Ministers scrap job targets for women

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Targets set to promote equal representation between men and women in public life have been missed, lowered or scrapped by government departments.

Ministers last week refused to extend new laws, which will allow political parties to use positive discrimination when choosing parliamentary candidates, to powerful quangos.

But critics will use figures revealed in new research to argue, when the Sex Discrimination (election candidates) Bill is debated on Wednesday, that promoting equal representation must cover everyone involved in public life.

Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris, the party's spokesman on women, said his figures showed the Government was "getting nowhere fast" in its drive to get more women appointed to public bodies.

Only a third of the membership of government quangos is female. In 1998, the Government announced its aim to reach equal representation and insisted that each department set annual targets.

But since 1997, there has been an overall increase of just 1.8 per cent of female appointees to public bodies. Only seven out of 27 departments and bodies are within 10 per cent of meeting the Government's overall target of 50/50 representation by 2005.

Between 1999 and 2000 progress towards equal representation went backwards and there was another fall of 1 per cent in 2000/01.

One of the worst performers, the Department of Social Security, has even reduced its target from 50 per cent by 2001 to 33 per cent by 2003.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport set a target of 35 per cent for 2001, no target for 2002 and none for 2003. It hopes to hit 50 per cent in 2004. The Lord Chancellor's Department has set no target for 2002 and its 2003 target would represent an annual increase of just 1 per cent over three years.

The figures were put together by the Liberal Democrats from information supplied by the House of Commons library, the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments and annual reports from the Cabinet Office on Public Bodies.

Dr Harris said: "These results show that government departments are in disarray as to how to meet their reducing targets for adequate female representation on quangos.

"We are now not just dealing with Tony's cronies but Labour lads."

At present only 118 of the 659 sitting MPs are women, Ninety-five of Labour's 412 MPs are female but only 8 per cent of Tory MPs are women and 10 per cent of Liberal Democrats.