Page last updated at 16:29 GMT, Friday, 14 May 2010 17:29 UK

Minister attacks 'lack of women' at top of government

David Cameron and other members of the coalition cabinet
There are four women in David Cameron's 28-strong Cabinet

A newly appointed Liberal Democrat minister has attacked the lack of women in the government and said she has told David Cameron "we must do better".

Lynne Featherstone, junior equalities minister at the Home Office, said she was "very disappointed" by the level of female representation in the coalition.

There are four women in the cabinet headed by Home Secretary Theresa May.

Ms Featherstone said the Tories had "greatly improved" their number of female MPs and her party must do more.

Ms Featherstone, who spoke for her party on equality issues before the general election, said she was "very disappointed" at the number of female ministers in the newly formed government.

"When you look at the [Conservative and Lib Dem] negotiating teams, they were male and pale," she told the World At One.

"I think that is an issue."

'Optimistic'

She said there had been plenty of women contesting winnable seats for her party at the election but the Lib Dems' disappointing performance - it won five fewer seats than in 2005 - had had an impact on levels of female representation.

There were nine female Lib Dem MPs before the election, now there are seven, just 12% of the parliamentary party.

There are 48 Conservative women MPs, up from 18 at the end of the last parliament, which means 15.7% of Tory MPs are women.

Labour still has the highest number of women MPs - 81 or 31% of the parliamentary party, an increase of 3% on the 2005 election.

Prominent Lib Dem politicians to lose their seats include Julia Goldsworthy and Susan Kramer although others, such as Sarah Teather, who retained their seats have been given ministerial posts.

The Conservatives agreed female-only shortlists in certain seats, but the Lib Dems rejected the idea.

Ms Featherstone said there was no lack of "able and talented" women in the party but it was a question of getting them into Parliament and ultimately "in a position to be in the Cabinet".

But she added: "The Conservatives have made great improvements in the number of women coming through in the Parliament. Sadly the Liberal Democrats have not."

Ms Featherstone said she was excited by taking forward the equality agenda within a new government, stressing it was "a huge opportunity to change things for the better".

"The chance to deliver Liberal Democrat equality policy is phenomenal," she said. "There are a few things I can see causing ructions but I am optimistic about most of it."



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