Page last updated at 18:42 GMT, Tuesday, 22 July 2008 19:42 UK

Speaker aims for more women MPs

Mr Martin will aim to reach a cross-party consensus

Commons Speaker Michael Martin is to hold a conference aimed at finding a way to ensure more women and people from ethnic minorities become MPs.

He said he would try to end "disparity" between society and Parliament.

Currently about one in five MPs is a woman, compared with approximately half the population.

Speakers' conferences, used only five times since they started in 1916, aim to achieve a cross-party consensus following confidential talks.

Mr Martin was asked to look at the make-up of the Commons by the prime minister.

30-year wait

Harriet Harman, leader of the Commons and minister for women and equality, said: "Democracy only works when everyone is represented.

"Our democratic institutions need to understand the different communities that make up diverse modern Britain. You get better informed decision making when all members of the community are involved.

"There are more women in Parliament than ever before, but we are still a minority at 20%, with only two black and no Asian women MPs.

"Despite that, the 125 Women MPs have changed not only the face of Parliament, but the agenda of Parliament, speaking up for women in this country on issues like maternity leave, domestic violence, and support for families caring for older relatives."

Gordon Brown has already announced that the speaker will hold a conference to consider the state of UK elections, including ideas such as weekend voting and lowering the voting age to 16.

Papers of the conferences are not made available until 30 years after they occur.

There were five speaker's conferences on matters to do with electoral law and electoral reform in the 20th Century, the last being in 1978.

There is no obligation on the government of the day to accept recommendations but most are usually adopted.

Profile: Michael Martin
24 Feb 08 |  Politics

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