Open main menu

Women in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom

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 centred 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 United Kingdom has had two female Prime Ministers: Margaret Thatcher 1979-1990 and Theresa May 2016-2019. 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 2019, a total of 497 women have been elected as Members of the House of Commons. Currently there are 208 women in the House of Commons. This is an all time high at 32%.[2] The longest-serving female member of Parliament is currently informally known as the Mother of the House.

Contents

SuffrageEdit

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 recordsEdit

Political firsts for women in House of CommonsEdit

RecordsEdit

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 representationEdit

As of August 2019, there were 208 female MPs in the House of Commons.

Political Party
Number of MPs Number of Female MPs Percentage of Party's MPs Percentage of Female MPs
House of Commons[17] 649 207 32% 100%
Conservative 311 63 20% 31%
Labour 247 112 45% 54%
SNP 35 12 34% 6%
Liberal Democrat 14 6 43% 3%
Independent 15 6 40% 3%
DUP 10 1 10% <1%
Sinn Féin 7 3 43% 1%
Change UK 5 3 60% 1%
Plaid Cymru 4 1 25% <1%
Green 1 1 100% <1%
  Speaker
1 0 0% 0%


As elected in the 2017 general election[18][19]
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.[20][21]

Winner's gender by number of MPs[20][21]
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 representationEdit

2015 electionEdit

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 appointed after the 2015 electionEdit

2010 electionEdit

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]

Female Cabinet members appointed after the 2010 electionEdit

A total of 44 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. Other women have attended Cabinet without being full members, including Caroline Flint, Anna Soubry and Harriet Baldwin. Some who have attended Cabinet have subsequently, or previously been full Cabinet Ministers, including Tessa Jowell, Liz Truss and Andrea Leadsom.

Women Cabinet Ministers 1929 - present
1929-31 Margaret Bondfield (Lab)  
1945-47 Ellen Wilkinson (Lab)  
1953-54 Florence Horsbrugh (Con)  
1964-70/74-76 Barbara Castle (Lab)  
1968-69 Judith Hart (Lab)  
1970-74/79-90 Margaret Thatcher (Con)  
1974-79 Shirley Williams (Lab)  
1982-83 Baroness Young (Con)  
1992-97 Gillian Shephard (Con)  
1992-97 Virginia Bottomley (Con)  
1997-2007 (attended Cabinet 2008-09) Margaret Beckett (Lab)  
1997-2001 Ann Taylor (Lab)  
1997-98/07-10 Harriet Harman (Lab)  
1997-2001 Mo Mowlam (Lab)  
1997-2003 Clare Short (Lab)  
1998-2001 Baroness Jay of Paddington (Lab)  
2001-03 Helen Liddell (Lab)  
2001-02 Estelle Morris (Lab)  
2001-07 Hilary Armstrong (Lab)  
2001-07 Patricia Hewitt (Lab)  
2001-07/09-10 Tessa Jowell (Lab)  
2003-07 Baroness Amos (Lab)  
2004-08 Ruth Kelly (Lab)  
2006-09 Hazel Blears (Lab)  
2006-09 Jacqui Smith (Lab)  
2007-08 Cathy Baroness Ashton of Upholland (Lab)  
2008-10 Yvette Cooper (Lab)  
2008-10 Baroness Royall of Blaisdon (Lab)  
2010-12 Caroline Spelman (Con)  
2010-12 Cheryl Gillan (Con)  
2010-12 Baroness Warsi (Con)  
2010-19 Theresa May (Con)  
2011-18 Justine Greening (Con)  
2012-14 Maria Miller (Con)  
2012-16/19- Theresa Villiers (Con)  
2014-16/19- Nicky Morgan (Con)  
2014-17/19- (attended Cabinet 2017-19) Elizabeth Truss (Con)  
2014-16 Baroness Stowell of Beeston (Con)  
2015-18/18- Amber Rudd (Con)  
2016- Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)  
2016-19 Karen Bradley (Con)  
2016-17/19- (attended Cabinet 2017-19) Andrea Leadsom (Con)  
2016-17/19- Priti Patel (Con)  
2018/19- Esther McVey (Con)  

[7]

All-women shortlistsEdit

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 alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  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. ^ https://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/SN01250#fullreport
  18. ^ Lowther, Ed; Thornton, Charlotte (8 May 2015). "Election 2015: Number of women in Parliament rises by a third". BBC News. Retrieved 21 June 2015.
  19. ^ "Members of the House of Commons". UK Parliament. 2015. Retrieved 21 June 2015.
  20. ^ a b Martin, George (13 February 2018). "Male MPs are 'blocking' the safe seats – forcing women to fight marginals". i. Retrieved 16 February 2018.
  21. ^ 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.
  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 readingEdit

External linksEdit