Westminster is going to start being a whole lot more equal, as the government introduces a Parliamentary Select Committee for Women and Equality.
Following years of campaigning by MPs, the government is going to introduce the first dedicated Parliamentary Select Committee for Women and Equalities issues.
A Select Committee is a body that inspects and scrutinises the work done by government departments. Their work can be seen most recently in the investigations into the fiscal affairs of financial boards.
Until now, England has not had a committee that overlooks whether parliamentary policy is working in the most efficient manner to ensure ethnic minorities and women are provided with equal opportunities. However, over 30 parliaments in the world already have specialised equality committees in place including Scotland, Finland, Spain and the European Parliament.
Progress has certainly been made in terms of the representation of women in Westminster. Numbers have gone from women making up less than a quarter of all MPs in the 2010 Parliament, to now constituting 29% of the House of Commons, after David Cameron’s party re-shuffle, which added 21 female MPs.
According to The Guardian, the new make-up of parliament includes more women, ethnic minorities and homosexual members than any time in history.
But it’s still nowhere near representative. Sarah Childs, Professor of Politics and Gender at the University of Bristol, has said: ‘parity would demand 300-plus women.’
The Women and Equalities Select Committee would, Childs says, ‘address an important democratic deficit.’ It will be able to conduct inquiries surrounding women’s roles, such as whether spending cuts are disproportionately affecting women.
The introduction of the committee has had large cross-party support, from the likes of Yvette Cooper (Labour), Jo Swinson (Liberal Democrat) and Maria Miller (Conservative), among others. Commons speaker, John Bercow has also heavily supported the proposal.
There are of course possible downsides to such a committee, with the risk that it will not be taken seriously – viewed as a nitpicking girl’s club, or holding left-wing bias – as The Guardian has noted. It will be important that male MPs are involved.
Whatever the potential shortcomings, it’s certainly a step in the right direction. The new Select Committee will help to make strides and show that it is possible to reform Westminster from the ‘pale, male and stale’ stigma surrounding it.
The select committee will be officially instituted in the House of Commons later this week, and a Tory MP is expected to be appointed chair.
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