Responses to the Speaker's Conference (on Parliamentary Representation): Final Report of Session 2009-10 - Speaker's Conference (on Parliamentary Representation) Contents

Appendix 5: The Conservative Party's response


On 12 November 2008 the House of Commons agreed to establish a new committee, to be chaired by the Speaker and known as the Speaker's Conference.

The Conference was asked to: "Consider, and make recommendations for rectifying, the disparity between the representation of women, ethnic minorities and disabled people in the House of Commons and their representation in the UK population at large". The Speaker's Conference published its final report on 11 January 2010.

This note sets out the Conservative Party's response to the recommendations. The numbering of the recommendations is as in the report.

In addition to the comments below there are a number of recommendations to which we would wish to return after the election and which can best be considered once the impact of the changes that have already been made to their selection procedures by parties is known following the result of the election.

Recommendations 1 and 2

We accept that there needs to be a greater consistency in the quality of citizenship courses in schools. Individual MPs also need to ensure that they do all they can to encourage a greater understanding of Parliament and the role of an MP in schools in their constituencies

In Government we would introduce a National Citizen Service which will provide a six week course for young people leaving school or college as a rites of passage programme into adulthood, which will include community service.

Recommendations 3-5

We congratulate the Parliamentary Education Service on the sterling work that they do, but recognise that many MPs are still not fully aware of the opportunities the Service offers.

We agree that the Education Service should do more to promote the value of the role of a Member of Parliament which in turn should help to encourage a wider range of people to consider standing. However, there has to be a clear separation between the role of Parliament and that of political parties in this and we consider that it is not up to Parliament to identify people who should be encouraged to stand.

We welcome the proposal to develop more support for MPs to promote active citizenship in their constituencies but before any action is taken more should be done to ensure MPs are aware of the support already available.

Recommendation 11

This recommendation goes beyond the remit of the Conference as it relates to the funding of political parties. This is an issue to which we will return after the election.

Recommendation 12

We already offer advice to local associations on ensuring that activities can be accessed by disabled people and people from BME communities.

Recommendation 13

In common with other parties we have a number of specialist bodies within the Party or allied to it which encourage political participation and activism among the groups identified above such as the Conservative Women's Organisation and women2win, the Conservative Disability Group and the Conservative Muslim Forum.

Recommendation 14

We are happy to work with other parties to draw up a list of the main functions of an MP. We have already made this information available in a number of publications and on our website. In addition, we are the only major political party to have drawn up a list of the competencies required to be an MP and to assess applicants to be on the Party's candidates' list against this list of competencies. The list was drawn up in conjunction with an occupational psychologist.

Recommendations 15-19

We question the value of monitoring routes into Parliament given that many people come into Parliament through a number of routes—e.g someone might have worked in Parliament, have been a councillor and have been active in their local political party so collating this information may not be very informative.

We do not value potential candidates on their experience but on their competencies. We have examples of candidates who have many years political experience and candidates who have had no political experience. It would be wrong to try to identify a set route into being a candidate.

We agree that stereotypes should be challenged. David Cameron has already made it his aspiration that 30% of his ministers should be women at the end of the first parliament of a Conservative Government. We already ensure that selection meetings are aware of the need not to discriminate against candidates on the issues referred to but will give further consideration to whether this can be improved after the election

Recommendations 20-23

We support the extension of the 2002 Act.

Recommendations 24-25

We support the reporting of selections on a regular basis but have concerns about publicly reporting the sexual orientation of candidates. We intend to work with Stonewall to identify a suitable process for monitoring sexual orientation of candidates for internal purposes along the lines of best business practice, but do not believe this information should be reported publicly

Recommendation 26

While it will of course be possible to make such a statement after the 2010 election, it should be noted that it is impossible to predict accurately the future make up of any parliamentary party because it depends not only on the actions of the party in relation to selections but also on the electorate. It is important to be realistic about what can and cannot be achieved by targets and quotas.

Recommendation 27

The recommendation calls on government to find time for a debate in 2010 and every two years thereafter to 2022 on the implementation of the recommendations in the Speaker's Conference report. Such a debate, as a General Debate, would now fall under the control of the Backbench Business Committee. We would certainly commend such a debate to that committee.

Recommendations 28-35

A Conservative government is committed to introducing an Access to Public Life Fund for disabled candidates as first proposed by Scope.

Recommendation 37

This recommendation has much to commend it, but it would need to be considered after the election in the context of the wider issue of employment legislation.

Recommendation 39

We support this proposal. We would not intend any such statement to detract from the ability of a candidate to undertake the role in the manner they best saw fit but there would be an advantage in setting out the reasonable expectations of what a candidate would do and thus of ensuring that the expectations of all parties involved—candidates and local parties—were consistent.

Recommendation 40

We already operate a mentoring scheme for candidates.

Recommendation 41

The Party already makes a number of training courses available to candidates and women2win provides further training for women candidates.

Recommendation 44

We agree with this proposal.

Recommendations 45-55

These raise a serious issue about the make-up of Parliament in the future and its impact on the need for policies within Parliament and the parties to cater for the needs of parents of young children and of pregnant MPs. As a party in Parliament this is already an issue we have discussed. As a party we are looking at drawing up a policy on maternity leave which can be applied generally, while recognising the different requirements that Members may have not least arising from the geographical spread of constituencies. Our policy, should we be in government, is to change maternity leave to flexible parental leave. This would have implications for male and female MPs which will require further discussion, and we will consider the issue of maternity and paternity leave in that context. We will also consider the proposal as it relates to caring leave.

Recommendation 56

We support this proposal.

Recommendation 57

We believe that there would be practical difficulties in collating information through the occupational health service not least because not all Members use this service in any given year or indeed in any parliamentary session.

Recommendation 62

The House published its Single Equality Scheme in January 2010 which explains how the House regularly collects data on staff ethnicity, disability status, age and gender. Any changes to this scheme would be a matter for the House of Commons Commission.

Recommendations 63-64.

We agree with the proposal to repeal Section 141 of the Mental Health Act indeed we have been pressing the Government to do this. We tabled a New Clause to the Equality Bill to end this discrimination against people with mental health illnesses and then tabled a new amendment to the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill. On 26 January we secured a commitment to change from the Government during the 4th Committee Day of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill and have recently written to the Chairman of the Justice Committee, to ask them if they would be prepared to report on how to deal with MPs who are incapacitated (to treat physical and mental health issues in a consistent way).

Recommendation 66

We support this recommendation

Recommendations 67-68

These recommendations relate to a concern to see a greater balance in the reporting of Parliament, particularly to ensure coverage of the less heated debate that takes place in Select Committees and other committees. We are committed to strengthening Parliament and supported the Wright Committee reforms on which the House recently voted. These will help to give Members greater control ownership of both the content of debates and—through an elected Procedure Committee—the procedure of the Chamber. We support a more collaborative approach to scheduling House business and hope this will both increase the ability of the House to hold the Executive to account and will lead to a less overtly confrontational style of politics.

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