HC Deb 21 March 2002 vol 382 cc430-1
30. Mrs. Jackie Lawrence (Preseli Pembrokeshire)

What steps she is taking to increase female representation in public life. [42883]

The Minister for Women (Ms Patricia Hewitt)

The Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Act received Royal Assent on 26 February. I hope that all political parties will seize the opportunity that the Act presents to increase the number of women candidates.

Mrs. Lawrence

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. I am sure that she accepts that women from all walks of life can make a valuable contribution to public life and to public bodies. Will she give an outline of what her Department is doing to encourage a wider range of women to put themselves forward as candidates, not just women from professional and managerial backgrounds?

Ms Hewitt

My hon. Friend makes an important point. My hon. Friend the Minister of State, Cabinet Office, and I have been organising meetings and seminars around the country that are designed to encourage women from a variety of backgrounds to think about possible public appointments for which their skills in the family, in their local neighbourhoods and in voluntary organisations have made them well fitted. I am pleased to say that that programme of seminars has been such a success in attracting women to apply for public appointments that I shall do three more meetings targeted at women from the black and Asian community, women from business and women from trade unions.

Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire)

The Minister will know that in 1997 33 per cent. of public appointments were held by women, and that this year the figure is 34 per cent. Does she acknowledge that, at that rate of progress, it will take till 2082 to reach the Government's target of 50 per cent. of public appointments being held by women? What progress does the Minister claim for herself?

Ms Hewitt

We are making faster progress than the Conservative party, which has just gone through Trade and Industry questions with no women present. It is precisely because the rate of progress in the past has not been fast enough that we are taking much stronger measures to improve the recruitment of women and of men and women from ethnic minority communities to public appointments. That is why we have targets across all Departments and public agencies for the appointment of women and people from minority ethnic communities to public appointments. I am glad to say that the majority of Departments are well on track to reach that target of 50 per cent. of public appointments being held by women.

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