I am very grateful for your guidance, Mr Deputy Speaker, particularly as someone who voted against allowing these wretched things to be used in debates. If anyone was ever going to convince me that I made the wrong decision in that vote, however, it is my hon. Friend, who has gone to an excellent website, and I certainly commend him for doing so.
The second part of my Bill tackles the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Act 2002. I was not a Member when the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Bill was debated, but it will come as no surprise to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, to know that had I been I would have definitely opposed it. I have a great deal of time for many of my female Conservative colleagues, we have some extremely able MPs and, for the record, I have excellent female staff. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that the greatest Prime Minister this country has ever had was, indeed, a woman, but I do not particularly care if the House is made up of 10% women or 90%. For me, that will never be an issue, so the fundamental premise of the 2002 Act will always be totally flawed.
The most important thing for me is not how many men or women are in Parliament, but how many Conservatives there are in Parliament, and I challenge anybody who is obsessed with the idea that the most important end in itself is that we have more women in Parliament. If, for example, a Conservative male fought a marginal seat against a Labour female, would any of my hon. Friends campaign for her on the basis that it was so important to get more women into Parliament, or would they campaign for him? I venture that they would campaign for him, because I am sure that for all Government Members, apart from of course the Liberal Democrats, it is far more important to have more Conservatives in Parliament than to be worried about how many MPs there are of a particular gender.
“I shall be honest with the House. There was a time when I never thought that I would stand up in the Chamber and support such a Bill.”—[Hansard, 24 October 2001; Vol. 373, c. 334.]
I wish she had stuck to her earlier opinion, as it would have been the more Conservative thing to do.
While my right hon. Friend supported the Bill, the former Member for Maidstone and the Weald, Ann Widdecombe, did not. In the debate, she said:
“The Bill is fundamentally wrong. I must ask this question; are all the men in this place sound asleep? Do they realise what the Bill means for them? Have they thought that positive discrimination for women can entail negative discrimination for men?”
The irony is that, as those in the House at the time were already Members, they did not need to worry about candidates, so the Bill was effectively about kicking away the ladder of opportunity from men who had not yet reached the House. I wonder how those Members would have felt if they had been told, “Sorry, I know you would make an excellent MP, but we’re going to stop you applying for the seat that you’ve lived in all your life, because you happen to be a man.” How would any men present today have felt if such a rule had applied to them?
Ann Widdecombe also hit the nail on the head, when during the debate she asked:
“What would that mean for a man in that constituency who had given to his local council the same lifelong service that