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Women (Public Appointments)

Volume 489: debated on Tuesday 10 March 2009

3. What steps she plans to take to increase the number of women in public life; and if she will make a statement. (261696)

Action by the Government, and particularly by the Labour party, has increased the number of women in Parliament. However, the under-representation of women in public appointments has improved only slowly. Indeed, there has been a recent drop in numbers, which shows that there is more work to be done by all of us who believe that increasing diversity improves decision making across public services. I hope that the hon. Lady and her party will join us in doing that work.

I thank the Minister for that reply. She will know that research by the London Business School found that the best-performing teams are of an equal mix of men and women. In fact, a recent study of French companies found that the fewer women managers a French company had, the bigger the drop in its share price since January 2008. Of the 39 directors in the Government-owned bank, just three are women, so why have the Government not acted to put more women on the boards of banks and will they now do so?

I am interested to hear the conclusions of the research that the hon. Lady mentions. It is, of course, important to have diverse representation across all public appointments, which is what the question is about. We are shortly to introduce new diversity targets for public appointments, and I believe that the public sector should lead by example. I will pass on the hon. Lady’s comments to my right hon. and hon. Friends in other Departments.

I think that there is no other party in government than Labour that has ever done more to promote women in public life. What I am most concerned about for women is the impact of the economic downturn, which might be leading to an increase in domestic violence. What will the Government do to put in place plans to support women—

As well as doing what the law requires, will the Minister use her good offices to interview any Church of England bishop who says that he will not appoint a suffragan who is prepared to ordain women?

I have to be careful about getting too involved in the internal affairs of the established Church, but I will pass on the hon. Gentleman’s remarks to the appropriate people. He will no doubt be aware that the Second Church Estates Commissioner has questions on 19 March.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the Equality and Human Rights Commission report, “Who Runs Wales?”, which was published at the weekend? It shows that there is still good female political representation in the Assembly, with 70 per cent. of Labour Members being women, but it painted a dismal picture in other sectors—for example, there were no female chief executives in the top 100 private companies in Wales. What would the Minister advise to deal with that information?

We hope to lead by example, and I think that the Welsh Assembly has done a good job in ensuring that there is more equal representation. I believe that we all have to make more effort and one of the ways we can do that is by this Parliament showing a lead. In that respect, the conference that is looking into the representation of women, disabled people and ethnic minorities here in this House has a very important role to play. We must ensure that we make progress on such matters and show the rest of society—civil society, but also organisations in the private sector—the advantages that increasing levels of diversity can provide for the future.

Part-time and flexible working allow many women to carry out dual roles, but most of that work is available only in the service or retail sectors, so employers need to be educated as to the benefits at all levels. Does the Minister agree that that should also apply to the senior grades in the civil service? How many jobs at the highest level are offered part-time?

We need to make more progress on appointments, although the civil service is better than many other organisations in trying to improve its diversity and promote job shares and part-time working. It is much more flexible than some organisations in the private sector, for example. The points that the hon. Lady makes are good. We need to make progress in all those areas across the public and private sectors if we are to make a reality of equality and if we are to reap the full benefits that we all understand diversity can bring.