Government and others respond to Committee's Gender Sensitive Report
17 June 2022
The Government, the House of Commons Commission and other bodies have responded to a March Report from the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee, in which cross-party MPs called for under-representation of women, and especially women from ethnic minority backgrounds in the House of Commons, to be addressed. At just 34%, representation of women in the House of Commons lags behind its devolved counterparts, and falls below that of comparable European nations. For women from ethnic minorities, it is even lower, with only 5.7% of all 650 MPs being women from ethnic minority backgrounds.
The Report, Equality in the heart of democracy: A gender sensitive House of Commons, considered the barriers faced by women in politics, from the disproportionate volume and vitriol of abuse faced by female politicians, to practical barriers in Parliament itself, including deficiencies in provision for parents and carers, and problems of bullying and historical sexual misconduct.
In its response, the Government accepts the problem and scale of the abuse suffered by female MPs, and commits to monitoring the effectiveness of measures in both the Online Safety Bill and Elections Bill to protect political candidates. The latter creates a new offence of electoral intimidation.
However, the Government rejected calls from the Committee to require political parties to publish data on the diversity of their political candidates by enacting section 106 of the Equality Act. The Committee proposed this policy as an “easy win”, which, through transparency, would incentivise parties to address the barriers facing women and ethnic minority candidates.
The House of Commons Commission also responded to the Report, committing to report back to the Committee in six months' time regarding progress made on gender sensitivity. In particular, the Commission commits to focus on MPs' security, its response to bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct within the House, and its support for MPs with children and families.
Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, Rt Hon Caroline Nokes MP, said:
“Equal representation is a foundation of democracy; it is essential that we increase the proportion of women in Parliament. Not doing so will have repercussions across society. It is encouraging that in their responses to our Report, the bodies influencing the House of Commons' culture have acknowledged the myriad barriers facing women wishing to pursue a political career. These problems- from a lack of adequate childcare provision, to torrents of online abuse- are not specific to Parliament. The changes set out in the Online Safety Bill will, I hope, serve to better protect all women, not only those in the public eye.
"The House of Commons must evolve to accommodate those with different responsibilities and requirements. I am pleased that the House of Commons Commission has stated its commitment to improving Parliamentary culture and responding more effectively to complaints, making it a more inclusive workplace for women and other under-represented groups. It must not place this ambition on the back burner."
Image: Parliamentary copyright