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.

The publication of the book Women in the House by Elizabeth Vallance in 1979 highlighted the under-representation of women in Parliament.[1] 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.[2] The longest-serving female member of Parliament is currently informally known as the Mother of the House.

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.[3]

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.[4] This Bill did not specify any age restriction, unlike the voting Bill.[5] 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.[6]

Landmarks and records[edit]

Political firsts for women in House of Commons[edit]

Records[edit]

Margaret Beckett is the longest serving female MP in the history of the House of Commons. She was an MP for Lincoln from 10 October 1974 until 7 April 1979, and has served as MP for Derby South since 9 June 1983, most recently being re-elected on 8 June 2017.

Harriet Harman is the longest continuously serving female MP in the history of the House of Commons. She was MP for Peckham from 28 October 1982 until 1 May 1997, and has served as MP for Camberwell and Peckham since 1 May 1997, most recently having been re-elected on 8 June 2017. On 13 June 2017 Harman was dubbed "Mother of the House" by Prime Minister Theresa May, in recognition of her status as longest continuously serving woman MP (though she was not the longest serving MP overall, and would therefore not gain any official duties).

Party Name Constituency Year elected Year left Length of continuous term Length of cumulative term
Conservative Nancy Astor [8] Plymouth Sutton 1919 1945 25 years, 7 months
Labour Jennie Lee [9][10] North Lanarkshire & Cannock 1929 & 1945 1931 & 1970 27 years
Conservative Irene Ward [11] Wallsend & Tynemouth 1931 & 1950 1945 & 1974 37 years
Labour Barbara Castle [12] Blackburn 1945 1979 33 years, 9 months
Conservative Margaret Thatcher [13] Finchley 1959 1992 33 years, 6 months
Labour Gwyneth Dunwoody [14] Exeter, Crewe & Crewe and Nantwich 1966 & 1974 1970 & 2008 34 years, 2 months 37 years, 9 months
Labour Margaret Beckett [15] Lincoln & Derby South 1974 & 1983 1979 & Still serving 38 years
Labour Harriet Harman [16] Peckham, then Camberwell and Peckham 1982 Still serving 35 years

Current representation[edit]

There are currently 208 female MPs in the House of Commons.

2017 election[edit]

As elected in the 2017 general election[17][18]
Political Party
Number of MPs Number of Female MPs Percentage of Party's MPs Percentage of Female MPs
House of Commons 650 208 32% 100%
Conservative 317 67 21% 32%
Labour 262 119 45% 57%
SNP 35 12 34% 6%
Liberal Democrat 12 4 33% 2%
DUP 10 1 10% <1%
Sinn Féin 7 2 29% <1%
Plaid Cymru 4 1 25% <1%
Green 1 1 100% <1%
Independent 1 1 100% <1%
  Speaker
1 0 0% 0%

In February 2018 the Electoral Reform Society reported that hundreds of seats were being effectively 'reserved' by men, holding back women’s representation. Their report states that 170 seats are being held by men first elected in 2005 or before – with few opportunities for women to take those seats or selections. Broadly speaking, the longer an MP has been in Parliament, the more likely they are to be male.[19][20]

Winner's gender by number of MPs[19][20]
MP for this seat since: Total Female Male % F % M
2001 or before 143 21 122 14.7% 85.3%
2005 or before 212 42 170 19.8% 80.2%
2010 or before 380 93 287 24.5% 75.5%
2015 or before 545 167 378 30.6% 69.4%
2018 or before (all MPs) 650 208 442 32.0% 68.0%

Current female Cabinet members (Conservative Party)[edit]

Historic representation[edit]

2015 election[edit]

In the 2015 general election, 191 women were elected, making up 29% of the House of Commons; up from 141 and 23% before the election.[22]

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%


Female Cabinet Members[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%

[23]

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 - 2018
1929-31 Margaret Bondfield (Lab) Margaret Bondfield 1919.jpg
1945-47 Ellen Wilkinson (Lab) Ellen Cicely Wilkinson.jpg
1953-54 Florence Horsbrugh (Con) Flo horsbrugh.jpg
1964-70/74-76 Barbara Castle (Lab) No image.svg
1968-69 Judith Hart (Lab) No image.svg
1970-74/79-90 Margaret Thatcher (Con) Margaret Thatcher.png
1974-79 Shirley Williams (Lab) Regius Professorship Lecture (15648721150).jpg
1982-83 Baroness Young (Con) No image.svg
1992-97 Gillian Shephard (Con) Official portrait of Baroness Shephard of Northwold crop 2.jpg
1992-97 Virginia Bottomley (Con) Official portrait of Baroness Bottomley of Nettlestone crop 2.jpg
1997-98 Ann Taylor (Lab) Official portrait of Baroness Taylor of Bolton crop 2.jpg
1997-98/07-10 Harriet Harman (Lab) Official portrait of Ms Harriet Harman crop 2.jpg
1997-2001 Mo Mowlam (Lab) No image.svg
1997-2003 Clare Short (Lab) Clare Short at the Energy Conference 2015 crop.jpg
1998-2001 Baroness Jay of Paddington (Lab) Official portrait of Baroness Jay of Paddington crop 2.jpg
2001-03 Helen Liddell (Lab) Official portrait of Baroness Liddell of Coatdyke crop 2.jpg
2001-02 Estelle Morris (Lab) Official portrait of Baroness Morris of Yardley crop 2.jpg
2001-07 Hilary Armstrong (Lab) Official portrait of Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top crop 2.jpg
2001-07 Patricia Hewitt (Lab) Patricia Hewitt.jpg
2001-07/09-10 Tessa Jowell (Lab) Tessa Jowell Cropped.jpg
2003-07 Baroness Amos (Lab) Valerie Amos DFID 2013.jpg
2004-08 Ruth Kelly (Lab) RuthKellyMP.jpg
2006-09 Hazel Blears (Lab) Hazel Blears, June 2009 2 cropped.jpg
2006-09 Jacqui Smith (Lab) Jacqui Smith crop.jpg
2007-08 Cathy Baroness Ashton of Upholland (Lab) Catherine Ashton, Head of the European Defence Agency, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy & Vice-President of the European Commission (13468295505).jpg
2008-10 Yvette Cooper (Lab) Official portrait of Yvette Cooper crop 2.jpg
2008-10 Baroness Royall of Blaisdon (Lab) BaronessRoyallPortrait.jpg
2010-12 Caroline Spelman (Con) Official portrait of Dame Caroline Spelman crop 2.jpg
2010-12 Cheryl Gillan (Con) Official portrait of Mrs Cheryl Gillan crop 2.jpg
2010-12 Baroness Warsi (Con) Official portrait of Baroness Warsi (cropped).jpg
2010- Theresa May (Con) Theresa May portrait.jpg
2011-2018 Justine Greening (Con) Official portrait of Justine Greening crop 2.jpg
2012-14 Maria Miller (Con) Official portrait of Mrs Maria Miller crop 2.jpg
2012-16 Theresa Villiers (Con) Official portrait of Theresa Villiers crop 2.jpg
2014-16 Nicky Morgan (Con) Official portrait of Nicky Morgan crop 2.jpg
2014- Elizabeth Truss (Con) Official portrait of Elizabeth Truss crop 2.jpg
2014-16 Baroness Stowell of Beeston (Con) Official portrait of Baroness Stowell of Beeston crop 2.jpg
2015-18/18- Amber Rudd (Con) Official portrait of Amber Rudd crop 2.jpg
2016- Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con) Official portrait of Baroness Evans of Bowes Park crop 2.jpg
2016- Karen Bradley (Con) Karen Bradley MP 2015.jpg
2016- Andrea Leadsom (Con) Official portrait of Andrea Leadsom crop 2.jpg
2016-17 Priti Patel (Con) Priti Patel 2016.jpg
2018 Esther McVey (Con) Official portrait of Esther McVey crop 2.jpg

[7]

All-women shortlists[edit]

All-women shortlists are a method of affirmative action which has been used by the Labour Party to increase the representation of women in Parliament. As of 2015, 117 Labour MPs have been elected to the House of Commons after being selected as candidates through an all-women shortlist.[24] 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. ^ Heater, Derek (2006). Citizenship in Britain: A History. Edinburgh University Press. p. 145. ISBN 9780748626724.
  2. ^ Keen, Richard (19 June 2015). "Briefing Paper Number SN01250: Women in Parliament and Government" (PDF). House of Commons Library. Retrieved 21 June 2015.
  3. ^ "Women in parliament". BBC News. London: BBC. 31 October 2008. Retrieved 21 June 2015.
  4. ^ Samuel, Viscount (1950). Memoirs. p. 131.
  5. ^ "Parliament (Qualification Of Women) Bill". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). House of Commons. 6 November 1918. col. 2186–2202. Retrieved 21 June 2015.
  6. ^ Cheltenham Chronicle, Gloucestershire, 8 December 1923
  7. ^ a b Keen, Richard; Cracknell, Richard. "Women in Parliament and Government".
  8. ^ CH. Succeeded her husband Waldorf Astor, 2nd Viscount Astor as MP after he became a member of the House of Lords due to inheriting the title of Viscount Astor upon the death of his father.
  9. ^ Married to fellow MP Anuerin Bevan. She was made a life peer as Baroness Lee of Asheridge, of the City of Westminster in 1970.
  10. ^ "No. 45229". The London Gazette. 10 November 1970. p. 12333.
  11. ^ CH, DBE. She was made a life peer as Baroness Ward of North Tyneside, of North Tyneside in the County of Tyne and Wear, in 1975.
  12. ^ Wife of Edward Castle, Baron Castle. She was made a life peer as Baroness Castle of Blackburn, in 1990.
  13. ^ CH. She was made a life peer as Baroness Thatcher in 1992.
  14. ^ Daughter of Morgan Phillips & Norah Phillips, Baroness Phillips. Mother of Tamsin Dunwoody.
  15. ^ DBE
  16. ^ QC
  17. ^ Lowther, Ed; Thornton, Charlotte (8 May 2015). "Election 2015: Number of women in Parliament rises by a third". BBC News. Retrieved 21 June 2015.
  18. ^ "Members of the House of Commons". UK Parliament. 2015. Retrieved 21 June 2015.
  19. ^ a b Martin, George (13 February 2018). "Male MPs are 'blocking' the safe seats – forcing women to fight marginals". i. Retrieved 16 February 2018.
  20. ^ a b "Hundreds of seats effectively 'reserved' by men at Westminster, research shows". electoral-reform.org.uk. Electoral Reform Society. 13 February 2018. Retrieved 16 February 2018.
  21. ^ "Ministers - GOV.UK". www.gov.uk. Retrieved 2017-06-14.
  22. ^ "Election 2015: Number of women in Parliament rises by a third". BBC. 8 May 2015. Retrieved 4 October 2017.
  23. ^ "Factsheet M4: Women in the House of Commons" (PDF). House of Commons Information Office. June 2010. Retrieved 21 June 2015.
  24. ^ Kelly, Richard; White, Isobel. "All-women shortlists".

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]