In the second part of our Insight on gender representation in the House of Commons, we look at the proportion of women who sit on select committees.

How many women MPs currently sit on select committees?

In the first round of appointments after the 2019 General Election, 71 women joined select committees, out of 222 places (32.0%). There were 12 unfilled places on the Scottish Affairs Committee in the first round of appointments. This was after a disagreement about the number of places for the SNP.

Women filled a higher percentage of seats in the Commons at the 2019 General Election, at 33.8%.

How does the current Parliament compare?

The proportion of women appointed to select committees has broadly mirrored the increasing proportion of women elected as MPs.

After the 2017 General Election, 30.2% of women joined select committees, compared to the 32.0% of seats held by women.

In previous parliaments, women held a higher proportion of committee places, than the proportion of seats held by women in the House of Commons. Out of the 11 general elections since 1979, seven have resulted in a higher proportion of women on select committees in the first round of appointments, compared to the proportion elected.

The largest proportion of committee seats filled by women since 1979 was in 2015, representing 35.1% of the 191 available places. This compared to women making up 29.4% of MPs in the Commons that year.

A chart showing the percentage of women elected and the percentage on select committees from 1979 to 2019.

The gender balance of committee chairs

Looking solely at departmental select committees at the beginning of a Parliament, the proportion of women as committee chairs has increased since 1997. Women made up four of the 20 chairs (excludes the Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union), at the start of the current session  (20%). This compares to two out of 16 in 1997 (13%).

The highest percentage came at the start of the 2017 Parliament, when women were six out of the 20 departmental chairs (30%).

Historical comparisons with men

There were more men with knighthoods than women appointed to select committees among initial nominations to departmental committees in 1979, 1983 and 1987.

In 1979, six women were nominated. In 1983 and 1987, eight and seven women were appointed respectively. At the beginning of each of these three Parliaments, nine knights were nominated to serve on select committees.

Further reading

Evolution and changing composition of departmental select committees, House of Commons Library.

This is part of a series on House of Commons trends to mark Parliament Week 2020. You can find more analysis and data in our full briefing.

Read the rest of the series.

About the author: Chris Watson is a researcher at the House of Commons Library, specialising in parliamentary data.

Image: ©UK Parliament / Jessica Taylor under CC BY 2.0, cropped

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