Women in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom

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Constance Markievicz was the first woman elected to the British Parliament

The representation of Women in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom has been an issue in the politics of the United Kingdom at numerous points in the 20th and 21st centuries. Originally debate centered on whether women should be allowed to vote and stand for election as Members of Parliament. The Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act 1918 gave women over 21 the right to stand for election as a Member of Parliament.

In more modern times concerns about the under-representation of women led the Labour Party to introduce all-women short lists, something which was later held to breach discrimination laws.

Between 1918 and 2015, a total of 450 women have been elected as Members of the House of Commons, which is fewer than the number of men (459) in the 2015 Parliament.[1]

Suffrage[edit]

In 1867, John Stuart Mill was the first Member of Parliament to raise the issue of women's suffrage in the House of Commons. Following this attempts were made to widen the franchise in every Parliament.[2]

Women gained the right to vote with the passing of the Representation of the People Act 1918 after World War I. This gave the vote to women over the age of 30. However, the Speakers Conference which was charged with looking into giving women the vote did not have as its terms of reference, consideration to women standing as candidates for parliament. However, Sir Herbert Samuel, the former Liberal Home Secretary, moved a separate motion on 23 October 1918 to allow women to be eligible as Members of Parliament. The vote was passed by 274 to 25 and the government rushed through a Bill to make it law in time for the 1918 General Election.[3] This Bill did not specify any age restriction, unlike the voting Bill.[4] This later led to a number of incidents of women under the age of 30, who were not allowed to vote, standing for parliament, notably the 27-year-old Liberal Ursula Williams standing in 1923.[5]

Landmarks and records[edit]

Political firsts for women in House of Commons[edit]

Records[edit]

  • Irene Ward was the longest serving female MP in the House of Commons. She was an MP from 1931 to 1945 and from 1950 to 1974.[7]
  • Gwyneth Dunwoody was the longest continuously serving female MP. She became an MP in 1974 and died in April 2008, just beating Barbara Castle, who was elected as MP for Blackburn in 1945 and retired in 1979.[7]

Current Representation[edit]

There are currently eight women in the Cabinet (including the Prime Minister) which is 36% of 22 Cabinet posts. 191 women MPs were elected at the 2015 General Election, 29% of all MPs and a record high.[6]

2015 election[edit]

As elected in the 2015 general election.

Political Party
Number of MPs Number of Female MPs Percentage of Party's MPs Percentage of Female MPs
House of Commons 650 191 29% 100%
Conservative 330 68 21% 36%
Labour 232 99 43% 52%
SNP 56 20 36% 10%
Liberal Democrat 8 0 0% 0%
DUP 8 0 0% 0%
Sinn Féin 4 0 0% 0%
Plaid Cymru 3 1 33% <1%
SDLP 3 1 33% <1%
UUP 2 0 0% 0%
UKIP 1 0 0% 0%
Green 1 1 100% <1%
Independent 1 1 100% <1%
  Speaker
1 0 0% 0%

[8][9]

Current Female Cabinet Members[edit]

Historic Representation[edit]

2010 election[edit]

As elected in the 2010 general election.

Political Party
Number of MPs Number of Female MPs Percentage of Party's MPs Percentage of Female MPs
House of Commons 650 143 22% 100%
Conservative 306 49 16% 34%
Labour 258 81 31% 57%
Liberal Democrat 57 7 12% 5%
DUP 8 0 0% 0%
SNP 6 1 17% 0.7%
Sinn Féin 5 1 20% 0.7%
Plaid Cymru 3 0 0% 0%
SDLP 3 1 33% 0.7%
Alliance 1 1 100% 0.7%
Green 1 1 100% 0.7%
Independent 1 1 100% <1%
  Speaker
1 0 0% 0%

[7]

A total of 42 female ministers have held cabinet positions since the first, Margaret Bondfield, in 1929. Tony Blair’s 1997 Cabinet had five women and was the first to include more than two female ministers at one time. The highest number of concurrent women Cabinet Ministers under Tony Blair was eight (36 per cent), under Tony Blair (then a record) from May 2006 – May 2007.

Women Cabinet Ministers 1929 - 2016
1929-31 Margaret Bondfield 2004-08 Ruth Kelly
1945-47 Ellen Wilkinson 2006-09 Hazel Blears
1953-54 Florence Horsbrugh 2006-09 Jacqui Smith
1964-70/74-76 Barbara Castle 2007-08 Baroness Ashton
1968-69 Judith Hart 2008-10 Yvette Cooper
1970-74/79-90 Margaret Thatcher 2008-10 Baroness Royal
1974-79 Shirley Williams 2010-12 Caroline Spelman
1982-83 Baroness Young 2010-12 Cheryl Gillan
1992-97 Gillian Shephard 2010-12 Baroness Warsi
1992-97 Virginia Bottomley 2010- Theresa May
1997-98 Ann Taylor 2011- Justine Greening
1997-98/07-10 Harriet Harman 2012-14 Maria Miller
1997-2001 Mo Mowlam 2012-16 Theresa Villiers
1997-2003 Clare Short 2014-16 Nicky Morgan
1998-2001 Baroness Jay 2014- Elizabeth Truss
2001-03 Helen Liddell 2014-16 Baroness Stowell
2001-02 Estelle Morris 2015- Amber Rudd
2001-07 Hilary Armstrong 2016- Baroness Evans
2001-07 Patricia Hewitt 2016- Karen Bradley
2001-07/09-10 Tessa Jowell 2016- Andrea Leadsom
2003-07 Baroness Amos 2016- Priti Patel

[6]

All-women shortlists[edit]

Main article: All-women shortlists

All-women shortlists, a method of affirmative action has been used by the Labour Party to increase the representation of women. As of 2015 117 Labour MPs have been elected to the House of Commons after being selected as a candidate through an all-women shortlist.[11] In 2002 this method of selection was ruled to breach the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. In response to this ruling the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Act 2002 legalised all-women short lists as a method of selection. The Equality Act 2010 extends this exemption from discrimination law to 2030.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Keen, Richard (19 June 2015). "Briefing Paper Number SN01250: Women in Parliament and Government" (PDF). House of Commons Library. Retrieved 21 June 2015. 
  2. ^ "Women in parliament". BBC News. London: BBC. 31 October 2008. Retrieved 21 June 2015. 
  3. ^ Samuel, Viscount (1950). Memoirs. p. 131. 
  4. ^ "Parliament (Qualification Of Women) Bill". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). House of Commons. 6 November 1918. col. 2186–2202. Retrieved 21 June 2015. 
  5. ^ Cheltenham Chronicle, Gloucestershire, 8 December 1923
  6. ^ a b c Keen, Richard; Cracknell, Richard. "Women in Parliament and Government". 
  7. ^ a b c "Factsheet M4: Women in the House of Commons" (PDF). House of Commons Information Office. June 2010. Retrieved 21 June 2015. 
  8. ^ Lowther, Ed; Thornton, Charlotte (8 May 2015). "Election 2015: Number of women in Parliament rises by a third". BBC News. Retrieved 21 June 2015. 
  9. ^ "Members of the House of Commons". UK Parliament. 2015. Retrieved 21 June 2015. 
  10. ^ "Ministers - GOV.UK". www.gov.uk. Retrieved 2016-11-19. 
  11. ^ Kelly, Richard; White, Isobel. "All-women shortlists". 

Further reading[edit]

  • Vallance, Elizabeth M. (1979). Women in the House: a study of women Members of Parliament. Athlone Press. ISBN 9780485111866. 

External links[edit]