Reshuffle boost for women

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John Major has taken a further, albeit modest step to boost the numbers of women in his government. There are two among five new junior ministers.

None of the appointments offers little in compensation to the Tory right. The most significant leap goes to Angela Knight, formerly parliamentary private secretary to Kenneth Clarke, the Chancellor, who jumps over under- secretary level to become economic secretary at the Treasury, at minister of state level.

The step up will be seen as a fair, even overdue reward for Mrs Knight, 44, MP for Erewash, in Derbyshire, who supporters believed had been wrongly passed over in last July's reshuffle.

Also rewarded is Cheryl Gillan, 43, a former chairwoman of the centre- right Bow Group who served as parliamentary aide to Lord Cranborne, Leader of the Lords and Mr Major's leadership campaign manager. The MP for Chesham & Amersham, she becomes a parliamentary under secretary of state at the merged Department for Education and Employment.

While the promotions will be welcomed their addition to the Government payroll brings the total of female ministers to just 10, and a number of these sit in the Lords. The proportion of women ministers, out of a parliamentary party of 328, is 3 per cent. This is largely due to the low overall total of 20 women Tory MPs, 6 per cent.Labour boasts 39 women MPs out of its total of 270, making 14 per cent.

The other three newcomers are James Clappison, MP for Hertsmere, previously the aide to Home Office minister, Lady Blatch, who goes to environment; Oliver Heald, MP for Hertfordshire North and former PPS to William Waldegrave, who joins social security; and Raymond Robertson, MP for Aberdeen South and former aide to Michael Ancram, the Northern Ireland minister, who goes to the Scottish Office.