My Lords, like all uncommenced provisions in the Equality Act 2010, we keep Section 106 under review. The Government are working to support women and disabled people to participate in politics. This includes the EnAble Fund to support disabled candidates in meeting campaigning costs, primarily for the English local elections in 2019. Ultimately, political parties are responsible for their candidate selection and should lead the way in improving diverse representation. Many already do so through training and mentoring schemes.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her Answer, but it is very similar to an answer she gave to my Written Question on 17 September last year. The Government are saying that nothing has changed and that they have no intention of implementing Section 106 of the Equality Act 2010, but would the Minister agree that to solve a problem one must have the data to identify it? That is the reason for Section 106. Once political parties publish this data it will show for the first time any action required to improve the diversity of candidates. Parties can then take a number of measures that they feel necessary, which is what Labour did to increase the number of women candidates. Does the Minister agree that there is a need for all parties to improve the diversity of candidates, which would eventually lead to all our elected institutions looking much more like the people they represent? Increasing diversity is the important thing if that is to happen.
I most certainly agree with the noble Baroness that we need to improve the diversity of candidates so that both Houses of Parliament look like the people they represent. She talked about data, which is really important. I call on all political parties to improve, collate and report their data, not only so they can look to it themselves, but so that candidates who might wish to join and represent a political party can also look to it.
My Lords, women, disabled people and ethnic minorities are woefully underrepresented in our Parliament and public institutions, but there is a new phenomenon: the disproportionate level of abuse that a lot of women and disabled people in particular put up with on social media. The Prime Minister was recently quoted as saying that it has become so severe that it is “threatening our democracy”. Can the Minister say what action is being taken to combat this?
I agree with the noble Baroness and, indeed, with my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The abuse of some female representatives—I can think of a few, such as Luciana Berger—is so severe and has been so bad for them that I am surprised some of them are still in Parliament. It is absolutely up to the leadership of political parties not just to recognise the abuse, but to deal with it promptly. That is the only way we will drive out some of the abuse we are seeing.
My Lords, would the Minister agree that one of the first challenges is to instil in people who might have disabilities, or who feel themselves in some other way to be disadvantaged, the confidence to recognise their potential to contribute, and that this needs to start early? In that regard, I commend to her the work of Chickenshed in north London, which works through theatre practice to give young people with a very wide range of abilities an enormous amount of confidence and the ability to see themselves as the leaders of the future.
I thank the noble Baroness for commending Chickenshed to me; I will certainly look into it. She makes a really good point about disabled people knowing their ability, and the chances and opportunities open to them in life, no matter what they might wish to do. I am very pleased to see that we have more representation of disabled people in the media, in dramas, on television and in film. Disabled people should know, just like the rest of us, that nothing need hold them back.
My Lords, I would like to return to the Question from the noble Baroness about Section 106. Without enacting the legislation, it is very hard for those who are concerned about diversity to hold political parties to account. I ask my noble friend again: why are the Government so anxious to not enact the legislation?
I think the issue is that the Government feel that all political parties should be responsible for being diversity-inclusive when they select and elect their candidates. We have given funding of £250,000 for the EnAble fund, which will help this year, but we feel that individual political parties should then show leadership in this area.
The Minister said, rightly, that both Houses should represent the country as a whole more effectively. Is she aware that half the Members of this House live in London? What does she suggest might be done to make it easier to have better representation from other parts of the country in this Chamber?
I thank the noble Lord for that question. I am sure that he lives not in London but in Scotland. I am another of that half who do not live in London, quite deliberately, because we need to look outside London—for example, when we think about the Northern Powerhouse or employment opportunities. London is a bubble unto itself and it is very important for the other regions to play their part, in the economy and otherwise.