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Baroness Hanham: My Lords, following the example set by the Conservative Party of having the first woman Prime Minister and, indeed, the first woman Leader of this House, does not the Minister agree that women do not need to be patronised by special legislative measures but can manage very well on merit?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the noble Baroness is a member of a party which should be congratulated. Not only did her party produce the first woman Prime Minister but also, as I understand it, the first woman Leader of your Lordships' House. However, the Conservative Party's record generally in promoting women in political and public life is not good. Perhaps that is not surprising when it has spokespeople such as Roy Barnes, the deputy chairman of the Reigate Conservative Association--this is a good one--who said:
Baroness Crawley: My Lords, we should be grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, for encouraging the Government to inform us that work has started on this issue in the Home Office. Women in this country are well educated in the ways of government and opposition. Can my noble friend tell the House what the Government have done so far as concerns encouraging women into public office and the decision-making process during their term in office?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, we have done a great deal, particularly in regard to public appointments. I am extremely pleased that that is the case. We set ourselves a goal of ensuring equal representation of men and women in public appointments, and at present the proportion of women is around one-third. Clearly, we need to do more, and steady progress is being made. We need to give the process active encouragement. We can do that through the education system, as we are doing. I am sure also that the Electoral Commission will wish to encourage more women to come forward into political life, and so on. The Government have a good track record. We have more women in the Cabinet than ever before. There are more women in ministerial positions than ever before, and more female MPs. That is a good base on which to work. On this matter the Government's record is second to none.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, in view of recent A-level results, does the Minister agree that the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, should be persuaded to educate young men? Secondly, does he agree that virtually every country that has proportional representation has a higher proportion of women in its legislature than either the United States or the United Kingdom?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I know that this is a vexed question. I look forward to receiving the noble Baroness's urgent researches on the matter. I shall study them with great care and consideration. As for educating men--yes, I am sure that we all need educating.
The Countess of Mar: My Lords, if we take the wording on the Order Paper seriously, the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, is asking for increased representation of women in Parliament. Do not male MPs say that they represent women?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I hesitate before venturing on to the territory of other political parties. Perhaps I may quote the words of Sheila Gunn, former press secretary to John Major. In reference to selection on the basis of Conservative Party approved lists, she said:
The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): Yes, my Lords. The United States and the United Kingdom agree that NATO is the essential foundation of transatlantic security. The United States administration supports European efforts to improve military capability and to take a greater share of the security burden. The United Kingdom is committed to taking the European Security and Defence Policy forward on the basis agreed at the Nice European Council. The US supports these efforts and welcomes the progress made towards our shared goals.
Lord Chalfont: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Will she confirm that the United States administration was assured that the European security and defence identity would have no separate planning, intelligence or policy analysis or activity of its own? If that is so, what is the function of the policy, planning and intelligence divisions at the European Union military staff headquarters?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord that there will be no duplicate command structure. However, he raises an interesting question, and one that has caused confusion in the minds of some commentators. The strategic planning capability is the facility to examine military strategic
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I believe that there is a wide degree of agreement between the British Prime Minister and the President of France. Perhaps I may quote a remark on the NATO alliance made by the President of France on 9th February at Cahors. He said:
Lord Shore of Stepney: My Lords, it is important to get this right. It matters enormously in terms of practical politics and international relations. I have no doubt that we are convinced that we should be backing and reinforcing NATO, rather than setting up an organisation that could be different from NATO, autonomous, and indeed a potential rival. But that is clearly not the same understanding as exists in Paris and in other continental capitals.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I must take issue with the noble Lord on his last point about access to NATO assets. We have been clear throughout on this matter. We are talking specifically about Petersberg tasks--about humanitarian tasks and peacekeeping tasks. In answering Questions previously in this House I have made it clear that there may be occasions when, for humanitarian tasks, we
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