Parliament must open up to people from all backgrounds

Jo is backing a new report by MPs which says there should be no single route into politics accessible only to a privileged few.

The final report of the Speaker’s Conference, of which Jo is a member, concludes that much more must be done to encourage local political activism and to prevent discrimination against potential parliamentary candidates who do not fit the traditional mould.

The committee was set up to look at ways of encouraging and enabling a wider diversity of people to become MPs. Proposals in the report, published today (Monday 11 January 2010), include:

A formal code of conduct for campaigning, to make clear it is unacceptable to seek to undermine a candidate by reference to his or her family life, racial background, sexual orientation, health status or disability

Legislation to give approved prospective parliamentary candidates the opportunity for unpaid leave from work

Parties should publish progress reports on the diversity of their MPs and Parliamentary candidates

Parties should place a ceiling upon the expenses which candidates can incur during any single selection process

Bursaries should be available to individuals who would otherwise not be able to afford the costs of a candidacy

Political parties should appoint champions for women, and people from ethnic minorities and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities and disabled people

Commenting, Jo said:

“While some progress has been made over the years in making Parliament more representative of the general population of Britain, it has been far too slow. This report represents a year of thorough investigation and debate, and I believe we have come up with an excellent set of proposals to make Parliament more open to candidates who do not conform to the Westminster stereotype.

“Many people may be put off running for election by the perception that the House of Commons is a place for middle-class, middle-aged white men. This is damaging not only because it means Parliament remains unrepresentative, but because we may be missing out on some of the best potential candidates.

“I urge MPs and the Government to give careful consideration to the recommendations in this report as we undertake the task of modernising Parliament to make it fit for the 21st Century.”

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