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The Minister for Women was asked—

Graduation Statistics

20. Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): What assessment she has made of the proportion of (a) women and (b) men who will graduate in mathematics, science and engineering in 2005. [6535]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Meg Munn): Figures for 2004 show that the proportion of women graduating in mathematics, science and engineering was 38.2 per cent. and for men the figure was 61.8 per cent. It is not possible to provide this information for the 2005 academic year, as graduation is still some weeks off.

Chris Bryant: I too congratulate my hon. Friend. It is a delight to see her at the Dispatch Box and we all look forward to her receiving her proper recompense in the fullness of time.

Surely the days are long gone when women were expected to study only supposedly soft subjects like the arts at university? Nevertheless, there is still some prejudice attached to whether young girls should go on to study maths, science and engineering, despite the fact that some of the best scientists, mathematicians and engineers in the world nowadays are indeed women. [Hon. Members: "Name one."] Marie Curie. Would it not be a good idea for the Government to offer more support for young women studying such subjects throughout their primary and secondary school education so that—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The Minister will manage an answer now.
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Meg Munn: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and I thank my hon. Friend for his kind comments and concern. I agree with him that the time is long gone when we should consider women as capable of studying only certain subjects. Even within the sciences, however, there remain considerable differences, with 66 per cent. of graduates in bio-sciences being women while for computer sciences, engineering and technology, the proportion is much lower. My Department is working closely with the Department for Education and Skills in supporting its strategy to improve the quality of science teaching, including making it more relevant and inspiring to girls and evaluating careers advice.

Pay Differential

21. Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): What steps she plans to take to reduce the pay differential between men and women. [6536]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Meg Munn): The Women and Work Commission will make recommendations on tackling the gender pay gap this autumn. We are helping employers address equal pay through funding both the equal pay tool kit and training for equal pay representatives within the workplace.

Tony Lloyd: May I also welcome my hon. Friend to the Front Bench? She may have a personal interest in the question of equal pay. The equal pay legislation some 30 years ago made early gains, but since then the move towards achieving fairer pay in our society has stalled. If we take into account part-time workers, our country has one of the worst records in Europe. I welcome what my hon. Friend said about the involvement, through the commission, of interested parties. Will she ensure that the trade unions and the Equal Opportunities Commission are fully involved in every aspect, so that the process gains real impetus and we can ensure that another generation of women does not have to be subject to parliamentary questions such as this in 30 years' time?

Meg Munn: I thank my hon. Friend for his kind comments, and I agree with what he says. The Women and Work Commission was set up because achieving equal pay for women remained a problem even many years after the Equal Pay Act 1970 was introduced. The gender pay gap has narrowed significantly but it remains wide, especially in respect of part-time working. This is a complex issue: occupational segregation is one element, but there are many others. I assure my hon. Friend that the commission is fully involved with trade unions and the EOC, and with the representatives of many businesses and employers.

Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest) (Con): May I also welcome the Minister to her Front-Bench job? I listened carefully to her answer to the hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Tony Lloyd), and I value the work that she is doing to try and bring about equal pay—so is it not somewhat ironic that the Prime Minister, who appointed her to this important position, has failed to ensure that she is paid the same as other Ministers? It is
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not her fault: it is the Prime Minister's. I take the question of equality seriously, as does the Minister: what a pity that the Prime Minister does not!

Meg Munn: I thank the hon. Lady for her welcome. We have shared platforms on women's issues in the past, and I look forward to continuing to work alongside her on these issues. Obviously, ministerial pay is not within my remit, but I reassure the hon. Lady that that does not appear to involve a gender pay gap; it seems to have more to do with being new to Government. She might like to know that, since 1997, 15 men have been unpaid Ministers, and four women.

Ms Barbara Keeley (Worsley) (Lab): What progress has been made in respect of women reaching the top of their careers?

Meg Munn: The problem of women's ability to break through the glass ceiling remains considerable, and more progress needs to be made. Women are starting to get nearer the top in those professions where they have become much more common—if that is the correct term—but we hope that much more work can be done, especially higher up the scale. The Women and Work Commission will look at the matter too, as a significant problem remains in respect of women at the top of their professions, and in the boardroom.

Sandra Gidley (Romsey) (LD): The Minister has regularly attended Women's questions in the past, and I welcome her to the Dispatch Box. She will be aware that the pay gap in the civil service has widened to 25 per cent. The Public and Commercial Services union has taken up more than 2,000 cases on behalf of women, and it has said that many Departments are delaying the resolution of those cases by lodging appeals. One arm of Government is aiming for equal pay, but other arms are resisting it: what message does she think that that sends out? What conversations has she had or will she have on this matter with ministerial colleagues from other Departments?

Meg Munn: I thank the hon. Lady for her kind welcome. She and I and the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing) have often made a threesome over the past months on platforms where we have discussed women's issues. At times, we have been in agreement, so I am sorry that on this occasion I must disagree with her contention about civil service pay. When we look at full-time equivalents, we see that more women are employed at jobs with lower responsibilities than men. It is also fundamental to compare the pay of men and women who carry out equal work. The median salary pay gap—
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the figure to which she refers—does not take account of the different responsibility levels across the civil service, and so does not compare equal work. When the responsibility level is taken into account, the gender pay gap is around 5 per cent. That problem needs to be addressed.

Sports Participation

22. Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough) (Lab/Co-op): What discussions she has had with sports governing bodies about women's participation in sport and physical activity. [6537]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Meg Munn): The Department for Culture, Media and Sport public service agreement target 3 is to raise women's participation by 3 per cent. by 2008. Our main deliverer, Sport England, and national governing bodies have discussed this issue through the mechanism of the whole sport plans. My right hon. Friend the Sports Minister and the Football Association also discussed the legacy programme from the recent UEFA women's football championships held in England.

Mr. Reed: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. I know her commitment to women's participation in sport, having played tennis with her this morning in the all-party tennis group.

Barbara Follett (Stevenage) (Lab): Who won?

Mr. Reed: She usually wins.

Crucially, the 2004 general household survey showed that only 36 per cent. of women are participating in one session of sport or physical activity a week, compared with 52 per cent. of men. We know about the growth of obesity and the problems that are related to it. In my opinion, the 3 per cent. growth target is woefully inadequate. Will the Minister ensure that from school right through to active ageing, women get opportunities to take part not just in sport but in physical activity across the board?

Meg Munn: My hon. Friend is right. There is a real problem with participation and we do want participation to increase, so in schools we have a particular focus on ensuring that young girls continue to take up sporting opportunities throughout schooling. It is enormously important that we also look at the ways in which older women can take up sport or go back to sport, because taking part in sporting activity not only is a good start to the day—as it certainly is when it is the all-party tennis group—but it has enormous benefits for people's general health and well-being.

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