HC Deb 11 June 1976 vol 912 cc1987-92
Mr. McCusker

I beg to move Amendment No. 73, in page 30, line 42, leave out' or mainly'.

We argued in Committee that legislation in Northern Ireland which affected recruitment and the selection of workers should apply to anyone recruiting or selecting workers, irrespective of the place at which they were to be employed. A number of hon. Members argued that the situation was hypothetical, that the number of people recruiting in Northern Ireland was small and that anyone going to Northern Ireland to recruit would hardly be likely to be guilty of practising religious discrimination, and, therefore, we had nothing to fear and we were making an argument out of nothing.

I have obtained the latest four editions of the Belfast Telegraph to study the advertisements therein by people from outside Belfast coming to recruit in Belfast. A substantial number of the advertisements are for jobs in places as far apart as Texas, Saudi Arabia and Germany. A substantial number are for employment in County Wicklow, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Kilmarnock and Port Glasgow, as well as County Donegal. An examination of some of the advertisements which it might be alleged are for employment wholly outside Northern Ireland shows that in fact the advertisers are recruiting in Northern Ireland not only because of the skills available there but because the jobs have an element of work in Northern Ireland.

A substantial number of advertisements are for companies in the west of Scotland, Liverpool and the Republic of Ireland. In Committee, many references were made by Labour Members to the horrendously explicit bigoted sectarian selection carried out in parts of the west of Scotland. We know that Liverpool has something of the traditional problems of Northern Ireland. We contended, therefore, that there was the possibility of people from the west of Scotland or Liverpool recruiting in Northern Ireland who could equally well have a propensity to select people on the ground of religious belief.

If the employment is wholly outside Northern Ireland we concede the point at issue, but where the recruitment is for employment which has even slight associations with Northern Ireland we believe that the same rules should apply whether the headquarters of the company concerned are in Northern Ireland or not. We should not have, say, two recruitment officers, one of them going by certain rules and the other going by another set of rules. We believe that the amendment concedes something to the Government's case on employment wholly outside Northern Ireland but would cover the situation where the employment was partly in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Moyle

The amendment seeks to bring into its ambit people who, although they are mainly working outside Northern Ireland, occasionaly come to Northern Ireland for some employment purpose. The Government must resist it.

We want to apply the Bill entirely to Northern Ireland, and we do not want to bring in anything which would apply to outside Northern Ireland. The object of the phraseology in the Bill is to achieve that purpose. The phrase "wholly or mainly" is a legal term of art which is widely applied in legislation with a view to excluding people from a particular geographical area or including people within a particular geographical area. I assume that the "mainly" must be construed in conjunction with the "wholly".

It being Four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Ordered, That the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Bill [Lords] may be proceeded with at this day's sitting, though opposed, until any hour.—[Mr. Graham.]

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

Mr. Moyle

For example, the phrases I have talked about are used in the Equal Pay (Northern Ireland) Act 1970 in Section 1(8), in the Race Relations Act 1968, Section 8(7)(a) and in the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, Section 10(1). In the interests of uniformity of phraseology in these matters, the Government would want to support the continuance of the phrase "wholly or mainly".

Mr. Powell

The matter raised in the amendment is one to which my hon. Friends and I attach very real importance. I must say that, as on other amendments, we are not disposed to regard uniformity with other Acts, of which the background and general intention is not necessarily the same, as a kind of blanket justification. Nor does the terminology "wholly or mainly outside" deal with the real and, we believe, practical problem which arises from the attempt to make this a Northern Ireland Act.

Let me explain what I mean by "a Northern Ireland Act". Of course, it is an Act which bites only at discrimination done in Northern Ireland. With that we have no quarrel. It seems to us, however, that discrimination in recruitment in Northern Ireland is just as damaging and objectionable if the person is recruited by a firm outside Northern Ireland as if he is recruited by a firm inside Northern Ireland.

At an earlier stage we argued this on a wider ambit and tried to extend it to all recruitment in Northern Ireland irrespective of the place where the persons so recruited were to be employed. I still think that is the most logical position. It is the natural deduction from the intention to eliminate discrimination in recruitment in Northern Ireland. Of course, there may be just as much religious discrimination in taking on a man for a firm based in Slough as for a firm based in Belfast.

A particularly acute result of that illogicality will arise where a person so recruited is not employed wholly outside Northern Ireland but spends part of his time working in Northern Ireland. We shall thus have an anomaly between the protection of persons who are employed wholly in Northern Ireland and persons who are recruited in jobs in which they spend part of their time in Northern Ireland but the majority of their time, for example, with the firm at its base in England.

It is far from unrealistic to suppose that there will be such cases or that such cases will not be an anomaly which will be regarded as inconsistent with the pur poses of the Bill. There will be recruitment, and there is recruitment, in Northern Ireland of persons who are particularly expert in certain trades and certain lines of commerce. They will be recruited in many cases by major firms which put in the Press such advertisements as my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) referred to. I can imagine that during the first three or four years of their employment they might be under training at the training centre of the firm and they might be employed at the headquarters. But then comes the time when their skills are employed in buying or selling in Northern Ireland as well as in the rest of the marketing activities of their employers. When these people are taken on or promoted, all the protections which apply as a result of the Act will be inoperative.

If a person in identical circumstances is recruited by a Northern Ireland firm and works for it, he is within the scope of the Act. If he is recruited by a textile firm based outside Northern Ireland and travels as a manager, an adviser or a consultant with that firm and is employed part of the time in Northern Ireland and part of the time in Great Britain or elsewhere in the world, his firm can ignore the existence of the Act.

I do not think that firms ought to be empowered to ignore what we are doing in the Bill, at any rate when they are recruiting for work which involves any employment in Northern Ireland by those who are recruited. Therefore, although the amendment would not restore the complete logic and equity for which we contended at an early stage, we believe that it would leave the Bill less inequitable than it is at the moment. I hope, therefore, that my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh will not be persuaded by anything that has been said by the Minister of State so far.

Mr. Moyle

I have given further consideration to what the right hon. Gentleman said. I accept his point that there is no earthly reason why we ought automatically to accept into Northern Ireland legislation merely just for their own sake terms used in other Acts. But where a legal phrase has a reasonably well-accepted meaning we should ensure that there is a good case for dispensing with it before we do so.

The Bill is designed to solve the problem of discrimination in employment on religious grounds in Northern Ireland. There is, particularly these days, a growing interest by international companies in Northern Ireland. We all know examples of the sort of thing that happens, and the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) quoted some general examples from advertisements in the Belfast Telegraph. The fact is, however, that we have had no real evidence of sectarian recruitment by those major international firms. As long as those firms maintain a substantial interest in operations in Northern Ireland, my judgment is that, despite the phraseology of the Bill, they are caught by its terms. It is only when they have a minimal commitment to Northern Ireland that they would escape the terms of the Bill completely.

Mr. Powell

I interrupt the Minister in this way only because of the rules under which we are working on consideration of the Bill. If he is saying that he believes that firms based outside Northern Ireland which recruit in Northern Ireland and have a considerable interest in operations there are covered by the Bill, that puts a very different complexion upon the matter.

We had supposed in putting forward the amendment that companies would be looked at on an individual basis, and that is where the inequity seemed to us most grossly to arise. But if we have the Minister of State's assurance that he is advised that in the case of firms recruiting in Northern Ireland, although not based there but carrying out a substantial part of their operations there, and although each individual employee may not necessarily spend his time pro rata in Northern Ireland, an employee's recruitment, promotion and actions in Northern Ireland will fall within the scope of the Bill, that will alter the position as I had understood it. It may well alter the view which my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) takes.

Mr. Moyle

I do not want to mislead the right hon. Gentleman. The essential thing is not the location of the base of the firm involved but where a substantial part of the work is carried out. A suffi cient part of a firm's operations may be carried out in Northern Ireland to contribute towards an interest in Northern Ireland which would bring it within the terms of the Bill. That is the advice I have received.

Obviously the words "wholly or mainly" will have to be tested in the courts, and that will be done on the basis of what a reasonable man would regard as their meaning. I am advised that this is the situation, subject to the caveat that anything we say here is subject to interpretation by the courts.

Mr. MeCusker

The Minister's remarks have substantially reassured us. We believe that anyone recruiting people in Northern Ireland should be governed by the same laws as govern firms based in the Province.

Our main concern was not the international companies. Because of the relationship of Belfast to the western seaboard of Scotland and England, there are continual recruitment programmes for tradesmen in shipyards and other industries. For historic and traditional reasons, people from the west of Scotland and Merseyside are likely to recruit men in Belfast and they could be just as guilty of discrimination as anyone in the city. That is what we wanted to cover.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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