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Women should make up 45% of councillors and MPs by 2030

Political parties should be told to ensure that by 2030 45% of all MPs and councillors are female or be forced to do so under new legislation, a parliamentary report has argued.

The Women and Equalities Committee (WEC) has called on the government to set minimum quotas for the number of women in Parliament and local government if parties’ voluntary efforts do not achieve sufficient increases in women representing them.

The report recommends that parties should set out how they intend to increase the number of women in the House of Commons, currently 30%, by 2020, including adopting ambitious targets for fielding women candidates in ‘winnable’ seats.

“We are calling on political parties to publicly set out the measures they plan to take to increase the proportion and number of women parliamentary candidates in 2020,” said the chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, Maria Miller MP.

“We must ensure that previous positive trends do not stagnate or reverse. There is no room for complacency.”

The WEC’s report has emerged as the Boundary Commission considers government proposals to reduce the number of MPs from 650 to 600, with the WEC warning that without intervention the number of female MPs could drop as an unintended consequence.

Although parties have expressed confidence in their own mechanisms for equal female involvement, the results do not support this with all the main parties fielding significantly fewer than 50% women parliamentary candidates in the 2015 general election.

“In their evidence to our inquiry, the leaders of political parties agreed that the commons would benefit from gender equality, and a range of initiatives is in place to improve the situation. But we saw little to justify their confidence that these will be sufficient,” Miller added.

“We need concrete action plans. We need party leadership to provide clear and strong direction in working with local parties to deliver more women candidates. We need to see more women candidates in winnable seats. Above all, parties need to be transparent and accountable in their progress – or the lack of it.”

Sanctions that the WEC recommended parties could face if they do not comply include deductions from policy development grants, confiscation of deposits where parties have not fielded female candidates, or fines by the Electoral Commission under new legislation.

Margot Parker MEP, women and equalities spokesperson for UKIP, which fielded only 13% women in the 2015 general election, praised the initiative but warned that fresh legislation may be too “heavy-handed”.

“We should be looking at the reasons women are not entering politics and treat that problem at source,” Parker said.

The government is understood to be considering the WEC’s proposals and is expected to respond in due course.

(Image c. PA Wire)

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