Sir: Kamlesh Bahl, chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission, gives the impression that the current legislation does not permit mechanisms to ensure equal treatment of men and women in the selection of candidates by political parties (letter, 2 January).
In fact, as she later points out, the reality is that the law is unclear. Following the tribunal case on Labour's all-women shortlists the EOC took further legal advice. Once again they were advised that the selection of party candidates was not subject to the Sex Discrimination Act and was therefore lawful. The most recent Marschall ruling in Europe supports the view that mechanisms to bring about gender balance are permissible under European equal treatment laws.
The Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly are both new bodies and the parties are able to choose mechanisms which ensure that women have an equal chance of being elected. Equal treatment mechanisms such as "zipping" (alternating men and women on a list) and twinned constituencies which select a man and a woman, do not give priority to women over men. However they would prevent the new bodies perpetuating the current male domination of politics.
At present the parties, and the EOC, seem to be worried about the possibility of a challenge to equal treatment selection procedures by a man. If the parties do not adopt these or other mechanisms to ensure women are treated equally there is now an even greater possibility that they will face a case of sex discrimination brought by a woman.
Director, The Fawcett Society