§ 40. Mrs. Currie
To ask the Minister for the Civil Service how many women are now in post in the civil service at under-secretary level and above; and how many there were 10 years ago?
§ The Minister of State, Privy Council Office (Mr. Tim Renton)
There are now 45 women in the civil service at under-secretary level and above; 10 years ago there were 31. A programme of action to achieve equality of opportunity for women in the civil service has been in place since 1984.
§ Mrs. Currie
I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply and congratulate him on the 50 per cent. increase in the number of women at the higher levels of the civil service. I do not want to carp, but does my right hon. Friend agree that, in a world in which more than 50 per cent. of the electorate are women, arid in which nearly half of the work force are women, it is time to increase the number of capable women who reach the higher levels of the civil service to something approaching the proportions that they achieve at the lower levels?
§ Mr. Renton
I agree with my hon. Friend. One of my overall responsibilities as a civil service Minister is to see that the aim that has been voiced by my hon. Friend is realised. I hope that it will be some comfort to her to hear that the proportion of women younger than 45 in the top three grades is higher than the proportion of men in that age group, and that there is a higher proportion of women in grades 5 to 7. The latter figure is up considerably on that of six years ago. That gives me reason to believe that in the years immediately ahead there will be a higher proportion of women in absolutely top positions.
§ Dr. Marek
Does the Minister realise that there is no shortage of talent among women in Britain and that simply saying that he is led to believe that things might get better is not good enough? Can I invite him to set a target to make sure that at least 40 per cent. of all civil service posts, especially those between grades 5 and 7 and grades 18 4 and above, will be filled by women within five years? If the Minister sets himself that target, he will earn the congratulations of the whole House.
§ Mr. Renton
I have only to look at the Benches around and behind me to realise that there is no shortage of talent among women in Britain. Setting a target would not be a realistic approach. It would be far better to make sure that the top posts go to those with the greatest ability, no matter what sex or ethnic origin. My office is certainly dedicated to that aim and we shall do our utmost to achieve it.
§ Sir Dudley Smith
While there is no room for complacency on matters of equality, will my right hon. Friend confirm that our record throughout public service and industry bears up very well in comparison with other countries in the European Community?
§ Mr. Renton
I thank my hon. Friend for making that important point. Although the percentage of women in the civil service is still low—indeed, too low—it is increasing pretty rapidly.