The Prime Minister has kept his promise to make the role of minister for women a cabinet post by giving the responsibility to Harriet Harman, the Social Security Secretary, despite the fact that her job also requires her to control the biggest budget of any Whitehall department.
Tessa Jowell, Minister of State at the Department of Health, was yesterday given responsibility for public health, the first time the specialty has been recognised at ministerial level. One of her first tasks will be to implement a ban on tobacco advertising, to which Labour is pledged.
Labour promised last year that there would be a minister for women within the Cabinet, possibly with the title of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. She would be backed by a team of civil servants in the Cabinet Office, according to its policy document, "Governing for Equality".
Under the Conservatives, women's affairs were based at the Department of Education and Employment under Gillian Shephard, who delegated day- to-day responsibility to her junior minister, Cheryl Gillan. She had six senior civil servants working under her.
Under Labour, women's issues will be the preserve of the Department of Social Security. It is not yet clear what will happen to the civil servants in the sex and equality division, but there are some indications that their team will be split between the two departments.
Four could remain in the education and employment department working on legislation and on Equal Opportunities Commission issues, while the other two might go to social security to deal with international women's affairs, "mainstreaming", and the Women's National Commission.
Last night, a spokeswoman for the Fawcett Society, which lobbies for a stronger role for women in public life, said that while it was pleased women had a voice in the Cabinet it was also worried about how Ms Harman could do the job properly. "We are concerned that there is no other minister outside the Cabinet to take that responsibility. We need someone pushing very hard from outside and giving Harriet the information she needs," she said.
A spokesman for Ms Harman said she had always had a strong focus on women's issues and would relish the new opportunity. "Her view is that it is a brilliant opportunity for her to pick up a range of issues. These are central to her agenda, and having the responsibility at Cabinet level is something she is very keen on," he said.
Labour has 18 women ministers including five in the cabinet, while the Tories had 10 including two in the Cabinet.
Commenting on Ms Jowell's appointment, Donald Reid, chief executive of the Association for Public Health, said he was delighted that for the first time Britain had a minister for public health. "But better public health depends on more than one minister. It will depend on all the policies which affect health including those on poverty and the environment."Reuse content