§ Ms Bridget Prentice
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what targets he is setting for the employment of women in the operational fire service. 
§ Mr. Mike O'Brien
I am today announcing targets for the recruitment, retention and career progression of women in the fire service. By 2009, the Government expect 15 per cent. of the operational fire service (whole-time and retained firefighters and their officers) in England and Wales to be women and for them to remain in the service and be promoted at the same rate as their male colleagues.
At present, the number of women in the whole-time operational fire service is only 1 per cent. A recent report from Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Fire Services has conformed that there is no possible justification for such low numbers. The target is deliberately challenging and will require brigades to take steps to encourage a more open inclusive culture and to revise procedures and practices which the Chief Inspector's thematic review found to be potentially discriminatory.