Government urged to legislate to increase number of female MPs
The Government should consider imposing financial penalties on political parties that fail to field enough female parliamentary candidates, a group of MPs has said.
The UK has slipped from 25th to 48th in global rankings for female representation since 1999.
The Women and Equalities Committee described the UK’s performance compared to other countries as “shockingly low” and called on parties, the Government and Parliament to do more to increase the number of women elected.
“The starting point for each party is different, but all of the main parties fielded significantly less than 50% women parliamentary candidates for the 2015 general election,” today’s report said.
“The parties at present express confidence in their own internal mechanisms for improving this situation, but we consider that the Government should be prepared to legislate to achieve parity among candidates, including setting out financial penalties for under-performance, if voluntary measures do not bear fruit.”
It endorsed a target for women to comprise 45% of parliamentarians and local government representatives by 2030.
To achieve that, the MPs recommended that the Government pass legislation before 2020 to require political parties to field at least 45% of female candidates. The legislation would then come into force if significant progress on gender equality was not evident at the next general election.
“In their evidence to our inquiry, the leaders of political parties agreed that the Commons would benefit from gender equality, and a range of initiatives is in place to improve the situation,” said Maria Miller, the chair of the committee.
“But we saw little to justify their confidence that these will be sufficient. We need concrete action plans. We need party leadership to provide clear and strong direction in working with local parties to deliver more women candidates. We need to see more women candidates in winnable seats. Above all, parties need to be transparent and accountable in their progress – or the lack of it.”
Today’s report also expressed concern about the impact of the upcoming Boundary Commission review, warning that exacerbating the gender divide could be an “unintended consequence” of the constituency shake-up.
Ms Miller added: “We are calling on political parties to publicly set out the measures they plan to take to increase the proportion and number of women parliamentary candidates in 2020. We must ensure that previous positive trends do not stagnate or reverse. There is no room for complacency.”