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Joan Ruddock rose

Mr. Tyler: I am about to complete my speech, if the hon. Lady will forgive me. I want to be succinct and, in this respect, more female than male.

Parliament as a whole will benefit from the way in which the legislation rolls out and the parties respond to it. As the hon. Lady said, there is a democratic deficit, but that is not a gender issue as such; it is a parliamentary issue. This Parliament is weakened by the fact that it is not as representative as it should be of all the community that we serve.

6.43 pm

Julie Morgan: Thank you for calling me to speak, Madam Deputy Speaker. I was pleased to be a member of the short Standing Committee and by the all-party support for the Bill.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock), I think that this is a day to rejoice. Eventually, this legislation will transform politics in this House, so it is a historic day.

I am glad that all the political parties have woken up to the fact that it is beneficial to have women in Parliament and at all levels of government to ensure, as the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) said, that our laws are better. That is the crucial point. We need women here to ensure that our laws are fully informed by different sections of the population. That is the ultimate end. We need women if we are to make better laws and we are taking a big step towards that goal today. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government on leading us so ably through the Standing Committee debates and this debate today.

When we have resolved this issue, I would also support measures to tackle the under-representation of black and ethnic minority members at all levels of government. The National Assembly for Wales has no black or ethnic minority Members. That is the necessary next stage after this legislation.

The hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) referred to the article in The Parliamentary Monitor about Dr. Peter Jepson, who challenged the Labour party's all-women shortlists in 1996, in which he said that if Labour proceeded with such shortlists he would put himself forward as a candidate in an all-women shortlist seat. That would paint an interesting picture in Wales—someone putting himself forward for such a seat—as I think that we may well adopt all-women shortlists. I am mystified by Dr. Jepson's attitude. He seems to want deliberately to wreck the plans of the party to achieve fair representation.

It is interesting to think of all the women who were excluded from all-male shortlists for so many years. They found other ways to contribute to the community and Government, in all the different ways that women do contribute. We should remember the all-male shortlists that existed for so many years. On Second Reading, I said

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that in Wales we have only had seven women MPs since 1918. We cannot get away from those facts, which is why I am so pleased that the Bill is proceeding today; I am glad that all the parties support it.

It is right for the legislation to be permissive. Now, it is up to all of us to sort out this problem in our parties. I think that there is no option other than all-women shortlists or twinning, but the latter is difficult unless one is setting up a new type of legislature.

Angela Watkinson (Upminster): I visited Stockholm city council recently, which has just over 100 members, 51 of whom happen to be women. I asked what they had done to achieve that and was told that they had done nothing: it had happened spontaneously. Does the hon. Lady agree that we have a long way to go with our national psyche and our understanding of equal opportunities and gender equality—but, happily, not in Upminster?

Julie Morgan: I happily agree with the hon. Lady. Many systems used in the Scandinavian countries are of enormous benefit to women, for example the child care there, which I studied with the Welsh Affairs Committee. Many aspects of their societies are conducive to allowing women to progress. We need developments in all such areas too. The Bill alone will not achieve the representation of women that we want. We must tackle many other issues. For example, recent surveys have shown that women find it expensive to stand as candidates for Parliament. It costs a lot of money to put oneself forward to be selected. We must consider that issue as well as child care.

This Bill is a good step forward, but it is only a step and there is a long way to go. It is up to individual parties to sort out where we go from here.

6.48 pm

Virginia Bottomley (South-West Surrey): I once more declare my interest as vice-chair of the British Council, which does a lot to promote and involve women in government throughout the world, and chair of a not-for-profit practice of headhunters, where much of my work involves finding talented women and encouraging them to put their names forward.

In congratulating the House on reaching a conclusion, I must confess to an on-going note of disquiet, and I say that with some regret. I warmly commend my hon. Friends the Members for Maidenhead (Mrs. May), for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) and for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) and many others. They all know that, shortly after the 1997 election, I produced a paper on what the Conservative party should do to secure the election of more women Members of Parliament. I did so not because I thought it a matter of human rights and equality, but out of enlightened self-interest. It is clear that women are popular with the electorate. Many women have been chosen at by-elections, as I was, when selection committees think not, "Who is the favoured son?" but "Who is likely to win in difficult circumstances?". My message is: "If you want to win, choose a woman".

Mr. Tyler: Has the right hon. Lady noted the gender of the candidates in the current Ipswich by-election?

Virginia Bottomley: I have not, but I have noticed that, today, no woman Liberal Democrat MP has been in the

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Chamber during our debates on the measure—nor, I think, on the last occasion when we debated this subject, which is fascinating.

Mr. Tyler: Yes, there were.

Virginia Bottomley: There were certainly none today.

Many questions have been asked about the measures that hon. Members would take. I want energetic recruitment, mentoring, coaching and monitoring. I want best practice guidance. Selection panels should be required to undertake training and outsiders should monitor their activities. I want vigorous positive action.

I should find an all-woman shortlist extremely invidious in constituencies—whether parliamentary, European or council—where there was only one elected representative. The person who most persuaded me of that was the late Baroness Seear—a most distinguished woman. She pointed out that once we say that there must be a woman, next we shall say that there must be a disabled person, an ethnic minority person, somebody aged over 60, or somebody in their 20s.

Above all, we are elected to represent all the people, whether or not they voted for us, and whatever their gender, race or age. I find all-women shortlists, or indeed twinning, extraordinarily invidious. Were they to apply, I should have to think carefully about my interpretation of the role of a Member of Parliament.

I remain concerned about why we should want such different arrangements for Members of Parliament compared with other occupations and professions. The Minister did not adequately address that point in his brief summing up on Second Reading, or in his remarks in Committee and the debate today. The point about redress through employment law is one element, but it is not a complete answer.

The House will be aware that, at present, the civil service is, rightly, making a great effort to try to promote diversity, so that public servants reflect the Britain of today. I strongly welcome that, but few permanent secretaries are women and few come from ethnic minorities.

The majority of medical students are women, but the majority of consultants are not. I gave an example on Second Reading—about which I have received an enormous amount of correspondence—of a primary school with an all-female staff and asked whether an all-male shortlist would be permitted. The answer is that it would not.

The issues arise in other sectors. Last week, black police officers met in Manchester. There are real issues about ethnic minorities in the police force and the services. In social work, there is a real desire to appoint more black and ethnic minority social workers and inspectors. In all these sectors, positive action—legal or illegal—is under way. Coaching and mentoring are available. People are being encouraged to come forward. As long as an appointment is made on merit, people in the public services have become fairly vigorous—rightly so—in saying that the public face of those services should reflect the diversity of Britain today.

I fail to understand why Members of Parliament are such a different case. We should reflect the diversity of Britain today. We should take all the steps taken by others and we should not be thought to be legislating for ourselves in a vacuum, as though we were blinkered.

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Similarly, I find it difficult to support measures relating to women rather than considering other ways to make us look as though we were more representative of Britain. At a time when 40 per cent. of the electorate fail to vote, we are missing out. We are not registering with the public—whether that is about gender, or age, none of us really knows.

I commend those who have worked so hard on the Bill. I worry whether the ends justify the means. It seems like a form of social engineering to treat politicians as a special case. I continue to find that disturbing, but I, with others, will continue to do everything in my power to encourage more women to come forward, more selection committees to choose women and more members of the electorate to vote for them.

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