HC Deb 28 October 1998 vol 318 c326
6. Maria Eagle (Liverpool, Garston)

What steps she is taking to encourage more women to become involved in elected politics. [54766]

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Marjorie Mowlam)

In dealing with that question, we should be careful not to make the mistake of thinking that, because no women from Northern Ireland have been elected to the European Parliament or to the House, women in Northern Ireland are not politically active. Over the years, women in Northern Ireland have done a lot to build the peace process, and to build trust from the bottom up. Of the 108 Assembly Members, 14 are women. Ultimately, it will be for the parties to decide whether women manage to come through and win election.

We have done everything that we can on the issue. Northern Ireland hosted the conference of women European Union Ministers. Earlier this year, we also held the women's national commission regional conference. A couple of months ago, Hillary Clinton and I hosted a conference, "Vital Voices", to encourage more women to seek office.

Maria Eagle

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply, and warmly welcome the progress that is clearly being made in Northern Ireland to ensure that more women participate in elected office. Does she agree that further progress towards gender equality in elected office could only assist the peace process, and that such equality will be a clear and visible indication that all sections of both communities are participating and being represented in the on-going peace process?

Marjorie Mowlam

I agree with my hon. Friend, and assure her that what we can do in monitoring, targeting and encouraging movement in the public sector, particularly the civil service, is being done. It is the political parties themselves that will be involved in making progress, and I am sure that they have heard her message.

Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton)

Although I welcome any action to encourage more women to stand for elected office in Northern Ireland, may I ask the Secretary of State whether she will resist the temptation to revert to a former socialist policy of single-sex lists for nomination—bearing in mind that most women wish to be elected not only because of their ability, but because of what they stand for and can offer to the electorate?

Marjorie Mowlam

I am sure that the hon. Lady heard me say that the matter is for the individual political parties, whether they are in Britain or in Northern Ireland.

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