Minister for Women

– in the House of Lords at 2:59 pm on 13 June 2005.

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Photo of Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Women, Non-Departmental & Cross Departmental Responsibilities 2:59, 13 June 2005

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Why the appointment of Ms Meg Munn MP as Minister for Women was delayed for two days after other ministerial appointments had been announced.

Photo of Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Women, Non-Departmental & Cross Departmental Responsibilities

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that response but it merely makes my next question even more relevant. Does she recognise that the appointment of a Minister for Women apparently as an afterthought—and, what is worse, unpaid—has certainly not enhanced the reputation of the Government as a champion of equal treatment? While we all welcomed—as I did—the creation of a post of junior Minister for Women in the House of Commons, is the Minister satisfied and happy with the situation in which two out of three of the post-holders have been unpaid?

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, the Government's record on women's issues speaks for itself. What we have achieved in the provision of childcare, and the balance of work and family absolutely speaks for itself. As for the wider issue, there are currently five unpaid Ministers in the Government—four men and one woman.

Photo of Lord Tebbit Lord Tebbit Conservative

My Lords, is any consideration being given to the appointment of a Minister for men, whether paid or unpaid?

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, that question arises periodically. I presume that if the party opposite wanted to have a Minister for men, perhaps the noble Lord would apply.

Photo of Baroness Morgan of Drefelin Baroness Morgan of Drefelin Labour

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it was a disappointment to wait for news of the appointment of my honourable friend Meg Munn? Will she join me in congratulating and celebrating her appointment? I have worked with her and found her to be extremely able and committed, and I believe that she will be a very successful Minister for Women. Can my noble friend give us figures for the number of unpaid Ministers that we have had in Government since 1997—how many were men and how many women?

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, I am happy to congratulate Meg Munn on her appointment. I understand that there has been disappointment that her appointment took place slightly later than others, but a number of people wait to see whether they have been appointed. It is a process that takes place over a number of days and I do not think there was anything sinister about this particular appointment. On the question of unpaid Ministers since 1997, I spoke in answer to an earlier Question about the current position. Since 1997 we have had 19 unpaid Ministers—15 men; four women.

Photo of Baroness Harris of Richmond Baroness Harris of Richmond Spokesperson in the Lords, Northern Ireland Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords (Police), Home Affairs, Whip

My Lords, will the Government draw up a strategy on female poverty as advocated by the Fawcett Society? This could be similar to the one set up to look at child poverty.

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, the noble Baroness asked a very interesting question. I was involved in a meeting only about 10 days ago with Ministers from a range of departments across government, looking at what happens over a woman's lifetime. We know that the issue of female poverty tracks women from the time they are in work. Figures in relation to the pay gap show that for women who are in part-time work it is some 40 per cent, whereas in full-time work the gap is narrower. The Government are very concerned about this issue and we will be looking at it. Whether there will be a strategy similar to the child poverty strategy still has to be decided.

Photo of The Earl of Listowel The Earl of Listowel Crossbench

My Lords, in the same vein, will the Minister ensure that current proposals for extended paid maternity leave are as generous as possible, not only to take mothers out of poverty but to ensure that they have the best opportunity to see their children have the best start in life?

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, the Government are seeking to achieve a balance for parents, not just women, but also to ensure that women have a choice. The commitment is to increase maternity leave to nine months by April 2007 and to allow some of that leave to be transferred to fathers so that parents can choose between them how to organise work and care for their children, which I think is the nub of the question by the noble Earl.

Photo of Lord Mackie of Benshie Lord Mackie of Benshie Liberal Democrat

My Lords, can the Minister tell us whether there is any objection to the Minister for Women being a man? Many men would do the job extremely well. If they are not allowed to, is this not discrimination?

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, since 1997 the Minister for Women has always been a woman. There are arguments both ways, and this is one of those arguments that we will certainly not be able to win because there are those who feel that it is discriminatory against men not to have a man, and there are those who feel it is appalling to have a man as a Minister for Women. I do not fall on either side of the argument.

Photo of Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Women, Non-Departmental & Cross Departmental Responsibilities

My Lords, perhaps when there are as many women in Government as there are men, it will not matter who is the Minister for Women.