Previous SectionIndexHome Page


Dr. Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak): Might my hon. Friend embark on a study, perhaps through the European Union, to find out why there are more women in science and engineering in southern Europe? In Spain, about 30 per cent. of engineers are women, and it may be that lessons could be learnt from that.

Mr. Battle: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for internationalising the point. She, my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West and I, among others, attended a conference in April at which note was taken of the comparative differences within the EU. I was struck by the German delegate who said Germany was like a developing country when it came to equal opportunities. That is true of all EU countries. We need to consider family-friendly policies, but without seeing families and children as the problem, because that would suggest, in turn, that women were the problem. There are deeper structural questions to address, and comparative work with our EU partners could prove helpful.

8 Jul 1998 : Column 1053

Role models are important. I have met young women doing high-level particle physics research at CERN in Geneva and running gas plants as top engineers in the north-east. We should draw attention to such examples so that they can inspire other women. I was delighted to hear from my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West about the school named after Caroline Haslett. Many women have been involved in the development of science, but they are, sadly, absent from the record. I should name Dorothy Hodgkin, a Nobel prize winner for her work on crystallography, Jocelyn Burnell, who discovered pulsars, and Rosalind Franklin, the co-discoverer of DNA. Their names are lost in the male stories, and we should celebrate women in science rather more.

We are making strong efforts to increase representation on public bodies, councils and committees in science-related fields. Women's voices should be heard more strongly in policy and decision making. In 1992, women held 8 per cent. of places on research councils.

8 Jul 1998 : Column 1054

The figure is up to 17 per cent. now, and the Government's target is 30 per cent. by 2000 with further improvement after that. That is achievable.

I have tried to stress that the problem is complex. Only 8 per cent. of all professors are women, but an even lower 3 per cent. of professors in science, engineering and technology are women. The shortage of women professors is not simply a result of women having children. Larger structural questions need to be addressed--

It being Two o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Sitting suspended, pursuant to Standing Order No. 10 (Wednesday sittings), till half-past Two o'clock.

PRIVATE BUSINESS

Alliance and Leicester plc (Group Reorganisation) Bill [Lords]

Order for Second Reading read.

8 Jul 1998 : Column 1055

Oral Answers to Questions

DUCHY OF LANCASTER

The Chancellor was asked--

Freedom of Information Bill

1. Mr. Norman Baker (Lewes): When he intends to publish the proposed freedom of information Bill. [47908]

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Dr. David Clark): I am in the process of drawing up the draft Bill, taking into account representations following the public consultation and the views expressed in the report of the Select Committee on Public Administration. I intend to publish the draft Bill for pre-legislative discussion before the end of September.

Mr. Baker: I am pleased to hear that, but can the right hon. Gentleman directly confirm or deny whether senior members of the Government, including the Home Secretary and the Minister for every portfolio, have been trying to weaken the Bill and take out its sharp edge to secure their positions? Will the Bill be as radical as the White Paper produced earlier this year or will it be weaker?

Dr. Clark: The White Paper sets out the principles of the whole Government towards freedom of information. Clearly, as the Select Committee's report showed, there are many complex issues in the White Paper and the draft Bill. As one would expect, there has been healthy discussion of those issues.

Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby): Will my right hon. Friend--in whom I have every confidence, if that is not too sycophantic--ensure that the Bill is the strongest possible opening to information and that it is in the Queen's Speech for the next Session so that we can end the situation in which people claim that they have wholesale access to information and try to retail it at inordinate profit for themselves?

Dr. Clark: I can assure the House that we have an agreed timetable to publish the draft Bill by the end of September. There is nothing in that timetable that precludes its candidacy for inclusion in the Queen's Speech later this year.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire): In addition to the legislative change on freedom of information mentioned by the previous two questioners, do we not also need a cultural change? Without both, will not greedy and loud-mouthed young men continue to seek information and contacts at extortionate prices?

Dr. Clark: I agree entirely with every sentiment expressed by the right hon. Gentleman. I hope that if we have radical freedom of information legislation, it will mean that the milieu in which such people purport to operate will be diminished.

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington): In reply to the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Baker), my right hon.

8 Jul 1998 : Column 1056

Friend referred to "healthy discussion". I wonder whether he was using those words with great care. Can we have an assurance that everyone is equally committed to taking this legislation forward in the way for which Labour party branches throughout the country have argued for the past 20 or 30 years? We believe that this is the litmus test of a Labour Government. Do we deliver on this agenda that everyone wants?

Dr. Clark: I listened carefully to what my hon. Friend said; I choose all my words with care. Clearly, there is a healthy debate, but, at the end of the day, we are committed to the principles contained in our White Paper. I was certainly encouraged by the support that I received, not only from my hon. Friends on the Government Benches, but from Opposition Members, when we had a full discussion of the issue on Monday.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): I welcome the Chancellor's openness on the matter. He will be aware that the Royal Society of Chemistry is keen on freedom of information because it is part of the scientific world; but will he bear in mind the society's concern that such freedom might be misused by others and that that issue might not be taken care of in the Bill?

Dr. Clark: We are aware of that sort of difficulty and that there is always a balance to be struck between privacy and personal freedom. We are also aware that there must be protection for genuine scientific research and we have built into the Bill the seven special exemptions that can be considered when deciding whether information should be withheld. If information were to be withheld, the information commissioner could make a judgment, based on the merits of the case, as to whether that decision was right. It is a robust piece of legislation, designed with the ordinary citizen--the ordinary men and women--of this country in mind.

Public Appointments

2. Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham): What plans he has to encourage Government Departments to use the public appointments list. [47920]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of Public Service (Mr. Peter Kilfoyle): Departments seek nominations from a wide range of sources, of which the public appointments unit's list is one. Others include advertising, executive search, consultation with interested bodies and other departmental databases. Departments regularly consult the unit for names of candidates for specific appointments. Since April, the unit has suggested some 1,200 candidates for more than 150 posts and has been informed of 20 appointments. Others are still under consideration.

Mrs. Lait: I thank the Minister for that reply, but is he aware that the 20 appointments since April bring the grand total to 71 appointments of the hundreds made by Government Departments since the general election? Is he also aware that seven staff are employed in the operation? Does he regard it as an effective means of providing names to Government Departments, or does he agree that it is time either to beef it up, or to shut it down altogether?

Mr. Kilfoyle: The hon. Lady may recall that, when I was in opposition, I raised exactly the same questions

8 Jul 1998 : Column 1057

about the public appointments unit, but, because the then Government insisted on secrecy, it was difficult to extract the very information to which she is now privy. I share her concern, but I have to tell her that the public appointments unit is devoted specifically to trying to increase the representation of women and people from ethnic minorities; and, although I accept that its performance appears to be in question, I would remind her that the decisions are made by individual Departments and not by the unit. The unit is trying purposefully to project as many names as possible into consideration for appointments, as they become available.


Next Section

IndexHome Page