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Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Bill


These notes refer to the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Bill
as introduced in the House of Commons on 17th October 2001[Bill 28]

Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Bill



1.     These explanatory notes relate to the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Bill as introduced in the House of Commons on 17 October 2001. They have been prepared by the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions and the Cabinet Office in order to assist the reader of the Bill and to help inform debate on it. They do not form part of the Bill and have not been endorsed by Parliament.

2.     The notes need to be read in conjunction with the Bill. They are not, and are not meant to be, a comprehensive description of the Bill. So where a clause or part of a clause does not seem to require any explanation or comment, none is given.


3.     The key objective for this Bill is to enable a political party, should it wish to do so, to adopt measures which regulate the selection of candidates for certain elections in order to reduce inequality in the numbers of men and women elected, as candidates of the party.

4.     The Sex Discrimination Act 1975 ("the 1975 Act") does not specifically cover the selection of candidates. However, in the case of Jepson v The Labour Party in 1996, an employment tribunal held that section 13 of the 1975 Act did cover the selection of candidates by political parties and constrained the parties' ability to take positive action to increase, in that case, the numbers of women in Parliament.

5.     The Bill will amend the 1975 Act (which applies to Great Britain) to provide that Parts II to IV of the Act will not apply to measures adopted by a party to reduce inequality in the numbers of men and women elected as its candidates. Equivalent amendments are made to the Sex Discrimination (Northern Ireland) Order 1976 ('the 1976 Order'), which covers Northern Ireland.

6.     The legislation will be permissive not prescriptive, and will allow political parties to decide whether and in what way they wish to reduce the inequality.


7.     Legislation relating to equal opportunities including the subject matter of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 is reserved to the UK Parliament under the Scotland Act 1998. Under the Welsh devolution settlement, the UK Parliament makes primary legislation relating to Wales. Legislation that deals with parliamentary elections and elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly, the European Parliament and district councils is outside the legislative competence of the Northern Ireland Assembly under the Northern Ireland Act 1998 because it deals with an excepted matter and is not ancillary to a reserved or transferred matter. As a result the Act extends to England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Section 1 of the Act amends the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 which applies to England, Wales, and Scotland. Section 2 contains a corresponding amendment to the Sex Discrimination (Northern Ireland) Order 1976 (SI 1976/1042 (NI 15)).


8.     Clauses 1 and 2 are the substantive clauses of the Bill. They insert in the 1975 Act and the 1976 Order respectively an exemption for positive measures (designed to reduce inequality in the numbers of men and women elected to certain bodies) from the general prohibition against discrimination on the grounds of sex.

9.     Clause 1(1) inserts the exemption into Part V of the 1975 Act by way of a new section, 42A.

10.     To be able to rely on the new subsections (1) and (2), a political party in Great Britain (GB) must be registered under Part II of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 ('the 2000 Act'). To put forward a candidate for elections in Great Britain, (to the Westminster Parliament, to the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales, the European Parliament and to principal councils in GB), a party must in any case be registered in the Great Britain register, under the 2000 Act. For elections to parish councils in England and community councils in Wales a party need not be registered under the 2000 Act, but nevertheless would need to do so in order to use the provisions of this bill.

11.     A separate register under the 2000 Act operates for political parties putting forward candidates for elections in Northern Ireland.

12.     New subsection (3) defines the elections to which the exemption can apply within Great Britain. The local government elections defined in 3(e) are those to the Greater London Authority (but not for the Mayor of London), to county councils including the Isles of Scilly, to unitary authorities, to metropolitan and London boroughs, to district councils and to parishes. The Bill does not cover directly elected mayors.

13.     Clause 2 of the Bill inserts a new Article in the 1976 Order, Article 43A, to make equivalent provision, as set out above, for those political parties putting forward candidates to elections in Northern Ireland. As in Great Britain, under the 2000 Act, for a political party to put forward candidates in Northern Ireland it must register in the Northern Ireland register.

14.     A political party wishing to put forward candidates for elections in both Great Britain and Northern Ireland would need to register in both registers. Under the 2000 Act a party registering in both registers would be treated as if it were two separate parties.

15.     Clause 3 of the Bill inserts a 'sunset' clause that would cause the provisions of the Bill to expire at the end of 2015. This should allow for at least 3 elections to have taken place for each body in the UK from when the provisions of the Bill are likely to come into force. Beyond this, clause 3 allows the provisions of the Bill to continue only if a statutory instrument, following the affirmative procedure, is laid before each House for approval.


16.     The provisions of the Bill are expected to have no significant impact on public finances.


17.     The provisions of the Bill are expected to be neutral in their impact on public service manpower numbers.


18.     The proposals have not been the subject of a regulatory impact assessment since they will have no impact on businesses or charities


19.     The Bill will commence immediately on Royal Assent.


20.     Section 19 of the Human Rights Act 1998 requires the Minister in charge of a Bill in either House of Parliament to make a statement, before second reading, about the compatibility of the provisions of the Bill with the Convention rights (as defined by section 1 of that Act). The Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, has made the following statement:

In my view the provisions of the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Bill are compatible with the Convention rights.

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Prepared: 17 October 2001