Limited terms for MPs: the answer to under-representation in Parliament?

The Head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), Trevor Phillips, will tomorrow propose reforms to parliamentary law which would restrict the number of terms any one MP can serve in office to four (16 – 20 years). The aim of the proposals is to ensure that equal representation for women, disabled people and ethnic minorities can be achieved as quickly as possible; at the current rate of progress, Phillips estimates that it will take over 200 years for women alone to gain equal representation in Parliament.

“There are very few opportunities for new people to come in. Four-fifths of MPs stand for election again. If you’ve only got a fifth of the seats to play with each time, the parties would have to put a humongous number of women or ethnic minorities or disabled people in to make a difference to the Commons as a whole. The only way would be to impose term limits.”

This doesn’t seem like a bad idea to me. Although one could argue that it will reduce the pool of experienced MPs who could potentially run for leadership or important cabinet positions, if that experience serves only to perpetuate the priorities of white, able bodied men, then bring on limited terms. Pressure for changes regarding the rights and needs of disadvantaged groups has almost always come from members of these groups, and we cannot hope to build a fair, egalitarian society unless they have access to positions of social power. And, equality aside, surely it’s fairer, safer and more democratic to enable a greater number of citizens to take on representative roles than concentrating power in the hands of the few?

Whether MPs will go for Phillips proposals is yet to be seen, but as Decca Aitkenhead puts it in her interview with the EHRC head, it is rather like asking turkeys to vote for Christmas.