Labour blow as all-women lists outlawed
Party found guilty of discrimination
John Rentoul is chief political commentator for The Independent on Sunday, and visiting professor at Queen Mary, University of London, where he teaches contemporary history. Previously he was chief leader writer for The Independent. He has written a biography of Tony Blair, whom he admired more at the end of his time in office than he did at the beginning.
Tuesday 09 January 1996
and DONALD MACINTYRE
The Labour Party suffered the acute embarrassment yesterday of having its policy of selecting some Parliamentary candidates from women-only shortlists branded as unlawful sex discrimination.
The surprise decision is a serious blow for the party, which introduced the policy in 1993 to boost women's representation in Parliament. But while senior Tories were jubilant yesterday over the rebuff for Labour, it could also have a dramatic effect on the Conservative Party, which may now have to treat its selection processes as being covered by the Sex Discrimination Act.
The unanimous declaration by Leeds Industrial Tribunal forced Labour to suspend all 14 outstanding all-women selections, but a party spokeswoman insisted the position of the 34 women candidates already chosen from all- women short lists would not be affected.
The decision was held as a "historic judgment" by a "delighted" Peter Jepson, the part-time law lecturer and would-be candidate for two London constituencies who brought the case with Roger Dyas-Elliott, who was rejected as a candidate for Keighley, West Yorkshire.
Mr Jepson said: "The Labour Party has got to rewrite its selection procedures."
Shocked senior party sources last night strongly indicated that an appeal was certain after the tribunal issues its written judgment on 25 January. Mr Jepson said the tribunal's decision was so emphatic that an appeal would be "lunacy", and called on Labour's National Executive Committee (NEC) to consider re-opening the 34 completed selections as "a matter of utmost urgency".
But Nicola Kuterpan, a leader of the anti-quota Campaign for Real Equality in the party - while welcoming the ruling - said it would be wrong to expect the party to "tear itself apart" by reopening the already completed selections. Instead, it should abandon attempts to force them through in another 14 seats. These include nine where the process has already started and another five - in as yet unidentified seats - where all-women shortlists are also due to prevail.
Rejecting the "ingenious but fallacious" arguments of James Goudie QC, for the Labour Party, the tribunal chairman John Prophet said the policy was a clear case of sex discrimination under the 1975 Act. He said many people would regard the party's aim of increasing women's representation as a "laudable motive, but that has no relevance to the issue".
Mr Jepson found all his arguments accepted by the tribunal. Although being an MP was not "employment" in the usual sense, the tribunal ruled that it fell within the scope of the Act particularly in the light of the European Equal Treatment Directive of 1976 which outlaws sex discrimination in "access to all jobs or posts, whatever the sector or branch of activity".
Mr Jepson and Mr Dyas- Elliott did not seek compensation or ask for the choice of candidates in their cases to be re-opened. Mr Dyas-Elliott said: "I am quite prepared to allow the Keighley result to stand. I have no prejudice at all against Anne Cryer."
Mrs Cryer was chosen as the Labour candidate from an all-woman shortlist.
Mr Jepson claimed that if the NEC ignored the ruling - which technically only applies to the constituencies he and Mr Dyas-Elliott sought - it would be "contempt of court".
Tony Blair, the Labour leader, described the policy last summer as "not ideal at all", and said that it would not continue after the next election. He later acknowledged to the executive that it was up to them to decide whether to continue the policy.
The ruling casts doubt over the legality of the Tory selection process suggesting the party may be practising indirect sex discrimination against women.
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