HC Deb 17 May 1994 vol 243 cc666-7
10. Mrs. Anne Campbell

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what proportion of senior managers were women in each of the last three years for which figures are available.

Miss Widdecombe

The labour force survey shows that, in the autumn of 1993, 31 per cent. of corporate managers or administrators were women. The equivalent figures for 1991 and 1992 were 29 per cent. and 31 per cent.

Mrs. Campbell

Has the Minister taken the time to study the report entitled "The Rising Tide" published by the Office of Science and Technology? Is she aware that one of the key recommendations of the report asks Government Departments to set a target that women will fill at least 25 per cent. of public appointments and senior manager positions by the year 2000?

Miss Widdecombe

Indeed, and because of the prime ministerial initiative announced in 1991 there has already been a rise from 23 per cent. to 28 per cent. of women in public appointments. Because of the initiative of Opportunity 2000, 25 per cent. of the work force are now covered by employers who are committed to those objectives.

Mr. Bill Walker

Does my hon. Friend agree that the most important senior manager's post that any woman can aspire to is to run her home effectively and well, particularly where children are involved, because that is of enormous benefit to the nation?

Miss Widdecombe

It is extremely important that we value properly those women who choose to run homes. That is why there are special exemptions for women returners in our training programmes; that is why my right hon. Friend introduced accredited prior learning and applied it also to those on career breaks; and that is why we have tried to make that choice available as widely as possible.

Mrs. Clwyd

Does the Minister agree, however, that under the Government of whom she is a member, women are still treated as second-class workers and that only in Ireland and Luxembourg, in the European Union, are women's average earnings lower, as a proportion of men's, than in Britain?

Miss Widdecombe

The hon. Lady completely misunderstands the position of women in this country. Under the Government, there has been an increase in the number of women in the work force. If the hon. Lady wants European comparisons, I am delighted to give them to her. We have the second greatest proportion of women in work in the European Union. We are also the only country in which female unemployment is less than that of men. The hon. Lady should be congratulating the Government and it is the tone of her question which sorely tempts me to be less moderate than I am generally trying to be today.

Mr. Ian Taylor

Will my hon. Friend confirm that if 31 per cent. of all senior managers are women, presumably the rest of them are men? In those circumstances, will she also confirm that the criteria of qualification for the job count most, rather than the attempt to get sexual equality into every aspect of our business life?

Miss Widdecombe

It can scarcely be doubted that, if 31 per cent. are women, the rest must be men. I agree with my hon. Friend about that. I would, however, point him to the initiative, "Fair Play for Women", and to what that has already achieved in Wales and what we expect it to achieve now that we have launched it in England, in terms of making women more valued in the workplace, better qualified, better trained and giving them more opportunities generally. That has remained a consistent objective of the Government.

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