Representations heard in Public

Questions 1 – 4



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Taken before the Backbench Business Committee

on Tuesday 13 December 2011

Members present:

Mr Peter Bone (Chair)

Jane Ellison

John Hemming

Mr Philip Hollobone

Ian Mearns

Dame Anne Begg MP made representations.

Q1 Chair: Good afternoon everyone, and good afternoon Anne. Welcome to the Backbench Business Committee. Anne, I think it is your first time here.

Dame Anne Begg (Aberdeen South) (Lab): It is, yes.

Q2 Chair: We are just looking for a very brief outline of the debate that you want, giving us some idea of the time limit-whether three-hour or full day-and whether you would prefer it in Westminster Hill or whether you would like it in the Chamber, and whether there is possibly going to be a motion in it. If there is, we would like you to read that for the record. Also, would you give us an idea of how many people might want to come to the debate?

Dame Anne Begg: Thanks very much and thanks for the opportunity. As I say, it is my first time. I hope you have looked at the four pages that were submitted with reasons for the debate, which is on the topic of parliamentary representation. I am here, I suppose, as the ex vice-chair of the Speaker’s Conference, which of course does not exist any more because it was only set up for the duration of the last Parliament and fell at the general election.

The purpose of the debate-we are looking for a three-hour debate, if possible, on the Floor of the House of Commons-is to keep in mind and to highlight the need to be vigilant when it comes to the reselecting of candidates for the next general election. I have a text of the motion. I shall read that out; it helps explain everything. The text of the motion is:

"That this House welcomes the fact that there are now more women MPs and MPs from Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities than in any previous Parliament; notes that the need for greater diversity in the House of Commons has been accepted by the leadership of the three main political parties at Westminster; is concerned that increased competition for seats at the 2015 general election may leave under-represented groups more poorly represented among approved candidates, and in the House thereafter, unless mechanisms are employed to tackle continuing inequalities during candidate selection; and calls on the Government and political parties to fulfil commitments made in response to the Speaker’s Conference (on Parliamentary Representation) in 2010, including the commitment to secure the publication by all parties of diversity data on candidate selections."

The Speaker’s Conference reported before the last general election; the second anniversary of that report will be in January 2012. In the general election following that report we saw a more diverse Parliament and a more diverse House of Commons than we have ever seen before. I think you will agree, Chair, that that has made a difference in terms of the liveliness of the Chamber, in that it is more reflective of the population in general than it ever was. The reason I have put in for the debate sometime in January, or certainly in the new year, is that that is the two-year anniversary of the publication of the report, one of whose recommendations was that the House should have the opportunity to debate such issues every two years until 2020, to keep them at the forefront of people’s minds, particularly the minds of the leaders of the main political parties.

One of the other recommendations that we made was that the political parties should supply data to show the range of their candidate selection in terms of their ethnicity, disability and gender. We are finding it quite difficult to get that information out of the political parties at the moment; I think they have taken their eye off the ball somewhat since the election, and part of the reason for the debate would be to perhaps get the party leaders to agree that they should continue to encourage their parties to supply such data.

The people who are supporting the debate are the ex-members of the Speaker’s Conference who are still Members of the House of Commons, and some new Members, such as the hon. Members for Stourbridge (Margot James) and for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard). We have people from all three major parties. The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) of the Green party has indicated that she would be interested in taking part and I think there might be more widespread interest once the motion is published. I only approached those people that I knew already had an interest in the subject; others might also be interested.

Chair: Thanks, Anne. Any questions?

Q3 Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Are you free on Thursday 12 January?

Dame Anne Begg: I am, yes.

Q4 Chair: That is a good question. Anne, this is not particularly for you, but I shall take the opportunity to say it. If we grant you a debate and a lot of supporters sign the motion and want to speak in the debate, the fact that they have signed the motion does not automatically give them the right to speak; they need to apply to the Speaker’s Office. Members have got to remember that Backbench Business Committee debates are just the same as any other debate in the House and must follow the rules. That was not particularly for you, but it is a problem that has come up.

Dame Anne Begg: Thank you.

Chair: I have never known the Committee to be so speechless; it was such a good presentation.

John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): It ticked all the boxes.

Chair: Thanks, Anne.

Dame Anne Begg: Thank you very much.

Prepared 14th December 2011