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Mrs. Gillan: I am pleased that the hon. Lady praises the work of Chwarae Teg, on which the fair play for women exercise was built by the previous Conservative Government. Does she share my hope that the Government will continue to support fair play for women in Wales and the rest of the country? We want a firm commitment from the Minister to back that.

Ms Morgan: The Government have already shown their commitment to Chwarae Teg and increased the range of its work enormously since coming to power last May.

Women in Wales earn three quarters of what men earn--even though men in Wales are among the lowest paid in Britain. Women in Wales are concentrated in certain sectors of employment, such as clerical,

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secretarial, sales, personal and protective services. There is a lack of women in top jobs. Unlike the Conservatives, I think that that is a great shame. The situation is worse in Wales than in the rest of the United Kingdom. Local government reorganisation made matters worse. There are no women leaders, and fewer women in chief positions. Only 24 per cent. of those on public bodies in Wales are women, compared with 33 per cent. in Britain as a whole. There are very few role models for women and girls in such jobs in Wales.

There is a huge untapped potential of women's skills and abilities in Wales, which the Government will release. The two most important ways to help do so are education and training and child care. There are already more women than men involved in further education in Wales. The same is happening in higher education. Many of those going into higher and further education are mature women with children. At the moment, relatives and friends care and provide for many of those children, but more women would be able to follow courses if there were child care facilities. The national trend for girls to achieve better results than boys at GCSE and A-level also applies in Wales, but the picture is different at NVQ level 3, which 32 per cent. of women are achieving, compared with43 per cent. of men.

There has been an increase in child care facilities through Government initiatives such as the training and enterprise councils' out-of-school initiative. Such opportunities must be affordable for women to be able to take proper advantage of them. All the research shows that the majority of women who use the facilities--which have increased recently--have qualifications. The opportunities have not reached lower-paid women or lone parents. The funding has been used to pump-prime initiatives, which has meant that they have often not been sustainable. In areas of low income, longer-term funding is essential, going beyond the initial pump priming. I hope that the Government's money for child care will keep some such initiatives going, rather than just concentrating on new places.

Provision of pre-school child care is also important. The lone parents initiative, for which Cardiff is a pilot area, has shown that one of the barriers for women trying to gain work is the lack of child care facilities for pre-school children.

I have to wind up now because there is not much time left. Now is the time to recognise that child care is an integral and essential part of economic activity. We have one of the worst child care records in Europe. It is significant that no country with low child care costs has a low level of lone parent employment. Lone parents want to take advantage of any opportunities that present themselves. I think that we shall tackle these issues in Wales and in Britain as a whole. This is an historic moment, as child care, the family and women form an essential part of the new Government's policies.

1.45 pm

Mr. Robert Syms (Poole): I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Green), who is no longer in the Chamber, that it is important to conduct this debate in broad terms and not turn women's issues into a cul de sac. We can exclude no topic--not defence, foreign

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affairs or anything else--from a discussion of women's issues. All issues affect women, and it is important that we tackle those issues across Government. The previous Government recognised that fact by ensuring that a range of Ministers understood the needs of women, and I believe that this Government are doing the same. I think that that is a positive step forward.

Women have come a long way this century. As I said in my intervention during the speech of the hon. Member for Reading, East (Jane Griffiths), the general material well-being of this nation--and of women within it--has improved considerably in the past 20 years. At the beginning of the century, we debated whether women should have the vote, which was, rightly, conceded. We are now considering what role women should play in terms of combat and the armed services. Mention was made of the fact that women are playing a successful role in the United States armed forces. They have moved up the ranks and enjoy a high level of importance and responsibility within American society. I look forward to seeing more women playing an active role in our armed services in future.

The Conservative party has a good reputation in terms of female representation in this place: the first female Member of Parliament was Lady Astor, and Margaret Thatcher did an excellent job while serving for 11 years as our first woman Prime Minister. When I take tours around this splendid building, I am disappointed that most of the statues are of men.

Mrs. Gorman: All of them.

Mr. Syms: My hon. Friend may be correct, although there are some portraits of royal women. I look forward to the day when there will be statues of women as well and when the plinth in the Members' Lobby has a statue of Margaret Thatcher so that we may polish her foot before entering the Chamber.

Mr. Fabricant: Kiss her foot.

Mr. Syms: That is a good point.

Mrs. Gorman: Does my hon. Friend agree that it is time that we erected some memorial in this place to the suffragette movement? It is a disgrace that the only statue honouring that movement is parked in the gardens next door.

Mr. Syms: My hon. Friend makes a good point: I know that she is a doughty fighter for the rights of women. Women have had the vote for many years and I believe that the suffragettes should be honoured with a statue in this building--perhaps it could be erected next to the statue of Baroness Thatcher.

As to economic opportunities, women comprise30 per cent. of the work force, and 12.3 million women are in work. Those figures are likely to increase substantially in future. In the early years of the next century, it is estimated that more than 50 per cent. of the work force will be women. Some 40 per cent. of corporate managers are likely to be women, as women are moving up the structures of many organisations and bodies.I recently visited Barclays International in Poole, which is a major centre. Although only one of the six managers

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there is a woman, most of those who will assume future top management posts within that organisation are women.

I believe that the previous Government's policies assisted the general position of women in this nation. However, I shall not provoke Labour Members by pursuing that point any further, as time is restricted.

I turn to several key subjects. My hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe) mentioned independent taxation for married women, which was introduced by the previous Government. I hope that the Budget and the benefits review will not alter that important provision. We shall look carefully at the benefits review on 26 March and at the Budget on17 March to see what changes have been made. It is important that the Government do not interfere with independent taxation for married women.

The Conservative party and many of us as Members with postbags are concerned about child benefit. It should not be means-tested or taxed. I receive many letters from constituents who are worried about what the Government have in mind. I hope that their fears are largely unfounded. The Government would be ill advised to change policy on child benefit.

On pensions, it has always been my view, even when my own Government were in office, that the state's contribution to widows' pensions is paltry. I hope that, in the benefit review, the Government consider a better standard of living to women who are left, sometimes at an early age, to be supported by the state because of inadequate provision.

On the broader issue of pensions, the Government's policies in the last Budget have not been helpful. The change in advance corporation tax regulations that will take £5 billion a year out of pension funds will make a considerable difference.

A matter of great current debate for women is the splitting of pensions on divorce which, as we all know, is all too prevalent. It is inevitable that, if the pool of pensions is diminished by changes to ACT policy, the sum will be smaller, however it is split. The Government's policy will make a substantial difference to people if they are unfortunate enough to get divorced, and pensions can be disaggregated.

University fees are another important aspect which has been mentioned. Many women have found opportunities through education, which has enabled them to find jobs and get on, sometimes better than men. The Government's policy on student fees is ill advised and will reduce the future investment of human capital. In deference to other hon. Members who wish to speak, I shall conclude with that.


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