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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 235-257)


21 APRIL 2009

  Q235  Vice-Chairman: Thank you very much. Those of you who have been here all morning will have heard that obviously the political parties are very, very important in this whole process, and that has certainly been the trend of the evidence that we have taken so far. If we are to look at the candidates who will be put before the electorate for them to vote on, it is very much dependent on the candidates that the political parties select and, therefore, we are very pleased this morning that the representatives of the three main parties are here because we know the importance of the role that you play. Could I ask, starting with Mr Maples, whether you could introduce yourselves for the record?

  Mr Maples: John Maples. I am Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party, and my responsibility is the whole selection process of putting candidates in place for the European elections and the next general election.

  Mrs May: Theresa May. I was Chairman of the Conservative Party when some of the changes to the party selection process were introduced; I am a member of the Conservative Party's Candidates Committee, I am a member of the Priority List Panel that the party has and I am also co-founder and co-chairman of Women to Win.

  Lord Rennard: Chris Rennard. I am Chief Executive of the Liberal Democrats.

  Mr Collins: Ray Collins, General Secretary of the Labour Party.

  Ms Speight: Catherine Speight. I am Chair of the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party.

  Vice-Chairman: Angela Browning.

  Q236  Angela Browning: I am going to take it for granted that all of you agree that a House which more closely reflects the proportions of women, disabled people, black and minority ethnic people in the population would be a better House, but could you briefly update us as far as the different parties are concerned with any significant changes that have been introduced since 2005?

  Mr Maples: In pursuit of that objective we have done several things. We started by introducing a priority list of candidates, which was roughly half men and half women, and target seats had to select their candidates from that. Then, about two years later, we introduced an alternative for them, which was that they could have a look at our whole approved list. You have presumably all read the memo that we submitted which talks about these things.

  Q237  Angela Browning: Yes.

  Mr Maples: There are a thousand people on the whole list. They could have a look at the whole of that if they agreed to have 50 per cent women at each stage of the process, and we have recently piloted once, and hope to do it again soon, a selection process in which the candidates are assessed against pre-agreed criteria with the constituency. So, if it is very important to have a knowledge of education because it is a university town or something, that is something against which they will try to assess and score them and to make them give those scores after they have seen each candidate, not wait until the end of the weekend and decide who they like the best, which I think is what happens a lot of the time. We piloted that once, it went down quite well with both the candidates and the constituency and we hope to try it again. So in our actual selection processes, those are the ones that we have done. I am sorry, in the European elections, and this came up apropos Mr Blunkett's comment on regional lists, we insisted that the first vacant place in reach region behind the sitting MEPs went to a woman.

  Lord Rennard: May I start a little bit before 2005 to put it into context? We have obviously tried to accelerate our targeting policy to promote more women candidates and more BME candidates to be successful. I would say we have accelerated since 2005. Just to go back for a moment, in 1997 the Liberal Democrats elected 43 men and three women and, of course, we did find that completely unacceptable. Since then, however, I would say that we have increased our number of MPs by one-third but our number of women MPs three-fold. In other words, the number of Lib Dem MPs has gone up from 46 to 62 in those general elections, but the number of women MPs between 1997 and 2005 increased from three to ten. We did elect one BME MP in the Leicester South by-election 2004, Parmjit Singh Gill, who failed to retain his seat in 2005. I think our priority and our efforts since 2005 have, firstly, been increasing that accelerated effort, giving significant additional support to women candidates and BME candidates in winnable seats and, at the same time, a longer-term strategy based on recruiting more women candidates, providing a lot more mentoring and a lot more training as well as cash support to enhance their chances of selection and election. On the European elections, I would say that having started in 1999 a process with a PR system where, in common with most PR systems, you do get much better diversity with PR, the party adopted a zipping mechanism in 1999 so that half our top candidates were women, half our top candidates were men. We have not maintained that system since then because we have reached a point where we did not need to. We now have 11 MEPs, seven of whom are women and four of whom are men.

  Mr Collins: Again, you need to set it in context in the terms of pre 2005. The party in 1987 had 9.1 per cent women MPs. In 1997, under all-women shortlists, which is a specific measure, that doubled to 24.2 per cent, and after the 2005 election, which was when all-women shortlists were able to come back in, that rose to 28 per cent. So I would say the important tool in the Labour Party's armoury in terms of tackling this issue is all-women shortlists, but I would not say that that is the be all and end all. As you quite rightly say, our primary objective is to better reflect the people we seek to represent, but it is also about how we overcome discrimination, and all-women shortlists are a tool in that, but there are other mechanisms that we need to use. One of the things that we have done is very effective mentoring. There are a lot of women out there, in my opinion, who are more than capable of being MPs but for some reason think they are not and we need to overcome that culture, and one way is certainly in terms of mentoring, support groups. We have got Dorothy's List in terms of providing support. No doubt we will come back if you ask questions about how you do provide support and the previous evidence. Cath, I do not know if you want to add some of the other measures that we are taking.

  Ms Speight: As well as the mentoring and training we do ensure that, even in our open selections, 50 per cent of the people shortlisted are women. We also ensure that one or more BME candidate is shortlisted to ensure that we do provide the constituency with a range of people from which to select, but, as Ray said, overwhelmingly the all-women shortlist has delivered a better representation within the Labour Party in this House.

  Mrs May: Vice-Chairman, I wonder if I may set a little context prior to 2005, because John answered the question specifically post 2005. Prior to that we had done a significant amount to professionalise our selection process in two ways: firstly, predominantly by changing our Parliamentary Assessment Boards where people come forward for it to be agreed that they can actually go on the list to be a candidate for the party, and we worked with an occupational psychologist to actually bring in the concept of identifiable skills for being a Member of Parliament. So this was not about who you knew and what your background was, or anything like that, it was about actually did you have the skills and competences to be a Member of Parliament, and that is what the initial decision as to whether somebody can be a candidate is based on. The other key thing that we have done is the introduction of Women to Win, the setting up of Women to Win, a networking organisation, which provides mentoring, it provides support for candidates, but, crucially, has also, in the early days, encouraged women to come into the party to get interested in being a Member of Parliament and to overcome the barriers for getting more women actually thinking being a Member of Parliament is a career for them.

  Vice-Chairman: John Bercow.

  Q238  John Bercow: Thank you, Vice-Chairman. Certainly I can testify, Theresa, to the veracity of what you have just said about the changes in the process, making it that much more professional. That has been happening over some period of time and there is a discernable difference as a result in those Parliamentary Assessment Boards' operations. I wonder if I could ask you, with respect to your written submission and more widely, how you strike a balance between national policy imperatives on the one hand and the autonomy of local parties on the other?

  Mr Maples: This is in many ways the crux of the problem. Each individual constituency, at least within our constitution, has to pick a candidate from our list and has to use our rules in going through their selection process, but at end of the day they can choose the candidate and, I think, in the final analysis that is right. Constituencies are different and the members there probably know better than we do, essentially, for each individual constituency, what is right for them. So what we do, firstly, is alter the rules in the way that I have described but, secondly, we do have a persuasion process. After this meeting I am going to a meeting of a constituency which is about to start selecting a candidate to explain to them. The way I put it to them is that, while you will obviously want to select a candidate who is right for you and, in the case of a seat that we hold, is going to probably be the Member of Parliament for that seat and the right person to be a Member of Parliament, at the same time you are sending a Conservative Member of Parliament to Westminster and they have got to play a part in that, and one of the Party's objectives is to have more women and more candidates from ethnic minorities here and to try and persuade them to perhaps broaden their horizons slightly, and I think it has worked reasonably well. A third of the candidates who have been selected, 30 per cent to be fair, are women and six per cent, 20 of them, are from ethnic minorities, so we are not running into as much resistance as one might imagine.

  Mrs May: Can I add this though. I think as a party we have been bolder than any of the other parties in actually changing the balance between national and local in a different way, which is not about taking more power up to the centre but is about the introduction of the primary selection process, because the primary selection process actually enables the decision on the selection of candidates to be opened up, not just to all members of an association, as has traditionally been the case, and not just, indeed, to anybody within a constituency who counts themselves to be a Conservative supporter, but potentially the primary selection process opens up the decision as to who a Conservative candidate would be to anybody who wishes to take part in that process. I was actually responsible for introducing the primary process. I am surprised, in a sense, that it has not been adopted by others. I think it is a very good way of ensuring that you are getting that wider interest in the selection of a candidate.

  Q239  John Bercow: I understand the natural tendency to say, not least in the name of respect for local volunteers who are doing what they think to be right, they probably know better than we do what is right for them, but that, of course, is not an absolute principle, as I think we all now accept. There is quite a lot of evidence at local constituency level of associations thinking that their make-up is also the make-up of the local area, and there have been some very significant cases over the years in which a difference between the make-up of the local association selection committee and the population as a whole has been highlighted to them and they have been encouraged to think a little bit outside the box as to the type of person they might choose, but on the priority list, Theresa, can I press you on this. Although the priority list was the subject of much controversy within the party, there were some of us who were great enthusiasts for it. We thought it was a thoroughly good idea and were not keen to see any backtracking on it. I just wonder if you could give us a flavour of what difference there has been in the rate of selection of female candidates since the alternative was given to constituencies of choosing from the general list instead. Have you done that fairly basic statistical analysis?

  Mr Maples: I have not got the analysis. I do not think it has made a hugely appreciable difference. The priority list continues to be used in some cases and the full list in others. I am not aware of any big change in trend, are you?

  Mrs May: No, I have not got the statistical analysis to hand, John, but may I come back on an earlier point you were mentioning about the issue of associations and thinking that their make-up is a true reflection of the electorate, which very often it is not, across any of the parties. That is where the primary selection process, of course, can be an advantage, because it can enable you to open up to a wider group of people to make that selection who are more likely to be representative of the electorate rather than the self-selecting activists who are those who would normally perhaps be part of the process.

  Q240  Vice-Chairman: The primaries that have taken place: how many have selected women?

  Mr Maples: I am sorry.

  Q241  Vice-Chairman: The primary system you talked about, using primaries as an alternative model: how many have actually selected women?

  Mr Maples: I would have to let you know. Can we get you that information?

  Vice-Chairman: Yes. Did you want to bring in the other parties, John, with your question?

  Q242  John Bercow: I am certainly interested to hear from the other parties, yes, very much so.

  Lord Rennard: Could you remind me what the question is?

  Vice-Chairman: I think it was the conflict between national priorities and local choice.

  Q243  John Bercow: Between national priority and local autonomy, yes, and how you strike the balance. Obviously I do not expect you to answer questions about the priority list which we have now.

  Lord Rennard: I understand. I think all parties jealously guard their local democratic rights to choose their candidate, but in terms of what you can do at a national level to guide or steer, we do insist on training all the members of our selection committees. They are trained objectively, and they are given objective criteria to follow, and they are then monitored to try and eliminate any potential discriminatory practices. That is, I think, as far as we generally go in terms of any steering. We provide the objective criteria, a fairly similar format, of the competencies required for a good candidate. We have, we think, a very fair and very professional system, but then the choice is still down to local members. What we will do in addition, though, which is not necessarily provided by the party nationally, through other organisations such as the Campaign For Gender Balance, which Jo Swinson is very prominently a member of, is make sure that women seeking to go through the process perhaps have additional support and help in explaining the process of selection, shortlisting and the selection campaign, and we are starting to provide more of that support now for black and minority ethnic candidates seeking to go through to make sure, again, that they have additional support, positive action, if you like, rather than any measures of positive discrimination.

  Mr Collins: I think this is an important question because we have operated on the basis of building consensus. In terms of developing all-women shortlists, we went to our conference. It was an overwhelming vote in support of that decision. There is a political consensus for the need for specific actions and I think it is really important that, despite the period of time that we have been operating or using those tools, we never missed the opportunity to make the case. What we are doing is addressing specific issues of under representation, specific issues of discrimination. So it is not just blandly walking in and saying, "These are the rules, you accept them." We are actually making the case constantly for these actions, and actually, as to the process in terms of adopting all-women shortlists, again, that is a process of building consensus. We work with our regions, liaising with our constituency Labour Parties. We have a target of 40 per cent of candidates being women and we take specific measures, using those criteria, in consultation with the constituency. We take into account other factors, not least where an all-women shortlist may exclude other candidates, black and ethnic minority candidates or other circumstances that need to be taken into account, and, of course, the local political situation. We have taken on board all the measures that the other parties have talked about, and I think they are important. 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.

  Q244  John Bercow: Mr Collins, you are, in a sense, a politician talking to other politicians, and I note the use of the term "taken on board". You said a moment ago that you had taken on board the ideas of the other parties where you thought they had merit, and that does rather prompt the obvious follow-up question in the light of what John and Theresa were saying. In how many cases have you selected by primary?

  Mr Collins: All members in constituencies participate in the selection of their candidate. The party involves all members in that process. I think the other thing to point out in terms of the structures of the party, we have taken specific measures on quotas, we actually have 50 per cent representation on committees, the executive of local constituencies right up to the NEC. When I say "take on board", I am not a politician actually, John, I am a person who actually wants to build consensus on this issue because I believe in it fundamentally and I have declared that I want to make it a priority. We need to change the basis of representation, and if we can do it by learning lessons from each other and building consensus, great. I do not want to make scoring points; this is about changing the nature of representation. I do not know, Cath, if you want to say a word.

  Ms Speight: I think we did start internally looking at how our structures in our committees were set up, and introducing gender quotas for our internal party structures has made things a lot easier and it has encouraged more women to play a part, because the constituency Labour Party was told that a certain percentage of your officers have to be women and they have to then go out and encourage women to become more active and to become involved in their constituency parties, which has then led on to the successes that we have had when we have looked at what areas need increased women's representation, and we have gone to those constituencies, which we have broken down into regions, and said, "This region has only 18 per cent women MPs. We need to get that up to 40 per cent. So in the next round of selections we will be looking at your constituency to take on board an all-women shortlist." It is about talking to the party and reminding them that is not the NEC and the General Secretary imposing that on a constituency, it is actually a conference decision that all-women shortlists would be used to increase women's representation within the party.

  Q245  John Bercow: Thank you. There is absolutely no denying that you have made huge strides in getting more women and ethnic minority candidates selected and elected. I would not begrudge you that for a moment; the facts are if very clear. I know you will not want to get drawn into a current controversy, and I genuinely do not seek to inveigle you into a current controversy, but I would like to ask one follow-up, and that is this. You mentioned, Mr Collins, that it is a matter for all of the local members in the end to choose who they want, subject to a range of policies that you have got in place by way of positive action and so on. Do you think that it is right or permissible that there should be scope during a selection process for outside parties publicly to comment on, and to campaign for, particular candidates as opposed to others, or would that be better avoided?

  Mr Collins: I think I will try and turn that round. I was really interested in the discussion from the previous witnesses about the cost of being a candidate and what is it that a candidate needs to do, or a prospective candidate. I mean, they are not even a candidate; they are members who actually want to participate in the process and become a candidate. What are the barriers that people have to overcome? I think that there is a debate to be had, and it is not concluded, and maybe one issue that needs to be addressed is a level playing field. Actually the playing field is not pretty level, because there are all kinds of networks that operate, there are costs involved that many people may not be able to afford. Personally what I have tried to do, and I will continue to do, is to encourage organisations like Emily's List, Dorothy's List, Bernie's List, which is about producing networks and giving support and financial support. You could describe that as an external influence, and some people might even say this is not a good form of influence. I have also encouraged affiliated unions to actually promote their own policies of diversity by ensuring that they also, instead of constantly putting up white men, give support and mentoring to groups that are under represented. So it is all of these actions. I would see the debate of a level playing field more in the context of the need for all these other actions. I am quite happy to have the debate, but I just think that the barriers to those people who are seeking to increase in Parliament are still there and we must overcome them.

  Q246  Mr Dhanda: Theresa, can I follow up your point about boldness. I do not think 30 per cent of women being selected and six per cent of BME candidates being selected, I do not know, perhaps largely in non winnable seats, is actually bold or anything like bold enough. On those kinds of statistics, I think we are probably looking at another 150 years or so before we get a more representative Parliament. Can I suggest, listening to what you have all had to say, it sounds like of all the measures that have made a measurable difference all-female shortlists is certainly amongst them. I am interested to hear both Lord Rennard and yourselves as to whether you still have the door open to that, and I would be interested to hear from Cath and from Ray Collins, if this has worked for women, should we not be, perhaps as part of the Equality Bill or elsewhere, looking at black and minority shortlists as well? I hear you in terms of your priorities and making this a priority. Being controversial for just a moment, perhaps Erith and Thamesmead may be one area where you may want to consider such a shortlist.

  Mrs May: Can I kick off on that. First of all, it is not the case that all BME candidates selected for the Conservative Party have been selected in seats that they are not going to win. I can give you two examples off the top of my head, Priti Patel in Witham and Helen Grant in Maidstone, which are both seats which would be expected to be Conservative seats. Indeed, Maidstone is already a Conservative seat. On the issue of boldness, I said we have been bolder in relation to the relationship between the national party at the centre and the party locally, and that is where the primaries have been, I think, a very bold step because what they say to the local association is actually they go through a primary selection, if it is an open primary selection process. Although because of the constitution the final decision has to be agreed by a meeting of the party membership, that selection process, that meeting where the candidate is selected, is actually open to people who are not even members of the Conservative Party. That is the crucial thing. I think that is a pretty bold change in relationship.

  Q247  Mr Dhanda: I think it would be bolder to actually say to your constituency associations, "We are going to have all-female shortlists."

  Mrs May: Let me come on to the all-female shortlists. As a party, constituencies are permitted under our rules to choose to have an all-female shortlist if they wish to do so, and a number of our constituency associations, a small number albeit but a number of our constituency associations have chosen to do that. There is absolutely no doubt, and the facts show this, that if you introduce all-women shortlists you get a step-change in the number of women that you have in Parliament. What I am yet to be convinced about is whether you get a change in the culture that lies behind that. One of the reasons why I have always supported it, and I was one of the two people (I and Andrew Lansley) who first suggested the priority list route back in 2001, is because I think the real prize is to get to a situation where, frankly, the people doing the selecting are blind to whether it is a woman or a man, whether it is somebody who has a disability, their background, whether they are from a black or minority ethnic background, whatever. If you impose decisions from the top as to how they select in order to get the numbers up, I question whether you can change the culture so easily. It may be over time that it changes, but I think the fact that the Labour Party has had to continue to use all-women shortlists shows that it did not have that impact on culture, which I think is what we all need to do, and that is why I support the priority list approach rather than the all-women shortlist approach.

  Lord Rennard: First of all, it seems to me to be an important principle that there needs to be respect within and across parties about getting different methodologies to try and achieve equality and diverse outcomes. Obviously, within the parties and across the parties we will all be talking about different things. My own party in particular will talk about proportional representation and say that international comparisons show that it tends to produce more diverse, better outcomes if you are able to do that. In particular, as Lewis Baston was arguing earlier, where single transferable vote puts power in the hands of the voters, it would mean, for example, in a constituency, Erith or wherever it happens to be, perhaps more than one candidate could be put forward by the party that would be, indeed, in a wider area and voters could choose which of the candidates they wanted to have and, indeed, many women might say, "My party is putting forward a man and a woman but I want to address the lack of female representation in Parliament, so the woman gets my number one vote and the man gets my number two vote", and you do not feel you are voting against your party; you are voting for more a diverse Parliament and in support of someone in your party. Other parties will argue all-women shortlists, and, again, international comparisons show that they bring progress in addressing gender imbalance in Parliaments through all-women shortlists, but I must come back again to our own experience. My view is that, first and foremost, parties trying to address this imbalance will to look to seats which they are gaining before they look perhaps to the ones that they hold. If you look at the seats Liberal Democrats gained in 2001 and 2005 through what I would call a selective targeting policy, half of our net gains in both 2001 and in 2005 were with women candidates. So we have already made some progress in terms of the extra candidates getting elected because half of our gains in 2001 and in 2005 were with women. Where previously we were not doing so well was with men standing down being replaced by men, but in this Parliament, of the men who are standing down as Liberal Democrats at least half the candidates chosen to go for them are female. Therefore, I would suggest that even without all-women shortlists the Liberal Democrats are making progress at least on gender balance by electing half of our new candidates as females and half the candidates in seats where men will be standing down as females.

  Mr Maples: Can I come back on a point Mr Dhanda made about the rate of progress in both of these categories? I do not think that six per cent or 20 BME candidates is not making considerable progress. Obviously you increase your representation here as a party if you win a lot of seats at an election. Labour did it in 1997. That was their step-change. If we were to win the next election by anything like the number of seats that Labour won in 1997, there would be probably 75 Conservative women MPs and 15 BMEs. If we were to win the election, say we won 350 seats, there would be about 12 BME MPs and about 60 women. This is a considerable step-change, but, obviously, if we were not to win any seats at all, that increase would be very small. You are starting with what you have got. Twenty or 30 members in most parties retire at each election, but if that is all you have got to work with, you cannot make the big step. Labour made it in 1997 and, I think, if we were to win an election and win a lot of seats, you would see a very big change indeed, but under almost any scenario you will see both categories' representation among Conservative Members of Parliament increase quite substantially, and they are pretty evenly spread, both categories, across the winnability range.

  Q248  Mr Dhanda: The point I was making is you are starting from a very, very low base indeed and in terms of actually making Parliament more representative, it is going to take a long, long time.

  Mr Maples: It is not going to take 150 years.

  Mr Collins: It may take 100 years. That is the point. For me it is the results of the evidence. I think we all share the same objectives. Therefore, what do we need to do to reach them? In 1997 when we had all-women shortlists, we made huge strides. In 2001 when all-women shortlists were illegal, we felt that. In 2005 when we were able to reinstitute all-women shortlists, we made rapid progress. All of that is in our written submission. I do not want to keep labouring that point, but it does work. I also want to stress that it is not the only action we have taken. We do run a national mentoring scheme supported by Labour women MPs, and some of them are in this room today, and they do a very effective job. We are instituting training on a regular basis, having proper support for people, and that goes across a wide range of groups, as I have already said, but turning to your point about ethnic minorities as well, I think it is a valid point. Four per cent of our MPs are self-defined as ethnic minorities. It is not enough in my opinion. We need to do more. We have done 201 selections and of those 7.4 per cent are defined as black or ethnic minorities. Personally I think we need to do more in terms of the party mechanism, the party organisation, but I also believe that, because the evidence has proved that specific action like shortlisting, defining shortlisting or restricting shortlisting works, I and the party would like the law to be examined to allow for greater representation from ethnic minorities. I think there are issues about that, but we certainly definitely want to see that that debate continues because we need to make much more rapid progress. I think progress is too slow at this moment in time. I do not know if you want to add to that.

  Ms Speight: I do not think calling into question the voting procedure is a valid argument. We heard from the previous witnesses about whether PR actually does deliver. Of the selections that we have carried out so far with majorities under 5,000, we have had 17 retiring, eight have selected a man and nine constituencies have selected a woman. With a majority between five and ten thousand, we have had eight retirees, two have been won by a man, one has been won by a woman in an open contest and five all-women shortlists, and over 10,000 there has been 11, five men, five women on an all-women shortlist and one woman on an open list. So I think it is about changing the culture of the party rather than talking about changing the voting system. It has not been without its controversy, all-women shortlists, but it is about working with local parties, gaining the consensus. I heard the people giving evidence previously from Hansard. When you look at the devolved parliaments in Scotland, in Wales, where you can start with a clean sweep, we introduced twinning. We wanted gender balance within those two devolved institutions, and in 1999 we elected 15 women, which was 53.6 per cent, in 2003 we elected 19 women, but in 2007 we lost a number of seats and had only 16 women, but that is 61 per cent of the Labour representation within the National Assembly for Wales. So there are lessons to be learned from positive discrimination and how each individual party implements it. As I have said, it is about changing the culture within the party from the grassroots level to make sure that they understand why we are doing what we are doing, because I think the achievement to get the House of Commons more representative of the population is a goal to aim for.

  Vice-Chairman: I am very conscious that we have still got a lot of questions and we are running out of time.

  Q249  Ms Abbott: I just want to set the record straight with all-women shortlists and ask Ray Collins two things. Ray said earlier that all-women shortlists had been arrived at by a process of consensus. I was one of the group of women activists and trade union activists that campaigned for it and I was also at the NEC at the point when we drove it through. I do not quite remember the consensus that Ray talks about. I remember rocking up to conference year after year with my mates and having a big row on the floor of conference and losing. Every year we got more votes, but there was a debate, quite correctly. How all-women shortlists got through is a little technical, but I say this because there is an important point behind it. It was the year that John Smith wanted one member, one vote. He was trying to get it through conference. There was the usual late-night trading in smoke-filled rooms with trade unions and some undoubting trade unionists put all-women shortlists on the table and it got through as part and parcel of a big vote, which was part and parcel of a deal that was struck. I am not decrying that; I am just saying that is how it was done. The moral of all-women shortlists is not what you are saying, Ray, that it will all be done through consensus and sweetness and light. If you want to take practical action on equalities in political parties, at some point the party leadership has to take a stand; so I think misrepresenting the history of it does not help anyone, including other parties. The two points I wanted to put to you were these. I was a big supporter of all-women shortlists. I was one of those women who came year after year to argue the case, but one of the disappointing things about all-women shortlists, and I know it is has greatly increased the number of women, but I think there are hardly any selections under all-women shortlists that have produced black or Asian women. The only shortlist I can remember in recent times is Ladywood, which has produced an Asian woman. I was not selected under an all-women shortlist selection, but the fact that hardly any, maybe one or two that I can remember, have produced a black or Asian candidate (they have all been white women, or nearly all white women), I think, reflects a slight class bias in the types of women coming through under all-women shortlists. Again, I am a big supporter; I am not decrying it; but I think the small numbers of black and Asian women, one or two, is about the class nature of it. What I wanted to ask Ray is have you as General Secretary observed that all-women shortlists have, in effect, been all white women shortlists and what are we going to do as a party to make sure that we see more black and Asian women coming through? My other point is this. We have heard in earlier evidence and we have heard it throughout this set of hearings that women are put off because of the yah-boo culture and so on. I always find that argument slightly distressing. I came into politics because I believed in certain things. I am prepared to contest those ideas in the Chamber or in the media. I think that most women are. I think what genuinely puts most women off, though, is the fact that you expose not just yourself to extraordinary personal scrutiny but you expose your children and your family to what is sometimes an unacceptable level of personal scrutiny and pain, whether it is where your child is going to school (I am talking about the child now being chased up the street by photographers and that sort of thing), whether your child is foolish enough at 16 to go out and get drunk because they have passed their GSCEs, whether it is your husband's business activities, whether it is your husband's choice of video. Can you assure this Conference that we are doing everything that we can as a party to keep that unpleasant personal family scrutiny out of politics as a weapon, because I think if anything puts women off it is that sort of stuff?

  Mr Collins: Cath wants to come in on this as well. I apologise if in giving evidence I was saying we strive to build consensus. I was not trying to imply that striving to build consensus was without pain and without difficulty. The point I am trying to make also on the party's position is that we should never stop making the case that it is about discrimination. It is not a mechanical thing that is simply, "Oh, it's the rules, therefore you must do it", you constantly have to make the case, and I am determined that we continue to do that. On the whole point, I did say earlier, in my opinion, one of the biggest problems we have (and I have learnt this from my experience in the trade union movement when we were trying to address under representation) is that there are loads of able women out there who do a horrific job, who do not see their skills are transferable. I have known women who have organised a campaign because they are working to get the council to provide a cre"che. They have gone out, recruited people, organised things, done budgets, and all of that skill and all of that experience is not counted as relevant to a lot of people in a lot of people's minds as being a senior representative either in the party, or in terms of candidates, or in terms of seeking high office. They work very hard, they achieve a lot, but they themselves do not recognise how transferable their skills are, and that is why we have got to constantly make the case. In regard to your last point—

  Q250  Ms Abbott: Black and Asian women; you did not mention that.

  Mr Collins: I have not finished yet. I thought you made three points. Certainly we have had all-women shortlists. I think it was in Birmingham we certainly had an Asian woman selected.

  Q251  Ms Abbott: Ladywood.

  Mr Collins: Was it Ladywood? Then there was another one as well. I am sorry, I do not have the figures, but I am not sitting back and saying we have done enough. I do not think we have. I think we need to do more in terms of supporting black, Asian and ethnic minority candidates. How we do that includes all the mechanisms that I have referred to, but also I would like, and the party would like, to see the law examined so that we are not constantly caught when positive action results in anti-discrimination cases against us, and that is, I think, a very important point. Just briefly on your last point, and I accept what you say, I have had the opportunity in the last two days to make absolutely clear my own personal position. There is no place in politics for scurrilous slurs, there is no place in politics for gossip; there is no place for that sort of treatment. It demeans all of us, I find it totally unacceptable and I am not prepared to have any part of it. I have suffered it for myself. I am very proud of my position on this and I am going to stick very hard to it. Cath, do you want to come in?

  Ms Speight: Yes. Like you, Diane, we went to conference after conference, but that was about winning the argument and gaining the consensus: the glass ceiling speech that my General Secretary made at the conference where we actually delivered the decision to introduce all-women shortlists. It goes back to my point about changing the culture of the party internally. Even now I have had to go, as Chair, to some constituencies. "You have said we have got to have an all-women shortlist", and there has been a favoured son that has been waiting in the background who has been considered to be the natural successor and we have said, "If we carry on doing things like that we will never increase women's representation." It is about working with them. Sometimes they are still not dead chuffed about it, but, you know, they do see why we are doing what we are doing and they do see that at the end of the day our conference is our sovereign body, and if the conference has decided that that is the mechanism that we want to use, then we will use it, but it has taken along time. I cannot remember what year that speech was, but it was pre 1997. So we are talking about 12 years, and we are still making inroads into both gender balance and ethnicity.

  Vice-Chairman: I am conscious that we have to move on as well. I think there has been quite a lot talked about the quality of candidates, but I think, Andrew, you want to ask a bit more to clear some of that up.

  Andrew George: I want to follow up some evidence we have had from Trevor Phillips regarding the professionalisation or the trend towards the professionalisation of new MPs, particularly when coming from a more narrow-base educationally from certain universities, going into research jobs within this House and then moving into politics here. I do not think we need to expand on what Ray Collins has just said, but I am sure all parties are conscious that there is a need to ensure that the route is open for people from all backgrounds. Perhaps as a test, if you like, of the willingness of each of the parties to achieve a breadth of experience coming into politics, there is, in fact, rather a hierarchy that each of the parties actually has within its gift in terms of selecting, from those who are available to them, positions within their cabinet or shadow cabinet which reflect the need to ensure that the route is widened and, equally, into the House of Lords as well. It is within the gift of the hierarchy of the party to bring forward candidates to the House of Lords. I wonder whether there is anything you can say to me to reassure me that in fact what you are not doing is simply selecting people from a certain educational background, a certain class, and that in fact you are getting the breadth of the people through that selective process that is available to you?

  Q252  Vice-Chairman: Very quickly, one from each party, whoever wants to start.

  Mr Maples: We have set a target as a party of having more women and more ethnic minorities. David Cameron has said that if we win the election at least 30 per cent of ministers will be women. So as a party we have set these targets. On the professionalisation question, I looked at this before coming in because I know there is this kind of caricature, and I do not know if it is true in other parties but certainly in ours, that you leave university and go to work for a Member of Parliament, you then go to work for the party, you become a special adviser, you fight over the seat, you become an MP, but actually of the 30 Conservative held seats that have selected candidates, 30 that we currently hold, only five have come via that route. That was rather less than I expected. I think there is plenty of diversity coming in here. I could not agree with you more that it is important. We think as a party that people ought to bring some real life experience to this place, and even if you do go the route you are talking about, you ought to have had some real-life outside experience during that period. I would certainly be very worried if I felt the whole of our intake was coming through that route, but on looking at the numbers it seems it is about ten or 12 per cent, and that is probably fine.

  Lord Rennard: Firstly, Parliament itself could probably do more to try to promote and encourage political engagement from people from more diverse backgrounds, starting, I would say, with younger people. Obviously we can argue about issues that I would talk about, like voting at 16 to encourage people at an early age to participate rather than leaving it so long. I think Parliament could do more of that. I think there is a good point there about the House of Lords and backgrounds. We have all talked about whether parties have the cultures to address diversity. The membership of the House of Lords, which apart from 92 hereditary members is entirely appointed, is still 80 per cent male, and I think that is an important statistic when you consider how the culture of political parties could be changed. My first experience of lunch in the House of Lords dining room was with a Lord who told me, "Oh, it is just like school dinners." I have to say, it is not like the school dinners I had when I had free schools meals. I suspect it is a very small minority of us in the House of Lords who actually had free school dinners compared to the rest of the intake and the membership of their Lordship's House.

  Mr Collins: Two quick points. First, Parliament itself could do a more effective job in monitoring the diversity of its representation and I think if we had that transparency and that information it could have a much more positive debate. I also believe that the way people become candidates, the organisations that support them, is critical. Through the trade union movement, Labour representation as been incredibly diverse. I know members of this House who have been bus drivers and very active in my union when I worked for it, and I know that there have been engineering workers and other workers that have come through.

  Q253  Mr Campbell: Coal miners.

  Mr Collins: Coal miners, et cetera so diversity and that issue of professionalism I think is one that we need to be aware of, and I think if we had greater transparency and monitoring we may be able to more effectively address it.

  Vice-Chairman: A final question on equality audits from Julie.

  Q254  Miss Kirkbride: When Trevor Phillips came to speak he had a whole range of interesting ideas, one of which was that the political parties should volunteer to be bound by the same new duty that the public sector will have to address inequalities and to promote equality. What do you think of that idea and is there anything that you are already doing in terms of auditing, or whatever it might be, to promote that already?

  Mr Collins: I have got a great deal of sympathy with that argument. We as a party adopted quotas and specific actions in terms of our organisation, and that is part of our rules and constitution, so it is very much part of our culture. I always fear that when you have certain mechanisms that people relax a bit and do not constantly make the case. I think we have got to still make the case, but that duty on the party is very much there, both constitutionally and in terms of our own policy.

  Q255  Miss Kirkbride: Forgive me. At the moment is the only expression of that all-women shortlists, or is there more that you would say as part this new public sector duty?

  Mr Collins: We monitor all of our activists and we monitor all of our membership. We actually have a very clearly defined quota in terms of all levels of representation in the party. To me that is a very important step. If we do not reach those quotas, we are failing our own constitutional obligation. All-women shortlists are just one element of the armoury that we have and it relates to, obviously, MPs but it is not as an organisation. We have those other duties upon ourselves that have been made through our rules. I repeat what I said earlier on, I want to be in a position where all parties share the consensus about how we actually evaluate and monitor our own success in creating greater diversity. That would be my objective.

  Lord Rennard: I have not seen Trevor Phillips' proposal, but the outline that you have just given us sounds to me very much what is actually enshrined in the Liberal Democrats' party constitution and I think all parties ought to subscribe to those sorts of values as you have outlined them. We do, of course, undertake a lot of monitoring of diversity. It is not the easiest thing to do across an entire party membership and we are trying to be more proactive in making sure we pursue this agenda. We have recently set up the Diversity Engagement Group within the party, spearheaded by Vince Cable, to show the seriousness with which we address the agenda. But it still seems to me fundamentally there is a bit of an issue. I am sorry if some regard my argument as being invalid. Whether it is about changing the culture of the party or it is about giving power to the voters to actually make real changes or it is about both, it seems the things the parties all need to work on more is how you overcome the barriers that are there to achieving equality of outcome, and those barriers, I think, particularly in the Labour and Conservative Parties, are the barriers to selection and with the Liberal Democrat Party, perhaps it is more a barrier to election. By that I mean time and personal resource. You need a lot of time and a lot of money to get selected generally as a Labour or Conservative candidate in a winnable or held seat and you need an awful lot of time, and sometimes quite a bit of your own money, to get elected as a Liberal Democrat MP. I think you have to look at those sorts of barriers. Could you do more for MPs? The issue of MP's allowances, of course, is hotly controversial, but why is nobody talking about a proper allowance for MPs who have childcare allowances in the unique circumstances of having to work and operate in two different places? If you are going to do something for MPs, why not do something perhaps about candidates, aspiring MPs, to help them with some of those sorts of costs, to address those sorts of barriers which, in my view, clearly hinder achievement and quality of outcome.

  Q256  Miss Kirkbride: Through the taxpayer?

  Lord Rennard: I am a taxpayer, indeed.

  Q257  Miss Kirkbride: You want the taxpayers to pay for that?

  Lord Rennard: I am suggesting perhaps other things taxpayers might not pay for. Perhaps they might not pay for an additional costs allowance for two homes for MPs already within London, but they might consider that actually it is a duty, and, indeed, as MPs you approve childcare costs for the staff you employ across Parliament, and that is quite right because it means the staff you employ across Parliament have some support for their childcare responsibilities, but you do not do it for yourselves, and actually I think that is discriminatory. An MP who comes and works in Westminster a lot of the time during the week, if they cannot get any help towards their childcare costs, it is barrier towards allowing (it tends to be) women of a certain age to do that. If you look at the Liberal Democrats, we have nine MPs: four of them are young and have no childcare responsibilities at this moment, five of them are over 50 and, again, have no childcare responsibilities. We do not have any female Liberal Democrat MPs who actually have childcare responsibilities, and perhaps that is something you might be able to address. I do not suggest increasing the tax burden and I do not suggest spending less on schools and hospitals, but spending some money differently might be an achievable outcome.

  Mrs May: In relation to the question about Trevor Phillips, I think the most important thing that has been done and that needs to be continued was the legislation that was introduced that enabled parties to use positive action or positive discrimination, and we certainly would support an extension of that legislation. There is a potential tension with the proposal that Trevor Phillips has put forward which we are already seeing in the operation of the gender equality duty in the public sector, which is that it can mitigate against the possibility of taking positive action for one particular group of people, and so I lay that on the table, because I do not think this would be an all-win situation, and that is why I have some scepticism about whether or not that would work and, of course, political parties are private bodies as opposed to being in the public sector. May I make one final general point though, which is when we have been talking about the numbers. There is a real issue for Parliament. As John has said, if the Conservative Party wins the next general election, there will be a step-change in the number of women Conservative MPs and the number of BME Conservative members of Parliament, but a number of those will have actually defeated women Labour members of Parliament, so the overall number of women in Parliament may not increase that significantly. So there is an issue. It is ultimately about changing cultures within parties to make sure that we are getting the numbers of people coming through so that you get that better balance, if you like, whatever the result of an election is in terms of which particular party is in power.

  Vice-Chairman: Thank you very much. I am conscious that we have gone way past the time that you were anticipating. We do have other questions. I wonder if it would be in order for us to write to you with some of those questions. We wondered particularly how much, on average, the political parties think a candidate should be spending or might expect to spend on becoming an MP. There were certainly questions on that. You also made reference to the audit of membership, where you said that you do audit of membership. I think we are still awaiting a reply from both the Labour and Conservative Parties with regard to that, so it would be very helpful for us if you could give us any indication of work you are doing in terms of monitoring your membership and the results of that monitoring. Also, there have been a lot of statistics flying around this morning in terms of the selections that have already taken place. I wonder if all three of you could give us the details of each of your parliamentary selections that have already taken place, and in the future, from each constituency, with reference to gender, race, disability and, in the light of one of the committees questions, previous professions, or jobs, to give us a chance to collate that material?[1] That would be extremely useful for us. I think that is all unless there is anything else from the Conference. Can I say thank you very much, because we know that what you as political parties are prepared to do in terms of your own selection process is key to us being able to come up with concrete suggestions as to what Parliament itself needs to do as well in order to increase the diversity of MPs. Thank you very much for coming along this morning, thank you for your time. We might have to get you back at some stage, once we have got some suggestions, to see what your response will be.

1   Ev 188-195

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