Speaking in the Parliamentary Representation debate, 27th February (Hansard)

Sadiq Khan:

I will keep my comments brief, Mr Speaker, as you have asked us to. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen South (Dame Anne Begg) on securing the debate and on the motion. I also congratulate all 14 Members who spoke and all those who intervened. I think that this is the first debate in which I agreed with almost every word said by all Members on both sides of the Chamber. However, I think that it would be complacent to get involved in mutual backslapping, saying how fantastic things are as a consequence of the Speaker’s Conference. Progress has been made, but there is still a huge amount to do.

The most senior woman member of the Government, the Home Secretary, when asked about this, said:

“The first responsibility for ensuring diversity of representation rests with political parties, and with political parties taking action to ensure we have a greater diversity of candidates”.—[Official Report, 17 June 2010; Vol. 511, c. 1017.]

All three party leaders have signed up to the principles of making Parliament more diverse: justice, effectiveness and legitimacy. It is really important that responsibility should start and end with political parties.

It is important that we take a look at how the three political parties are doing when it comes to representation. Of the 55 Liberal Democrat Members of Parliament, only seven are women—a Liberal Democrat Whip was just in the Chamber for a short period, but she has now gone—and none of them are black or Asian minority ethnic. For the European Parliament elections on 22 May, only a third of the party’s candidates are women. I think that is a problem.

The Labour party has made some progress, but a lot more is needed—I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, suggesting that we are perfect. I remember being inspired when I saw my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) elected in 1987, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), Bernie Grant and Paul Boateng. Fourteen members, or 44%, of the shadow Cabinet are women, as are 55 of our 138 shadow Ministers, or 40%. Two members of the shadow Cabinet are BAME, as are five of our shadow Ministers, and 54% of our candidates in target seats are women, and 40% of them in London are BAME.

Had there been more people like me sitting around the Cabinet table when there was a discussion about whether to have a van with the words “Go home” on it driving around the most diverse parts of London, I genuinely believe that someone would have said, “Hold on a second. I remember the National Front in the 1970s and 1980s. They used the same phrase” Others would have said, “I have neighbours and friends who remember the National Front in the 1970s and 1980s, and that is not a sensible thing to do.”

Had there been more disabled people sitting around the Cabinet table when cutting and cancelling impact assessments was being discussed, I think that someone would have said, “Hold on a second. If we stop having impact assessments, we will not be aware whether a consequence of a policy might be poorer and disabled people being left out.” Had there been more women around the Cabinet table when it came to talking about anonymity for victims of rape, they would have said, “Hold on a second. There are very good reasons why victims of rape are kept anonymous.”

The Prime Minister said, as you will remember, Mr Speaker, that he wants a third of his Front Benchers to be women by the end of this Parliament, so how are the Conservatives doing? In the 2010 general election, Labour secured its second-worst result in history. Notwithstanding that, the percentage of our women MPs went up from 28% to 31%, and the number of black and minority ethnic MPs more than doubled from 2.2% to 6.2%. The Tories did very well in the 2010 election—although perhaps not as well as they should have done—and increased their number of MPs by 97 in numerical terms. The percentage of women MPs did not go up by as much as male MPs. They still have half the number of women MPs that Labour have—48 out of their 306 MPs, or 15%—and still only 11 of their MPs are BAME. Although progress was made and credit should be given, it was not enough progress.

Let us look at how the Government have conducted themselves under this Prime Minister. Of the various Departments, four are run by women—the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Home Office, the Northern Ireland Office, and the Department for International Development. Those Departments have a combined budget of £33.79 billion—9.2% of the total budgets that the Government spend. Of the Ministry of Justice, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Cabinet Office, the Scotland Office, the Wales Office, the Office of the Attorney-General, the Office of the Leader of the House of Commons, and the Office of the Leader of the House of Lords, none has a woman in at all. Those Departments’ combined spending is £55.6 billion—almost double that of the four Departments that women run. There is still a huge problem in relation to whether this Government understand the importance of having women in positions of power and influence.

What about other appointments made by the Prime Minister? Of 114 Privy Counsellors appointed since 2010, 17 are women, with zero being BAME. Fourteen per cent. of the seats on influential Cabinet Committees are held by women, but how many of them are BAME? Zero. Of the 85 policy tsars appointed since 2010, 13 are women. How many are BME? Zero. Of the 19 Select Committees chaired by a Conservative MP, how many are chaired by a woman? One. Who is she? The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh), and we know how that movie ended. How many—[Interruption.] I hear some chuntering from the Government Benches. I am happy for the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mary Macleod) to intervene if she wants to. No? Fine. Out of those 19 Conservative Chairs of Select Committees, I said that one is a woman. How many are BAME? Zero.

Lots of progress has been made and we can talk in platitudes about the importance of making further progress. All the Conservative Members who spoke made excellent speeches; I particularly enjoyed those by the hon. Members for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) and for Braintree (Mr Newmark), who I commend for his plug for Women2Win. However, although the Prime Minister signed the commitments to the three principles at the Speaker’s Conference and progress has been made in relation to the number of additional seats won by women, the evidence thus far on this Conservative-led coalition is that progress has not been made, not only for women in politics but for women voters. Research by the Library shows that those who have been affected disproportionately by this Government’s policies are women, the disabled and those who are BAME.

I am afraid that in the next general election it will once again be left to the Labour party to make further progress in this important area. However, we want competition. We want the Conservative party and the Liberal Democrat party to be doing far more, because the more they do, the more our game is raised, and the more our game is raised, the better it is for British society.


The Labour Party will place cookies on your computer to help us make this website better. Please read this to review the updates about which cookies we use and what information we collect on our site.  To find out more about these cookies, see our privacy notice. Use of this site confirms your acceptance of these cookies.