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We have made some progress in increasing the number of women in key senior public sector positions; for example, women now fill 32 per cent. of senior civil service posts and 20 per cent. of local authority chief executive posts. Those are increases of 17 per cent. and 10 per cent. respectively compared with the situation in 1997, but there is still a lot more work to do. The Equality Bill will introduce positive action provisions allowing public authorities, as employers, to address this under-representation at senior levels if they choose to do so.
I thank my hon. Friend for that response and in particular for her reference to the civil service, but is she aware that over the last three years there has actually been a decline in the number of women appointed to the most senior positions in the civil service? In 2007-08, 24 per cent. of the top 105 senior appointments were filled by women; that was down on the year before, which was down on the previous year. Therefore, there appears to be a decline in the very top civil service positions. What can we do about that?
If we look across a number of public sector organisations—of course, the position is worse in the private sector—we see a general pattern of advance, then stalling and now a slight slipping back. It is therefore clear that we need to do more and take further steps to improve the situation. May I also just emphasise that this is not all about arithmetical equality, but about using properly the talent of all our people in the top jobs in this country? It is not, therefore, about trying to get the numbers right; it is about trying to facilitate proper opportunities for talented people. We need to persuade as well as enable, and lead by example as well as exhort, and that is what we seek to do.
I am very encouraged by what the Minister says. Does she agree that, where there is a male in a top job and a talented female deputy has been in place for a considerable time, done a very good job and has stood in, at times, for the boss, she should automatically get the next job? Can the Minister think of anyone close to her to whom that might apply?
I think I know what the hon. Gentleman is getting at, and I do not wish to get drawn into the individual circumstances in particular workplaces—he is inviting me to walk down a very difficult path. We need to do better overall in order to use the talents of all our people, including the women.
First, Mr. Speaker, may I apologise unreservedly to both you and the whole House for having been a little late in arriving for women and equality questions?
In some departments there is very much a glass ceiling for women, but another issue that women face in state institutions and departments is the gender pay gap. In some public sector institutions men are being paid 25 per cent. more than women, the national average being 17 per cent. The Equality Bill specifically does not include the public sector in the provisions the Government are proposing on gender pay audits. The Minister for Women and Equality is very keen to accuse the private sector of problems regarding the gender pay gap, but what are the Government proposing to do to end the gap in the public sector?
I am glad that the right hon. Lady is, like Labour Members, concerned about the gender pay gap. The Equality Bill will put an obligation on the public sector, and a more onerous obligation where there are 150 or more employees, to produce more information than we will be asking the private sector to produce. The public sector will therefore be leading by example, and it is important that we ensure that we do. Perhaps she was a couple of minutes late into the Chamber because she was reading the Bill—the provision is in there. We will make sure that we place this obligation on the public sector. May I remind the House that the public sector generally does better than the private sector? However, having transparency—seeing what the position is in a meaningful way—is the real way, as we have all discovered over the past couple of weeks, to find out what is going on.