Speaker's Conference (on Parliamentary Representation) Contents


SUMMARY OF CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS


1.Nearly all Members of Parliament are elected to the House of Commons on a party ticket. This makes the political parties, effectively, the gatekeepers to the House of Commons. It means that if the House of Commons is to become more representative the political parties will, in large part, have to be the agents of change.
2.When the leaders of the Labour Party, the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats, the Prime Minister Rt. Hon. Gordon Brown MP, Rt. Hon. David Cameron MP and Rt. Hon. Nick Clegg MP, gave evidence to us on 20th October 2009 they each agreed that the diversity of representation within their parties was neither what it should be, nor what they wanted it to be. We welcome this important acknowledgement.
3.Each of the parties monitors its progress on candidate selections internally. The fact that this information is not collected and placed in the public domain, however, means that there is no public accountability; unless the performance of the different parties can be compared with each other (and with the performance of parties throughout the world) there is likely to be insufficient pressure for the political parties to pursue the cultural change which is needed from them before we can have a House of Commons "fit for the 21st century".
4.The leaders of the three main parties also gave us their agreement in principle to publish future reports on the results of candidate selections.
5.  We shall table a draft new clause to the Equality Bill which, if enacted, would require registered political parties to report every six months, according to specified criteria, on the diversity of their candidate selections; and to publish those reports online. We hope that this proposal will have the support of the House.

Introduction

1. The Speaker's Conference (on Parliamentary Representation) was established by the House of Commons in November 2008. We were asked to examine the reasons why women, people from BME (black and minority ethnic) backgrounds and disabled people are under-represented in the House of Commons, and to recommend ways in which barriers to their representation can be removed. We have also agreed to look at issues relating to representation of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual) community.

2. In our first interim report we noted that there are three reasons why we should seek to make the House of Commons more representative of the society we live in. These are:

  • Justice: the representative body of our society should have a place within it for all sections of society;
  • Effectiveness: the House of Commons will work most effectively if it holds within its membership the same diversity of life experiences as is present in wider society; and
  • Enhanced legitimacy: although MPs work hard to represent the breadth and depth of their constituents' concerns and experiences, the absence of a wide cross-section of society in the House of Commons means that it can appear to disregard the needs and concerns of specific groups. As a result its decisions and actions may be considered less legitimate than they would otherwise be.

The role of political parties

3. Nearly all Members of Parliament are elected to the House of Commons on a party ticket. This makes the political parties, effectively, the gatekeepers to the House of Commons. It means that if the House of Commons is to become more representative the political parties will, in large part, have to be the agents of change.

4. The record of the political parties in promoting diversity of representation is uneven. Each of the main parties has taken steps to make its selection procedures more objective and professional and to reduce the incidence of openly discriminatory practices such as asking women applicants whether they plan to have children, or unmarried men whether there was anything in their past "that might cause the party embarrassment".[1] We are told that, increasingly, women and people from BME backgrounds, if not disabled people or open members of the LGBT communities, are putting themselves forward for selection in sufficient numbers to make a difference.[2] Yet the fact remains that at present the House of Commons continues to be largely white, male, middle-aged and middle-class: people from under-represented groups who are putting themselves forward for selection are still proportionately less likely to be selected, or to be selected for a seat the party thinks it can win, than their counterparts.

5. When the leaders of the Labour Party, the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats, the Prime Minister Rt. Hon. Gordon Brown MP, Rt. Hon. David Cameron MP and Rt. Hon. Nick Clegg MP, gave evidence to us on 20th October they each agreed that the diversity of representation within their parties was neither what it should be, nor what they wanted it to be.[3] We welcome this important acknowledgement from the party leaders. We also note the Prime Minister's request that the House authorities investigate whether civil partnerships could be celebrated on the Parliamentary estate." [4]

Performance monitoring

6. Working to create real change, we were told, entails "not just a stated commitment but a proactive approach, involving transparency, accountability and monitoring of both progress made and difficulties encountered."[5] Similarly, Trevor Phillips said that:

    "if we are actually going to address this issue then we should address it from a point of strength, knowing what the truth is … it would be helpful for the political parties to understand, for example, what proportion of different ethnic groups are putting themselves forward, what proportion of women are putting themselves forward, because once you know that you can work out what is actually the problem." [6]

7. Each of the parties monitors its progress on candidate selections internally. The fact that this information is not collected and placed in the public domain, however, means that that there is no public accountability; unless the performance of the different parties can be compared with each other (and with the performance of parties throughout the world) there is likely to be insufficient pressure for the political parties to pursue the cultural change which is needed from them before we can have a House of Commons "fit for the 21st century".[7]

8. It was for this reason that in our first interim report we asked all of the political parties to report to us "by 12 October 2009 the result of selections by constituency giving the date of selection, the method of selection, the candidate's gender and the candidate's ethnicity and reporting in accordance with candidates' identifications of disability and sexual orientation".[8] We were pleased that four parties—the Labour party, the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru—responded to this recommendation, sending us initial three months' data at the beginning of October. Recognising that parts of the information we had sought could be personally sensitive, and that the small sample size made it relatively easy to identify individuals within the reports, we published only parts of this information online.[9]

9. The following week, the leaders of the three main parties also gave us their agreement in principle to publish future reports on the results of candidate selections: Rt. Hon. Gordon Brown MP said "You are absolutely right, unless people know what is happening, then the public opinion that is being shaped about this cannot put the pressure that is necessary on the parties";[10] Rt. Hon. David Cameron MP said that the Conservative party monitored "in terms of gender, BME candidates and those who register themselves as disabled" already and would be "very happy to publish" the data;[11] Rt. Hon. Nick Clegg MP told us that the Liberal Democrats already provided "very full reports" to its party Conference twice a year and "would be very happy to make that public".[12] Accordingly, we have written to request two further monitoring reports from each of the main parties, to be delivered on 11 January and 15 March 2010, if Parliament is then still in session.

10. These reports will, we hope, provide a baseline for future accountability. The information we have published so far is not statistically significant, but each future report that is made will help to clarify where a particular approach is proving successful in tackling under-representation, and where difficulties remain. As there are problems across the parties on this issue of diversity, so there should be common benefits in sharing this information.

11. In the long term, however, a more formal mechanism for making these reports will be needed. Our Conference will cease to exist at the dissolution of the current Parliament and will not therefore be able to continue to act as monitor and publisher of the data.

The Equality Bill

12. Recent policy developments seek to encourage fairer representation. Part 7 of the Equality Bill, which is currently before the House, contains clauses which, if passed, would extend by another fifteen years (to 2030) the existing provision in law which allows political parties to use all-women shortlists. It would also enable political parties to take further steps "to reduce inequality in the party's representation" through selection arrangements for elections to Westminster, to the European Parliament, to the Scottish Parliament, to the National Assembly for Wales and certain local government elections.[13] These enabling provisions are another aspect of the solution to the problems of under-representation which all parties face and they should be supported by a regular supply of accurate and up-to-date information. We shall seek to propose a new clause to the Bill, which would formalise and build upon our existing agreement with the main political parties to report on diversity in candidate selection.

13. We shall table a draft new clause to the Equality Bill which, if enacted, would require registered political parties to report every six months, according to specified criteria, on the diversity of their candidate selections; and to publish those reports online.

14. The proposal we shall table does not follow precisely the pattern of reporting which we sought in our first interim report. To monitor progress properly requires data from all stages of the selection process, from the initial call for applicants to the final outcome. Otherwise we will only ever know about the individuals who are successful. Further, our experience of the initial party reports (discussed at paragraph 8 above) demonstrated for us the potential difficulties in disclosing parts of the information we had sought; we believe that the slightly different approach we shall set out in the draft new clause will be more effective in enabling relevant data to be gathered for the purposes of monitoring and accountability while providing better protection for the individual.

15. Our proposal is a modest one. It requires comparatively little effort from the parties, who already gather much of this data. It builds on an existing consensus, which recognises that greater transparency and accountability can help to support and justify the priority which is given to the issue of fair representation. It may help, over time, to secure a House of Commons which is more effective, more representative of our society and in which the public feels better able to place its confidence. We hope that this proposal will have the support of the House.



1   Ev 82 Back

2   Women at the Top 2005: changing faces, changing politics? The Hansard Society, 2005 p 26; Ev 3 Back

3   Qq 434, 447, 460 Back

4   Q 434 Back

5   Ev 17 Back

6   Q 94 Back

7   Q 434 Back

8   Speaker's Conference (on Parliamentary Representation): Interim Report, Session 2009-10, HC 167-I, paragraph 22 Back

9   http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/spconf/memo/contents.htm Back

10   Q 446 Back

11   Q 457 Back

12   Q 468 Back

13   Equality Bill [As amended in Public Bill Committee] Bill 131 clause 101  Back


 
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Prepared 25 November 2009