§ 12.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert J. Bradford (Belfast, South)
I beg to move, Amendment No. 7, in page 3, line 40, after 'Rights', insert:'the Parliamentary Commissioner, the Commissioner for Complaints'.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)
With this we are to take Government Amendment No. 8, in page 3, line 40, leave out', the Agency and' and insert:and the Agency, with such organisations appearing to it to be representative of employers, or organisations of workers, and of persons engaged in occupation in Northern Ireland as it thinks fit, and with'.
§ Mr. Bradford
My colleagues and I have contended that the Parliamentary Commissioner and the Commissioner for Complaints ought to have assumed many of the responsibilities now given to the Fair Employment Agency. We did so in the interest of opposition to a superfluity of boards and agencies, and also because we thought that the Parliamentary Commissioner was eminently suitable to deal with questions of fairness and equality. So our concern, and indeed alarm, at the omission of the Parliamentary Commissioner and the Commissioner for Complaints from the body compiling the guide to manpower policy and practice was genuine.
We contend that there is no inherent quality in the Advisory Commission on Human Rights which can be regarded as a reason for its inclusion, and that certainly there is no reason for the 1922 exclusion of the Parliamentary Commissioner and the Commissioner for Complaints. It is our belief that the experience which has been developed over the years would stand the commissioners in good stead to assist in the compilation of the guide to manpower policy and practice.
In another place it was suggested that the Parliamentary Commissioner and the Commissioner for Complaints could not be impartial in this matter—for example, if they were involved in compiling the guide and could later be involved in some sort of appeal, they could not be impartial. As the final appeal is made to a court we do not see that as a great problem. We beg the Government to accept the amendment.
§ Mr. Moyle
Both amendments are designed to solve the problem of whom the Department of Manpower Services should consult when compiling the code of good manpower practice which is a feature of the Bill. The Government had always intended that the Department should consult the representatives of employers and trade unions in compiling the code. This point was made by hon. Members opposite in Standing Committee. We accepted it and Amendment No. 8 is designed to meet it.
Our argument on Amendment No. 7 is that it is unnecessary. We acept everything that the hon. Gentleman has said about the fine qualities of the Parliamentary Commissioner and the Commissioner for Complaints and the eminent desirability of those gentlemen with regard to the consideration of questions of fairness and equality in the context of Northern Ireland. We have the highest regard for both of them. They are not explicitly referred to in the Bill because both are ex officio members of the Human Rights Commission. The Bill 1923 commits the Department to consult the commission in compiling a code, and, therefore, the Parliamentary Commissioner and the Commissioner for Complaints will have every opportunity to give the Department the benefit of their experience.
In the light of this explanation, I hope that the House will accept Amendment No. 8 and that we are in practice meeting the spirit of Amendment No. 7.
§ Mr. Airey Neave (Abingdon)
We are pleased that the Minister of State has accepted our point of view with regard to the inclusion of representativesof employers, of organisations of workers, and of persons engaged in occupation in Northern Ireland.but if the Government insert the words of Amendment No. 8 after "the Agency" in page 3, line 40, it is not clear whether the word "it" in the amendment refers to the agency or to the Department. This is a drafting point, but it should be made clear whether "it" means the agency or the Department. As the amendment is drafted, "it" appears to be the agency. Is that correct?
§ Mr. Neave
But the wording isand the Agency, with such organisations appearing to it to be representative.There is force in my point. "Is "it" the Department or the Agency? Clause 5 begins with the words "The Department". It is certainly not clear whether "it" refers to the Department or the agency.
§ Mr. James Molyneaux (Antrim, South)
The Act which established the Parliamentary Commissioner and the later legislation which set up the machinery of the Commissioner for Complaints reached the statute book at a time when I was serving on various local authorities. One must confess that at that time one felt a certain degree of reservation. Perhaps the feeling of myself and my colleagues in, for example, my county council was that we did not particularly want people to 1924 meddle and interfere in the smooth working of what we regarded as reasonably perfect machinery, not because we had anything to hide but because we feared, mistakenly as it has turned out, that such meddling would gum up the works and place additional strains on our staff.
I freely admit that I was mistaken in that belief and in my opposition to the setting-up of the Parliamentary Commissioner and the Commissioner for Complaints. My experience has shown that the very fact that these institutions exist ensures that appointment panels take every precaution to see that the correct procedures are followed in matters such as advertising, obtaining references, conducting interviews, and so forth.
Perhaps I should refer to those two gentlemen by their office rather than as individuals. They are in a position to give valuable advice because, machinery having been established which is comparatively simple in its operation, no legal representation is necessary in the submissions laid before the Commissioner for Complaints from one's constituents. It is true that the holders of those two offices at the present time, in an ex officio capacity, will be consulted, but I feel that their offices ought to be written into the Bill. They ought to be named and included by their offices in the legislation before the House today, because in the course of years the commissioners will have had before them a vast number of complaints alleging discrimination. They will be in a unique position to assess the value of such complaints.
I feel, therefore, that Amendment No. 7 ought to be supported. I hope the Minister of State will agree to our simple request that the two offices should be included in the Bill.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I support the amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford). We would like the Ombudsman and the other officer to be included in the Bill as of right and not because they are ex officio members of another body. After all, the clause deals with preparing and causing to be published a code of good manpower policy and practice, and this eminent official has been carrying out a very useful service in Northern Ireland. I would differ from my hon. Friend the Leader of the 1925 United Ulster Unionist Group. I supported the appointment of this particular officer from the beginning because I believe that this is a deterrent. If the boards know that there is an immediate appeal in respect of appointments they might make, they are careful to keep within the guidelines laid down, and that is a very good thing.
Can the Minister of State confirm that when he talks about "organisations of workers" this relates to trade unions only, or does it mean, as set out in the interpretation at the back of the Bill, "any society"? Would that include an organisation like the Ulster Workers' Council, which is a very powerful body in Northern Ireland?
§ Mr. Moyle
With the leave of the House I should like to reply. I agree with everything that the hon. Members for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) and Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) have said about the usefulness of the Parliamentary Commissioner and the Commissioner for Complaints and the desirability that they should be consulted as of right. The fact is that as members of the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights they will be consulted as of right. Everything which goes to the Human Rights Commission will go to those particular officials, and they will be able to have their say as of right on all the matters upon which their advice could be helpful in this connection.
§ Mr. Bradford
May I turn the argument on its head a little? While we appreciate the point about the Ombudsman and the Commissioner for Complaints being ex officio members of the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights, what we are questioning is the inclusion of that Commission. We are saying that the Ombudsman and the Commissioner for Complaints ought to be named instead or certainly alongside.
§ 12.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Moyle
That may well be the hon. Gentleman's point of view, but that is not the effect that his amendment would have. It would add the Parliamentary Commissioner and the Commissioner for Complaints. That is not really the point we are discussing, although the hon. Gentleman is entitled to argue that point of view.
1926 Another point to be remembered is that we would be specifically singling out the Parliamentary Commissioner and the Commissioner for Complaints among the membership of the Standing Advisory Commission for Human Rights, and it could be argued that we should also single out the chairman of the commission or other members such as the secretary. That would get us into very deep water. What the hon. Gentleman wants is adequately catered for by what is in the Bill.
§ Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)
I think that the arguments advanced by Opposition Members are not worth much importance. I know the Parliamentary Commissioner in Northern Ireland and, like many people there, including some hon. Members opposite, I have great faith in his concern about what is happening in the various offices which he holds. If one were to get a record of the meetings which have taken place of the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights, one would clearly find that Stephen McGonagle has been there on each and every occasion. To include his name would mean his involvement not because of his membership of the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights, but in his capacity as Parliamentary Commissioner. There is only one Parliamentary Commissioner and I have absolutely no doubt that, with the interest he has shown in the offices he holds, he will certainly be there when the commission, the agency or the Ministry wants to consult the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights. The present commissioner will certainly be there.
§ Mr. Powell
Amendment No. 8, to which the Minister of State is also speaking, is the first of a series that we shall have before us which represent a genuine and largely successful attempt by the Government to meet a number of different points of varying weight that were put forward in Committee. Certainly the Minister of State is facing a classic problem here, because the clause as it originally stood included the wordssuch other persons as he thinks fit".Having once got a phrase like that into a clause, all kinds of identifications occur to all kinds of people as to whom the agency not only might think fit but 1927 does think fit. Therefore, at whatever point one decides to stop, one will always be leaving people out.
The Government have covered representatives of industry and employers, and I think it right that they should appear in the Bill. However, I do not think that the argument put forward by the Minister of State in relation to Amendment No. 7 was entirely cogent on the ground that the Parliamentary Commissioner is a member of the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights, because he holds a separate office and a separate function as Parliamentary Commissioner and Commissioner for Complaints, and there is an inherent attraction in specifying an office even though the holder of that office is also a member of another body. We should recognise that in this kind of drafting perfection is not available and also that the experience of the Parliamentary Commissioner will certainly, one way or another, be fed into the deliberations of the agency. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford) might think it right to withdraw his amendment now that the matter has been ventilated.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment made: No. 8, in page 3, line 40, leave out ', the Agency and' and insert:
'and the Agency, with such organisations appearing to it to be representative of employers of organisations of workers, and of persons engaged in occupation in Northern Ireland as it thinks fit, and with'.—[Mr. Moyle.]
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
With this we may take Government Amendments Nos. 21 and 45. We shall also take the following amendments:
No. 20, in Clause 8, page 5, line 40, Leave out 'may' and insert 'shall, among other matters.'.
1928 No. 44, in Clause 14, page 11, line 29, leave out 'may' and insert ' shall, among other matters,'.
§ Mr. Moyle
Having decided how we should compile our code of good manpower practice, we have to decide how we shall actually use it. The Bill as drafted suggested that the Fair Employment Agency might refer to or use the manpower code. It was felt that having gone to such lengths to provide the code there should be a greater obligation on the agency and upon the appeals board to make use of the code.
The Government were impressed in Standing Committee with the arguments advanced, and we have tabled amendments to meet the position in so far as we can both in respect of the agency and the appeals board. Opposition hon. Members have tabled amendments relating to the appeals board. Broadly speaking, the Government amendments provide that the code shall be applied in appropriate circumstances. The Opposition amendments argue in respect of the appeals board that the code shall be applied, but that other considerations may be taken into account, and that might lead to modification of the pure provisions of the code. There is not a great deal between the two sides.
The Opposition amendments would have been more appropriate to the Fair Employment Agency which has been consulted in drawing up the code. Therefore it might be considered to have a greater obligation to apply that code in the conduct of its business. Unfortunately, hon. Gentlemen have not tabled an amendment in respect of the agency. They have tabled a slightly tougher amendment than ours in respect of the appeals board, but the board is much more of a quasi-judicial body than the Fair Employment Agency, and it would be much sounder to accept our proposals in respect of the appeals board.
I hope that the House will accept our proposals that there shall be an obligation on the agency and the board to have regard to the code in circumstances where that is appropriate. It was argued in Standing Committee that there should be standardisation of nomenclature wherever possible, and there will be standardisation throughout Clauses 5, 8 and 14 if our amendments are accepted.
§ Mr. Powell
The Minister of State was here confronted with another classic crux for draftsmen. Having got the guide and having made it statutory, he had to decide what to do with it. Was he to say that people may use it, in which case what was the point of the exercise if it was to be take it or leave it? Or was he to say that they shall use it, in which case it would become tantamount to a statute? We have all been hovering on one side or another of that dilemma in these debates with our attempted amendments. I think that the Government have it about as near right as it can be got in resolving the inherent dilemma with this kind of statutory guide.
I think that we would accept the proposition of the Minister of State that what we want is that where in the judgment of the agency—and it must mean its judgment because we cannot enforce it in every case—the recommendations of the guide are relevant, those recommendations shall prevail, and that the behaviour of the agency shall conform to that. I do not think we shall get it any better than that, and I hope that my hon. Friends will agree that we should accept the amendments.
§ Amendment agreed to.