Response to Speaker’s Conference backs monitoring of candidates

15 March 2010

The Speaker’s Conference welcomes the Government’s support for the Conference recommendation that the Equality Bill, currently going through the Houses of Parliament, should include provisions to require political parties to monitor the diversity of candidates.

However, the Conference felt let down that while the Government "agrees that the distinction drawn by the current legislative framework between mental and physical incapacity of MPs is not sustainable," an amendment to the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill to repeal Section 141 of the Mental Health Act 1983 has not received equivalent support.

Commenting on the Government response to the Speaker’s Conference report published as a Command Paper on 10 March 2010, Vice Chair of the Speaker’s Conference Anne Begg said:

"We are glad to see the Government so wholeheartedly endorses the need to broaden representation on the grounds of justice, to make Parliament more effective and to enhance its legitimacy by more accurately reflecting the UK electorate.

"In particular, our call for the political parties to publish monitoring data in relation to candidate selections was recognised by the Government as an important means to better understand the routes candidates from under-represented groups take to election. Monitoring may help to clarify why people from under-represented groups are either not being selected at all, or are selected, in the main, for seats they are unlikely to win. We have been publishing monitoring data provided by the three main Westminster parties to us and would call on all parties to do this themselves as a matter of routine.

"Elsewhere, we would like to have seen more action from the Government on the repeal of Section 141 of the Mental Health Act 1983. This provision, which means that an MP could lose his or her seat if detained under the Mental Health Act for six months or more, embodies attitudes which stigmatise and sap the confidence of people with mental illness. An opportunity to repeal the provision came with the tabling of an amendment to the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill, but time could not be found to debate it.

"The Government’s response leaves the door open for change in the next Parliament, but we are disappointed that there was apparently not the will to deal with this matter more quickly."

A Speaker’s Conference has been established from time to time to investigate issues relating to the franchise and electoral law. This Speaker’s Conference was tasked with looking at ways to improve Parliamentary Representation particularly with regard to women, people from ethnic minorities, the disabled and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender individuals.

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