Parliamentary Representation

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 5:10 pm on 12 January 2012.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 5:10, 12 January 2012

I slightly disagree with the last remark made by Paul Maynard. If we are honest, we are all a bit weird, are we not? After all, by definition, we wanted to come here. Claire Perry is pointing at me. That is not very kind. I could point back, because I do not think that she is any less weird than I am.

There are two fundamental principles. The first is that we should never judge people according to the colour of their skin, their gender, their sexuality, the school that they went to or the accent with which they speak. We should only ever judge people according to the strength of the convictions that they hold, the strength of their personal character, and whether they are able to see their convictions through in their lives. Surely the political system should embody that principle.

The second principle is that, broadly speaking, Parliament should look like the country that it is meant to represent. There are several reasons for that, some of which have already been given today. First, it makes Parliament more effective and efficient, and we end up with better legislation. People can spot some of the holes in an idea that is being advanced because they know from their own lives whether it works or not, and how it affects them. The advent of women in Parliament undoubtedly meant that a whole raft of legislation was improved, because, frankly, men simply did not know what they were talking about. I can see hon. Ladies thinking that perhaps that happens all the time generally.

Secondly, Parliament is more likely to embrace the people’s priorities. Rather that its being obsessed with a few things that might have interested a self-chosen elite, the views of the whole of society are expressed on its Order Paper and on the agenda for political action, and that must surely make it better.

Thirdly—this has not been mentioned yet—it is all very well in politics to legislate, to pull a lever, but if the legislation has no effect out in the country because it has no public support, it will have no real chance of effecting change. A Parliament that looks more like the society that it is meant to represent is able to carry that society with it more effectively, and that means that can effect change more convincingly.

We are, I think, nowhere near being able to meet either of those two principles. A number of Members have reminded us today that for many centuries no women were allowed to vote or to sit in here. Of the first two women who were allowed to sit in here, one was a countess and the other was a Lady—not that I have anything against Ladies, or against Dames, who seem to be multiplying on the Opposition Benches, or even against pantomime dames. Similarly, I believe that two of the first women to arrive in the House of Lords were the daughters of viceroys, and that one was married to a viceroy. The change needs to be far more substantial.

I pay tribute to Iain Stewart for what he said about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Members. It is significant that we now have more out gay Members of Parliament than ever before. Indeed, sometimes when you go into the Strangers Bar you feel as though you are in Rupert street. It is virtually a gay bar now, and my husband sometimes worries about whether I should be allowed in there any more.

Even the numbers that we have, however, do not come near matching the numbers in the country in terms of the percentage of the population. It is a great sadness to me that there are still only two out lesbians in

Parliament, because two prejudices have been, as it were, tied together to form one. I pay tribute to those who have come out. That is difficult however, as not every gay person wants to be out, and I do not think they should have to be. I disagree with what Iain Stewart said about role models. I hope to God nobody will ever think of me as a role model in relation to anything whatsoever at any time.

[Interruption.]

The hon. Gentleman says that I should not worry about that, because nobody does. That is very generous of him. I was once described in the

Daily Mail as an ex-gay vicar; I just want to point out that I am an ex-vicar, but my gayness is extant.

Turning to disabilities, it is important to remember that not every disability is visible. There have been disabled MPs for many centuries, including Philip Snowden, Labour Chancellor in 1924, and the first Earl of Salisbury, who was profoundly disabled and a Secretary of State. The barriers for many people with disabilities are still great, however, such as in terms of this building itself and the way in which we do our business—the way we vote and so forth.

As the Member of Parliament for the Rhondda, I would also like to point out that the biggest difficulties of all face working-class people who may want to enter the House. That is partly because of finances, as standing for Parliament is prohibitively expensive. Ironically, there is now also a problem at the other end of the scale, in that the pay and conditions in Parliament seem prohibitive to people in professional jobs who expect to earn £100,000, £120,000 or £150,000.

This issue is not just about being representative; it is also about representing, and we should do that with courage and determination.