HC Deb 11 June 1976 vol 912 cc1978-83
Mr. Biggs-Davison

I beg to move Amendment No. 63, in page 26, line 14, at end insert— (d) employment by a political organisation ". The amendment is identical to an amendment that we tabled in Committee and we were told by the Minister that, without prejudging the issue, he would endeavour to look at it to see whether the wording was right. The point, which is a matter of good sense, has not been met, although Ministers have agreeably and to our satisfaction met several of the other points that we made. This matter remains to be resolved.

The argument is that subsection (3), excluding from the Bill jobs whose "essential nature" requires a particular political persuasion, does not necessarily cover employment by political parties, and this was made clear by the then Under-Secretary of State, now the Minister of State, who said that there should be no general exclusions except when particular affiliations were a bona fide occupational qualification."—[Official Report, Standing Committee H, 1st April 1976; c. 444.] The hon. Gentleman indicated also that it was for the agency to decide which jobs in a political organisation fell into this category. If that were so, we could be reduced to the situation in which the agency would have to assess and clarify the work by all persons employed by a political party and institute a sort of job segregation between those who were employed in functions whose "essential nature" required a particular political view, and those which did not.

Presumably, the secretary of a political organisation, agents and confidential typists would require political loyalty, though there was one intervention by the now Minister of State which rather indicated that he did not accept even that. I suppose one could argue that a public relations officer of a political party could do his job effectively, according to his professional talents, without being an adherent of the party employing him.

3.30 p.m.

The same could be said perhaps about the party's accountant, those doing research for the party, typing for the party, answering the telephone for the party, and the caretakers at party premises. But even if that is the case, I am not sure that enthusiasm for the cause of the party would not be a better qualification.

In Standing Committee I said: I do not know whether the headquarters of the SDLP employs a cleaner, but if it does I would not expect it to employ one without having regard to the political opinions of that person. Similarly, I would not expect Ulster Unionists not to have regard to the political opinions of the kind man who unpadlocks and re-padlocks the gate, to allow entry to and exit from 3 Glengall Street. It would surely be undesirable to bring about a situation in which party employees are divided into those who can be trusted and those who cannot.

In Committee the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) said: I do not believe that the agency or a court would find it either practicable or reasonable to start investigating the kind of accounts or the kind of letters that a certain typist was commonly required to type."—[Official Report, Standing Committee H, 1st April 1976; c. 443–6.] It is common sense that employees of political organisations need to operate with esprit de corps and a solidarity that cannot be encompassed by the narrow definition of "bona fide occupational qualification". It is doubtful whether Conservatives are employed at Transport House or in King Street. I am sure there are not too many reds under the desks at Conservative Central Office.

Mr. A. W. Stallard (St. Pancras, North)

The hon. Member could have fooled me.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

In Committee I also said that it was not unreasonable sometimes for a political party to insist on adherence to the party by one taking a job at party premises or offices. If we are rigid on this matter, the legislation will be made a little ridiculous in Northern Ireland and additional burdens may be placed on the courts. I hope that the Minister will agree to the necessity of making the exemption from the Bill, which is the purpose of the amendment.

Mr. Powell

It would be right to congratulate the official Oppositon upon their only contribution to the consideration of the Bill. They only managed it by a whisker, because the amendment would have been starred had these deliberations taken place yesterday. No doubt they were frying other fish and failed to observe that the Bill, of which they were supposed to be in support, was coming up for consideration and that there were major matters left over from the Committee stage.

I realise that this will only put me further in the bad books of the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) who considers it most deplorable that one should attempt to improve a Bill against which one has voted on Second Reading. But the Conservative Party did not vote against it on Second Reading and it is therefore somewhat paradoxical that they should have shown so little interest in improving it.

This is an illustration of one of the difficulties that we have got ourselves into as a result of our admitted failure—as all of us were obliged to admit—to get the right definition of what we mean by "political opinion" within the scope of the Bill.

If we had been able to do that, the problem to which the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) has correctly referred would not arise. There would be no difficulty in saying that a political party would not discriminate against an employee on the grounds of his religion provided that the political views of that potential employee coincided with those of the political organisation.

Certainly in the Ulster Unionist party, which by its charter and rules excludes any consideration of the religion of persons, we should be directing our attention, in selecting employees, to the strength and fervour of their Unionist belief. There would be no problem in discrimination on religious grounds being outlawed.

This shows that when one submits to bring more into a Bill than one knows the Bill is designed to cope with, one is bound to suffer the kind of inconveniences—no doubt many more will transpire in the course of time—which the sole, single, virgin and unique amendment proposed by the official Opposition refers to.

Mr. Moyle

I feel that I am back on grounds that I comprehend fully when we talk about the offering of jobs by political parties as opposed to complex appeal provisions involving the Fair Employment Agency.

The object of the Bill is to reduce to the absolute minimum the exceptions to the employment that the agency may supervise. By way of illustration only, and not wishing to go into all the arguments for and against, I would mention that when it came to the question of employment in schools we did not say that such employment would be exempt from the operations of the agency. We said that employment as a teacher only would be exempt. Thus, under the agency it is possible for Protestants to be employed as typists, cleaners and canteen workers in Catholic schools and vice versa.

Similarly, we have drafted the Bill as it is because we realise that where there is an essential political function to be performed by somebody employed by a political party, that person will obviously have to be an adherent of the party concerned. But perhaps if the party runs a canteen at its headquarters, the manageress need not necessarily be an adherent of that party, unless it were found that she was producing bad cooking as a way to reduce the party's morale. In that case her departure would not be regarded as anything other than fair dismissal, and there would be protection for the party.

This is the essential matter. Obviously, if one goes into the philosophy of that sort of thing, one can dream up all sorts of knotty problems in the House on a Friday afternoon. But, if it is to earn its keep, I am sure that the agency will be able to sort out these problems by the application of fairly simple commonsense rules.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

The matter was not dreamed up today. It was fully debated in Committee, and we were given to understand that the Government would seek in some way to meet our point. I do not think that it is a tiny matter. It is one of some substance. I do not ask leave to withdraw the amendment, but I shall not press it to a Division.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. Moyle

I beg to move Amendment No. 64, in page 26, line 18, after 'holding', insert, or not holding,'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this we may take Government Amendments Nos. 65 and 66.

Mr. Moyle

These are drafting amendments to meet a point made by the Opposition in Committee—that where the non-holding of any religious or political belief is essential to any employment, that should be taken into consideration.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 65, in page 26, line 23, after 'holding', insert ', or not holding,'.

No. 66, in line 27, after holding', insert, or not holding,'.—[Mr. Moyle.]

Mr. Moyle

I beg to move Amendment No. 67, in page 26, line 30, after 'to', insert or to'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this we may take Government Amendment No. 68.

Mr. Moyle

These are drafting amendments to deal with the temporary exemption of small firms from the Bill. They make it clear that the temporary exemption applies both to employers and employrnent by employers. That was in some doubt. Some of the provisions of the Bill are drafted in terms of employers—for example, Clauses 7 and 9—and others in terms of employment—for example, in Clause 11. Therefore, we felt that we should make it clear that it applied to both groups.

Mr. Powell

I apologise for what may be obtuseness, but I am unable to construe the amendment, in page 26, line 30, after the word "to" insert "or to". The subsection would then read: No provision of Parts II to IV shall apply— (a) during the two years beginning with the commencement of this Act, to or to employment by an employer"'. That may be grammar somehow, but how it is grammar escapes me. Certain sounds, which come from the surrounding Benches, suggest that I am not alone in my predicament.

I wonder whether something has gone wrong and whether therefore—I am continuing to afford an opportunity for reflection, over-awed as we are by the solemn fact that this is our last chance as there is no revising chamber capable of restoring grammar which we have destroyed—we ought to pause upon the fateful brink and consider whether we are inserting this additional preposition in the right place. I gather from various indications that we may be in sight of grammatical help. In that hope, I shall resume my seat.

Mr. Moyle

If the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) assumes that there is a comma after "to"—the subsection then reads during the two years beginning with the commencement of this Act, to, or to employment by an employer who employs not more than 25 persons "— it might make the matter clearer to him.

Similarly, (b) during the year following those two years, to, or to employment by an employer who employs not more than 10 persons". This matter applies to the employer or to employment by an employer, and that brings employees in—I think.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With that lesson in grammar, I shall now put the Question.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 68, in page 26, line 34, after "to", insert "or to".—[Mr. Moyle.]

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