HC Deb 13 June 2002 vol 386 cc996-7
30. Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries)

What she is doing to encourage more women to enter the construction industries. [58253]

The Minister for Women (Ms Patricia Hewitt)

We are continuing to work with the construction industry, particularly through the rethinking construction initiative—using demonstration projects, case studies and best-practice dissemination to help companies improve their productivity and competitiveness—especially by making better use of the people available to them. One strand of that initiative aims to demonstrate the business benefits of diversity in the workplace, including of course the employment of women.

Mr. Brown

Like my right hon. Friend, I am well aware of the number of women who are becoming involved in civil engineering in particular. There is, however, a major skills gap in the construction industry: there is a desperate need for electricians, plumbers and bricklayers. May I urge my right hon. Friend to have discussions with the trade unions, particularly the Union of Construction Allied Trades and Technicians, to establish exactly where the gaps are and what the unions can do—in conjunction with her own good work—to achieve the aim of bringing more women into the construction industry?

Ms Hewitt

I entirely share my hon. Friend's desire to see more women moving into the construction and civil engineering sectors. We will never overcome those skills shortages if companies continue to recruit and promote only half the talent that is potentially available.

I will ensure that my hon. Friend the Minister for Industry and Construction picks up on the discussions with the union, as well as those with the companies concerned. I remind my hon. Friend that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills is ensuring that, through the training and new deal programmes, we reach out to bring more women who are currently not in work into the very jobs to which he refers.

Mrs. Caroline Spelman (Meriden)

Given the importance of the role of women in industry, does the Minister realise that the number of women directors in the top 100 FTSE companies has fallen for the second year running? According to the Cranfield school of management, 64 per cent. of Britain's leading companies had women directors in 1979; that figure has fallen to 57 per cent. today. What do the Government propose to do to arrest that decline in the role of women in British business?

Ms Hewitt

It is disappointing that at a time when more women are taking up senior positions in business and in government the number of women in the boardroom in so many leading companies has fallen. I recently asked Derek Higgs to undertake a review of the role of non-executive directors. He and I are most concerned about the failure of companies to appoint a wide range of people to the boardroom. Getting more women there is high on our agenda.