Speaker's Conference on Parliamentary Representation - Speaker's Conference (on Parliamentary Representation) Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

1.  In England, the Department for Children Schools and Families should work with headteachers and with Ofsted to ensure that the importance of citizenship is better understood and the subject is taught with quality and appropriate breadth. In the devolved administrations, the equivalent authorities should consider a similar approach in the relevant curriculum areas. (Paragraph 36)

2.  The Government should ensure greater and more consistent access to youth and community citizenship engagement programmes. The Government should also consider what more it can do to support organisations which are, directly or indirectly, promoting active citizenship and political literacy. (Paragraph 38)

3.  Public sector organisations should encourage the development of the next generation of leaders by appointing members of under-represented groups to supernumerary positions on boards and other bodies. This should be aimed at enabling people to gain the skills and experience they need to equip them to take up positions of influence. (Paragraph 44)

4.  We warmly welcome the increased priority the House is giving to its education and outreach activities, and we are impressed by the work that is being produced. It is vital that citizens know more about the way Parliament and its Members work. But we believe that there should also be a firm focus on providing the public with information needed to promote wider representation, without reference to any one party. The objectives of the Parliamentary Education Service, therefore, should in future include helping to encourage a wider range of people to become candidates for election to Parliament. (Paragraph 49)

5.  Support should be developed for Members to help them to promote political agency and active citizenship in their constituencies. (Paragraph 50)

6.  We believe that all publicly-funded organisations, especially local bodies, should create opportunities for people who are interested to learn how to become more active citizens. (Paragraph 51)

7.  Political parties are the mechanism by which people of any background can be actively involved in the tasks of shaping policy and deciding how society should be governed. While they are not perfect organisations they are essential for the effective functioning of our democracy. Without the support of political parties it would be difficult for individual Members of Parliament, as legislators and/or as members of the Executive, to organise themselves effectively for the task of promoting the national interest—including by challenge to the Government, where that is necessary and appropriate—and ensuring that proposed new laws are proportionate, effective and accurately drafted. (Paragraph 55)

8.  The extent to which political parties are the subject of both contempt and general public indifference should be a cause of concern to all who are interested in how our country is run. We acknowledge that the recent disclosures about Members' allowances and some Members' expenses claims have been extremely damaging, but a general dwindling of attachment to political parties—going wider than the decline in formal membership—has been apparent over more than 40 years. (Paragraph 59)

9.  It is important to the future of our democracy that political parties are able to continue to function. As Nan Sloane, Centre for Women and Democracy, put it, "The democratic process we have may not be a perfect way of governing ourselves but it is better than most of the other ones that there are out there and it is very dangerous to have that undermined." In this context it is clear that the effective functioning of political parties is very much in the public interest. (Paragraph 60)

10.  It is in the interests of any political party which wishes to achieve, and sustain, a period in government that it should foster local activism and seek to build up social capital and trust. Active, healthy and accessible local political parties will also play a vital role in identifying and nurturing a greater diversity of MPs for the future. (Paragraph 64)

11.  The Government should consult on the introduction of a scheme enabling local political parties to apply for funding linked to their receipts from member subscriptions. The scheme should be administered by a suitable independent body and the details of all funding allocations made should be published. Local political parties should also expect to make some account of the way in which they use the funding to support the development of social capital. This consultation should take place in the first session of the 2010 Parliament. (Paragraph 74)

12.  Each national party needs to develop a systematic plan of action to support the development of local parties. As part of this plan parties should draw up a checklist of actions which will promote diversity (such as meeting in accessible venues) and might also offer practical support and incentives to local parties which adopt measures on the checklist. (Paragraph 77)

13.  We recommend that all political parties appoint national and/or regional community champions for women, and people from BME and LGBT communities, and disabled people. The champions' remit should include supporting individuals from those communities in finding and sustaining a suitable role within the party. Consideration should also be given to formalising strategies for talent spotting within parties and within the wider community. (Paragraph 79)

14.  A description of the main functions of a Member of Parliament should be drawn up, agreed between the parties and published. The description should not remove the scope for MPs to approach the job of representing their constituency in various ways; it should contain general principles and main objectives and tasks, rather than highly detailed prescriptions. Greater transparency about the terms and conditions under which MPs work has been achieved since the mid-1990s but the process has not been completed; nor has it been matched by a clearer explanation of the role of Members. More is needed. This information should be consolidated, published (on the internet and in hard copy) and made widely available to the general public. (Paragraph 87)

15.  It is important to ensure that there is no single route into politics which is accessible only to a privileged few. The routes by which future Members come into Parliament should be monitored and information published by the political parties. (Paragraph 102)

16.  There would be value in the parties being more open about both the qualities, and the experience, they consider to be desirable for a prospective parliamentary candidate. If it becomes clear that certain types of experience—such as a spell as a party employee or as an MP's researcher—are preferred, the parties should consider how those experiences can be made more accessible. (Paragraph 103)

17.  Greater diversity in our elected representatives will be achieved only when the culture of our political parties has been changed. This change in our political parties should be driven by the changes we see in wider society, which requires and demands greater diversity in all representative organisations and bodies. Party leaders can help to challenge stereotypes of an effective Member, or Minister, by ensuring that MPs from all backgrounds and communities are able to demonstrate their skills in positions of prominence, either within Government or within the party. (Paragraph 104)

18.  Behaviour at selection panels which discriminates against candidates on grounds of their sex, background or personal circumstances can never be justified. (Paragraph 112)

19.  Political parties should make diversity awareness training, advice and support available to party members involved in candidate selections. (Paragraph 116)

20.  In practice all-women shortlist selections have been carried out by UK local parties in exactly the same way as traditional or 'open' selections, in every respect other than the formal requirement that all the candidates are women. We were told that the role of the all-women shortlist is solely to reduce the discretion available to local party selection committees to demonstrate bias in favour of men. (Paragraph 138)

21.  If the number of women MPs in the House of Commons falls at the 2010 election it will make more pressing the need for all the main parties to be assertive in their equality policies. (Paragraph 143)

22.  We welcome the progress which each of the main parties has made over recent years towards ensuring that its local selection procedures are more professional and objective than they have been in the past. Yet the fact that, in most cases, it remains more difficult for a candidate who does not fit the "white, male, middle-class" norm to be selected, particularly if the seat is considered by their party to be winnable, means that the case for equality of representation has not yet been won. It is essential that the leadership of each of the political parties—large and small—continues to make this case in discussion with their members and activists, and also takes the measures necessary to secure progress. (Paragraph 146)

23.  We fully support the proposed extension of the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Act 2002 to enable the use of all-women shortlists until 2030. Equivalent enabling legislation should now be enacted to allow political parties, if they so choose, to use all-BME shortlists. Like the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Act 2002 such provision should be time-limited and should be subject to review prior to 2030. (Paragraph 149)

24.  Candidate selections for the following general election will begin, for some parties, within the first twelve to eighteen months of the 2010 Parliament. These selections will be equally important for securing cultural change within parties and within the House of Commons. In this context we particularly welcome the indications from the opposition party leaders that they are open-minded on the matter of equality guarantees. If the political parties fail to make significant progress on women's representation at the 2010 general election, Parliament should give serious consideration to the introduction of prescriptive quotas, ensuring that all political parties adopt some form of equality guarantee in time for the following general election. (Paragraph 156)

25.  We welcome the openness of all three main party leaders—Rt. Hon. Gordon Brown MP, Rt. Hon. David Cameron MP and Rt. Hon. Nick Clegg MP—to the principle of publishing monitoring data in relation to candidate selections. This is an important indication of the commitment of all three main parties to the promotion of fairer representation in Parliament. We recommend that all political parties registered under part 2 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 should be required to publish details of their candidate selections online every six months, on 31 March and 31 October, setting out, for each potential candidate at each stage of the selection process, the following information:

(a) the administrative region in which the selection took place;

(b) the method by which the candidate was selected;

(c) whether the party:

(i) currently holds the seat for which the candidate was selected; or

(ii) came second or third in the seat at the last general election within a margin of less than 5% of the votes cast; or

(iii) came second or third in the seat at the last general election within a margin of more than five per cent but less than ten per cent of the votes cast;

(d) the sex of the candidate;

(e) the ethnicity of the candidate; and

(f) whether the candidate is willing to identify as a disabled person.

The reports might also include the following information:

(a) where a candidate is willing to identify as a disabled person, the nature of the impairment;

(b) where a candidate is willing to state his or her sexual orientation, the sexual orientation of the candidate;

(c) the age of the candidate;

(d) the occupation of the candidate at the time of selection; and

(e) the highest level of the candidate's educational attainment. (Paragraph 160)

26.  Following the 2010 general election all political parties represented at Westminster should publish a statement setting out the current proportion of their Parliamentary party which is: female; from a BME community; and/or identifies as a disabled person. The statement should also set out what proportion of the Parliamentary party the national party would like to see appearing in each of these categories in December 2015 and December 2020. This statement should be published by December 2010. In December 2015 and December 2020 the parties should publish further statements setting out what progress they have made towards just representation within the parliamentary party, compared to the 2010 baseline and the percentage of each group within the UK population as a whole. These reports should also include an evaluation of the mechanisms the parties have used to secure progress. (Paragraph 165)

27.  We recommend that the Government should find time for a debate on the implementation of the Speaker's Conference's recommendations and progress towards just representation in the House of Commons in 2010, 2012, and every two years thereafter to 2022. We also recommend that the House of Commons should provide access from a dedicated page on the Parliament website to all published statements and reports by each party represented at Westminster on their Parliamentary party representation and candidate selections, alongside links to the reports from the Speaker's Conference. (Paragraph 166)

28.  We believe scarce cash-limited Access to Work funds—intended for use by individuals—should not be used by councils to fund core legal requirements—such as action to make reasonable adjustments to buildings. Making such adjustments is a key part of being a good employer and complying with the law. (Paragraph 188)

29.  We do not doubt that party leaders are sincere when they say that they want better access for disabled people. We recognise that they may be finding it difficult to make sure their policies are carried out at a local level where it matters. Nevertheless the shortage of funds must not be an excuse for local parties failing to make proper arrangements for disabled people to play their part in politics. (Paragraph 199)

30.  We believe that all political parties should make it easier for disabled people to play a full part in party activities, initially by setting out a clear policy on access. At national level, this would mean for instance making sure that campaign documents are produced in Braille and other formats, that websites are easy to use for people with sight impairments, and that BSL interpretation or speech-to-text technology is available at major events. (Paragraph 201)

31.  But there also needs to be a realistic policy for local parties, encouraging co-operation and making the best of the limited money available. The ideas and practical suggestions set out in the guide and handbook produced by the Labour Party Disabled Members' Group would form a good basis for this policy, for all political parties. (Paragraph 202)

32.  All political parties should place a ceiling upon the expenses which candidates can incur during any single selection process. (Paragraph 212)

33.  We support the suggestion of a Democracy Diversity Fund which could be drawn upon by local political parties to support the work of developing talented individuals from under-represented groups and also to provide bursaries to individuals who would otherwise be unable to sustain the costs of candidacy. There must be strong controls in place to make sure the money is not abused and therefore the scheme's effectiveness and propriety should be regularly evaluated by the Electoral Commission, in reports which should be laid before the House at least once every Parliament. The Electoral Commission should consult the Equality and Human Rights Commission when evaluating the scheme. (Paragraph 214)

34.  There is overwhelming evidence that shortage of money and the necessity of additional expenditure to support disabled people through candidacy, make finance a particularly significant barrier to elected office for disabled people. Disabled people should be able to fight for parliamentary seats without having to face the complicated financial barriers that confront them at present. This is not a question of political advantage, but a simple matter of achieving just representation. (Paragraph 220)

35.  We therefore believe that the Government should urgently consider, as part of the Democracy Diversity Fund, a ring-fenced scheme to support disabled parliamentary candidates. This scheme for disabled candidates should use as its model the Access to Public Life Fund which has been proposed by Scope. The scheme should be devised and operated by the Department for Work and Pensions, and should be administered in the same way as the Access to Work scheme. (Paragraph 221)

36.  A measure which could help to reduce the burden on candidates would be for the Government to legislate to give approved prospective parliamentary candidates who are employees the right to request a reasonable amount of unpaid leave during working hours and/or a right to work flexibly for the purposes of campaigning. This would also, symbolically, recognise that the action of standing for election, whether or not the candidate is successful, is an essential part of our democratic process and of public benefit. (Paragraph 223)

37.  The Government should legislate to enable approved prospective parliamentary candidates who are employees to take unpaid leave, rather than resigning their employment, for the period from the dissolution of Parliament to election day (Paragraph 224)

38.  We recognise that, in the first instance, making such leave unpaid protects employers from any suggestion that they may be improperly financing a political campaign. In the long term we would like the Government to move to a position where candidates are entitled to receive a grant from the state equivalent to the minimum wage for the period sometimes known as the short campaign. (Paragraph 224)

39.  Each central political party should consider drawing up statements of expectation setting out the role, and the reasonable demands which may be made, of both prospective parliamentary candidates and local party associations in different types of seat. (Paragraph 229)

40.  First-time candidates, in particular, would benefit from the establishment of formal mentoring schemes and/or 'buddy systems' which can provide pastoral support and independent advice on issues arising within the constituency. (Paragraph 230)

41.  Regional or central party officials should also consider whether further training support might be beneficial to candidates who have limited experience of formal management, team building and leadership roles. (Paragraph 231)

42.  We believe it should be possible for each Parliamentary party to maintain a list of individuals from under-represented groups, perhaps nominated by stakeholder organisations, who might by this means be notified of internships and temporary vacancies arising in Members' offices. All reasonable adjustment costs for the successful applicant should be funded for the duration of the appointment. We invite the political parties to work with stakeholder organisations to establish how this can best be done. (Paragraph 237)

43.  We believe that there is scope for the development of a UK-wide scheme similar to the Step Up Cymru mentoring scheme, but with a strong Westminster element. This could bring together elected members at all levels of government to provide opportunities for people from under-represented groups to find out about their work. The initial aim might be to encourage involvement in community groups, but it should also give encouragement to those who might wish to become candidates for elected office at local and national level or be appointed to a public body. (Paragraph 241)

44.  The parties should each draw up a formal code of conduct for campaigning. This should make clear that campaigning is unacceptable where it seeks to undermine a candidate by reference to his or her family life, racial background, sexual orientation, health status or disability. These codes of conduct should be in place in time for the 2010 general election. (Paragraph 244)

45.  The inflexibility of Parliament's working practices (which are partly institutional and partly the result of the way that the political parties work), together with the increasingly heavy workload of constituency demands, combine to create a lifestyle which is detrimental to Members with caring responsibilities, both for children and other dependents. (Paragraph 249)

46.  In recent months there has been a push at Westminster to change many of the ways in which the House of Commons operates. The ultimate outcome of the various reviews and inquiries which are being conducted ought to be a revitalised House with much clearer rules, better accountability and, possibly, greater independence. If such changes are considered and implemented effectively they should benefit us all. There is, however, an opportunity within these changes also to make the House of Commons a more flexible, humane and responsible institution which, while it requires greater probity of those within it, also takes greater account of the circumstances in which each individual works. (Paragraph 251)

47.  A diverse workforce for Parliament is not an aspiration but an imperative. It is essential to the House's credibility that the participation of Members who have young families and/or other caring responsibilities is maintained and supported. This must be kept in mind by all who are engaged in the current process of Commons reform. (Paragraph 253)

48.  Maternity, paternity and caring leave is an issue which all three main parliamentary parties have as yet failed to take fully seriously. (Paragraph 263)

49.  Each Parliamentary party should draw up a formal statement of policy on maternity, paternity and caring leave. This should set out clearly the minimum level of support which an individual requesting leave may expect from his or her party, and the steps which the individual should take to arrange a period of leave. Such statements should be agreed by party leaders, and published on party websites and in the party whip, by the end of 2010. (Paragraph 264)

50.  The Government has recently indicated its intention to give the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) the responsibility for setting salaries and pensions, with effect from 2011-12. We invite IPSA to consider the development of formal maternity, paternity and caring leave arrangements for MPs which are as closely equivalent to the general public sector provision as possible. In the mean time we would ask the Senior Salaries Review Body to look into the matter and to report in 2010. (Paragraph 268)

51.  We have said that it is essential to the House's credibility that the participation of Members who have young families is supported. It is likely that at the 2010 general election a number of younger Members, who have young children, will enter the House of Commons for the first time. We welcome the recent announcement of plans for a nursery facility within the Parliamentary estate and urge the House service to implement the proposal as soon as possible. This facility should be open to Members and staff. (Paragraph 270)

52.  Decisions on childcare are a matter of personal choice and for many MPs their arrangements will be essential to their ability to carry out their parliamentary duties. Parents will choose to have their children looked after in their homes (in the constituency and/or in London) by other family members, by nannies or registered childminders, or in a nursery or crèche. All of these choices are equally valid and should be equally respected by the parliamentary authorities. We recommend that a scheme be considered to allow Members to take a proportion of their salary in the form of childcare vouchers. (Paragraph 271)

53.  It would be better if Members' requests for caring or sickness leave were less subject to the state of relations between the parties and the turn of events. We believe that greater transparency about the organisation of pairing would help. We therefore recommend that the business managers for each Parliamentary party should regularly brief their Members about the process of pairing, the requests they have received for pairing and whether or not it has been possible to agree to those requests. (Paragraph 274)

54.  The sitting hours of the House should again be reviewed, and voted upon by the House, early in the new Parliament. Ideally, sitting time for the main chamber should be brought in line with what is considered to be normal business hours. Respecting the difficulty of achieving this, given the multiplicity of other duties inside and outside the Palace of Westminster carried out by Members, we recommend a substantial further development of deferred voting in order to facilitate a more family friendly approach to sitting arrangements and unscheduled (unprogrammed) votes. Further consideration should be given to modern methods of voting to facilitate a more efficient and practical use of time, in line with other legislatures. (Paragraph 286)

55.  We hope that the House service will review, and draw up new guidelines to clarify, the circumstances in which a child under the age of one may accompany his or her MP parent within restricted areas of the House of Commons. (Paragraph 288)

56.  We think it is important that Members who wish to undertake civil marriages and civil partnerships should have the same rights as Members undertaking Christian marriage rites to hold their ceremonies within the Palace of Westminster. The House service should take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that such civil ceremonies can take place within the Palace of Westminster from 2010. (Paragraph 290)

57.  It is important for the House to obtain much better information about the percentages of Members who belong to under-represented groups, and to know more about their experiences of politics and of the House. We believe that the arguments in favour of regular, sensitive and appropriate monitoring of the situation are convincing. The House should consider how this might be done. One approach would be for the House's occupational health department to ask Members to complete confidential questionnaires about their experience of any illness or impairment while attending the Department for screening/self referral or disability assessment. The anonymised questionnaires could be collated and analysed by the department and the analysis fed back to the appropriate committee annually. The survey might also secure similar information about the racial origin and, if possible and appropriate, the sexual orientation of Members. (Paragraph 293)

58.  We recommend that there should be a regular survey (at least once every five years) of public attitudes to Parliament and its composition, and in particular of the impact of the measures taken following this report. This should test whether greater diversity among MPs is bringing greater public approval and acceptance of the work of the House, and should be carried out by an independent body such as the Hansard Society. (Paragraph 295)

59.  We welcome the range of effective measures which have been taken by the authorities in both Houses in recent years to meet the needs of disabled Members. Parliament responds well, in the vast majority of cases, to specific requests for assistance. However, there is still a largely unfair impression among some people that the House of Commons does not welcome disabled Members. The House needs to put this right. We recommend that the House should explicitly accept its responsibility to provide the support needed to enable disabled Members to do their job. In particular, the Parliamentary ICT service (PICT) should designate an experienced liaison officer to provide customised advice and support to maximise access to computing and other communications technology for disabled Members who require it. The passage into law of the Equality Bill currently before Parliament will be a good opportunity for the House authorities to announce publicly how committed they are to supporting disabled Members. The House should therefore make an early policy statement that it will apply fully the principles of the Equality Bill on reasonable adjustment and discrimination. This should cover both areas where the House is required to act within the law and those where it is not so required. (Paragraph 310)

60.  We also recommend that the House should provide to each Member information on all the facilities and assistance available for disabled Members, which should be given wide publicity amongst disabled people and updated regularly. We also urge the parties to make this information widely known among their own members, to give potential parliamentary candidates confidence that support will be provided. We would also encourage the authorities in the House of Lords similarly to consider what further steps can be taken to improve the situation for disabled peers. In general we believe that any recommendations made by the occupational health service about the facilities and assistance which should be made available for disabled Members should be accepted by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. (Paragraph 311)

61.  We see benefits in the idea of a ring-fenced fund to assist disabled Members to make reasonable adjustments to help them serve their constituents. This might fund better access to constituency offices or the provision of BSL interpreters for surgeries, and would be of particular assistance to newly-elected disabled MPs. We recommend that the new Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority includes provision for this in its allowances scheme, and we expect IPSA and the House authorities to work closely together on the provision of services and allowances to disabled MPs, and to devise a scheme which provides the help that is needed. (Paragraph 313)

62.  We believe that the House and its Members would benefit from having a small in-house team on the model of the National Assembly for Wales Equalities Team, responsible for monitoring how the House is doing on all equalities issues and also for planning provision for disabled Members, staff and visitors. The team would have responsibility both for internal and external work to promote greater diversity and equality. It should also liaise with IPSA. (Paragraph 315)

63.  The law on disqualification from Membership is not consistent or logical in its treatment of various types of illness or disorder. If a Member suffers from serious physical illness—say a stroke—that can leave constituents effectively un-represented in much the same way as if a Member has a serious mental disorder. Yet there is no parallel provision to s141 of the Mental Health Act 1983 for cases of physical illness. We have received substantial evidence from a number of sources, both expert and lay, to suggest that s141 wrongly implies that mental illness is in some way fundamentally different in its effects from physical illness. Yet the House, through its medical services, can provide care and assistance for those with mental illness, just as it can for those with physical illness. (Paragraph 325)

64.  We believe that s141 of the 1983 Mental Health Act is unnecessary and damaging. It embodies attitudes which stigmatise and sap the confidence of people with mental illness. Section 141 should be repealed as soon as practicable. (Paragraph 327)

65.  We recognise, however, that some provision may be needed to protect the legitimate interests of constituents and the House in circumstances where a Member is physically or mentally incapacitated to the extent that he or she is entirely unable to fulfil their duties for an extended period. We recommend that the House should invite an appropriate select committee to undertake an inquiry into this issue, consider whether new legislation or other measures may be needed, and make recommendations to the House and to Government as appropriate. (Paragraph 328)

66.  We recommend that an information pack and supporting guidance on the House's occupational health services should be sent to all Members of Parliament immediately after each General Election (Paragraph 329)

67.  That there is a lack of balance in media coverage of Parliament between 'set piece' debates in the Chamber and the less heated discussion in other settings. Correcting the balance would benefit Parliament in several ways. Greater reporting of constructive committee hearings and events outside the main Chamber would:

·  increase public understanding of the breadth of Parliamentary activity and the work of backbenchers;

·  clearly demonstrate that there is more to the work and culture of the Commons, and of individual Members, than barracking, shouting and trying to get one over on the other side; and could

·  re-engage those members of the public who find the presentation of debates and questions in the Chamber tiresome and off-putting. (Paragraph 332)

68.  The House of Commons Media and Communications Service should identify new approaches in both old and new media which would bring the more measured and less heated elements of the House's work to a wider audience. We urge Members to take the opportunities thus offered to present the work of the House in a more constructive light. (Paragraph 335)

69.  The House service should make training available to Members for communication through the internet. (Paragraph 337)

70.  We, like the Commission on Candidate Selection before us, would wish to see an end to strident, hostile and intrusive reporting of politicians' private lives which is destructive not only of those individuals but also of their families, relationships, and of the democratic process itself. (Paragraph 343)

71.  We acknowledge that Members as well as outside commentators have been known to abuse other Members, of their own and other parties. Such behaviour among colleagues would not be considered acceptable in most professions and brings the profession of Parliamentarian into disrepute. Members should treat their colleagues, across all parties, with courtesy. (Paragraph 344)

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