Page last updated at 04:07 GMT, Monday, 11 January 2010

Women MP candidate quotas proposed

Packed Commons chamber
About 20% of Members of Parliament are women at present

Obligatory quotas for the number of women put forward for selection as a parliamentary candidate by each political party have been proposed.

A cross-party conference chaired by Speaker John Bercow, acknowledged that its suggestion would be controversial.

The conference on diversity issues was commissioned by the prime minister.

It wants the parties either to improve the representation of women at the 2010 general election, or face mandatory quotas for the next one.

Family-friendly hours

Its report states: "We recognise that equality guarantees do not sit easily within some political party cultures.

"Yet, to date, the all-women shortlist has been the only mechanism to have produced a significant step-change in representation in the House of Commons in a relatively short period of time."

In most cases, it remains more difficult for a candidate who does not fit the "white, male, middle class" norm to be selected
Anne Begg
Speakers's Conference vice-chair

Its members also call for lists featuring only black and ethnic minority candidates, though they acknowledged such a move might undermine the principle that an MP represents the constituency regardless of background or politics.

The committee also called for more family-friendly hours for debates, remote voting, bursaries for people who otherwise could not afford to stand as a candidate, and limits on the money would-be candidates could spend to get selected.

Anne Begg MP, vice chair of the Speaker's Conference, said it welcomed the main parties' progree in ensuring selection procedures were more professional and objective.

"Yet the fact is that, in most cases, it remains more difficult for a candidate who does not fit the "white, male, middle class" norm to be selected, particularly if the seat is considered winnable.

"Our recommendations are aimed at putting that right, and I urge the government, political parties and parliament itself to implement them without delay."

Harriet Harman, Labour's deputy leader and minister for women and equality, said parliament must reflect the country MPs served.

"We agree that there is a real need to build on the desire for greater representation in our democratic structures," she said.

"This is a democratic deficit - the missing faces on the green benches are the missing voices in the chamber."

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The Independent Liz Hoggard: Diversity matters more than fairness - 13 hrs ago
New StatesmanCall for parties to adopt quotas for female MPs - 26 hrs ago
Telegraph Political parties must select female candidates or face all-women shortlists - 31 hrs ago
Observer Call for quotas to boost women MPs - 34 hrs ago
The Scotsman Political parties could be forced into all-women candidate shortlists - 38 hrs ago
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