub-Saharan Africa, where there is a quarter of the world’s poorest countries. It seems a very good example of the struggles to arrive at a proper understanding of the norms and values of democracy. It has been said, and I think it is right, that the best thing about democracy is that it enables you to change your Government without violence. In sub-Saharan Africa, that is by no means universally the case. Another thing that one could say is that some countries that have been mentioned today, including our own, have arrived at an understanding of the norms and values of democracy and are now being accused of backsliding—what you might call the Capitol syndrome. But many other countries have never got there. It is important that we think differently about the countries that have never got to the point where they had regimes that respected the norms and values of democracy.

When one thinks about sub-Saharan Africa, one is looking for something positive—that is to say, what are we going to do about it? Do we have any responsibility to do anything? If so, what will we do? Of course, that takes one back to the international organisations. In reading about the World Bank’s operations in sub-Saharan Africa, I get the impression that it is rather tired. It is not the World Bank I remember from 20 or 30 years ago.

The positives we need to find are headed by economic development. We know that if you want to have a reasonable regime, it is important to be able to collect some taxes and to have some public expenditure. If your economy simply does not support that approach, you are not very far along the road to having an acceptable regime. In thinking about acceptable regimes, it is risky to assume that the default position is our understanding of democracy. All the evidence shows that this is not the case and that there may be many other ways in which people will continue to think about their politics and their regime that do not conform to our understanding of the norms and values of democracy. We have to approach all this rather cautiously.

I want to cite two examples in sub-Saharan Africa: Burundi and Cameroon. They were both brought under German colonial control in 1884. At the end of the First World War, they were both taken away from Germany and, by a co-ordinated effort of the League of Nations, one became Belgian and one a mixture of French and English. We now have virtually no relationship with Burundi, but we have a sanctions regime. It seems to me that to apply a sanctions regime to Burundi, which is similar to that we might apply to Russia, does not make any sense. I think the British Government have forgotten Burundi. On Cameroon, I have just one last sentence: there is conflict there, again created to quite a large extent by the League of Nations decision after the First World War and by independence and what happened in 1971. I think our Government’s reaction is that Cameroon is too complicated for us to have an opinion about what should be done there. After Brexit, we now need some opinions about what needs to be done in sub-Saharan Africa.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My Lords, the speaking time for Back-Benchers is five minutes. If we go over that, we will cut into the time that the Minister has to respond, so can we please keep an eye on the clock?

Iran

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Excerpts
Tuesday 19th October 2021

(10 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Dubs Portrait Lord Dubs
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their policy towards Iran; and what engagement they have had with the government of that country on (1) the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and (2) the detention of dual nationals.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My Lords, as our proceedings on the Bill have already concluded, this Question for Short Debate becomes our last business. As a result, Back-Bench and Opposition speakers may take a little longer than as set out in today’s list and speak for up to six minutes, should they wish.

Lord Dubs Portrait Lord Dubs (Lab)
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My Lords, I want to take this opportunity to discuss the British national hostages in Iran and refer briefly to the JCPOA. I had the privilege of meeting Richard, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband, and Gabriella, their daughter. The length of her imprisonment is a shocking and heartbreaking story, made even worse by the fact that her appeal was turned down just two or three days ago. But of course, it is not just Nazanin but other British nationals who are in arbitrary detention in Iran. As far as I know, four British nationals remain in this detention: Nazanin-Zaghari Ratcliffe, Anoosheh Ashoori, Morad Tahbaz and Mehran Raoof. There may be others. My first question is: why do the Government insist on keeping the names and numbers confidential? After all, the Iranians know perfectly well who they are holding in detention or some form of custody. So, what is the benefit of our not knowing how many there are altogether? The four I have mentioned may not be the total.

My second criticism of the Government is that there seems to be no strategy for the British prisoners there. They are being held as hostages. Do we have a certainty of getting them out or is the Foreign Office simply sitting there, saying, “Well, let us hope something turns up?” I do not think that would be good enough. These are heartbreaking stories of people innocent of the crimes of which they have been accused, held in detention or, in Nazanin’s case, long detention—she is now under house arrest. It is simply unacceptable that British citizens should be held in this position.

Surely, we should consider punishing the perpetrators. We talk about the Magnitsky sanctions; why do we not threaten to use them on those people in Iran who are holding our people in detention in that way? In addition, we need an independent investigation of the torture allegations. It is fairly clear that prisoners have been held in a situation where they have suffered torture. An independent investigation of that would surely help.

There is the vexed question of the £400 million we owe the Iranians. Having looked at the previous comments made by Ministers, the Government’s answer has been that they will investigate the full range of options, but the Government say they do not link the two—the prisoners and the £400 million. Surely, if we have said to the Iranians that we accept that we owe them the £400 million, I cannot see what is to be gained by then saying we will investigate the full range of options. It seems to me that if we owe them money, the least we should do is negotiate that money against the release of those prisoners. That seems clear, and I think the Iranians—I do not want to speak for them—will feel that they were promised the money and they have not got it. We should keep the promise and do it.

My next question is: are these people hostages in the eyes of the Government? The Minister talked in June about an early release of all hostages in Iran. Do we therefore recognise that they are hostages? Sometimes, Ministers tend to say something else and not to refer to them as hostages.

I understand other countries have got their prisoners out: Australia, Germany, Canada and the United States. I wonder if the Minister could throw some light on how that happened. How was it that other countries managed to get their prisoners out while we failed? Did we try hard enough? Is there something the other countries did that we did not do? The Minister should tell us.

Then, there is the issue of diplomatic protection, which was offered to Nazanin a year or two ago. What happens with this diplomatic protection? Is it in fact still there? Are we using it with full force? Have we extended that protection to the other British nationals I mentioned and, if not, why not? Are the Government saying it was just a token gesture and there is no benefit to it? If there is a benefit to it, we should make full use of the fact that we have given Nazanin diplomatic status, and act accordingly.

My next and related point is this. At Nazanin’s court hearing—not the recent one—there was no United Kingdom presence. The Government will argue they were not allowed in. The Germans sent their consular official to a trial of a German national. The official was not allowed in but he or she did manage to have a conversation with the judge, so there was something to be gained by doing that. I cannot understand why we are so reluctant to use our diplomatic presence in Iran to aid and bring comfort to the people we are talking about. I know that at one point Nazanin was not even visited by British consular officials and when her daughter sent a gift, it was brought over by a driver. The consular officials did not even take it over to give it personally. It seems that we are not doing very much; we could be doing a great deal more than we seem to have done.

Furthermore, negotiations on the JCPOA are now taking place or, at least, I think that, with the change of regime in Tehran, there is a pause. Perhaps the Minister can tell us whether that pause will soon be over. We should certainly press to ensure that Iran’s policy of taking hostages should be on the table as part of negotiations on the JCPOA. We are losing an opportunity, and we should use it, and the £400 million, as a way to put some pressure on the Iranians.

If we are talking about restoring the JCPOA—I understand that the Government are fully committed to doing that and to undoing the damage done under the Trump regime—but we cannot get the full JCPOA, can we at least argue for an interim arrangement where some of the benefits of the JCPOA will be on the table, in return for which there could be certain concessions from the Iranians? Rather than leave it as all or nothing on the JCPOA, it would be good if we could have a backstop position and seek an interim arrangement.

The Minister may not want to talk about that, because he may not wish to admit that the JCPOA may not work. Of course, we all fervently hope that it will and we can resume the position we had before President Trump got involved so mistakenly, but it would be nice to feel that we had a back-up position. In any case, it should surely be our policy to encourage some form of regional dialogue. Could we use our influence along with EU countries to try to achieve that?

Furthermore, would it not be possible for us to start engaging with Iran on both refugees from Afghanistan and the problem of drugs? We might well find some sympathy and the chance to have a proper, big conversation with the Iranian authorities, despite there being a new regime there, given that it is estimated—the Minister may correct this—that 700,000 refugees from Afghanistan have gone to Iran. More than a million have gone to Pakistan. That is quite a responsibility for the Iranians, and surely it would be worth our while talking to them about that. We are talking about nearly 2 million people who have gone to Pakistan and Iran altogether, so there is a real issue there on which we should engage with the Iranians. Then there is the question of drugs—the perennial problem of dangerous drugs being cultivated and produced in Afghanistan and then exported. The Iranian authorities might well have a joint interest with us in stemming that trade.

Then there is the question of international co-ordination. How much are we working with other countries to try to deal with the hostages? I think we joined the Canadian initiative against arbitrary detention in February, and James Cleverly said:

“We continue to work with G7 partners to enhance mechanisms to uphold international law, tackle human rights abuses and stand up for our shared values.”—[Official Report, Commons, 27/4/21; col. 234.]


My question is: how much effort are we putting into that international co-ordination? We would surely have a stronger hand to play if we worked closely with other countries, some of which also have hostages in Iran.

The danger for Nazanin, who is one of the four I mentioned who, I understand, are in house detention but not in prison, is that she might now be returned to prison. That will be a terrible thing to happen after all the years she has spent there but, given that her appeal has been refused, the prospects are not wonderful. How will the Government respond to the possibility that she might have to return to prison? The Government have been a bit coy on this issue in previous debates. “Coy” is rather a bland word; the Government have not been very forthcoming. Can they be more forthcoming? We need a far more robust approach—robust enough to put pressure on the Iranians—and we need to work with other countries to see whether we can bring out these unfortunate victims of Iranian injustice and give them the right to return to their homes.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Browne of Ladyton Portrait Lord Browne of Ladyton (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Dubs for initiating this important and timely debate, and I join other noble Lords who paid tribute to him for his tireless work on this and other humanitarian issues. He is an admirable member of this House. I agree with everything said so far, I think, and it is a privilege and a challenge to follow such thoughtful and informed speeches. I will do my best.

Only three days ago, an Iranian court apparently upheld Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s sentence of another year in prison, prolonging her cruel and unjustified detention that began in 2016. The Government say they are doing all they can to get her home, but Iran has made it clear that her freedom and that of the other dual nationals has a price: the repayment of the debt owed since Iran bought tanks that were not delivered after the Islamic Revolution in 1979. On 7 June, in an Oral Question referring to Nazanin’s case, my noble friend Lord Dubs asked about the money owed by the UK. The Minister, in his Answer, said:

“On the long-standing debt, we continue to explore options to resolve this case, but I do not want to go into details here.”—[Official Report, 7/6/21; col. 1188.]


I will not ask him to go into details of plans, and in fact I will offer him a plan at some point in this speech.

On this issue, I agree with my honourable friend Tulip Siddiq, the Ratcliffe family’s MP. She said:

“It’s time for the UK government to pay the debt we owe to Iran, stand up to their despicable hostage-taking and finally get Nazanin home.”


In preparation for this debate, I asked my colleagues in the European Leadership Network—particularly a young man called Sahil Shah, who helped me enormously—who have been working since 2018 to preserve the JCPOA across Europe, Asia and the United States, to come up with a plan. I have a proposal. The speakers thus far have asked enough questions of the Minister; I will not ask him any questions, but will instead put to him a proposal that, if it can be made to work, may help both to secure Nazanin’s release and to unlock the stalemate of the JCPOA talks—without linking them together.

This week, the Iranian Foreign Minister explained to lawmakers in Tehran their policy of “action for action”. He said that the US must show good will and make a serious move before Iran returns to nuclear talks. Since Trump unilaterally abrogated the JCPOA, Europe, including the UK, has strongly opposed US secondary sanctions imposed under its “maximum pressure” campaign and, to keep the deal alive, has offered multi-sector economic engagement. However, because of fear of US sanctions, which are all-pervasive, it has failed to deliver any economic engagement—including, importantly, in the humanitarian sector. As a matter of fact—or a matter of law, I should say—sanctions on humanitarian trade are against both US domestic and international law. Contrary to expectations, the Biden Administration have essentially kept to this Trumpian strategy.

The need for increased Covid aid to Iran is dire. The Delta variant hit Iran hard: a recent study by BBC Persian found 200,000 excess deaths there, and many believe that to be a gross underestimate. Neither America nor Europe will ever be secure from the virus until the world, including Iran, is secure. We already have enough petri dishes allowing the virus to run riot and develop variants. We should be picking them off where we can; Iran is one that we can pick off. It is in our interests. We should ask the US to allow Iran to use its foreign exchange reserves, which are held in key countries, to aid its pandemic response. Doing so would ease humanitarian trade during a time when the pandemic has caused immense human suffering in a population already toiling under severe economic hardship from years of sanctions. The death toll in Iran is appalling.

The IMF estimates that, because of the maximum pressure sanctions, Iran has access to only around 10% of its total foreign reserves. Iran negotiated with South Korea, Japan, Germany and Iraq—countries where it maintains foreign reserves, but also where the US maintains strong bilateral relationships and exercises its muscle. Trump successfully discouraged all four from accommodating Iran, both directly and indirectly. The Biden Administration are now doing the same. I remind noble Lords that this all should be in contravention of US domestic and international law.

Instead—this is the plan—Biden could go beyond the escrow structure that has been used to facilitate the use of Iranian oil revenues for humanitarian trade.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I remind the noble Lord of the six-minute limit.

Lord Browne of Ladyton Portrait Lord Browne of Ladyton (Lab)
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Thank you. I have just a few sentences left, that is all.

On the condition that the reserves will not be transferred outside of the countries in which they are held, the US could recognise the authority of these four independent Governments to determine the scope of acceptable bilateral humanitarian trade with Iran. This approach could extend to the United Kingdom; we could use what we owe Iran to pay for the purchase of vaccines and other necessary medical supplies through INSTEX, which we set up with France and Germany but through which we have been unable to mobilise any trade. I commend this plan to the Minister and the Government.