LABOUR bosses are preparing to chose a woman to contest Burnley in the next General Election, following the retirement of MP Peter Pike.

A meeting of party members has already been held to discuss an all-female shortlist as part of the drive to increase the number of women in Westminster.

And the move, which would automatically rule out a number of high-profile candidates, is due to be discussed further on January 6 before being passed on to the National Executive.

Currently only 18 per cent of MPs are women. Over the last 80 years, only 240 of the 4,500 MPs elected had been female.

Deputy Director of the North West Regional Labour Party Sheila Murphy said after the next General Election the target was to have 35 per cent of MPs made up of women. She added: "The procedure is that local parties will make a decision but an all-woman short-list in Burnley cannot be ruled out."

Mr Pike said: "This has already been talked about at a local level. There are a number of pros and cons to be considered and it must be handled properly. The local party will make a decision and then the National Executive will rule on that.

"Although I am not involved in the process of choosing my successor I can say that if in 1981 when I was elected I had not been able to stand simply because I was a man, I should have felt aggrieved.

"Whoever is chosen will need to be the right candidate to represent Burnley both in Westminster and at constituency level."

Labour used all-women lists before the 1997 general election but the practice later fell foul of an employment tribunal ruling.

But new legislation now allows positive discrimination on Parliamentary shortlists.

Any decision to field an all female short-list will effectively end any speculation that the Prime Minister's former official spokesman, Alistair Campbell, is being lined up for the job.

Rumours that Mr Campbell, who was born in Keighley and is a lifelong Burnley Football Club fan, will put himself forward have circulated ever since Mr Pike announced his retirement last year.

But today Mr Campbell said: "As I have made clear on numerous occasions, this is pure speculation.

"I have no intention of standing as MP for Burnley or anywhere else for that matter."

One person also suggested for the job is Shahid Malik.

As a member of the party's ruling National Executive, Mr Malik is a supporter of the principal of female shortlists.

He said: "I can see why people would be disappointed and I fully empathise with them.

"However I have a responsibility to the Labour Party and their policy on planning for the future.

"With respect to Burnley in particular I will whatever the constituency party wants."

Another who could be Mr Pike's replacement is county councillor, Marcus Johnstone.

Coun Johnstone said: "The party is still to make a decision and I will not be commenting before it does.

"The Labour Party has been very good to me over the years and I will, of course, accept whatever decision they come to."