MP Jess Phillips urges review to get more female committee chairs

Call comes after figures show only 23% of candidates running for election for powerful roles this week are women

A senior female MP has questioned whether parliament should change the rules governing its powerful select committees after it emerged that only 23% of candidates running for chairmanship roles are women.

Jess Phillips, who chairs the women’s parliamentary Labour party, argued that the figure was disproportionately low, given that almost a third of MPs are women, and said her party was doing all the “heavy lifting”.

The figures show that only three Conservative women have put themselves forward for the elections, which take place in parliament on Wednesday, compared with 27 men. Meanwhile, eight of the Labour candidates are women while 11 are men.

“This should lead to questions about the culture in [Conservative] ranks that lead to this. It’s fine to talk a good game about diversity, but if we actually want to see change real action is needed,” said Phillips.

“Perhaps it is time for parliament to look at the rules for selection of these powerful roles in order to make sure that when the public turn on to watch them, newspapers and broadcasters report on them and visitors come to see them, that our parliament looks more like the people we represent.”

Overall, 16 committees, which hold the government to account on issues ranging from the economy to education, health and Brexit, have an all-male shortlist. Just six are certain to have a woman at the helm – but only because they are each unopposed.

However, Harriet Harman, who is the longest-serving woman in parliament, argued that there was also a positive story to tell because female MPs were frontrunners for some of the most influential groupings.

“Parliament is going to be stronger and more important than it has been for a long time, not only because of the issues facing the country but because of the weakness of the government.

“The select committees are going to be even more important and we could be set for a major breakthrough of women leading important ones.”

She pointed to the Conservative Nicky Morgan running for the Treasury position, Labour’s Yvette Cooper, Meg Hillier and Mary Creagh who are unopposed at home affairs, public accounts and the environmental audit, and Rachel Reeves vying for the role at business.

Harman, who has been the leading voice in parliament for women’s representation for decades, pointed out that female MPs often served shorter terms because they were selected for more marginal seats. As such, they might not be as likely to be seen as reaching the necessary level of seniority, she said, meaning this week’s elections did mark progress – but more could be done.


Anushka Asthana Political editor

The GuardianTramp

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