Joint Committee On Human Rights Ninth Report


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 to it.

  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 UK courts.

  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 Convention.

  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 141(4).

  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

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