HC Deb 20 November 2001 vol 375 cc157-8
1. Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West)

What steps his Department is taking to encourage more women to stand for election to office. [13551]

The Minister for Local Government (Mr. Nick Raynsford)

We have introduced the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Bill to enable political parties to use positive measures to reduce inequality in the numbers of men and women elected. We are also reforming government to make it a more attractive option to able people of all backgrounds, including women, through improving the hours and working environments at all levels. However, political parties have a vital role to play in encouraging women to come forward as candidates, and I hope that the Government's work in that area acts as a spur to parties wishing to achieve a better gender balance in their representatives.

Dr. Starkey

The Minister will be aware that the level of women's representation on local councils varies widely, from 51 per cent. on Cotswold council to 5 per cent. on the Isle of Anglesey council. Is he aware of any research on why the variation is so great and on what barriers exist to increasing women's participation on local councils? If there is no such research, will his Department commission it and then act upon it?

Mr. Raynsford

My hon. Friend has rightly highlighted the problem of inadequate representation of women on many local authorities. Some 27 per cent. of all councillors are women, which is a better figure than this House, but it is still far below the proportion one would expect, given that women constitute about 50 per cent. of the population. Research has been undertaken by several bodies, including the Equal Opportunities Commission, the Fawcett Society, the Improvement and Development Agency, the Local Government Association and the constitution unit at University college, London, on reasons why women are under-represented at different levels in government. Several conclusions flow from that research, one of which is the selection processes to which I have already referred. The Government are committed to carrying forward positive measures, as set out in the legislation I have already mentioned, to make it possible for more women to be elected and play an effective role in government at all levels.