HC Deb 11 November 1991 vol 198 cc774-5
28. Mrs. Heal

To ask the Minister for the Arts how many women are employed in senior positions within the Office of Arts and Libraries.

The Minister for the Arts (Mr. Tim Renton)

Four of the 15 staff employed in grades 2 to 7 in the Office of Arts and Libraries are women.

Mrs. Heal

What action does the Minister propose to take to improve the percentage of women in senior positions within his Department? Does not he feel that the Office of Arts and Libraries should set an example to the other arts bodies such as the Arts Council, only three of the 12 members of which are women, and the regional arts boards, all of which are directed by men? Does not he feel that he should take more positive action than making optimistic speeches, if women are to improve their representation in the arts?

Mr. Renton

The hon. Lady is not right in saying that it is simply a question of making optimistic speeches. As she will know, I am also responsible, as the Minister for the Civil Service, for ensuring that there are proper opportunities for women and that women are encouraged to take them throughout the civil service. We issued a report on the matter just a few weeks ago at the same time as Oppportunity 2000 was launched. As more than 25 per cent. of the senior staff in my office are women, we are showing something of a lead to the rest of the civil service. I am delighted that that is so and I wish to continue it. Two thirds of my private office staff are women, the hon. Lady will be pleased to know, and two thirds of the support staff are women.

Mr. Evennett

While I welcome what my right hon. Friend has said, will he confirm that we should encourage more women into senior positions, but that they must be appointed on the basis of their ability, not just on the basis of their sex?

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

The Minister for the Arts should be a woman.

Mr. Renton

Yes, of course it must be on the basis of equality of talent for the jobs available. The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) says that the Minister for the Arts should be a woman. I wonder what his hon. Friend on the Front Bench thinks about that.

Mr. Fisher

The Minister's figures are at odds with the claims made in his policy document for the Government generally and, indeed, with the Prime Minister's remarks last week. Is not the Minister ashamed of the appalling record of the Office of Arts and Libraries in that respect? Does he personally believe that the skills and talents of women in the arts and media are undervalued and under-promoted? What does he intend to do about it? Is it not the case that the attempts made through his document, and the Prime Minister's speech last week, cover up the Government's lack of policies and are about as effective as lipstick on the face of a gorilla?

Mr. Renton

I fear that if Eve were to offer the hon. Gentleman a golden apple in the Garden of Eden he would immediately start to look for a maggot in it. The Office of Arts and Libraries has a good record in that field. It is not for me to tell the arts performing companies precisely how many women should be artistic or general directors. The hon. Gentleman will know—if he travels round the country as I do—the degree to which women hold top jobs in artistic companies and I am delighted that they are doing so.

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