Harriet Harman

Member of Parliament for Camberwell and Peckham. Mother of the House of Commons.

Associate Parliamentary Group for Sex Equality

Tuesday 10th January 2006


I’m delighted to have the opportunity to meet with you and to reflect on the outcome of the excellent “Power and Gender Report” that you published last week.


Women have made much progress but we are still a long way behind – only 20% of MPs and 16% of Council leaders are women, and whilst we have made progress we have a long way to go.


Women's equality matters. We believe in the principles of equality and human rights.  This is important not just for each individual but for the good of society as a whole.


This is not just a matter of principle, it is also important for democracy.  A balanced team of men and women brings a changed and broadened political agenda.  The arrival of Labour’s 100 women MPs in 1997 and women being appointed to the government has brought new laws, such as the Domestic Violence Act, laws to protect part-time workers and give flexibility at work, and new programmes such as The National Childcare Strategy and Sure Start. And it has shown women in the country that parliament is not just a men-only club.


Labour women have learnt four things

·        You have to will the means to achieve the end you want.  You cannot just talk about equality – you have to make rule changes to achieve it.

·        And you have to keep at it in consecutive elections – you cannot make enough progress in one go.

·        And you have to monitor the implementation – otherwise you can make progress only to slip back.

·        And you have to be prepared to face rows – finding space for more women means some men do not get the positions they want, and though that is hard it is necessary.


Labour has made those changes and has made progress.


But I’m urging Labour women not to simply look at other parties and say how much better we are on women’s representation.  That would be a distraction.  Despite the undeniable progress we have made, we should not rest on our laurels.


What we need to do now is to focus on how far we still need to go.  And to press forward with the often controversial methods which have taken us already so far.


We must ensure that our current rules for the next parliamentary selections are adhered to, that is

·        50% all-women shortlists for the next General election,

·        with the objective of 40% of Labour MPs after the next election being women and

·        half the PLP being women in the election after that.


Just as women in Parliament have changed the agenda, women have a vital role in and should be equal in local Government.


When I looked at this issue in my paper “The Democratic Deficit – the representation of women in local Government” in 1999 only 27% of Councilors were women and 73% men.


This is despite the fact that women are deeply concerned with the services local councils provide – care of the elderly and children, housing and schools – and though more women than men work in local Government.


And because you always need to will the means to achieve the objective, we’ve introduced positive action in local government as we have for parliament.


Our rule for the council elections this May is that at least one woman is selected in all winnable Council wards in the 2006 local elections (at least 1of 3 or 1of 2 depending on ward size), and in authorities where a sitting Councillor retires, at least one of the candidates in that division must be a woman.  (And that positive action will be continued in the 2007 local elections.)


The result of this positive action is that in May 2006, Labour will be fielding a more feminised team across the country.


Not all selections have been made, but in Southwark 41% of our candidates in the May council elections will be women, an increase from 35%  in the 2002 elections.

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