HC Deb 09 January 2002 vol 377 cc525-6
1. Fiona Mactaggart (Slough)

What progress has been made in increasing the number of women in public appointments. [23441]

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Mrs. Barbara Roche)

The Government are committed to increasing diversity in public appointments. We are determined that women should hold half of all public appointments. I shall host a series of seminars across the country to encourage more women to apply for such appointments. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will attend the seminar in Tyneside.

Fiona Mactaggart

I thank the Minister for that reply, but does she share my disappointment that Dame Rennie Fritchie's last report showed that we had moved backwards in the participation of women in public appointments? Will the Minister ask Departments to undertake equality audits of the criteria that they use for making public appointments so that we can ensure that women's experience of using public services and of voluntary participation are properly counted when public appointments are being made?

Mrs. Roche

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Some Departments—for example, the Department of Health—have recently done well with regard to appointments. When we consider public appointments, of course we need to look at experience across the whole range. That is why voluntary work is so important—as is the presence of so many women as school governors.

The forms will be revised. The new format asks for examples of relevant skills gained within any field, such as voluntary work. Furthermore, the form will no longer feature an honours section—an aspect that may have deterred some people from applying.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

Given the need to encourage women to apply for public appointments, might not women be influenced by the fate of women who hold such appointments, such as Elizabeth France, the information commissioner, who has indicated that she is not seeking reappointment, as her four-year term of office would not have enabled her at any stage to use the freedom of information powers due to the Government's delay? Do not the Government need to be seen to support those women who take on public appointments?

Mrs. Roche

It is a great pity that the right hon. Gentleman has gone down that track. As he knows, Elizabeth France leaves her position with a great deal of good will for her tremendous work, and the Government—and everybody—have the highest regard for her. It is well recognised that after two terms the usual practice is to hold an open competition. That is what is taking place in this case.

Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

May I say how much I welcome all the work that the Government are doing to encourage more women into public life? I welcome the series of seminars. When my hon. Friend organises where they are to be held, will she look closely at holding one in north Staffordshire, in order that we can encourage more women—especially young women—to take up public office?

Mrs. Roche

It is not possible to cover everywhere, but of course we shall consider where we are holding the seminars, and we shall also try to ensure that the participants invited to them come from the widest possible area.

Angela Watkinson (Upminster)

Is the hon. Lady aware that women applying for public appointments in health authorities have to declare their political affiliation? Does she agree that Conservative women are thus at a double disadvantage?

Mrs. Roche

I reject that completely. The hon. Lady should look at the record of the previous Conservative Government, whom she supported.

Mr. Piara S. Khabra (Ealing, Southall)

What is the overall position of ethnic minority women as regards public appointments?

Mrs. Roche

We want to look at that aspect. We shall try to publish some targets in the near future.