To ask Her Majesty's Government what is the nature of the evidence they require for the purpose of deciding whether to accept the First Optional Protocol to the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; and what steps they will take to obtain such evidence. [HL4161]
The Government need to be convinced of the practical value to the people of the United Kingdom of the rights of individual petition to the United Nations under each of the covenants to which they apply. In 2004 we acceded to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. One of our reasons for doing so was to enable us to consider on a more empirical basis the merits of the right of individual petition. Professor Jim Murdoch of Glasgow University reviewed the operation of the optional protocol, and we announced the conclusions of his review on 4 December 2008, which were that the optional protocol had not yet provided women in the UK with real benefits; non-governmental organisations in the UK had not used the optional protocol in advancing the cause of women, and that the quality of the UN Committee's adjudication on admissibility of complaints could appear inconsistent. Professor Murdoch's findings suggest that the first three years did not provide sufficient empirical evidence to decide either way on the value of other individual complaint mechanisms. We will need further evidence, over a longer period, to establish what the practical benefits are.
On 8 June (Official Report, col. 28WS), my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Jonathan Shaw) announced that the UK intends to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities shortly. The Government will keep under review the applications made under these two optional protocols, how they are handled by the relevant committees at the United Nations, and whether their outcome demonstrates significant additional benefits to people in the United Kingdom. This evidence will assist the Government in assessing the merits of other individual petition mechanisms.