Women in the House of Commons after the 2020 election Contents

Conclusions and recommendations


1.We are concerned that Parliament is failing to be a world leader on women’s representation. The under-representation of women MPs does not only represent a serious democratic deficit; it also means that the UK is missing out on the benefits of having gender balance in its highest decision-making body. As the gatekeepers of political office, political parties are in a key position to improve the representation of women in the Commons. Some parties already have policies to help promote women to become MPs, but their current initiatives are evidently unsatisfactory since there have still only ever been the same number of women MPs as there are men in the Commons today. (Paragraph 7)

The role of Parliament in women’s inclusion and representation

2.Improving the representation of women in the Commons would allow women to have a proportionate level of participation into the laws and decision-making processes that will ultimately affect their lives and in some cases, the lives of women globally. The evidence shows that diversity helps to improve the effectiveness of decision-making bodies and increasing women’s representation is a key part of achieving this. (Paragraph 19)

3.We recommend that the Government set a domestic target of 45 per cent representation of women in Parliament and local government by 2030 in response to the United Nations indicators for Sustainable Development Goal 5.5. The Government should also set out how it plans to achieve this target, working with political parties.
(Paragraph 21)

4.A representative and inclusive House of Commons is essential for the fully effective functioning of a parliamentary democracy. The laws that are passed in the Commons affect the lives of all those living in the UK; in this respect, the House itself holds a unique responsibility to take steps towards being representative of the population. (Paragraph 26)

5.It has in the past been difficult to identify a vehicle for the House to act on this institutional responsibility. We welcome the introduction of the Commons Reference Group on Parliamentary Representation and Inclusion, and we look forward to the group making the inclusion and representation of women in the House a key priority for Parliament. (Paragraph 27)

6.The House Service should adopt a core stream of work in its public engagement and educational activities focusing on women’s participation in democracy and standing for election. This core work should be set up to function before the 2020 General Election. The House authorities should consider working in conjunction with political parties and organisations that encourage political involvement from under-represented groups to identify prospective women parliamentary candidates who could benefit from parliamentary outreach initiatives. (Paragraph 29)

7.We welcome IPSA’s intention to conduct an Equality Impact Assessment subsequent to its most recent consultation on the MPs’ Scheme of Business Costs and Expenses. We also welcome the introduction of IPSA’s new fundamental principle that the expenses scheme should take into account MPs’ diverse working arrangements and should not unduly deter people from any part of society from seeking to become a Member of Parliament. We recommend that IPSA explicitly describe in its future Equality Impact Assessments how it is upholding this principle in relation not only to new elements of the Scheme, but to elements carried over from the previous Schemes. (Paragraph 39)

Promoting women parliamentary candidates

8.We fully respect that the electorate ultimately decides who represents them in the House of Commons. However, it is political parties rather than voters that decide who stands for election, and having more women parliamentary candidates is a necessary precondition to improving the representation of women in Parliament. All of the main political parties fielded significantly less than 50 per cent women parliamentary candidates for the 2015 General Election, which undermined the equality of opportunity for women to be elected. Political parties must take greater ownership of this issue by making gender balance in candidate selection for general elections a key priority. This process needs to start earlier rather than later so that there is a strong supply of excellent prospective women parliamentary candidates from which local associations can select. (Paragraph 45)

9.We recommend that the Government should seek to introduce, in legislation in this Parliament, a statutory minimum proportion of female parliamentary candidates in general elections for each political party. While the goal is equality, we recognise the difficulty inherent in setting this statutory minimum at 50 per cent; such a precise target would be difficult to meet while also ensuring that men did not become under-represented. A minimum of 45 per cent would therefore be acceptable. The measure would need to be subject to a minimum threshold for parties contesting only a small number of constituencies. This measure should be brought into force if the number and proportion of women MPs fails to increase significantly after the 2020 General Election. (Paragraph 46)

10.Parties that fail to comply with this target need to face sanctions for the quota to be effective. The Government should consider a range of possible sanctions, which could include deductions from Policy Development Grants, confiscation of deposits in seats where female candidates have not been fielded, or legislating to extend the remit of the Electoral Commission to introduce fines for non-compliance. (Paragraph 47)

11.In light of the proposed reduction of seats in the House of Commons to 600, we recommend that political parties should publicly set out the measures they plan to take to increase the proportion and number of women parliamentary candidates in 2020. This is necessary to ensure that the previous positive trends do not stagnate or reverse. While the boundary review itself need not result in a lower proportion of women MPs, without intervention from the parties, regression may be an unintended consequence. There is no room for complacency. (Paragraph 53)

12.We recommend that the Government immediately bring into force the statutory requirement for political parties to publish their parliamentary candidate diversity data for general elections, as set out in Section 106 of the Equality Act 2010. Publication of this information is vital for public and parliamentary scrutiny of the record of political parties in selecting a diverse slate of parliamentary candidates. We also recommend that the Government bring forward legislative proposals to empower the Electoral Commission to collect and host this data, to ensure consistency and transparency from political parties. (Paragraph 58)

The role of political parties in improving women’s representation in the House of Commons

13.All political parties must accept that they have the primary responsibility for making the Commons more diverse and representative of modern Britain. Action and transparency by political parties are therefore essential in improving the gender balance of parliamentary candidates and increasing women’s representation as Members of Parliament. (Paragraph 60)

14.We are in no doubt that work on a voluntary basis to help women members of political parties is extremely valuable in getting women interested in politics and in supporting women to hold public office. We would like all political parties to adopt, fund and promote training and development programmes for their women members. This should include high-quality programmes specifically aimed at helping women become parliamentary candidates for general elections.
(Paragraph 86)

15.Political parties need to have stronger and more visible outreach initiatives to attract and engage women. As part of this, parties should give in-depth consideration of how they can further support their women’s organisations in attracting and developing prospective parliamentary candidates. (Paragraph 96)

16.We are additionally concerned that political parties should provide support for young women and women entering politics for the first time, often at local government level. There should be robust procedures in place to prevent intimidation, bullying or sexual harassment, along with actions that help ensure that their first experience of elected office is a positive one. (Paragraph 97)

17.We believe that there is no one mechanism which is the solution to ensure that women are represented equally in the House of Commons; a mixture of voluntary and institutional initiatives are required. Supply-side interventions such as training and mentoring are important for encouraging women’s participation in politics. However, the critical step of having more women elected into the House of Commons requires additional institutional initiatives and drive from political parties to select more women as parliamentary candidates. (Paragraph 98)

18.We recommend that the Government extend the time for which the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Act 2002 is in force, in order to allow political parties to use all-women shortlists beyond 2030. (Paragraph 99)

19.Party leaders need to demonstrate a clear sense of direction towards increasing women’s representation within their parliamentary parties. Party leadership must work in closer collaboration with their national decision-making bodies and local associations to deliver equality of opportunity for prospective women parliamentary candidates. Each political party needs to recognise the need to pull its weight in achieving gender equality; none of them can afford either to rest on their laurels or assume that better-performing parties will deliver an increase in women MPs by themselves. (Paragraph 106)

20.We saw little evidence of robust work being conducted within parties to analyse the likely effectiveness of different mechanisms for achieving gender balance, or to set out detailed road maps for reaching that destination. Evidence of gender inequality persisting in decision-making bodies within parties is concerning, as is the attribution of such inequality to lack of demand by women to participate. Party strategies for increasing the number of women MPs should recognise the need to achieve better representation in these internal forums, and among candidates for other types of elected office including in local government. (Paragraph 107)

21.We recommend that the Government bring forward legislative proposals to update the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Act 2002 to allow all-women shortlists for all elected mayor and police and crime commissioner posts. (Paragraph 108)

22.A key element of parties taking responsibility for increasing the number of women in the House is ensuring that women are put in positions to win. Within their overall strategies for candidate selection, all political parties should explicitly identify winnable seats and adopt ambitious targets for women candidates in those seats; 50 per cent should be the minimum. Transparency on these points would enable the public to see exactly how seriously parties take the task of increasing women’s parliamentary representation. (Paragraph 114)

22 December 2016