Scotland first in UK to have statutory gender target for public boards

MSPs have passed a law to ensure women make up at least half the board members for all public authorities.

The Scottish Parliament voted by 88 to 28 in favour of the Gender Representation on Public Boards (Scotland) Bill, with opposition from the Conservatives.

The legislation sets the benchmark of having females make up a minimum of 50% of non-executive members by 2022.

It will apply to colleges, universities and some public bodies including health boards, enterprise agencies, the Scottish Police Authority and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service.

Equalities Minister Angela Constance told the chamber: "This bill will make Scotland the only country in the United Kingdom with a statutory objective for women's representation on public sector boards.

"It is unacceptable for women to still be under-represented in senior positions in the boardroom, to still be paid less than their male counterparts, to still be subjected to sexual harassment and violence."

She stressed appointments will "continue to be made on merit" and the legislation will "not impose quotas".

On Tory opposition to the bill, she said: "I don't know whether that is just misguided or whether it is malicious."

Labour's Monica Lennon said: "Women make up half of the population - we're not a minority so it shouldn't need saying that we should also make up half of the decision makers too.

"Creating legislation which gives women greater rights to representation is a bold move and I hope it is the first step towards creating an equal playing field for all women at all levels of public life."

Conservative Alison Harris, reading out a speech by her party colleague Annie Wells who lost her voice, said Ms Wells was not persuaded it is "effective and clear" legislation.

She said: "Annie Wells would like to reiterate her support for achieving equal representation of women in all walks life but does not believe statutory quotas are the right means to achieve this."