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Occupational Gender Segregation

Volume 577: debated on Thursday 13 March 2014

We asked the Women’s Business Council to look at how we could tackle the barriers women face in the workplace and when choosing a career. It published its recommendations in June last year, and we are working closely with businesses and across Government to turn them into reality.

It is worrying that the number of female apprentices has dropped, and much more needs to be done to attract women into traditionally male-dominated sectors, such as engineering and manufacturing. When will we see some progress from the Government on that?

The Government are very proud of our record on apprentices. Over this Parliament we are funding a quarter of a million more apprenticeship places. In fact, more girls and women are taking up these opportunities than boys and men, particularly at the higher levels, where over 60% of apprentices are women. There is an issue with the proportion of women taking up more traditionally male apprenticeships, which is something I will be taking up with the Minister for Skills and Enterprise, my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock).

Women in Public Life

The Government have enabled political parties to use positive action, should they so wish, to increase participation by under-represented groups. We have extended to 2030 their ability to use women-only shortlists. We have also set an aspiration that 50% of new public appointments should be filled by women by the end of this Parliament.

Does my hon. Friend accept that it was a Conservative, Mrs Pankhurst, who campaigned for votes for women; that it was the Conservative party that gave all women the vote; that the first woman to take her seat in this House was a Conservative; and that it was the Conservative party that provided this country’s first woman Prime Minister? We will take no lessons from others about our commitment to enhancing opportunities for women. As I am sure you will appreciate, Mr Speaker, the Unites States will have an opportunity in two years’ time to elect a woman as their next President—Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Yes, my right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Our party has a proud record on all these areas. However, we recognise that we are on a journey and that it is far from complete. It is therefore very important that all parties continue to prioritise that very important issue.

I wonder whether the Minister can help me. Since 3 February I have been asking various Government Departments about the gender breakdown of public appointments they make and which ones are paid. All the Departments consistently refer me to a table published by the Cabinet Office that makes no reference to which roles are paid. Will she ensure that we know how many women appointed to public office by this Government are paid and how many men similarly appointed are paid?

I know that this is an important issue for the hon. Lady and that she raised it during the international women’s day debate. The Government have a very good record on public appointments. I will do my best to find that information for her. I am aware that she has made a freedom of information request. If she does not receive an answer in the next few weeks, I shall be very happy to look into the matter further.

Will the Minister join me, and I am sure many hon. Members in this House, in congratulating Boni Sones OBE on her achievements in founding and running Women’s Parliamentary Radio? Her work will be archived at the London School of Economics and has led to the book “When There’s a Woman in the Room”. Does the Minister agree that Boni Sones deserves this House’s sincere thanks for encouraging women to participate in public life in the UK and overseas?

I am very happy to endorse and agree with everything that my hon. Friend has said. Boni Sones is a fantastic role model in her own right and has done considerable amounts for the representation of women in Parliament.

Will the Minister join me in condemning the Financial Secretary’s comment this week that there are no women on the Monetary Policy Committee because

“appointments are made on merit”?

I am not aware of the exact details of what my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary has allegedly said, but as the hon. Lady has already heard, this party has a proud record in relation to women’s progression. The coalition has driven through a number of policies to promote women and to allow them to develop on merit, and I am sure that that process will continue.

When Labour was in government there was always a woman on the Monetary Policy Committee. Again, I invite the Minister to condemn the comment by the Financial Secretary that

“appointments are made on merit.”

It is obviously a matter for the Bank of England to make its own appointments. However, these are issues for everyone: for Parliament and for all businesses. We must do whatever we can to make sure that women progress and get into positions of power, and I am in no doubt that that process will continue if we all work together.

By maintaining the law that allows the Labour party to use women-only shortlists for selecting its candidates, the Minister must accept that that means either that Labour party selection committees are inherently sexist and turn down the best woman for the job in favour of a man, or that we are not getting the best person for the job in the seats concerned. Can she tell us which one of those it is?

On women-only shortlists, we are a democratic political party and we do not dictate to our grass roots. We know that some of our associations have already chosen women from their own shortlists, but this is a matter for them to decide on.