The case for widening representation
1. In the twenty-first century the UK's society is
increasingly diverse, but the composition of the House of Commons
does not reflect that society. Women, people from black and ethnic
minority (BME) communities, openly disabled people and people
who are openly lesbian, gay, bisexual or transsexual (LGBT) are
not represented in Parliament in the same proportions that appear
in wider society. We call these groups "under-represented
2. Our Conference was set up by the House of Commons.
The House asked us to look into the reasons why some groups are
under-represented. We were also asked to find ways in which people
in these groups might be better supported if they would like to
put themselves forward as candidates for Parliament.
3. There are many reasons why Parliament has been
slow to reflect wider social changes: particular seats may only
be contested seriously every ten or even twenty years. Individuals
from under-represented groups who have tried to enter Parliament
have experienced harassment, discrimination and barriers related
to their situations, for example low incomes and/or caring responsibilities.
4. Justice requires that there should be a place
within the House of Commons for all sections of society. There
would also be benefits for both Parliament and wider society if
the House of Commons represented the diversity of people's lives
in terms of race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, age
and social class.
5. A more diverse House of Commons would make better
decisions and solve problems more effectively, because it would
be able to draw upon a wider range of experiences and insights
when examining the Government's actions and its proposals for
6. At present, few people think that Members of Parliament
understand, or share, the life experiences of the people they
represent (their constituents). Building and restoring public
faith in Parliament is of crucial importance to the future of
our democracy. Making Parliament more diverse is one way to restore
a dialogue between Parliament and those whom it represents.
Citizenship and engagement
7. In recent years there has been a marked decline
in the number of people voting at elections. Many people feel
disengaged from party politics. In spite of this, a substantial
number of people are interested in becoming more politically active,
if it is made possible for them to be so. People told us that
they recognised the importance of Parliament's work and they wanted
to know how they could contribute to it.
IMPROVEMENTS IN EDUCATION
8. Changes to the teaching of politics in schools
could increase understanding of the formal political process.
We have asked the Government to work with headteachers and the
schools inspectorate, Ofsted, to ensure that the teaching of politics
in citizenship classes is done effectively. We have also invited
the authorities in the devolved administrations to consider a
similar approach in the relevant curriculum areas.
9. There is also a demand from adults for information
on how to participate effectively in society. In the past this
information would have been passed on through churches, trades
unions or adult education colleges, but these organisations no
longer have as strong a role in communities as they did in the
past. We have asked the Government to do more to support youth
and community citizenship engagement programmes. We have asked
it to consider giving support to organisations such as housing
associations and third sector organisations which help to educate
adults about citizenship.
The importance of political parties
10. Political parties are not perfect organisations
but they are essential for our democracy to work effectively.
Without the support of political parties it would be difficult
for individual Members of Parliament to organise themselves effectively
for the work of ensuring that the Government's proposed new laws
are proportionate, effective and accurately drafted.
11. The membership of all the main political parties
represented at Westminster is falling. Since political parties
are so important, we think that this is a significant cause for
12. Research has shown that political parties are
most effective in government if they have strong local parties
and a broad base of active supporters. Therefore we think that
it is in the interests of our political parties to work hard to
develop their local parties and associations. Active and accessible
local parties will be important if people from under-represented
groups are to get involved, to develop their skills and to be
supported on the path to becoming an MP.
MEMBERSHIP, INCOME AND ACTIVISM
13. It is important that political parties are able
to get out onto the streets, and knock on doors. Direct contact
between local party activists and the wider public has a key role
to play in challenging the current perception of corruption and
self-interest. Without such action, parties may find it increasingly
difficult to get good candidates to stand at either local or national
14. Most local political parties have very little
money. This limits their ability to produce mailings and to encourage
and organise members to help with leafleting, canvassing and the
development of party policy.
15. A report by Alexandra Runswick has argued that
small grants should be made available to local political parties
to encourage them to seek new members, and to help them involve
people more actively in the work of the local party. We have suggested
that the Government might make available to local parties a small
fixed rate grant (perhaps set at £10 per local party member).
Local parties would have to earn this money, and account for how
they spend it. We have asked the Government to consult on the
introduction of such a scheme in the first session of the 2010
16. People suggested to us various ways in which
local political parties could encourage under-represented groups
to take part:
parties should hold their meetings in venues which are accessible
to disabled people and are not intimidating;
parties should try to hold their meetings at times when people
with caring responsibilities find it easier to attend;
parties should try to minimise their formal procedure and look
to increase the number of social events held, debates and talks;
parties should be ready to listen to the opinions of new joiners,
and to try to answer difficult questions; and
parties should be ready to offer new joiners specific roles in
campaigning, canvassing or managing party communications.
17. We have asked each national political party to
draw up an action plan to support the development of local parties.
We have asked the parties to make clear what actions they want
local parties to take to promote diversity, and to offer incentives
to local parties which take on this challenge.
18. We have asked all the political parties to appoint
community champions for women, and people from BME and LGBT communities,
and disabled people. We have asked them to consider the development
of formal strategies for talent spotting within parties and within
the wider community.
What is an MP, and how do you become one?
19. A good MP will make a positive difference to
the community he or she represents. An MP can express the concerns
of their community to Parliament and ensure people's experiences
are recorded and understood. An MP will bring their knowledge
and understanding of their constituents' lives, concerns and interests,
as well as their own life experience, to bear on their work.
20. It is a modern requirement of the MP's job that
a Member has an office both at the House of Commons in Westminster
and in the constituency. There is a strong public expectation
that when not required at Westminster Members will actively participate
in the life of the constituency, including at weekends.
A JOB DESCRIPTION
21. There is no formally accepted job description
for the work of an MP. We think that the lack of transparency
about what an MP does is not helpful. We have recommended that
a description of the main functions of a Member of Parliament
should be drawn up, agreed between the political parties and published.
We have also said that information about the terms and conditions
under which MPs work needs to be drawn together and published.
BEING A CANDIDATE
22. Each political party looks for candidates who
have a range of skills. These can include:
able to communicate effectively,
able to plan and campaign effectively;
able to work with people and organisations from a wide range of
able to manage staff, budgets and time;
able to solve problems; and,
evidence of experience outside the political party which would
help the person to be an effective MP.
THE REALITY OF CANDIDACY
23. The choice of prospective parliamentary candidates
rests with the local political parties. We heard a number of arguments
about the reasons why local parties tend to select white, male,
apparently non-disabled, middle-class candidates. These included:
there are not enough candidates from other groups (for example
women, disabled people) coming forward;
will naturally choose people who appear to be like themselves;
there is strong competition for a seat, a party will choose whichever
candidate it thinks has the best chance of winning; but,
· If a
party considers a seat to be 'safe' (one they are very likely
to win) it will tend to choose someone who 'looks like' an MP:
if most MPs are white males, this approach would lead to more
white males being selected; and
will tend to choose someone whom they think will appeal to voters
in the constituency.
A NARROWER PATH INTO POLITICS?
24. We have heard concerns that people who wish to
become an MP increasingly have to follow a particular career path
in order to achieve their goal. People who have followed this
path tend to have a degree from a leading university. They may
have worked for the political party previously, either as a local
councillor or as a paid researcher or adviser to the political
party or to an MP.
25. We think it is important that there is no single
route into politics which is accessible only to a privileged few.
We have recommended that the routes by which future MPs come into
Parliament should be monitored, and information about their career
paths should be published. We have also suggested that political
party leaders should challenge stereotypes of what makes an effective
MP or Minister: they should do this by ensuring that MPs from
all backgrounds and communities are able to demonstrate their
skills in important roles, either within Government or within
Barriers to selection
26. 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.
barriers can deter people from these groups from putting themselves
forward to be selected; and
barriers can stop people from under-represented groups being selected
once they have put themselves forward.
27. For any individual a combination of both supply-side
and demand-side factors may affect his or her decision as to whether
SUPPLY SIDE BARRIERS
28. "Supply-side" barriers are those which
might prevent an individual from coming forward for selection.
The main barriers to supply are:
cost of standing for election:
relating to disability;
factors. For example, we were told 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;
pressures make it difficult for women or men with caring responsibilities
to campaign for election, or to take on the long hours which a
career in the House of Commons currently entails.
of support leading to lack of confidence;
of aspiration: and
culture of Parliament.
29. In recent years the demand-side has been seen
as the greater problem to be overcome. On some occasions there
is clear and direct hostility to a candidate on grounds of their
gender, background or personal circumstances. Behaviour at selection
panels which discriminates against candidates on grounds of their
sex, background or personal circumstances can never be justified.
30. In other cases, people from under-represented
groups may experience indirect discrimination. This may happen
when a local party believes 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 in the wider constituency and is therefore
a more risky choice.
31. Diversity awareness training can help local party
members to think about which characteristics of a person matter
to their effectiveness as a potential MP, and which characteristics
do not matter to their effectiveness. We have encouraged the political
parties to make diversity awareness training more widely available
to party members who help to select candidates for Parliament.
32. All of the leaders of the main political parties
at Westminster have spoken about the importance of diversity in
politics. It is very important that party leaders continue to
argue for equality, and to make the case within their parties
for increasing the representation of under-represented groups
33. Political parties can take certain steps to ensure
local parties select a more diverse range of candidates for Parliament.
These measures are sometimes called equality guarantees. To date,
the only party to have used an equality guarantee at Westminster
is the Labour party. The Labour party has used a type of guarantee,
called an all-women shortlist, in some constituencies. The use
of all-women shortlists by the Labour party helped it to double
women's representation from one eighth to just over one quarter
of its parliamentary party at the 1997 General Election. Political
parties are authorised to use such measures through an Act of
Parliament. This Act of Parliament is currently due to expire
in 2015 but may be extended until 2030 under the Equality Bill,
which is currently passing through Parliament.
QUOTAS FOR WOMEN
34. More than half the UK population is female. The
number of women MPs, however, is around 1 in 5 (19.5%) of the
total Commons membership. This means women's representation in
the UK is poorer than women's representation in many other countries
including: Rwanda (56.3%); Sweden (47%); Cuba (43.2%) and Denmark
A CASE FOR COMPULSORY QUOTAS?
35. Many people are uncomfortable with the idea that
a local party's choice of its parliamentary candidate might be
controlled in some way. An all-women shortlist restricts a local
party's choices because it stops the party membership from considering
any men for the position of prospective parliamentary candidate.
To date, however, the Labour party's use of all-women shortlists
has been the only measure to change the representation of women
at Westminster substantially, and quickly. We have recommended
that if the political parties do not see an increase in the representation
of women in the House of Commons 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
36. We have also recommended that legislation should
be passed to make it possible for political parties to use shortlists
which only include members of black and minority ethnic communities,
if they think it is right to do so.
37. In our earlier reports we said that it was important
for the political parties to monitor the diversity of their candidate
selections. It is also important that the results of this monitoring
should be published by each party and that the results should
be published in a common format so that each party's performance
can be compared with the performance of others.
38. We tabled amendments to the Equality Bill which
could have provided a framework for the publication of monitoring
reports by the political parties. Unfortunately there was not
enough time for our amendments to be debated in the House of Commons.
The Government has promised to bring forward equivalent amendments
for consideration by the House of Lords. We have welcomed the
fact that the leaders of the three main political parties in the
House of Commonsthe Prime Minister, David Cameron and Nick
Cleggeach told us that they were happy to publish monitoring
39. We think that it would be helpful for each political
party to set out clearly its long-term goals for achieving fair
representation, and the milestones by which it will measure its
progress. We have recommended that each political party should
publish targets for the representation of women, people from BME
communities and disabled people within its Parliamentary party
in December 2015 and December 2020. We want these targets to be
published by 2010. We also want the progress of the political
parties to be reviewed in a debate in the House of Commons in
2010, 2012 and then every two years to 2022.
Barriers to access for disabled people
40. We heard a great deal about the barriers which
face people who have experienced injury, illness or disability
who wish to take part in politics. The best way to support the
independence and inclusion of disabled people lies in tackling
the barriers that society puts in their way. This is known as
the "social model" of disability.
41. Local political parties tend to assume that disabled
people would find it difficult to get elected. They believe the
public would not vote for someone they knew was disabled. This
is known as 'referred prejudice'. Disabled people themselves often
feel that they will find it hard to make an impression. However
there is no evidence that disabled people are less likely to be
elected than others, once they get through the selection process.
THE NEED FOR MORE DISABLED ROLE MODELS
42. There is a lack of disabled role models in most
parts of public and political life. There are still many physical
and other practical barriers for disabled people, right across
the country and in all sectors, who wish to access national and
local government, and Parliament.
43. We found that local authorities, which play an
important role along the pathway to politics, do not always make
it easy for disabled people to get involved. This is despite clear
duties under disability discrimination legislation. We believe
that scarce cash-limited Access to Work fundsintended for
use by individualsshould not be used by councils to fund
their duties under the law, such as action to make reasonable
adjustments to buildings. Making such adjustments is a key part
of being a good employer and complying with the law.
POLITICAL PARTIES: CENTRAL INITIATIVES AND LOCAL
44. The key to fair chances for disabled people in
political life is access to local party meetings and events. We
found that disabled people who want to get involved in political
parties find a number of barriers in their way. This is, again,
in spite of the fact that political parties and other groups are
required by law to remove barriers and encourage disabled people
to become involved.
45. We have stated that all political parties should
make it easier for disabled people to play a full part in party
activities. The law requires them to do so. The national parties
should do this, first, by setting out a clear policy on access.
At the national level this would mean, for instance, making sure
that campaign documents are produced in Braille and other formats,
that websites are easy to use for people with sight impairments,
and that British Sign Language (BSL) interpretation or speech-to-text
technology is available at major events.
46. The national parties should also help local parties
to do more to support disabled people's involvement. The national
parties could encourage neighbouring local parties to co-operate
and make the best use of the limited money they have available.
The Labour Party Disabled Members' Group has produced guidance
on sensible and cost-effective steps which local parties can take.
We think that this guidance could be used across all political
The costs of candidacy
47. In theory it does not cost someone much to become
a parliamentary candidate. There are, however, hidden costs which
in some cases can make the process of standing for election extremely
48. We were told that many candidates have to take
unpaid leave from work, reduce their working hours or even give
up their job in order to spend time in the constituency. Many
people from under-represented groups will be disadvantaged by
these demands. Women, people from BME communities and disabled
people are more likely to be in low paid employment, in receipt
of benefits such as Incapacity Benefit or without any income.
This would also be true of working-class men. We have said that
all political parties should place a ceiling on the expenses a
candidate can incur during a single selection process.
49. Several people suggested to us that a fund, called
by one witness a "Democracy Diversity Fund", should
be set up to support local political parties in developing the
skills of talented people from under-represented groups. Part
of this fund could be used to provide bursaries to candidates
who can "show that they are strongly committed but would
struggle with the economic costs".
THE SPECIFIC COSTS OF CANDIDACY FOR DISABLED PEOPLE
50. We heard that disabled people face particularly
high financial barriers. This is because they are more likely
to be in low paid employment or in receipt of benefits and because
they would have to finance reasonable adjustments such as appropriate
transport, or BSL interpretation. We have recommended that part
of the proposed Democracy Diversity Fund should be ring-fenced
to provide support to disabled candidates for Parliament.
MEASURES TO SUPPORT CANDIDATES
51. We have also suggested that the Government might
enable all prospective parliamentary candidates to request a small
amount of unpaid leave, or a flexible working package, from their
employers so that they can spend time campaigning. Candidates
should also be allowed to take unpaid leave rather than resigning
from their jobs in the few weeks immediately before an election.
52. In the long term we would like the Government
to provide a grant from the state, equivalent to the minimum wage,
to candidates for the few weeks before an election (the period
sometimes known as the short campaign).
53. We have suggested to the political parties that
first-time candidates, in particular, would benefit from the establishment
of formal mentoring schemes and/or 'buddy systems' which can provide
pastoral support and independent advice on issues arising within
54. Many people from under-represented groups lack
the confidence to put themselves forward for election. Many of
them would benefit simply from becoming active members of a local
political party, but others would find a more structured process
55. Internships are offered by many Members. These
may be based in Westminster or in constituency offices. Internships
provide useful experience, but the number available at any one
time is limited, they may not be widely advertised and they are
often unpaid. We think that the political parties should develop
schemes to allow interested individuals to register with them,
in order to receive information about vacancies arising. We think
that this would make it easier for people to find out about, and
apply for, internships. We have also said that reasonable adjustments,
where required, should be paid for throughout any internship.
56. Mentoring provides a less intense, more flexible
route to confidence building particularly for those, for instance,
who have caring responsibilities or who are in work. We believe
that there is scope for a new national mentoring scheme to support
people who might wish to offer themselves for elected office or
membership of public bodies.
UNACCEPTABLE CONDUCT IN CAMPAIGNING
57. Campaigning should focus upon party policies,
and the effectiveness of different candidates. In some cases,
however, activists and candidates mount personal attacks on specific
candidates by commenting on, for example, their family life, their
racial background, their sexual orientation or their state of
health. Such behaviour and such comments are completely unacceptable.
We have recommended that the political parties should each draw
up a formal code of conduct for campaigning. We have asked them
to make clear that campaigning is unacceptable where it seeks
to undermine a candidate by reference to their family life, racial
background, sexual orientation, health status or disability. We
have asked them to have these codes of conduct in place in time
for the 2010 general election.
Parliament: changing the culture of an institution
What impact does an MP's job have on their
58. An MP has two roles. At Westminster the MP is
a legislator, who helps to make laws and to make sure that the
Government is working properly and effectively. The MP is also
an adviser and advocate in the constituency, who helps to give
people a voice. People expect a lot from their MP. MPs often have
to deal with heavy workloads and they often work into the evening
and during the weekend. This makes it difficult for Members to
spend regular time with their partners and families either during
the week or at weekends. This is a particular concern both to
Members and to potential candidates who are parents of young children.
59. Some MPs make their family home in the constituency.
This means that in many cases children will not see one of their
parents at all between Monday morning and Thursday evening. Others
keep their family home in London, to make the best of any chances
for family time during the working week. For many MPs the effort
to find family time either during the week or at weekends means
moving the whole family between London and the constituency on
a regular basis.
60. In the past year a number of changes have been
suggested, or made, to the ways in which the House of Commons
operates. If the changes which are being made to the House and
to Members' conditions worsen the impact of an MP's job upon the
family, it will become harder for many parents to decide that
they want to be an MP. But it is very important that there are
MPs who are parents. This is because parentsincluding single
parents and parents of young childrenoften have direct
current experience of how our education, health and support services
are working. This knowledge helps the House of Commons effectively
to challenge the Government upon its performance in leading, managing
and financing these services.
61. There is currently no provision for MPs to take
maternity leave. It is difficult to arrange maternity leave for
MPs because a Member of Parliament is appointed directly by his
or her constituents to vote on their behalf in Parliament. A Member's
vote cannot formally be transferred to any other person except
by the Member's resignation from office or by a general election.
62. MPs are also not currently entitled to Statutory
Maternity Leave. This is because MPs are considered to be self-employed,
and maternity leave is only available to women who are employed
by someone else. It is up to the political parties to arrange
support for their Members who have caring responsibilities. This
responsibility is carried out by the party whips (the business
managers), who have to ensure enough Members are present in the
House, and on official groups and committees, for decisions to
63. We found that the party whips were generally
supportive of Members' needs for caring leave. Yet the fact that
the parties all operated on a 'case by case' basis led us to believe
that maternity, paternity and caring leave is an issue which all
three main parliamentary parties have as yet failed to take fully
seriously. We have asked each Parliamentary party to draw up a
formal statement of policy on maternity, paternity and caring
leave. We want these statements to be agreed by party leaders,
and published, by the end of 2010.
64. We have also asked the Senior Salaries Review
Body and, when appropriate, the Independent Parliamentary Standards
Authority, to consider the introduction of formal maternity, paternity
and caring leave arrangements for MPs.
65. We have welcomed indications that a nursery is
to be provided within the Parliamentary estate. We also believe
that decisions on childcare arrangements should remain a matter
of personal choice, and those choices should be respected. We
anticipate that many Members would like to arrange childcare close
to the family home. We have therefore recommended that a scheme
should be considered to allow Members to take a proportion of
their salary in the form of childcare vouchers.
66. At present, debates are normally held in the
House of Commons Chamber until 10.00 pm on Mondays and Tuesdays,
until 7.00 pm on Wednesdays and until 6.00 pm on Thursdays. Votes
taken at the end of debates mean that Members are frequently unable
to leave Parliament until an hour after this time each day.
67. The consequence of this working pattern for Members
with families is that children regularly go three days without
seeing the Member who is their parent after the walk to school
each day, simply because of late night votes.
68. The House of Commons has recently reviewed its
working hours, but it has proved difficult to find a pattern of
working which suits everyone. It was suggested to us that the
House might defer votes (divisions) occurring in the late afternoon
and early evening on certain days, and make those decisions later.
If this were done, the 'running whip'that is, the requirement
by the parties that their Members remain close to the voting lobbies
throughout a day's sitting, in case votes are calledcould
be suspended for an agreed period. This would allow Members of
all parties who have family in London to return home and spend
some time with their children at teatime or bedtime before returning
to Parliament to vote. We have looked at the business which was
conducted at Monday and Tuesday sittings of the House in 2007-08
and 2008-09 and have found that votes were called between 4pm
and 8 pm on only half of those sitting days.
69. We have recommended that the sitting hours of
the House should again be reviewed, and voted upon by the House,
early in the new Parliament. We think that, ideally, sitting times
for the main chamber should be brought in line with what are considered
to be normal business hours. Since there are difficulties in achieving
this we have also recommended a substantial further development
of deferred voting in order to facilitate a more family-friendly
approach to sitting arrangements and unscheduled (unprogrammed)
70. The Prime Minister, Rt. Hon. Gordon Brown MP,
said that lesbian and gay MPs should be permitted to celebrate
civil partnerships within the Palace of Westminster. We recognise
that this would send a significant message of inclusion to the
LGBT community. We have recommended that the House service should
take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that such civil ceremonies
can take place within the Palace of Westminster from 2010.
71. We currently have very little information about
how many Members consider themselves to be from black and minority
ethnic communities, or from LGBT communities, or about the extent
to which Members experience impairment. However, it seems clear
that all these groups are under-represented. If numbers in these
groups were better known, and their experiences better understood,
the House might understand better what it should do to encourage
people from under-represented groups to come forward. We have
asked the House service to carry out a confidential survey of
MPs once each Parliament. We want the House service to use the
results of this survey to produce a summary report on MPs' experiences
of disability and long term health conditions. The survey might
also secure similar information about the racial background and
sexual orientation of Members.
72. We said that Parliament would be more effective,
and might be better trusted, if it included a wider representation
of groups in society. We also think that it would be helpful to
monitor whether changes in the diversity of the House have any
effect on public trust. We have recommended that there should
be an independent survey (at least once every five years) of public
attitudes to Parliament. This should look at the public's views
on diversity in Parliament, and in particular at the effectiveness
of the measures taken following this report.
Parliament, disability and the law
73. There have been two major Acts aimed at making
life better for disabled people in recent yearsthe Disability
Discrimination Acts of 1995 and 2005. Parts of this legislation
apply to Parliament. Responsibility for coordinating the House's
policy in this area lies with Corporate Diversity, a team of three
people based in the Department of Resources.
74. The House is not required by law to make "reasonable"
adjustments in, or to provide access to, parts of the Estate which
are not open to the public. Both Houses of Parliament are excluded
from the definition of a 'public authority' for the purposes of
the Disability Discrimination Act 2005. While Parliament makes
laws, an important principle of the constitution says that some
laws do not apply to it as they apply to other public bodies.
If disability discrimination law applied to Parliament, the courts
could find themselves called upon to question the actions of one
or both Houses. This could be viewed as the courts interfering
in Parliament's work.
75. The House has worked hard voluntarily to implement
the Disability Discrimination Acts. There have been a substantial
number of improvements in facilities for disabled people in Parliament
in recent years. The House authorities also provide assistance
for disabled MPs, aimed at making reasonable adjustments to the
working conditions and equipment of Members with particular needs
because of disability. This assistance covers necessary additional
continuing costs and can take the form of additional staff, necessary
equipment or help with travel. The introduction of this scheme
and other improvements are welcome.
76. Parts of the Parliamentary estate are hundreds
of years old. Some parts of Parliament are difficult for people
with mobility problems to get around. The layout of the Commons
Chamber, with its rigid seating, is unhelpful to wheelchair users.
When mobility problems are temporary (though sometimes long-term),
Members sometimes find it difficult to persuade the business managers
(the whips) that suitable accommodation should be provided. Facilities
for people with other impairments are developing but the design
of the buildings still presents difficulties. Facilities for individuals
using larger wheelchairs are still inadequate and some signage
needs to be improved.
77. Although it is unfair, the impression is sometimes
given that Parliament is not an easy place for disabled people
to work. The perception may not be the same as the reality, but
when disabled people come to consider becoming a candidate, the
perception is extremely important.
78. Above all, we see 'reasonable' adjustments for
disabled Members as a right, not a privilege. We have stated that
the House should openly and clearly accept its responsibility
to provide the support needed to enable disabled Members to do
their job. It should do this by publishing a formal statement
of the support to which disabled Members of Parliament are entitled
from the House of Commons.
79. Parliament already publishes a clear and helpful
booklet of information for "Members of both Houses and pass
holders escorting visitors with disabilities". Something
similar could be produced to cover other aspects of the working
lives of Members. It is important that disabled Members, and every
potential disabled candidate, should have all the information
80. Funding can be a problem for disabled MPs, as
it is for disabled candidates. The current discussions about parliamentary
allowances should take account of the need to reduce the barriers
to disabled people who wish to become MPs. There should also be
better provision made to assist disabled MPs to serve their constituents
well, for instance through provision of BSL interpreters for surgeries.
The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) is to
take over responsibility for the determination and payment of
allowances from the House and decisions about reforms to the level
of funding for disability assistance will be for the new authority.
We have asked the new Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority
to take this up.
81. We have recommended that the House of Commons
set up a small team, like the National Assembly for Wales Equalities
Team, to plan and monitor the House's work in promoting equality,
both in relation to Members and in relation to the public.
Attitudes to mental illness and the disqualification
82. Society's response to those who experience mental
illness can discourage such people from putting themselves forward
as candidates for Parliament. We heard that section 141 of the
Mental Health Act 1983 presents particular problems for this community.
Section 141 provides that a Member could lose his or her seat
in Parliament if detained under the Mental Health Act for a period
of six months or more. The provision has never been used.
83. There are arguments both for and against section
141. It may be said that the reason for this law is not the illness
itself but the detention of the Member by law, and the effects
this detention may have upon the Member's ability to work for
his or her constituents effectively.
84. On the other hand, the law is not consistent
or logical in its treatment of various types of illness or disorder.
If a Member suffers from serious physical illnesssay a
strokethat can leave constituents effectively un-represented
in much the same way as if a Member has a serious mental disorder.
Yet there is no parallel provision to section 141 for cases of
physical illness or impairment. Many people told us that section
141 wrongly suggests that mental illness is in some way fundamentally
different in its effects from physical illness. The House, through
its medical services, can provide care and assistance for those
with mental illness, just as it can for those with physical illness.
85. We believe that section 141 of the 1983 Mental
Health Act should be repealed as soon as practicable. There should
be a review to examine whether alternative measures should be
taken to protect the interests of constituents, and the House,
when a Member becomes seriously physically or mentally ill.
Aggression in Parliamentary culture
86. Many people see Parliament as an aggressive place
where people are often shouting and jeering at each other. This
view of Parliament is said by many people to put them off the
idea of becoming an MP. In fact, most of the time the House of
Commons is not aggressive in the way it may appear at Prime Minister's
87. We think that there is a lack of balance in media
coverage of Parliament between 'set piece' debates in the Chamber
and the less heated discussion which takes place in constructive
committee hearings and events outside the main Chamber. We have
recommended that the House of Commons Media and Communication
Service should identify new approaches which would bring these
parts of the House's work to a wider audience.
88. People in politics are frequently criticised
not for their performance but for some aspect of themselves. The
fear of personal attacks is a major deterrent to people standing
for office. It can seem that Members and candidates who come from
under-represented groups are more likely to suffer such attacks.
89. Both disabled people and members of the LGBT
communities told us of their deep concern over such attacks, which
can result from prejudice. Women told us their concerns that,
by putting themselves in the public eye as candidates, they might
open up their partners and families to unwanted media attention
and possible criticism.
90. The media is, quite properly, an independent
force in our political system. But we think it is important to
repeat the calls of others for an end to destructive reporting
of politicians' private lives which damages families, relationships
and the democratic process itself.
91. There are many practical steps which can be taken
to support the development and candidacy of individuals who are
women, or from black and ethnic minority communities or disabled
people. We are optimistic about the future of politics in this
country, provided these actions are taken. Greater transparency
about the ways in which the political parties operate will have
a key role to play. A movement to expand the local voluntary membership
of all political parties could have a very significant effect
upon public understanding of how politics works and why the work
of Parliament matters.
92. If these actions are taken now it is possible
that an MP standing in the Commons chamber in 2015 will begin
to see a House which is "fit for the 21st century".
Strong and clear leadership will be required: we welcome the commitment
and consensus which the leaders of the Labour Party, the Conservative
Party and the Liberal Democrats have demonstrated in respect of
the promotion of equality. We urge the parties, Parliament and
Government to use this opportunity well.