Proposals to increase number of female MPs in Commons rejected

Government dismisses all six proposals by women and equalities committee because of ‘additional regulatory burden’ on parties

The government has rejected all six proposals to give parliament more equal female representation, prepared by the Commons’ women and equalities committee, including fines for parties that do not select enough women as candidates.

The women and equalities committee chair, Maria Miller, said the response showed a lack of ambition by the government, which she said was “content to sit on its hands with an approach” which had yielded “depressingly slow progress so far”.

The committee’s report, published in January, said there was a “serious democratic deficit” because of the lack of female representation in parliament, where men make up 70% of the total MPs.

The committee recommended radical changes to the law before the next election, with the UK languishing at 40th in the world for female representation, though up eight places since the 8 June poll.

However, the government has rejected all six of the committee’s proposals, including any legislation to force parties to have a minimum proportion of 45% female parliamentary candidates in general elections, with the option to consider fines if targets were not met.

The committee also recommended the government set a firm target of 45% representation of women in parliament and local government by 2030.

In the response, the government said increasing women’s representation was “an important aim” but did not feel legislation was the answer. “The government shares the committee’s view that political parties have primary responsibility for ensuring that women come forward to represent them and are put in positions from which they can win seats,” the reply said.

“The government does not believe that the best way to achieve this is through legislation and placing an additional regulatory burden on political parties.”

Any proposal to sanction parties who did too little to meet diversity targets was also rejected. “The government does not support quotas set out in legislation, and therefore does not agree that sanctions should be introduced,” the reply said.

The reply also rejects the committee’s proposal that parties be required by law to publish their parliamentary candidate diversity data, citing “concerns about the potential regulatory burden which this would impose, particularly on smaller parties”.

Miller, the former Conservative cabinet minister, said the response showed the UK was failing to be a world leader on women’s representation. “The government’s failure to accept any of the committee’s recommendations shows a complete lack of action and ambition to bring about real change,” she said.

“The early general election in June means that government, parliament and political parties have a window of opportunity now, to make the changes that are needed to ensure a more representative group are elected at the next general election.”

Sophie Walker, the leader of the Women’s Equality party, said the response was deeply disappointing. “By rejecting every one of the women and equalities committee’s recommendations, the government has let all women down and continues to stifle true democracy in which all voices are heard,” she said.

Walker said there was clear evidence that quotas had been key to increasing the number of women in parliament. “They are a short-term solution to fix a long-term imbalance of power, and they are a stepping stone towards a political system that sees everyone, and is open to all,” she said.

“We will continue our challenge to the old politics of Westminster by mobilising our activists on our clear pathway to getting more women into politics.”


Jessica Elgot

The GuardianTramp

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