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The Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee has called the General Election an “unmissable opportunity” for political parties to demonstrate their commitment to gender equality in the House of Commons.
Maria Miller MP said: “We heard a lot of encouraging promises when we took evidence on this last year from leadership figures in the Conservatives, Labour Party, SNP and the Liberal Democrats, but we expressed concern that warm words had not yet resulted in concrete strategies to deliver more women candidates, particularly in winnable seats. Candidate selection is happening now, and gender equality in Parliament can’t be put on the back burner for another five years. It’s time for the leadership of each of the parties to show that actions speak louder than words.”
In January 2017 the Committee published a report on ‘Women in the House of Commons after the 2020 election’, which made a number of recommendations to Government and to political parties for steps to increase the proportion of women on the green benches. They included:
– that Government should set a target of 45% for representation of women in Parliament and local government by 2030 and outline plans to achieve this target, working with political parties.
– that Government should seek to introduce a statutory minimum proportion of female parliamentary candidates in general elections for each political party with parties that fail to comply with the target facing sanctions
– that Government should immediately bring into force the statutory requirement for political parties to publish their parliamentary candidate diversity data for general elections, as set out in Section 106 of the Equality Act 2010.
The report noted that the UK ranks only 48th globally for representation of women in a lower or single chamber, having fallen from 25th place in 1999. It says that it is only in 2017 that the total number of women MPs ever elected has surpassed the number of men currently holding seats.
The Committee noted that political parties have the primary responsibility for ensuring that women come forward as candidates and that women candidates are put in positions from which they can win seats. Responses to the report from four parties are published today.
In a very brief response, the Conservatives say they will study the report. Labour says it has long supported All Women Shortlists to achieve 50:50 representation in parliament and across public offices with gender balanced shortlists. It highlighted in particular the recommendation on parties publishing parliamentary candidate data for general elections. The Lib Dems pointed to their Electing Diverse MPs motion passed last year, their Campaign for Gender Balance and Leadership scheme and said they were committed to making progress on diversity.
The SNP said Nicola Sturgeon’s cabinet is one of only a handful in the world that is gender balanced and that “equality for women is at the heaft of the Scottish Government’s vision for an equal Scotland”. It added that the SNP’s Programme for Government contains “ambitious commitments in support of women’s equality”, including legislating for gender balance on public sector boards, creating a new Advisory Council on Women and Girls and piloting a Returners Project.
The Government has not yet made a formal response to the Women and Equalities Committee report. The Minister for Women and Equalities, Rt Hon Justine Greening MP, informed the Committee in March that, due to the cross-cutting nature of the report, the response would not be ready before the customary two-month deadline.