Letter to Chairman from the Rt Hon The
Lord Williams of Mostyn QC
I am grateful to the Joint committee on Human
Rights for your Report on the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates)
Bill. This Report is a very timely contribution to the debate
on this Bill, and your Committee has brought a useful perspective
I am delighted that the conclusion of the Report
supports the Bill. However, I have a few concerns that I would
like to raise here with you. I am sure that these issues will
be further considered when the Bill receives its Second Reading
in the House of Lords.
The Report says that this Bill reverses the
decision of the Industrial Tribunal in the Jepson case.
I should clarify here that the Bill does not do this: it simply
removes any prohibition on positive action measures in certain
circumstances. The judgement in Jepson that candidate selection
falls within the scope of section 13 has not been reversed.
The Report also looks at the impact on the Bill
of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination
Against Women (CEDAW) and the International Covenant for Civil
and Political Rights (ICCPR). The Government regards these obligations
with the utmost seriousness. However, it is clear that international
obligations do not become part of domestic law unless incorporated
into it. The Government wishes to clarify, therefore, that such
international obligations do not give individuals a source of
rights and obligations which can be enforced directly before the
I welcome the Committee's conclusion that this
Bill is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.
We have proceeded with the Bill on the basis that Article 14,
along with Article 3 of Protocol 1 is engaged. Nonetheless, it
is important to note that there is some doubt whether the selection
of candidates by political parties falls within the ambit of the
I would also like to draw attention to the Committee's
view that political parties are likely to be regarded as public
authorities for the purposes of section 6 of the Human Rights
Act 1998. The Government does not agree that this is the case.
In our view the function of political parties in fighting elections
is to further their own ends, rather than to fulfil a public function.
A further point where the Government's view
differs from that of the Committee is on the applicability of
European law, and in particular the Equal Treatment Directive
(ETD). The Government's view is that the ETD does not apply to
selection of candidates by political parties. This is so because
being a Member of Parliament is not an occupation that falls within
the scope of the Directive. Furthermore, the Government takes
the view that the Directive does not apply to the electoral process:
selection for election is not comparable to normal selection for
employment. Nor would the Government accept that political candidacy
is a "vocational activity" for the purposes of Article
Once again, can I thank you for producing this
timely report. I am very pleased that the Committee supports this
important piece of legislation.
3 December 2001