Government Equalities Office

Work and Pensions written statement – made on 19th May 2008.

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Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Minister of State (Government Equalities Office), The Leader of the House of Commons , Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Party Chair, Labour Party, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

Last summer, we set out the Government's priorities for women. These included increasing the number of black and Asian and minority ethnic women on local councils.

A report produced by Simon Woolley, head of Operation Black Vote, has today been published on the Government Equalities Office website, highlighting the scale of under-representation in our democracy.

Black, Asian and minority ethnic women account for less than 1 per cent. of England's 20,000 councillors. To be more representative of society as a whole, the number of black, Asian and ethnic minority women councillors needs to be increased more than fivefold—from 168 of all councillors in England to nearer a thousand.

At Westminster, the under-representation is even more marked. Only 19.5 per cent. of Members of the House of Commons are women and of these only two come from minority ethnic communities. There has never been an Asian woman MP.

To make local councils more representative, we are today setting up a taskforce that will be chaired by Baroness Uddin of Bethnal Green. The taskforce will last for 12 months, with an option to review and extend this.

The taskforce members will include black and Asian and minority ethnic women councillors and former councillors from every region in England and from Scotland and Wales. The taskforce will identify and take practical action to increase awareness and build confidence and skills; reach out into communities to encourage women to step forward to become local councillors; identify and tackle barriers within political parties; and reduce disadvantage and stereotyping from within and outside the communities.

The taskforce will be supported in its work by the Ministers for Women and Equality and a secretariat will be provided by the Government Equalities Office. Full details of the taskforce, its membership and terms of reference are available on the Government Equalities Office website.

The Prime Minister has proposed to the Speaker that he call a Speaker's conference to consider, against the backdrop of a decline in turnout, a number of important issues including the representation of women and ethnic minorities in the House of Commons. The Speaker's conference and the taskforce we are announcing today will play a vital role in ensuring that we take steps to make progress.

The taskforce will be working closely with the Department of Communities and Local Government, who will soon be responding to the Councillors Commission report "Representing the Future" which made recommendations aimed at reducing barriers and increasing the incentives for people to stand and serve as councillors. The report looked at the wider issues of widening the pool of local councillors to increase representation from all under represented groups—women, people from black and minority ethnic communities, people of working age, young people and disabled people.

The Government do not consider that the time is right to take legislative measures to permit all-BAME election shortlists.