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Virginia Bottomley (South-West Surrey): I am in my hon. Friend's debt, because he has tabled an important and interesting amendment. I look forward to hearing the Minister's comments.

Does my hon. Friend agree that some hon. Members have not understood the significance of the amendment because—I do not wish to be provocative—the Labour party's tradition is much more authoritarian? The trade union culture of imposing rules and regulations is very different from the Conservative party's tradition, which is much more liberal, much more permissive and much less likely to be imposed from the centre. In the past, the Labour party had a serious problem because it was so dominated by the trade unions. It was very male and very white. However, using a pretty authoritarian approach, it changed the rules for women, and denied the interests of individual members in doing so. Is it not the different traditions that explain why Members on either side of the House have misunderstood each other?

5.15 pm

Mr. Lansley: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. I expect that our different traditions do explain some of the attitudes prevailing in each party. The response of the Labour party to any problem is to create a central directive that will remedy the matter. The intention in the

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Conservative party was always to try to work with the most relevant local organisation in order to secure the objective through consent.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Lansley: I will give way when I have responded to my right hon. Friend.

The objective in the Conservative party will always be to work through consent and in a democratic process involving members of local associations. I know that if my party responds positively to the legislation, it will do so in a way which none the less retains the ability of a constituency association to judge individual candidates on their merits. The system about which my hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) and I spoke earlier this year would allow a man who had a specific connection with a geographical area and substantial merits leading to his possible selection as a candidate in that constituency still to be considered by the association, regardless of shortlists.

The hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson) has been patient. I give way to her.

Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Setting aside the extraordinary intervention by the right hon. Member for South-West Surrey (Virginia Bottomley) about the structures and mores of my party, and given that the hon. Gentleman is assiduous in attempting to preclude my party from advancing the cause of women and has been silent about whether his party has any plans at all for the advancement of women, may I return him to his point about regional links? The Bill will apply also to candidates for the European Parliament. Can the hon. Gentleman define the piece of the infinitely larger European constituency with which any potential candidate would have to prove a specific relationship before selection?

Mr. Lansley: I should chide the hon. Lady. I am the last person who can be accused of being silent about what my party should do. Some months ago, before the Bill was presented to the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead and I set out from our personal perspective what we thought should be the position. I cannot say what my party will do. That will be decided by the board of the Conservative party, not by me. In due course my hon. Friend will no doubt chide the Minister who I am confident will not tell us what the Labour party will do using the powers under the Bill.

On the hon. Lady's substantive point, selection of candidates for the European Parliament would not be affected by the amendment. It would remain, as the Bill intends, entirely open for gender balance to be achieved in selection. The amendment makes it clear that the

We are indeed speaking about a specific geographical area, but the amendment refers to the election of a single representative for that area, whereas in all regions there are a number of Members of the European Parliament.

Llew Smith: I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman understands how the twinning system worked in Wales

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for the election of candidates for the National Assembly. There could have been a situation in which someone had spent their entire political life in a particular constituency, held high office in the local council and achieved the overwhelming vote of that constituency, but still would not have been elected or put forward as a candidate because he or she was the wrong sex. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that that is acceptable under his amendment?

Mr. Lansley: I understand the hon. Gentleman's point. There was some discussion in Committee about the twinning arrangement. Clearly, I have not participated in such an arrangement, as it has not been applied in our party. None the less, if the hon. Gentleman is looking to my amendment to remove the possibility to which he refers, I must say that I am not sure whether it would serve him. In the circumstances that he describes regarding a twinning process, men in the two constituencies would have had the opportunity for an assessment to be made of their specific personal circumstances and of their relationship with the geographical area in question. The simple fact that a larger number of members vote for a man would not necessarily convince a court that that should override the positive action measures that are being taken generally to deliver an outcome. There must be a subjective judgment about what is proportionate, and there is no way out of that.

My point is that it is disproportionate and unacceptable, prior to any assessment of whether a man can be considered, to apply to any constituency a bar on even assessing a man. In those circumstances, under all-women shortlists, a man would not get to a point at which members could vote for him at all. He would simply be excluded from consideration in individual constituencies. Those are the circumstances that the amendment is intended to prevent.

Julie Morgan: I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman supports the principle of twinning in general. Certainly, my experience of twinning was different from that of my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Llew Smith). Throughout Wales as a whole, the proportion of women representatives achieved by twinning has been a big boost to Welsh politics, so I want to put it on record that the twinning arrangement has been good for Wales. I cannot understand, however, what he has got against the principle of dividing the seats in a region between men and women, which seems a very proportionate response to ensure that we have equal numbers of candidates.

Mr. Lansley: For the avoidance of doubt, let me say that the hon. Lady should interpret my remarks as meaning not that I am in favour of twinning, but that I would interpret my amendment as not precluding the possibility of twinning being one of the positive action measures that could be taken under the legislation. We know that the purpose of the legislation is permissive, but the question is what limitations the amendment would set upon that power. The hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Llew Smith) rightly probed that issue and sought to identify the limits. It is precisely the situation that the hon. Lady described in her last point that I am setting out to try to prevent—a situation in which, in an arbitrary fashion,

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a given number of constituencies are told that somebody cannot be considered because he is a man, before any assessment has been made of the merits of male candidates who live in those areas. Those are the specific circumstances that I am trying to preclude.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): If I understand the hon. Gentleman correctly, he is contesting that the amendment is required to bring us into conformity with European legislation. If that is the case, however, it means that that European legislation exists and is binding, and that the amendment is otiose. I am also concerned about his suggestion that somebody's local connection is the key issue. The hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) has a local connection, although it cannot be said to be more local because he talks about it all the time, and he used to have exactly the same degree of connection with Basildon. I am concerned that the amendment suggests that locality, rather than any other qualification, is appropriate for an assessment. I think that he is wrong about that.

Mr. Lansley: There are two points. First, on the latter point, the hon. Lady elevates the local connection as if it were the only part of the assessment. The assessment relates to specific personal circumstances, including a person's relationship with a geographical area. The point of focusing on that aspect is not that it is the connection that matters most. It is not necessarily that merit, but one of the lesser issues, that matters most. However, if it is important to individuals to be elected for a specific geographical area where they live, all-women shortlists could bar them arbitrarily. That is unacceptable.

The hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) should check the second point with Labour Front-Bench Members. I do not believe that the Minister will consider the amendment otiose simply because the equal treatment directive or the Human Rights Act 1998 will make the test of proportionality in the amendment redundant. I think that the Minister will argue otherwise.

The Minister's view may be wrong. I am not a lawyer, and perhaps I am the last person to judge precisely whether he is right, but I suspect that he is wrong. Given the merit of the argument and the undesirability of arbitrarily barring men from standing for constituencies where they live, it may be better to include the test in the Bill rather than leave the measure open to legal challenge, which will mean uncertainty and cost for the political parties that try to deal with it.

The hon. Member for Slough appeared to be under the misapprehension that the measure applies only to selecting parliamentary candidates. It also applies to other bodies, but not to the European Parliament because we are not elected in single-member constituencies. Single- member wards are common in local government. The residence qualification for a local authority is based on living not in the ward but in the local government area.

Whatever we believe about the desirability of a Member of Parliament's prior local connection with a constituency, it is incontrovertible that such a connection is important for local government candidates. Introducing all-women shortlists to create gender balance, but, in the process, saying to a man who lives in a specific village in, for example, my constituency, "You cannot stand for

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election as district councillor because your ward will be used to achieve gender equality on our local council" is unacceptable.

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