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Lynda Waltho (Stourbridge) (Lab):
Last years intake of new Labour MPs was historic in that, for the first time, it included more women than men. Most of those women were selected from all-women shortlists. Unfortunately, our sisters in Opposition parties have not fared quite so well[Hon. Members: Sisters?] Yes, sisters. What policy does my hon. Friend think would be most helpful in encouraging more women to come
forward for election to this place? Would it be all-women shortlists or the employment of bikini-clad women to serve drinks at a £400-a-head summer ball?
Meg Munn: The evidence is clear: it is only the Labour party that is making real strides on this issue. We are doing that through all-women shortlists [ Interruption. ] I know that the Opposition are not very happy about that, but they are all talk and no action.
Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest) (Con): The Minister and the Liberal Democrats really must not worry about those of us on the Conservative Benches because in a very short time we will fill the Government side with many Conservative women [ Interruption. ] That seems to have produced a reaction.
What guidelines have the Government laid down for the contracts of employment of women in public positions to allow flexible working conditions for high-achieving women, so that those at the very top of their professions, whatever they might be, will have the opportunity to work flexibly and therefore to fulfil their family and caring duties, as well as having the chance to break through the glass ceiling?
Meg Munn: My tennis partner calls me sister. The hon. Lady talks a good talk, but she promised before the last election that there would be many more Conservative women MPs. That did not happen because they did not get selected in safe seats. As I said, the proportion being selected for safe seats has fallen since the introduction of the A-list. I am pleased to tell the hon. Lady that the proportion of women in the more senior grades in the civil service has continued to increase. On 4 April 2007, it had increased to 34.8 per cent. from 32.7 per cent. Individual Departments are introducing work-life balance champions who can ensure that staff have the opportunity to work flexibly up to the highest levels. We certainly want to see that happen in more Departments.
Lorely Burt (Solihull) (LD): Does the Minister agree that child care facilities are key for any women who wish to put themselves forward for all aspects of public life and work generally? What message are we sending to women when, in the 21st century, the Westminster estate still lacks a crèche and other appropriate child care facilities for hon. Members and our staff?
Meg Munn: The hon. Lady will know that the Government have given a high priority to child care and have invested in much more provision. It is a matter for discussion whether child care provision is most appropriate at a persons place of work or near their home. That is a real issue for both women and men. I do not oppose considering the issue that the hon. Lady raises and that is something for the House authorities to do, as much for the employees here who have to work the same unsocial hours as we do, as for the Members of Parliament.
The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Nigel Griffiths): My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has given notice of a previous commitment that keeps him from the House today. In his absence, I should like to announce the business for the coming weeks, as follows:
Wednesday 12 JulyOpposition Day [18th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on home information packs, followed by a debate on progress towards the millennium development goals. Both debates will arise on an Opposition motion.
Tuesday 18 JulyConsideration of Lords amendments to the Health Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Government of Wales Bill, followed by motion to take note of the outstanding reports of the Public Accounts Committee to which the Government have replied. Details will be given in the Official Report.
At business questions last week, I noted that Mondays BBC debate was taking place the day before the BBCs annual report was due to be published. I am pleased that the Leader of the House has acted on that, although he has chosen to change not the date of the debate but the publication date of the BBCs annual report. I understand that that will now come out this Friday, but I am grateful for the action that has been taken.
I am sure that the Deputy Leader of the House will have noted the vote in Standing Committee this morning that has changed the Company Law Reform Bill into the Companies Bill. Interestingly, the Minister for Industry and the Regions and the Solicitor-General took different sides in the vote. It is good to see that the Government know what they are doing. A more serious point is that there are to be 400 new clauses to the Bill. They have yet to be tabled and the Government have refused to allow the Committee time to consider them. Will the Deputy Leader of the House ensure that there is enough time on Report to discuss those significant changes?
The forthcoming business made no mention of the Road Safety Bill, which left Committee in April. The need for the Bill is recognised and it has broad cross-party support. Why are the Government dragging their feet when it comes to completing its passage through the House?
Today, the Select Committee on Education and Skills published its report on special educational needs. It refers to the 2004 SEN strategy Removing Barriers to Achievement, which sets out the Governments vision on SEN. The Select Committee notes that the guidance given to local authorities states unmistakably that
the proportion of children educated in special schools should fall over time.
have no policy whatever, I should stress, of encouraging local authorities to close special schools.
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