All-women shortlists allowed when political parties recruit candidates

The government will change the law to allow political parties to use all-women shortlists for electoral candidates, Harriet Harman will say today.

The leader of the House of Commons and minister for women will reiterate plans in parliament today to make it legal for MPs to use candidate shortlists made up entirely of women for another five general elections until 2030. It is part of a raft of other measures outlined in the Equality Bill designed to improve diversity, such as making employers that bid for government work publish their company’s equality statistics.

Harman will also introduce a debate on a motion to establish a potentially “historic” Speaker’s Conference, which will consider and make recommendations on how to improve representation of women, disabled, and minority ethnic people in the House of Commons, so that it better reflects society.

The government expects the conference to operate like a select committee, consisting of 17 MPs from across the political parties.

Harman will say: “Society has changed and the House needs to change too. In this country, as women, we regard ourselves as equal citizens now, yet we are not equal in numbers in this House – we are outnumbered by men four to one.

“This country is ethnically diverse now, but out of 646 members only 15 are black or Asian. To reflect our population we need over four times more black and Asian MPs. How are we to convince young black and Asian men that they are genuinely included in our society when they still see so few black and brown faces on our green benches?”

She will add that failing to represent society properly causes a “democratic deficit”. “The House of Commons would have greater public confidence and have more legitimacy if it was more representative of this country as it now is. The Speaker’s Conference will be a historic step forward in the drive to bring Parliament into the 21st century.”

Women make up just 19.4% of MPs in the House of Commons. This compares with women members making up nearly half (46.7%) of the Welsh Assembly, and 34.1% of the Scottish Parliament. Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people make up about 10% of the population – but less than 3% of MPs in the House of Commons.

To reflect society, the House of Commons would need more than twice as many white female MPs and BAME male MPs and more than 10 times as many BAME female MPs. All-women shortlists were first announced in March this year ahead of the Equality Bill. All-ethnic shortlists for parliamentary roles were also discussed earlier this year, but there is not yet any sign the government will change the law to allow them.

The last Speaker’s Conference was held in 1977. There have only been five in the last century.

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