16th July, 2014
MPs have admitted that a “raucous … ill-mannered … unprofessional” atmosphere in the Chamber with MPs “ganging up and bullying” each other is putting women off a career in politics.
The All-Party Political Group on Women in Parliament – which includes two deputy speakers – is calling for a “zero tolerance” approach to bad behaviour, including considering “additional sanctions” such as stopping an offending MP from speaking in debates for a few days.
They say the standard of behaviour in Parliament should be what is accepted in other work places.
It comes in a week that David Cameron is widely expected to carry out a reshuffle, including promoting female MPs into a Cabinet that is currently dominated by men.
Deputy speaker Eleanor Laing told Sky News that the “macho” atmosphere in the Chamber puts women off because they tend – on average – to act in a more “polite” and “gentle” manner than male counterparts.
She admitted that some MPs saw being told off by the Speaker as a “badge of honour“.
Meanwhile, Labour MP Lisa Nandy revealed that the first time she attended a Budget someone shouted “knickers” when she considered sitting in the gangway in a skirt.
The findings come after a long inquiry that included politicians and business people being called in front of evidence sessions and a survey of 109 sitting and former MPs.
Of the women MPs, 67% said they faced discrimination during their selection process, while over half said it happened when they became an MP.
Some described being stopped from entering areas for “members” because it was assumed they weren’t politicians.
Mary Macleod, the Conservative MP who chairs the APPG that carried out the report, said she believed that changes could be made to create a workplace in Parliament that was attractive to women.
On tackling bad behaviour in the Chamber she pointed to how sporting games use systems like red and yellow cards, while parents use the naughty step.
Dame Anne Begg, a Labour MP on the committee, said all political parties had to play a part in boosting the number of women, including by making sure they were selected in the first place.
It came as Maria Miller, the former Tory culture secretary, told Sky News that her party should consider all-women shortlists if it fails to make progress on female representation at the next election.
The study found that women were put off the House of Commons as a workplace by the fear that their families would face media scrutiny and by the unpredictability of the Parliamentary calendar.
The MPs recommend shifting the balance between time spent in the Commons and that in the constituency, and they call for a new women and equalities select committee.
Mrs Laing argued that such committees were powerful and could drive public debate.
The MPs also concluded that the existing Culture, Media and Sport select committee carry out a review of sexism in the media, including how female parliamentarians are represented.
The report also recommends that Parliament formalises parental leave.
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