Speaker's Conference on Parliamentary Representation - Speaker's Conference (on Parliamentary Representation) Contents

5  Selection processes and barriers to selection

106. There are a number of reasons why individuals from under-represented groups find it harder to become MPs. Research has shown that in most cases a number of different socio-economic, political and cultural factors will combine to create a barrier to individual success.

107. If someone wishes to represent their community in Parliament, and be an MP, being selected as a local political party's official candidate (prospective parliamentary candidate, or PPC) is a virtual necessity. The formal selection process which is operated by local parties is, therefore, the first key campaign which an aspiring candidate must successfully negotiate on the road to becoming an MP. Comparatively few women, disabled people, and people from a BME and/or LGBT background are endorsed as PPCs.

Selection processes

108. Each of the political parties has its own specific selection procedures. Some parties offer local constituencies a choice of procedures, while other parties carry out all selections by a single procedure. The most common features, and types, of party selection process are:

·  An initial assessment of an individual's skills and competencies before the party will approve the person as suitable to be considered as a potential MP;

·  Application to a constituency by job application form or CV;

·  'Long-listing' and 'short-listing';

·  Presentation to, and interview by, a meeting of the local party;

·  Selection by all-women shortlist;

·  A 'primary' process—either closed (for party members only); open (for any interested person to attend) or full postal (opportunity extended to all local voters);

·  Interview and assessment by a panel of local party members or local community representatives.

Barriers to selection

109. In broad terms, it can be helpful to think about two types of reason why people from under-represented groups are not more successful in being selected as parliamentary candidates:

·  supply-side barriers can deter people from these groups from putting themselves forward to be selected; and

·  demand-side barriers can stop people from under-represented groups being selected once they have put themselves forward.

For any individual a combination of both supply-side and demand-side factors may affect his or her decision as to whether to stand.


110. "Supply-side" barriers are those which might prevent an individual from coming forward for selection. The main barriers to supply are:

·  Cost: we received a variety of cost estimates from official and unofficial sources ranging from less than £1,000 for the formal costs of attending selection panels up to £42,000, once loss of earnings and residential costs linked to the campaign are taken into account, for the total cost of competing for selection and subsequent election over an electoral cycle.[79] We were reminded by the Hansard Society that financial barriers impact on women more greatly than men due to the gender pay gap, the fact that women are more likely to work in lower paid sectors of the economy, and also because they are more likely to have caring responsibilities towards children or other relatives.[80] The TUC highlighted further that BME communities and disabled people are also on average amongst the least well-off sections of society.[81]

·  Social class was another factor that was identified by Unison, and others, as being crucial in relation to under-representation.[82] In particular, individuals from working class backgrounds were viewed as less likely to have access to the financial resources, networks and training that is available to others.

·  Cultural factors may combine with financial and other difficulties to create multiple barriers for some individuals. For example, the National Muslim Women's Advisory Group told us that women from BME communities, who are more likely to be on low incomes than some other candidates, can also face sexual discrimination and cultural prejudice within their own community if they put themselves forward for election;[83] the Fatima Women's Network similarly identified a need for BME women to have "a very high level of courage" to face down such social pressures. [84]

·  Time pressures: the Fabian Society told us that "the time demands—campaigning across the country to show keenness—demand a professional job, and make little allowance for family commitments".[85] The Women Liberal Democrats noted that none of the party's female MPs have childcare responsibilities and called for more support for mothers who are seeking to stand for election.[86] The Youth Parliament called for lessons to be learned from the Scottish Parliament and National Assembly for Wales, where crèche facilities are available and there is an emphasis on family-friendly working hours.[87]

·  Lack of support: many witnesses added that under-represented groups are less likely to have access to the networks, training, role models and support that are essential for aspiring MPs.[88] This, in turn can lead to

·  Lack of confidence: research carried out by the National Federation of Women's Institutes revealed that lack of confidence was the main reason given by women who said that they would not stand for public office. The General Secretary of the Labour Party, Ray Collins, stated that people from under-represented groups are also more likely to under-value their own skills.[89]

·  Lack of aspiration: individuals from under-represented groups, who currently see few role models in the House of Commons, may see more disadvantages than advantages in the prospect of a parliamentary career. We were told that polls of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered communities demonstrated a "legacy of expectation of discrimination"[90]; similarly it was reported that "a lot of people from minorities can't see themselves getting anywhere with politics so they don't want to give up their jobs to pursue it".[91]

·  Parliamentary culture: we were told that the confrontational style of "yah-boo" politics which is strongly associated with the House of Commons is particularly off-putting to many women.[92] We also received testimony that the sitting hours of the House are problematic for the parents of young children; they would also be difficult for those caring for other dependents.[93]

111. In many cases, these issues will combine to form multiple barriers or disincentives to a person who is considering putting themselves forward as a potential parliamentary candidate. The Equality and Diversity Forum referred to the problem of "multiple discrimination" for individuals who face a range of barriers due to being, for example, gay and Asian or working class and black. The Fabian Society called for more to be done to gain a better understanding of these challenges:

    more attention is needed to [determine] how chances are distributed within the group of aspiring BME candidates and women candidates, and the importance of how class, gender, race and disability interact.[94]

Strategies to address supply-side barriers, including the specific barriers experienced by disabled people, are considered in the chapter below.


112. In recent years the demand-side has been viewed by academics and organisations such as the Fawcett Society as the greater problem to be overcome. The Fawcett Society expressed concern that "direct and indirect discriminatory practices by the political parties are going unchecked":[95] the people who choose candidates, the "selectorates", in general appear reluctant to appoint individuals from under-represented groups, and the bias against them strengthens where a seat is considered by the party to be "winnable". We received considerable evidence to suggest that local selectorates, thinkingly or unthinkingly, still tend to prefer the candidate who meets the 'white male, middle-aged, middle-class' norm.[96] At the 2005 general election this tendency contributed to a situation where "the electorate were faced with an all male candidate list in 300 of 646 constituencies as none of the major political parties had fielded a woman."[97] We have not seen an equivalent analysis for other under-represented groups in 2005, but it would appear likely that the incidence of non-representation for people from the BME and LGBT communities and for disabled people would be higher still.

Direct discrimination

113. On some occasions there is clear and direct hostility to a candidate on grounds of their gender, background or personal circumstances. Research carried out in 2002 about the experiences of women candidates at selections reported

    numerous examples of discrimination including:

·  Being told that the constituency was "not ready for a woman";

·  Questions about family responsibilities being asked of women but not men during selection;

·  Women candidates being criticised for behaviour or circumstances, for example being too young, going for selection in several seats at once, not being local, when their male counterparts were not criticised in the same way;

·  Sexual harassment by party activists, including members of selection committees;

·  The existence of 'favoured sons'—candidates who benefited from high levels of support from the party nationally, or regionally and/or from key donors and supporters (including trade unions in the Labour Party). These candidates are rarely women;

·  Corruption in the selection process including CVs being 'lost', some candidates being given greater access to local membership lists and so on, again this benefited male candidates;

·  Open hostility to the idea of women in public life from some party members.[98]

Similar points were listed for us by BAME Labour about the experiences of potential candidates from black and minority ethnic communities, and there are clear records of homosexual candidates being asked repeatedly about their reasons for not being married.[99] Behaviour at selection panels which discriminates against candidates on grounds of their sex, background or personal circumstances can never be justified.

Indirect discrimination

114. Local parties are not businesses or professional organisations which recruit staff all the time: we were reminded that, particularly where a local party has had the same MP in Parliament for many years,

    local party members may have no experience of selecting a candidate (or indeed much experience of any recruitment). Their model of a successful MP will be based on the previous incumbent (usually male) and perhaps unsurprisingly they select someone similar, only younger.[100]

Discrimination in such cases is indirect, even inadvertent. The decision to fall back on 'more of the same' may also reflect a belief that a candidate who is a woman, or from an ethnic minority background, or disabled, or an open member of the LGBT communities is, in consequence of those factors, more likely to lose votes and is therefore a more risky choice.[101]

115. The grading criteria used by selection panels can also be a source of indirect discrimination. For example, selectors may set great store by a candidate's previous political activity. The Electoral Reform Society, among others, noted that female or BME candidates may be more likely to have gained comparable skills through being active within the community, but that selectors can fail to place sufficient emphasis on the value of this experience.[102] Overall, the Fatima Women's Network concluded that women and minorities "need to perform well above the average to justify their being selected".[103]

116. While the point is not often discussed openly the political parties themselves recognise the "inbuilt tendency within [local political parties] to choose white men".[104] All of the main political parties have taken steps to deal with the more blatant types of discrimination listed at paragraph 112 above: it is now common for local selection committee chairmen, or entire selection committees, to be required to attend diversity awareness training. Party officials and candidates told us that certain questions, for example about family responsibilities, are no longer allowed at hustings and CVs or application forms must be submitted without photographs or family details. The Liberal Democrats take the further step of requiring selection committees to be "constructed to reflect the electorate in the constituency in terms of geography, gender, ethnicity and age", thus reducing the likelihood that a selection decision will be influenced by prejudiced assumptions about individuals from a particular group or community.[105] These are welcome developments: the use of diversity awareness training is particularly important as anecdotal evidence suggests that in some cases similar types of direct discrimination remain, although at a much lower level. Political parties should make diversity awareness training, advice and support available to party members involved in candidate selections.

117. The parties have worked to challenge unthinking stereotypes and inadvertent discrimination through such training, and by encouraging local parties to think in a more structured way about the qualities and skills they want in a candidate. Yet training in itself does not bring a change in culture, and in some cases there remains significant resistance to the idea of a candidate who is not a white, middle-class man. Scope described this to us as a

    significant disconnect between the policy of 'central parties' and the practice applied on the ground by local parties … This is not to imply that local organisations deliberately discriminate against individuals … but is a reflection of the conditions under which they operate.

Scope recommended that

    an increasingly strategic approach is required from central parties [which is…] less concerned with the production of policy papers and more concerned with working alongside local parties to ensure the development of practices that are consistent with the ideology developed centrally.[106]

Equality rhetoric, equality promotion and equality guarantees

118. Professor Joni Lovenduski, a leading academic in the field of women and politics, divides strategies for promoting equality into three different types called equality rhetoric, equality promotion and equality guarantees:

·  Equality rhetoric is the action of parties and of party leaders in publicly talking about the importance of fair and just representation and encouraging candidates from under-represented groups to come forward;

·  Equality promotion is the action of parties to support potential candidates from under-represented groups by, for example, giving them training or financial support and also by increasing the diversity awareness of selectorates;

·  Equality guarantees "make a particular social characteristic a necessary qualification" for office, for example through all-women shortlists, 'zipping' at European elections and reserved places for BME/disabled/LGBT representatives on party groups and committees. Guarantees artificially create a demand for individuals with that social characteristic and can thus force the pace of change. [107]

The table below shows how the equality strategies operated by the three largest political parties in the House of Commons (discussed above) fall into these categories:
—   —  Equality Rhetoric —  Equality Promotion —  Equality Guarantee
—  Labour —  v—  Includes Emily's List (gender fund); Bernie's List (BME fund); Dorothy's List (LGBT fund); mentoring —  Passing of Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Act 2002; All-women shortlists operated in some constituencies
—  Conservatives —  v—  Review of selection processes; Women2win; mentoring; the 'A'-list; promotion of diversity awareness by senior party members —  X
—  Liberal Democrats —  v—  Campaign for Gender Balance; Party target agreed at conference; diversity awareness training for all selection panels —  X

119. From the table it can be seen that the only party thus far to have used an equality guarantee at Westminster, as opposed to softer equality promotion measures, is the Labour Party. The Labour Party's decision to adopt an equality guarantee through all-women shortlists is supported by the doubling of women's representation from one eighth to just over one quarter of the parliamentary party (26%) which occurred at the 1997 General Election. This compares with the Liberal Democrats who, without all-women shortlists, have increased women's representation in their parliamentary party to 16% of MPs; and the Conservatives, where women's representation has since 2001 'flatlined' at 9%.

120. As at 6 January 2010, the state of the selection processes relating to the balance between men and women in the three main parties, so far as we have been able to discern, is shown in the table below.
—  As at 06-01-2010 —  Retiring men —  Women selected —  Men selected —  Awaiting selection —  Retiring women —  Women selected —  Men selected —  Awaiting selection
—  Labour —  56 —  24 (43%) —  21 (38%)—  11 (20%) —  18 —  10 (56%) —  4 (22%)—  4 (22%)
—  Conservative —  30 —  6 (20%) —  19 (63%)—  5 (17%) —  5 —  2 (40%) —  2 (40%)—  1 (20%)
—  Liberal Democrat —  7 —  4 (57%) —  3 (43%)—  - —  - —  -—  - —  1 (notional seat)

Equality guarantees in UK law

121. At present, political parties can adopt voluntary measures that allow positive discrimination in favour of women under the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Act 2002. This can include measures such as all-women shortlists that amount, in practice, to a type of self-imposed quota. The legislative power for parties to use all-women shortlists is currently due to expire in 2015 but may be extended until 2030 under the Equality Bill, which is currently passing through Parliament.

122. There is no comparable power enabling political parties to discriminate positively in favour of aspiring candidates from other under-represented groups, including those who are disabled, or from BME or LGBT communities. Similarly, there is no legal basis on which political parties can be compelled to adopt quotas that ensure their candidates or MPs more closely reflect the broader make-up of society. The Equality Bill currently before Parliament would, however, give political parties the choice to create selection groups which gave greater weight to under-represented groups, while not permitting fully exclusive shortlists for disabled people or people from BME or LGBT communities.[108]


123. Quotas are used in many countries to tackle the global problem of women's political under-representation. A review called The Quota Project has found quotas in use in 97 out of 189 countries reviewed.[109] This research identified three main types of quota:

·  Constitutional quotas—these require a specific percentage of women to be members of the legislature under the country's constitution. There are currently 15 countries using constitutional quotas, mostly outside Europe and often in countries with newly written constitutions. Examples includes Rwanda, Serbia, Kenya, Iraq and Argentina;

·  Electoral quotas—require a specific percentage of women either to be selected as candidates or to be elected as members of the legislature under the country's electoral legislation (rather than its constitution). There are 44 countries with mandatory electoral quotas. Examples include Belgium, France, Spain, Portugal, Sudan and Pakistan;

·  Party quotas—these permit political parties voluntarily to impose some form of positive action or quota. There are 69 countries that make use of party quotas, including Italy, Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

124. Westminster's position "almost at the bottom of the league table of modern democracies" on issues of equality was commented upon as early as 1990. [110] The United Kingdom currently ranks 69th in the Inter-Parliamentary Union's league table for its overall percentage of female MPs, who make-up around 1 in 5 (19.5%) of the total Commons membership. This percentage compares unfavourably with the best performing nations: Rwanda (56.3%); Sweden (47%); Cuba (43.2%); Finland (41.5%); the Netherlands (41.3%); Argentina (40%); and Denmark (38%).

125. There is substantial evidence linking the use of quotas to increased diversity. We were told by the Centre for Women and Democracy that quotas of some kind are currently used in 83% of countries in which women comprise 30% or more of the national legislature's lower house. Quotas are used by 69% of those European political parties that have achieved, or are close to achieving, 30% women within their parliamentary delegations.

126. Thirty-five women were selected through all-women shortlists (AWS)—a form of quota—for Labour at the 1997 general election. They were not used by Labour in the 2001 election, as a consequence of a legal challenge, but following the passing of the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Act in 2002 AWS was used in 30 constituencies for Labour in 2005. This action contributed to a significant jump in the number of women elected for the Labour Party. In 1997, when AWS was first used, the number rose from 37 to 101 (from 13.7% to 24.2% of the Parliamentary party). In 2001, when AWS was not used, the number fell to 95 (23.1%). When AWS was re-introduced in 2005 the number rose again to 98 (27.5%): the majority of Labour MPs first elected in 2005 were women.[111]

127. The Labour Party believes its use of all-women shortlists to be a "crucial" factor behind the rise in number of female Labour MPs from 9.1% of the party's total in 1987, to 27.5% in 2005. The Prime Minister stated that the "under-representation of women historically, we have found, can only be addressed by all-women shortlists."[112] The party's General Secretary, Mr Collins, similarly stated:

    My wish is that we can build a much stronger consensus across the parties about the need for specific actions, and certainly I would hope that all-women shortlists would be one action that would be accepted across the board because it produces results.[113]


128. The crux of the debate on quotas is whether to make them compulsory, particularly since there has, as yet, been little objection to the proposed extension of the voluntary powers that were made available by the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Act 2002.

129. There are a small number of countries that have been successful in increasing diversity without relying upon compulsory quotas. These include Finland (where women's representation stands at 41.5%) and also Denmark (38%), which abandoned quotas in 1996. The Centre for Women and Democracy accepted that quotas are not a "panacea" but maintained that high female representation in Scandinavia is not a direct precedent. In particular, Scandinavian culture was viewed as being more open to women becoming politicians as demonstrated by the historically high level of female representation and the associated expectation of the public, who offer the final sanction of failing to vote for a party that does not have representative candidates.

130. A number of people told us that compulsory quotas would be the quickest and most effective way to redress the imbalance in women's under-representation. For instance the Director of the Centre for Women and Democracy, Nan Sloane, called for a mandatory quota system to be built temporarily into our electoral law and reviewed after each general election to consider whether it remains necessary:

    You have to make a basic choice about whether you are going to have an optional or a compulsory system … Whilst we would not say that a party quota [i.e. optional] system cannot work, because clearly it can, it can only work if all the parties engage in it and accept it and at the moment that is not the case.

131. The consultant and campaigner, Lesley Abdela, is representative of those people who view compulsory quotas as a necessary last resort when progress is otherwise slow:

    Back in 1980, I was totally opposed to any form of quotas, but after some years working on the issue of women's participation in politics in the UK and overseas I became convinced that training, lobbying and similar activities on their own are helpful but are not enough. Progress is too slow. I have seen that in country after country in Europe, Africa, Asia, and it has been documented elsewhere that other actions without some form of quota will not succeed.

132. The Chair of the Hansard Society, Peter Riddell, did not accept that compulsory quotas were appropriate in a pluralistic democracy. The Hansard Society's report, Women at the Top 2005, however, recommended that 'Government should consider introducing prescriptive rather than permissive legislation' since even with a widespread adoption of voluntary quotas "there will be only limited and incremental change and … this is unacceptable."[114]

133. The Centre for Women and Democracy added that the Westminster Parliament is now so far behind similar legislatures that progress will be impossible unless all parties are made equally responsible for achieving results. The point was made bluntly by Lesley Abdela:

    It is like waiting for fish to grow feet. More generations of excellent women will come and go, as they have over the last 90 years. [115]

134. Designing an effective mandatory quota system is important. The mandatory systems in Belgium and France have both been criticised for failing either to provide sufficiently tough sanctions against parties that do not meet the quotas or to require that women be selected specifically in winnable (rather than unwinnable) seats. The Women's National Commission warned us:

    Quotas required by law are not always successful. If the law does not specify where on the list women should be placed or how winnable a seat they should be selected for [then] parties may select women for unwinnable seats or keep them in low positions on a party list. Where the consequences of failing to abide by the law are low (for example a modest fine) parties are less likely to co-operate than where they are high (for example a party's list being declared invalid). [116]

135. The electoral law of Spain was drawn to our attention as one possible model that could be followed. Specifically, Spanish law places a duty on political parties to select 40% female candidates, 40% male candidates and a mix of either gender for the remaining 20%. Any list that does not comply with these requirements will not be accepted by the Spanish Electoral Commission. While the electoral system operating in Spain is not directly comparable to the electoral system in the United Kingdom, this model (of a 40:40:20 quota) offers greater flexibility to political parties than the rigid 50:50 quota operated in countries such as France and Belgium.


136. Witnesses who opposed the introduction of quotas primarily objected for reasons of principle rather than on practical grounds. For instance, Fay Mansell of the National Federation of Womens' Institutes cited the perception that restricting or manipulating a shortlist could prevent a proper consideration of candidates' merits, to the detriment of the successful candidate and the constituency:

    "I do not think any of us would want to be a token woman and I do not think it would be fair to foist a token woman or token anybody on the electorate."[117]

137. This "tokenism" objection has found favour among sections of the press, some current female MPs and also some of those active within political parties.

138. A further key objection was raised by the Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party, John Maples MP, who opposed compulsory quotas due to concerns that they restricted the freedom of the local party to choose the candidate who is best suited to represent the area.

139. While some people see quotas as a way for central parties to short-circuit the recruitment process and deny local party members a choice of candidates, in practice all-women shortlist selections have been carried out by UK local parties in exactly the same way as traditional or 'open' selections, in every respect other than the formal requirement that all the candidates are women. We were told that the role of the all-women shortlist is solely

    to reduce the discretion available to local party selection committees to demonstrate bias in favour of men.[118]

140. We have previously quoted the statistic that, in 2005, "the electorate were faced with an all male candidate list in 300 of 646 constituencies as none of the major political parties had fielded a woman."[119] In those contests, voters were not given any opportunity to compare the merits of a woman candidate with those of men. Selective shortlists can be useful where they open up different choices and comparisons for the selectorate and electorate. The Hansard Society also believed that anyone would be "hard pressed" to know which women MPs currently in the House of Commons were selected on the basis of All-Women shortlists[120], which arguably undercuts the proposition that women selected through such measures may be lacking in merit.


141. The willingness of all three main party leaders to give evidence to our inquiry is a significant indication that the case for just representation has moved up the political agenda in recent years. Each of the leaders expressed their personal commitment to increased diversity in the House of Commons and assured us that under their leadership the parties would do more to enable candidates from under-represented groups to come forward for election.[121]

142. We had, however, been warned that after the progress of the last 12 years the 2010 election may prove a setback for equality of representation overall in the House of Commons. This is because women's representation is very heavily weighted towards one party (the Labour Party) and if, as many opinion polls predict, there is a re-balancing of power between the different parties in 2010 more women MPs may lose their seats than will be newly elected across all three main parties to make up their numbers. It is unlikely that the number of women MPs overall will increase substantially; it may even fall.[122] While there is some reason to hope that the current very small number of BME MPs will increase, the number of disabled MPs and openly-LGBT Members is also unlikely to rise substantially after 2010.

143. If the number of women MPs in the House of Commons falls at the 2010 election it will make more pressing the need for all the main parties to be assertive in their equality policies. While each party has clearly adopted equality rhetoric—which is welcome, and important—equality promotion across the parties remains uneven and each of the parties remains wary of equality guarantees in some degree. The Prime Minister, while affirming the success of all-women shortlists for women's representation in the Labour Party, would not commit to all-black and minority ethnic shortlists, stating that "how we get to that aim [of greater representation for under-represented groups] of course is going to be different in different cases and bound to be so".[123] Mr Cameron acknowledged the difficult balancing act which the party leaders can face when trying to promote positive action, saying "if you just totally try and dictate, then you will not take the party with you".[124] Mr Clegg said that the Liberal Democrats "are not a sect where the leader says this and it happens across the country … neutering local democracy … is a tempting shortcut but I do not think it would work."[125]

144. Within our political system the freedom of local parties to choose their own candidate for Westminster is a jealously-guarded privilege: it is fair to say that the selection of a candidate is their one real power. The leadership of each of the parties has had to acknowledge this and build support for their equality policies through the mechanisms provided by each party's culture. The argument for all-women shortlists was, we were told, hard-fought at the Labour Party's conference in 1993 and following that national endorsement has been implemented carefully, in negotiation with local and regional party officials, and on a limited basis. Within the Conservative Party's "quite decentralised" culture[126] the leadership's approach has been largely negotiated constituency by constituency: as selections arise constituencies may be offered a choice of different processes—for example, a selection from the 'A-list' or a gender-balanced shortlist—and a representative from the central party will meet constituency members "to talk them through some of the issues … and explain that the issue of diversity is important for the party as a whole."[127] In the Liberal Democrats' similarly "decentralised grass roots culture"[128], we were told, the combination of nationally agreed targets and a reformed selection process is working effectively towards the initial goal of getting women candidates selected for target seats.

145. We recognise that equality guarantees do not sit easily within some political party cultures. Yet, to date, the all-women shortlist has been the only mechanism to have produced a significant step-change in representation in the House of Commons in a relatively short period of time. We were therefore interested to hear from Mr Cameron that between January and the general election in 2010 he intended to use his party's 'by-election procedure' to secure all-women shortlists from the Conservative A-List in some constituencies.[129] This short-term measure was considered as a booster for women candidates because "there are many very, very good women on [the] priority list of candidates who have not yet been selected".[130] We were also encouraged to hear from Mr Clegg that while he did not wish to take more prescriptive action for the present, he was "not theologically opposed to it", if the party's current policies in this area proved ineffective.[131]

146. We welcome the progress which each of the main parties has made over recent years towards ensuring that its local selection procedures are more professional and objective than they have been in the past. Yet the fact that, in most cases, it remains more difficult for a candidate who does not fit the "white, male, middle-class" norm to be selected, particularly if the seat is considered by their party to be winnable, means that the case for equality of representation has not yet been won. It is essential that the leadership of each of the political parties—large and small—continues to make this case in discussion with their members and activists, and also takes the measures necessary to secure progress.


147. The use of all-BME shortlists is controversial. There are questions of definition, and how the eligibility of a person to stand on an all-BME shortlist can be determined. Concerns have also been expressed that the use of all-BME shortlists could lead people to believe either that a community can only be represented effectively by one of its own members or, equally, that BME candidates should only stand in constituencies where a BME community is in the majority. Such beliefs would undermine the fundamental principle that an MP represents all his or her constituents regardless of their identity, background or political allegiance.

148. Nonetheless we note that all-women shortlists were, and to an extent remain, controversial yet have had positive effects overall. We believe that similar enabling legislation could be created to allow all-BME shortlists to be used, if and when political parties judge that their use would be reasonable, in order to achieve greater parity of representation for BME communities in the House of Commons.

149. We fully support the proposed extension of the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Act 2002 to enable the use of all-women shortlists until 2030. Equivalent enabling legislation should now be enacted to allow political parties, if they so choose, to use all-BME shortlists. Like the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Act 2002 such provision should be time-limited and should be subject to review prior to 2030.


150. There has been much interest in the Conservatives' recent use of American-style primaries for the selection of some of their candidates. Primaries open up the selection of a prospective parliamentary candidate to any interested local voter, regardless of their political allegiance.

151. We found opinions divided as to whether primaries would support the promotion of diversity. Some people we spoke to thought that the general public might have more flexible ideas than a selectorate about what makes a good MP; for this group, primaries represented an effective way to challenge preconceptions and, sometimes, to dilute bias. Others feared that candidates from under-represented groups, perhaps particularly disabled candidates, would find it more difficult to overcome prejudice in a large general meeting than they would to challenge the doubts of a selectorate which, by the time of the final selection, they might know rather well.

152. David Cameron told us that, in fact, he "[did] not think they [primaries] are necessarily the most effective weapon for making sure we have more women in Parliament, more disabled people in Parliament, or people of black and minority ethnic backgrounds. I think the primary is a very good weapon to fight a slightly different battle, which is: are we doing things that are opening up politics to people who had not previously considered it; are we involving people more in the political process…?"[132]

153. The turnout for the full postal primaries which have taken place—in Totnes (25%)[133] and in Gosport (17.8%)[134]—suggests that primaries may be helpful as a means to promote citizen engagement, particularly in 'safe seats' where voters may feel that their vote has little influence over the final outcome at a general election. It is, however, too soon to tell whether primaries will enable, or stand in the way of, the selection of a broader spectrum of parliamentary candidates.


154. All three party leaders told us that they believed that their parties would make progress towards a fairer representation of society in the 2010 election; while this progress would not be enough to create a parity of women or BME MPs, let alone disabled or openly-LGBT MPs, it was clear that the leaders looked towards a situation where "the whole process will become easier, because it will become self-reinforcing". [135]

155. It may, however, be misconceived to think that a degree of success will automatically lead to greater results in the future. It could, instead, lead to complacency among grassroots members unless they have a genuine conviction of the arguments for justice. It may prove harder to move from 30% to 40% in women's representation—and correspondingly for other groups—than it is to get from, say, 9% to 30%.

156. There is also the question about how long it takes to make such progress. The parties are currently closely focused upon the election due in 2010: yet, whether their performance in 2010 proves to be good or bad for diversity, there should be a longer-term trajectory for the parties' policies on equality. Candidate selections for the following general election will begin, for some parties, within the first twelve to eighteen months of the 2010 Parliament.[136] These selections will be equally important for securing cultural change within parties and within the House of Commons. In this context we particularly welcome the indications from the opposition party leaders that they are open-minded on the matter of equality guarantees. If the political parties fail to make significant progress on women's representation at the 2010 general election, Parliament should give serious consideration to the introduction of prescriptive quotas, ensuring that all political parties adopt some form of equality guarantee in time for the following general election.

Targets and monitoring

157. We have been told that formal monitoring can help to increase the speed of change, particularly where monitoring reports are published.

158. Since 2001 the Trades Union Congress has, every two years, published an equality audit. This monitors the diversity of trade union membership, the composition of elected bodies and trade unions, and the impact of diversity upon the unions' "campaigning priorities [and] negotiating and bargaining agenda".[137] Sarah Veale of the TUC told us that these audits have enabled the unions to "really drill-down into who is doing what, where, what background they are from, how did they get there, what obstacles stand in the way of people from different backgrounds getting in".[138] We were told that individual results which had been seen from the monitoring process over the past eight years included:

·  a focus upon diversity awareness and education of members on the aims of positive action;

·  the increased use of reserved seats for members from under-represented groups on representative bodies;

·  greater participation by women and black members; and

·  the election of more women and BME members to official positions.

159. Sarah Veale believed the discipline of publication had the benefit of pushing an organisation to act upon the issues of concern:

    if it is not going to do that [audit], … it has got justification for not doing things to make a difference[139]

160. In our first and second interim reports we set out the importance of monitoring: we have recommended that the parties publish monitoring data on the diversity of their candidate selections, in a common format which will enable each party's performance to be compared with the others and with comparable parties throughout the world.[140] Following our second interim report we tabled amendments to the Equality Bill which, if enacted, would have provided a statutory framework for the publication of such reports. Unfortunately, although our amendments were selected for consideration by the House, there was not enough time for them to be debated before the Equality Bill was sent to the House of Lords. The Solicitor General wrote to us that the Government is "committed to tabling an amendment [in the House of Lords] to make this a legal requirement".[141] We welcome this assurance.

161. As we have previously stated, we welcome the openness of all three main party leaders—Rt. Hon. Gordon Brown MP, Rt. Hon. David Cameron MP and Rt. Hon. Nick Clegg MP—to the principle of publishing monitoring data in relation to candidate selections. This is an important indication of the commitment of all three main parties to the promotion of fairer representation in Parliament. We recommend that all political parties registered under part 2 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 should be required to publish details of their candidate selections online every six months, on 31 March and 31 October, setting out, for each potential candidate at each stage of the selection process, the following information:

(a) the administrative region in which the selection took place;

(b) the method by which the candidate was selected;

(c) whether the party:

(i) currently holds the seat for which the candidate was selected; or

(ii) came second or third in the seat at the last general election within a margin of less than 5% of the votes cast; or

(iii) came second or third in the seat at the last general election within a margin of more than five per cent but less than ten per cent of the votes cast;

(d) the sex of the candidate;

(e) the ethnicity of the candidate; and

(f) whether the candidate is willing to identify as a disabled person.

The reports might also include the following information:

(a) where a candidate is willing to identify as a disabled person, the nature of the impairment;

(b) where a candidate is willing to state his or her sexual orientation, the sexual orientation of the candidate;

(c) the age of the candidate;

(d) the occupation of the candidate at the time of selection; and

(e) the highest level of the candidate's educational attainment.

162. Publishing this information would enable everyone to see what numbers of candidates are coming forward from different groups for selection. It would also allow analysts to work out how successful potential candidates from different groups are, in being selected for winnable seats; and whether there are particular points in the process at which different groups tend to fall out of the competition.


163. While monitoring in itself can help to ensure progress, it can be even more powerful when combined with targets. Gordon Brown told us that "on a like for like basis" he expected the number of women Labour MPs in Parliament "to rise to between 120 and 140 after the next election". David Cameron said that his current target is for 30% of Conservative MPs to be women after the 2010 election, but he wished to take progress "one election at a time";[142] the Liberal Democrats told us that their current target was "for at least 40% of [their] new MPs and at least 25% of [their] total MPs to be women" after the 2010 general election"[143] but Nick Clegg did not give a formal target for either 2015 or 2020.[144]

164. It has become fashionable to criticise target-setting in public services. But we believe that sensible and realistic targets can have a galvanising effect when big strides have to be made urgently towards important goals. Better representation for under-represented groups is clearly one such case. It is clear from our evidence that none of the major parties has, to date, set out either what its long-term goals are for achieving fair representation, or the milestones by which it will measure its progress. At present there are short-term goals for women's representation but no targets for the representation of disabled people or people from BME or LGBT communities.

165. Following the 2010 general election all political parties represented at Westminster should publish a statement setting out the current proportion of their Parliamentary party which is: female; from a BME community; and/or identifies as a disabled person. The statement should also set out what proportion of the Parliamentary party the national party would like to see appearing in each of these categories in December 2015 and December 2020. This statement should be published by December 2010. In December 2015 and December 2020 the parties should publish further statements setting out what progress they have made towards just representation within the parliamentary party, compared to the 2010 baseline and the percentage of each group within the UK population as a whole. These reports should also include an evaluation of the mechanisms the parties have used to secure progress.

166. Further scrutiny within the House of Commons will help to secure accountability for the parties' performance on diversity. Our Conference, unfortunately, will be unable to lead on any review since it will come to an end at the dissolution of the 2005 Parliament. We recommend that the Government should find time for a debate on the implementation of the Speaker's Conference's recommendations and progress towards just representation in the House of Commons in 2010, 2012, and every two years thereafter to 2022. We also recommend that the House of Commons should provide access from a dedicated page on the Parliament website to all published statements and reports by each party represented at Westminster on their Parliamentary party representation and candidate selections, alongside links to the reports from the Speaker's Conference.

79   Ev 27 Back

80   Ev 58 Back

81   Ev 18 Back

82   Ev 41, Ev 68 Back

83   Ev 102 Back

84   Ev 109 Back

85   Ev 118 Back

86   Ev 64 Back

87   Ev 102 Back

88   Ev 95, Ev 96 Back

89   Q245 Back

90   Q355 Back

91   Ev 31 Back

92   Ev 200 Back

93   Ev 197, Ev 222 Back

94   Ev 116 Back

95   Ev 218 Back

96   Q352 Back

97   Ev 216 Back

98   Ev 72 Back

99   Ev 147; Ev 82 Back

100   Ev 72 Back

101   Ev 169 Back

102   Ev 173 Back

103   Ev 108 Back

104   Q447 Back

105   SC74, Ev 226  Back

106   Ev 29 Back

107   Women at the Top 2005, p 25 Back

108   Equality Bill, Clause 101, [Bill 5 (2009-10)] (Bill as amended in Committee)  Back

109   The Quota Project was created by the Inter-Parliamentary Union and researched by the International IDEA and the University of Stockholm Back

110   Women at the Top 2005 Back

111   Women at the Top 2005 pp 28, 36. Back

112   Q443 Back

113   Q243 Back

114   p 98, Women at the Top 2005 Back

115   Ev 202 Back

116   Ev 74 Back

117   Q13 Back

118   Ev 86 Back

119   Ev 216 (see paragraph 111 above) Back

120   Ev 62 Back

121   Q434; Q447 Back

122   Q333 Back

123   Q443 Back

124   Q449 Back

125   Q466 Back

126   Q447 Back

127   Q451 Back

128   Q466 Back

129   Under the by-election procedure, where a seat becomes vacant only shortly before an election is expected the selection process can be speeded up by the provision of a shortlist of potential candidates to the local Conservative Association by the central party. Back

130   Q447 Back

131   Q464 Back

132   Q448 Back

133   http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/newsnight/michaelcrick/2009/08/big_turnout_in_totnes_primary.html Back

134   http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/8394458.stm Back

135   Q458 Back

136   Q465 Back

137   Ev 19 Back

138   Q76 Back

139   Q76 Back

140   Speaker's Conference (on Parliamentary Representation) Interim Report, Session 2008-09,HC 167-I

Speaker's Conference (on Parliamentary Representation) Second Interim Report, Session 2009-10, HC 63-I  Back

141   SC114 Back

142   Q458 Back

143   SC98 Back

144   Q469 Back

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