Mr. Brown: When it comes to representation in the House of Commons, does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that we have something to learn from Rwanda, which has suffered so much in recent years but which has female representation of some 48 per cent. in its Parliament?
Ms Harman: My hon. Friend has made an important point. We are still lagging behind, which is why we intend to include provisions in the equality Bill to enable us to press on with ensuring that we increase the representation of women in the House of Commons.
Ms Harman: There are still areas of British life that remain male-dominated. In our top companies 89 per cent. of the FTSE top 100 directors are men, and in our courts 91 per cent. of High Court judges are men.
Mark Pritchard: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We are debating a very serious issue, and this is a very serious point of order. I feel discriminated against in this female debate. We need some male representation.
Jim Sheridan: I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for giving way. She is right to identify the valuable job that women do in this House, but does she agree that it is not only the women Members in this Chamber who do a valuable job, but the women who clean and look after our offices, some of them on extremely poor pay? Will she send out a message to unscrupulous employers who are exploiting womenparticularly women cleaners in this placeby giving them low pay?
Ms Harman: My hon. Friend makes an important point. Many of the women who clean the House of Commons are my constituents, and we will look at the new contract for the House of Commons cleaners and make sure that they have a fair deal, which they are entitled to.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: The hon. Gentleman is now pushing at the limits of good order himself. The Chair cannot determine how many interventions are taken and from whom they are taken; that is entirely within the gift of the Member who has the Floor.
Mrs. May: I am grateful to the Leader of the House for giving way. She has asked us a direct question about our position on the single equality Bill that she will introduce later in the year. It is, of course, possible for the use of all-women shortlists to be extended purely by taking away the sunset clause and extending the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Act 2002. Is that what the right hon. and learned Lady intends to do in the Bill?
Ms Harman: That certainly is what we will do, and I invite the right hon. Lady to ensure that her party backs us not only over putting that into law, but by using it so that instead of only 8 per cent. of Tory MPs being women, her party can move into the 21st century and towards equality.
Ms Harman: This is not about representation for its own sake; it is about representation because of what women in this House do for women outside it. I offer as an example my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer), who has bravely raised, and campaigned on, the issue of forced marriages.
Ms Harman: Women in this country expect that women will share the decisions both at work and at home. The days of women accepting being told what to do by men are long gone. As we celebrate 2008 international womens day, we will ensure that we have more women in local government and here in Westminster representing women in this country and fighting for equality here and abroad.
We are in the era of expectation of equality, but the expectation is not yet matched by reality. Let uswomen in Parliament and women in the countrywork together to make 2008 a year of further progress towards equality.
Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): I welcome the opportunity to speak on this 97th international womens day. In the past 97 years, the role of women in politics, business and society has progressed beyond recognition. Women did not even have the vote 97 years ago, but now as many women turn out to vote as men, and we have 126 female representatives sitting in this House. Women were almost non-existent in the business sphere 97 years ago, but today there are about 620,000 majority women-owned businesses in the UK generating about £130 billion in turnover, and at long last businesses have realised that employing a woman is not a hindrance, but an asset to the running of the businessalthough perhaps they would all like to tell Sir Alan Sugar that. Only a handful of universities admitted women 97 years ago, but there are now more women than men at university in the UK, and that trend is set to continue. Those three examples show that in politics, business and education women have not simply waited for men to give them rights; we have gone out and achieved tremendous progress for ourselves. We must, of course, use international womens day to look ahead to the many complex challenges that women face, but we must also use it to look back and celebrate how far we have come.
I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. I rise with sadness, as all I wanted to say earlier was that I backed the Leader of
the House for the deputy leadership of the Labour partyso much for sisterhood, as you never get called. On a serious point, does my right hon. Friend agree that the contribution of women in the judiciary is a very important part of public life? Will she consider endorsing the Filipina candidate for the new International Criminal Court? Is it not a disgrace that there is not one female judge sitting on the ICC, out of 15?
Mrs. May: My hon. Friend raises a very serious point, and he is right to remind us of the significant role women play in the judiciary. Some very distinguished women have played a role in the judiciary.
Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury) (Con): The Leader of the House spoke for 24 minutes, and during that time she did not once mention the women who serve on the front line in our armed forces; I am sure that my right hon. Friend will cover that point. Does my right hon. Friend not agree that women who are serving are probably as aghast as I am that the Government should have scheduled this debate on international womens day, which as it has been running since the early 1900s can hardly be described as topical, when we have had so little time to debate the defence and security aspects of the Lisbon treaty, which is of great relevance to them, and to both men and women in general?
Mrs. May: My hon. Friend makes a valid point about women who serve in our armed forces, and we should indeed pay tribute to them and the work that they do in putting themselves on the line for the sake of our country. He also made a point about the Lisbon treaty. I suspect that you would look at me somewhat aghast, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I were to comment too much on that. I shall simply say that I would have hoped that it was possible for the Government to find time for both a full debate on international womens day and the extra days debate that was asked for on those specific aspects of that treaty.
Let me turn now to the challenges that we face. I accept that we must increase the representation of women in our democracy. I find it sad, however, that the Leader of the House and her colleagues line up to attack the Conservative party on our record on women in this House despite the fact that the first woman to take her seat as a Member of Parliament was a Conservative, as was the first woman Prime Minister, and I think I am right in saying that the first woman chairman of a major political party was a Conservativeme, in my appointment as chairman of the Conservative party.
I am very ready to say that my party accepts the need to do much to improve female representation on the Conservative Benches in this House. That is why the very first issue that my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) spoke about in his acceptance speech as leader of the Conservative party in December 2005 was the need to increase the number of women Conservative Members of Parliament. That
is also why I am very pleased that this party has taken the opportunities open to it under the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Act 2002I shall say a little more about them shortlyto take positive steps to improve that situation after the next election.
Jim Sheridan: On the question of women making progress in politics, does the right hon. Lady think that, if we have the first female President of the United States of America, it will be a help or a hindrance?
Mrs. May: The hon. Gentleman is trying to tempt me down a road that I do not intend to go down. There is a well-accepted tradition that we do not try to interfere in other countries elections. Let me say simply that we watch that election with close interest.
Mrs. Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that such a partisan introductory speech by the Minister does little to encourage more women to listen to debates in this place and to consider a parliamentary career as one that they would want to pursue?
Mrs. May: My hon. Friend has made an extremely important point, which I was going to make later but shall come to now. I often say to people who are talking about women in politics and Parliament that they should listen to debates predominantly involving women, notably debates on days such as international womens day, because they will hear a different quality to them. Sadly, the Minister ruined that by her approach to this subject.
I shall comment on where the Government could do more to improve the quality of life of women in this country. It was shameful that the Minister was unwilling to accept that a single Conservative had done anything to improve the lot of women. Indeed, when she referred to the all-party group on trafficking of women and children, she could not even bring herself to thank its chairman, my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen), who has done valiant work to bring that issue to the forefront of the political agenda.
Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest) (Con): I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way and for the gracious way in which she is making her speech. Does she agree that every time the Minister goes on about the percentage of male Conservative Members and how few women sit on these Benches, as she does frequently, she is being personally insulting to those of us who work hard for the cause of women, the Conservative party and general representation in this country, including my right hon. Friend? In the interests of democracy, the Minister ought to stop this utter insult.
I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention. She is right, because those on both sides of the House
could agree on, and work towards, getting more women into this House. Conservative Members accept that we have work to do. I am proud of the fact that my party adopted the priority list route for selecting candidates. It was first proposed in 2001 by my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) and I. I am proud to be a co-founder of women2win. My hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr. Newmark), who was sitting on the Treasury Bench as a Whip, is my co-chairman in that organisation. It has provided support for women, bringing them through and ensuring that more women are selected. I am pleased to say that nearly a third of our selected candidates for the next election are women. The problem for this House is that a significant number of female Labour MPs represent marginal seats, so when we succeed at the next election the overall number of women in this House may not change that much. We will increase the number of women on our Benches, but the number of women on the Labour Benches may decrease.
Lynda Waltho (Stourbridge) (Lab): I am impressed with the right hon. Ladys words, but will she expand on the figures? How many of those selected women will be candidates in winnable Tory seats? How many of them will be normal working-class women who do not have Ashcroft money or are millionaires in their own right?
Mrs. May: The hon. Lady must get rid of her stereotyped image of women in the Conservative party. A diverse range of women have been selected as Conservative party candidates. I am pleased to tell her that even if a Conservative Government are elected at the next election with an overall majority of just one, 55 women will be sitting on the Conservative Benches.
John Bercow: I well recall the initiative that my right hon. Friend launched in concert with my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) in 2001. Had she been too self-effacing to mention it, I had been intending to do so on her behalf. Nevertheless, may I put it to her that whether or not it is popular in our party, there is a compelling case for the adoption of all-women shortlists as the best and indeed the only proven method by which dramatically to increase representation, as I argued in an article in The Independent as long ago as 27 January 2003?