Submission from the Equality and Diversity
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 Equalitieschaired 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
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 societyincluding 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
"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 womanalthough 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