CFWD has welcomed the final report of the Speaker’s Conference, published this morning, which has accepted the main proposals in CFWD's submission to it.
Women currently constitute just 19.5% of Members of Parliament, and this percentage has increased very little since it doubled in 1997. Numbers of women candidates selected by all parties for winnable seats for the 2010 election suggest that any improvement in the new parliament will be marginal.
The UK ranks 66th in the ‘League Table’ of 187 countries. Rwanda, where 56% of MPs are women, is at the top, with Sweden, Iceland, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Spain, Andorra, Belgium and Germany all in the top twenty with more than 30% . France, the USA and Russia are all below the UK.
CFWD’s submission to the Conference included recommendations for both a Democracy Diversity Fund to enable good new candidates to be identified and trained, and the introduction of some form of quota system as used in many other countries. Both of these proposals have been accepted in principle.
The report’s 71 recommendations (downloadable here) cover a broad range of measures, including improvements to citizenship education, public reporting on the diversity of candidates and MPs by political parties, schemes to widen access to candidacy, and improvements to the political culture of both parliament and the political parties, and to working practices for both parliamentary candidates and MPs.
However, the report in itself will not change either the diversity of public representation or the nature of politics, and it has now put the ball firmly into the court of the political parties and the government.
CFWD’s director, Nan Sloane, said: ‘Whilst we are delighted that so much of our submission has been accepted, and are much encouraged by many of the report’s recommendations, we want to see some significant progress on this issue, and do not believe that the next election will produce it. The challenge for the next government – of whatever party – will be to take the report forward and make sure that we see real change at the election after next. In particular we hope that all the parties will take the Conference’s recommendations on quotas seriously – the Conference accepts, as we do, that they are the option of last resort, but if we do not see genuine progress at this election it is our view that the last resort will have been reached.’
CFWD also hopes that the government will make parliamentary time for a debate on the report before the general election, and that all parties will give serious consideration to the report's recommendations.
The Speaker’s Conference was established in November 2008 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.’ It is composed of Members of Parliament from all parties led by the Speaker. Speaker’s Conferences are a rare form of addressing important constitutional issues; the first was held in 1917 and recommended the enfranchisement of women.