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Women in the Defence Sector

Volume 743: debated on Monday 8 January 2024

4. What recent assessment he has made of trends in the number of women employed in the defence sector. (900855)

A happy new year to you, Mr Speaker, and to all colleagues.

As at October 2023, 55.4% of civil servants are female—a rise of 0.7 percentage points compared with 1 October 2022—and 11.7% of the UK regular armed forces and 15.9% of Future Reserves 2020 are women, up by 1.2 percentage points and 1.4 percentage points respectively in the past five years. That means that the trend is in the right direction, but we can do better, and I am confident that we will do so across the defence enterprise.[Official Report, 9 January 2024, Vol. 743, c. 4MC.]

Happy new year to you, Mr Speaker, and to the House.

I thank the Minister for his response. Many of my constituents work in the defence sector, whether at RNAS Yeovilton, Leonardo in Yeovil or Thales in my constituency. I commend initiatives such as Leonardo’s AeroWomen programme, which aims to increase gender parity in the sector, but I am concerned by the barriers that women still face. The women in defence charter aims to have women make up 30% of the UK armed forces by 2030, yet the current number is a meagre 12%. Has the Minister made an assessment in the last quarter of 2023 of the success of the charter since its launch?

I would gladly answer such a debate. I know all the sites the hon. Lady referred to, and I do understand the issue. She will know that we are actively engaged with the defence suppliers forum to increase the number of women across the defence enterprise, and the target is 30%.

Happy new year, Mr Speaker.

Many women undertake critical roles in our defence industry, so the policies by which we procure the equipment they build are very important for them. Ministers have been telling the Defence Committee since before Christmas that we can expect a major announcement on procurement reform in the new year. As we are now in January, can we have a commitment that we will have that announcement by the end of this month, please?

My right hon. Friend has cunningly got that question in. My understanding is that it is imminent. However, the point on women and procurement is well made, and my right hon. Friend will have observed—I hope with pleasure—the work that has been done, for example, in procuring uniform that actually fits the female form, which was not previously the case.