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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 34-64)


3 MARCH 2009

  Q34  Vice-Chairman: Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to this evidence session. We have three organisations one after the other this morning. They are Unlock Democracy, the TUC and the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Can I start by welcoming those of you from Unlock Democracy. Would you like to introduce yourselves for the record very briefly?

Ms Runswick: I am Alexandra Runswick. I am Deputy Director of Unlock Democracy.

  Mr Facey: I am Peter Facey. I am the Director of Unlock Democracy.

  Q35  Vice-Chairman: Thank you very much. We have heard in a lot of the submissions that we have received that a Parliament that does not reflect the demographic and the population at large actively discourages members from under-represented groups from seeking to participate. What evidence is there for this?

  Ms Runswick: The first thing I would want to say is that, although we do believe that, it is only one element of the things that alienate people from politics, and there are also problems around the lack of contact between political activists and the wider electorate, and also between the fact that large numbers of people simply do not understand what Parliament actually does. In terms of the specific question, the Electoral Commission did research in 2002 with Operation Black Vote, which concluded that a large number of black and minority ethnic MPs and elected officials does increase participation in politics. They also did work on gender and participation in politics and found that, where a woman was successfully elected, the turn-out among women was higher, and also that the level of women's participation in civic organisations and political campaigning was higher. One of the things we found in the research we did for our Women in the Chamber pamphlet was that one of the key prompts for women to stand for election was having seen other women in politics. So certainly we feel that there is a link between positive role models and people entering into political processes.

  Q36  Vice-Chairman: Do you find that many of the people who are in politics feel uncomfortable—I can only speak from my own experience—that they are role models? They are just getting on with the job. Is that an extra burden that those from under-represented groups have and just have to get used to?

  Ms Runswick: I think it is very hard that you do get that additional role model status. I think particularly for women who entered the House of Commons in 1997 there was that assumption that, because there was a large group of women, suddenly politics was going to change overnight, Prime Minister's Questions was going to be radically redesigned, and that they single-handedly would change British politics, and then if they did talk about what were perceived as women's issues, they were perceived as only being there because they were a woman, and if they did not speak about what were perceived to be women's issues, then they were seen as somehow letting the sisterhood down. I do think there is a pressure on elected representatives from under-represented groups to be role models and I think that is very difficult but, until there are more in public life, that pressure is going to exist.

  Q37  Vice-Chairman: So it is finding the trick to break the Catch-22.

  Ms Runswick: Yes.

  Q38  Mr Dhanda: Peter, it is good to see you again. Your submission talks about the key to unlocking better representation being growing and bigger party membership of all of the parties.

  Mr Facey: Yes.

  Q39  Mr Dhanda: Is that not a bit of a cop-out at a time when we are seeing declining membership of political parties? How do we actually arrest that slide in the first place?

  Mr Facey: You talked about the actual slide. We recognise it is going to be very difficult. The trend has been going on since the 1950s. Every decade political parties get smaller. The common statistic is that there are now two members of the RSPB for every single member of a political party in the United Kingdom. In fact, it may even be now three members of the RSPB.[1] I think there are a number of things which can be done. Firstly, the political parties themselves have to take responsibility in terms of finding new ways to engage with people but we cannot simply say that political parties alone can deal with the problem. If they could deal with the problem, they probably would already have dealt with it by now. We need to look at the way in which political parties are funded, questions around whether we can introduce incentives for political parties to engage with people to actually incentivise membership. The Electoral Commission's recommendation in 2004 was for introducing small amounts of money from matched funding so that parties would actually have an incentive in encouraging people to be members of political parties. We can also look at the question of volunteering. This Government has done a lot about incentivising volunteering, whole programmes, but the one area of volunteering which it is silent on is actually volunteering with political parties. If you think volunteering is good for society, actually also good for society would be members of political parties, so when we do volunteering programmes, political parties need to be brought into the fold—not because they are exceptional but because they are part of the mix. We have to break down what has happened now, which is a perception that political parties are somehow not in the public interest, and that has seeped into the whole of the way society is. We need to actually deal with that. The final thing I would say is that there are some changes to the actual electoral system itself we should do which could help that as well, in terms of giving the impression to people that they can actually change things. Where I live, to be honest, if you want to influence things, the only political party you could really join to influence things is the Conservative Party because they have been in charge of that constituency and that council for a very long time and they are likely to be so. Therefore, having a more competitive electoral system may mean that people who do not share that particular political view would actually become involved in that constituency. The same would be in different constituencies in different parts of the country.

  Q40  Mr Dhanda: Rather than changing the actual electoral system, in terms of shifting the focus and moving away from that cynicism, what is actually broken out there at the moment? You say yourself that there are more people volunteering, there is more being done to encourage that, there is more going on in our schools around citizenship, yet at the same time we are seeing that downward slide. What is actually broken? What can we change at that level to make a difference?

  Mr Facey: All those things which happen, if you get involved in any of them, there is never a mention of a political party being part of that. If you look at the government programmes on volunteering, you cannot be engaged in it if you are a political party. You cannot, as a political party, go to one of the government's programmes and say, "Actually, we want to advertise our volunteers" because it is seen that that is a political activity and not a voluntary activity. It is the same in schools. In terms of political parties being talked about as institutions which are important for our democracy and talking about the pros and cons of being a member, none of that is actually done. There is lots of stuff about being active in society but it is as if the activity excludes political parties. I used to run the British Youth Council and we used to be regularly asked to give exchange programmes, and I used to get lots of requests from Eastern European countries for young politicians, people involved in politics in their countries, to meet people. I could not offer them political activists from Britain. I was not allowed by the way the programme was run in Britain. I had to offer them the Scouts. I have nothing against the Scouts but the organisations in Poland I was being asked to match up wanted to meet people who were active in politics and from different perspectives in politics, and I could not ring up Conservative Future because I was not allowed to. I could not ring up Young Labour. The funding we had did not include them. That is an example that political parties are not seen to be part of civil society. We need to change that by bringing them in, recognising that political parties are voluntary organisations, and we need to celebrate that. That means politicians celebrating it but the rest of society ought to celebrate it.

  Q41  Anne Main: Can I just take you back to what you were saying about political parties should be encouraged or forced to engage more with the local people. I find that an interesting concept. Then you moved on and said in your area the only party you could get involved with is the Conservatives because you could not affect change. Could I just ask you to evaluate those two statements. Speaking as someone who is in a political party and knowing how hard it is to get those leaflets through the door, believe me, we want members. We all want members, of whatever political persuasion. Do you think there may be some sort of mismatch between your statement, actually thinking you make change by being part of the change, and you seemed to indicate otherwise?

  Mr Facey: Absolutely. There are two separate things. One is that at the moment, in the system which we actually have, we need to encourage political parties to engage more people and we need to make sure that there are ways in which political parties have an incentive for bringing people in as members.

  Q42  Anne Main: I do not know what you mean by that. We all send out hundreds of letters, I am sure, saying: "Please join the Conservatives, the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrat Party."

  Mr Facey: Let me give you an example. At the moment, if you live in a non-target seat for any of the political parties, the party will not spend a lot of time or money in trying to recruit people in those areas, because in some cases there may only be five people in that political party.

  Q43  Anne Main: It is up to the local association to be active on the ground.

  Mr Facey: If the local association is dead, which in some places in all political parties they are, how do you actually do that? The centre does not have any interest in doing it because from the point of view of the centre, it wants members, yes, but it wants money and activists predominantly in the marginal constituencies. Also, because of the way in which our funding system works, it is better for the party to bring in higher donors than it is the smaller ones.

  Q44  Anne Main: What proof do you have of that? On a local level, the association that raises money locally, the money stays local. If someone joins nationally, that is where the money goes. For the local area to effect the change, if I am a Conservative and I am surrounded by Liberal Democrats and Labour, as a Conservative, I have to band together with other Conservatives.

  Mr Facey: You have an incentive in terms of being a local Conservative activist. We did some work looking at local parties in terms of looking at urban seats, and we found a number of seats where you had the total membership of a political party in the constituency of about 100, including the party which actually held that seat, and the opposition. The ability of that now to expand out in the way which you are talking about is very difficult. There are other constituencies which are very good at attracting people and engaging them. I think that there is a systemic problem in terms of, we know that we have a shrinking membership, we know that that trend has been ongoing, we know that the fact that lots of people in terms of parties do not feel that there is an incentive to join a political party, and I also know from talking to political activists that there is not an incentive to actually recruit people in lots of places, and a feeling that people will not joint a party, so we need to try and break that. There is also the question that you join a political party to change things. If you live in a safe seat and you are in opposition, it is more difficult to get people to join. For instance, a constituency near me, in East Cambridgeshire, at the last election the Conservative Party won the council before the election happened because there were not enough candidates standing. It was a simple fact that there were not enough people in all the opposition parties.

  Q45  Anne Main: Is that the problem of the parties or is that the apathy of the local people who cannot be bothered to get out and say "I believe in change"? If so, why have they got that apathetic?

  Mr Facey: I think there is a problem in a political system where you go into an election knowing you are going to lose, not because of anything you do but because of the way the system is. As long as you have places which are one-party states ... You can look at it across the spectrum. Take any one-party state in terms of local council areas and look at the opposition, and it is very difficult to find in those places active political parties. You do not get involved in a political party if all you are going to be doing is fighting an election and losing. You may get 40 per cent of the vote but if you are not going to actually win, it is very soul-destroying for anybody in any party. The evidence is on the ground. In Scotland, when they changed the electoral system to one at a local government election where people have a realistic chance of this, there was not a single seat in the Scottish local government elections which was not contested, whereas in England there were whole swathes of local council seats which were not contested last time, and where a party simply won by putting up a candidate. For me, the answer to that is that there is a problem with the electoral system. I am not saying it is the only problem in this. There are lots of other things but you cannot get away from the fact that an electoral system which is based on effectively a polarity winning is in some ways bad for competition. If there is not decent competition, people will not get engaged if they are serious about wanting to change things.

  Q46  Mr Mahmood: My question is about the incentives that have been taken away from members. When I first jointed the Labour Party you could go on to a community health council, it was encouraged for you, as a Labour Party member, to join one of the health trusts or groups that were there, to be a JP, a nomination from the Labour Party regularly came up to be a school governor. A lot of those things are now frowned upon if you are a party member to be taking part in those activities. Do you think that has had an effect?

  Mr Facey: Yes. If you now want to get on to a public body, if you want to advance that side of your life, the best thing you can do is not join a political party. Standing up in lots of places and saying "I'm a political activist" does not actually help you win friends and influence people. This is what I mean by going back to the idea of celebrating. We will always have examples, and there are plenty in the press, of people who join politics because of their own interests. The reality is that most people who are involved in political parties across the spectrum are there because they care about their community, and we need to celebrate them as local champions in the same way we celebrate somebody who helps in old people's homes. I would love to see when we have a volunteering award that somebody who has spent the last 20 years campaigning for the Conservative Party, delivering leaflets, organising things, is celebrated as a local champion, not regarded as a local pariah or somebody who is self-serving, and the same for somebody in the Labour Party.

  Q47  Mrs Cryer: To take up that last point, do you think that some of the very negative publicity that has been given over the past two years to Members of Parliament may have affected the electorate to the point where they perhaps do not bother to vote, but more, what we are looking at today, that they do not bother to join any of the parties, and even more to the point now, that they do not want to put their name forward for elected office because they are afraid that their private life, for instance, may come under a microscope, which could be particularly hurtful, I think, possibly more to women than to men. Do you think the press possibly have something to answer for in these areas?

  Ms Runswick: I think there is actually a bigger underlying problem, and that is that there is so little contact for most people between political activists and non-political activists, that people do not have a real sense either of what being a member of a political party is like or of what elected officials do. Partly you are right, that there is a misrepresentation in the press about what MPs do, what the job is, and the focus on expenses, for example, lots about second homes. There is no acknowledgement that actually, if your constituency is in Glasgow and your job is in London, then obviously there does need to be some kind of residence for you in both. So I do think that partly the level of discussion in the media is a problem but I think the bigger issue is a lack of understanding about political activism. We as an organisation rely on interns, and all the interns that apply to us are young, intelligent, politically interested, often they have done politics degrees, and we always ask them, just as a matter of interest, whether or not they are a member of a political party and what a political party would have to do to make them join. Out of the hundreds of people we have interviewed over the last few years, I can count probably on the fingers of one hand the number who have actually been members of political parties. The biggest single reason they give for not joining a political party is this belief that you have to agree with every single thing that a political party ever says or has ever done before you so much as deliver a leaflet. I discuss that with my friends who are active members of political parties and they laugh out loud at the idea that simply because you have joined you have stopped having an opinion of your own. I think there is this real chasm between those who are already politically active and those who are not, and that is what we need to bridge at a local level and why we need to encourage political activism on the ground in all constituencies and not just in target seats.

  Mr Facey: I think we also have to accept that allegations of sleaze, which have now become ... The problem with allegations of sleaze and corruption, we have done work on it, and where it is it should be rooted out, but the difficulty now is not necessarily just the reality; it is the perception, and the perception is becoming systemic. I go to parties at home with people who are not political and I will hear people say, "I won't join politics because they're all corrupt. They're all in it for themselves." We have to tackle that now. I do not think that is an excuse for Parliament basically reintroducing secrecy so that these things do not come out but I think we do actually need to try to tackle that problem. How you do that, how you get the press to do their side of it and you get Parliament to reform itself, is a very difficult thing. If we do not do it, all I do know is it will get worse, because changing a perception in some ways is more difficult than changing a reality, and if we are not careful, we are going to get into a self-fulfilling situation where people think that politics is corrupt and sleazy and therefore they do not get involved in politics, when actually, the reality is our politics is on the whole extremely clean.

  Q48  Anne Main: You suggested in your submission that party funding should perhaps be used to incentivise local party activity. How far are you prepared to take that concept given that it is considered to be quite expensive to be a candidate? Many people are candidates for years prior to getting elected. Would you be, for example, prepared to overcome the economic barriers for some people to candidacy with party funding?

  Mr Facey: Let us be clear. If you look at the last period of time, the last Parliament, 1987-2005, the number of people who were classified as manual workers who were Members of Parliament halved. Politics is becoming more middle class in terms of the background of people who are actually in politics. That is not me getting at the middle class. By definition, I am somebody who is middle class, from my background, so I am not here banging a drum. We have a real problem in terms of the cost of becoming a candidate. One Conservative MP, who I will not mention, said that to become a candidate he had to give up a £70,000 job and move to the constituency to actually do it. He was lucky enough that he had a very well paid wife; he was in a position in which he could economically do that. I think we have to recognise that, if we are going to ensure that anybody can access it, we have to try and do something about some of the economic barriers. This could be very difficult. I am not saying it is easy. I think particularly there may be things we could do around child care issues for people who are candidates, and changes in terms of giving parties grants which they could use to target themselves. I do not think you could have a centralised body—

  Q49  Anne Main: Would that be means-tested? You have just mentioned an undisclosed wealthy candidate. Would you expect all candidates to be able to access this?

  Mr Facey: I actually do not think you could have a centralised system which was administered by something like the Electoral Commission which applied the same way to the Conservative Party as it did to the Green Party or the Labour Party. If we are going to go down the—

  Q50  Anne Main: Different for different parties?

  Mr Facey: We have always said that, when looking at these issues, you have to respect the culture of the political party in which they operate. You cannot necessarily have the same system operating in the Conservative Party as in the Labour Party. Their cultures are different, their political philosophies are different, and they need to be respected.

  Q51  Anne Main: Is that because you are assuming that all candidates for the Conservative Party have wealth and all candidates for the Green Party or the Labour Party are not wealthy?

  Mr Facey: Absolutely not. I know of plenty of poor Conservatives. Absolutely not.

  Q52  Anne Main: So what are you saying? I am really struggling here.

  Mr Facey: Let us take the example of all-women shortlists. I do not think you could say all-women shortlists should have to be applied to the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats.

  Q53  Anne Main: I was not talking about all-women shortlists. I was talking about funding of local candidates.

  Mr Facey: Which is why I am saying what I would see is a situation where you gave grants to political parties to administer themselves, to work out how they would actually target things, and it may be as simple as, already local councils give people with child care—

  Q54  Anne Main: Who is giving the grant?

  Mr Facey: Ultimately, it would have to be the taxpayer. It is not going to be anybody else.

  Q55  Anne Main: So the taxpayer is going to give grants to try and fund certain parties but not all?

  Mr Facey: No, it would go to all parties. If you are going to introduce any system, it would have to apply equally across the political spectrum. You cannot simply say these parties are worthy and these are not. That is not my job to do.

  Q56  Anne Main: I thought you just did actually, about three minutes ago.

  Mr Facey: I believe that is a misunderstanding on your part. I have no interest in saying these parties are good and these parties are bad in terms of it. I know plenty of candidates in all parties who find it difficult to be candidates because of their circumstances, because they may have small children, they may not actually be able to move to places.

  Q57  Anne Main: So are you suggesting a means tested candidacy, that if you were below a certain level of wealth, and you might be lucky enough to have an other half who is wealthy—I do not know where that comes in the system—a means tested version of candidacy so that people who have less access to funds of whatever sort could access this?

  Mr Facey: No, I am saying that it is something we should explore. If we want to tackle the fact that, basically, politics is becoming out of reach to certain people, we have to look at that issue. I am not saying it is easy. Nobody has come up with a mechanism to do it but if we do not do that, or something along those lines, we have to recognise that you are going to exclude people from becoming candidates, not because when they are an MP they get support, yes, or when they become a councillor they get support, but they may not ever get to the starting point because they cannot sort out their child care issues.

  Q58  Anne Main: Do you have any statistics or any surveys that you could let us see, to show that people would have become an MP but they could not afford to be a candidate?

  Mr Facey: No. As far as I am aware, nobody has done the research. If the Speaker's Conference would actually like to do the research ... I think one of the big issues is there is already evidence to show—and I have quoted a statistic—that there is a decline in people who, on the basis of Parliament representing people from diverse economic backgrounds as well as racial, social, etc. If we are going to deal with that, we need to understand the causes of that. I think one of the causes is, if you have a small family, like myself, and you cannot move to a constituency where you can actually win because it is a seat for your party, you may therefore also have to fight a seat for four or five years. In my present family circumstances, I could not consider doing that because I could not actually give up the time to do it. At the moment in my life I do not want to do that but there are lots of people who would be in my circumstances—and I am not particularly poor. I am not holding out the poor basket for myself. I am just saying that I have two small children, I have a wife who has decided not to work, and I could not actually pick my family up and move to a constituency across the country.

  Q59  Anne Main: Therefore, is the problem the unreasonableness—and I put that in inverted commas—of local associations, who expect to have a large chunk of your life for free for three, four, five years, or maybe even rolling over to the next election if you have eroded that majority? Is it that unreasonableness and does the public know about this? I do not know that many do. Is it that unreasonableness or is it the fact that actually it is a necessity and therefore it must be funded by the public purse, as you are implying?

  Mr Facey: You can say it is unreasonable. I think the difficulty is, if you go to a political—

  Q60  Anne Main: I am not suggesting it. Is it? Do you think it is unreasonable?

  Mr Facey: I think, given the circumstances which parties face, that actually, if it is a safe seat, I think it is probably unreasonable. If you are a party which is trying to break through, going to your candidate and asking them to be an activist, I think it is simply a reality. Whether it is reasonable or not, I think you would want an active candidate. The problem with that is the consequences of it. I am not sure we are ready to have grants to political parties to help candidates. That may be a step too far, but we have to recognise that there is a problem, and my concern at the moment is we actually need to recognise that, if we are not careful, we will have politics becoming more and more middle class, where you actually have to have, rather like American politics, a certain level of wealth to actually get into politics in the first place. In some ways, that has become an untalked about feature of our political system. If you are now going to have to say that effectively I have to be able to move to the constituency, I have to give up my job or be in a position to change my job, that I have to be able to have a second home in a place, you are automatically going to be finding it very difficult for those people who cannot do that. Are there things, if we are willing to do it, that we can do about that? Yes. Are they politically popular at the moment? Absolutely not.

  Q61  Vice-Chairman: From what you are saying, presumably political parties could take that decision themselves?

  Mr Facey: If they had the resources, yes. The problem with political parties, to be honest, is most political parties do not have the resources at the moment to actually prioritise that but if they had the resources, yes, they could do so.

  Q62  Miss Kirkbride: Mr Facey, I really do not recognise what you have just described there. We have loads of people wanting to stand for the Conservative Party, and getting a seat, and certainly one that is possibly winnable, is a dog fight, and people are prepared to do almost anything. First of all, I just wonder whether we are talking about the same thing, because the whole British public is more middle class than it used to be so I am not quite sure who you are talking about. Secondly, sitting here listening to you, I just wonder, bearing in mind the difficulties we have here in Parliament about any money being given to Members of Parliament, especially in the form of expenses, how could we possibly go to the public and say, "There is this nice man called Mr Facey, who has a wife and 2.2 children, who earns a reasonable income but the seat that he would like to win is 100 miles away from where he lives and so we are going to pay him a little stipend and his mortgage to fight the seat until the next election, and we think this is in the interests of democratic politics to do so." I just do not get it.

  Mr Facey: I actually accept that the ask would be very great. I happen to think that actually there are better ways of dealing with it, but that is a systemic thing about changing the nature of the electoral system, which I have already talked about and I am not going to come back to it. I recognise it is very difficult to do but if you are taking an idealised view, which basically says there are plenty of people out there, that there is nobody who does not fight a seat because of their economic circumstances, then I think you are being ... I would like to live in that world because I do not actually think that is the case. I am not saying that there are not plenty of people who can take that situation, but they tend to be people who are either single and therefore they can move, or they tend to be economically reasonable well off so that they can move their family to that area. If they have to go somewhere and work there for four to five years to do it, before they become an MP, then some people are not going to be able to do that because of their family circumstances. That is all I am saying, and I am saying that as well as looking at ethnicity, gender and all the other things, we should not forget this. I may come across as someone who sounds out of the 1970s left in terms of economics, but that is not my background and that is not what I am saying. What I am saying is there is a barrier here which in some ways is as real a barrier as any barriers in terms of race or gender.

  Q63  Mr Campbell: Let us change the subject. It is very interesting. I remember when the National Union of Mine Workers put me forward. I remember they wanted me to go to Ruskin College but I had a young family at the time and, unfortunately, I could not leave the family and it was going to cost money, so I could not go to Ruskin College in London at that time. That was a barrier for me at that particular time. My question is about the training of selection committees. I experienced this last year, when we had a round of unitary authorities in Northumberland and we had to pick new candidates. It was a hotch-botch job, and some of the selections were unbelievable. Some of the questions were even worse. I was not in one of them but I got the feedback of what was happening. I see you are not very happy at the quality and the training of these selection committees. Can you expand on that a little bit?

  Ms Runswick: I think there certainly does need to be more training of selection panels. We do have to recognise though that just training the selection panels themselves is never going to be enough because within a political party selection always involve the wider membership and increasingly we are moving to a system of primaries, having all-member meetings, and having an ever-increasing quorum of people involved in the selection of candidates. So although it is important that some people on the panels do have equal opportunities training, it is never just going to be about that. We also need to think about what is actually being presented as the job. One of the difficult things that many of the women faced, certainly in the pamphlet that we did, was that their skills were not recognised because it was assumed that they were not what an MP looked like, not because they had not done things that an MP does but because either the area was too industrial or too rural. There were reasons why they were not seen to look like the candidate for that area. There needs to be more within the selection process about the skills that you need both for being a political leader but also as a candidate and as an MP. I think that is one of the important things that will help to change selection processes. It is also important that parties themselves work to make sure that there is not a two-track selection siege. One of the things that many of the women who have stood as Parliamentary candidates or tried to stand as Parliamentary candidates in our pamphlet spoke about was the sense that there was a "favoured sons" approach. We do not want to replace that with a "favoured daughters" approach. There needs to be a way within parties that you can actually raise issues where you feel that a selection process has not been run properly but that equally you are not then perceived as a troublemaker and you give up on any future political career because you have raised concerns about a particular selection process.

  Q64  Mr Campbell: The selection process for the MP—and we will take the Labour Party because I am not sure about the Conservatives or the Liberal Democrats but I know how it works in our party. It is everybody in the Labour Party, one member, one vote. When I went in front of mine a few years ago they were all there. Every member of the party was invited to come along and listen to what I had to say, and you got a ballot paper and voted. They could ask me questions, of course. That was right and proper but they were not trained. They were just there to vote for us or against us as the candidate for the Member of Parliament. How are we going to improve that system?

  Ms Runswick: I think there can be training for, for example, constituency chairs or people that are going to be known to be pivotal to running the selection process. There can also be, for example, if there are questions that are quite blatantly sexist or racist asked—it is not usual that it is that explicit but if they are—it needs to be clear that there is somebody there who can challenge that. Even just at the selection meeting, before everybody does their speeches or whatever the specific selection processes, it is important that there is a discussion about what you are looking for, so it is more based on the skills and experience you are looking for and less this perception of finding the right person who looks like they could be an MP.

  Vice-Chairman: Thank you. We are already well over time. We perhaps could have gone on for another hour, I suspect. Maybe you do not think that! Thank you very much anyway for coming along. The evidence you have given us will be very useful when we come to write our report.

1   Note by Witness: The current figure is 2:1. RSPB membership is 1,057,110. Combined membership of the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties is currently 476,057. Back

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