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5 Dec 2002 : Column 1044continued
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Nigel Griffiths): The Communications Bill currently before the House imposes a number of duties on Ofcom. These include securing availability of a wide range of television and radio services of high quality, calculated to appeal to a variety of tastes and interests, and securing these throughout the United Kingdom.
Mr. Bryant: BT maintains that it is forbidden by competition law from rolling out broadband services in my constituency in areas such Treorchy and Ferndale unless it can prove that it is not subsidising doing so and that it has got 600 people signed up in the constituency. If that is true, is competition law an ass in this area? If it is untrue, will the Minister tell BT to get its act together?
Nigel Griffiths: I would appreciate it if my hon. Friend could supply me with the details, but my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has set up the UK broadband taskforce, with a co-ordinator in each region and each devolved nation to ensure that public expenditure on broadband has the maximum impact on its availability. I will certainly draw the issue that he raises to the attention of the co-ordinator in his area.
The Minister for Women (Ms Patricia Hewitt): We have introduced legislation on women's representation that allows all political parties to take positive steps to increase the number of women who hold elected office.
Helen Jones : I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer and for the work that she has undertaken on this issue, but may I ask her also to open discussions with many local councils to encourage them to hold their meetings at a time when more women can attend? In particular, may I ask her to pay attention to encouraging more women from deprived areas to put themselves forward for appointments in public life, so that we get a proper spread of representation throughout the country?
Ms Hewitt: I entirely agree with the points that my hon. Friend makes. Where public bodies hold meetings in London, it is a matter of course to pay travel and child care expenses, but I agree with her that local councils and, indeed, regional bodies need to consider this issue, particularly if they are to ensure that they benefit from the skills and experience of women in low income families.
Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): Will the Minister look at the person specifications for many of those public bodies, which do not sufficiently value the experience of interacting with public service that almost every mother, for example, in the country has? Will she encourage Departments to consider specifically what experience of public services people who apply for appointment to public bodies have?
Ms Hewitt: My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. A great deal of the skills that we need on public bodies includes common sense and the practical daily experience of bringing up a family and using public services. That is increasingly what those who make such appointments are looking for, but I will certainly draw the issue to the attention of my right hon. and hon. Friends who are responsible across Government for those appointments.
The Minister for Women (Ms Patricia Hewitt): I have already referred to the programme of events that my hon. Friend the Minister for Social Exclusion and Deputy Minister for Women and I have been holding. I am delighted to say that 2,000 women have already attended those events. On 11 September, we will launch a practical guide that will help more women to find out about public appointments and apply for vacancies.
Mr. Reed : I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Will she further explain those regional seminars? Has she been able to ensure that women from ethnic minorities from her own cityLeicesterand from Loughborough, of course, have taken part in them?
Ms Hewitt: I am delighted to respond to my hon. Friend's question. I recently attended one of those events in Leicester with 200 women from black and Asian communities from Leicester, Loughborough and further afield, all of whom were extremely eager to seek appointment to public bodies and had an extraordinary range of energy and experience to offer. Any headhunter would have been proud of them, and I have no doubt that, in the next year or two, we will see many of them taking up vacancies on public bodies.
Sue Doughty (Guildford): The initiatives that the Minister describes are all very welcome, but the number of women on public bodies has increased by only 2.7 per cent. since Labour came to power. We may compare that with other countries, such as Iraq. In the United Kingdom in 2001, the percentage was 34 per cent., but Iraq surpassed that figure in 1990. By 1998, the figure for women in the public sector was 40 per cent. The Government have set a target that women should hold 45 per cent. to 50 per cent. of the public appointments made by Departments by the end of 2005. In the same briefing, however
Ms Hewitt: I think that I have got the gist of the question, although I must say that I would not have chosen Iraq as my exemplar of equal opportunities. A regime that employs professional rapists in its military hardly seems to me to be an exemplar that any hon. Member would wish to quote.
The hon. Lady is, of course, right that we still have a great deal of progress to make in this area. Since becoming Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, I have been able to appoint, on open competition, Barbara Mills, Gwynneth Flower and Eve Pollard to the Competition Commission, Margaret Prosser and Angela Risley to the Low Pay Commission, Marisa Cassoni and Rosemary Thorne to the board of the Post Office, Barbara Thomas to the board of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority and Catherine Mitchell to the energy advisory panel. We are, therefore, making progress, and my Department has a target to ensure that between 45 per cent. and 55 per cent. of appointments made each year will be women.
Margaret Moran (Luton, South): As my right hon. Friend is aware, many women in our communities are doing excellent work, and those skills should be recognised by public bodies. Those women are working, for example, on the new deal for communities, in neighbourhood renewal zones and on regeneration projects. Will she consider instituting an accreditation scheme so that the skills that those women acquire are recognised by the public bodies to which they should be applying?
Mrs. Caroline Spelman (Meriden): One of the problems with the crime of domestic violence is unduly lenient sentencing, as seen in the Court of Appeal this week. Can the Minister tell us what measures the Government have taken to increase substantially the percentage of women at all levels of the judiciary to help restore women's confidence in the criminal justice system?
Ms Hewitt: The hon. Lady makes an extremely important point, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General has been enormously active in ensuring that outrageously lenient sentences in such cases are appealed by the prosecution and that the judiciary, male and female, are aware of the seriousness of this crime and reflect that in the sentences that they award. Of course, my right hon. and noble Friend the Lord Chancellor has been taking steps to ensure that there is a much higher proportion of women on the bench, which will certainly help to overcome the problem of lenient sentencing.