Empowering women means giving them the practical tools to escape poverty and prejudice. Around the world, including here in Britain, a baby girl’s life chances are disadvantaged in comparison to her brother’s at almost every turn, and once she becomes a woman the disadvantage becomes entrenched.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, opened the debate by giving examples of how investing in women yields radically better results than investing in men. The noble Baroness, Lady Gould, gave the example of how spending £1 on vulnerable women here in the UK saves £3.57 later on. The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, quoted Kofi Annan on this point, who has said that there was no more effective tool in development than investment in women. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby quoted Goldman Sachs to show scientifically that investing in women benefits society economically. Indeed, the many noble Lords who spoke powerfully about the international development aspect of this debate, including the noble Baronesses, Lady Bottomley and Lady Hussein-Ece, and my noble friends Lady Armstrong and Lord Boateng, all said that we must invest in women. It is fantastic that there is no disagreement; there is complete cross-party consensus that we must do that. From the government Minister to former Cabinet Ministers on both sides of this House to every Back-Bencher, everyone is agreed on the clear, indisputable fact that investing in women boosts the economy and benefits society.

I applaud those international development programmes funded by this Government, some of which the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, outlined, that invest in women. My question is: why do the Government disproportionately advantage women in their overseas programmes yet disproportionately disadvantage women in their domestic programmes? There is an avalanche of data showing that the coalition Government are doing domestically exactly what they decry internationally. Instead of following the common-sense strategy of putting money into women’s pockets, which everyone here, including government Ministers, has supported, the Government have systematically taken money out of women’s pockets. Independent research from the House of Commons Library shows that, over the course of this Parliament, a staggering 85% of cash raised from tax and benefits changes has come straight from women’s pockets, a figure that was quoted by the right reverend Prelate. Eighty-five per cent is a truly staggering figure. That is not all: according to the respected Institute for Fiscal Studies, the group hardest hit by the coalition Government’s choices are families with children.

Sadly, the Government’s choices are not delivering women’s economic empowerment; quite the opposite, they are not benefiting women and children. The Government’s own figures show that, for example, in terms of some of its reform policies and benefits, two-thirds of those hit by the bedroom tax are women. It is easy to go on. The majority of those on zero-hours contracts, which the Government refuse to ban, are women. The majority of those earning the minimum wage are women. While Labour will increase that minimum wage to £8 per hour, the Government will not. The Government will not listen to their own advice on increasing women’s incomes, and the Government package this ongoing wealth transfer away from women as benefits reform, deregulation, cutting red tape, liberalising the labour market or value for money. The point is that either the Government do not undertake gender impact assessments or they ignore them.

So here are five key changes the Government could make immediately that would transform women’s lives. First, close the gender gap, increase the minimum wage to £8 per hour and ban exploitative zero-hours contracts. Secondly, improve maternity and paternity provision and provide affordable childcare, because, as Ministers will be aware, under this Government childcare costs have increased 30%. Thirdly, do far more to protect women from violence, most often sexual violence. Again, the facts are shocking: despite a rise in reported rapes, prosecutions for rape are down 14%. Fourthly, give women the power to challenge discrimination. Face facts: since the Government introduced tribunal fees—and this is one of the saddest statistics of all—claims for sex discrimination have fallen by 91%. It is not possible to put a price on justice and not realise that that price will be paid, and here it is clearly being paid by women. Fifthly, empower the next generation: stop channelling girls into low-paid work. So much of this is bound up with cultural barriers, as illustrated by the noble Baronesses, Lady Greenfield, Lady Brady, Lady Rebuck, Lady Perry, Lady Kidron, Lady Mobarik and Lady Crawley, among others. I am sorry I cannot mention every single Peer in this debate—although I am doing my best. Also, my noble friends Lady Howells and Lady Uddin raised the point of the obstacles facing BAME women.

What everyone is saying is “Give girls and women a level playing field”, and this theme was taken up by IMF managing director Christine Lagarde. The IMF is not known for its bleeding-heart liberalism. Christine Lagarde says that nations should remove laws that prevent women from working in order to increase the female labour supply and boost economies. She says:

In too many countries, too many legal restrictions conspire against women to be economically active. In a world in search of growth”—

and that is our holy grail, as we all want growth—

women will help find it, if they face a level playing field instead of an insidious conspiracy”.

Here in the UK we do not have an insidious conspiracy; we have insidious complacency. This brings me to our very own gender pay gap. I will focus the majority of my remarks on this subject, not because it is the single most important subject, but it is the single most important issue we are debating today that will be up for a vote in this House next week. I hope your Lordships will understand why I focus my remarks in this area.

I want to highlight the campaign begun by Harriet Harman and Gloria De Piero and taken up magnificently by the women’s magazine Grazia on pay transparency and closing the pay gap. Since Grazia launched this campaign, it has heard from countless women who are paid less simply because of their gender. One told how she managed to create a department at an ad agency. Looking at the salary information, she was staggered to see an obvious wage differential between the male and the female employees. Another woman described her horror at discovering that the man who was employed to take over on her maternity leave was paid more than her. When she confronted her boss about this, she was told that the man—who, incidentally, was less qualified than her—was paid more because he had to support his family.

Ellie, 36 years old, a former investment banker, discovered she was getting paid £5,000 less than a male colleague only when he let this slip himself. Ellie says:

We were identical in performance, age, level, experience, everything. Even he supposed we were paid the same ... I confronted my boss, but he warned me that pay was confidential and couldn’t be discussed. I’d already been given a higher offer by a rival bank, so I offered my resignation there and then”.

Asha, 55, ex-director of an investment bank, long suspected her pay was not keeping up with that of her male colleagues, but she could not get her bosses to admit the difference, let alone begin to redress the balance.

They would insist I was at the top of my pay grade, and tell me to keep it up, but despite working harder and longer than my male counterparts, my pay plateaued”.

It took her £60,000 and 16 months to reach an out-of-court settlement with her former employer. That is time and money most women just do not have.

Those are the women, the 91% drop, who cannot bring these claims anymore, so women’s ability to achieve economic empowerment is being cut away from under them. That is why transparency is the answer—and, incidentally, a very cheap answer. I understand why Members on the Benches opposite probably do not agree with our view, in the Official Opposition, that we should increase the minimum wage to £8 per hour. I understand; it is a different world view—fine. However, pay transparency does not cost anything, and it really is unforgivable not to bring it in. As Asha, the ex-director of the investment bank who got the money back by taking legal action, said:

Why would turkeys vote for Christmas? Transparency has to be legally enforced, with repercussions for not doing so”.

Possibly my favourite example is Shannon, 25, who works in advertising, and whose end-of-year bonus was a £100 Liberty voucher. Guess what her male equivalent got in the same job as an end-of-year bonus. He did not get a £100 Liberty voucher—he got £2,000 hard cash. Those examples of blatant pay discrimination are going on right now, today, this hour, this minute, in Britain, and we have a way to remedy them.

I will mention only one more example—there are so many others. Donna, 38, was a PR director from Yorkshire. She explained:

I landed a job at a PR firm in London. After a year I was promoted to account manager and at this point they employed another account manager to work alongside me, with the same amount of experience. The only difference? He was a bloke. I was stunned when over lunch he told me”,

he was earning over 30% more than her. Donna approached her bosses for a rise but still did not get enough to match her male colleague’s salary. She says—and I would really like noble Lords to understand the implication of this—

I know I could have sued for sex discrimination, but I didn’t want to rock the boat so early in my career. All I wanted was to be paid fairly”.

That is the point. Women are not asking for charity. They are just asking not to be blatantly, systematically discriminated against just because they are women.

Therefore I ask the government Benches opposite: what are they going to do to deliver the pay transparency that would help all those women and hundreds of thousands like them, up and down the country? When the amendment on pay transparency comes up next week, so ably championed by my noble friend Lady Thornton and others in this House, including my noble friend Lady Crawley, who will they side with? Will they side with Donna, Asha, Shannon and Ellie, who have been discriminated against just because they are women, or will they side—as they are currently saying they will—with the employers who refuse to pay them the same just because they are women? It is a simple choice.

I make no apology for getting quite angry about this. It is a scandal. What is more, it is a scandal that the Government could right, and do so fairly easily. We are the people who have a voice in Parliament; Donna, Asha, Shannon and Ellie do not have a voice here. As my noble friends Lady Crawley and Lady Dean said, we have that voice and we need to make that change. The vote is next Wednesday; the amendment to the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill would implement Section 78 of the Equality Act 2010, which enables the Government to make regulations requiring companies employing 250 people or more to publish information on the differences in pay between men and women. Granted, that is the very beginning—it would not help women who work in smaller companies, some of whose cases I just mentioned—but it is a start.

It is 44 years since the Equal Pay Act was passed, and here we have clear evidence that the law is being broken, day in, day out, to the detriment not just of women but, by the Government’s own logic, of our economy as well. How much longer do we want to wait? I echo the comments of my noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton, who said that we should be proud of the progress we have made—and we have made incredible progress. I remember that when I think of my grandmother, who was the auntie of Uncle Ted, as I call my noble friend Lord Graham—he is my mum’s first cousin. His auntie and my gran—being one and the same woman—worked in a cigarette factory. Jenny left school at 13 and worked in a cigarette factory. Do noble Lords know what her job was? It was picking cigarettes off the conveyor belt at intervals and dragging on them to check whether they were dragging properly—literally, the definition of a dead-end job.

I know that we have made progress and I am grateful for everything that the Labour Party has done in this regard—it has been predominantly the Labour Party which has done this—but the Government have done some things here and there as well. I admit that I cannot think of any off the top of my head, but the Government will have done some things because, to be fair, all of us in this House think that the instances of clear pay discrimination that I have just described are unacceptable.

On this issue, I appeal to the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, who described her family’s extraordinary heritage in championing women’s rights. The noble Baroness’s grandparents would surely have been dismayed to see such blatant sex discrimination going unchecked. Perhaps the noble Baroness could champion this issue. I appeal to the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, who surely has the clout—I know that she has the decency—to get the Government to make this simple change. The noble Baroness said that our job is to make life much better for other women. I appeal to the noble Baroness, Lady Brady, who said that our job is to give women the tools. This is the point; pay transparency is just a tool. It is not even a case of giving women any money, but it is giving them a tool. It is not charity and it is not expensive. Surely, those on the government Benches have a teeny bit of influence in this area—a smidgen, a soupçon, a crumb. Not a single Member opposite can consider that what is going on is acceptable.

In summary, I ask the Minister only two questions. I do not expect her to answer the first, but I would be sincerely grateful if she would answer the second. First, how can it be right to push money into women’s pockets overseas but take money out of women’s pockets at home? Secondly, will the Minister agree to lobby the Government to make a concession and support pay transparency next week in this House? It is clear that women’s economic empowerment is intertwined with their social, psychological, physical and cultural empowerment. I am sorry that I have not commented on all the fantastic speeches that touched on the cultural and educational aspects that we need to improve. Those speeches show that you cannot disentangle economic empowerment and place it neatly in a box. The least that we could do is empower women and pay them the same as we pay men.