HC Deb 13 February 1990 vol 167 cc123-5
1. Mrs. Maureen Hicks

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what assessment he has made of the need to attract more women into the work force.

The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Michael Howard)

It is estimated that women will take up 90 per cent. of the additional jobs that will be created between now and the year 2000. Employers will need increasingly to ensure that their work arrangements meet the needs of women.

Mrs. Hicks

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the Government's dramatic attitude in recognising that women should go to sea and should become Royal Air Force pilots must act as a great inspiration to employers who have been rather reluctant to consider taking on ladies and rewarding them? With a tremendous labour shortage in prospect in the next five years, should not we now advise those employers to wake up to that great source of untapped talent, and to do all that they can to recruit and retain women workers? Finally, I ask my right hon. and learned Friend—

Mr. Speaker

Order. One question is fairer to the hon. Lady's colleagues.

Mrs. Hicks

Will my right hon. and learned Friend have a word in the ear of our right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to encourage in these pre-Budget days any tax reforms that may assist women to return to work—

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is too much.

Mr. Howard

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for her tireless and, indeed, ceaseless campaigning on behalf of women in work. There are more women in work in this country than in any other member country of the European Community. I am sure that my hon. Friend would not expect me to deal with any representations that I may or may not be making to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Ms. Abbott

Does the Secretary of State agree that although there are more women in work in Britain, for the most part they are in poor conditions and are crowded into low-paid jobs? Does he care to enlighten the House on what the Government as an employer are doing for women and, specifically, what the Civil Service is doing in the provision of workplace nurseries and arrangements for women's careers so that they can come back to work after maternity?

Mr. Howard

I do not accept for one moment the premise behind the hon. Lady's question. I shall give her one example of what the Civil Service is doing. If she examines the most recent report of the Select Committee on Employment, she will find that particular tribute is paid to the attitude of my Department to the provision of part-time work. That provision is, perhaps, the most important factor in enabling women to combine work and responsibilities to their families.

Mr. Marlow

Can my right hon. and learned Friend work out the value to the national economy, in terms of gross national product, of those married women who stay behind, look after their children and ensure that they have a decent social background and upbringing? When he has done that, will he junk all ideas of providing tax incentives for workplace nurseries and, I presume, nannies? If he is to provide tax incentives, will he provide them for the mothers who stay at home and do a decent job looking after their children?

Mr. Howard

My hon. Friend is right to stress the importance of the role that women who stay at home to look after their children fulfil. It must be a matter of choice for women whether they stay at home to fulfil that valuable role, combine it with work or go out to work. In response to his question about tax changes, I repeat to my hon. Friend what I said earlier.

Mr. Blair

Is not one of the major obstacles faced by women at work the absence of workplace nurseries in many parts of the country? Would not it be best to remove the tax on workplace nurseries and, therefore, the tax on women at work?

Mr. Howard

The hon. Gentleman asks me for the third time a question which, as I have already said, it would not be appropriate for me to deal with today. It is important to consider the whole range of facilities available to women who wish to go out to work or return to work, rather than concentrate unduly on a particular aspect, as the hon. Gentleman did in his question.

Mrs. Currie

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the bulk of women who stay at home to look after children are single parents, many of whom would dearly like to return to work if issues such as child care were settled? Is he aware that if we encouraged the quarter of a million single parents who are currently on benefit to return to work, the saving to the Exchequer would be over £1 billion?

Mr. Howard

My hon. Friend will be aware of the exceptionally generous arrangements available to single parents who wish to take part in our employment training programmes. That is the key to their return to work. I hope—I am sure that she will—that my hon. Friend will give full recognition to the Government for that initiative.