10/01/2017 00:02 GMT

Force Political Parties To Field Women Candidates With New Law, Say MPs

Tim Ireland/PA Archive
Most of the Labour Party's female MPs, including Harriet Harman (centre) gather on the steps to New Palace Yard outside the House of Commons after the 2015 General Election.

Political parties should face fines if they fail to ensure at least 45% of their parliamentary candidates are women, MPs have said today.

Of the 650 MPs in parliament only 195, or 30%, are women. In a report published today, the Commons women’s and qualities committee said parties needed to be held accountable for the “shockingly low” figure.

The report produced by the cross-party committee said the government should introduce legislation if the number and proportion of women MPs fails to increase “significantly” after the 2020 general election

The UK ranks only 48th globally for representation – a fall from 25th place in 1999.

Maria Miller, the Conservative chair of the committee, said: “”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. 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.”

She added: “A global ranking of 48th is shockingly low. We must rise to the challenge of being a world leader on women’s parliamentary representation.”

The MPs said parties that fail to comply with a 45% target should face sanctions -  including being fined by the Electoral Commission.

Sam Smethers, Fawcett Society Chief Executive, warned unless action was taken women’s representation in the Commons will “go in to reverse” in 2020.

“As we approach the centenary of the first votes for women and the first woman to take her seat in the House of Commons, we face the prospect of women’s representation going backwards from what is already a low base of just 30%. That it a terrible indictment on the state of our politics,” she said.

Fawcett research has found that seats held by women are disproportionately affected by the boundary review and Labour women MPs are particularly vulnerable both as a result of boundary changes but also if Labour loses a large number of seats at the next election.  All political parties therefore need to raise their game.”

The upcoming boundary review will see the number of MPs cut from 650 to 600. 

Cat Smith, Shadow Minister for Voter Engagement and Youth Affairs, said Labour was “proud to have more women MPs than all of the other political parties combined”

“But we recognise that there is more to do until parliament accurately reflects the society it serves, and will continue to work with other parties and the Government to ensure that we are doing everything we can to play our part.

“Jeremy Corbyn has committed to working towards a 50:50 target for Labour’s women MPs in 2020, and the party is pursuing numerous strategies to increase the number of women in local government and senior parliamentary positions.”