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The Deputy Minister for Women and Equality (Jacqui Smith): The UK Resource Centre for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology was launched in September to tackle the barriers that hinder female participation in these sectors throughout the career lifecycle. In particular, it will support higher education institutions to aid the retention and progression of female undergraduates on science, engineering and technology courses and into the labour force.
Michael Fabricant: I am grateful to the Minister. In fact, I have a brochure produced by the resource centre, so we are thinking alike. I do not know whether she saw the Richard Dimbleby lecture last nightI had the privilege of attending itwhich was presented by James Dyson, who promoted engineering in this country. Is she aware that, in China, 60 per cent. of graduates are in science, engineering and technology but that the figure is only 35 per cent. in this country? Of that 35 per cent., only 5.3 per cent. are women, so we have a long way to go. What steps will she take to ensure that 50 per cent. of engineering students are women?
Jacqui Smith: There has been progress in the past 10 years. The increase in the number of female science, engineering and technology graduates has been larger than the increase in the number of their male counterparts. However, we still have a long way to go, which is why the resource centre was set up. It will also find ways, as the hon. Gentleman rightly said, to overcome misapprehensions about engineering, which is no longer about grubby, heavy industrial workplaces but at the cutting edge of our economic success. The manufacturing forum, for example, which met for the first time last week, brings together representatives from business, trade unions and so on. One of its key priorities is improving the image of manufacturing, particularly so that we can attract the many skilled and talented women engineers, both for their own good and for the success of UK manufacturing and engineering.
The Deputy Minister for Women and Equality (Jacqui Smith): On Tuesday, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry launched the DTI's new booklet, "Building Better Boards", to coincide with the publication of the new female FTSE figures, which show that 17 per cent. of all new directorships went to women in 2004. Those figures are better, but they are not good enough, which is why the booklet and advice issued by the DTI spells out the business case for diversity and the different ways in which companies can develop and recruit a much wider range of talent.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend and the DTI on that booklet and on their work to ensure that board members in companies are drawn from the
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widest calibre of candidates. Can she do anything further for the 31 companies in the FTSE 100 that still have no women on the board?
Jacqui Smith: First, like my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry on Tuesday, we can communicate the business advantages: for example, businesses with women on the board experience an increased return to equity. Secondly, we can make sure that talented people who have gained board experience in the voluntary sector are better enabled to get on to boards in the private sector, which is something that we are working on alongside the Cass business school. Thirdly, we can set an example in government by the way in which we use the head-hunter contract. We expect that contract to bring the widest range of people on to public sector boards, which should impact on good practice in the private sector.
Monday 13 DecemberOpposition day [1st allotted day]. There will be a debate entitled "The Government's Failure to Improve School Discipline" followed by a debate entitled "Family Justice". Both debates arise on an Opposition motion, followed by proceedings on the Consolidated Fund Bill.
Mr. Heald: I thank the Leader of the House for the business. Will he join me in expressing the House's condolences upon the death of security officer Mark Peters following a road traffic incident yesterday? Mr. Peters had worked here for almost seven years and had given very good service. Our thoughts are with Mrs. Peters, their two children and their whole family.
Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating the other place on the improvements now being made to the Constitutional Reform Bill, particularly the saving of the Lord Chancellor, who will remain a lawyer and who will sit in the other place for many years to come? Will he confirm that when the Bill reaches us, the Committee stage will be taken on the Floor of the House, as is usual with constitutional measures?
May we have a statement on the new contract for NHS dentists? On Tuesday this week, the Minister of State, Department of Health, the hon. Member for
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Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton), having previously claimed that "dentistry's sorted", said that the reforms were "proceeding on time", and went on to claim that
Today we hear that the British Dental Association has withdrawn from discussions because the new contract will mean that dentists are not able to spend enough time with each patient. The Leader of the House is always saying that we are safer with Labournot our teeth, though. May we have that debate?
May we have a debate on hospital cleanliness? According to the South Wales Evening Posta regular read of minethe Leader of the House's constituent, Mrs. Jennings, a former hospital cleaner, was shocked by the filthy condition of a Swansea hospital where she was a patient. She is quoted as saying:
There has been a huge rise in MRSA under Labour, and 5,000 people a year are dying as a result. The Leader of the House likes to say that it is safer under Labournot in hospital, it is not. May we have that debate?
Finally, the Leader of the House will remember that the Government used to publish an annual report on themselves. [Hon. Members: "Oh!"] We have not seen it for a while. Could the Modernisation Committee perhaps consider whether in future it could be written by the Home Secretary? Would the Leader of the House care to comment on his own assessment for the year:
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