Record on women MPs is 'shameful'

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Indy Politics

Britain has fewer women MPs than Rwanda, Mozambique and Turkmenistan, and a "shameful" record of tackling parliamentary inequality, a report by the Equal Opportunities Commission has concluded.

Only 18 per cent of MPs in Britain are women, putting Westminster 33rd in the league table of women in parliament behind the likes of North Korea, Croatia and Tanzania. At this year's election, the number of women elected to the Commons fell for the first time in 20 years.

The commission called on parties to put in place positive measures to ensure that more women are elected. Recommendations included all-women shortlists and "zipping" – where women and men are alternated on lists of candidates.

It found that "the decisive factor" in increasing the number of women in parliaments was the use of special measures. In Scotland and Wales, where such measures have been introduced, the proportion of women is far higher than at Westminster. Rhodri Morgan's Cabinet in Wales has more women than men and 42 per cent of Welsh Assembly members are female – the highest in the Western world.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats are considering ways of increasing the number of women candidates after the Government announced plans to change the law to allow special measures to increase selection of women. Stephen Byers, the cabinet minister responsible for electoral legislation, signalled yesterday that the Government would act as quickly as possible.

The commission said that while it was difficult to assess the impact of women in the last parliament, important changes benefiting women did take place, such as the introduction of the national childcare strategy.

The report blamed a backlash against Labour's use of women-only shortlists in 1997 – abandoned after a legal challenge – for the drop in the number of women MPs. "They may have generated resentment against those women shortlisted without guaranteeing that constituency Labour parties selected any female candidates," it said.