HC Deb 02 November 1987 vol 121 cc646-7
71. Mr. Butler

asked the Minister for the Civil Service what progress he has made in encouraging women to apply to the public appointments unit.

The Minister of State, Privy Council Office (Mr. Richard Luce)

The public appointments unit has cooperated fully with the women into public life campaign and the number of women's names coming forward from this and other sources is showing an encouraging increase.

Mr. Butler

I assure my right hon. Friend that I am not part of the farrago of feminism and that my interest is spontaneous. However, can he say whether the number of women on the public appointments unit list has risen?

Mr. Luce

A year ago the number of women on the list was 18 per cent.; today it has risen to 27 per cent. I regard it as an encouraging sign that more and more women are willing to have their names on the list.

Ms. Armstrong

May we offer the Minister our deepest sympathy for having arrayed behind him people who have no appreciation of the important contribution that women do, and can, make to our society, especially in areas where they can contribute to the ideas and thinking of the public service? Is he aware that we wish to support him in ensuring that women make a full contribution? Is he further aware that 20 per cent. is not a full contribution? If he were serious about appointing people on merit, the figure for women would be 52 per cent.

Mr. Luce

I wish to make two points to the hon. Lady. First, Parliament could set a slightly better lead in the number of women Members. Secondly, if organisations were to follow my example they might be better off, because in my Office my permanent secretary, my principal private secretary, my assistant private secretary, my special adviser and my press secretary are all women.

Mr. Gow

If my right hon. Friend looks to his left at the second Bench above the Gangway, will he not see five hon. Ladies who are Members of this House? Is it not an act of grievous discrimination against men that that Bench should have become the prerogative of hon. Ladies?

Mr. Luce

I take my hon. Friend's point. We must get away from the idea that there should be a statutory number of one sex or the other. People must be promoted on the basis of merit, and on no other basis.

Ms. Richardson

Does the Minister realise that there are many hundreds, perhaps thousands, of women whose skills and experience could be of great use on public boards? Will he try to find more and better ways of letting women know how they can apply? Many women from small women's groups in the community—for example, the Women's Institute—do not know the procedure for doing so. Will he ensure that he advertises this so that there is a better spread of women?

Mr. Luce

I welcome any opportunity to make sure that women are aware of the existence of the public appointments unit and aware that they can have their names considered for that unit and go forward for consideration on a short list. That is why, in the past year we have undertaken a major campaign to make that opening available to as many women as possible. I welcome the chance, on this occasion, to make that clear.