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

Appendix 6: The Liberal Democrat Party's response

The Liberal Democrats welcome the Speaker's Conference final report. We recognise many of the conclusions and recommendations of the Conference as necessary steps towards creating a more representative Parliament.

This response refers to those conclusions and recommendations that are particularly relevant for political parties.

Political parties as playing a key role in increasing diversity


10. It is in the interests of any political party which wishes to achieve, and sustain, a period in government that it should foster local activism and seek to build up social capital and trust. Active, healthy and accessible local political parties will also play a vital role in identifying and nurturing a greater diversity of MPs for the future. (Paragraph 64)

11. The Government should consult on the introduction of a scheme enabling local political parties to apply for funding linked to their receipts from member subscriptions. The scheme should be administered by a suitable independent body and the details of all funding allocations made should be published. Local political parties should also expect to make some account of the way in which they use the funding to support the development of social capital. This consultation should take place in the first session of the 2010 Parliament. (Paragraph 74)

12. Each national party needs to develop a systematic plan of action to support the development of local parties. As part of this plan parties should draw up a checklist of actions which will promote diversity (such as meeting in accessible venues) and might also offer practical support and incentives to local parties which adopt measures on the checklist. (Paragraph 77)


The Liberal Democrats are committed to ensuring that the Party represents the whole of Britain. We cannot claim to represent modern Britain until modern Britain is represented in us, and we need to work closely together throughout the Party to ensure that we achieve this.

The Party has taken major steps centrally to achieve this vital change. We have recently created a Diversity Engagement Group (DEG), which oversees the achievement of the Party's equality and diversity priorities. This group is supported by the National Diversity Unit, which provides central support and guidance in this area and is responsible for promoting diversity initiatives in the Party. These central initiatives form a strong and central framework for support. However, if we want our national and Parliamentary party to grow and develop in this area, then our state, regional and local party structures should play a fundamentally important role.

The Party's National Diversity Unit will shortly begin working with key stakeholders in each region to set objectives and develop plans of action to promote a more diverse membership base within the region. The Party will provide central support and guidance for this work, but regional parties will take ownership of these initiatives at a localised level. The process of developing and implementing these plans will start immediately after the General Election, and we anticipate that every region will have a plan underway by the end of 2010.

We fully support the recommendation for Government funding to be made available to local parties in order to help achieve objectives in this area.

Diversity Champions


13. We recommend that all political parties appoint national and/or regional community champions for women, and people from BME and LGBT communities, and disabled people. The champions' remit should include supporting individuals from those communities in finding and sustaining a suitable role within the party. Consideration should also be given to formalising strategies for talent spotting within parties and within the wider community. (Paragraph 79)


Nick Clegg has written to all Regional Party Chairs to outline the national/regional strategy with regards to diversity and emphasise his commitment to this strategy. All regions have been requested to appoint Diversity Champions to regional executives, and many of these individuals are already in place—for example, 7 Diversity Champions have been appointed in London for each of the 7 equality strands identified in the Single Equality Bill.

Diversity Champions will be given training and full support through the Party's National Diversity Unit. These Champions will help to disseminate the information through local parties, as well as supporting individuals from under-represented groups to find a role within the Party that is compatible with their skills and experience. They will work with returning officers and local parties during selection processes to attract and support applications from members of underrepresented groups. They will take on key responsibilities for implementing the action plan for diversity initiatives in each region, which will include formalised strategies for talent-spotting, mentoring schemes and targeted training events.

Talent-spotting is already encouraged and supported through key initiatives within the Party. The New Generation initiative provides development opportunities for ambitious Liberal Democrat members from black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds, and currently supports 60 potential future representatives. The Campaign for Gender Balance provides training and mentoring to potential and current women candidates, which has resulted in considerable progress in the numbers of approved and selected women. MPs and other senior Party officials are also encouraged to proactively seek out talented individuals, and recommend them to get involved in these initiatives.

Access to politics


15. It is important to ensure that there is no single route into politics which is accessible only to a privileged few. The routes by which future Members come into Parliament should be monitored and information published by the political parties. (Paragraph 102)


The Liberal Democrats are committed to ensuring that the 'route' into politics is as open and transparent as possible. When the approvals process was revised in 2008, we ensured that the process was fully accessible to those without a long history of political involvement. The time that people must have been a member of the Party was shortened to 9 months and the referencing system was changed to require just one reference from a Party officer and two from personal or professional referees. This process recognises and values a diverse range of experience and backgrounds, whilst ensuring that applicants have made an informed choice about standing for the Liberal Democrats.

We proactively reach out to those who don't follow the 'traditional' route to politics. We already run 'Inspiration Days' for women who are interested in learning more about getting involved with the Party as candidates or otherwise. We intend to expand these days to target those from BAME backgrounds and disabled people throughout the country. The Party has also recently begun to run sessions on 'planning your political career', in order to help people from non-political backgrounds chart their own course through politics.

Although we recognise that systematic monitoring of the 'routes' by which MPs come to politics would be useful, we would emphasise the need for structured analysis of these figures in order for useful and positive recommendations to be drawn. Within the Liberal Democrats, valuable partnerships have been built with external academics and organisations, who may be best placed to conduct research and analysis.

A working group has been established within the Party to ensure accessibility to voluntary and paid roles. This group has developed a series of best practice internal guidelines on internships, staff monitoring procedures and equality impact assessments for all departments within the organisation.

We acknowledge that the extent and nature of monitoring information required by political parties is currently being debated in the House of Lords as part of the Single Equality Bill, and we await the outcome of this with interest.

Desired qualities and experience for Parliamentary Candidates


16. There would be value in the parties being more open about both the qualities, and the experience, they consider to be desirable for a prospective parliamentary candidate. If it becomes clear that certain types of experience—such as a spell as a party employee or as an MP's researcher—are preferred, the parties should consider how those experiences can be made more accessible. (Paragraph 103)


The process by which Parliamentary Candidates are assessed was revised in 2008, following extensive consultation within the Party. An external expert in political leadership, Dr Jo Silvester, from City University London, was commissioned to design a competency based assessment process. This process is based around a competency framework which clearly indicates the qualities that the Party looks for in a Parliamentary Candidate. Potential applicants are given not only the headline competencies areas, but also a full chart of behavioral indicators to show how they will be assessed. To our knowledge, the Liberal Democrats are the only political party to make this level of detailed information available to potential applicants.

Assessors are fully trained in objectivity and fairness. They are trained to assess the applicant according to the competency framework rather than through their background or previous experience—assessors do not have access to any previous information about their education, age, gender, professional background, or ethnicity.

Local parties currently set their own selection criteria for potential candidates. However, the current rules state that these criteria must not discriminate against any particular group. In the next parliament, there are plans to ensure that all local Parties link all their selection criteria to the competency framework used in the new approvals system.

Visible diversity of elected representatives


17. Greater diversity in our elected representatives will be achieved only when the culture of our political parties has been changed. This change in our political parties should be driven by the changes we see in wider society, which requires and demands greater diversity in all representative organisations and bodies. Party leaders can help to challenge stereotypes of an effective Member, or Minister, by ensuring that MPs from all backgrounds and communities are able to demonstrate their skills in positions of prominence, either within Government or within the party. (Paragraph 104)


The Liberal Democrats are already committed to the promotion and encouragement of MPs from diverse backgrounds and communities. This is also reflected in our appointments in the House of Lords. We want to see the widest promotion of talent and are committed to continuing this practice in the new Parliament.

We recognise the value of ministers/shadow ministers acting as role models, engaging with people from under-represented groups, and encouraging individuals to come forward as potential candidates.

Discriminatory behaviour by selection committees


18. Behaviour at selection panels which discriminates against candidates on grounds of their sex, background or personal circumstances can never be justified. (Paragraph112)

19. Political parties should make diversity awareness training, advice and support available to party members involved in candidate selections. (Paragraph 116)


Discriminatory behaviour at selection is not permitted under the rules of the Party. The Returning Officer is responsible for ensuring that questions asked at shortlisting interviews must not discriminate against any group of applicants such as women, applicants from a particular geographical area, ethnic background or disabled applicants.

The composition of the Selection Committee itself must also fairly reflect the membership of the constituency in terms of gender, geography, a balance between councillors and officers of the Local Party and those who are not, age, time in the party and ethnicity. Particular note must be taken of the presence of ethnic minority communities within the membership and if there is a significant proportion of said communities within the electorate but not the membership, then positive steps are taken to reflect this on the Selection Committee.

Diversity awareness training already forms an integral part of our training for selection committee members, and this will be reviewed and revised after the General Election. In Priority seats all members of the Selection Committee must have received the Party's official training in the operation of the selection process. In all other seats at least two people must be trained, one of which must be the Selection Committee chair. Returning Officers, who oversee the selection process and ensure rules are kept, also receive diversity awareness training.

Use of quotas/shortlists


21. If the number of women MPs in the House of Commons falls at the 2010 election it will make more pressing the need for all the main parties to be assertive in their equality policies. (Paragraph 143)

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

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

24. Candidate selections for the following general election will begin, for some parties, within the first twelve to eighteen months of the 2010 Parliament. These selections will be equally important for securing cultural change within parties and within the House of Commons. In this context we particularly welcome the indications from the opposition party leaders that they are open-minded on the matter of equality guarantees. If the political parties fail to make significant progress on women's representation at the 2010 general election, Parliament should give serious consideration to the introduction of prescriptive quotas, ensuring that all political parties adopt some form of equality guarantee in time for the following general election. (Paragraph 156)


The Liberal Democrats support the legal right of political parties to use this legislation.

However, as quotas of any kind address the problem at the selection stage, they do not address the problem Liberal Democrats have identified within our own Party. Our research shows that where a woman stands for selection in the Liberal Democrats, she is just as likely to be selected as a man. Half of our held seats where MPs are standing down have selected women. Attempting to impose temporary centralised measures upon our local parties, such as all-women shortlists, will therefore not solve the root causes of the problem. We need to concentrate our efforts on the approval stage, where we consistently have more men than women applying.

In 2001, the Liberal Democrat Conference debated proposals to improve the gender balance of the Parliamentary Party at Westminster. Plans for all-women shortlists were rejected on the basis that rather than sexism in selection being the main problem, the real barrier to equal representation was a lack of women coming forward for roles in politics at all levels.

The Campaign for Gender Balance was created to be proactive in seeking out, training, mentoring and providing practical support to potential women candidates. This approach has proved very successful in increasing the number of women candidates in the party and, significantly, those selected for winnable seats—a third of our most winnable Parliamentary seats now have women candidates, and half of the seats where Liberal Democrat MPs are standing down have women candidates.

Meanwhile, the selection rules of the Party state that shortlists of 3 or 4 applicants must have at least one applicant of each gender, and shortlists of 5 or more must have at least two applicants of each gender. This has gone some way to increasing the number of women who have been selected. However, due to the low numbers of women coming forward for approval and selection, there are many seats that are still forced to go ahead without a woman candidate.

The current situation with regards to both MPs and candidates is unacceptable, which is why the Party is focusing on putting additional resources into this. We anticipate that the strategies which are currently being implemented by the National Diversity Unit (as discussed previously) will bring about the change which we would like to see in time for the candidate selections following the General Election. Nick Clegg has stated that he will review the Party's policy on equality guarantees if the situation has not substantially improved within the Liberal Democrats after the next two elections.

Monitoring of selection data


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

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

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

(c) whether the party:

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

(ii) came second or third in the seat at the last general election within a margin of less

than 5% of the votes cast; or

(iii) came second or third in the seat at the last general election within a margin of

more than five per cent but less than ten per cent of the votes cast;

(d) the sex of the candidate;

(e) the ethnicity of the candidate; and

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

The reports might also include the following information:

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


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

orientation of the candidate;

(c) the age of the candidate;

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

(e) the highest level of the candidate's educational attainment. (Paragraph 160)


The Liberal Democrats proactively monitor diversity information for approved and selected candidates, and publishes this data publicly to Conference every six months. As Nick Clegg indicated in his submission to the Conference, the Party is happy to share this data and publish it alongside other political parties. Obviously this must conform to the current legal requirements of data protection.

Concerns may arise over the ability to identify individuals through this level of monitoring, and that would lead to issues regarding an individual's right to privacy and data protection law. We suggest that there should be an option for candidates to submit monitoring data to the Party for internal use, but opt out of having it published openly online.

The sensitivities in this area have already been highlighted within our own internal monitoring procedures. The current system within the Party asks if people are willing for this information to be used for 'communication' purposes and/or for 'media' purposes. This seems to have been successful in ensuring that we gather the maximum amount of data whilst taking individual preferences into account.

As stated previously, we would emphasise the need for structured analysis to be conducted on this monitoring data. Within the Liberal Democrats, valuable partnerships have been built with external academics and organisations involved in this work, and these individuals may be better placed to conduct research and analysis. This kind of in-depth analysis will also give due consideration to the intersectionality of diversity strands, such as ethnicity and gender.

We acknowledge that the extent and nature of monitoring information required by political parties is currently being debated in the House of Lords as part of the Single Equality Bill, and we await the outcome of this debate.

Regular statements from political parties on progress


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


We will commit to publishing a statement following the 2010 General Election, stating the current proportion of our Parliamentary party which is female; from a BME community; and/or identifies as a disabled person (as far as our monitoring data shows).

Commitments concerning the Parliamentary Party are far more difficult for the Liberal Democrats because we have no 'safe' seats. However, we are committed to improving the situation with regards to our approved and selected candidates, particularly with regards to winnable seats. The Party Conference has previously set targets for the Campaign for Gender Balance for the numbers of women approved and the percentage of new women MPs, and the Campaign anticipates meeting these targets in 2010.

We are looking at additional reform at the approval stage in order to address the problems we have identified. The Party will produce a statement at the end of 2010 that outlines all the measures that will be taken in the next electoral cycle.

Access for disabled people


29. We do not doubt that party leaders are sincere when they say that they want better access for disabled people. We recognise that they may be finding it difficult to make sure their policies are carried out at a local level where it matters. Nevertheless the shortage of funds must not be an excuse for local parties failing to make proper arrangements for disabled people to play their part in politics. (Paragraph 199)

30. We believe that all political parties should make it easier for disabled people to play a full part in party activities, initially by setting out a clear policy on access. At national level, this would mean for instance making sure that campaign documents are produced in Braille and other formats, that websites are easy to use for people with sight impairments, and that BSL interpretation or speech-to-text technology is available at major events. (Paragraph 201)

31. But there also needs to be a realistic policy for local parties, encouraging cooperation and making the best of the limited money available. The ideas and practical suggestions set out in the guide and handbook produced by the Labour Party Disabled Members' Group would form a good basis for this policy, for all political parties. (Paragraph 202)


The Party is committed to making all reasonable adjustments to make Party activities accessible for disabled people.

The Liberal Democrat Federal Conference is the forum where Liberal Democrat policy is debated and voted upon, and therefore it is vital that all members are able to attend and participate fully. The Conference Access Group (CAG) has worked hard to identify and tackle obstacles faced by conference-goers. Examples of ways that the Party has improved access include a wheelchair users' accommodation grant; full accessibility in the conference centre, conference hotel and fringe venues; participation for attendees with hearing impairments; assistance with neurological disorders; and accommodating a wide variety of food allergies and dietary requirements.

We have taken practical steps in other areas of the Party such as producing an audio version of the Liberal Democrat Policy Guide, and ensuring that the main Party website is compliant with W3C best practice criteria for accessibility.

The Party has conducted training sessions at Federal Conference on inclusive campaigning for disabled people, such as ensuring access to polling stations. We will also send the Scope booklet—'Whose Vote are You Missing?'—to all Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidates, to ensure that they have guidance on engaging with disabled voters and involving disabled people in their campaigns.

In terms of candidate approval, there is a proactive approach to making reasonable adjustments. The Head of the Candidates Office, Tamsin Hewett, is responsible for overseeing accessibility requirements for disabled applicants, and we have had excellent feedback from many disabled members who have been through the process. The Party's selection rules also state that shortlisting interviews must be conducted at a suitable, neutral venue, which is accessible to and does not discriminate against any applicants with disabilities. Scope conducted a detailed gap analysis of the approval and selection process within the Party in August 2008.

Written guidance on best practice with regards to diversity is currently being developed for local parties, which will include advice on access for disabled people. We welcome the suggestion that the guide and handbook produced by the Labour Party Disabled Members' Group is shared as an example of good practice.

The Liberal Democrat Disability Association is currently undergoing an organisational review and we look forward to working with them in the future on many of these areas.

Costs of candidacy


32. All political parties should place a ceiling upon the expenses which candidates can incur during any single selection process. (Paragraph 212)

33. We support the suggestion of a Democracy Diversity Fund which could be drawn upon by local political parties to support the work of developing talented individuals from under-represented groups and also to provide bursaries to individuals who would otherwise be unable to sustain the costs of candidacy. There must be strong controls in place to make sure the money is not abused and therefore the scheme's effectiveness and propriety should be regularly evaluated by the Electoral Commission, in reports which should be laid before the House at least once every Parliament. The Electoral Commission should consult the Equality and Human Rights Commission when evaluating the scheme. (Paragraph 214)

35. We therefore believe that the Government should urgently consider, as part of the Democracy Diversity Fund, a ring-fenced scheme to support disabled parliamentary candidates. This scheme for disabled candidates should use as its model the Access to Public Life Fund which has been proposed by Scope. The scheme should be devised and operated by the Department for Work and Pensions, and should be administered in the same way as the Access to Work scheme. (Paragraph 221)


The Party currently controls expenses incurred through selection processes by limiting the amount of literature that can be put out in any selection campaign, and the nature of expenses that can be incurred. This is strictly monitored by the Returning Officer and ensures that selections cannot be 'bought' by someone who has greater financial resources.

It is important to examine both direct and indirect costs incurred by different groups going for selections. For example, data provided by the British Representation Survey[3] indicates that women spend more during selection campaigns than men. However, when a control for being a parent of a child under 5 was included, the gender difference in spending was reduced dramatically. This suggests that childcare costs account for women's high selection expenses, and indicates a particular need to provide financial support for candidates with young children.

We strongly support the idea of an independently regulated Democracy Diversity Fund that would allow local parties to support the work of talented individuals from underrepresented groups, and provide bursaries for those who would otherwise be unable to stand.

We also support ring-fenced funding within this fund to specifically support disabled Parliamentary Candidates, in line with the proposals made by Scope.

Unpaid leave for candidates


36. A measure which could help to reduce the burden on candidates would be for the Government to legislate to give approved prospective parliamentary candidates who are employees the right to request a reasonable amount of unpaid leave during working hours and/or a right to work flexibly for the purposes of campaigning. This would also, symbolically, recognise that the action of standing for election, whether or not the candidate is successful, is an essential part of our democratic process and of public benefit. (Paragraph 223)

37. The Government should legislate to enable approved prospective parliamentary candidates who are employees to take unpaid leave, rather than resigning their employment, for the period from the dissolution of Parliament to election day. (Paragraph 224)

38. We recognise that, in the first instance, making such leave unpaid protects employers from any suggestion that they may be improperly financing a political campaign. In the long term we would like the Government to move to a position where candidates are entitled to receive a grant from the state equivalent to the minimum wage for the period sometimes known as the short campaign. (Paragraph 224)


Research within the Party shows that our candidates put in an average of 20 hours a week, often on top of a full-time job. This is obviously a difficult balance for all candidates, but is extremely difficult for people with childcare responsibilities, or those on low incomes. Women, people from ethnic minority backgrounds, and disabled people are disproportionately likely to be affected by this.

It is vital that we begin to see candidacy as public service, not a hobby for people who can afford it. In order to make this change, it is necessary to take steps to ensure that it is a viable option for all regardless of situation or background

We agree that asking employers to give unpaid leave to candidates would recognise that the action of standing for election is an essential part of our democratic process and of public benefit.

Support and pastoral care for candidates


39. Each central political party should consider drawing up statements of expectation setting out the role, and the reasonable demands which may be made, of both prospective parliamentary candidates and local party associations in different types of seat. (Paragraph 229)

40. First-time candidates, in particular, would benefit from the establishment of formal mentoring schemes and/or 'buddy systems' which can provide pastoral support and independent advice on issues arising within the constituency. (Paragraph 230)

41. Regional or central party officials should also consider whether further training support might be beneficial to candidates who have limited experience of formal management, team building and leadership roles. (Paragraph 231)


The Liberal Democrats have conducted research in this area, and agree that formalised support and pastoral care for candidates helps to create an open and diverse political culture.

In order to create this culture, the expectations of both the local Party and the candidate need to be openly agreed, in order to avoid misunderstandings and conflict. The recommendation for 'statements of expectation' and providing first-time candidates with formalised buddying arrangements, is among a range of recommendations which is currently being examined by a working group within the Party tasked with supporting candidates. We are hoping to have guidelines and actions on this by the end of 2010.

Formal mentoring and support is already provided for women by the Party's Campaign for Gender Balance, and BAME candidates now receive similar support through the recently established 'New Generation' initiative. Both these initiatives are administered centrally by the Diversity Unit but are working closely with the Regional Parties to conduct outreach throughout the country.

Training is also available in a range of skills specifically for underrepresented groups through the equality initiatives and at Federal Conferences.

Access to internships and temporary vacancies


42. We believe it should be possible for each Parliamentary party to maintain a list of individuals from under-represented groups, perhaps nominated by stakeholder organisations, who might by this means be notified of internships and temporary vacancies arising in Members' offices. All reasonable adjustment costs for the successful applicant should be funded for the duration of the appointment. We invite the political parties to work with stakeholder organisations to establish how this can best be done. (Paragraph 237)


The Liberal Democrats believe that it is important to attract under-represented groups into Westminster politics. We have recently formulated best practice guidelines on internships and temporary vacancies, offering some simple but practical measures to encourage recruitment of parliamentary interns from a much more diverse pool of applicants than is currently the case.

We acknowledge that more could be done to proactively advertise these positions to under-represented groups, so these guidelines also list potential stakeholder organisations that we can work with on this. We would make all reasonable adjustments for successful applicants, as we would for any member of Party staff.

The Parliamentary Party are currently looking forward to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) bringing forward detailed proposals with regard to internships. Assuming that IPSA permits parliamentary internships to continue, and once we've established that our advice is compatible with IPSA's requirements, we will encourage our MPs to follow the party's guidelines.

Code of conduct for candidates


44. The parties should each draw up a formal code of conduct for campaigning. This should make clear that campaigning is unacceptable where it seeks to undermine a candidate by reference to his or her family life, racial background, sexual orientation, health status or disability. These codes of conduct should be in place in time for the 2010 general election. (Paragraph 244)


The Liberal Democrats party constitution states that 'we reject all prejudice and discrimination based upon race, colour, religion, age, disability, sex or sexual orientation and oppose all forms of entrenched privilege and inequality'. Any Party member or staff member found acting in a manner contrary to this core value would face disciplinary action.

A code of conduct is also signed by all Parliamentary Candidates when they go through the approval process. The code of conduct includes the following points which apply here:

1.  You must treat others with respect, and must not bully or intimidate any Party member, member of Party staff, member of Parliamentary staff, Party volunteer or member of the public.

2.  You must act in such a way as to promote the values of the Liberal Democrats and must not act in a way that is contrary to the interests or values of the Party.

Failing to follow this code of conduct constitutes grounds for removal from the list of approved candidates.

Although we agree that a formal code of conduct for political campaigning would be a positive step, we feel that a standardised code should be developed across the political parties through an external body, such as the Electoral Commission. All parties would then be asked to sign up to common benchmarks in this area. We realise that there is not time to complete this kind of project prior to the 2010 General Election, but would call for this process to begin soon afterwards.

Flexible working and caring arrangements for MPs


48. Maternity, paternity and caring leave is an issue which all three main parliamentary parties have as yet failed to take fully seriously. (Paragraph 263)

49. Each Parliamentary party should draw up a formal statement of policy on maternity, paternity and caring leave. This should set out clearly the minimum level of support which an individual requesting leave may expect from his or her party, and the steps which the individual should take to arrange a period of leave. Such statements should be agreed by party leaders, and published on party websites and in the party whip, by the end of 2010. (Paragraph 264)


The inflexibility of Parliament's working practices create a lifestyle which is detrimental to Members with caring responsibilities, both for children and other dependents. Nick Clegg has repeatedly emphasised his commitment for radical reform within Parliament, in order to create a more open, modern and accessible workplace. In order to ensure a diverse workforce for Parliament, we need to ensure that it is a place that welcomes the individual circumstances and demands of real life. We welcome these recommendations as an opportunity to create this, and recognise the steps that have been taken in other professional sectors in this area.

The Parliamentary Liberal Democrat Party (PLDP) takes the matter of maternity, parental and other caring leave for its MPs very seriously. Although as a Parliamentary Party we have not yet had a request for maternity leave, our policy would be to endeavour to match the statutory rights afforded to women in other professions. This would also apply to paternity leave, which is something that many male MPs have taken, including our current party Leader.

In the event of maternity and paternity leave, The Liberal Democrats Whips Office will ensure that cover is provided for their parliamentary duties and that additional guidance and support is offered both to the individual and their staff. Some roles are delegated to colleagues or senior staff and we ensure that communication from the Whips Office is kept to real emergencies.

Many of our members at some time juggle attendance in the House with parental responsibilities; and we are mindful of the need for balancing parliamentary duties with family life. Caring leave is dealt with according to the individual circumstances and the request made.

In addition to maternity, parental and other caring duties, the PLDP also support and provide assistance to any colleague who find themselves needing time away from the House for personal medical reasons. However, under current House rules, if a Member is called away for any reason at short notice, they are all but prevented from being substituted on Public Bill Committees on which they serve. It might be useful for the House authorities to consider whether more flexibility could be given to members with caring or parental responsibilities to offer a substitute in these circumstances. We also value the right of MPs of different faiths to take leave on the basis of religious beliefs and holidays.

In the event of a future Liberal Democrat administration, we would first hope to extend the statutory right to maternity, paternity and other caring leave to all MPs and would seek to bring forward a motion to the House. This legislation would equally apply to Ministers, as obviously they remain Members of this House.


51. We have said that it is essential to the House's credibility that the participation of Members who have young families is supported. It is likely that at the 2010 general election a number of younger Members, who have young children, will enter the House of Commons for the first time. We welcome the recent announcement of plans for a nursery facility within the Parliamentary estate and urge the House service to implement the proposal as soon as possible. This facility should be open to Members and staff. (Paragraph 270)


Many of our members at some time juggle attendance in the House with parental responsibilities; and we are mindful of the need for balancing parliamentary duties with family life. We welcome the announcement of a crèche in Parliament, which is something that the Liberal Democrats have repeatedly called for in the past.

The Liberal Democrats have also said that in Government we would create Ministerial job-shares for those who seek to balance work commitments with a home life; this would therefore allow Ministers a greater flexibility in making arrangements for parental and other caring leave. We would also seek to provide cover and support to a Minister on leave by ensuring that other Ministers and Private Parliamentary Secretaries from the same department were able to assist with parliamentary duties, supported by the relevant civil servants from that department.

To assist Ministers with parental and other caring duties, they would be permitted to work from home on days during which they do not have parliamentary responsibilities and are not needed for key votes. With advances in telecommunication technologies, it is reasonable to believe that Ministers would be able to manage their workload and home responsibilities satisfactorily.

We believe that there may also be an opportunity to explore potentially more radical reform. Flexible working practices have been instrumental in reducing female attrition in business and the professions and we would like to see serious consideration of extending these practices within politics. A recent survey[4] found that while a majority of women with young children want to work, only 12% want to do so full-time. This suggests that opening up a non-full time career path for Parliamentarians could be an effective mechanism for attracting and retaining more women in politics. Constituents and Parliament itself would benefit from the wider range of life experience which women juggling work and family could bring into the House of Commons.


53. It would be better if Members' requests for caring or sickness leave were less subject to the state of relations between the parties and the turn of events. We believe that greater transparency about the organisation of pairing would help. We therefore recommend that the business managers for each Parliamentary party should regularly brief their Members about the process of pairing, the requests they have received for pairing and whether or not it has been possible to agree to those requests. (Paragraph 274)


The culture in each of the parliamentary parties is different and is affected by various factors such as size, whether they are in Government or opposition, and historical organisation. As a party we are very open about pairing arrangements and all Members are aware about how we organise pairing. As a smaller opposition party we ensure that all pairs are formalised and recorded by both ourselves and the Government. We insist on names to avoid duplication or doubt. We deal the same way with other parties if required.

There are different approaches to pairing. We do not regard the old system of established pairs, requiring mutual absence regardless of circumstance, as democratically healthy.

However, depending on the political will of other political parties, there is scope for improving the existing ad-hoc arrangements where pairs are arranged quite often on the day of votes. Reassuringly there seems to be an instinct for a less brutalist approach to pairing than has existed in the past and a willingness to co-operate. Whether that will survive a close election result remains to be seen.

We will continue to be as pragmatic as we can, attempting to fulfill all those requests that are necessary to relieve colleagues suffering from ill-health or with caring and other commitments.


54. The sitting hours of the House should again be reviewed, and voted upon by the House, early in the new Parliament. Ideally, sitting time for the main chamber should be brought in line with what is considered to be normal business hours. Respecting the difficulty of achieving this, given the multiplicity of other duties inside and outside the Palace of Westminster carried out by Members, we recommend a substantial further development of deferred voting in order to facilitate a more family friendly approach to sitting arrangements and unscheduled (unprogrammed) votes. Further consideration should be given to modern methods of voting to facilitate a more efficient and practical use of time, in line with other legislatures. (Paragraph 286)


We are supportive of a reconsideration of the sitting hours, deferred voting and more modern methods of voting as is suggested. We have consistently argued that greater and more varied use of mornings and Westminster Hall should be considered to ensure Parliament is both attractive to candidates from a wider range of backgrounds as well as conducting its business more efficiently.

Civil Partnerships in Palace of Westminster


56. We think it is important that Members who wish to undertake civil marriages and civil partnerships should have the same rights as Members undertaking Christian marriage rites to hold their ceremonies within the Palace of Westminster. The House service should take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that such civil ceremonies can take place within the Palace of Westminster from 2010. (Paragraph 290)


We fully support the right of Members who wish to undertake civil marriages and civil partnerships to hold their ceremonies within the Palace of Westminster.

3   2005 British Representation Study-  Back

4   Centre for Policy Studies, October 2009 Back

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