§ The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Adam Butler)
I beg to move,That the draft Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order 1981, which was laid before this House on 12th May, be approved.As the title suggests, the draft order deals with various matters relating to employment in Northern Ireland. The main provisions are contained in parts II and III. Part II makes provision for the control, through licensing, of private employment agencies and employment businesses in Northern Ireland and brings the law on that subject generally into line with the law in the United Kingdom.
The order differs from the Great Britain Act in one material respect. It does not accord rights of entry in relation to the inspection of premises, records or documents. Rights of entry have been carefully considered, but the Government are reluctant to see any extension of such powers and it is felt that adequate control can be exercised through the licensing procedure. Article 6 provides for the making of regulations in relation to the keeping of records, the furnishing of information to the Department and other matters.
Part III repeals the Safeguarding of Employment Act (Northern Ireland) 1947 and provides for the abolition of the central advisory council on the employment of the disabled, the Northern Ireland training council and the youth careers guidance committee. I shall explain more about that in a moment. Part al also contains an article to raise the limit of the borrowing powers of the Northern Ireland redundancy fund and is a parity measure following the recent increases in the borrowing powers of the Great Britain fund.
I shall follow precedent and deal with the order in a little more detail. The House may remember that on Second Reading of the Employment Agencies Bill my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Lewis) outlined why it was considered necessary to regulate the operation of private employment agencies in Great Britain. He stated that, although the agencies were widely used, there was a wide variation in the quality of services being offered. The majority of agencies conducted their business in a proper manner, but a sufficient number of complaints had been received for it to be concluded that a number of agencies should be prevented from operating and that some form of regulation was necessary. He gave some examples of matters about which complaints had been received.
The House accepted the arguments for the necessity of controlling and regulating the operations of employment agencies in Great Britain and, following the normal parliamentary procedure, the Employment Agencies Act 1973, as amended, became operative in 1976.
Employment agencies have not been a particular problem in Northern Ireland. The exact number currently active is not known but is thought to be between 30 and 40. As they do not play a major part in the labour market; and, apart from representations from Equity and a recent resolution of the conference of the Northern Ireland committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions to extend the provisions of the Great Britain Act to Northern Ireland, there is no evidence of abuses arising because of their activities and there has been no urgency in seeking to regulate or control their operations.
257 However, it is desirable that the law in Northern Ireland should be brought into line with that in Great Britain in order to avoid difficulties and abuses that may arise from the present situation in which agencies are uniformly licensed throughout Great Britain while left free of all control in Northern Ireland. Following the making of the order, Great Britain agencies will no longer escape controls by operating out of Northern Ireland and providing services throughout the United Kingdom.
The order does not aim to curb the activities of respectable and responsible agencies but sets out to ensure that firms active in this sphere do not fall below the standards that the public, including employees and employers, are entitled to expect. Its main provisions will follow closely those of the Employment Agencies Act 1973.
Articles 3 to 11 make provisions for Northern Ireland comparable to those made by the Great Britain Act. One difference between the two measures is that the order does not accord right of entry to officers of the licensing authority. We considered the question carefully and I am satisfied that adequate control can be exercised through the licensing procedures.
Articles 3 to 5 provide that no one shall operate an employment agency or an employment business without holding a current licence from the Department of Manpower Services. The application procedure is described as well as the criteria which the Department shall use in deciding whether to grant, refuse or revoke a licence. Provision is also made for representation to be made by persons whose licence has been refused or revoked.
Article 6 lists the regulations that the Department may make to secure the proper conduct of employment agencies or employment businesses.
Article 7 prohibits an employment agency or employment business from receiving a fee from any person for finding or seeking to find him employment.
Article 8 requires the holder to display his licence and a copy of the regulations applying to the agency or business in the premises to which the licence relates.
Article 9 provides penalties for making fraudulent applications or furnishing false documents.
Article 10 provides for the making of regulations under the order.
Article 11 provides interpretations and defines inter alia "employment agency" and "employment business", and lists exemptions from the order.
Article 12 deals with a separate point. It repeals the Safeguarding of Employment Act (Northern Ireland) 1947, which was a measure designed to protect the jobs of Northern Ireland workers from being taken up by people outside Northern Ireland. When the United Kingdom Government acceded to the Treaty of Rome in 1973, it was granted a period of derogation from the requirements of the Treaty regarding the free movement of labour throughout the Community countries. The United Kingdom Government undertook not to extend that period beyond the end of 1977, and from 1 January 1978, the Act ceased to have effect. Workers from the European Community countries are now free to take up employment in Northern Ireland, and accordingly the requirement in the 1947 Act no longer exists. Of course, nationals from countries outside the European Community are still 258 subject to the more stringent requirements of the Immigration Act 1971, and need work permits before taking up jobs in Northern Ireland, as in the rest of the United Kingdom.
The thinking behind articles 13, 14 and 15 is that the steps by which the Government carry out their consultation with the appropriate bodies should be simplified and improved. These articles provide for the abolition of the Northern Ireland Training Council, the Youth Careers Guidance Committee and the Central Advisory Council for the Employment of Disabled People. We have proposals to replace those bodies in any case. For instance, the Central Advisory Council for the Employment of Disabled People has not met since 1969. On the other hand, the seven district advisory committees have provided excellent service and they will continue.
Instead of these three bodies, I intend to set up a single non-statutory forum, entitled the manpower advisory council. This will have places for representatives of the interests of the young, the disabled and disadvantaged, education, employers and employees. It will be an important body which I intend to chair myself as frequently as possible, and it will provide opportunity for a thorough exchange of views and for advice to be forthcoming on a wide range of training, careers guidance and employment matters.
Article 16 provides for the raising of the limits set by section 45 of the Contracts of Employment and Redundancy Payments Act (Northern Ireland) 1965, as amended, on the amount which can be borrowed by the Northern Ireland redundancy fund from the consolidated fund from £2 million to £7. million. This increase is necessary, first, to meet expected claims on the redundancy fund which, as in Great Britain, have grown rapidly during the past year and are expected to continue at a high level during 1981, and, secondly, to maintain existing parity with Great Britain.
The employment Agencies Act, which regulated the conduct of private employment agencies in Great Britain, was welcomed by all sides when it was considered by the House in 1973. However, it did not extend to Northern Ireland. I have referred to the fact that the present Bill follows very closely the 1973 Act, as amended, and it will bring Northern Ireland generally into line with Great Britain.
Perhaps the second most important body to come out of the Bill is the manpower advisory council, although it is not enshrined in it. It is a non-statutory body. That forum will bring together representatives from a variety of bodies interested in the many aspects of employment and training. It will give my Department and myself the opportunity to consult on a broad front on matters which affect our responsibilities.
Finally, the third most significant item in the order is the proposed increase in the Northern Ireland redundancy fund borrowing limits. It will do no more than ensure that the Northern Ireland fund has borrowing rights in parity with its Great Britain counterpart.
§ 11 pm
§ Mr. J. D. Concannon (Mansfield)
As a preface to my remarks on the main provisions in the order I shall repeat an assertion. The Government's economic policy in Northern Ireland has failed and will fail in the future so long as the current monetary and fiscal policies are applied in such a drastic and unrelenting fashion.
259 The Government have been unable to maintain normal economic life in the Province. The 33 per cent. increase in unemployment in the past 12 months is full evidence of that. Further, we have only to look around at the closed factories, the boarded-up workshops and the industrial wastelands across Northern Ireland to know that decay is the watchword of Tory rule in that most poor and deprived region of the United Kingdom. Whatever distant notes of optimism the Minister might care to hear, there is no disguising their underlying presumptions about the future of the Northern Ireland economy.
The recent Expenditure White Paper predicted that unemployment would reach 128,000 by the middle of 1982—a further increase of 33 per cent. That will mean that well over one-fifth of the work force will be without a job.
One of the provisions in the order increases threefold the borrowing reserve for the Northern Ireland redundancy fund so that the increase in demand for redundancy payment can be met. If the Minister's words are optimistic about the ending of the recession in Northern Ireland, his actions are nothing short of pessimistic. Plans for disaster go ahead, while absolutely nothing of note is done to avert the rising tide of unemployment. This negative resolution is testimony of the Government's unwillingness to take positive action to contain or even reduce the numbers out of work.
The Opposition regard it as a most wasteful provision, because it will lead to a waste of manpower and resources. Instead of providing money to save and create jobs the Government are opting out of their responsibilities.
At the most critical moment in Northern Ireland's recent history, the Opposition find it distressing in the extreme that the Government are planning for more redundancies in this way. The greater the unemployment problems in the Province the more serious the security problems are likely to be. I shall not dwell further on the redundancy fund except to say that there must be immediate and determined efforts to stave off the impending increase in the numbers out of work in Northern Ireland. Otherwise, the consequences for all the people in the Province will be very serious indeed. The time for complacency has passed, and action is demanded.
I turn to the provisions for the licensing of employment and business agencies. I understand that the number of such agencies in Northern Ireland has increased considerably in the last two years. The move towards some form of control is welcome. However, I view with great apprehension the decision by the Minister to withdraw an article that was originally in the draft order and that would have empowered inspectors to enter agencies and to check books, records and documents to ensure that regulations are complied with. Since we have an inspectorate for such agencies in Great Britain I am pleased that the Minister dwelt on it. The Minister must explain why he has suddenly decided, after all the deliberations, to do away with it.
In paragraph 4(11) of the part of the order relating to employment agencies it states that licenceholders must inform the Department of any change in the manner or running of the agency on pain of a fine of £400. The Minister should tell the House exactly how he plans to persuade those disobeying the regulations to own up. Furthermore, how will his Department know when an 260 agency fails to keep proper records? How will his Department prove to a court that an agency has broken the law? In short, who is going to check these agencies?
These questions need full and comprehensive answers. Not only do the people who get the jobs through agencies have a right to know that they are protected under an enforceable law; the agencies need to know exactly where they stand in terms of the licensing regulations. Unless there is effective enforcement, the licensing procedure will be seemingly no more than a head count.
I ask the Minister to reconsider seriously his decision about an inspectorate. Unless he does, the legislation on this issue that we are debating tonight will be worth no more than the paper that it is written on. Indeed, I would have thought that the need for inspectors was even greater in Northern Ireland than in the rest of the United Kingdom. It is vital that in Northern Ireland strenuous efforts should be made to ensure that the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act is being instituted at every point of employment. As the provisions of the order stand, the Act may well be a dead letter in terms of employment agencies, for we cannot effectively check that they are obeying the law.
If the Minister plans to rely on the vigilance of the public in this matter I ask him to think again. People may well not be aware of their rights when dealing with such agencies, and anyway they are less likely to speak out against misdemeanours when they depend on such agencies for their livelihood. If the law breakers are allowed to go undetected, as they will be if the order goes through in its current form, the real losers will be the workers who use the agencies.
Finally, I should like to express my disquiet at the abolition of the Northern Ireland Training Council, the Youth Careers Guidance Committee and the Central Advisory Council for the Employment of the Disabled. The abolition of the last, in particular, is disturbing, since in this International Year of Disabled People we should be doing all we can to see that the distinctive needs of disabled people are fully recognised.
I understand that the Minister now intends to set up a manpower advisory council. I think that he should tell the House a bit more about this council and who he intends should serve on it. I understand that he is finding certain difficulties at the moment with certain people or organisations that have refused to serve on this advisory council because, as it has been put to me, they see it as nothing more than a window-dressing exercise. Unless it has a clearly defined role and place in the decision-making process it will not be of positive help to the community. If this is the Minister's attempt to show that he is doing something to help the unemployed, it is a poor effort indeed. He would have done much better to improve the existing advisory and guidance committees.
I do not wish to detain the House any longer. I hope that the Minister will give full and clear answers to the questions that I have raised. I am not expecting him to do this tonight, but I shall be expecting a letter in due course, in the usual manner on Northern Ireland topics.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
Owing perhaps in part to certain electoral events which are imminent in the Province, it falls to me on this occasion to represent not only the party to which I belong but the Province as a whole in which I have the honour to represent a 261 constituency. It may be some consolation and gratification to the Minister to learn that my colleagues and I at any rate see no reason to take so acidulated a view of the order which he has placed before the House as did the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon).
Perhaps, as the right hon. Member for Mansfield sailed a little near the wind in the earlier part of his speech, I may be permitted to say how pleased I was that the Minister found time to visit the southern part of my constituency only yesterday and to examine for himself the important but under-used port of Warrenpoint. This is as relevant as any of the remarks of the right hon. Member for Mansfield. It is by the development of communications that this port could provide and the infrastructure generally that the Government will do much more to subserve the interests of employment and the reduction of unemployment than by the mere expenditure of sums of public money. I was surprised that the right hon. Member for Mansfield queried the desirability of article 16 of the order. I would have thought that there could be no possible justification for allowing the fund, given the statutory claims that fall upon it, to come too near to the point of exhaustion.
While mentioning that provision, I might perhaps invert the order of the order and put to the Minister a query arising out the letter he sent to, among others, Northern Ireland Members on the subject of article 16. The hon. Gentleman said that it would be wise to ensure that the Northern Ireland redundancy fund has a borrowing limit in parity with the revised limit proposed for the Great Britain fund. The point is small, but I was puzzled about how there can be parity if the fund is raised from £2 million to £7 million in Northern Ireland and from £40 million to £300 million in Great Britain.
I am aware, of course, of the general concept of parity in this context but I cannot see that the particular figures proposed owe anything to the principle of parity. The Minister can perhaps clear up the significance, if any, that lies behind that part of his letter. Apart from that, I do not see how any objection could be taken to using the opportunity of the order to increase the limit on the fund by article 16.
I appreciate that article 16 did not appear in the original order. The Minister was rightly sensitive to the anxiety of Northern Ireland Members that a draft order issued in proposal form shall not normally be extended to subjects with which, in its proposal form, it did not deal. I do not think that the most captious could complain of the Minister having taken the opportunity, even between the proposal stage and the laying of the draft, to make this necessary alteration in the financial limit.
I wish now to revert to the natural order of the order and to begin at the beginning. My hon. Friends and I welcome the fact that it is proposed to apply to Northern Ireland by this order the provisions of the Employment Agencies Act 1973 which came into force in Great Britain four years ago. In general, we believe that, wherever there is not clear reason to the contrary, the law should be uniform between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. This is a case where the law in Great Britain was made initially by Private Member's legislation, though that legislation was passed with the support of all parties in the House.
I quite understand that a private Bill will often be introduced in relation to Great Britain. I believe, however, 262 that from now on vigilance is the order of the day to ensure that, where private legislation is introduced in a Great Britain form, which ought to be applied to Northern Ireland, the opportunity is taken before such legislation, with a fair wind, reaches the statute book, to extend it to Northern Ireland in one way or another before the completion of proceedings.
The Minister, in applying the provisions of the 1973 Act to Northern Ireland, has made one alteration that I regard as an improvement. I differ here from the view of the right hon. Member for Mansfield. Too often, in recent years, we have got into the mere habit, whenever any licensing or control procedure is enacted, of assuming that the whole panoply of powers of entry has to be introduced into the legislation. I do not believe that because there is to be licensing and control as set out in part II of the order it is necessary to arm inspectors with these standard powers to enter the premises. I have not the slightest doubt that there would be complaints by those who had reason to know of, and arguably to suffer from, malpractices in future by employment agencies, and there would be no difficulty in establishing for the purposes of the law that the control provisions had been infringed. I hope that what the Minister has done, which gives Northern Ireland a slight edge over Great Britain in this respect, is a sign that the Government are considering seriously in all legislation the necessity or otherwise for these powers of entry. That is a sort of vigilance that could usefully be exerted during the preparation of legislation.
I am aware, as the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) said, that the Irish Congress of Trade Unions on the Northern Ireland Committee has become excited about this issue. I do not believe that there is any justification for its excitement or anxiety. In fairness to the Department, I should say that the congress alleged in its letter of 13 May that the Minister, his successor and the Department had never mentioned that the order included the provisions that it now claims are the main provisions of the order. I read that part of the letter several times, as all the documents that accompanied the proposal stage made it quite clear, even if the order did not, that these were the principal provisions. It is curious that so misleading a communication should have been sent to Northern Ireland Members of Parliament. I encourage the Minister to take heart that he is doing right in part II both by what he has included and the provision that he has decided to exclude.
I turn to the repeal of the 1947 Act for the safeguarding of employment. It is an Act that has always had less practical effect than those who introduced it imagined. We have no full statistics of the number of citizens of the Irish Republic not being also United Kingdom citizens who have entered Northern Ireland from the Republic to obtain employment. If the electoral register in which such persons when of voting age are designated, since they do not have the local government franchise, is any guide to go by, the numbers are about 5,000 to 7,000. As those electoral numbers include a number of women who are not employed, that indicates that the amount of employment, or potential employment, in Northern Ireland attributable to citizens of the Irish Republic who have entered it in recent years is not of great importance.
I believe that I am right in saying that in recent years there has been a counter-flow in emigration from the Irish Republic and that the tendency has been for Irish citizens to return to the Republic rather than to leave it. There has 263 been a reversal in the economic and population experience of the Republic in the past 20 years. There would not be any great reason anyhow to lament the demise of the 1947 Act. It is, as the Minister said, untenable in the face of our obligations under the law of the European Community.
Perhaps I might be permitted a piece of not wholly unimportant pedantry. In the Explanatory Note that accompanied the proposals it was stated in relation to article 13 thatunder the requirements of the Treaty of Rome there has been free movement of labour from EEC countries into and out of Northern Ireland since 1 January 1978.That is not so. The law of the EEC does not control movement into Northern Ireland, except from outside the United Kingdom. It is movement into the United Kingdom which has in all respects been free, since the beginning of 1978, to nationals of the EEC countries.
That point is worth making since the fact that the EEC does not interest itself in internal movement either of goods or persons inside the United Kingdom creates some extremely tiresome difficulties and anomalies, notably between Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Irish Republic in the matter of the export or movement of meat. Therefore, it is just as well—one takes the opportunity of getting those things right—to point out that it is as part of the United Kingdom that Northern Ireland is subject to the provisions of free movement of labour of the EEC.
That leaves me with the abolition of the—the word has not been mentioned yet in the debate and I do not know how that has been achieved—three quangos which are dealt with by articles 13, 14 and 15. Here again, the tide has turned against a set of fashion. There was a period, now happily ended, when it was fashionable in every context where a legislative or statutory obligation was undertaken to set up a statutory advisory council. It is not difficult to guess that the fact that that body was statutory resulted in a much greater degree of elaboration and expenditure and no greater degree of efficiency than if the consultation had been perfectly informal.
I am prepared to accept that the Minister will be better served by the informal committee which he will set up, especially if he chairs it and especially if it sits fairly regularly. For all the enthusiasm of the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon), I cannot believe that the central advisory committee on the employment of the disabled, which has not sat for the last 12 years and whose members have apparently not agitated to sit for the last 12 years, has done a great deal towards the employment of the disabled in Northern Ireland.
Much has been done in those 12 years towards the employment of the disabled. I shall take the occasion of the provision to pay a tribute to the work of the resettlement officers in the context of disablement, blindness and other disabilities to whom I am sure that I am not the only Member for a Northern Ireland seat who has recourse and who has come to appreciate the extreme care and pertinacity with which they deal with the attempts them are of disabled persons to obtain employment. I have two or three examples in mind as I say that. All of them happen to be from Newry, where the most attentive assistance has been given by the disablement resettlement officer to the placing of people who, by reason of their disabilities, would otherwise have had great difficulty in finding employment.
The removal of the three statutory bodies is a clearing up operation which could be imitated in other areas. I hope 264 that what has happened is that the vacuum cleaner is being passed by the Government over the floor of legislation and that this is a little bit of the corner of the carpet which happened to be Northern Ireland, where the vacuum cleaner has worked to some effect.
Therefore, I give this modest order a welcome which I hope will outweigh the rather sour reception which it received from the Opposition Front Bench. However, I hope that the Minister will be able to deal with one or two of the niggling points which I have mentioned.
§ Mr. Adam Butler
I understand why it has not been possible for hon. Members representing Northern Ireland seats to be with us. We are grateful that the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) has made a contribution. I am particularly grateful, as the right hon. Gentleman welcomed the order almost in its entirety and made helpful and constructive remarks.
The opening remarks of the Opposition spokesman, the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon), were predictable. I shall not reply, except to refute utterly the suggestion that the Government have done nothing of note to tackle unemployment. The right hon. Gentleman is well aware of our actions to promote industrial development and in the realm of job creation, through the schemes that operate through the Department of Manpower Services.
Without unduly delaying the House I shall try to answer some of the points made. In the absence of comment to the contrary, it seems that the employment agencies provisions are welcome, although the right hon. Gentlemen disagree about rights of entry. It will not surprise the House to know that I find myself in accord with the right hon. Member for Down, South.
The Government are concerned with the powers of entry available in legislation in so many different areas of our lives, and we have considered whether such powers are necessary. New legislation is being examined for that purpose. We have experience of the 1973 Act as it has operated in Great Britain, which tells us that the powers of entry are not essential to the Act's operation.
Under the order, the licensing authority will have to satisfy itself about the suitability of applicants and on various other points, including the suitability of accommodation. Unless the authority is satisfied, an application for a licence will not be granted. To assist the licensing authority an applicant may wish to invite its representative on to the premises.
Further, the order provides for annual renewal of licences for a maximum of five years, so again, apart from the opportunity to revoke licences, applicants will have to come forward periodically and satisfy the authority.
We are dealing with private bodies that generally are in competition. If anyone is to police them, surely it should be the user of the services. I do not believe that an individual looking for a job is not capable of making up his mind whether he is getting good service from an agency. Once the licensing procedures are operating we shall monitor the order. If there is reason to alter the position over rights of entry we shall consider it, but I hope that it will not be necessary.
I turn to the removal of what the right hon. Member for Down, South referred to as quangos. The right hon. Gentleman is right, for two reasons. First, there are certainly too many quango-type bodies in the United Kingdom. Secondly, and perhaps more important in 265 relation to Northern Ireland, we are a relatively small community. there is no point in proliferating quangos all treading on one another's toes.
I am afraid that the Opposition spokesman chased the wrong fox, as the central advisory council for the employment of the disabled has not met for a very long time. The services for the disabled will, however, be properly looked after, primarily through the continued existence of the district committees.
These three bodies will therefore be removed by statute and in their place will be the new manpower advisory council. It is correct that the Northern Ireland Committee has declined to serve on this body, possibly due to a misappreciation of what it is about. I believe that it will not be doing its members a good service in refusing to take the opportunity to discuss with a group of representative people interested in the same things in which its members are interested on a council that generally will be chaired by me, as Minister.
I believe that we should be able to sit down together in this way, and that individuals should not have to reach a unanimous verdict on any particular subject, as other organisations might be required to do, but should be able openly to put to the Minister their views and to give him advice—that is why it is called an advisory council—and for him then to go away and reach his conclusions about whatever subjects have been discussed.
I have therefore replied to the trade unions' committee that the places allocated to them on the council will remain open and I very much hope that they will reconsider the matter in the very near future and join us in our deliberations.
Briefly, the council will include four representatives of employers, places for four representatives of employed persons, three representatives of educational interests covering higher, further and secondary sectors, two representatives of what one might call the providers of 266 training, that is, training boards and management and related services organisations, and one representative of the disabled. We would expect to meet four times a year.
In that regard, I very much appreciated the right hon. Gentleman's reference to the work of the resettlement officers. It is admirable that, even in an empty Chamber such as we have now, one who has experienced it in his constituency should make that very worthy statement about the excellence of their work. From what I have seen during the few months that I have been in the Department of Manpower Services, I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman.
The right hon. Gentleman also asked about parity in the redundancy fund increases. It is perhaps misleading to look at the increases. Certainly there is no mathematical relationship that I can divine between the amounts of the increases. The parity relationship is between the figures to which the two funds have been increased. We have used the relationship of 1 to 40, and we find that 7½ million is to 300 million as 1 is to 40. That is the mathematical parity for which the right hon. Gentleman was searching.
§ Mr. Butler
I think that it must correctly follow that the parity did not previously exist, but we have rectified that in the order.
I think that I have covered all the points. I commend the order to the House.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That the draft Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order 1981, which was laid before this House on 12th May, be approved.