HC Deb 18 May 1989 vol 153 cc455-7
Mr. Livingstone

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what recent actions have been undertaken by his Department to challenge the endorsement of the MacBride principles in the United States of America.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Viggers)

The Government's approach to achieving fair employment, set out in the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Bill, is clearly much more appropriate than the MacBride principles, which do nothing to create equality or new job opportunties.

We have therefore taken every opportunity to explain our position in the United States. We are convinced that those who study the subject and wish to assist in the creation of job opportunities and equality of opportunity will recognise the Government's determination and the comprehensive nature of our legislation.

Mr. Livingstone

Is the Minister aware that, following the Government's consistent refusal to give the House the full cost of the campaign against the MacBride principles, the American press now estimates that the Government are spending £15 million per year to defeat MacBride, which works out at £10 per head for every man, woman and child in Northern Ireland and if invested in job creation could create 1,500 new jobs per year? Is it not now counterproductive to carry on with the campaign?

Mr. Viggers

The hon. Gentleman's question would be amusing if the subject were not so serious. It is most irresponsible of him to ask such a question when in answer to a written question from him on 22 July 1988 I said: Since June 1985 to date the overall cost of assistance to individuals to give evidence has been £86,856."[0fficial Report, 22 July 1988; Vol. 137, c. 859.]

Mr. Kilfedder

Is not the truth of the matter that the MacBride principles campaign, which is organised in the United States by people who are in cahoots with the IRA, has effectively denied many jobs in Northern Ireland to Catholics as well as to Protestants? Is the Minister aware that caring people in Northern Ireland, regardless of their political and religious views, thank him for countering this vicious campaign and for doing his best to get jobs for people in Northern Ireland, particularly in the black spots?

Mr. Viggers

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The way ahead is not to browbeat and hassle companies which provide much-needed employment in Northern Ireland, but to promote further investment in jobs within the much tougher law on fair employment that we are now introducing.

Ms. Short

Does not the Minister understand that the MacBride principles are based on the Sullivan principles, which were devised in the United States to try to get American companies to use their influence to extend equal opportunities in South Africa? The alliance of people in the United States who back the MacBride principles includes the trades unions, the black community and the Irish community. It is a lie to suggest that it is some kind of Noraid fund. [Interruption.] It is a simple lie. The object is to put pressure on the British Government to do something about discrimination in Northern Ireland. My view is that the Government acted, however inadequately, largely because of that pressure.

Mr. Viggers

The hon. Lady is quite right when she says that the McBride principles were shaped in America with a view to pressurising American companies. In my experience, though, American companies which employ people in Northern Ireland are very good employers and are fully aware of their responsibilities. If the hon. Lady wants to assist the promotion of jobs and fair employment in Northern Ireland, I recommend that she study very carefully the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Bill which has now emerged from Committee and will shortly be having its Report stage. I assure her that it will go a long way towards promoting fair employment and assisting in the creation of jobs in Northern Ireland.

Mr. McNamara

I am sure that no one in the House would want disinvestment in Northern Ireland nor any curtailment of proper flows of investment. Nevertheless, I am sure that the Minister will agree that investors have a legitimate concern as to the eventual circumstances in which their money is used. Therefore, if an agreed Bill passes through the House does the Minister agree that its enforcement will be vital and that investors will still have a legitimate interest in examining the performances of the firms in which they have placed their money? Does he believe that the Bill provides adequate means for monitoring that?

Mr. Viggers

The hon. Gentleman's contribution to the Bill in Committee has been extremely helpful. I believe that the Bill which has emerged from Committee will be welcomed by good employers as promoting good personnel practice.

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