HC Deb 01 July 1988 vol 136 cc636-51

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Boscawen.]

9.50 pm
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Tom King)

The House will have enjoyed that interlude before these lengthier proceedings. I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Sir W. Clark) showed deep insensitivity by mentioning cricket and the subject of test matches against the West Indies. It is deeply to be deplored. I could not help wondering, as I listened to the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Grant) expressing his deep appreciation that members of his party sent him to St. Kitts, whether they were trying to tell him something. But he has returned full of vigour and we very much enjoyed his contribution. I know that he will take my remarks in the spirit in which they are offered.

I welcome the opportunity of the debate to review fair employment in Northern Ireland. It was thought helpful to give the House an opportunity to debate such matters and, following the publication of the White Paper, for the House to be able to comment on the Government's proposals. We have published the White Paper and are preparing legislation which we shall bring before the House at the earliest opportunity, and it is proper that the House be allowed to discuss in detail the proposals in the White Paper. If I set the general scene against which we have taken our initiatives and we then listen, with great interest, to the contributions of right hon. and hon. Members, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will respond in detail to any points that arise.

This subject has been a thread that has continued through the fabric of the Houses of Parliament for centuries. We must ensure equal opportunities and fairness for all the people of the United Kingdom. Today we have come here to discuss equality of opportunity and the most effective ways to tackle unfair discrimination in employment in Northern Ireland.

In principle, the issue has united the House. We may not agree on every detail or every measure, but we are determined to seek fairness. The direct rule that we renewed in the House on Wednesday started against a background of perceptions, which the Cameron commission found significantly justified, of discrimination in several areas. If there was a programme of work on which successive Secretaries of State., of both parties, embarked during direct rule, it was to tackle the perceived problems of discrimination in housing, electoral practices and employment.

We have had significant success in housing. Of course, there are still problems of unfitness, and a great deal of work remains to be done, but there is now a wide perception that much work has been done to remove unfairness and discrimination in the allocation of housing and there is much greater confidence in the system operating under the Housing Executive.

The problems of electoral practices have been tackled, and the impact of proportional representation in some elections in Northern Ireland has been reflected in the composition of district councils and in the representation to the European Parliament.

We are having this debate because we are not satisfied with the progress in employment and recognise the need to make more progress. I say that because some people are trying to capture the subject as though they had suddenly identified it as a new and important area that has been of no interest to British Governments over the years. My first exhibit for the defence is the Fair Employment Northern Ireland Act 1976, which set up the Fair Employment Agency. Although those steps were taken and much good work has been done, there has been no major statistical change in the apparent disadvantage in employment for Catholic, as opposed to Protestant, members of the community in Northern Ireland.

I accept that there are reasons for that which have nothing to do with discrimination. They relate to location, demography and the relatively greater prosperity of the east as opposed to the west of the Province. After analysing all the reasons that might explain the problem, I am still satisfied that in many significant areas there is discrimination—some of it deliberate, some of it inadvertent, some of it merely maintaining past practices and some of it caused by a shortage of employment and the understandable human determination, of which we are all aware in our constituencies, to ensure that a member of the family or the child of a friend has the chance of a job, and to give him or her special help into employment. In the circumstances of Northern Ireland, that has the effect of perpetuating employment in one community to the detriment of the order.

I approach the debate recognising that there are perfectly honourable and understandable reasons why there is a difference in the relative prospects for employment, but that there are unexplained elements which can be accounted for only by determined efforts to maintain discrimination.

We have prepared our proposal on the basis of the most careful analysis of the background. My predecessor, the present Home Secretary, was concerned about what he perceived to be the lack of change and continuing imbalance. In 1985 he set in hand a study and since then we have been moving forward from his analysis. We have produced a succession of documents, with which the House will be familiar, including the consultation paper. I have with me the Government's new proposals on the fair employment support scheme, a guide to effective practice and the subject of our debate, the White Paper.

Against that background, one can appreciate the detailed way in which we have sought to study these matters. We have produced what we believe to be the most constructive and helpful proposals.

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

I notice that first of the documents that the Secretary of State has enumerated was issued in 1973. What document—if any—of a major nature was issued before then on the question of employment?

Mr. King

There were certainly earlier attempts. I should need to check the exact titles, but the old Stormont Parliament produced documents on employment. Work was done earlier and I believe that legislation was passed. I shall check on that and seek to reply to the point.

We have now produced a White Paper and we hope to legislate at the earliest opportunity. Some people have said that although they can see that substantial work has been done, progress in dealing with matters that require urgent attention has been too leisurely. I must make it clear that although we believe that legislation is necessary, we cannot, as the House knows, produce legislation overnight and have it immediately carried through the House. Any legislation must, quite rightly, go through the normal procedures.

None the less, we have been anxious to ensure that what could be done should be done in advance of legislation. That is why we have launched educational initiatives in the public and private sectors. We have produced a support scheme for private sector employers and we have increased significantly the resources of the Fair Employment Agency.

Our proposals follow a substantial number of responses to the original consultative document. Those responses came from a wide range of employers, led by the CBI, and from the trade unions, the Churches and a wide range of individuals and political parties. We have, in particular, been helped by the report of the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights. I pay tribute to the quality of the work that it has done under its chairman, Mr. Seamus O'Hara. The House may be aware that his term of office is about to be completed. I have invited Sir Oliver Napier to succeed him, and I am pleased to tell the House that he has accepted that appointment and will become the new chairman. This is an appropriate time to pay tribute to Mr. O'Hara's outstanding leadership in a difficult, complex and controversial task.

I was very encouraged and impressed by the thoroughness of the SACHR report. Many of its recommendations are incorporated in our proposals—not all of them, but no one would expect every recommendation to be included. The commission can take encouragement from the obvious attention and value that we have given to its contributions.

The legislation that we shall bring forward will be tough. It will be much tougher than anything that has been done before, but it will be tough only for people who are determined to flout it. The legislation will require people to register and monitor. Failure to do so will expose people to the criminal law. Some people have taken exception to that. It is, however, a sanction that will apply only to people who are determined not to fulfil what will prove to be a very minor commitment in terms of time and effort, after some initial work. It will not be a burdensome obligation. It will ensure that everybody makes his contribution towards ensuring that the good name of Northern Ireland is established in employment practices, as in others. If an employer seeks to expand his business, it does him no good to operate within a Province that has a reputation sullied by allegations of discrimination and unfairness in employment.

The proposals can help by producing a virtuous, rather than a vicious, circle. They will build confidence, which in turn will create more jobs. That will help to tackle the problems of discrimination in employment more effectively. We know that we have no chance of achieving greater fairness and opportunities if jobs are being lost at the same time, because that builds a trench mentality in which people defend their jobs at all costs. That is why we have opposed so vigorously any proposals that smack of disinvestment or other sanctions that would cause jobs to be lost.

People who care about the issue, as we do, will agree. We do not have to prove our credentials. I am the representative of a Government who, in succession to other Governments, have sought to tackle the problems of discrimination in housing, electoral law and now in employment. We look for the good will and help of people to bring jobs that can genuinely create more employment for the people of both communities. That is at the heart of our proposals.

We seek affirmative action to remedy under-representation. We have set out approaches on the use of goals and timetables as set out in the code of practice. We shall give the new commission powers and sanctions to support it. At the heart of the proposals, however, we still seek to maintain the principle of appointment on merit. We have set ourselves clearly against quotas and reverse discrimination. Their effect could be catastrophic, in the climate of Northern Ireland, to the acceptance by the wider community of the fairness of equal opportunity proposals.

I recognise that this is a difficult area that has been the subject of much debate. There are many points of view and many people worry that the inclusion of the merit principle will somehow provide a loophole through which an escape from real progress will be made. Once we depart from the merit principle and the principle of equal opportunity, and somehow move into reverse discrimination, the whole nature of the approach is changed. We genuinely want to achieve equality of opportunity and appointment based on merit.

I have sought to set the scene, the climate, in which we have brought these proposals forward. Above all, I hope to show my personal commitment and the commitment of the Government to this task. The House will know that in our earlier documents the foreword to the guide for effective practice was by the Prime Minister. I was grateful for that, because it is important that everyone in Northern Ireland should understand that there is a commitment by the Government at the highest level.

I say to those who may feel threatened by our approach, and who may somehow feel that it is an attempt to disadvantage them, that it is profoundly to the benefit of everybody in Northern Ireland that the Province is seen to be a place where genuine equality of opportunity is practised. It is important to say that discrimination is not practised exclusively by one community against another. It is not all against Catholics. In some significant areas of employment there is significant evidence of discrimination against Protestants.

Our proposals are intended to achieve greater equality of opportunity for all. In the context of what I said on Wednesday in the House, if we can do that against a background of a genuine chance for more jobs and more opportunities, our proposals will form one of the elements of a real contribution to improving the atmosphere and the confidence in the Province.

On Wednesday we talked about the evil of sectarianism. It can be led by a defensive attitude over jobs. We know about some of the problems that have existed in some factories. At every level and in every respect we wish to root out sectarianism from society. Our proposals and the legislation that we shall bring forward should do that. I hope that the response by leaders of opinion in the House and in the Province will not be to seek to exploit the grievances in the Province. Undoubtedly, some people will seek to do that. I hope that people will try to build on a much more constructive basis and see the need, in everybody's interests, for greater progress toward's achieving equality of opportunity. Against that back-ground, I hope that people will see the contribution that these proposals can make towards improving the general atmosphere, confidence and good will in the Province. It is in that spirit that I introduce our proposals.

10.13 am
Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)

May I first join the Secretary of State in the tribute that he paid to Mr. Seamus O'Hara. the retiring chairman of the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights. At a turbulent time in the history of Northern Ireland Mr. O'Hara played a notable part both as chairman of the commission and on the Housing Executive. The part that he played in guiding the commission at a difficult time has been instrumental in producing a quite remarkable piece of work in the recommendations on fair employment. I trust that he now has the opportunity to go back to his practice and perhaps repair some of his financial losses and make his peace with his partners. I hope that he will enjoy what he deserves—a successful remainder of his life. We are indebted to him.

Through Mr. O'Hara I should like to pay tribute to the members of the commission who laboured long and hard over this difficult and thorough report. It examines many of the myths and problems and looks carefully at the situation in Northern Ireland. The Secretary of State claims that the White Paper takes up much of what the commission recommends. I should like him to produce a chart of its 123 recommendations and say how many the Government have accepted and why. I say that because I think that in some ways the Government have not got to the root of the proposals. It' the Secretary of State has produced such a chart, I shall be happy to receive it.

I am pleased that we are debating this White Paper because less than a year ago there was a suggestion that we would be talking merely about an unamendable order. It will be clear as my argument progresses that I have major reservations about some of the contents of the White Paper. However, I congratulate the Secretary of State and his Ministers on realising the considerable advantage, not only in Great Britain and in Northern Ireland but internationally, of airing the problems and legislating for them in the national Parliament. Having said that, I must make it clear that in some ways I am unhappy that there should be any need at all for a debate on such an issue. I know that the Secretary of State shares that view.

Inequality of opportunity in employment because of religion is the last of the great issues still unresolved from the civil rights marches of 1969 and before. Housing remains imperfect but the greatest disparities have disappeared. Political gerrymandering has been brought under control and great progress has been made there. The Fair Employment Act 1976 was introduced by a Labour Government and supported by all parties in the House. In many ways it was based on a document which I am surprised the Secretary of State did not mention in fairness to his former colleague—the van Straubenzee report. Twelve years after the passage of that Act serious problems still remain. There appears to have been no significant change in levels of religious inequalities of opportunity in Northern Ireland.

The Policy Studies Institute report of 1987 highlighted the continuing problem of discrimination and cited the striking example of Catholic male unemployment which stands at two and half times the level of Prostestant male unemployment. I supported the passage of the 1976 Act. To my regret, the Policy Studies Institute study also shows that the Act has had little effect upon the practices of employers. Those are my two starting points.

One of the major problems which sparked the troubles of 1969 remains largely unchanged and the laws that we have passed to deal with it have had little effect. It is from the perspective of those two points that I shall examine the White Paper. The Opposition want to see the problem dealt with now and dealt with effectively. The Government claim to want to introduce effective and hard-hitting legislation to end religious inequalities of opportunity in Northern Ireland. I do not doubt the Government's good will, but I doubt the effectiveness of the measures that they are taking to seek to achieve that objective.

We should look at the change in attitude in Government circles since 1966–67 to the present day. Those of us who were engaged in the House or in Northern Ireland in the civil rights movement and in the agitation in the Province, will remember the moves made by the Trades Union Congress of Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish TUC in the days of the old Stormont Parliament to discuss these matters. At this point I should like to pay tribute to the work of the Northern Ireland congress on this matter. It has been in the forefront not only of trying to take sectarianism and paramilitaries out of the workplace but in trying to give a lead to those elements in the work force who did not see the need to end discrimination in the interests of everybody.

When the delegation from the Labour movement in Northern Ireland went to see the then Minister for Commerce, Mr. Faulkner, the record shows: When asked whether the Government would not be prepared to give, at the least, a lead to private employers, Mr. Faulkner replied very emphatically that the Government would not feel justified in interfering with the policies of private employers. One might say that that was Thatcherism 12 years ahead of its time.

Yet, the Government's White Paper says: It is wrong in itself that anyone's employment prospects should suffer on account of their religious background. I acknowledge that we have come some distance but I shall discuss whether we have come far enough. I want to look at some matters, which the Government have not examined and which the Secretary of State did not mention in his speech, but which have persuaded this most unlikely of Governments to propose a package of legislative and administrative measures designed to ensure that dilatory private and public employers will end direct and indirect discrimination.

The Government have to satisfy two distinct groups with their proposals. First, they have to satisfy the people of Northern Ireland and the House and then external groups, especially in the United States. That may be regrettable, but it has arisen as a result of the way in which the issue has been put back on the agenda. That is spelt out in a careful and detailed assessment of the White Paper to be published in the Industrial Law Journal in September, copies of which were sent to all the major parties. In his paper, Dr. Christopher McCrudden of Lincoln college, Oxford, an acknowledged expert on the subject, said: Inequality of opportunity between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland has again become a political issue, largely due to pressure from outside the Province. A campaign in the United States was begun to bring pressure to bear on American corporations, state legislatures and municipal Governments with investments in Northern Ireland to adopt a set of anti-discrimination principles called the 'MacBride principles'. The MacBride campaign, despite well-orchestrated opposition from the British and American Governments, has been popular with state legislatures. By June 1988 seven states had already enacted legislation requiring American companies in which they invest to ensure fair employment practices in their Northern Ireland subsidiaries, and many more were considering similar moves. Those seven states have now been increased to eight. They are eight of the wealthiest and most populous states in the country: New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maine and Minnesota and Illinois. The last three were added this year. Two other large states are on the point of enacting MacBride legislation. In Florida it has passed both legislative Houses and is awaiting signature by the governor. In Michigan it has been through the House of Representatives and is due for a Senate vote within weeks. When it has been enacted in those 10 states, the bulk of total state investment funds in the United States—nearly $30 billion in all—will be subject to the requirement that companies with subsidiaries in Northern Ireland abide by the MacBride principles. About $1.2 billion invested in Northern Ireland is affected by that. An awful lot of jobs are at stake if the Government do not get their legislation right.

In addition to state legislatures, many major cities—New York city, Boston, Philadelphia, Detroit and Chicago among them—have adopted the principles. The Democratic presidential candidate, Michael Dukakis, signed them, as governor of Massachusetts, and has endorsed them as part of his presidential campaign. In an interview with The Times on 17 June this year he made it clear that he would support the principles. He said: Based on our experience it just isn't enough to say, 'Well, we are against it.'. If there's been an historic pattern of discrimination then you really have to take steps to affirmatively act. In the United States Congress, Representative Brian Donnelly and the chairman of the Friends of Ireland—the moderates on the issue—have legislation on the MacBride principles in the pipeline.

The problem for the Government as they consider their legislation on fair employment is that many employers in Northern Ireland are already worried that the MacBride principles will place an impossible burden on them, requiring them, for instance, to guarantee the security of employees travelling to and from work. That is an impossible thing for a private employer to do, and in any case it usurps the role of the state and the civic authorities. They are also worried about a possible conflict in law between the MacBride principles and the Government's proposals.

My hon. Friends and I have made it clear that we support the spirit behind the MacBride principles but that we seek all-embracing legislation that would go beyond the principles in substance and application, while avoiding any practical problems that may be inherent in the principles as drafted. We are particularly worried about the possibility of reverse discrimination and various other matters. Therefore, it is not the spirit that we oppose but the practicalities. The argument should go beyond the MacBride principles. We should acknowledge that they played a part and ask what the Government are doing to overcome the problems and whether their proposals in the White Paper go some way to meet them.

That catalogue of steps in the United States is not the only cloud upon the Government's horizon if they do not get their policies right. The attempts in the United States to legislate for equality of opportunity in Northern Ireland in the face of British tardiness have gone even further. Legislation on defence procurement has just emerged from a conference or joint committee of Members of both Houses of Congress. Attached to it is an amendment, sponsored by Representative Joseph Kennedy, in the House of Representatives, and Senator Edward Kennedy, in the Senate, which affects all those in Northern Ireland from whom the Pentagon makes equipment purchases. It requires them to conform to United States anti-discrimination legislation on pain of loss of the right to tender for Pentagon business. That is not punitive legislation from liberal Democrats of Irish extraction, as some might wish to represent it; it is a compromise that emerged with Republican support in both Houses, against which the British ambassador lobbied furiously

I shall quote from a press statement on the subject. It said: Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy II announced today that the conference considering the Department of Defence Authorisation Bill have adopted his provision that prevents the largest employer in Northern Ireland from receiving funds from its upcoming"— a nice American phrase— $60 million aircraft contract with the United States Army unless it commits to support equal employment opportunities for Catholics. 'I think that this action by the US Congress sends a strong message to the hundreds of thousands of Catholics in Northern Ireland and their supporters around the world that America is ready to use its influence, and the power of its pocket book, to try to correct the wrongs that have existed for too long in the North of Ireland', Kennedy said. Kennedy also announced the results of his work with Michael W. Stone, Under-Secretary of the Army, in securing specific commitments from Short Brothers of Belfast, Northern Ireland, the contractors for the planned C-25 (Sherpa) aircraft. Specifically, Shorts committed to undertake a programme to develop a subcontracting system for subcontractors within Northern Ireland that have predominantly Catholic work force. Approximately $5 million of the $60 million Sherpa contract will be used for this purpose. Shorts also agreed to specific employment goals for the recruitment of Catholics as new hires. Under the timetable, 17.5 per cent. of the new hires in 1988 will be Catholics; 25 per cent. in 1989; and 33 per cent. in 1990. Currently, Catholics represent 16 per cent. of the new hires at Shorts. Kennedy described Shorts' acceptance of goals and timetables for minority hiring as a particularly important breakthrough. Kennedy then went on to talk about his visit to Shorts earlier this year.

Shorts, no doubt doing its best to avoid domestic flack, issued on Saturday what I can only describe as a non-denial denial which was reported in a Belfast Telegraph article headed, Planemakers deny Congressman's 'RC quotas' claim". I do not want to make life difficult for Shorts, but it might help to clarify things if the Minister will confirm or deny Mr. Kennedy's statement that Shorts undertook 17.5 per cent. new Catholic hirings, 25 per cent. new hirings and 33 per cent. new hirings in 1988, 1989 and 1990, respectively.

I read with interest the article that appeared in the Belfast Telegraph, but newspaper articles in the United States spelt out clearly the pattern of events which took place. They disclose that Representative Kennedy contacted the Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces and that the Under-Secretary went to Short Brothers with Representative Kennedy's message, only to return with a proposition that Representative Kennedy would not accept. It appears that the Minister returned to Shorts and came back with a compromise. If that is the position, it demonstrates the significance of these matters in federal legislation in the United States.

That is not the last of it, and the Secretary of State arid his Cabinet colleagues must be sighing with relief that that is all that they have to face at present. Some time ago I warned the Secretary of State that if the Government did not get their act together they would be dealing with measures affecting United States investment in Britain as well as in Northern Ireland. If it had not been for some effective Israeli lobbying, Israel being alarmed that it would be affected, the Kennedy amendments would have applied to British as well as to Northern Ireland contractors to the Pentagon. As an aside, it would seem that the Israeli lobby is more powerful than the British lobby in Washington, despite our special relationship. On that, I have the Secretary of State's full support.

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

I was interested in what the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) said about Shorts. He will have seen the publication that was produced by the Northern Ireland Office in April 1987, entitled "Fair Treatment for All". If the figures in that publication are to be believed—I refer specifically to those on page 5—the initiatives that Shorts has taken to improve Catholic employment in Shorts have been useful and the trend is in the right direction.

Mr. McNamara

Yes, the trend is in the right direction. Whether Shorts has gone far or fast enough is another matter. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would agree with me about that.

It is clear that in determining their policies the Government have responded to outside pressures. I do not doubt their good will, but, as the MacBride campaign developed, so did the amount of money that was directed to the Fair Employment Agency along with the number of staff. The success of the MacBride campaign can be set against figures of that sort. The campaign wonderfully concentrated the Government's mind.

It is clear that the Government have fundamentally mishandled their response to concerns in the United States from the start. Instead of welcoming the concern and interest and taking the campaigners on board in their efforts to end inequalities of opportunity, the Government have sought to confront those involved. They should have been able, especially since the publication of the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights report, to show that their own proposals are at least as positive, practical and all-embracing as those being proposed and introduced in the United States, and much fairer. The MacBride principles apply only to United States investment. I understand that they would not include all sorts of foreign investment, and that would be scarcely fair. The Government have effectively heightened distrust and suspicion so that even some of their more positive proposals have been dismissed as cosmetic.

Cities, states, the United States Congress and, potentially, the next President are legislating for fair employment in Northern Ireland while we are still discussing the White Paper. The Donnelly Bill, which would apply to all United States subsidiaries in Northern Ireland, would require affirmative action, which the White Paper proposes should be made illegal. What choice would that leave United States companies? Would they pull out or defy their own Government? The principle of the set-aside provision of $5 million in the Shorts contract was addressed in the excellent report on fair employment by the SACHR, but it is ignored in the White Paper. What are Shorts and other contractors to do about such requirements in future? Are they to shut their eyes and hope that they will go away?

The Government must realise that United States pressure will not go away. It is here to stay and it must be addressed. I am not sure whether the White Paper does that effectively.

I shall direct my remarks now to some of the specifics of the White Paper, but in the course of discussing them I shall return to some of the issues that I have already mentioned. My colleagues and I want to see effective legislation that will end discrimination and inequalities in Northern Ireland. Such legislation requires that attention be paid to the devil of the detail because the devil is in the detail. Attention must be paid to detail as well as to the grand design. We have examined the detail of the Government's proposals and we find either perfidy—it seems that the drafters hoped that no one would read the fine print—or a failure to understand what is needed to address the problem. It seems also that the drafters failed to do their homework.

There is much in the White Paper with which we agree but there are seven specific issues to which I shall refer. I do not want to detain the House on the development of what might be called the McCrea principle. The seven issues that I wish to bring to the attention of the House are as follows: the so-called merit principle; affirmative action; indirect discrimination; the appeals procedures; grant and contract compliance; the proposed code of conduct; and targets and timetables.

The Secretary of State made much of the merit principle, which was introduced for the first time into British proposals in the consultative paper that was issued by the Department of Economic Development in 1986. It was a sop to the Prime Minister's instinctive dislike for anything which could be construed as interfering with the diktats of the market or giving preference to some troublesome minorities. In the form in which it was defined in the consultative paper, it threatened to gut the proposed legislation before it ever reached the House. The ridiculousness of proposing legislation to deal with a major problem of discrimination and inequality while specifying that remedies cannot address the causes of that problem will be clear to hon. Members on both sides of the House.

The White Paper does not provide an alternative definition, but, fortunately, it makes it clear that the Government have shifted their position considerably, and I welcome that. As the term is used in the White Paper, merit would apply only at the stage of appointment and would operate in the context of an overall programe of affirmative action. It would allow some affirmative action but it would be harmfully restrictive at the appointment stage. For example, it would prevent employers from giving due weight to social factors, such as one candidate being employed and the other unemployed.

The United States audience, which the Government need to address in putting forward these proposals, will be aware that British and United States discrimination legislation has so far survived without the strange and problematic concept that is set out in the White Paper. In many instances it will enable a coach and horses to be driven through the legislation that stems from the White Paper. The American audience will wonder at the Government's insistence on a nebulous, restrictive and dubious concept. It will be necessary to convince it, my right hon. and hon. Friends and the people of Northern Ireland that the concept of merit will not restrict the effectiveness of the legislation. At least it should be confined to the code of practice, where it could be thrown out relatively easily if necessary, and specifically defined to allow for essential affirmative action measures to be taken. The affirmative action that is taken will be crucial to the success of the proposed legislation.

The feature that concerns us especially about the affirmative action proposals outlined in the White Paper is that they are considerably narrower than those currently provided for by race relations and sex discrimination legislation in Britain. The White Paper outlines possible types of affirmative action with which we are in broad agreement, but whereas existing British legislation specifically exempts affirmative action from anti-discrimination provisions governing both direct and indirect discrimination, the Government's proposals in the White Paper limit the exemption to indirect

That would mean, for instance, that whereas it would be legal in Britain for an employer to make special arrangements to interview pupils from a school attended predominantly by members of an under-represented group, that would be illegal in Northern Ireland. That is ludicrous. It would severely limit the ambit of affirmative action and run counter to what is accepted practice in both Britain and the United States of America. In such circumstances, the people of Northern Ireland would have every right to demand to know why they were being denied effective legislation. At the very least, there must be provision for the encouragement of applications from, and specific training for, under-represented groups, as is allowed in Britain.

To return to an earlier theme, I should say that the Donnelly Bill would specifically require religion-specific training provision. There is the real potential here for British and United States legislation to meet head on, with disastrous implications for jobs.

My next point relates to indirect discrimination. We welcome the Government's stated intention of outlawing indirect discrimination for the first time in Northern Ireland, but we are concerned that that step should be taken in an effective way. There are two aspects to our worries. The White Paper has defined indirect discrimination in terms of what cannot be shown to be "justifiable" on jobs-related criteria. In explaining "justifiable", it uses the term "necessary". Since case law in Britain suggests that "justifiable" is open to too wide an interpretation in the courts, we would like to see the word "necessary" used instead. The term should be "necessary" discrimination rather than "justifiable".

In addition, the White Paper's definition in its use of the terms "requirement or condition" may fail to include the complete range of discriminatory practices that should be dealt with under the proposals. For that reason, the Opposition would prefer to see the definition provided by the standing advisory committee that indirect discrimination should constitute: Any practice, policy or situation which is continued, allowed or introduced and which has a significant adverse impact on a particular section of the community defined by religion and which cannot also be demonstrated to be necessary. That is the definition that we would like in the legislation. So far the Government do not appear even to have reacted to SACHR's proposed definition.

People in the United States—that most litigious of countries—will understand my reason for raising the question of the appeals procedures on my fourth point. The Opposition cannot support multi-stage appeals procedures in law against the enforcement decisions of the new Fair Employment Commission. The British experience has shown that legal harassment can emasculate enforcement commissions. It has long been accepted that one of the weaknesses of the Commission for Racial Equality in Britain has been excessive timidity in issuing enforcement notices in the face of possible litigation by private employers. It would be a great mistake if the proposals were to leave the FEC in a similar position. The Government have moved some way to simplifying procedures, but continue to resist the recommendations contained in the SACHR report that appeals on pattern and practice cases should go direct to the High court. Similarly, they have given no sign of an intention to limit the scope for judicial review.

Grant and contract compliance has been a particularly difficult issue for the Secretary of State and his colleagues. We are all well aware that while he was pushing for it in Northern Ireland, his Cabinet colleagues were seeking to outlaw it on this side of the water. I should begin by congratulating the right hon. Gentleman on sticking to his guns on the issue. Having said that, I think that he needs to look again at how effective those guns, as presently loaded, are likely to be.

Contract and grant compliance, used properly, can be among the most effective tools available to the Government for the enforcement of anti-discrimination measures. The danger at present is that the Government will throw away that advantage by circumscribing them so severely that they cease to be effective. At present, the White Paper proposes to exclude non-Government public sector grants and contracts—for example, Harland and Wolff would be excluded—to exclude subcontractors, and to limit the proposal to those grants linked to employment creation or maintenance, thus cutting out large sections of the public sector, including local education authorities, agencies, National Health and so on. In addition, the Government have added a rider and proposed a general security or public interest exception.

We recognise why on occasions that should be necessary, particularly in view of the security position in Northern Ireland. However, we also believe that the pecise circumstances in which that defence may be advanced should be tightly drawn. We would like to see the implementation of SACHR's recommendation that appeals against the proposal should go to the ombudsman. We recognise the necessity of the proposal, but there should be more and better safeguards for the individual.

If we are looking for a test of the Government's determination to introduce effective legislation, the question of grant and contract compliance must be it. There are no reasons to limit that in the way that it appears to be limited at the moment in the White Paper. There is no greater spur for an end to the evil than the fact that Government grants, assistance and contracts are specifically and directly connected with grant and contract compliance provisions.

The Kennedy amendment illustrates exactly how effective contract compliance can be. Shorts was faced with the stark choice of losing a $60 million order for its aircraft or signing an agreement to undertake specific measures to remedy its religious imbalance in its work force. In addition, it had to agree to subcontract $5 million of the work directly to companies employing predominantly workers from the under-represented part of the community. It would not be helpful to our image in the United States if we were less wholehearted in our measures than the United States Congress.

The penultimate issue in my list is the code of practice which, the White Paper states, will occupy a central position in the new system. The White Paper concedes that the code of practice, which spells out proposed affirmative action measures, should be part of the legislation rather than outside it. Although it continues to resist making it universally applicable, it concedes that compliance with specific provisions in the code can be required of individual employers through the issuing of legally enforceable directions by the new Fair Employment Commission.

Despite the progress that has been made, the Government continue to resist incorporation in the primary legislation. The Opposition believe that it should be in the primary legislation., but the Government deny that even to the principles of the code, let alone the code itself. The Government continue to insist that, on its inception, the code should be drawn up by the Department of Economic Development—the Department which, for 10 years, complacently refused to acknowledge that there were any major inequalities persisting in Northern Ireland. After that, the code will go to the new Fair Employment Commission and then to the House. I concede that there are practical problems about that process.

Although the code will come before the House at the same time as the primary legislation—a concession that we welcome—neither the code nor the underlying principles will be subjected to detailed scrutiny in Committee or to legislative amendment. That is completely unacceptable to us.

The affirmative action proposals, as I said earlier, will be central to the success of the legislation. It would make a mockery of our procedures in this House if right hon. and hon. Members on either side were to be denied the opportunity to seek to amend the crucial part of this legislation. I began this morning by congratulating the Secretary of State on seeing the sense of legislating by a Bill on this matter. The same logic demands that at least the principles and definitions which will inform the code of practice should be in the primary legislation.

Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham)

As I understand the White Paper, the code of practice which will be produced initially will be an interim code of practice. The new commission will amend that as it sees fit in the circumstances in which it finds itself working. Does the hon. Gentleman believe that it is appropriate that an interim code of practice should be written into the primary legislation?

Mr. McNamara

The code will come through one, two or possibly three filters. First, it will come through the new Fair Employment Commission. The commission will prepare the code which will have to go to the parent Department, the Department of Economic Development. The commission will have to decide what it can get past the DED, and the record ofthe DED has not been terribly good. The DED will consider the matter and decide what it will give to Ministers. Ministers will have to consider what they can get through this place with the least possible row in an order lasting one and half hours. The order will not be amendable. That is why we should have the principles and at least the definitions—if we cannot have more of the code—in the legislation.

Dr. McCrudden continued: the minimum safeguard must be that the primary definitions, those of direct and indirect discrimination, the scope of the affirmative action permitted to an employer, the definition of equality of opportunity, and the scope of remedies available to the FEC must all be in the primary legislation itself. The Code is only suitable for advice, guidance and interpretation, not basic definitions. We know that people will work from basic definitions.

My seventh and last point relates to targets and timetables. The Government have accepted that employers should adopt targets and timetables for remedying any religious imbalance in their work force. We are unhappy that the Government should continue to recommend that targets and timetables should be used only in relation to applications, but we are pleased that they have accepted the principle.

The Government have resisted strenuously in the White Paper the standing advisory committee's recommendation that targets and timetables should be established for the legislation. If the Government genuinely want to remedy inequalities, surely the most basic thing is to set targets against which the effectiveness of their proposals can be measured. Their refusal to do that suggests that, even before legislating, they are trimming their sails to meet the squalls of possible failure.

At the start of the White Paper the Government use evidence of disproportionate unemployment among Catholic males as an indicator of inequality, but in the final two extraordinary paragraphs, they specifically reject unemployment differentials as measures of the same inequality.

Having made it clear that they regard legislation as part of a package with social, geographical and economic elements designed to tackle inequalities, the Government argue against the use of unemployment as an indicator on the ground that the unemployment differentials between Catholics and Protestants will be at least as strongly influenced by social, geographical and economic factors as by fair employment policies. I found it regrettable that the Secretary of State should use those arguments when the standing advisory committee, based on the PSI evidence, exploded the argument that size of family, training, geographical location or social material could ever account for more than 0.5 per cent. of unemployment.

Mr. Tom King

I was giving a balanced account.

Mr. McNamara

That would be most unusual for any Tory. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition once described the well-balanced Nationalist as one with a chip on each shoulder. The same is probably true of Tories, except that in their case it is the City on one and Lloyd's on the other. The Government have refused to accept the argument advanced by SACHR or to commit themselves to a goal against which they can measure the effectiveness of their legislation. Our fear is that the 1976 legislation may be replicated here.

I accept, as the right hon. Gentleman said, that we need more investment to get more jobs, but we must not forget that more than 100,000 jobs change hands in Northern Ireland each year. Having rejected unemployment differentials as a measure of effectiveness, the White Paper uses them as an argument against setting any targets or timetables. It is difficult, in the face of such specious and tendentious argument, to reach any conclusion other than that the Government are not convinced that their proposals will work and that they do not want to provide future critics with ammunition. We should like to be more confident—and I have suggested how we could be more confident—about the working of the legislation.

I have spent some time talking about the influence of the United States of America. Those of us who were engaged in the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland or in this House in the middle and late 1960s will remember the influence that the civil rights movement in the United States had on us. It is strange, but if we now go to the United States and speak to Senators or trade union officials, they say, "What the hell is the problem? We went through it 20 years ago. After six months it was all over. What are you worried about?" They cannot understand why the Government are dragging their feet.

Mr. Harold McCusker (Upper Bann)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. McNamara

With the greatest respect, the hon. Gentleman could have intervened earlier. I have spoken for some time, and I have just reached my peroration.

I want to pay a compliment to the influence that the United States had on us in the 1960s, especially in regard to discrimination against blacks. I have already mentioned the steps taken by Senator Kennedy and by his nephew Representative Kennedy, but I should like to mention another Kennedy—President J. F. Kennedy, who made a statement in 1963 when the Americans were at a crossroads. In their case, the problems were racial, and in ours they are religious. He said: It is not enough to pin the blame on others, to say that this is a problem of one section of the country or another, or to deplore the facts that we face … Those who do nothing are inviting shame as well as violence. Those who act boldly are recognising right as well as reality. We hope that the Secretary of State will act boldly and use what I have said, what my right hon. Friend has said and what is in the SACHR report to ensure that we get effective, prompt and bold legislation that meets the dream of the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland, and that will eventually achieve equality in employment in Northern Ireland.

10.57 am
Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham)

I am pleased to have caught your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, although in view of the emptiness of the Chamber, that was not particularly difficult.

I rise to speak as an English Member who takes an interest in Northern Irish affairs, and as an employer for many years of Irish people. I, my father and my grandfather before me have employed many thousands of Irish people during the decades that we have run public houses in London. We have employed them in all grades of work and, even today, nine out of 10 of my managers and manageresses are Irish.

I believe that I can say without equivocation that nobody whom we have employed has ever been employed on the basis of his or her religious beliefs or upbringing. It is incredible to me that such a qualification should play any part in recruitment, employment or promotion policy. Surely, when one takes on a new employee, one looks for a willingness to work, competence to do the job, honesty, courteousness and a good appearance. One might consider educational qualification or success, or the training of a potential employee, if one is looking for an academic or specific skill, but surely no employer in normal circumstances will examine religious belief or background as a qualification for employment.

I know that people encounter bias, prejudice and discrimination on the basis of gender, the colour of their skin, a disability or deformity from which they suffer and even sexual proclivities.

It is clear from the figures in the White Paper that people in Northern Ireland encounter major discrimination on the basis of which of two sorts of Christian religion they have been brought up in. The figures for dependency on social security in paragraph 1.5 make it clear that Catholic Nationalist families are much more likely to be dependent than are Protestant Loyalist families. That cannot be right, and from that point of wrongness people such as myself——

It being Eleven o'clock. MR. SPEAKER interrupted the proceedings, pursuant to Standing Order No. 11 (Friday sittings).