HC Deb 21 February 1994 vol 238 cc16-7
33. Mrs. Gorman

To ask the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed, representing the House of Commons Commission, what steps the Commission is taking to increase the number of women employed in the House of Commons service.

Mr. Beith

Recruitment to, and promotion in, the House of Commons service is based on ability, qualifications and fitness for the work. There is no discrimination on any other ground.

An equal opportunities officer has been appointed to monitor the operation of the policy. In addition, a number of schemes have been introduced that take account of the needs of those with family responsibilities, such as career break schemes, part-time working, job sharing and holiday play schemes.

Mrs. Gorman

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his answer. I am sure that he, like me, is aware of the enormous importance of highly skilled and dedicated women to the running of this place, especially those in the background jobs. Does he agree that it is surprising that, as yet, only two Departments are headed by women—the Library and the Refreshment Department? I have observed that other Parliaments—in Australia, for instance—employ women as badge messengers. As a result of training over the generations, women are—if nothing else—very good at running after men to give them messages.

Mr. Beith

It must be obvious to all that women occupy not just important backroom jobs in the House of Commons, but important front-line jobs. I regard the fact that two Departments are now headed by women, after a long period when none was, as a mark of progress. I shall, however, draw the attention of the appropriate authorities to the hon. Lady's recommendation about messengers.

Mrs. Anne Campbell

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the employment of women would be greatly facilitated if there were arrangements for child care in the House? He must be aware that the absence of such facilities limits employment opportunities for many women, especially those with young children and especially in view of our strange working hours.

Mr. Beith

I believe that child care provision would facilitate the employment of women in the House; whether my assumption is correct is currently being tested in a survey conducted by the Administration Committee, whose results we await. There are some practical difficulties connected with where such facilities could be housed which the Accommodation and Works Committee has often drawn to our attention. When we receive the results of the survey and the Administration Committee's recommendation, however, we may be able to take the matter further.

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