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Positive Role Models

Oral Answers to Questions — Minister for Women – in the House of Commons at 10:30 am on 23rd March 2006.

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Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Labour, Manchester Central 10:30 am, 23rd March 2006

What steps the Government are taking to provide positive models of the role of women in society.

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Women and Equality)

We have used positive role models very effectively, notably in science, engineering and technology. I recently spoke at the UK Resource Centre annual conference, which unveiled portraits of six inspirational women in science, engineering and technology, creating a legacy for future generations. The centre has also launched the GetSET Women database, providing access to thousands of female role models and mentors.

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Labour, Manchester Central

I welcome my hon. Friend's positive comments. Does she agree that a necessary part of providing positive roles for women is getting rid of the negative images of women, especially those portraying women as willing or at least acquiescent victims of domestic violence, violence and rape? Will she make it clear that our Government will have no truck with those who suggest reduced sentences for the perpetrators of violence against women, particularly rape?

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Women and Equality)

The Government are playing an active role in tackling all aspects of violence against women. The information about sentencing was leaked. The guidelines for sentencing have not been issued. They will be produced later this year by an independent body and the Government will respond. The Government take rape extremely seriously. We will do all we can to combat this heinous crime and to ensure appropriate sentences for those who commit it.

Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland)

I am sure the Minister will join me in congratulating the positive women role models in sport, such as Olympic medallist Shelley Rudman, our 56 women Commonwealth medallists from the home nations so far, and the five courageous competitors in "The Games" who are women, including my hon. Friend Julia Goldsworthy. Is the Minister concerned that awards worth £3.8 million are made to elite male athletes—over 50 per cent. more than the £2.3 million in awards to women athletes? That entrenches the existing male bias in sporting role models.

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Women and Equality)

I welcome the hon. Lady to her new position. I am not sure whether the Liberal Democrats are appointing anyone to deal with women's issues—

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Women and Equality)

Perhaps we will find out later who that is. The Chancellor announced yet more money yesterday for investment in sport and to encourage everyone to get involved in it. On role models in sport, some of our best athletes at the last Olympic games were women—Dame Kelly Holmes, for example. We will continue to ensure that women get the opportunities that they need to do well in international athletics.

Photo of Sharon Hodgson Sharon Hodgson Labour, Gateshead East and Washington West

Does my hon. Friend agree that, in all that they do, every woman Member of Parliament can be a positive role model for women? As eight women from the Gateshead young women's project are observing our proceedings here today, does my hon. Friend agree that women Members in their places today are indeed acting as a positive role model for women generally?

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Women and Equality)

I thank my hon. Friend for her question and I agree that every woman in the House should be a role model for women generally, particularly for younger women. I welcome the fact that my hon. Friend's constituents are here to observe us today. It is enormously important to encourage more women to get involved in politics, so it is crucial that they have every opportunity to come here and are not prevented from doing so by old-fashioned practices that work against them.

Photo of Angela Watkinson Angela Watkinson Opposition Whip (Commons)

Is it not the height of hypocrisy for the Government to encourage others to provide a positive role model for women in society when its own splendid Minister for Women and Equality is the only Minister not to receive a ministerial salary?

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Women and Equality)

The hon. Lady is incorrect, as five Ministers do not receive salaries. I am not responsible for ministerial pay, but I wish that I had a pound for every time that I have been asked that question.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Shadow Minister (Women and Equality)

I agree with everything that the Minister has said so far, but does she agree that the lack of role models is not the main problem for women in our country today? There have been many role models in this place—Barbara Castle, Shirley Williams and, the greatest of all, Margaret Thatcher—but that is not the key problem. What are the Government going to do about breaking down the barriers that prevent women from following their role models, whether it be in business, science, teaching or other professions? The Chancellor was vague about that matter yesterday.

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Women and Equality)

Committing millions of pounds to help women back into employment—and to woman returners, generally—is not what I would call vague. The hon. Lady will be aware that the women and work commission recently reported and recommended a range of measures to tackle the pay gap and to ensure that women get through the glass ceilings—or off the sticky floors, as we say—and overcome the barriers. The Government are considering all the recommendations carefully and will respond in due course.