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Representation Of The People (Amendment)

Volume 202: debated on Tuesday 21 January 1992

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3.39 pm

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the law to provide that each parliamentary constituency shall be represented by a woman and by a man; to make a consequential reorganisation of constituency boundaries; and for connected purposes.
I wish to introduce the Bill to enable more women to be elected to the House. It will not have escaped your eagle eye, Mr. Speaker, that the mother of Parliaments consists largely of fathers and that, despite the 64 years in which women have had the vote and the many able women who have put themselves forward for selection as parliamentary candidates, less than 6 per cent. of the Members of the House are women. I do not seek special privileges for women. I simply seek to redress an anomaly in our legislative procedure. That can be done without disturbing the position of any existing Member.

We have women's issues in politics, but we do not have men's issues. That is becuse there is a good number of men in the Chamber who will take up issues relating to men. Because there are relatively few women Members, both political parties pay lip service to the idea of having more women, yet seem unable to achieve that objective.

There is no question but that women make admirable and competent politicians all the way up to the level of Prime Minister. There is no lack of talent among women. In the last decade women have made enormous strides. They are better educated. More of them go to university. They are better trained. As many women as men are now training in most professions. They have better jobs. They earn better salaries and wages. But their representation in the House still does not reflect the fact that half the population are women. In that respect, Parliament is trailing behind public opinion and the reforms which we have seen elsewhere in the community.

My proposal would not mean doubling the number of Members of Parliament, it would not threaten the position of any existing Member, but it would improve the choice for the voter. I propose the introduction of a system whereby each constituency would put up a list of men candidates and a list of women candidates and a voter would have two votes, choosing one from each list. That could easily be achieved by the Boundary Commission amalgamating constituencies so that each constituency would be represented by two Members.

There would be other advantages. If, for example, a person was so small-minded as not to want a woman to represent him, he could still vote for a man. If, on the other hand, someone would rather take up problems with a woman, that person would, under my proposal, eventually have a woman Member to approach. With natural wastage and retirement, it would take three or four elections to achieve that goal.

In Germany, all constituencies have two Members of Parliament, two lists of candidates and two votes. It is common for people in Britain to vote for two or more candidates in local government elections. In the United States each state is represented by two senators, often from different parties, so that there is one Republican and one Democrat. That shows that there is nothing complicated or difficult in what I am proposing.

As I have said, I am not seeking to promote any advantage for women; I simply seek equality. A woman is regarded by many selection committees, for better or worse, as not being the typical Member of Parliament. The image of a Member is still that of a man. We have to overcome that prejudice.

The House should be a mirror reflecting all aspects of society. It should reflect the ambitions, aspirations and concerns of the majority of electors who are women. Although I do not deny that under the Conservative party of the last decade women have made enormous strides, it is still a contentious issue that every time there is an election we have to have special women's areas and policies.

I disagree with positive discrimination. I disagree also with the idea that there should be a Minister for women's affairs. Neither of those matters would be political issues, however, if it were natural for every voter in Britain to have the opportunity on his ballot paper to vote for both a man and a woman. By adopting that approach we would take the issues of women's politics and feminism outside the deliberations of the House.

3.45 pm

I do not wish to make a long speech, but I cannot allow my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) to get away with this nonsense. As a former teaching colleague of mine said, this is just plain daft. In 22 years in the House I have never heard a more silly proposition put before it. In deference to your successors, Mr. Speaker, who will sit in the Chair and decide, if my hon. Friend's Bill is enacted, whether to call the male Member or the female Member for a constituency, to our constituents and to the Parliament that we all seek to serve, we should quickly throw out the Bill without ceremony.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 19 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business), and agreed to.

Mrs. Edwina Currie, Ms. Clare Short, Mr. David Amess, who in the circumstances I propose to be my pair, and myself, Sir.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mrs. Teresa Gorman, Mrs. Edwina Currie, Ms. Clare Short and Mr. David Amess.