§ Amendments made: No. 84, in page 51, line 44, leave out 'provide' and insert afford'.
§ No. 85, in page 51, line 45, leave out 'to secure' and insert 'for promoting'.—[Mr. Concannon.]
§ Mr. McCusker
I beg to move Amendment No. 86, in page 53, line 14, at end insert or the religious belief of other persons'.
Schedule 4 deals with the conduct of investigations by the agency. We are once again in the delicate area of investigations into the composition of the religious beliefs of employees, a subject which we debated at length in Committee. In Committee I was accused of raising a scare in Northern Ireland by suggesting that employers might have to keep registers of the religious affiliations of their employees. Ministers and others went to some lengths to disprove that.
Paragraph 8(3) offers some protection. It states:A person shall not be compelled for the purposes of the investigation…to give any information or produce any document which1997discloses, or from which there can be deduced, his religious belief, if he informs the Agency that he objects to doing so;".We want to change that, so that if he objects to doing so, he cannot be made to disclose the religious belief of another person.
Under the schedule as it stands the agency could force an employer to keep a register by telling him that he must inform the agency of the religious beliefs of his employees. In Committee the Minister of State faced up to the reality of how that information was to be given. He said:Obviously information will nee to be obtained. That will be a matter for the agency. There are many simple ways—for example, in the same way as his hon. Friend went out and found information.He was referring to certain information I had. He went on:The agency can ask employers and it can look at books. We shall be dealing with intelligent people who will operate this Bill in an intelligent manner."—[Official Report, Standing Committee H, 18th March 1976; c. 256.]A person who is intelligent enough can find a way of getting to know a person's religious belief. A person will not be forced to disclose that information, but he can be forced to produce documents which disclose that information to someone else. If a person objects to giving that information, he should have the same safeguards as he would have if he were asked for his religious beliefs.
§ Mr. Moyle
The object of the amendment is such that, if it were accepted, it would place an unduly restrictive limit on the ability of the Fair Employment Agency to conduct its functions. I endorse everything said in Committee by my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) on the question of not keeping registers of people's religious opinions. I do not see how the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) can interpret the clause as providing that employers could be compelled to keep such a register.
Naturally, the agency must form a view as to whether there is discrimination or lack of equal opportunity in a particular firm if from time to time it is investigating it to remove grievances. However, if the employees of a firm have not given the employer details of their religion, and if the employer has not felt that he wants 1998 to keep a register, there is nothing in the clause to compel him to keep one.
On the other hand, such information as is available in the firm ought, when the agency conducts its investigation, to be provided to the agency. We believe that the amendment would be unduly restrictive to the point where it might severely limit the operations and investigations of the agency. I therefore ask the House to reject the amendment.
§ Mr. Powell
I listened very carefully, with the words of the right hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) as reported in column 256 of the Official Report of Standing Committee H for 18th March 1976 before me, to what the Minister of State said. Unless I am mistaken, the Minister of State confirmed that in the course of an agency investigation there will be a duty upon a person to disclose the religious belief of other persons, to give information or produce a document which discloses the religious belief of other persons. It is true that the clause does not oblige a person to keep a register of other persons' religious beliefs, but it obliges him, although he will not disclose his own religion, to disclose facts which lead him to the conclusion that so-and-so is a Socinian, or whatever it might be.
Perhaps I should explain that Socinians were our great favourites in Committee. They seemed to be a relatively harmless religious sect for the purposes of examining the meaning of the Bill and to perform the innocent function of John Doe and Richard Roe.
I can hardly believe that seriously the Government will insist, in Northern Ireland above all places, on putting a compulsion upon A to disclose information which reveals the religious belief of B. This is so out of key with the atmosphere and the intention of the Bill that it is very difficult to credit that that can be the intention. Nevertheless, the Minister of State has gone far to confirm it and, indeed, there would be little point in the words "his religious belief" in lines 13 and 14 on page 53 if there was no converse compulsion in given circumstances to disclose the religious belief of other people.
It is no good saying that in Northern Ireland most people reckon that they know what is the religion of most other people. I am far from sure that they are 1999 always right when they think that they know. I am quite certain from my own personal knowledge in a relatively limited time that many people have formed false views not merely of the political opinions of their neighbours but actually of the religious beliefs of their neighbours.
§ Mr. Powell
As long as they do not think that I am a Roman Cathtolic, I do not think that I am in any position seriously to complain.
What is happening here is that with every step we are confirming that this House is legislating to make it compulsory in the event of an investigation by the agency for anyone who is asked for information to disclose it or to produce a document. It might be a baptismal certificate or something of that sort. It might be a first communion document. The requirement is to give any information or produce any document to disclose or to enable there to be deduced the religious belief of another person.
The Minister of State is right in saying that the agency will not be operating in a vacuum, but he has also said, in contradistinction to what the working party envisaged, that there will be no question of lists, registers or records being kept by or at the request of the agency. Therefore, it seems to me that he cannot possibly defend taking compulsory powers to put one person under inquisition as to the religious beliefs of another. Unless he can clearly state that that is not the effect of this provision, I do not think that my hon. Friends and I can justify not going on the record against what is proposed.
§ Mr. Moyle
I have listened carefully to what the right hon. Gentleman has had to say, and I think that he is over-dramatising the situation. If the agency is to investigate a firm, it might say that it wants to look at the employment rolls. Perhaps there is on the employment roll register a note that a certain person is of a certain religion, and that instead of following what is a widely accepted and prevalent custom at Easter time in Northern Ireland of working on Good 2000 Friday and having the following Monday and Tuesday off, he should be allowed to be off on Good Friday because of his strong religious views. The other day the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) called for the greater observance of Whit Monday in the country, on the grounds of religious views.
We cannot allow that sort of information on the employment roll to deprive the agency of the opportunity of studying that roll because if we were to do that, it would severely handicap investigation. It is that sort of information and that sort of situation that the schedule as drafted is designed to protect, and the amendment would create an obstacle to the agency's investigations. That is the sort of thing that we have in mind.
Where an employee has, without reservation, provided information to his employer, there cannot be any basic objection to the employer's passing that information to the agency. That is the sort of problem that this part of the schedule is designed to solve. In spite of having listened carefully to the right hon. Gentleman's argument, I am not impressed by the problem to which he draws attention, and I again urge the House to resist the amendment.
§ Mr. McCusker
I am glad that the Minister has not tried to cover up what some of us consider to be unpleasant aspects of the Bill, because he is conceding that when the agency decides it has to investigate a company, it can go to the managing director or the personnel manager and ask to see the employment files. From the application forms the agency will deduce certain information about the religious persuasion of the firm. The agency can ask the personnel manager for personal details of an employee, and if it does not get them from him, it can go to the supervisor and say "The personnel manager does not know the religious affiliations of Joe. Can you tell me?".
Throughout the schedule there are powers of the sort that are usually confined to the High Court in respect of the production of documents, because it is seen as fundamental that when the time comes it should be possible for the agency to go in strength and in depth to examine the religious composition and 2001 affiliations of employees in various companies.
We are saying that we can swallow a substantial amount of that but we cannot swallow a situation where a person should either be compelled to give his religious
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Moyle
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
I do not intend to make a long speech, but I should like to take the opportunity of Third Reading to place on record my appreciation to all those who have been of so much assistance in ensuring that the Bill returns to the other place in what I think we should all agree is a much improved form compared with the state in which it arrived before this House such a long time ago in terms of parliamentary debates and Committee sittings.
In expressing my appreciation, I include particularly the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), who has worked very hard at making this a better Bill, and his colleagues and the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt), for whose support and illumination of some of the problems of Northern Ireland we have been grateful.
I should also like to place on record my tribute to the working party from whose recommendations the Bill is derived and to the work put into that working party by the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) when he was my predecessor at the Northern Ireland Office. I am sure it gives him
§ affiliation if he does not want to or be pushed to give that information about anyone else.
§ Question put, That the amendment be made:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 7, Noes 41.2001
|Division No. 176.]||AYES||[4.35 p.m.|
|Carson, John||Stanbrook, Ivor||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Molyneaux, James||Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)||Mr. McCusker and|
|Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch||Storehouse, Rt Hon John||Mr. Robert J. Bradford.|
|Ross, William (Londonderry)|
|Anderson, Donald||Freeson, Reginald||Pavitt, Laurie|
|Bates, Alf||Gilbert, Dr John||Peart, Rt Hon Fred|
|Bishop, E. S.||Harper, Joseph||Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S)|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield||Richardson, Miss Jo|
|Callaghan, Rt Hon J. (Cardiff SE)||Howell, Rt Hon Denis||Stallard, A. W.|
|Cocks, Michael (Bristol S)||Jackson, Colin (Brighouse)||Stoddart, David|
|Concannon, J. D.||Jay, Rt Hon Douglas||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Davidson, Arthur||Judd, Frank||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Deakins, Eric||Kinnock, Neil||Walker, Terry (Kingswood)|
|Dormand, J. D.||MacFarquhar, Roderick||Whitehead, Phillip|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Marquand, David||Williams, Alan (Swansea W)|
|Dunn, James A.||Mellish, Rt Hon Robert||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|English, Michael||Mikardo, Ian|
|Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)||Mr. Peter Snape and|
|Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd)||Moyle, Roland||Mr. Ted Graham.|
§ great pleasure that the Bill has gone through all its stages since the time when he and his colleagues first thought of it and is now on the verge of becoming part of the law applicable to the situation in Northern Ireland.
§ A great deal of tribute has been paid to the hon. Member for Wokingham. I should like to add my tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme), who was responsible for piloting the Bill through the House. He may not entirely have removed the hostility of some Northern Ireland Members to the general provisions of the Bill, but he certainly allayed many of their fears and worries about the manner in which it might or could have been administered, thereby gaining a much greater degree of acceptance for this measure than would otherwise have been the case.
§ Apart from that, the Bill enjoys all-party support, if not the entire support of Ulster Unionists. I think that everybody else is in favour of the Bill and the principles that it embodies. We send it off with, I hope, a fair wind for the future.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
The Minister of State spoke of all-party support. The 2003 official Opposition have supported, and do support, the principle of the Bill. It is important that not too much should be claimed for it and that not too much should be expected of it. We should not imagine that it will have a sensational effect, at least in the short term. Nor should its enactment be used to exaggerate the impression of the extent of unfair discrimination in Northern Ireland, where so many people of different religious and political opinions are extremely fair-minded and tolerant.
Still less should anyone run away with the idea that where there is unfair discrimination it is always in one direction. We welcomed the Bill on Second Reading but expressed doubts about some of its features. My hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave), who apologises for not being able to be present at the conclusion of these proceedings, said that we would have an important and possibly rather long Committee stage, and so we have. According to all opinion, the Bill has emerged substantially improved.
Many doubts and reservations have been aired today. There is one aspect which has not been the subject of debate. This is a time of economic difficulty and heavy unemployment in the United Kingdom as a whole, and in particular in Northern Ireland. We are concerned that the Bill, when it reaches the statute book, should not add unduly to the costs of employers in Northern Ireland, and, therefore, to the dangers of increasing unemployment, by imposing unnecessary and burdensome requirements.
For example, there has been mention of the possible need for additional advertising by firms, which might be expensive, particularly for smaller businesses. There are other problems, too, which will be in the minds of Ministers. I know that they and the Fair Employment Agency will keep them in mind when they carry out the provisions of this measure.
I am grateful to the Minister of State for applauding the preparatory work of my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee). We should also commend the efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir S. McAdden). Tribute was rightly paid to the efforts of the right hon. 2004 Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme), who has now moved to the Department of Health and Social Security. We thank both Ministers of State for their courteous and co-operative approach to all who have shared in the legislative process.
We thought it a little unusual that the name of the chairman of the agency should have been announced in the course of a debate on Report. We wish Mr. Robert Cooper well. He has our respect and affection. We hope that he and those who serve with him—I wonder when we shall hear their names—will be able to do good work.
Finally, let us remind ourselves again of the views expressed by Lord Feather's Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights, which said in its first report thatLegislation can only be effective which is supported by the great majority. Only when the people believe that discrimination is unjustifiable will discrimination be ended.Those are sound sentiments which will be widely shared.
§ 4.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Powell
My hon. Friends and I voted against the Second Reading of the Bill for reasons which we set out at length and which I shall merely summarise in a sentence by saying that we do not believe that religious discrimination can be reduced or effectively dealt with by legislation. We fear that legislation can have even a counter-productive effect. We shall not divide the House on Third Reading because our position was made clear on Second Reading and remains unchanged, despite the fact that undoubtedly, as a result of the debates, what has been said on behalf of the Government and the substantial changes which have been made to the Bill, the fears which we attached to it have been substantially diminished.
I still do not believe, however, that those on both sides of industry who proved to be of the same mind as my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker)—though they were greatly relieved by much that has been said and explained—would now conclude that if we could start all over again this would be an operation which was likely to yield a net positive return. It is a common fate that we are legislating in one phase in accordance with the opinions 2005 and trends of a phase which has already passed or is passing.
It was in August 1972 that the often-quoted working party was set up. Four years ago many people believed—indeed, it was official to believe—that what had befallen the Province and its people was attributable in no small measure to internal divisions which were expressed by discrimination, in particular by religious discrimination, and that if discrimination in that and in other forms were outlawed, if it were diminished, pro rata the troubles, the violence, the murder and the destruction would diminish.
Alas, those who believed that four years ago have been confuted by the course of events. We no longer believe—this is something that the Secretary of State is continually declaring from the Dispatch Box—that there is any single or simple solution to the assault upon all law-abiding people and the future of Northern Ireland. Even in 1973 the working party reported that it could find only "some degree of religious discrimination as a fact of life in Northern Ireland". If, with our present insight, we could go back to 1972, we should probably not have set out on the course or undertaken the commitment which eventually resulted in this legislation.
We now know that the dangers and the source of the dangers by which Northern Ireland is threatened lie in other quarters. That is not to say that my hon. Friends and I do not look forward, with confidence, to a continued diminution of religious discrimination in the life and employment of Northern Ireland or that we do not hope and believe that what was "some" discrimination in 1973 will be described in time with an even more minimising adjective. However, we still think that this legislation will have to be handled very carefully if the net outcome is not to be negative.
As we have said before, parliamentarily considered, the passage of the Bill has been a co-operative effort by Members in all parts of the House. It was that co-operation which enabled the Committee stage to remove many of the misconceptions which had attended the Bill and which attached to it among employees and employers in Northern Ireland. The fact that our dialogue elicited that many of the ideas of 1973 had 2006 already been superseded and showed the intentions of the Government, and, one hopes, of the agency, in a different and much more reasonable light has contributed to the reduction of the risks attendant upon legislation of this kind.
I shall not advert more than briefly, but he was absent from the Chamber on the previous occasions when I referred to it, to the criticism of myself by the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) for having participated in the improvement of the Bill. He seemed to think that it was a contradiction for someone who believed that legislation was potentially dangerous to use all his efforts to improve it and to modify or remove the elements to which his fears attached.
I simply say that on that basis the parliamentary process would have little meaning. I do not believe that most hon. Members on either side of the House consider that when we have voted for or against the Second Reading of a Bill our task is done. In many cases our task is, in the best as well as in the worst sense of the term, only starting. We are now witnessing and saying goodbye on Third Reading to the constructive part of the parliamentary process which, on this Bill, was well done.
§ 5.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Fitt
The House will not be surprised when I say that I cannot go all the way with the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). I have supported the Bill through all its stages. I know that the right hon. Gentleman has been a Member of Parliament for Northern Ireland since 1974, but long before that it was easily predictable that there would come a time when frustration would erupt into violence on the streets. In my maiden speech in this House in 1966 I tried to tell the House what was happening in Northern Ireland. The tragedy was that neither the then Labour Government nor the Conservative Opposition really believed what I was saying.
If this Bill and the other reform measures there have been had been promulgated in 1966, 1967 and 1968, I have no doubt that we would not have had the violence which we have seen during these seven long tragic years, but because of the non-existence of legislation such as this, which seeks to guarantee social justice and freedom for everyone in 2007 Northern Ireland, many well-intentioned, decent and honourable people believed that they had to engage in political agitation to force the British Government, of whatever political hue, to take an interest in Northern Ireland and to try to bring about reform. I have no hesitation in saying that there were men of violence, forces for disruption, who took advantage of the non-existence of civil rights and social justice in Northern Ireland and used it to try to engage in a campaign of violence which would achieve their own political ends.
I am not too sure that the Bill will have the effect intended by the Government. I recognise that, particularly after the feelings aroused in Northern Ireland during these last seven years, it will be very difficult to legislate discrimination out of the way, there has been such a polarisation of society in Northern Ireland, the communities have been driven so far apart. The enmity and hatred which exist may make the Bill useless.
However as I have said from the beginning, the Bill tries to create an atmosphere in which everyone in Northern Ireland, irrespective of political affiliation, will be given equal opportunity and equal treatment before the law. It may be a forlorn hope, but I hope that the men of violence on both sides of the community, from the so-called Loyalist community and the Provisional IRA, will recognise that all that the majority of people in Northern Ireland want is an opportunity to live out their lives in peace. What they want are jobs and homes and a bettering of the social welfare conditions in order to try to ease the distress and despair which exist in Northern Ireland today. We all remember how last week people, allegedly in a just cause, murdered 10 innocent Catholics and Protestants.
I believe that the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) performed a signal service in chairing the working party whose conclusions have led to this Bill now in the process of becoming an Act. It may not be successful, but certainly in the years which lie ahead, it will be remembered that the hon. Gentleman showed immense courage in trying to tackle a problem which has existed in Northern Ireland for so many years.
2008 The agency is to be chaired by Mr. Bob Cooper, a former political colleague of mine in Northern Ireland. I do not think any Englishman, Welshman, or Scotsman could adequately perform the duties of chairman of this agency. I think it needs someone who was born in Northern Ireland and who knows the extent of the tragedy which now exists. I wish Mr. Cooper every success in his new appointment, and I only hope that he will be given, from the whole Northern Ireland community, the support that will be so necessary if we are ever to see the relevant provisions of this Bill becoming operative so that, to some extent, it can help us forget the terrible price which the people of Northern Ireland have had to pay to get legislation such as this on the statute book.
§ 5.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Molyneaux
The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) has expressed a hope, which we Ulster Unionists share, that the atmosphere will improve. We all share the intentions of the principles behind this legislation but we cannot feel in our hearts that it will achieve the desired result.
In his opening remarks the Minister of State said he hoped the Bill would be well on its way to becoming an Act by Christmas, but I have the feeling that this rather illogical and irrelevant piece of legislation does no real credit to the Parliament at Westminster if only because, first, it is unrealistic and, secondly, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) said, it is to a great extent out of date already.
The deficiencies of the agency which will be set up have been highlighted and spotlighted by my hon. Friends both in Committee and in this House. The agency may not, by itself, be capable of bringing about its own collapse, but the demolition job is done by what is grandly labelled the "educational functions" of the agency. The Bill states that its functions shall be to2009 In any case, anyone in Northern Ireland who is so foolish as to think that he is getting this for free should read carefully through that clause and he will discover that he will be expected to pay for what doubtful services he will receive from the agency.
- (a) establish services for giving advice on matters connected with equality of opportunity;
- (b) provide training courses;
- (c) hold conferences;
- (d) undertake research which appears to the Agency to be necessary or expedient for purposes of its functions; and
- (e) disseminate (subject to the safeguard in Schedule 4, paragraph 12(4)) information.
All these very diverse activities may well have been justified if we were engaging in some kind of undertaking of a magnitude similar to that of North Sea oil exploration, but it is bordering on the ludicrous to provide such elaborate apparatus to deal with a mere fringe area of a situation which it is generally agreed the Bill will do little or nothing to mitigate. On the last amendment on Report we were almost reduced to applying the test of whether the applicant ate fish on a Friday. No doubt in that case the catering staff in the works canteen would be the star witnesses.
I am glad that the Minister of State excluded Ulster Unionists from the list of parties giving approval to the Bill because he underlined our consistency in refusing at all times in any sense to support the legislation and, for that matter, frivolous exercises in Parliament.
May I, as a comparative outsider who did not serve on the Committee, conclude by paying a sincere tribute to the Ministers who took part in the deliberations of the Committee and to my right hon. and hon. Friends who have striven to modify and improve the Bill. I feel that the House should give them its warmest thanks.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ Mr. van Straubenzee
At this hour the House will expect speeches to be short, and so much has been said on the Bill that they can be. No speech on this occasion, however, should start without a reference in the warmest terms to the skill with which the Minister of State has picked up the thread of what is accepted to be a complicated Bill, and has fallen to it with his customary courtesy and his great ability. That is not to detract from the efforts of his hon. Friend the Minister of State who has helped him throughout and has borne much of the burden. But we all know how difficult it is to come into a post three-quarters of the way through a Bill.
I share the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs- 2010 Davison) that anyone who suggested that we had found in one piece of paper in one binding all the answers to the problems of Northern Ireland would clearly be totally and utterly misleading himself. I know of no one, either on the working party from which the Bill springs, or subsequently, who thinks that.
The work of the Bill will take some considerable time to permeate the industrial and commercial life of Northern Ireland. But of one thing I am absolutely clear, and that is that the complaint and actuality of discrimination in employment in Northern Ireland is a very real factor of life now. I accept totally, and I reiterated it on Second Reading, that it applies both ways.
I am personally persuaded, just as I have become converted to this view in relation to Great Britain, that it is necessary for the law to intervene. I also believe that it may actually be that at a time of high unemployment the greater ability gradually to use the whole labour force of Northern Ireland may positively benefit the economic fortunes of the Province.
Of course, there is no simple answer. So much of our picture of Northern Ireland is, understandably, violence, destruction, hatred and death. The truth is that there are men and women of good will in both communities who are genuinely seeking to lead decent and constructive lives. The most important thing about the Bill is that it stems from a group of such people. With one exception, they were all Irish and they spanned the entire spectrum of Northern Ireland life.
I reject the suggestion that they were puppets acting at the behest of the Government. I sat with them for months and I do not recognise them from that description. They embraced both the great religious faiths in Northern Ireland from which so many of our difficulties stem.
The Bill is something constructive that has come out of Northern Ireland. Let us rejoice at that and put it on the statute book without expecting that anything will happen overnight. Let us not call it a "foolish parliamentary exercise". With other measures, it could be one brick in the wall to rebuild Northern Ireland. If so, the time of Parliament will not have been wasted.
§ 5.17 p.m.
§ Mr. McCusker
I have never claimed that Northern Ireland is a perfect society with no problems, or that discrimination does not exist. I have suffered as a consequence of some problems in Northern Ireland which have nothing to do with religious discrimination. One of my hon. Friends now in the Chamber comes from the deprived area of the Shankill Road and another from the deprived area of Sandy Row. I come from the working-class part of Lurgan.
We get nothing in Northern Ireland from being Protestants, Orangemen or Unionists. Allegations that the majority community have been favoured at the expense of the Catholic minority have been grossly exaggerated.
The difference in approach and attitude between the Bill and some of the sentiments in the report are indicative of what experience in Northern Ireland can do. Ministers who have been involved with Northern Ireland since direct rule will agree that one needs to work daily with the people and problems of Northern Ireland to learn the reality of the situation.
Some hon. Members seem to believe that the 55,000 unemployed people in Northern Ireland are all Catholics. They probably believed that the 24,000 unemployed two years ago were also all Catholics. Unemployment is tragically high, but it is tragically shared by both communities. Some people argue that there are more Protestants than Catholics in the better jobs, but they will have to examine a number of other factors before coining to any conclusion on this matter.
The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) appeared to be suggesting that deprivation, social conditions and unemployment could bring about revolution and death on the scale that we know it in Northern Ireland. Reports by the Runnymede Trust and others have indicated that teenagers in the minority community are 10 times more likely to be unemployed. If I believed that, I should have to say that there was a lesson to be learned by 625 other hon. Members. It would mean that if we removed social evils, we should remove the political problems in Northern Ireland. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman did not mean that. Indeed, it would be wrong.
2012 The Bill will soon become an Act and the Fair Employment Agency will then be established. I have expressed in detail what I think of it. From a personal point of view, it will take something of a load off my back. I have referred complaints of religious discrimination to Ministers, having received them from both communities in my constituency. I have tried to explain to the complaints that the discrimination that they say they feel is not discrimination at all. Sometimes that does not get me into any favour. I have referred only one case to the Parliamentary Commissioner. In that case the complainant was not a constituent of mine.
The new situation will be easy. I shall be able to say "Write to the Fair Employment Agency". To some extent the Bill will be a narks charter. Ministers know that there are many people in both communities who think that every time somebody else gets something, they should have it, as well, whether the person who has benefited is a Catholic or a Protestant. No self-analysis is undertaken. The view is taken that he has benefited because he is such and such a person. To some extent we shall be in danger of encouraging that belief.
I was taken aback when the announcement of the chairman was made this morning. I do not know about the motivation, but my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) will bear out that I made a note on the back of my Order Paper before the announcement was made to the effect that I hoped that we should not be lumbered with any redundant or prejudiced ex-Convention member. That is why I reacted when the Minister spoke.
In recent weeks lists of ex-Convention members have appeared in the Northern Ireland Press. Those who have had a handout from the various charitable trusts have been listed. Those who have been assisted by the generosity of their colleagues and those who are still unemployed have also been listed.
One cannot help but feel when dealing with legislation week after week in this place and setting up more and more statutory bodies that the time will come when some of the ex-Convention members will slide into some sinecure, although it will not be a sinecure for Bob Cooper. I do not want to say anything 2013 to make his job any more difficult or any more dangerous, but there are problems for him.
I have never considered Bob Cooper to be a particularly humble man, but when he reads through the 40 hours or so of debate, I hope that he will be humbled by the sheer volume of it if nothing else. I hope that he will take particular note of what has been said by Ministers in the House and in Committee. Many guidelines have been laid down, and assurances and intentions have been expressed which are not in the Bill.
If he takes note of what has been said, perhaps the Bill will achieve what I said I hoped for it—namely, a minimal effect. I said that I hoped that it would be a cosmetic exercise more than anything else. The best service Bob Cooper can do for Northern Ireland is to ensure that this measure does not further demoralise people, that it does not further destroy good industrial relations.
I hope that the Bill will not further remove employment opportunities. When there are 50,000 people unemployed it is not equality of opportunity that is a first priority, it is opportunity in the first place.
Now that we have disposed of this measure, I hope that the Minister responsible for providing equality of opportunity will direct his best attentions to providing opportunities. There arc no easy tomorrows in Northern Ireland, although that impression could be drawn from some of the comments of the hon. Member for Belfast, West. However, I hope that the Bill does whatever little good it is capable of doing. I am not particularly optimistic, but I believe that if nothing else, it will not do any harm.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, with amendments.