The Women in Parliament All Party Parliament Group (APPG) Inquiry: Sarah Childs and Annabelle Miles 
Today the APPG Women in Parliament will publish its report into the under-representation of women at Westminster. Its conclusion is straightforward: the current percentage of women in the House of Commons – 22.6% – is simply not good enough. The UK ranks 65th out of the 189 countries included in the Inter Parliamentary Union’s monitoring report.
Whilst parity of representation remains a long way off, the APPG recognises that some progress has taken place over the last two decades, not least in terms of the number of women elected to Parliament; in the selection procedures employed by parties; and in making Parliament a more family-friendly work environment. Examples of progress can be seen in the changes to sitting hours, a significant improvement from their pre-2012 state, and the opening of a workplace nursery in 2010. But this is no time for complacency. Indeed, with a general election less than a year away, ‘all political parties agree that there is much more to do to create a modern, aspirational and representative Parliament.’
SUPPLY: “Getting into Parliament is a big secret for those who aren’t connected”
SELECTION: “More than two thirds of women surveyed had
encountered discrimination during the selection process”
RETENTION: “Several MPs avoid the Chamber during Prime
Minister’s Questions due to the testosterone fuelled atmosphere”
Chaired by Mary Macleod MP, the cross-party Inquiry was launched to investigate what could be done to deliver a more diverse set of Parliamentarians, specifically more women, at Westminster. Many of its findings however have validity for other under-represented groups, including men with caring responsibilities.
- Create a zero tolerance response to unprofessional behaviour in the Chamber to ensure the standard of behaviour in the Chamber is what is accepted in other work environments. If behaviour fails to improve, additional ‘rules and sanctions’ may need to be created.
- Reconnect with voters by rebalancing parliamentary and constituency priorities given that the role and expectations of an MP have changed over time. Allow more flexibility so that MPs can better balance their work in the House, with being visible in their local communities and responding to local concerns in their constituencies:
- Monday-Wednesday: Government business and Opposition Day debates
- Thursday: Backbench business
- Friday: Private Members Bills
- Establish a Women and Equalities Select Committee to raise issues that are a priority for women and review how women are impacted by Government policy. Women and Equalities Oral Parliamentary Questions already take place in the Chamber regularly and there is a Minister for Women at the Cabinet table, so it would be appropriate to have a Select Committee established.
- Improve the predictability of the Parliamentary calendar so that MPs know whipping requirements and timetable of the business of the House further in advance. They can then plan their time and work more effectively both in the House and in the constituency.
- Ask the DCMS Select Committee and Independent Press Standards Organisation to review sexism in traditional and social media including analysis of how female parliamentarians are represented.
- Provide clarification on support available for MPs with primary caring responsibilities within the new expenses system and with formal parental leave to make it a more family-friendly.
- Improve the online gateway to Parliament to enhance the parliamentary online presence and encourage more women and other currently under-represented groups to consider a role in public life, to help change people’s lives and the communities in which they live.
Additional recommendations are also identified. These target, amongst others, the image of Parliament, as symbolised by its artwork, parliamentary ceremonies, and language and terminology; the education of young people in citizenship and democracy; the cost of parliamentary selection; the introduction of gender quotas; parental leave and job sharing; party training for candidates and Parliamentary professional development; and re-designing the parliamentary pass, so women MPs will never again have to justify their presence in a ‘members only’ part of Westminster.
The Inquiry examined the issue of women’s parliamentary representation according to its three stages:
- Supply: What factors explain the low numbers of women who seek to participate in electoral politics? Is there sufficient and easily accessible information about what ‘being an MP’ entails? Can the parties and Parliament do more to make the job of an MP appealing to women and be seen as ‘possible’ by women? Are female MPs represented fairly by the media?
- Recruitment: How can party selection processes be made more family-friendly? Here the Inquiry built on the work undertaken by the 2008-10 Speaker’s Conference, noting the importance of monitoring party selection outcomes.
- Retention: Is the style of parliamentary politics at Westminster and the workings of the House putting women off? MPs work in two, often geographically distant, places. How can this tension be better managed? Are there elements of the culture and behaviour within the House, in particular at Prime Minister’s Questions, which could be brought in line with the standards expected in other workplaces?
Over a period of five months the Inquiry Committee conducted a number of oral evidence hearings and written evidence sessions with current and former Members of Parliament (male and female); House Authorities; external professionals with knowledge of both the characteristics and workings of Parliament and the outside business world; and academic experts.
An online survey was also sent out to all Members and to the 146 peers who are former Members of Parliament, receiving a response rate of 13.69%
The overarching aim of the APPG Inquiry is to increase the numbers of women in Parliament. A Women and Equalities Select Committee tasked with the remit of addressing discrimination wherever it is found, including in Parliament, would be in an excellent position to drive forward the recommendations of this Inquiry. Such a body exists in many other Parliaments, frequently taking the form of a Committee or Women’s Caucus. The creation of a UK Women and Equalities Select Committee would symbolise that Britain takes seriously its commitment to representative democracy. It would also constitute a substantive institution that would better hold government to account on equality
“Our hope is that this report acts as a catalyst for positive and immediate change for the existing and future generation of female MPs, so that at long last, we can allow women across this country to achieve their potential in politics, and achieve a representative and diverse Parliament that reflects our nation and the many people in it.”
Mary Macleod MP
 Sarah Childs, Professor of Politics and Gender at the University of Bristol, was the Special Advisor to the APPG: Annie Miles was the lead researcher from Mary Macleod MP’s Office.
 Available at http://appgwomeninparliamentinquiry.wordpress.com/inquiry-report/
It is important to recognize the ways in which these stages interact and overlap.