§ Question again proposed, That this House do now adjourn.11.53 am
§ Mr. Couchman
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) expressed concern that our debate had been interrupted by the statement and the lively exchanges that followed. My concern at that interruption was even greater than his, because I was in mid-speech when the interruption occurred.
Before I was interrupted by the important statement, I had accepted that there is a problem in Northern Ireland affecting employment and that it arises out of the apparent disparity between unemployment figures for those from the Catholic Nationalist tradition and for those from the Protestant Loyalist tradition. That is wrong, but people such as myself, who are somewhat cynical about whether the law can remedy discrimination, are forced to conclude that we must seek a legal remedy given the intractable situation in Northern Ireland.
The law may be good at compensating for hurt caused by discrimination. I suspect, however, that its ability to re-educate or remould the prejudices and even bigotries of those who discriminate is somewhat more speculative. I have read the White Paper carefully and I believe that it makes an honest attempt to confront the problem of unequal opportunity in employment in Northern Ireland. However, it will require a wise head and a deft and sensitive hand to apply its proposals if new resentments are not to be spawned, notably among employers, who will see the new Fair Employment Commission and fair employment tribunals as simply more sophisticated versions of the present onerous bureaucracy of the Fair Employment Agency.
I am concerned that the emphasis of the White Paper seems to be heavier on stick than carrot. Talk of fines and imprisonment for non-compliance with the registration, certification and monitoring processes is a negative incentive to an employer struggling to start or to run a business in the difficult climate of the Province. Although I understand that help to set up the monitoring system will be available, I believe that the emphasis of the commission must be to mould and persuade rather than to bludgeon. The prospect of being cut out of private sector contracts—unless, of course, the public sector cannot manage without a specific product or service; a bit of pragmatism if ever there was some—looks suspiciously like insidious contract compliance. It seems very much like a bludgeon to me.
I am slightly puzzled by the semantics of paragraphs 3.24 to 3.28, which seek to differentiate between the illegal quota and the highly desirable and legal goals, targets or timetables. I believe that the principal difference is flexibility of time scale. I am pleased that there is no intention to impose positive discrimination, as that would be divisive and corrosive.
I am worried about paragraph 3.22, which deals with catchment areas and I hope that my hon. Friend can deal with my worry. A fortnight ago I visited Belfast with three other hon. Members. We went to meet members of the Federation of the Retail Licensed Trade and we were generously hosted by Bushmills distillery and by Bass, Ulster. We visited the Ulster brewery of Bass on Glen road, Belfast, which is situated alongside Andersontown. 667 It is a modern and well-run brewery and it employs almost a completely Catholic work force for its weekly-paid staff. The management is worried that the White Paper proposals could, if not applied sensitively, end up by reducing good job opportunities for Catholics in west Belfast. That would be an unfortunate result of well-intentioned legislation.
My final worry is about the method of monitoring. Paragraph 3.8 emphasises the need to be open, not covert, in monitoring arrangements. Paragraph 5.5, however, suggests that monitoring should be done by requiring employees, or potential employees, to declare their school backgrounds, preferably primary schools, but, failing that their secondary schools, in order to assess their religious-cultural background, rather than by asking a direct question. I believe that those two paragraphs of the White Paper conflict. It is a supreme irony that discrimination in Northern Ireland begins in an institutional way at school.
I believe that my right hon. Friend has no option but to set up a new legislative framework to try to overcome the serious affront to decent employment opportunities represented by religious discrimination. The precedents of racial and sexual discrimination legislation are not altogether encouraging and do not lead to optimism. I shall support the Government, however, in the quest to provide equality of employment opportunity irrespective of the traditions and background in which the employee has been raised.
I hope that, if they have the opportunity, my right hon. and hon. Friends will talk to Michael Dukakis and the other influential Americans mentioned by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) and persuade them to discourage rather than encourage states in the United States from incorporating the MacBride principles in their state law. In the final analysis, one of the most potent weapons against the men of violence is a thriving economy, with reduced unemployment and much fairer employment opportunities as between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. Withdrawal of overseas investment from Ulster, or the withdrawal of the opportunity for Ulster companies to bid for American contracts, would only damage that aspiration. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will make that clear to present and putative Administrations in the United States, should they have the opportunity.
I wish my right hon. and hon. Friends success in turning the White Paper into legislation, but legislation that relies on re-education and persuasion, rather than on draconian criminal penalties or commercial sanction. The legislation will achieve its aim only if it is supported by a consensus among employers and employees of all traditions.
§ 12.1 pm
§ Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down)
In introducing the debate, the Secretary of State set the theme—equality of opportunity for jobs and all that flows from it. He encapsulated the parameters of the origins of the problem and highlighted the fact that, in the late 1960s, the three basic demands for civil rights and liberties in Northern Ireland were housing, electoral reform and equality of job opportunities. The right hon. Gentleman was correct in stating that the first two—housing on merit and electoral reform—have been dealt with satisfactorily. Twenty years later we are dealing with that most annoying and 668 pernicious of evils—discrimination of livelihood, which strikes at the core of not only the individual but family life and the community.
Almost a year ago to the day, on 7 July, I made my maiden speech and one of my two major criticisms of 13 years of direct rule was that little had been accomplished in terms of fair employment. I said in my opening address to the House that I had hoped that equality of opportunity would be high on the list of the Government's priorities and that they would ensure that discrimination was immediately and effectively penalised in every way. I said that I hoped that afresh and vigorous look will be taken at the problem to initiate immediate changes."—[Official Report, 7 July 1987, Vol. 119, c. 225.]I hope that today is the start of that fresh and vigorous look.
There should be two overriding objectives of fair employment legislation: first, to ensure that discrimination does not occur in the future; and, secondly, where possible, to eradicate the injustices of the past where those employment practices continue to affect the equality of opportunity of any community.
The SDLP's policy on fair employment is firmly embedded in, and has developed from, article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which fully expresses the right of all people in our society to enjoy equal and just opportunities of employment. We are conscious, however, of the statement in paragraph 3 of the foreword to the White Paper, which reveals that a statistical review in Northern Ireland in 1985, just three years ago, found thatdespite almost ten years of anti-discrimination legislation and enforcement, the Catholic community remained at a serious disadvantage in employment in both quantitative and qualitative terms; that this obtained throughout the Province (even in areas of relatively high employment); and that it persisted despite progressive convergence of educational attainment between the Protestant and Catholic communities.Such a finding puts paid to the rather facile response from the Confederation of British Industry. Of all people, its members have had the opportunity over the years to make considerable progress and to ensure redress. The CBI has given a hostile reception to the White Paper. The CBI carries the major share of blame for the unjust and un-Christian discrimination in employment that has taken and is still taking place. The CBI had the capacity to bring about change and could have given Northern Ireland enormous encouragement in trying to achieve peace, community prosperity and harmony but it failed to do so.
I should like the House, and English Members in particular, to be in no doubt about the people, firms or companies that perpetrate this crime of injustice. Many people have an image of a mean-minded and uneducated employer who is embittered by his environment and has turned to sectarianism, which was part of his upbringing. Nothing could be further from the truth. The list of firms that were investigated and found to be guilty of serious discrimination includes household names that could be taken from the stock exchange list. It includes insurance companies such as Commercial Union, General Accident, Royal Insurance and the Prudential, all of which were found guilty of gross discrimination to the extent that 90 per cent. of their work force were Protestants. The Progressive, Leeds, Halifax, Gateway, Abbey National, Nationwide and Woolwich building societies are all in the bracket of 77 to 91 per cent. discrimination in favour of 669 Protestants. Those employers do not fit the image of the narrow-minded Northern Ireland employer. The high street banks are all British-based and are administered from London, yet they are major employers and major discriminators in Northern Ireland.
I do not wish to give the impression that it is only the financial sector that is named in the reports copied from the Fair Employment Agency investigations. They named companies in the engineering and linen industries including Harland and Wolff, Short Brothers and James Mackie and Son. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) mentioned Harland and Wolff. He did not say that in the third monitoring the percentage of Catholics employed had fallen from 17 to 14 per cent. That was a backward step.
Gross discrimination in Northern Ireland knows no sectoral boundaries. it is as diverse as the Civil Service, the museum service, the fire authority, local authorities and the railways. The cases that I have mentioned are only those that have been investigated, so the House should not think in terms only of Northern Ireland-based companies or of non-Government employers. All are guilty. That injustice has been compounded by the refusal of so many employers to do anything about it. It has led to a deep sense of personal and community grievance, which has fostered disaffection with the system of government, given rise to disorder and prevented community reconciliation. As the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North said, potential investors, especially from the United States, are unwilling to put their money into an area where, in addition to violence and political instability, unacceptable labour practices prevail.
I sincerely hope that we are now engaged in a new and radical phase and are building, as we should, on the 12 years' experience gained since the Fair Employment Act 1976 established the Fair Employment Agency. It is obvious that the inadequacies of that Act and the experience over the 12 years since its passing have led to the proposals in the White Paper.
These proposals require considerable and detailed consideration, even though they have been produced after a gestation period of almost two and a half years. The most significant and welcome proposal is for the introduction of compulsory monitoring of the religious affiliation of all employees in work forces of 10 or more. To date, that information has been available only after the Fair Employment Agency has instigated an investigation. To continue on the old basis would mean that the majority of instances of discrimination would remain hidden and uncorrected.
In case anyone thinks that compulsory monitoring is a gross infringement of the rights of employees, I should tell the House that a survey by the Policy Studies Institute in London, published on 29 October 1987, said in paragraph 23:Two thirds of both Protestants and Catholics said they would be prepared for their employer to keep a record of their religious group to check on the fairness of recruitment and promotion procedures.That shows that the proposal was endorsed by two thirds of both communities in the Northern Ireland work force. The introduction of compulsory monitoring will, where 670 appropriate, enable directives to be issued or affirmative action to be taken to correct any imbalance that there might be.
Another significant proposal is for the application of sanctions and fines against errant employers. Those employers will be subject to a range of sanctions, including specific penalties, enforced directions and, in the words of the White Paper,Exclusion from a range of Government grants and from public sector tenders".One hopes that these and other proposals will achieve their stated objectives of fair employment and of redressing imbalances.
Regrettably, some criticisms must be made of the White Paper, which contains some serious deficiencies and loopholes which may enable those employers intent on discrimination to continue with their abominable practices. The most glaring weakness is the failure to follow the logic of creating targets or goals and timetables. This logic demands that the new legislation should require of all employers whose work forces have an unacceptable imbalance to redress the imbalance through the achievement of target ratios within certain time scales. The ratios of the timetables would have to take account of such criteria as the location of the workplace, the skills required and the likely turnover in the work force. A clear requirement to meet such criteria would provide bench marks by which progress could be effectively measured.
The differences that arise when this issue is discussed show a failure of nerve on the part of the Government. The differences appear to arise from an unwillingness to legislate in the one direction that would make clear to employers what they must do to achieve a just balance in the work force. To suggest, as the White Paper does in paragraph 3.29, that the new code of practice to be prepared by the Fair Employment Commission will provide the necessary guides in this area is to cloud the issue. It adds weight to the impression that in spite of their experience the Government still hope that in some spontaneous way employers will become more co-operative than they have been in the past.
In the corresponding Canadian legislation of 1986, section 5 explicitly requires employers to prepare annual plans indicating the goals by which they intend to achieve employment equity and the timetables for the implementation of those goals. Since the Department of Economic Development has acknowledged that the Canadian approach to fair employment has influenced its thinking, one must ask why it has not adopted this crucial provision affecting a key instrument in achieving employment equity.
Of grave anxiety to me are the proposals for dealing with individual complaints. Hitherto, individuals have received considerable support from the Fair Employment Agency, both at the investigative and judicial stages of complaints about alleged discrimination. The proposals in the White Paper will, if enacted, reduce support by placing a graver onus on the individual to pursue his own investigation. The apparent justification for this proposal is to allow the new Fair Employment Commission to select only those cases that are of strategic value in highlighting specific aspects of fair employment legislation.
That approach is unacceptable, because every individual is entitled to have his complaint investigated in the necessary way. Individuals are unlikely to be able to pursue by themselves cases of alleged religious or political 671 discrimination. They need assistance, and if the new Fair Employment Commission is to be the only means of public support, it must be required to provide reasonable support.
I suggest to the Secretary of State and to the Department of the Environment that if individual cases are not seen to be pursued with the same vigour as hitherto, irrespective of what happens in general, the perception in the communities will be that this is a retrograde rather than a progressive step. The importance of the individual case which the individual is frequently unable to pursue has been grossly underestimated, and I urge the Government to rethink this issue.
I shall now deal with compensation and remedies for individual cases of indirect discrimination. The White Paper has nothing whatever to say about that. While it is a step forward to bring indirect discrimination within the scope of the legislation, it is a glaring omission not to say how the individual might be compensated when the findings are in his favour.
Another cause for concern is the White Paper proposal that employers be allowed to appeal against findings in the "pattern and practice cases" to the Fair Employment Commission. This contains a number of dangers. Obviously it would be unjust to employers to deny them the right of appeal against Fair Employment Commission findings. The problem is whether allowing such appeals would result in the whole process of dealing with imbalances in work forces becoming log jammed. That appears to be a real possibility if the White Paper proposals are enacted. Appeals of this kind should be possible only to the High Court. This would result in careful consideration being given to the grounds for such an appeal, reduce the likelihood of appeals being mounted on an unsound basis and prevent frivolous or preventive action from being taken.
I am worried about the absence of any proposals that would oblige employers and workers jointly to ensure that workplaces are free from any form of bias in terms of flags, emblems, rallies or parades of a political or religious nature. The White Paper seems to depend on the Public Order Act 1986, and that is not an adequate response. The absence of neutrality in the workplace has been a major factor in discrimination.
There are a number of other matters that will require considerable clarification before the legislation can be fully effective. For example, there is a need to bring all public bodies, especially district councils, fully within the scope of the legislation on contract compliance. District councils, no less than other public authorities, must be required to deal only with employers who comply fully with the fair employment practices. The White Paper is less than clear on how public bodies other than Government Departments will be made to meet their responsibilities in that regard. We have sufficient experience in local government to know that that requires considerable, if not detailed, attention.
A critical issue, to which attention has been drawn by previous speakers, is the so-called merit principle and the way in which it should be upheld in the context of the need to redress imbalances in a given work force. The attitude of the SDLP has always been that jobs should be offered on merit. However, where several candidates of equal merit are being considered by an employer who is also seeking to redress an imbalance in his or her work force, the latter obligation must also become a determining 672 factor in deciding who will be appointed. If it is not, the very principle may become an excuse for not redressing imbalances, and progress towards equality of job opportunities could become frustrated. The White Paper continues to emphasise the overriding importance of the merit principle in a manner that leads one to suspect that narrow employer interests have received more consideration than that of equality in the work place. The ongoing and five-year review that will test the efficacy of the proposed legislation will tell its own tale. Only time will tell us whether an adequate response to the problem has been made by the proposals before us.
I should like to point out a grave responsibility of the Government. They must play a major role. They cannot, having passed the legislation, walk away from it. The Government help to keep much of the economy of Northern Ireland afloat and, therefore, they have a great deal of clout over what happens in the economy and the job sector. The Government must face their responsibility in several ways. They must provide training for skills, and new skills, and they must provide it in areas accessible to both communities, not just one. They must actively encourage a proper geographical spread of industrial location, and new industry location, which has not taken place before. They must administer Government funds and the New Ireland Fund so that disadvantaged areas are given at least some new advantage in job creation. Perhaps a policy of decentralisation to the less-favoured areas might be the necessary embryonic factor to enable job development to take place there.
Above all, the Government must give a moral lead. They must exert a moral, as well as a statutory, pressure. The Secretary of State's first job should be to bring together all the Departments under his command arid co-ordinate a policy for the eradication of job discrimination. He should formulate that policy arid pursue it in all the activities of the Departments and the Government in Northern Ireland.
My party welcomes the proposals for legislation. My community, of which I am the only representative out of the 650 Members in the House, has waited 60 years for the redressing of these wrongs. In my teens I suffered gross discrimination in job seeking. I have waited all my adult life. The proposals will be given every support by my party and the community of Northern Ireland, I hope both Protestant and Catholic. I sincerely pray that they will be the commencement of a new era of community reconciliation, which will be another prop to a better Northern Ireland for us all.
§ Mr. Harold McCusker (Upper Bann)
I did not approach this debate with great enthusiasm and, as I listened to the opening three speeches, my enthusiasm grew even less. I am grateful for the tone and content of the speech made by the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) because it enables me to play what I hope will be at least a partially constructive role in the debate.
An Ulster Protestant coming to the House to listen to the opening speeches in the debate has no alternative but to put on sackcloth and ashes and plead guilty. I do not wish to do that because I do not feel guilty. If I oppose or reject any of the proposals in the White Paper, I am seen as justifying the imbalances. I will be pointed at, as I was 12 years ago, as an example of why the legislation is 673 necessary, as if I were trying to defend some vested interest. If I reject some of the White Paper, I will be accused of being against the principle of appointment on merit or equality of opportunity. I am not against either.
I again place on public record my own experience. For a period of only six years I was in a position to employ people. I challenge anyone in the House to find anybody in the arena in which I was employed who can make or sustain an allegation that I discriminated against them. At both supervisory and operative level, the majority of the people employed were Catholic. I pay tribute to the job they did for me and I hope that, they will acknowledge the job I did for them. We were the only department in the Goodyear Tyre and Rubber company that ever made a profit during the 10 years of its existence in the area.
I have nothing to be ashamed of in that regard. When I hear the comments that people occasionally make about the social disadvantage of Catholics, I put my experience on the public record. Like many other hon. Members who represent constituencies in Northern Ireland—I do not know whether this applies to the three representatives of the minority community who are in their places today—I came from a poor working-class area. I lived in a terraced house. Until the age of 25 years I had to shave within inches of where my mother cooked my breakfast. We had a cold water tap, an outside toilet and no bathroom. I have often wondered what advantage I gained from being a Protestant. I gained no advantage when it came to housing, nor did I have an advantage in employment opportunities. I had to work extremely diligently to achieve anything which I might have achieved.
I am in favour of equality of opportunity and appointment on merit. I am saddened by the remarks of the hon. Member for South Down, and I apologise to whatever extent I can for whatever he has suffered. He says that during his late teens and early twenties he experienced vicious religious discrimination. I would not want to experience that, and nor would I want others to do so.
Twenty years ago Ulster Protestants were reviled around the world for being obsessed with trying to determine the religion of those in employment or seeking employment. It is ironic that it is now to be a criminal offence for an employer not to ascertain the religious associations of those who are available for employment.
I shall put on record why Protestants have resisted and opposed some of the attempts that have been made over the past 15 or so years to deal with the problem that the White Paper seeks to resolve. That has much to do with the approach of those who have spoken from the two Front Benches this morning, the Secretary of State and the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara). I regret that they did not take the approach of the hon. Member for South Down. Whether intentionally or not, they plant guilt and invoke the collective responsibility of the Protestant community in Northern Ireland. Let it be understood that about 90 per cent. of all the Protestants in Northern Ireland are not in a position to discriminate against anyone. That is because that 90 per cent. do not employ anyone. I accept that that is only part of the answer because the allegation can be made that Protestants seek to retain the present position because they want to reserve their privileged position.
674 Whatever direct rule has done, it has certainly distanced substantially the employing classes in Northern Ireland from Unionist politicians and the Unionist community. The Secretary of State is much closer to those who are accused of being guilty of mass discrimination than I am. They are the people who have offered him succour over the past three years. They have dined at his table at Stormont castle at Hillsborough. That has not been done by those such as myself or by those whom I represent.
Paragraph 1.6 of the White Paper states:while it is very difficult to quantify its impact"—that is a reference to religious discrimination—it is clear that it is by no means the sole nor even the main explanation.If religious discrimination is not thesole nor even the main explanationfor the disadvantage that is suffered by Roman Catholics, what are we talking about? It is all very well for the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North to brush aside the other factors as if they had no significance when it comes to employment.
I am the father of three children. My next-door neighbour is an affluent Roman Catholic and he has six children. Will he have more or less difficulty than me and my children in ensuring that we have full employment? He will have more difficulty, but in all the circumstances I do not think that his difficulties will be very much greater. If the principles that are set out in the White Paper are placed in legislation and implemented, it would mean that one of my children would have to be permanently unemployed so that four of my neighbour's children could he permanently employed.
§ Mr. McCusker
I hope that it will be explained to me why that is not the position. We face a statistical minefield. If we do not face the realities, we shall never change statistical patterns. Family size is important.
Let us take the example of a Roman Catholic living in the hills of south Fermanagh, where there has never been any industrial development. Let us say that he is the member of a large family that is in poor circumstances. It is probable that such a person will have no industrial experience. His education may or may not be all that one would wish. He will be at a great disadvantage when it comes to finding employment opportunities. The various relevant factors do not count for much when they are considered in isolation, but collectively they assume some significance. That has ramifications for us all. There has been a persistent resistance to what is now being proposed because the Protestant community has been branded as guilty.
The hon. Member for South Down said that, when Protestants were asked whether they objected to their religion being monitored, two thirds said that they did not. I believe that most Ulster Protestants are reasonably fair-minded people, just as fair-minded as anyone else. They deeply resent the destruction of their self-respect and self-esteem which has continued for so long.
As I said earlier, I want to try to avoid emotion and the temptation to outdo my opponents in this debate. The hon. Member for South Down listed various organisations that have discriminated against Catholics. For the sake of balance, he could have referred to the Allied Irish Bank and the Bank of Ireland which are substantially guilty of 675 discriminating against Protestants. Similarly, the insurance companies Britannic Refuge and United Friendly, from a statistical point of view, are also guilty of such discrimination. I do not believe that any of those organisations are guilty of face-to-face, brutal, individual cases of discrimination. That is the difficulty.
When the first fair employment legislation was passed in 1976, the idea that there were massive, widespread, systematic, and individual cases of discrimination against Catholics was prevalent. It was thought that if a fair employment agency was established charged with rooting out that evil, it would deal with the problem. After 12 years, 52 cases of religious discrimination have been established. Let no one tell me that the Protestant community has become so skilled at discriminating that it can keep it to that absolute minimum. Fifty-two cases of religious discrimination have been established by an agency charged with finding and rooting out discrimination. Of those cases, one third have been against Protestants.
I do not believe that there is widespread and systematic discrimination against Protestants or Catholics in Northern Ireland. I do not believe that the brewery in the Glen road—and it sounded very much like special pleading—is guilty of discrimination against Protestants any more than I believe that certain other organisations in Northern Ireland are guilty of massive, systematic discrimination against Catholics.
§ Mr. Couchman
It was not my intention to suggest that the Ulster brewery was guilty of discrimination. The mere fact of its location in west Belfast has led to an almost totally Catholic work force. I raised that point because, if the matter is not handled sensitively, the proposals could lead to new discrimination against Catholics.
§ Mr. McCusker
That is precisely the point that I wanted to come to. I would like the hon. Member's sympathetic understanding to be directed elsewhere. However, the matter is more complex than he has suggested because that industry has been traditionally and historically associated with one religious community in Northern Ireland. Two such companies in my constituency will face grave difficulties when the legislation comes into effect. These matters were referred to in the debate on this matter in 1976. One of the principals of one of the companies to which I am referring was on the Terrace with me when that debate was taking place in 1976. He employed 80 people, but only one Protestant. He told me that he had tried to attract other Protestants to his company, but without success. I think that he probably does not employ any Protestants today, through no fault of his own. Should he somehow or other turn that position round and have a 55:25 Protestant-Catholic ratio? If that is not proposed for him, why should it be proposed for other employers in Northern Ireland?
There are difficulties and problems involved in this business which are gravely misunderstood. I regret that the Government have decided to concentrate on this very emotive statistic of unemployment. It appears that a Roman Catholic is twice as or two and a half times more likely to be unemployed than a Protestant. That has led to hon. Members claiming that two and a half times more Catholics are unemployed in Northern Ireland than Protestants. That is wrong. The two things do not follow. The statistic also invites people to jump to the conclusion 676 that one is two and a half times more likely to be employed if one is a Protestant rather than a Catholic. That does not follow.
The Government might have put it this way—about nine out of 10 Protestants are employed while slightly fewer than eight out of 10 Catholics are employed. That means the same thing and would have been more acceptable to the community. It might also have shown that the Government are anxious that about nine out of 10 people of both religions should eventually be employed. The thrust of this proposed legislation is that everybody will be happy if eight and a half out of 10 Protestants, arid eight and a half out of 10 Catholics, are employed. Why does the Secretary of State have to look at it negatively? Why can we not be positive?
Why do we not find out exactly what the situation is? We might find that Catholic males are more than two and a half times as likely to be unemployed as Protestants. Let us find out. Why cannot the Government produce a register showing the religious affiliations of the unemployed? That would be useful. We would have precise statistics. We could draw up an accurate profile of the type of person who is likely to be unemployed, establishing factors such as geographical locations, skills and experience. If the Government did that, however, they would have a responsibility to do something about what they found. I believe that that is why they refuse to take such a step. I shall table an amendment for the Report stage when we shall hear what the Government have to say on the matter.
A recent report shows some of the disadvantages suffered by the unemployed. The report, by the Rupert Stanley college in east Belfast, is based on a survey of 1,237 trainees. Under the heading:Three 'Rs' crisis faces youngsters on TYP schemes",it says:it is disturbing to note that 82 per cent. failed to fill in a simple application form".It foundextremely low standards of spelling, reading … and basic maths … just over one fifth could subtract one weight from another … only 16 per cent. could work out the area of a room nine foot by six … Only a quarter of the trainees could answer a simple question … on VAT".If we know that there are problems which confront the unemployed and what they are, we can develop programmes to tackle them. If the emphasis is now to be switched to the imbalance in unemployment or the lack of opportunity, why do we not have a survey to find out exactly what the situation is? Why do we not build up profiles to see where the real problem is?
The Government could also see the difficulties with their exercise in monitoring. Their only advantage would be the protective screen between them and the person whose religion they are trying to determine. Despite what anybody says, most of us feel the hair on the back of our neck rising when somebody asks, "What is your religion?" It will not be easy for employers to ask that question.
People from both religious groups ask my advice on this issue. I tell them that it is a matter for them, and that they are not compelled to reply. They are being asked the question but they are not required to answer. I tell them that if they do not answer, someone will make an assumption, which may be right or wrong, so they should consider answering the question accurately. It might be better if we have the letter "P" or the letters "RC" tattooed on our foreheads so that when we touch our forelocks to 677 our betters it is clear what we are. It would save a lot of bother. It is not so much a matter of what religion people are as what religion they are perceived to belong to. At least that problem does not arise with race.
One cannot opt or change. A person who is born Protestant or Catholic remains Protestant or Catholic for the rest of his days despite what happens to him. The difficulties in that respect should not be underestimated.
I am not here to defend the Confederation of British Industry, but it should be put on record who the main employers are. The main employer is the Secretary of State. There are 30,000 people in the Northern Ireland Civil Service. The next major employer is probably the police authority, which employs 12,000 or 15,000 people. The next after that may be the Ministry of Defence. I say in all sincerity to the hon. Member for South Down that if we try to put the finger too firmly on the manufacturing sector we may find it incapable of dealing with the problem. It may not have the scope to achieve the redress that the hon. Gentleman seeks.
§ Ms. Abbott
The hon. Gentleman said earlier that he did not think that there was systematic discrimination against Catholics in Northern Ireland, and I have listened carefully as he has developed his speech. If there is no such discrimination, how does he account for the massive differential in employment levels? Is he trying to argue that it is merely coincidence?
§ Mr. McCusker
I have already conceded that there are historical, cultural and many other reasons for those imbalances. What I am saying is that those imbalances may not be so massive, depending on how we view them. I feel that, while the fact that nine out of 10 Protestants and eight out of 10 Catholics are employed suggests an imbalance, it does not suggest a massive imbalance. It does not suggest face-to-face, one-off instances of discrimination. I do not think that an employer will deliberately employ a Protestant whom he knows to be second rate, aware that he may be rejecting someone better able to do the job. There is no evidence of that from the past 12 years. Certainly there is none from the Fair Employment Agency, despite all the work that it has done to establish the existence of such discrimination.
§ Mr. McCusker
Catholics do obtain employment in Northern Ireland. That is precisely the point I am making. What we are arguing about is the differential between the two communities in terms of either the Government's unemployment statistics or the statistics about which I am talking. The hon. Lady may not realise that some 50,000 Protestants are also unemployed in Northern Ireland. If matters were so simple—if there was discrimination on the scale that she decribes—I imagine that no Protestants would be unemployed in Northern Ireland. You might as well be hanged for a sheep as for a lamb. I have accepted that there is an imbalance—I believe that Catholics do suffer a disadvantage—but I am concerned with ensuring that the whole community addresses the problem in a way that is likely to remedy it.
678 Two issues have been avoided in today's debate, and I hope that some comment will be made on them before we finish. First, what is the position of Sinn Fein? We know that Sinn Fein supporters constitute about a third of the Roman Catholic community in Northern Ireland. If I were an employer there, I could not employ a Sinn Fein supporter. He would probably be seeking my death, or he might be happy to collude in setting me up for murder. If he was not after me, and I employed others who were members of the security forces, he might well be engaged in activity that would lead to their murder.
How do the Government intend to deal with that problem? If a known Sinn Fein supporter is refused employment, will the employer lose whatever grants are available to him? Will he be prosecuted? Or will he be able to say that he is not prepared to risk either himself or his other employees by employing such a person?
The other issue is employment in the security forces. Between the police, the Ulster Defence Regiment, the prison service and associated ancillary workers, there must be about 30,000 jobs going begging. If the Catholic community took up its share, 10,000 or 12,000 might be available. What difference would that make to the figure? It would be bound to have some effect. In Northern Ireland, 10,000 or 12,000 is a large slab of jobs. We sometimes forget on how small a scale the problem exists there.
What assurance are we being given that efforts are being made to ensure that the Catholic community plays its full part in the security endeavour? Or are we reaching the point at which we say to that community, "You can refuse to take up these opportunities, but you can go on demanding sufficient jobs in other spheres to compensate for the fact that you have not taken up those jobs"? I hope that the Minister will respond to that.
What is the position of contractors working on security bases? Are we to make a special exception for them, as we made for the brewery in the Glen road? Will the Government say, "Unless you have your proportions right, friend, you will not get a contract here"? Naturally, no one else will carry out the contract. I am looking forward to some of these monitoring returns. Will they be open to public scrutiny or available only to the agency or Ministers? That will be an important aspect of the debate on the legislation.
As I said earlier, I intend to take a fairly low-key, positive approach to this debate because for an Ulster Protestant there is nothing to be gained from doing otherwise. I hope that a sensitive approach to the problem will be adopted. It will not be easy. It is not just a matter of the initial time in building up the monitoring returns. Many employers will have to spend a great deal of time producing their defence. If they cannot meet their target, their only justification will be if they can show that they did everything to try to meet it. Presumably they will have to keep records of the various applicants, show what they have done on recruitment practice, and so on. It may well produce shocks for some who were not expecting them.
I want to see a fair society in Northern Ireland, as do most Protestants, and I hope that whatever detailed legislation comes from these proposals will lead to that. But, I wish to add one note of dissent. It is remarkable that neither Front Bench spokesman mentioned terrorism. It was as if the campaign of the past 20 years had had no effect on employment. Yet it has had a dramatic effect. In 1973, there were only about 40,000 unemployed in 679 Northern Ireland. On the basis that the same proportions applied, that would mean that there were probably equal numbers of Catholics and Protestants unemployed in employment terms, nine and half out of 10 Protestants and nine out of 10 Catholics in work. That does not fit with the case that some hon. Members are trying to make. I am not suggesting that the terrorist campaign has been solely responsible for the massive increase in unemployment but it has been substantially responsible.
I do not accept that the primary cause of the lack of investment in Northern Ireland has been the perception overseas of Northern Ireland as a vile, discriminating place. It is caused when people across the water see two soldiers being dragged from their car, stripped naked, beaten and slaughtered; a Remembrance Day parade being attacked; and six soldiers returning from a charity run being bombed. That is what deters people from investing in Northern Ireland, as is the campaign of the IRA to destroy factories and murder business men, Protestants and Catholics alike. Some Catholic business men in my constituency have been murdered by the IRA. That is what prevents growth in employment, and more employment is ultimately the answer in securing the opportunity for work for everyone, which is what we all want.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)
Order. Four or five hon. Members still wish to speak in the debate, which has been shortened because of the statement. Only about one hour is left before the expected time for the winding-up speeches, so I appeal to all hon. Members whom I call to make brief contributions.
§ Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
I listened with interest to the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. McCusker). I have deep respect for him, as he well knows. Indeed, he shares a great deal of my thinking and that of the Opposition, but he should not talk as if nothing went wrong. That is not on. The civil rights march of 1969 did not come from nowhere. The reality, which must be faced, is that I want, as much as he does, every Protestant and every Catholic to be employed. There was a time, whatever the hon. Gentleman says, when that was not true. The Catholics were held in a subjection that was bound at some time to produce a civil rights march or something like it.
We, as much as the hon. Gentleman, are on public record all the time as being against terrorism. Just in case people think that we are not, because of the propaganda machine, I should tell the House that we are on record even more regularly than others as being against terrorism. It is so easy to think that because we differ from the Government on many aspects we might just support terrorism. That is an easy accusation to make. When people on either side are killed, it is a terrible thing, and we are deeply aware of that, but it began to occur at a greatly accelerated rate after the civil rights march of 1969. It was not the civil rights marchers who attacked others; it was a peaceful demonstration. They were attacked because they were demonstrating for precisely the civil rights that are embedded in the White Paper that we are debating.
One of the things that I feel sad about—I am sure that there must be an explanation—is that it has taken a long 680 time to reach this stage. I, for one, welcome the White Paper. There might be shades and nuances, and there might be something bigger that I have not understood yet, where I might differ, but I profoundly agree with it, as I understand a large number of people do.
The hon. Member for Upper Bann said that he hoped there would be a sensitive approach. In God's name, what sort of sensible approach have the Unionists had for all these years? As I said in the debate the other night, never have they admitted that they made a mistake or were wrong. That has never happened, and I have listened to them in the House for 15 years now.
I was glad to hear my hon. Friend the Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) read out paragraph 3 of the foreword. I can show him that in my copy it is marked. I had intended to read it out. III cannot have paragraph 3, let me read something else, which is in the introduction:There are clear and long-standing differences between the employment experiences of the Catholic and the Protestant sections of the community in Northern Ireland. In particular, unemployment rates are significantly higher among Catholics and they hold relatively fewer senior positions.The hon. Member for Upper Bann does not seem to agree with that, from what I heard. The introduction continues:There are many reasons for these differentials which arise from a range of social, geographical and historical influences.In my opinion, they are basically historical influences which arose from the plantation of Northern Ireland when the British had trouble with the Irish and the Scots. Astutely the Government did what they used to do when I was a soldier in India, with the Moslems and the Hindus. No matter whether that is denied, I saw it with my own eyes. The introduction states:The phenomenon of a cycle of disadvantage is an experience common to parts of every industrial society and Northern Ireland is by no means unique in demonstrating that such a cycle can be very difficult to break.I do not agree with that. Northern Ireland is unique because of its history and because of the occupation of Ireland for hundreds of years. The problems sprang from that. Therefore, it is not correct to equate the problems in Northern Ireland with the slump. The slump exists, but superimposed on it are historical reasons for the lawful killing that takes place. The hon. Member for Upper Bann underestimated, or played down, what had happened in the past.
The introduction continues:Higher levels of unemployment are reflected in higher dependency on social security benefits (23.8 per cent. of the population of Northern Ireland, compared with 15 per cent. in Great Britain).There are many reasons for that, and I think we all know them. Some areas are so gravely disadvantaged that many Protestant working-class people are in dire and terrible poverty, and I want them to be helped and given the same rights as everyone else.
The issues with which we are confronted have become more terrible because of the new situation. In Strabane, for instance, largely due to a lack of investment and the slump., 47 per cent. of the people are unemployed. In Derry 30 per cent. are unemployed, and in Foyle and West Belfast the figures are probably even higher. I do not have the figures, but the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) gave me some figures and attributed a great deal of that to lack of investment. Lack of investment is not due only to the 681 present troubles. There has been lack of investment for a long time. Whether or not the trouble was violent, it existed.
As the speeches from the Front Benches have made clear, members of the Catholic community have been disadvantaged in housing, in the voting procedures and in employment. Therefore, the need for investment, of which they have been starved, must be examined. It is mentioned in the document because sectarianism in a particular area leads to an increasing lack of investment in that area.
There are many kinds of sectarianism. We constantly argue about sexual sectarianism, which occurs in many communities. In many areas this side of the water there is sectarianism against trade unions and many employers can sack their entire work force because they belong to a trade union, and can get away with it. An employer in my constituency sacked the whole work force when they went on strike. When religious discrimination is superimposed on discrimination of that nature, the situation becomes desperate and needs desperate remedies.
It is all the more difficult to attempt to achieve fairness in the context of such an appalling situation, because the finest method of achieving no discrimination is to have full employment. The hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) nods in assent, but I must say to him, as he is a Unionist, that, sadly, it was not true until the troubles came about. When there was really high unemployment in Northern Ireland, sectarianism existed and was engaged in by those who led that particular grouping.
We cannot talk sectarianism out of existence. It must be faced, just as in another great country the people are having to face their past and do something about it. Some of the people who have opposed us in the past and who we want to work with us in the future still talk as though nothing ever went wrong and as though someone utterly wicked started doing something bad in 1969 and carried on doing it. We shall get nowhere unless we admit to what went wrong.
The Secretary of State had with him many pamphlets on fair employment. They have all been published since 1973, and there is not the slightest doubt that they were published because of the killing that was going on. The problem was running away with us, and it looks as though it will continue for a long time unless we admit that somthing must be done. Some people believe that if Northern Ireland was governed as it was before 1969 there would be no problem. All that they want to do is to return to the old Stormont and the same old mentality. I do not include the hon. Member for Upper Bann in that. Many of the points that he made were adequate and correct defences of himself, but the much wider group of which he is a part did some of the bad things that happened. A fightback was inevitable.
The last major legislation on the subject was in 1976. We have waited 12 years for the White Paper. Ulster Members of Parliament are in grave danger all the time and my heart goes out to them. I do not know how they face it. Having visited the Province many times, I know that they stand up to it wonderfully. It must be a terrible thing, but they must accept that something went wrong.
In paragraph (e) on page 12 the document deals with the likely impact on inward investment of sectarian 682 discrimination in employment. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will refer to this when he replies. The Prime Minister and other Ministers constantly tell us that we are more prosperous than we have ever been and that things are going well. If we are more prosperous than we have ever been, why in God's name are not more people employed in Britain and in Northern Ireland? Many of the people who are supposedly employed are not employed at all. More than 3 million of them are on training schemes, and all the signs are that real unemployment has decreased very little.
The harsh reality is that much of the prosperity is poured into the pockets of the wealthy, and the poor—including the unemployed in Northern Ireland—are suffering because of the mentality of people who want to get rich quick but who accuse ordinary working people of being greedy if they ask for unemployment benefit, or if they resist being paid unemployment benefit in order to do a day's work. As on the mainland, there are many problems in Northern Ireland, but they are accentuated by its political and historical background. That must be admitted before we can make any progress.
In conclusion—I believe that hon. Members should make short speeches today and I have been aiming at 10 minutes—I believe that the White Paper is welcome. Whatever the weaknesses, they are not terribly important compared with the likely effects of the White Paper and subsequent legislation. I believe that many people in Northern Ireland and over here will agree with me. I hope that the White Paper will produce a bond that will bring us closer together and bring us to the table to talk out our difficulties. The greatest enemy of terrorism is democracy—it cannot flourish where democracy exists. Therefore, it is our collective duty to aspire to that democracy, and there is a great deal of it in the White Paper proposals.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for responding to my appeal to make a short speech.
§ Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)
I agree with the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) that the White Paper is long overdue. The hon. Gentleman followed the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. McCusker), whose speech was welcome and its tone helpful to the debate. I do not believe that there is any point in trying to apportion blame or guilt. We must consider the reality of high unemployment in Northern Ireland and see how best we can address that issue to ensure that, instead of sharing the misery around, we can find the maximum number of opportunities for people from both parts of the divided community. Last year, at the height of a bleak period the hon. Member for Upper Bann provided a gleam of hope with the publication of the task force report. Today his contribution has had a similar effect and helped to make this debate highly constructive.
It is somewhat ironic that this debate has been initiated by this Secretary of State, given that the present Government pride themselves on allowing market forces to let rip. Generally they are opposed to intervention in the market, yet paradoxically they have produced this welcome document today. I was even more surprised when I heard the Secretary of State talk about a commitment to a fair electoral system and describe the virtues of proportional representation for local government, the now 683 defunct Assembly and the European Parliament. I hope that he will extend the logic of his commitment to a fair electoral system and also apply interventionist methods of tackling economic problems to all of the United Kingdom, not just to Northern Ireland.
I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's announcement that Sir Oliver Napier is to be appointed as the new chairman of the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights. It would not be right to pass on without paying tribute to Seamus O'Hara on the remarkable contribution that he has made to Northern Ireland public life. Sir Oliver Napier is a friend and former leader of the alliance party in Northern Ireland and I do not believe that anyone would gainsay the contribution that he has made over many years to breaking down the sectarian barriers in Northern Ireland. I believe that he will be a worthy successor to Seamus O'Hara, and I am sure that the whole House will wish him well.
The Secretary of State spoke about the need to maintain the principle of appointment on merit. I agree, but it must not be used as a way of stymieing fair employment. We shall consider the legislation when it is introduced to ensure that a proper balance is struck. I am sure that it will.
The Secretary of State has said that the Fair Employment Commission must not be seen as a beleaguered organisation simply on one side of the argument or the other. The hon. Member for Upper Bann echoed that. I t is important that fair employment cuts both ways and it must look after the interests of everyone. The commission must be seen to be on the side of fairness and justice.
I am aware of the inevitable problems that terrorism is bound to create regarding any type of employment in Northern Ireland. Difficulty is bound to be caused when someone from Sinn Fein, for instance, presents himself for employment. Yet, I believe that, after security and political questions, fair employment is the single most important issue and, despite the difficulties, the Government are right to introduce the White Paper today.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) said that he would like the code of practice incorporated in primary legislation, but I disagree. There will be considerable differences between big firms which employ thousands and small firms which may employ no more than 10. In those circumstances it may be better to have some degree of flexibility. With the acute problems with security and terrorism in Northern Ireland the commission must have some scope for manoeuvrability. I shall watch carefully, as will others, the Government's full proposals on the code of practice when they are published. We on these Benches would not wish to see them in the primary legislation.
I was surprised to hear the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North call in aid Senator Joseph Kennedy, whose outbursts in Northern Ireland have had more to do with pleasing voters at home than with addressing the problems facing a divided community. I do not accept that the positive discrimination policies adopted in many parts of the United States have been easily, universally or wholeheartedly implemented. We should not see such policies as a panacea. However, I agreed with many of the other comments of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North and am happy to associate myself with the majority of his remarks.
684 I congratulate the Government on bringing forward this initiative. It must be seen in the context of the figures issued by the Department of Economic Development, which show that 116,156 people in Northern Ireland are unemployed—17.1 per cent. of the population. My primary reason for supporting this initiative. which attempts to create equal opportunities, is that it will enhance the north's prospect of attracting new work and investment.
The present image of a sectarian Northern Ireland, where people merely look after their own, drives away potential investors. As the White Paper properly says, no society can afford the waste of talent or the sense of unfairness that such persistent disadvantage entails.
The White Paper's proposals demonstrate a commitment to a new Northern Ireland, marked by equality of opportunity for all. They represent a repudiation of those who wish to turn the clock back to a society of discrimination and one-sided prejudice. The proposals are sufficiently powerful to combat and neutralise the determined attempts by Republican interest groups in America to damage the economy of Northern Ireland through disinvestment by American business men.
The White Paper is the long-awaited answer to those who promote the MacBride principles which sound so enticing to American politicans and business men, yet, in practice, would inflict only further misery on Northern Ireland's long-suffering people. These proposals will inspire confidence in the international community and among the minority in Northern Ireland. The White Paper has teeth that look sharp enough to rip the north free of bigoted practices in the workplace, and I welcome that.
I am glad that the Government are using the public Bill procedure to introduce this legislation. It is good that we have had the chance to debate the White Paper and that an amendable Bill will be introduced. It would have been outrageous if a 90-minute debate had been announced on an unamendable order. That would have left many people extremely angry. As a contrast with the Orders in Council procedure, this has been an extremely useful exercise. It demonstrates how we should conduct more Northern Ireland business. Opportunities for debate across the Chamber, for sophisticated amendments to be moved, and for cross-community co-operation to take place in debating the nuances of legislation add to the texture of Northern Ireland politics. That is extremely welcome. It helps people to come out of tribalistic bunkers and to deal with important political issues.
There are some obvious problems that the House will wish to address, one of which is what the SACHR report described as the chill factor. As the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) mentioned, there will be Roman Catholics who, if offered the chance to work at Harland and Wolff, would be too scared to do so because of the possibilities of retaliation, harassment and intimidation. Clearly, the House cannot legislate for the chill factor, but it will have to take it into account.
Similarly, we must take into account not only discrimination but historical and educational factors. Traditionally, employment in the predominantly orange east has been based on manufacturing, skills and enterprise, unlike in the predominantly Catholic west, which is inevitably more green. We must recognise that, for demographic and historical reasons, there will be major problems to overcome, and the White Paper can only be a starting point.
685 When we look at the education system we see that in the past Roman Catholic schools have undoubtedly concentrated on the arts and humanities while Protestant schools have concentrated primarily on science and engineering. That has led to different employment patterns, and we must take that factor into account. This also requires legislation to be flexible in its operation.
I have some questions about the scheme and I should like to put them to the Minister who is to reply to the debate. My first question is about the employer. If affirmative action is to be one of the Bill's principles, there will have to be some protection for the employer; otherwise he could be accused of discrimination in reverse. Where an employer goes out of his way to employ someone from the minority community or, indeed, a person from the majority community if the Andersonstown example were taken, what will happen to him? Will the legislation protect an employer who goes out of his way to redress some imbalance in his factory?
I should also like to ask about the fair employment support scheme. I am sure that the Minister would agree that at present the financial incentives for encouraging fair employment have been modest. The scheme has been long on sentiment but short on cash. I hope that the Minister will say something about further financial incentives to employers who implement the full spirit of the proposals in the White Paper. Undoubtedly the scheme will increase the burden on employers. There is no escaping that.
Turning now to the position of employees, I welcome the move away from the biased county court appeal system. However, the complexity of the new referral system may be a major disincentive to many employees. I agree entirely with the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) who spoke about the problems facing individual employees who take their employers to the tribunal. He argued that legal aid should be made available just as it would be for cases before industrial tribunals. I hope that the Minister will answer that point because I strongly believe that legal aid should be made available. In the past some trade union help has been available, but in future that will not necessarily be the case with the new tribunals. For that reason, an individual complainant could find himself worse off than before. The cost may prove quite prohibitive and he may not be able to match the professional representation that employers may have. That is an important issue, and I hope that the Government will address it.
The Secretary of State will appoint the tribunal after consultation with the Lord Chief Justice. Will there be any consultation with the political parties in Northern Ireland as well, and what will be the precise make-up of the tribunal? Can the Minister, in his winding-up speech also tell the House about the sensitive issues of security mentioned by the hon. Member for Upper Bann? Will meetings be held in camera, as I think has been the practice in the past? In normal circumstances, will they be open and reportable by the press'?
I welcome the commission's ability to choose its own targets. It should be there primarily to cajole, encourage, persuade and negotiate and it should not necessarily be combative. When it does act, how is the success of the commission to be measured? Will it be on the basis of a 686 dearth or surfeit of prosecutions? At what point will the Commission decide that an employer is not acting in good faith'?
A firm in my constituency, which is a stone's throw from Toxteth, where a riot broke out five years ago, had problems of discrimination of a different kind. I recently visited that factory, after complaints from members of the local black community who said that only three or four people from an ethnic minority were employed there. They were obviously anxious to see an increase in the number of black employees. Whilst I accept the sincerity of that particular employer that it is its intention to recruit more black people in due course, the problem is how long it will be before that happens. The company says that next year it intends to employ more black people if they apply, and that it will take affirmative action to demonstrate its commitment to good race relations. The problem is that that is perhaps a year away.
In the context of similar reactions from Northern Ireland employers, I should like to hear from the Minister what sort of time scale he will be expecting from employers, otherwise "some day never" will be the order of the day. Employers will try to push into the future the need to take on employees from the minority community or even, as in the case mentioned by the hon. Member for Upper Bann, from the majority community.
Surely, also, the commission should be able to refer direct to the High court without going to the tribunal. That would cut through some of the red tape and bureaucracy. It would hit employers who do not implement the scheme more rapidly.
Will the commission have the necessary resources to meet its massive new responsibilities in registering and certifying employers? To whom will the commission be accountable? A great deal of work will be involved and it will need more employees. Clearly, there could be an excessive work load with which to deal. I hope that the Minister will be able to say something about the resources that it will be given.
May I also ask the Minister about the penalties that will be open to the commission if a company refuses to register or where a false claim is made? It may be that the penalties will be insufficient—just £2,000 may be the maximum. If someone has just won a contract or tender for perhaps £200,000 or even £500,000, £2,000 will seem a very small penalty. I hope that the Government will say something about the scale of penalties where an employer has deliberately put in a false claim of certification.
May I also ask about the nature of the questions that will be asked of employees to determine their religious background? Surely, it would be better to ask the direct question, "What is your religious background?" rather than to ask about the primary school that a child attended. I have been heartened to hear the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney), speaking at the Dispatch Box about the Government's objectives of promoting integrated education. I welcome that. I am a patron of the Belfast Trust and, along with many hon. Members on both sides of the House, I believe that we should encourage and give incentives to schools that provide integrated education.
I am told that when the forms are completed, if the child went to an integrated school, the religious background will be listed as "Not known". With the Government's objective of increasing the number of children in integrated education, how will it be possible to 687 determine religious backgrounds and whether or not the policies are working? That will make the monitoring of such a scheme difficult. Other hon. Members have also dealt with the question of monitoring.
I also wish to ask about other minorities. If integrated schools are to be left out of the equation, what will happen to people of neither religion? The hon. Member for Upper Bann suggested that it was not possible to be born in Northern Ireland without being one religion or the other. I suspect that in the vast majority of cases that is true. However, increasingly in the city of Belfast there are people drawn from ethnic minorities. What will happen to them? I hope that the Government will also give that point further consideration.
Anxious as I am to conclude my remarks so that other hon. Members may contribute, I should say that there is no point in simply sacking Protestants in order to employ Catholics. The overriding need is to create a stable atmosphere in which prosperity can develop and investment can occur. A prerequisite for that must be fair employment. Fair employment will make the best use of human resources. It will assist in creating a more united community. It recognises that the status quo is not an option. For those reasons, it would be churlish not to welcome the White Paper. Although we shall scrutinise the Bill when it comes forward, we welcome the debate today.
§ Rev. William McCrea (Mid-Ulster)
A serious issue is before us which has exercised the minds of many of the representatives of the Province and it deserves to be considered seriously.
For about 20 years a massive propaganda campaign has been waged against Northern Ireland in an attempt to discredit every positive aspect of life in the Province. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery), who has left the Chamber, cannot expect me to defend the employment practices of the past or those of the present. My party has never been in government in Northern Ireland. Therefore, my party and I are not in a position to defend anything that went before. For four years I was a chairman of a district council, and during that period no Roman Catholic or Protestant claimed that the council had discriminated against him in employment. The only criteria for a person's employment were merit and whether he was the best person for the job. That should be the principle on which we operate, rather than seeking a bogeyman or a religious tag to put on someone.
My hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Mr. McCusker), in an excellent speech, drew attention to paragraph 1.6 of Cm. 380, which is headed "Religion and disadvantage". Part of the paragraph states:while it is very difficult to quantify its impact, it is clear that it is by no means the sole nor even the main explanation.I thought that the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), would have commented upon that or referred to paragraph 1.7, which reads:While allegations of discrimination against Protestants are less frequently heard, it would be wrong to imagine that it is something which affects only the Catholic section of the community, as a number of cases determined by the Agency indicates.That puts the matter in its proper context. The paragraph refers to a fact which has been forgotten by many speakers in the debate.
688 Discrimination is suffered for reasons other than religion. Given the party and the denomination which I represent, perhaps I know more about discrimination than anyone else. If an applicant for a job writes on the application form that he is a Free Presbyterian, he can be almost 100 per cent. assured that he will not be given the job. I have been discriminated against in providing children with religious education, which is a right that is granted to me by statute. The school concerned has given every denomination except mine the right to carry on religious education in the school. I have to walk the children across the road and take them into my garage to give them religious education. No classroom is provided for me. When I did have access to the school, the headmaster ruled—no doubt this was done to discourage me from entering the school again—that the children must sit on the floor rather than on chairs. When it comes to discrimination and claims of discrimination, I do not need a lecture from anyone. I know the facts. I should be happy for anyone to inquire into the matters which I have mentioned in passing.
Irrespective of whoever has been discriminated against, I shall not defend discrimination. Surely it is the job of the Opposition spokesman, especially when we have a Labour Opposition, to demand more jobs for the Province. Surely that should have been done instead of talking, in effect, of knocking someone out of a job to give it to someone else because of his religion.
I did not hear much emphasis placed on the fact that the best way to avoid discrimination in the Province is for the Government to carry out an extensive programme to provide employment for everyone, or at least practically everyone. The idea that everyone should be employed is not a reality in 1988. However, everyone should he given the right to the possibility of a job, irrespective of who they are.
In 1968 only 27,000 people were unemployed in the Province at a time when there was a charge that there was extreme discrimination. At the moment there are 120,000 people unemployed. In the light of that rise, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North should have argued that the Government should provide employment. He should not have referred to a head count. The hon. Gentleman's speech was devoted to unemployment among the minority. However, the report that we are discussing today establishes that there is no sectarian head count and that there is discrimination affecting Protestants and Roman Catholics.
My hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann stated that only 52 cases of discrimination have been established in 12 years. The old cliché may be applied that if one says something long enough, people will begin to believe it and one believes it oneself. Therefore, everyone else may take up the cause. Some Americans tell us that they are distraught about the employment position in Northern Ireland. We must remember the main fact that unemployment has risen from 27,000 in 1968 to 120,000 today. Many multinational companies have pulled out of Northern Ireland and caused job losses. Now theyhave the cheek to tell us that they will dictate the terms of how jobs will be maintained in the companies that still remain in the Province.
Those are the solemn facts. It was sad to hear the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North stating that there was a threat to British industry. He said that if the Government did not take action American firms, under 689 pressure from Congress, would threaten jobs on the mainland. That is disgraceful. Jobs should not be threatened. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North should realise that threats to jobs are a matter for the trade unionists and that the United States pressure is here to stay and will not go away.
Instead of trying to encourage the Irish caucus to pull out of investing in Northern Ireland, we should seek to bring investment into Northern Ireland. If the Irish caucus is worried about investment in west Belfast, Londonderry and Strabane, it should be aware of the fact that there are opportunities and Government incentives in the form of grants to attract investment to the area. It is easy to talk about this problem, but we must consider the reality to understand why the situation is as it is.
I am not claiming that there has not been discrimination in Northern Ireland. However, we must consider the present position. It is easy to set off on a hobby horse. However, we must recognise that discrimination is not confined to Northern Ireland. We should consider the mainland. I believe that we are opening a can of worms here. If I were a member of the coloured population in Great Britain, I would be interested in this. This is a great bonus.
I have travelled extensively in the United States. Listening to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North, one would think that blacks in the United States lived in a paradise. Those who go to the towns and cities there can immediately find where the blacks live and where the whites live, so the Americans should not pontifcate on something which they have not been able to handle. My plea is that, both in America and on the mainland here, we should give members of ethnic minorities greater consideration. Blacks and others have not been treated properly in employment. We should be open.
I hope that the Government have opened their mind to discrimination of all kinds and that the Opposition will press the Government for an effective and vital extension of what is here proposed to the mainland to ensure that members of the ethnic minorities and others who are under privileged in employment are supported. Northern Ireland Members will be with the Opposition on that.
If the Minister cannot give me an answer today, I should like him to write to me saying when measures concerning discrimination against blacks and other minorities will be taken on the mainland. Discrimination is defined in paragraph 3.12 of the Government's guide to effective practice which says:a person discriminates unfairly on grounds of religious belief or political opinion if on those grounds he or she treats that other person less favourably. Equality of opportunity of employment means equal access to employment opportunities.I have no difficulty in saying that the person who is given employment ought to be the most suitable candidate, chosen on merit, no matter what his or her religious or political affiliations are, and no matter what the religious or political affiliations of the firm might be. My aim, and that of my party, is to achieve equality of emphasis, effort, information and training opportunities for all sections of the community, and employment of the best qualified people available whatever their class or creed.
I have no doubt that the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) is concerned about unemployment. The 690 United States tells us how it will force certain things down our throat or that it will disinvest. A Fair Employment Agency report on the constituency of the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) said that, to all intents and purposes, two firms, Lee Apparel (United Kingdom) Ltd., Londonderry, and Essex International, Londonderry, employed no Londonderry Protestants. I should have thought that the hon. Member for South Down would have mentioned that in his analysis of the whole picture rather than one section of it.
I also would have thought that the hon. Gentleman would mention Daisy Hill hospital, Newry, which is near his constituency. The Fair Employment Agency found that 77 per cent. of all nursing staff in the Newry and Mourne district are Roman Catholic. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would be happy to mention that. Mourne is in his constituency. I know the area well because my wife comes from it. I should have thought that that information would be helpful to the hon. Gentleman and to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North if they wanted to give the full picture. I should also like to know—perhaps the Minister can find out—how many Protestants are employed in Beleek in Enniskillen, and in Tyrone Crystal, and how much Government grant has been given to those firms. Rather than judging whether there is an imbalance, I should be happy to leave it to the Department to tell me the answers. If I have to put my query down for Question Time, I shall be happy to do so.
What about Toome eel fishery? The Minister ought to know about that, because I wrote to the Department some years ago about possible financial improprieties that I wished it to investigate. A substantial sum may be involved. How many Protestants are employed there? I know that there is an equal balance of Catholics and Protestants in the surrounding area. On the one hand, there are Antrim and Ballymena, both largely Protestant areas. Magherafelt is 46 per cent. Protestant and 54 per cent. Nationalist.
§ Rev. William McCrea
I wish to allow other hon. Members to intervene. I am not trying to cut out the hon. Gentleman, but I wish to finish my speech.
I am merely saying that it is not good enough to bandy the name of one firm against that of another. If that is the game, it will be found that the Unionist population employed in the west of the Province will be looking very carefully at the compilation of the work force, and will also demand that the Department takes action.
I sent a dossier to the Fair Employment Agency some years ago, when I was first elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly, asking for an investigation into the Government's employment of nursing and other staff in the Omagh hospitals, in the education and library board for the western area and in the health and social services department in the area. The House will be interested to know that so far no information has been given.
Members of the Democratic Unionist party, and all right-thinking people, will not approve of discrimination, irrespective of who suffers it. That cannot be allowed. I am anxious to ensure that there is fair employment in Northern Ireland, but I want fair employment in the whole of the United Kingdom. We should not simply bandy one statistic against another; the Government should look at
691 the matter as a whole. They are one of the major employers. I should like them to ensure that there is fair employment in my constituency. As the statistics that I gave to the agency show, there is not fair employment for people in my community. Merit must be the basis of future employment in our Province
§ Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)
I thank the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) for finishing early to give me an opportunity to speak. I shall try not to abuse that, by confining my speech to 10 minutes or so.
The hon. Gentleman seemed at times to be trading off more jobs against more institutionalised fairness. I do not believe that they are necessarily exclusive alternatives. A major problem in Northern Ireland is unemployment, and action is needed to mop it up. Other problems may then remain, such as how that employment is distributed and how promotion is organised, so legislation of this nature may need to be extended to other areas and introduced throughout the United Kingdom. The prime question, which we must press, is about the availability of jobs.
I make no apologies for being a non-Irish novice on the subject of unemployment in Northern Ireland. Non-Irish Back Benchers should try their hands at discussing the problems of Northern Ireland because of the desperate situation that exists there, even if in doing so we learn more than we contribute to solving the problems.
On page 28 of the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights' report on fair employment a table shows the problems of the distribution of employment. Obviously, the Catholic community is discriminated against in advancing within employment. Social workers have produced other sets of statistics on gender, race and social class for the est of the United Kingdom, and for Northern Ireland and we would find similar maldistribution there. That shows that deeper forces are at work than specific discrimination for employment. Obviously there is discrimination within employment but wider issues are also involved, such as who is getting what educational opportunity, who is making use of that opportunity, why some people are not making use of it and what their social backgrounds and conditions are. All those introduce bias into the system.
The table also shows that serious problems would exist even if we had a sort of fair weather system in Northern Ireland. Even if there were not serious mass unemployment and all the other problems that go with violence and sectarianism, we would have an issue to tackle. It would be easier to tackle, and this legislation might be the answer to it.
Northern Ireland's economy has been in sharp decline since 1960. As the 1980s have drawn to a close it has fallen even further behind the rest of the United Kingdom. Between 1981 and 1986 the United Kingdom economy grew by more than 15 per cent., albeit unevenly, but in Northern Ireland it increased by only 6 per cent. Although United Kingdom manufacturing output has increased by 10 per cent. since 1985, it has declined in Northern Ireland since 1986. The Government talk about an economic miracle—it seems rather less than a miracle—but it has not had the same impact on Northern Ireland as on the rest of the United Kingdom.
692 Poverty is not confined to Catholic ghettos. In the Protestant lower Shankill area of west Belfast almost two thirds of the population depend on social security for three quarters or more of their income. Half the population come within the Government's definition of poverty. The various Government disguises for the unemployment figures cannot hide the fact that the real unemployment figure is about 60 per cent. Even on Government figures, it is about 33 per cent. The area is blighted by high unemployment, poor housing, a poor environment and limited amenities, all of which have driven many people away, leaving a disproportionately old population.
On page 19 of the report an employment table shows the problems by dividing the male population into Catholics and Protestants. There are horrendous figures for unemployment among Catholics, such as 43.3 per cent. in Cookstown, 35.8 per cent. in Derry and 36.7 per cent, in Dungannon, but there are also terrible figures among the Protestant population, such as 22.7 per cent. in Carrickfergus, 21 per cent. in Moyle and 21.9 per cent. in Strabane. That shows that we cannot begin to tackle the problems in Northern Ireland unless there is a massive infusion of money and public funding rather than the nonsense that we are getting, such as the proposal to privatise provisions in Belfast and to create a situation in which the market has to determine things, rather than our being collectively and socially responsible for what is needed.
In the short time that I have been in the House, on listening to people from Northern Ireland I have been impressed by the fact that four or five different parties, including the Ulster Unionists and the SDLP, are often pressing the Government on similar things when they talk about hospital closures and the need for provisions here and there. There is an obvious social need to be met.
Unless the British Government wish to go down in history as just another British Government who failed to act in time to undermine the material roots of sectarianism and to prevent Belfast being turned into a twin city with Beirut, they must realise that now is the time to regenerate the economy of Northern Ireland through a programme of public investment and job creation, because the only way to ensure fair employment is to get full employment, although we might then need fair employment legislation.
Neither military nor market solutions will make much difference to eradicating deep-seated prejudice. We need a concerted programme of economic, social and political reform involving the demilitarisation of society, the acceptance that direct rule must be replaced by democratic and devolved structures and a Bill of Rights to protect all the citizens of the Province. There is now a slim chance for political progress in the Province, but if it is to have any long-term future it must be based on a thriving economy. The Government's announcement that privatisation is to be added to the Province's problems will not help at all. It will just add to the problems of religious bigotry.
The Government's report states in paragraph 1.5:Unemployment and disadvantage affect Protestants as well as Catholics. For example 1 in 5 Protestant families depends on supplementary benefit and over a quarter are in receipt of housing benefit. However, the most severe disadvantage is undoubtedly concentrated among Catholics.For me, that means that there is the basis for a common struggle by Catholic and Protestant workers for decent living standards, wages and jobs. We should do everything that we can to unite that struggle and see that it is directed
693 at the Government, so that concessions can begin to be made. That can be done effectively only through public investment, but much remains to be done in eradicating inequalities and making it easier for workers, of whatever faith, to find employment.
I do not like the notion of quotas in certain industries, as it would help to reinforce and institutionalise religious and sectarian difference, when, as a Socialist, I believe that class can unite workers in a common fight for a fairer society. None the less, there is much that the Government can and must do to eliminate unlawful discrimination.
I should like to refer to a submission to the Standing Advisory Committee on Human Rights from the Workers' party in Ireland, because that party does not have a voice here, and other voices in Northern Ireland are heard. It shows some of the things that need to be done. I grant that not just the Workers' party makes these suggestions—I have already said that others are pressing the Government to take specific action to provide services.
The Workers' party asks for the provision of adequate transport to and from work and the security of employees to go to and from work. The party suggests that there should be a ban on all religious or political emblems or displays in places of work, to create an environment in which people could not be deemed hostile. It also suggests the sub-contracting of work in industries such as shipbuilding and in areas of high unemployment, which has already been mentioned. The social and economic considerations need to be pushed to the fore in an attempt to create circumstances that will help to solve the problems of Northern Ireland.
If we concentrate on that, people might begin to be drawn together, and the issues that have divided people, and the hard line that has been taken by people on the issue of the border, will begin to be eroded and in time will be seen as nothing. The answers to the problems that exist in Northern Ireland are Socialist answers about working-class unity.
§ 2 pm
§ Ms. Marjorie Mowlam (Redcar)
The Opposition welcome the full and comprehensive debate that we have had on the proposed fair employment legislation. Clearly a multiple audience is listening to the debate. It is clear not only in Westminster, but across the water in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and the United States. Many speeches, especially that of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), have emphasised that there has been ongoing pressure from the United States, particularly from the Irish lobby, about the MacBride principles that has helped to chivvy the Government into producing the White Paper on fair employment. It is important for us to realise that opinion in the United States as well as in Northern Ireland will form the backdrop against which the success of the proposal will be judged.
In summing up, will the Minister address himself to the degree of scepticism in the United States concerning the White Paper. The doubt and scepticism will not go away. It can be well illustrated by a recent editorial in the Chicago Sunday Times which will give the House a taste of the cynicism in the United States. It statesHow would it go over in America if nearly one out of every two young members of a minority group were 694 unemployed? What programs would be demanded to address a minority unemployment rate 2½ times that of the majority? How great would the outrage be if joblessness in some minority communities ranged up to 90 per cent?It continues:The answer is obvious: in the United States, outrage over similarly high unemployment rates among blacks and other minorities has led to the creation of tough affirmative action programs. But in Northern Ireland, where Catholic unemployment is rampant, no affirmative action programs exist or are planned.It closes with the argument:The British will just have to excuse Americans if they do not share the Government's enthusiasm about the new program's prospects for success.To succeed, the Secretary of State and his Ministers will have to overcome those views. If they show the necessary commitment, they will have our full support. If they do not, we will find ourselves reviewing the fair employment legislation as often as we presently review the direct rule legislation.
Many detailed questions have been raised this morning. I should like to emphasise some of them which I hope the Minister will answer when he replies to the debate. The hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Grady) and my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) made detailed and valuable speeches that outlined the extent and amount of discrimination. There were particularly useful references to the PSI surveys that show that work forces on both sides of the sectarian divide will be willing to co-operate in the implementation of the fair employment legislation.
I should like to pick up two points made by the hon. Member for South Down. The first relates to individual complaints and how the proposals will deal with strategic cases and not necessarily with the right of every individual to defend their own cases before the Fair Employment Commission if they so choose. We are concerned about the remarkable silence in the White Paper about remedies for individual grievances. It seems that compensation would normally be made on a monetary basis. Will remedies be made available that will include interim relief to protect the complainant's job pending a hearing? Will the Government consider introducing powers of injunction to order an end to a discriminatory practice and powers for the individual to apply to the High Court for injunctive relief to ensure the implementation of tribunal recommendations? That would resolve some of the matters mentioned by the hon. Member for South Down.
Some hon. Members talked about the need for the Government to set targets to evaluate their success in those areas. We hear much from Conservative Members about value for money, efficiency and the need to evaluate policy, but in this area, where targets could be set to evaluate policy, there is a glaring omission.
The hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) said that we need more cajoling and less bludgeoning by the Government, but that negated the points made by the Secretary of State, who said that for the past 10 years there has been a clear lack of respose to that sort of initiative and that we need more specific proposals. The hon. Gentleman suggested that we need flexibility of timescale. Many Labour Members would consider that to be the equivalent of saying, "Let us do nothing". There is some anxiety that the generalised points made by the hon. Gentleman would not produce the changes that are needed.
§ Ms. Mowlam
I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman because we have all had to cut our speeches to allow everyone to contribute to the debate.
§ Ms. Mowlam
I remind the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. McCusker) that when discussing how statistics can be used and re-analysed we cannot avoid the fact that the two constituencies in Northern Ireland that have the highest unemployment are Foyle and Belfast, West. Of the 217 new factories that have been created in Northern Ireland since the 1960s, only 17 were created west of the Bann. With those statistics, it is difficult to deny the case of the hon. Member for South Down.
We are worried that the advantages of contract compliance will be denied to Northern Ireland by the conditions that are being placed on the Fair Employment Commission to operate contract compliance constructively. Will the Minister tell us about the scope of contract compliance? We want the procedures to be extended to all central Government contracts and to other public sector contracts—as the Minister knows, they account for almost as much as central Government contracts. It is important, because of the history of contracting and subcontracting in Northern Ireland, that any effort to include contract compliance should relate to subcontractors, too. Will the Minister consider giving the commission powers to enforce the law without having to await the outcome of protracted legal action?
As the White Paper says, consideration should be given to the certification of companies. The present certification process is universally regarded as ineffective. However, many Opposition Members and many people in Northern Ireland are worried because the new proposals rely heavily on almost a mechanical return of an annual monitoring report. We welcome the fact that failure to do so will be a statutory offence, but we are seriously worried that the new commission will have to secure a successful prosecution in the ordinary courts before withdrawing a certificate from an employer. We would like the commission to have the right to withdraw certification.
Much concern has been expressed about the nature of the status of the code of practice, which the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) discussed. Even though we differ as to where the code of practice should stand in relation to the rest of the legislation, there is a clear concern that it will merely be used by the FEC to interpret the legislation and that the legislation will not bind the courts to which the FEC will be subject. The courts will be free to depart from the code of practice or decide that something is beyond the powers of the FEC or the Department. We believe that further attention should be paid to the status of the code of practice in relation not only to the rest of the legislation, but to the courts and the powers of the Department.
We agree with much of the underlying analysis provided by the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights. It has acknowledged that, in the past 10 years, changes in employment discrimination have not occurred and that there has not been a major statistical change in employment opportunities for Catholics and Protestants. We have already said that unemployment among Catholics is two and a half times higher than that among Protestants. It is also confirmed, as the Minister 696 acknowledged, that employment discrimination exists as a result not only of inadvertent actions but of deliberate actions and adherence to discriminatory practices.
We are concerned that the White Paper proposals are not specific or forceful enough to respond to SACHR's analysis, on which there is general agreement. If we acknowledge the extent of the discrimination but fail to create the structures and processes to deal with it, we are acting irresponsibly. Many people in Northern Ireland hope that the subsequent legislation will change the discriminatory practices. If we acknowledge the problem but fail to create the structures to respond to it, we are not being honest nor responding constructively to the difficulties faced by the people of Northern Ireland.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North said, we welcome the White Paper, but with noticeable reservations. When evaluating the fair employment legislation presented today, we must decide what we shall measure it against. If we measure it against present legislation, we accept that it is an improvement, but if we measure it against SACHR's report it is clear that there are major flaws in the proposed legislation. We must consider whether the proposed legislation will effect change and rectify present injustices. Unless there is further consideration of the issues that have been raised this morning—contract compliance, the scope and purpose of the remedies, the definition of permitted affirmative action—we are worried that the fair employment proposals will not do what many people hope they will.
I hope that the Government will not lose their nerve and that they will implement the structures and processes which are needed to achieve what is hoped for by the principles underlying the document.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Viggers)
There is not much time to reply to this debate, but I say that without any sense of complaint because I believe that it has been outstandingly helpful that so many hon. Members have been able to contribute. I was pleased that it was possible to call each hon. Member who wished to take part. I mention the time left to me only because, although I may be unable to respond to some of the points made, I shall do my best.
This debate has been outstandingly constructive and useful and a number of significant issues have been raised that merit further consideration by the Government. In any case, there are certain areas in which the detail of policy requires further work and refinement, and that is what White Papers are all about. Today's debate has provided a useful prelude for the range of matters that need to be given further consideration and close study when our proposed legislation on fair employment is presented to Parliament.
In addition to responding to the key issues raised, I should like to emphasise the main points made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in initiating the debate. First, the publication of the recent White Paper, the extensive preparatory initiatives that led up to it and are still continuing, the proposed legislation contained in it and the intention to introduce that legislation at the earliest opportunity testify to the 697 Government's firm and determined commitment to fair employment in Northern Ireland. There is no room for doubt on that score.
Secondly, that commitment is based on the needs of Northern Ireland. History has left us with a legacy of unfairness. The Government are committed to stronger legislation on fair employment because that is the right and fair thing to do—morally, socially and economically.
Thirdly—this point was made forcefully by Members representing the Unionist community of Northern Ireland—the proposal is right for all the people of Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, discrimination can be practised within and against both communities. Economic disadvantage, through the denial of equality of employment opportunity, is not confined to one side of the community, so both have a legitimate interest in ensuring that fair employment is actively and energetically practised throughout the public and private sectors; that it is enforced by Government through appropriate legal action, economic sanctions and supportive educational initiatives; and that it operates on the basis of appointment on merit.
Fourthly, the package of new legal and institutional measures proposed by the Government incorporates all these features. The package is tailored to the particular needs and circumstances of the Province and has been put together in close consultation with all the major interests.
This consultation underlines the general recognition that the religious issue in Northern Ireland is unique, that its fair employment dimension has been legislated for on that basis and that its distinctive features are such that it should continue to be so. Those features are not replicated in Great Britain or in relation to other employment equality dimensions, such as gender and disability, in Northern Ireland. Therefore, there are no grounds for extending our proposed legislation to Great Britain or to other employment equality dimensions.
Religious monitoring is the key to fair employment practice. Only monitoring can supply the basic information necessary to determine whether fair employment is practised. Such practice is recognised as an integral part of good personnel management. In contributing to overall business and efficiency, it enhances the economic and social attractions of the Province to outside investors. The decision to impose on most employers a statutory obligation to monitor recognises those points. It also reflects clearly and unambiguously the Government's firm commitment to the effective practice and not merely the principle of fair employment. It is one of the major issues at the top of the Government's political agenda for Northern Ireland, and it will remain there. We are determined to focus sustained efforts on the issue so that a more equitable and proportionate distribution in employment can be achieved as quickly as possible.
Our present initiatives have already begun the process of change and our proposed new legislation will increase the momentum of progress. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) and others made the point that it was surprising that the Government should produce such legislation, but he went on to praise it, and I thank him for that. I approach this subject with proper diffidence as a natural Conservative and opponent of Government interference. But the facts speak for 698 themselves, and I must say in all sincerity that the option of doing nothing is unacceptable for a concerned Government. We cannot stand aside from this important moral, social and economic issue.
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) asked about legislation before 1976 and went on to answer his own question. There was a small amount of legislation before 1976. That 1976 legislation was preceded by the report of the committee chaired by the former Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office and former Member for Wokingham, Sir William van Straubenzee. It is true that most legislation has been since 1976 and since that report.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) asked me a specific question—yes or no, black or white—about the position of Short Brothers over its prospective contract in the United States. Shorts informed me that it will use its best endeavours to meet the commitment necessary to ensure full equality of opportunity for both sections of the population in Northern Ireland and, in doing so, to secure the prospective order now being negotiated with the United States Government.
It would be premature to ask me to spell out exactly what commitments might in due course be made, because the stage of contract has not been reached and I understand that it will not be reached for some time. I have given exactly the extent of the commitment by Short Brothers. It is fully committed to fair employment and its longstanding co-operation with the Fair Employment Agency is continuing.
§ Mr. Viggers
I prefer not to give way on this point because there is nothing further to say about it. I am not responsible for reports that may not be accurate. However, if the hon. Gentleman insists I shall give way.
§ Mr. McNamara
Normally I would not insist, but legislation containing a specific clause has been passed by the Federal Government. Is the Minister saying that Short Brothers has not given a pre-contract undertaking that it will meet the commitments that I outlined earlier?
§ Mr. Viggers
I have told the House the exact committment of Short Brothers. As I have said, the firm's long standing co-operation with the Fair Employment Agency will continue to promote better employment practices in Short Brothers.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North and the hon. Member for Redcar (Ms. Mowlam), who I am delighted to see on the Opposition Front Bench, spoke about pressure on the Government from the United States and from the MacBride campaign. In 1985 the Government's statistics identified the scale of the difficulty in employment practice. At that time my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, took immediate action. He commissioned an urgent report and ordered publication of the subsequent consultative paper and a revision of the guide to effective practice. As a result of wide local consultations, he decided to introduce further measures, and we are now introducing legislation. There is a straight line of causation from the Government's statistics of 1985 to the legislation that we anticipate will be brought forward later this year.
699 The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North said that we should have taken the MacBride campaigners on board. I think he said that instead of taking those campaigners on board we fought them. We have no quibble at all with the proponents of the MacBride principles in so far as they believe in equality of opportunity and fair employment and more employment in Northern Ireland. The hon. Gentleman knows that some of the proponents of MacBride are perhaps not as well-intentioned towards the present regime in Northern Ireland as we would like.
It would be quite wrong for the Government to abrogate their responsibility to external forces and to throw their weight behind the MacBride campaign. That would be quite unreasonable. It would also be unreasonable to take the campaigners on board because some of the MacBride principles—especially the second principle mentioned by the hon. Gentleman about the protection of employees between their place of work and home—are quite unreasonable and could not be imposed anywhere. It would have been quite wrong for us to yield more than we have to those principles. In so far as we have yielded, I maintain that we have no quibble with them at all about fair employment.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North spoke about the principle of merit which underlies the proposed legislation and the White Paper. He thought that the principle of merit might be a weakness in the White Paper and the legislation. I disagree, because anything other than appointment on merit would be a weakness. It would be unfair; it would simply transfer disadvantage and institutionalise the very discrimination that the Government want to eradicate.
Our definition of merit is broad and includes potential as well as experience. It is designed to open up recruitment opportunities and is fully consistent with affirmative action. Those who argue against appointment on merit must have the courage of their convictions and openly advocate discrimination by quotas. Any other approach is disingenuous.
The point was made that we should allow employers to discriminate by providing training for only part of the community. We do not accept that that would be reasonable. The thrust of our policy is to move away from selection, whether for employment or training, on the basis of religion and to widen opportunities for both communities. To introduce religion-specific training would deny access to training purely on the grounds of religion. That would be divisive in both communities and on the shop floor. It is preferable to allow training to be provided primarily, although not exclusively, for any under-represented group. That training would be open to all and employers who provide it would be protected from charges of indirect discrimination. The religious issue in Northern Ireland attracts unique sensitivities that are not replicated elsewhere. Our proposals reflect that fact.
The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, North said that the appeal mechanism would emasculate enforcement. There are no grounds for that supposition. The work of the commission and of the tribunal is intended to complement each other. In the interests of natural justice, the tribunal must be not only an appellate body but a body with practical experience as well as legal expertise. Issues that arise in directions may not be easily justiciable by an exclusively legal body. It makes sense to have an appellate body that can combine legal expertise and practical 700 experience. Tribunals' work on individual cases will help to inform its appellate role in pattern and practice cases. No employer will lightly contemplate disobedience of an order of the tribunal when it leaves him open to certification to the High court for the exercise of its contempt jurisdiction and possible unlimited fines and/or committal in the event of continued recalcitrance.
I must pass on to points made by other hon. Members as it would not be fair to concentrate entirely on the points made by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North, important as they were. However, he did make a major point about the influence on our thinking of the standing advisory commission and asked about the extent to which the SACHR report had been taken into account and implemented in the White Paper. We calculate that we have, in whole or in part, accepted two thirds of the 123 recommendations in the report, and a number of others are subject to detailed consideration now. As I said, the White Paper is not in final form for legislation and further thought will be given to the matter.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) made a most helpful and constructive speech. I am grateful to him for that. He said that there is, as he described it, more stick than carrot in the White Paper. I put it to him that penalties are necessary to show the Government's total determination to act. It is certainly no wish of ours that penalties should be expected. They must be there to show employers and all concerned that we are not prepared to tolerate backsliding or delay. It is no part of Government policy to fine, punish, deny grants or refuse to accept tenders. We hope that none of those things will be necessary. The Government would not he taken seriously without the penalties being in place.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham also asked about the difference between quotas and goals and timetables. There is a clear difference. We reject the idea that there should be quotas for employment, which would be a percentage for each section of the community, laid down at the centre. We believe that goals and timetables have an important part to play because the FEC will seek to agree with individual companies goals and timetables for them to achieve. We would delegate and entrust the FEC with that role.
My hon. Friend also asked about religious affiliation and monitoring. We believe that the question about schooling provides a clearer and less controversial manner of assessing religious background than the so-called direct question. The direct question, "What is your religion?" has been shown to lead to many different sorts of difficulty and uncertainty in the answers. It appears to us at this stage that the indirect question about primary schools is, for reasons given in the White Paper, the most accurate and best way of dealing with the matter.
My hon. Friend asked also about the assessment of catchment areas, which is important in determining the extent to which an employer is providing equality of opportunity. That involves the consideration of many variable factors. The employer has to make an informed judgment, taking full account of local conditions and consulting, where necessary, the Fair Employment Commission. It is possible normally to make a broad but realistic assessment whether employment and recruitment patterns are markedly out of line with the composition of the catchment area.
§ Mr. Viggers
Considerable further thought will need to be given to these matters, which raise complicated issues.
§ It being half-past Two o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.