HL Deb 11 June 1985 vol 464 cc1123-6

2.48 p.m.

Baroness Lockwood

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what progress is being made towards ratification of the United Nations convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Young)

My Lords, as I told the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, on 4th June, we are still considering the provisions of the convention in the light of domestic legislation. We hope to be in a position to announce a decision soon.

Baroness Lockwood

My Lords, can the noble Baroness tell me whether the signing of the convention is likely to take place before the Nairobi Conference in July? Also, does she agree that it would give very great strength to the British delegation if the convention were so signed, even if it had reservations attached to it?

Baroness Young

My Lords, we have of course signed. The decision now is one for ratification. But I can perhaps say to the noble Baroness that we certainly hope to be able to announce a decision on ratification in advance of the conference in Nairobi which will be held from 15th to 26th July.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the excellent work that has been done in preparation for the world conference by nongovernmental women's organisations: for example, the 12 topic papers which have been produced in England, the comprehensive report by the Scottish Women's Joint Action Committee and the Wales Assembly for Women? Is she further aware that in all those papers there is a firm view expressed that the convention should be ratified?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I should like to take this opportunity to pay a very warm tribute to the important and impressive contribution made by non-governmental organizations and women's organisations towards the conference. The Government have taken a range of initiatives during the decade which contribute to what we see as the most important objectives of the decade; namely, eliminating discrimination and promoting equal opportunities for women. But we recognise the important work that has been done by all the organisations which the noble Baroness has identified, and I note her final point.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, we warmly welcome the fact that ratification is to take place soon. However, it is well known that certain reservations, which have already been referred to, and declarations have been made by Her Majesty's Government. Can the noble Baroness give the House some indication what the reservations were, how seriously the Government regard them and what declarations were made as well?

Baroness Young

My Lords, if I may just clarify a point, if we decided to ratify the convention we would enter a number of reservations. They are still of course under discussions so I cannot go into all the details. But they would cover such areas as succession to the throne and hereditary titles, the right of education authorities to determine curricula and text books, as they do at present, and the affairs of religious ministries. In fact, a number of other countries, including some of our European Community partners, have entered reservations upon ratification.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether it is the case that 56 governments have ratified this convention? Does she remember that in a Written Answer to a Question asked by me she has stated that the Government are considering ratifying it, but are concerned whether ratification would not be in accordance with certain domestic policies? I may not have heard, but can she state what those contradictions may be?

Baroness Young

My Lords, the position is that 66 countries have now ratified the convention; but as I explained in answer to the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, in deciding whether or not we should ratify the convention we are considering a number of reservations covering some of areas that I have enumerated in my earlier response.

Baroness Platt of Writtle

My Lords, is my noble friend the Minister aware of the great importance of the ratification of the United Nations Convention to a great many women who have worked extremely hard, often on a voluntary basis, for the United Nations Decade and who feel that it should happen before then as evidence of the Government's commitment to the improvement of the position of women in society?

Baroness Young

Yes, my Lords. Again, I am very glad to pay tribute to the immense amount of work that has been done by a great many women's organisations towards the preparation of the Nairobi Conference. We do appreciate the widespread concern among women's groups and organisations that the United Kingdom should ratify this convention.

Lord Diamond

My Lords, what is the justification for the Government's insistence on excluding the Peerage Act? Why are the Government determined to discriminate against the issue of the noble Viscount the Leader of the House?

Baroness Young

My Lords, It would not be appropriate for me at this time to go into the detail of what might be the Government's reservations were we to ratify the convention.

Baroness Vickers

My Lords, is one of the reservations the fact that we still have dependent territories?

Baroness Young

My Lords, one of the considerations upon ratification would be consultation with our dependent territories.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that her noble colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, in answering a Question of mine on 20th May last said that the Government were awaiting the European Court ruling before deciding on their attitude towards the removal of discrimination against women under the immigration rules? As the European Court has given its verdict, can she now say whether the discrimination against women under our present immigration rules is one of the reservations that the Government are considering before they sign this United Nations Convention?

Baroness Young

My Lords, once again the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, is widening the Question. If he would like to put down a specific question on that particular point, I should of course be happy to try to answer it.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that there are very few institutions in this country in which there is an equality of opportunity as great as that in your Lordships' House?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I would be the first to support the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, in what she says.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that from the point of view of timing the most important thing is that ratification should take place in time for this country's delegation to take part in the working groups at Nairobi, as access to the meeting itself is available to countries which have not ratified? Can she give us any further hope that such ratification will take place in time for this participation in the working groups?

Baroness Young

Yes, my Lords. As I indicated in answer to an earlier question, we hope to be able to announce a decision on ratification in advance of the conference.

Baroness Lockwood

My Lords, will the noble Baroness bear in mind that the moral status of the British delegation which she will lead will be very much diminished if this convention is not ratified before the conference takes place?

Baroness Young

Yes, my Lords. I note what the noble Baroness says.

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, why do the Government make a reservation in the case of succession to the Throne, where there is a considerable discrimination against women at the present time? Is it not time that we changed our practice to allow the eldest child to succeed?

Baroness Young

My Lords, as the noble Lord will be very well aware, this whole matter is an enormous question. It would not be appropriate for me to discuss at this stage the details of what might go into a reservation.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, will the noble Baroness keep in mind that if all forms of discrimination against women are abolished, all forms of discrimination in favour of women will also be abolished, and that this may not be altogether to their liking?

Baroness Young

My Lords, as I am sure the noble Lady is aware—indeed, as I think all noble Baronesses in this House will be aware—things do not always work out precisely as you expect.