HC Deb 11 November 1991 vol 198 cc778-9
39. Mr. Simon Coombs

To ask the Minister for the Civil Service if he will make a statement on the implications of Opportunity 2000 on the recruitment and promotion policies of the civil service.

Mr. Renton

My Department has joined Opportunity 2000 as the umbrella organisation for the whole civil service. We have had a specific programme of action to achieve equal opportunities for women since 1984. Considerable progress has been made, and further impetus will be given next year when I launch a new programme for action.

Mr. Coombs

Will my right hon. Friend make a start by reading the recruitment literature of the civil service and then reading a sample of the recruitment brochures of large private companies? He could then compare the women-friendliness of the two products. I think that he may realise that there is a substantial difference between the two, and that considerable improvement could be made in civil service literature in the hope that more women would be encouraged to make an initial application to enter the civil service.

Mr. Renton

My hon. Friend is making a serious point. I shall certainly suggest to my advisers in the Office of the Minister for the Civil Service—and through them to the Departments concerned—that they look at the recruitment literature of senior companies in the private sector to determine whether that is more attractive than the civil service literature. We emphasise in much of our literature that it is now easier for women to take career breaks, and that when they return from them they can have further management training.

I am delighted to tell the House—and this is a most significant statistic—that women are now doing very much better in the fast stream competition. The proportion of women recommended for appointment under the fast stream in 1984 was 28 per cent., but in 1991 the figure will be more than 40 per cent. Those women will be the high fliers in the civil service in years to come.

Dr. Marek

About 10 minutes ago, the Minister said that two thirds of the staff in his office were women. He must know that well over two thirds of women in the civil service are stuck in the lowest paid grades, with no chance of moving elsewhere. Is not that partly because of the Government's appalling record on childcare? The Minister chooses not to say anything about that. If the public who listen to his words are to regard them as anything more than sheer waffle, what tangible targets has he set himself in that area?

Mr. Renton

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that we are not moving forward. I have just quoted statistics showing that many more women are succeeding in the fast stream competition. More than 40 per cent. of those recommended for appointment in the fast stream are now women, compared with less than 30 per cent. 10 years ago. Those women will be the high fliers, the grades 1, 2 and 3, in future years.

On the question of childcare, the hon. Gentleman must know that we now have 85 holiday play schemes and 19 pre-school nurseries, six of them in partnership with other employers. The civil service is rightly moving forward on all those fronts. Of course, there is more to be done, but we are making progress.