Speaker's Conference (on Parliamentary Representation) Contents

Submission from the Equality and Diversity Forum (SC-26)

  The Equality and Diversity Forum (EDF) welcomes this opportunity to respond to the Conference's request for views on this important subject. EDF is a network of national organisations committed to equal opportunities, social justice, good community relations, respect for human rights and an end to discrimination based on age, disability, gender and gender identity, race, religion or belief, and sexual orientation.

  The network has successfully built consensus and cooperation between a wide range of organisations committed to progress on equality and human rights, enabling them to improve the services and support they can offer to their members and to the general public. Since our establishment in 2002, we have played a key role in promoting an integrated equality agenda and have worked closely with Government, statutory and voluntary organisations on proposals for a single equality commission (now realised in the Equality and Human Rights Commission) and for a single equality act (the Equality Bill is due to be published later this year). We also provide the secretariat for the All Party Parliamentary Group on Equalities—chaired by the Speaker's Conference Vice-Chair Anne Begg MP.

  We very much welcome the Speaker's Conference as a much-needed step to tackle the under representation of some groups in the House of Commons. Many of the Equality and Diversity Forum's members will be submitting responses to the Conference relating to their particular area of expertise. In this response we do not address all the questions put by the Speaker's Conference, but would like to highlight a number of overarching key issues based on our experience of working across the range of discrimination grounds.

  1.  We are delighted to see that the Speaker's Conference will: "consider and make recommendations for rectifying the disparity between the representation of women, ethnic minorities and disabled people in the House of Commons and their representation in the UK population at large". This is a vital step if we are to ensure that the needs of our diverse population are fully met by our elected representatives and

overcome the obstacles that hold some groups back from participating in political decision making.

  2.  Balanced representation in parliaments, local authorities and other political roles is an important goal that helps give all citizens a fair chance of achieving influential positions. It can also help maintain the widest possible public confidence in these bodies by building a sense that they reflect the communities they exist to serve. Balanced representation is equally important to the quality of decision making. Unrepresentative bodies fail to make use of the talents of some parts of the community. A parliament that includes people from a wide range of backgrounds will be able to bring a rich diversity of experience to bear on policy and decision making, which is likely to improve its quality.

  3.  However, we are concerned that scope of the Speaker's Conference is limited. As a network of equality organisations, we are keenly aware of the need to address discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity, religion or belief, and age alongside gender, race and disability. Our LGBT members have drawn attention to the absence of visible gay and lesbian parliamentarians and strongly believe that sexual orientation should be included in the Conference's remit. They point out that this is not simply a question of ensuring there is a voice on sexual orientation in Parliament; it is also important in terms of presenting strong role models to young people and to the public in general in order to combat homophobia and stereotypes. This argument applies equally to the other areas not currently included in the Conference's remit. We therefore suggest that the remit be extended to cover the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity, religion and belief, and age, or that these grounds are included as the: "other associated matters" referred to in the announcement of inquiry on 15 December 2008.

  4.  We would also point out that, while much discrimination law relates only to gender, race and disability at present, the forthcoming Equality Bill will extend protection across the seven discrimination grounds. We recognise that Parliament is not covered by discrimination law in the same way as other public authorities. However, the announcement of a Speaker's Conference was a welcome public commitment that equality measures must extend to all sectors of society—including Parliament. Restricting the scope of the Conference to exclude some of the most marginalised groups in society would be a missed opportunity to be regretted.

  5.  Finally, we draw the Conference's attention to issues of multiple discrimination: many people are discriminated against for more than one reason or because of more than one aspect of their identity. As we said in our recent leaflet on this subject[64] "people do not simply fit into boxes as black, disabled etc. They are diverse, complex and multilayered, and sometimes they are treated badly for more than one reason." The experience of a black woman who wants to stand for Parliament is likely to be qualitatively different from that of either a black man or a white woman—although all three are likely to face barriers. It would be helpful for the Conference to consider the specific problems faced by individuals discriminated against on more than one ground. This is also, of course, an additional reason for widening the remit of the inquiry: the experiences of gay Asian parliamentary candidates are likely to be different from straight Asian candidates; older women will be treated differently to younger women who stand for parliament. There are many similar examples.

64   Information provided, not printed. Back

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