UK Parliament not representative of society

Harriet Harman pointed out the under-representation of minorities

13 November 2008. Harriet Harman, Leader of the House of Commons and Minister for Women and Equality, said that for the first time Parliament has acknowledged it is not representative of society, and that it needs to change.
Ms Harman opened a debate yesterday afternoon, in the House of Commons on a motion to establish a Speaker’s Conference, which will consider and make recommendations on how to improve representation of women, disabled, and minority ethnic people in the House of Commons, so that it better reflects society.

Ms Harman said:
"Society has changed and the House needs to change too. In this country, as women, we regard ourselves as equal citizens now, yet we are not equal in numbers in this House – we are outnumbered by men four to one. This country is ethnically diverse now, but out of 646 members only 15 are Black or Asian. To reflect our population we need more than four times more Black and Asian MPs. How are we to convince young Black and Asian men that they are genuinely included in our society when they still see so few Black and Brown faces on our green benches?

There is a democratic deficit – the missing faces on the green benches are the missing voices in this chamber.
Black, Asian and Minority ethnic people make up about 10% of the population – but less than 3% of MPs in the House of Commons.

The House of Commons would have greater public confidence and have more legitimacy if it was more representative of this country as it now is. The Speaker’s Conference will be a historic step forward in the drive to bring Parliament into the 21st century."

Harriet Harman pleaded for: "more than twice as many white female MPs, more than twice as many Black, Asian and minority ethnic male MPs , more than ten times as many BAME female MPs." Also, employers and public authorities should be alloweed to take Positive Action to address under-representation via the Equality Bill.

Ms Harman appealled for encouraging more minority ethnic women to become local councillors with the Black Asian and Minority Ethnic Women Councillors taskforce; setting new targets on gender, race and disability in public appointments.

The Conference was requested by the Prime Minister as part of the ‘Governance of Britain’ agenda and it will be chaired by the Speaker and will have 17 other members. The Conference is expected to report its recommendations in 2009.

The last Speaker’s Conference was in 1977. There have only been five in the last century. In 1916-17 the Speaker’s Conference secured cross-party agreement on the principle that women should have the right to vote. This Conference led to the Representation of the People Act 1918, which extended the right to vote to women over 30 years old.

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