Amendments made: No. 70, in page 45, line 40 at end insert
'or section 2 of the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act 1989'.
No. 71, in page 47, line 47 leave out
'section 12(2) to (5) and sections' and insert 'sections 12(3),'.
No. 91, in page 48, line 10, leave out from 'subsection (2)' to 'and' in line 11 and insert
'for "an order under section" there is substituted "regulations under section 28 or an order under section 26(9) or".'.
No. 72, in page 48, line 13 at end insert—
'(za) after the definition of "advertisement" there is inserted—
"'affirmative action' has the meaning given by section 55 of the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act 1989;",'.
No. 92, in page 49, line 7, at end insert—
'29. In Article 38(2) of that Order for "court" there is substituted "the Fair Employment Tribunal for Northern Ireland".'.—[Mr. Viggers.]
§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ Mr. Viggers
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
Fair employment is a matter of concern to every individual in Northern Ireland, irrespective of religious affiliation or political opinion. It follows that legislation must be fair to all. It must be objective, balanced and capable of impartial application. We believe that our Bill 1203 meets these criteria. It maintains the centrality of the merit principle at the point of selection, it ensures the freedom of employers to choose the best man or women for the job, it prohibits reverse discrimination and the operation of quotas in employment.
At the same time, the reality is that employment opportunities in the Province must be made available more equitably between the two communities. That is fully justifiable. [Interruption.] We need more jobs and the Government are working hard to attract more.
It is also justifiable on social, economic and political grounds. Denial of equal opportunity in employment deprives individuals not just of one opportunity but of many. Jobs and their remuneration confer status, social mobility and self-esteem. The lack of opportunity to compete for them on an equal basis with others has very damaging repercussions on every individual so deprived. It is personally frustrating, but, worse than that, it wastes talents and abilities that could otherwise be usefully and constructively deployed, not only to the benefit of the individual, but to that of society in general. Therefore, equality in employment opportunity has a strong social justification.
It can also be justified, and just as powerfully, in economic terms. We have often stressed that the promotion of equality of opportunity should be seen, and is best and most effectively delivered, as an integral part of good personnel practice. Employers want freedom of choice to select the best man or woman for the job. It follows that it is in their interests to ensure the widest possible pool of competing applicants. Sound employment procedures are fully consistent with that basic economic objective. They complement systematic and qualitative selection techniques, while leaving the employer free to exercise choice on the basis of ability, aptitude and potential for the job in question.
Politically, it is self-evident that a more equitable distribution of economic opportunities between both communities in the Province will contribute to a greater degree of social cohesion and stability. That, in turn, will help to promote higher levels of mutual respect and appreciation between both communities without any compromise of traditional identities. Strategically, the promotion of equality of opportunity is complementary to the range of broader initiatives that the Government are already undertaking in the community relations field.
These principles are all reflected in the philosophy underlying the Bill. They are, of course, optimistic principles, and we make no apology for that. The Bill offers hope and expectation, but it is also realistic. It recognises that, for that hope and expectation to be fulfilled, both tough legislative provisions and effective implementation are necessary. The Bill is certainly strong. Its compulsory monitoring and review, criminal penalties, and economic sanctions all testify to that.
Our new legislation must now be effectively implemented. That is the next challenge, and good progress is already being made with the help of employers and trade unions.
Voluntary monitoring is gathering considerable momentum within Northern Ireland, with more than 420 private sector companies taking advantage of the Government's fair employment support scheme. Given that scheme's importance in the promotion of monitoring 1204 practices throughout the private sector and the response of employers to it, I am pleased to inform the House that the Government propose to extend it for a further year.
In the public sector, voluntary monitoring is now already under way, or being prepared for introduction, across a broad spectrum of undertakings including the Civil Service, the court service, the Housing Executive and health and education boards. I am encouraged by the fact that employers' organisations such as the Confederation of British Industry, Engineering Employers Federation and Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry and trade unions co-operated with the Government in educational initiatives. The Confederation of British Industry has, in addition, organised seminars for its own members, and the Engineering Employers Federation and the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions recently published a joint declaration of protection for the important engineering sector.
Those are all encouraging and commendable developments. The Government recognise that their continued momentum depends to a considerable extent on the commission and employers working closely and co-operatively together. It also recognises that the commission will wish to operate to the very highest standards of professionalism, impartiality and objectivity; and to do so in a clear and consistent manner. Employers should also feel able to turn to the commission for confidential advice and guidance without the need for formal investigation or scrutiny.
Accordingly, the Government expect the commission not only to draw up and publish its own rules of procedure but consult employers' organisations and other interested parties in doing so.
In our White Paper we committed ourselves to progressive evaluation and formal review. I have already said that I will consult at regular six-monthly intervals with the chairman of the Fair Employment Commission and that the formal review will be undertaken by the central community relations unit. In doing so, it will take the broadest possible approach. Clarification was sought on that point in Committee. I am pleased to provide it. I consider it essential that the unit's views should be closely informed by interested parties outside Government and particularly by those bodies who contributed so constructively and influentially to the framing of the legislation. Accordingly, in reviewing this legislation the unit will seek observations from outside bodies such as the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights, employers' organisations, trade unions, the Equal Opportunities Commission and, of course, the Fair Employment Commission.
As already indicated in Committee, the outcome of the unit's report will be published so that all interested parties are fully informed of the consequential action proposed. That is important, because there is no doubt that in preparing for the new legislation the Government have been greatly assisted by the voluntary initiatives of individual employers, employers' organisations and trade unions. Our thinking has been constructively influenced by the various submissions on fair employment matters received over the last few years not only from such bodies but from the Fair Employment Agency and the Equal Opportunities Commission, various Churches and other interest groups and the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights, in its very influential report.
§ Mr. Viggers
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me, but those matters were debated at length in Committee. The right hon. Gentleman will have another opportunity to raise further points.
The Government are grateful for the enterprise and initiative of all concerned, and they look forward to sustained co-operation between such bodies and the Fair Employment Commission in helping to ensure the effective implementation of the legislation.
The post of chief executive in the commission will shortly be advertised, and in preparation for the transition from agency to commission a group representative of Government and the agency has been set up to make all the necessary plans and arrangements for the transition. Appointments have already been announced of those designated to assume the key roles of chairman of the Fair Employment Commission and of president of the Fair Employment Tribunal. Work is also going forward on the subordinate legislation that will be consequent on the passage of this Bill, and work is also in hand on preparation of the draft code of practice on which there will be subsequent consultation with all interested parties.
§ Mr. Viggers
The hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) had the opportunity on Report to make a number of contributions, and I am sure that he will have another opportunity to speak during this debate. It will be more approprate to deal with further points at the end of my remarks.
I assure the House that, having anticipated the passage of this legislation, the Government are gearing themselves to ensure that the measures are in place and fully effective as soon as possible. I pay tribute to my fellow members of the Standing Committee and to our Chairman, my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Sir G. Shaw). I also express my appreciation for the constructive and positive suggestions made by the official Opposition and by other parties during consideration of the Bill, whether in Committee or on Report. I am sure that the Bill that I now urge the House to approve is sharper and more effective as a result of our deliberations. That is important, given the strong commitment of all parties in the House to the principle of fair employment and its effective implementation in Northern Ireland. I invite the House to approve the Bill.
§ Mr. McNamara
Northern Ireland occupies an unusual position in the United Kingdom, both in terms of its constitutional status and of its attitude to Northern Ireland business within this House. One of the assumptions that has permeated thinking on Northern Ireland is that the normal cut and thrust between Government and Opposition should not apply, summed up in the term bipartisanship.
Underlying that assumption is the belief that it is the Opposition's duty loyally and uncritically to support the Government in their Northern Ireland policies. That view confuses two things. No one should neglect to recognise the difficulties and personal sacrifices involved on the part of those right hon. and hon. Members who serve and have served in Northern Ireland. Ministers are entitled to sympathy and understanding on that score. But to proceed 1206 from that view to the argument that the best interests of Northern Ireland are served by an uncritical approach on the part of the Opposition is a serious error of logic. Even if the Government and Opposition did not have substantial differences about Northern Ireland's long-term future, an uncritical approach would still be inappropriate.
Our experience of progress with the Bill confirms my long-held belief that a constructive and critical perspective on the part of the Opposition is the best policy. The Bill was substantially amended in Committee and on Report, and is now a better Bill than it was when first laid before the House at the end of last year. Given today's undertakings, it will be far better still when it returns from another place. I am certain that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland agree that the Bill has benefited from the long, arduous and tortuous discussions in Committee. I pay tribute to the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who was the only person who sat in his place for the whole of the Committee's proceedings. That was a considerable physical feat, apart from the fact that he had to suffer all of us. We commend him for it.
It is the duty of a responsible Opposition not to keep their views to themselves but to present them as forcefully and as cogently as possible. The improvements made since Second Reading reflect very favourably on the ability of the Secretary of State and the Minister to listen to reason as expressed by right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House. I may say en passant that that quality is in short supply among the other members of the Government. However, the Department's sensible attitude shows the importance that we all attach to the role of human rights, particularly in Northern Ireland, and the need to ensure that the Bill is as proper and correct as it can be.
What is more important about that give and take on both sides is that it helps to demonstrate the validity of reason as a political weapon in the context of Northern Ireland—and that makes a valuable contribution to taking the guns out of Northern Ireland politics. The normal exchange of political ideas is of much greater benefit than an artificial unanimity within the House.
Let us briefly examine the progress that has been made. The Bill has been amended in several important respects. Goals and timetables have been added and provision has been made to change the definition of "employee" by empowering the Government to lower the 16-hour limit by Order in Council. The unacceptable provisions relating to compensation for individuals deemed to be victims of discrimination have been altered to permit more realistic payments. The arrangements concerning monitoring have been amended to make the process less amenable to sabotage. Amendments have been introduced to permit advertising calculated to encourage applications from members of under-represented groups and to improve the administration of the enforcement mechanisms, and to some extent the conflict between affirmative action and discrimination has been tackled.
We have also had assurances today that the Government will be taking action to deal with the weaknesses of the definition of indirect discrimination and some of the conflicts between the Bill and sex discrimination and European legislation. I also understand that employers will be permitted to take 1207 unemployment into account and that the Government consider exclusive recruitment from the job market to be lawful.
I also welcome the Government's decision, in correspondence to me, to introduce procedures to ensure that information supplied to the Department from the commission will be governed by strict rules as to the use to which such information is put. We all welcome today's decision to extend the voluntary monitoring system for another year. I should have liked it to be extended indefinitely as it is an important inducement to employers. The Minister's statement today about the role, work and methods of dealing with the central community relations unit is also important. In short, most of the points which the Secretary of State claimed were mischievous on Second Reading have become orthodoxy on Third Reading.
Until tonight, the matter of affirmative action still had to be satisfactorily resolved. We discussed the issue earlier this evening and there is no point in going into detail now, but the action that the Government intend to take in that regard will remove many of our remaining fears about the effect of the legislation. It is not a question of the Government's integrity or desire; it is a question of the Bill's competence to meet the Government's intentions and desires. The proposals that the Government are thinking of implementing will be extremely important if they are carried through. Therefore, the conflict between clause 51 and the European Community equal treatment directive will also be eliminated.
However, we still have reservations about the Bill. The issue of clause 42 must be tackled. We have discussed some of its difficulties, but the essential element is the unacceptability of including a provision which violates individuals' rights in an arbitrary way, particularly in legislation which is designed to secure and extend human rights.
We do not believe that the Government have adopted the correct approach to contract compliance. By making it difficult to exclude from Government contracts employers who practise discrimination the Government are putting out the wrong signal. Although I appreciate what the Minister said earlier, we would not have fashioned the Bill in that way. However, we welcome the points that the Minister has made and we do not doubt the Government's commitment to equal opportunity.
I regret that the Government have refused to respond to the challenge of the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights report on fair employment, which called upon the Government to set their own goal and timetable for the elimination of the differential rate of Catholic and Protestant unemployment. I understand the difficulty, but, as we had to point out, and as the Government eventually had to accept, goals and timetables are not in themselves affirmative action but are a way of measuring affirmative action. As the Government are such an important employer, it would have been a fine thing, and let us hope that it happens in areas where the Government have considerable influence.
That leads me to the question of political will, which is another wider problem. Northern Ireland desperately needs more employment as well as fair employment. To attract inward investment—a subject close to the hearts of the Secretary of State and of the Minister and on which they have worked very hard; we support them in their endeavours—it is necessary to convince North American investors that equality of opportunity is being provided. In 1208 some ways we do not like the American concern, although we understand it, but it would be foolish not to realise that it exists. Investors have the right, if not the duty, to ensure that their money is employed only or socially acceptable purposes in a socially acceptable environment. Ethical investment is not a purely American phenomenon, as has been shown by its growth in Britain. It is real and should be encouraged. Therefore, I hope that North American friends of Northern Ireland, when looking at this legislation, will turn their attention to its implementation, to seek and encourage investment in firms in which there is investment possibility and fair employment and that the Government have methods of monitoring it and enforcing it with fair remedies which now appear to have real potential as a result of the Bill.
To rectify the historical patterns of inequality which have so disfigured the Province, effective equality of opportunity must be provided in Northern Ireland. That is necessary to assist in the process of establishing a genuinely democratic system in Northern Ireland. The Government must realise that the essential passage of the Bill to the statute book is not the end of the matter; it is a means to an important end. If we were to take that misguided attitude, the effort put into the Bill by the Government and the Opposition would be wasted.
The Government should not leave the matter solely in the hands of the bodies set up by the Bill. They must openly and persistently demonstrate their commitment to equality of opportunity. The Bill now provides a strong, potential legal foundation for an equality of opportunity policy. Much building work remains to be done. We have to monitor the implementation of the policy, for example. The Government must ensure that their own house is in order, given the limited applicability of the Bill to the public sector. They must ensure that their industrial policy, especially with respect to the location of employment, takes on board the concept of equality of opportunity. I hope that the Government are aware of the necessity of following through the legislation if their own noble objectives, which they have laid down for themselves today and in the Bill, are to be achieved.
This is not the Bill that a Labour Government would have introduced. It is not even the Bill we were considering introducing under Standing Order No. 58, if the Government had not amended the Bill. We would have been prepared to introduce a Bill that would have been based more strongly and more specifically on the report of the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights and on the reasonable proposals of the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.
As I have said before, we still have reservations. We continue to hope that some of the defects will be rectified, as we have been promised this evening. Nevertheless, we have been given some idea of the way in which the Government intend to proceed. They have given us firm undertakings about what will happen in the other place, and we have made considerable progress since Second Reading. The Bill is now potentially strong and workable, which was not the case in January. In those circumstances, if the Bill is challenged on Third Reading, I will recommend to my right hon. and hon. Friends that they should in confidence go with the Government into the Lobby tonight.
§ 9.7 pm
§ Mr. Peter Robinson
The final words of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) have come as no surprise to hon. Members, especially those of us who served in Committee. It comes as no surprise that the Labour party are toeing the Government's line this evening. There were two incidents in Committee that persuaded many of us that the Labour party was simply putting up a front and was not intending seriously to challenge the Government on any of their measures. I can recall that, on the second day in Committee, Labour Members, sticking their chests out, tabled an amendment which would have required the Fair Employment Tribunal to be statutorily fair and impartial, and to deal with its business according to a set time schedule.
However, the Minister had only to utter the weakest of assurances and the stiff opposition of the Labour party melted away. Labour Members sought to withdraw their amendment, which would have required the tribunal, by law, to act fairly and impartially and which provided that it could be taken to a judicial review if it did not act in that manner. When I refused Labour Members the right to withdraw their amendment, I watched the sorry spectacle of Labour Members voting against their own amendment —so much for the Labour party's opposition in Committee. As we have seen in this stage of the Bill, that party's opposition to the Bill has disappeared entirely.
The second event that I can recall most closely was when I tabled an amendment in Committee. In passing, I should add that I believe the measure to be so flawed and defective that no amendment would make it a satisfactory piece of legislation. Moreover, having listened to the debates in Committee, I was eventually persuaded to table one amendment which was—
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)
Order. I should be much obliged if the hon. Gentleman would relate his remarks to Third Reading. He is making quite a lot of what took place in Committee, but we are now on Third Reading. I ask him to relate his remarks to the Bill.
§ Mr. Robinson
I hear what you say, Madam Deputy Speaker, and recognise that that is the view by which you should like me to abide.
§ Mr. Robinson
Of course, but all that I am doing is what others have done before me, which is to paint a backcloth against which we can consider this Third Reading. I am sure that no one would seek to deny me rights that others have enjoyed before me.
I was concluding my reference to the amendment that sought to establish that the Fair Employment Commission itself, which the legislation establishes, should be bound by law to abide by the very regulations that it would seek to force employers in Northern Ireland to accept. However, in Committee both Government and Opposition Members voted against that proposition. I cannot understand how people who really want to ensure that there is fair employment in Northern Ireland could find it offensive that a body that is to carry through fair employment principles in the Province should not be bound by the same 1210 strictures that it would seek to have regulated in Northern Ireland. However, the Government and the weak Labour Opposition did not decide to go down that road.
Of necessity I must advise the House, lest its view is believed, that much of the argument of the Labour party is that discrimination is essentially against one section of the community. I do not see it that way. Indeed, that is not the history of Northern Ireland. Discrimination that any hon. Member would find offensive occurs in both sections of the community, but happily it does not occur to the degree that a debate such as this might suggest and it is not as rampant and as widespread as this measure might suggest.
Protestants are discriminated against just as much as Roman Catholics have been discriminated against. It does no good if people pretend that there has not been any discrimination in Northern Ireland. All hon. Members should want to end discrimination in Northern Ireland. Indeed, there is no difference in the House on that.
During the Bill's passage through Committee and the House a number of reports have been issued that suggested that discrimination is still taking place. I can recall that, much to the embarrassment of the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady), the council in his area was found to have an imbalance in its work force that favoured the Roman Catholic section of the community and discriminated against the Protestant community. Indeed, Protestants were again discriminated against in Strabane, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) and, much to the embarrassment of the Minister and of Mr. Bob Cooper, the Fair Employment Agency itself had to confess that it was discriminating against Protestants—although I am sure that those are not quite the words that it used in its admission.
Discrimination does take place, and it is not confined to one section of the community. The question therefore is what we do to eliminate or at least to reduce it. The Government had a choice. They could have brought forward a measure with a stick-and-carrot approach, with heavy penalties for those found to have discriminated, and encouragements to employers to ensure that they advertised in such a way as to allow all sections of the community access to interviews for employment, and that they used the recruitment procedures of the various schools in the Province. That is the approach that I would have favoured.
I said in earlier debates that I would have been happier to see even bigger penalties than the Bill recommends, provided they were to be used against those who discriminated and we did not have what the Government call affirmative action, which is, in effect, reverse discrimination. Earlier, the Minister said that they would prohibit reverse discrimination and the use of quotas. The truth is that the Government have encouraged reverse discrimination. Through goals and timetables, they have set up a system of quotas. I was about to say that it is the thin end of the wedge, but quotas and reverse discrimination are well up the wedge.
The Government are giving a clear signal to employers in Northern Ireland that, if their books do not balance as to the ratio between Protestants and Roman Catholic employees, they will have to make them balance, whatever has to be sacrificed. If employers have to sacrifice the merit principle, so be it. The clear message from the Government is that employers should have the right balance.
1211 The Protestant community feels that the Government do not want the right balance Provincewide but only in certain parts of the Province. The Fair Employment Agency is not as concerned when it finds an imbalance which favours the Roman Catholic section of the community. I and others have gone to the Fair Employment Agency to ask for reports on various employers. If the discrimination is believed to be against Protestants, the same enthusiasm has not been evident in the agency. It was because of the lack of trust, faith and confidence in the Fair Employment Agency that I felt it essential that it should be bound by the same measures as it was seeking to impose upon others in relation to employment practices.
§ Mr. Robinson
Yes. In many ways the Fair Employment Agency was seen by the Protestant community to be touting for business from one section of the community. It is in the interest of the Government that all sections of the community should have confidence in fair employment procedures in Northern Ireland. They will not get that confidence if they refuse to make the Fair Employment Commission and the tribunal answerable to the same regulations that they are imposing upon employers.
The other essential point is that the public must have confidence in those who are in control of the Fair Employment Commission. People have no confidence in Bob Cooper, because they know his background. They know that he is a political animal and a political reject; they know where he stood before. They have seen how he acted in his role as chairman of the Fair Employment Agency, and they have no confidence in him because of that. By making that man chairman of the new Fair Employment Commission, the Minister could not get the commission off to a worse start. Whatever pressures were applied to the Minister, he made a bad choice that will damage the working of the legislation.
The legislation will not be used just by the hon. Member for South Down. I have seen enough over the last few years as an elected representative to know that I will use the legislation on behalf of my constituents, just as the hon. Gentleman will use it on behalf of his.
§ Rev. William McCrea
Will my hon. Friend seek an assurance from the Minister that, when matters are referred to the agency, there will be a proper investigation into discrimination against Protestants? Until now, it has been absolutely impossible to do so.
§ Mr. Robinson
The Minister will have heard my hon. Friend's plea, and he will have an opportunity to respond to it. If the legislation had required the tribunal to act in a fair, balanced and impartial way, other legal measures would have been available. As the legislation stands, the tribunal can pick and choose and decide for itself. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) is shaking his head. We will see what happens.
§ Mr. McNamara
The hon. Gentleman will recall that, in Committee, the Minister gave an undertaking, and has 1212 since introduced an amendment, to enable any individual to apply to the commission, thereby placing an obligation on the commission to give correct and proper advice to the individual.
§ Mr. Robinson
Any individual could go along to the Fair Employment Agency today and get advice. Practice will show whether people get a fair deal from the Fair Employment Commission. As the person who has failed the community is part of the leadership of the Fair Employment Commission, the community and I have little confidence that they will get a fair deal from it.
In Committee, I started by not believing that the measure could be redeemed. I have seen the proceedings in Committee and the close relationship between the Labour party and the Government in the House this evening. However, there is no doubt that the measure—all hon. Members knew that it could probably have been sent by post—will become law. It will not do the job, if the job is to get fair employment in Northern Ireland. I fancy that the job is something else and that the Government did not do what they knew was right or best in fair employment. The Government did what was demanded of them in the Anglo-Irish Conference by their partners in the Republic of Ireland. Their own documentation shows that this measure was pressed through the intergovernmental conference. It is the product of Dublin rule in Northern Ireland. No wonder it is militating against the Province and the community in Ulster. I hope that people will see it for what it is.
§ Mr. Ashdown
One of the depressing aspects of dealing with Northern Ireland, either its politics, studying it, living in it or, from time to time, having to do such things as keeping the peace in it, is that, again and again, one is visited by the same old sad, sour predictability that hon. Members have heard in the speech by the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson). Not a word of it would have been of surprise to anybody who has studied or lived in Northern Ireland for the past 20 or 30 years.
I was brought up in the north of Ireland. I hope that I do not stray from the Bill, but this matter has a bearing on discrimination. I was brought up as the child of a Protestant Northern Irish mother and a Catholic southern Irish father. I was brought up in Comber. I remember, as a boy aged 13 or 14, walking the streets of Belfast and being absolutely certain that, coming at us like a dark spectre, was the evil of upsurge, rebellion and disruption as a result of the discrimination, deprivation and poverty that I saw visited against a section of that society. Again and again, we are now blighted—cursed—in Ireland by a group of people who remember everything dating back to the battle of the Boyne but have learnt absolutely nothing.
I welcome this legislation. I do not pretend that it will be perfect. It will not be, and there will be imperfections. Hon. Gentlemen who wish it evil from the start will no doubt be able to pick out strange rulings and so on, but the key question is whether the measure will add to the sum of fairness and justice in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Ashdown
For the population as a whole. Will it be an instrument to bring peace, reconciliation and some ordinary common form of living our ordinary lives? It will not achieve that by itself, but we must ask whether it will 1213 add to the instruments that are available to us to produce that kind of society. Those who have sought to block it all the way down the track are only seeking to plunge back into a system which has blighted a great people and a great Province with a great capacity to contribute.
I support the Bill. In many ways it lived up in Committee to all the hopes I had of it when I spoke and voted for it on Second Reading. At that time the Labour party decided to vote against it, and while I believe that its judgment was wrong, I wish at this stage to pay tribute to Labour Members. I also pay tribute to the Minister because he and the Government generally have shown great wisdom in the way in which they were prepared to accommodate the two matters that were brought before them. I pay tribute to Labour Members for the work they did in introducing, arguing and getting some amendments accepted. While I am paying tribute, I do as the Minister did and pay tribute to others who have been involved in the framing of the legislation, those outside the House such as SACHR and others who gave advice.
I strongly dissent from the miserable, blighted and mean words of the hon. Member for Belfast, East about Bob Cooper. I accept that Bob Cooper would not be welcome to everybody. Any person who stands up to the kind of evil and bigotry to be found in Northern Ireland will make some enemies somewhere. One cannot win new liberties and new justice in Northern Ireland in the face of what one experiences in that unhappy Province without making some enemies. But Bob Cooper's contribution, in his previous political life in the Alliance party and through his previous appointment, has been great, including his contribution to the Bill. I greet with great warmth the fact that he has been appointed to be head of the commission.
I said that in any legislation such as this there would be some imperfections. I agree with the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara). This is not necessarily the legislation that I would have brought forward. But in body and in sum, this is legislation the credit of which is worth more than its debits.
If I were to pick out two areas of the measure about which I remain unhappy, one would be in respect of legal aid which will not now be available. The FEC will be made into something like a case work organisation, offering advice to those who seek it about whether their proposals are trivial or worth putting forward. Let us imagine that the FEC says to a Protestant or a Catholic, "You have a good case. You should be taking it forward." I dare say that many of the poor in Northern Ireland will say, "But I do not have the financial means to take it forward." That is bound to create bitterness and dissatisfaction. For want of a ha'porth of tar—because it would not cost much—the Government have taken a decision which will, I fear, undermine the effectiveness of the Bill.
Secondly, the Minister will realise that there is still some confusion over the case of the ecumenical and religious organisations and charitable organisations in respect of the way in which the Bill will apply to them. I understand that legal advice has been taken by organisations that, naturally, would wish to employ people who were religiously sympathetic to the views of the charity or ecumenical organisation. It would be helpful if the Minister would announce that he will be issuing guidelines 1214 to clarify their position, for I feel sure that it is not the intention of the Government to include those sort of organisations within the precise legal ambit of the Bill.
Of course the Bill will not be perfect. No Bill dealing with the difficult matter of intervening, on the one hand, in the free market, and, on the other, in the freedom of the individual will always be able to strike a perfect solution, but that is not the question before us. The question is whether, in sum, the Bill well help to alleviate some of the problems of discrimination that have occurred on both sides. I accept the point of the hon. Member for Belfast, East. Although I believe that, if we were to ask him where the weight of discrimination has lain, if he were to speak to himself honestly, he would know the answer, as I would.
I believe that in sum the Bill is a decent measure which should be given a fair wind. It has been improved, because of the work done both in and outside of politics in the Committee stage. I am glad and proud that I voted for it on Second Reading, and, with all its imperfections—there are not many but there are some—I shall vote in favour of it for the same reason tonight.
§ Mr. McGrady
This is a unique occasion for the community of Northern Ireland, because it is the third, and I hope last, requirement of what was the civil rights campaign some 20-odd years ago. The three prongs of that campaign were: one man, one vote; a house on need; and a job on merit. The Bill before us is not the Bill it was when it started out. On Second Reading, I was extremely critical of it, and I laid down the benchmarks by which my party would measure the success or failure of the Government to provide a meaningful piece of legislation whose intent was the eradication of discrimination in Northern Ireland.
In listening to some hon. Members, I was reminded of an old saying from my part of the country—that one cannot hide behind a bush and shake it at the same time. We have heard hon. Members say that discrimination does not exist, and then the same hon. Members have given examples of where discrimination does exist. I want to put clearly on record—as I did in Committee—that I and my party are completely opposed to discrimination from whatever source and upon whomever it is visited. It is unjust, it is wrong and it cannot be countenanced, no matter where it may originate or who suffers it.
As a Member new to a Committee considering such a Bill, I found it an eye opener. The Bill was complex and contained many phrases which were emotive and required great interpretation. I must endorse what other hon. Members have said—that the Minister and, presumably, his Department had an open ear to the arguments and debates in Committee. The Minister did not always respond in the way in which one would have wished, but there was a strong indication—we now have the proof—that the Minister often took on board the arguments and the suggestions in Committee. I record my party's appreciation of the Minister's attitude to the Bill.
One of our great worries at the start was that we would have a repetition of the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act 1976, which was a pious hope that by persuasion and gentle coaxing the dramatic sectarian affliction of Northern Ireland, in terms of jobs, could be eradicated. I believe that, with the changes in the Bill on 1215 affirmative action, goals and timetables, substantial progress has been made to make it an effective weapon against that injustice.
As the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) has shown, the Bill has a certain weakness. The Minister gave me an assurance in Committee that he would table an amendment that would enable individuals to have more meaningful assistance from the Fair Employment Commission. That hope has not been fulfilled, because the individual has only been promised advice.
I hope that the Fair Employment Commission in the other paragraphs of that section will be liberal in its interpretation, so that the case of an individual may be considered as a "policy matter", or of a "substantive nature", which would enable the commission to take that case—not at the individual's expense—to the tribunal. We are grateful that the Fair Employment Commission will be consulted before the code of practice is published and that the compensatory sums are more substantial than they originally were.
There are, however, a number of disappointments about the Bill. We have already spoken about section 42 orders and national security, which I believe are causing sectarian injustice in terms of jobs. I shall not pursue that argument, however, because we have already discussed it.
We fail to convince the Minister that, under clause 27, firms with fewer than 250 employees should be subject to annual monitoring. The economy of Northern Ireland is largely based on the small employer and the vast majority of its work force are employed in places with fewer than 250 employees. Those firms will escape such monitoring.
I am also disappointed about the 16-hour rule on short-term or casual employment. Because of the numerous economic problems of Northern Ireland, many people take on part-time employment, but they will not be covered by the Bill. Unfortunately, those people are generally the least well-off and the lowest-paid in our society. With the endemic unemployment of Northern Ireland, employment prospects are limited, so such part-time jobs are greatly sought after. I asked the Minister to consider reducing the 16-hour rule to 12 hours if experience proved that the present rule was defective. The Minister either did not hear my question or chose not to respond, but I hope that he will refer to it later on.
The other grave area of concern relates to contract compliance. I do not mean contract compliance in the sense referred to by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), but the withholding of Government grants and aids from firms which are found guilty of operating discriminatory practices. The clause of the Bill relating to this is purely permissive; it says that the Government "may" withhold grants from the offending employer or firm.
I find it almost inconceivable—I hope that the Minister shares my disbelief—that the Government would pay grants or monetary benefits to firms found guilty of discrimination. Although the Minister rejected my attempt to make the permissiveness mandatory, in the circumstances I hope that public funds will not be used to perpetuate discriminatory employment practices. Allied to the general contract compliance provisions, such funding is a matter of great concern to me.
The Bill can he applied across the board. Hon. Members representing the Democratic Unionist party have suggested that its application will be one-sided. I cannot see how or why it should be one-sided, because the 1216 legislation is obviously available to everyone who wishes to take it up. I certainly support the concept that, whether it be Catholic or Protestant discrimination, it is equally reprehensible and should be equally amenable to the law which we hope will be passed under this Bill. I have never made any secret of that.
I do not want to pick out examples, but one was thrown at me tonight, which it was alleged embarrassed me in Committee, about the Newry and Mourne district council. To set the record straight, the Fair Employment Agency did not find Newry and Mourne guilty of discrimination. It found that it had not discriminated in appointments but it did say there was an imbalance and that therefore it should be more attentive to promoting an outreach programme which would encourage members of the under-represented community to apply for jobs.
This is an area that has been called bandit country, and there is a concept abroad that it is dangerous for Protestants to work there. This is nonsense, but it is the concept that is promoted. Therefore, it is not surprising that there is a lack of response to advertising.
We are at a stage now at which the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. It is up to the Government, when the Bill goes through—we shall certainly be voting for the Bill in its present form, although we have some reservations about weaknesses in it and some caveats to enter about some of its provisions—to make this legislation meaningful in Northern Ireland. That means that they have to devote appropriate resources, in both finance and manpower, to the Fair Employment Tribunal to enable it to do the work more speedily perhaps than, according to criticism, the Fair Employment Agency has done in the past. It is up to the Government also to give a lead from their own departmental employment resources and show the way forward to proper recruitment, employment and promotional prospects. Great strides have been made, but many areas have yet to be properly looked at and adjusted.
When the Minister opened the debate, he mentioned a series of bodies, state and semi-state, which are to be engaged in voluntary monitoring. My ear may not have caught it, but it seems to me that one area which he did not mention—and it causes me great concern that it has not been addressed—is the whole area of local government in Northern Ireland, in both its district council and its area board sense. I hope that the Minister will say whether I am wrong about this and did not pick him up correctly or whether, indeed, none of the health area or education area boards or the 26 district councils has yet tried to engage in voluntary monitoring, as have the 400-odd firms in the private sector, which is very welcome.
I echo the sentiment of other hon. Members that, at the end of the day, the great problem, after solving that of the injustice of discrimination, is to try to provide jobs for everybody in Northern Ireland. I like to think that the Bill will not discourage investment from abroad, but will be an encouragement, showing that there is an earnest endeavour to create a fair and just society in which remedies for injustice can be obtained.
I do not fear that, as the hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) suggested, this will scare off firms across the Atlantic. My experience, little though it be, is that firms across the Atlantic are used to much more severe penalties for discrimination against ethnic minorities than those contained in the proposed legislation. American firms are well used to the necessity to monitor, and even provide quotas for, ethnic groups, and do not see anything wrong 1217 with that, for some peculiar reason. Therefore, there would be no problem with investment from America coming to Northern Ireland. Hopefully, it will be a source of new investment.
The crux of the matter is to provide jobs for as many people as possible in Northern Ireland. I hope that the legislation, rather than preventing them, will enable firms to come to Northern Ireland confident in the knowledge that the discrimination problem, which is so widely known abroad, has been addressed and is in the process of being eliminated. That will give firms the confidence to come forward to set up their new investment and job creation ventures in Northern Ireland.
I compliment the Minister once again on having a mind open to argument and persuasion, and for tabling many amendments which will make the Bill much more meaningful than it was on Second Reading.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
It is quite evident that the opinion exists in this House that discrimination is limited to discrimination against Roman Catholics. The leader of the Democrats became heated about the sad, dark wave of hatred that he experienced as a child. If that was so, why is the worst housing in Belfast not in the Falls road, but in Sandy row?
A leading Member of the House who was appointed to the Northern Ireland Office and who is now chairman of the Labour Party organisation in the House said to me when he came to Northern Ireland, "I have got my eyes open and here in this citadel of Protestantism, Sandy row, you have the worst and most deplorable houses in the whole of Northern Ireland".
Therefore, it is absolutely wrong to paint a picture showing the Protestants as the ones who have everything and the Roman Catholics who have nothing. I remember being at a press conference in Los Angeles where that view was put to me, and I asked the simple question, "How can you run a successful rents and rates strike if you don't have property?" There was no answer to that.
There was, has been, and may even continue to be discrimination between both sections of the community. The hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) finished his speech with the point that across the world it was viewed that there was discrimination, but that at long last it was being put right. Across the world the picture is painted that Protestants discriminate against the Roman Catholics, and that is it.
It is interesting that during the past few days the United Nations has produced a document saying that there is more discrimination against minorities in the Irish Republic than in any other country that it had studied. We have only to look at the population in the South. There was a time when the Protestants comprised 10 per cent. of the population, but now they form only 3 per cent. We are told that in a few years there will be such a breeding of Roman Catholics that Protestants will be in a minority in the North. I always remind people that Protestants also breed, so that will not happen.
The legislation going through the House tonight makes an employer not merely an employer but a snooper who looks into the religion, the recreation and the schooling of 1218 those whom he employs. The Big Brother approach advocated in the Bill will not be at all healthy; that is what the opposition to the Bill is all about.
It is regrettable that people with legitimate cases cannot be helped to fight them, although they are entitled to the money that they need to do so. Under the old system, a member of my Church who was discriminated against received the largest settlement that the Fair Employment Agency was able to obtain. And the Government say that Protestants are not discriminated against.
Mr. Bob Cooper has been praised to the heights for the work he has done. I once obtained a document which showed that a certain contractor was obtaining all the work commissioned by a certain Government Department—and he employed only Roman Catholics. I took the document to the Fair Employment Agency and showed it to Mr. Cooper personally. I said, "Bob, I want that investigated." Then I went home.
I had hardly crossed the doorstep when the police arrived. They asked me where I had obtained the document. I said, "That is my business. What did Mr. Cooper do?" The police said that he had called them in immediately. He had said, "This document must have been stolen. I want you to go and put pressure on Ian Paisley." I told the House about it at the time.
I referred the police to Mr. Speaker. I said, "If Mr. Speaker requests me to hand over the document, the police will get it." Needless to say, Mr. Speaker said that what I had received, given my parliamentary standing, I was entitled to use to the best advantage of my constituents; and there it stopped.
What faith could I have in the head of the Fair Employment Agency, who was brought evidence and immediately referred it to the police? And we are told about fair employment. Mr. Cooper is known throughout Northern Ireland as someone in whom Protestants will not put their trust; nor, indeed, will many Roman Catholics. For some time an organisation opposing him was run by Roman Catholics who had no faith in what he was doing.
The Bill will take us back to a time when people in Northern Ireland had no faith in the organisations. The Minister has told us that he will ensure that all cases are investigated. Well, we shall see. I trust that, when the public representatives knock at the door of a firm to find the evidence gone and an investigation is requested, a proper investigation will take place with immediate publication of the results.
§ Rev. William McCrea
Does my hon. Friend not find it strange that when members of investigating bodies are appointed there seems to be a continual leaning towards a particular political party? Is it not odd that the Minister can only find members of the Alliance party to appoint? Is that why the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) seems to have such a tremendous relationship with Mr. Bob Cooper—because he happens to be a member of the Alliance party?
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
Under the review that we heard so much about today, Dublin will have a say in who will be appointed. Not only that, but the review says that the little power that the local councils have now will have to be clipped as well so the majority section of the community will have very little representation. We will see who is appointed.
1219 It is interesting that we have had a lot of talk about the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights. Why is it that there is no nomination for that commission of an Official Unionist—the majority party in Northern Ireland? Why is that there is no nomination from the Democratic Unionist party? Why is it that there are no members of the Alliance party?
The Minister has to face up to those issues. Public bodies should cover the spread of the community. Of course there will be various views put by the Unionists on that point, but perhaps that will be helpful.
I do not agree with all that is said by SACHR, but it says a lot of good things and it does not always side with the Government. Let us have fair appointments. If we do, some confidence can be instilled into the Community. I hope that the people of Northern Ireland will take courage from the fact that the Opposition Front Bench and the Government Front Bench are saying, "This is for you." The Protestant employees must study it, and use it well and wisely. Perhaps then we will see whether there is fairness from the Government and those who have said that they want fairness for both communities.
§ Mr. William Ross
The hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) picked up some remarks made by the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) and accused him of being willing to pick out cases to illustrate his point; he described them as trying to caricature the real position. I had always thought that one of the outstanding characteristics of a caricature was that one recognised the individual portrayed. Had the hon. Gentleman thought of that point, he would not have been so anxious to use that analogy, because the caricature that is created in the minds of people about cases that are picked out reveals the reality of the situation.
When I first came to this House, a very old long-standing Member said, "Whenever the two Front Benches are in agreement"—the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) has made it perfectly plain that there is an enormous amount of bipartisanship between the two Front Benches—"watch out; it is bound to be wrong." It was true then, and it is true today, and it was never more true than it is over this Bill.
The Government do not like to hear this. One of the things that has made me particularly sad today is the fact that the Minister thinks he has done a good job. God help him, and God help Ulster, which has to put up with the consequences of the legislation which the House will undoubtedly pass into effect this evening.
Moving the Third Reading, the Minister described the Bill as fair, objective and balanced. It was so balanced that, from the moment the Bill appeared, there has been no concession whatsoever to the Unionist point of view. It has been ignored. In fact, I was interested in the treatment given to the questions that have been put time after time today. We saw a galactic black hole in operation on the Government Front Bench. Things went into it, but nothing came out, or at least nothing that was of any use in explaining the effects of the Bill.
It has been an interesting but sad day. If the Minister stays in the Northern Ireland Office, he will live to regret the day that he, with the help of the Opposition, piloted this legislation through the House. It has come to the 1220 House for its final stages just before we rise for a recess and, unfortunately, few hon. Members have taken an interest. I wish more had done so. If they had, perhaps some—
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ The House divided: Ayes 85, Noes 20.
|Division No. 219]||[10.00 pm|
|Amess, David||Howells, Geraint|
|Amos, Alan||Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)|
|Arbuthnot, James||Irvine, Michael|
|Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)||Jack, Michael|
|Ashby, David||King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)|
|Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy||Kirkwood, Archy|
|Atkinson, David||Knapman, Roger|
|Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)||Knight, Greg (Derby North)|
|Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)||Lawrence, Ivan|
|Beith, A. J.||Lightbown, David|
|Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard||Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)|
|Bright, Graham||Lord, Michael|
|Brooke, Rt Hon Peter||Lyell, Sir Nicholas|
|Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)||MacGregor, Rt Hon John|
|Burns, Simon||Maclean, David|
|Butterfill, John||Martin, David (Portsmouth S)|
|Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)||Maude, Hon Francis|
|Carrington, Matthew||Mawhinney, Dr Brian|
|Chapman, Sydney||Moynihan, Hon Colin|
|Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)||Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)|
|Coombs, Simon (Swindon)||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Cope, Rt Hon John||Stern, Michael|
|Cran, James||Stevens, Lewis|
|Davis, David (Boothferry)||Stradling Thomas, Sir John|
|Devlin, Tim||Summerson, Hugo|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Taylor, Ian (Esher)|
|Dover, Den||Taylor, John M (Solihull)|
|Durant, Tony||Taylor, Matthew (Truro)|
|Dykes, Hugh||Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)|
|Favell, Tony||Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)|
|Fishburn, John Dudley||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Forman, Nigel||Viggers, Peter|
|Forth, Eric||Waddington, Rt Hon David|
|Freeman, Roger||Walden, George|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||Waller, Gary|
|Gow, Ian||Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)|
|Greenway, John (Ryedale)||Wells, Bowen|
|Gregory, Conal||Winterton, Mrs Ann|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Hague, William||Wood, Timothy|
|Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)|
|Harris, David||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Hayward, Robert||Mr. Tom Sackville and|
|Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)||Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory.|
|Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)|
|Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)||Molyneaux, Rt Hon James|
|Beggs, Roy||Mowlam, Marjorie|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Pike, Peter L.|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Powell, Ray (Ogmore)|
|Dixon, Don||Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)|
|Field, Frank (Birkenhead)||Ross, William (Londonderry E)|
|Haynes, Frank||Skinner, Dennis|
|Ingram, Adam||Wareing, Robert N.|
|McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)||Tellers for the Noes:|
|McNamara, Kevin||Rev. Ian Paisley and|
|Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)||Rev. William McCrea.|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ Question again proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.1221
§ Mr. Ross
Sadly, some right hon. and hon. Members have voted on a subject about which they know little, and they show even less desire to learn because they are never present in the Chamber to listen. If they were, they might know more about the issues on which they vote. However, that would lead them to oppose the Government, which would not be liked very much either. It is in the interests of the Government Whips, as well as my own, that they leave the Chamber as soon as possible.
In Committee, the question was raised of persons employed by charitable bodies and by churches. It was pointed out that they should fall outside the terms of the Bill because such posts require a certain commitment from the people who fill them. The example given concerned a religious commitment. The Minister's reply on that occasion showed that he did not have a clue as to what is meant by a religious commitment in Northern Ireland terms, thus confirming—as he has done time and again during the passage of the Bill—that he did not have a clue about the situation in Northern Ireland and that it is beyond his comprehension.
I find the Bill offensive. I remarked earlier that it is offensive to work people, who dislike being asked about their religious affiliations. It is insulting also to the ability, integrity and intelligence of employers, because it implies that they recruit people on the basis of the religion to which they belong. It may be that an employer can draw many high-quality workers for a large establishment from one religious community. The probability is that he could not do that, and therefore the legislation is accusing employers of employing people of lesser competence. If that is the case, they will not be in business for very long. Every business man and every employer is looking for the best quality employees that he can find, but he will not be allowed to do that under the Bill.
The Bill will turn employers into pernicious snooping policemen. It will find out whether an employer believes that he is providing equal employment, and it will then demand that he takes affirmative action, which is reverse discrimination. An employer will even be asked to anticipate the possibility that one section of the community might be under-represented and take action before that occurs. If an employer is found guilty of having an imbalanced work force, he will be given six months to correct that imbalance.
Jobs are scarce in Northern Ireland; if someone has a nice, safe, secure job, he will not leave in six months. Therefore, the possibility of a company having a meaningful turnover in six months is nonsense.
I turn to the question of merit which was so clearly enunciated at the Dispatch Box by the Prime Minister; she said that people should be employed on merit alone. I found it interesting that, when the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) spoke about merit, he qualified it. He said that people should be employed on merit and according to need, and that people should be employed 1222 because they needed a job. In my experience, anyone who does not have a job is looking for one, so by implication they need a job. If anyone can suggest a cohesive and sensible way of combining merit, the need for a job and a fair spread of religious denomination within the catchment area—whatever that may be—I will be pleased to listen, but I have not heard it yet and I do not expect to hear it from the Minister this evening.
How should one determine discrimination or imbalance in a work force? We have never been told the criteria. No effort has been made to tell us what should be taken into account. The basic problem is that one has to determine a geographical area around a factory. I have read many reports of investigations carried out by the Fair Employment Agency. I found shifting sands of criteria. One has only to read the reports of Londonderry to see the verbal contortions used by Mr. Cooper, who has featured so prominently in this Third Reading debate, and other writers of those reports to avoid the truth. I believe that Protestants suffer fairly grievously from discrimination in many firms in that area and no efforts have been made to expose those firms to anything like the extent that efforts were made when firms that are owned and run by Unionists are under investigation.
We shall also find that the Government will try to avoid giving the advice that I asked to be given to incoming employers so that they can be made aware of the dangers they will face if they transgress criteria that have not yet been explained to any hon. Member or anybody in Northern Ireland. Those criteria will not be explained clearly and factually to any incoming investor or employer. We have not been told what the time scale will be for the reports that have to be prepared on individual firms or all the firms, or on the cases that may be brought to the attention of the investigating body in Northern Ireland.
I could go on, but we have wasted the time of the House in useless argument and in useless proposals—useless not because they lack merit, but because the Government are determined not to listen to anything that Unionist Members say to them about Northern Ireland. If one looks at Northern Ireland today, after 10 years of this Government and nearly 20 years after the House assumed responsibility for the governance of that Province, one can only conclude that those who have been running Ulster have made a mighty poor job of it in those 20 years.
One of the reasons for that poor job—indeed, the principal reason for the present unhappy condition of the Province which I have the honour to represent—is the fact that we who represent the majority community and who won another election only last week, thereby showing the support we enjoy in the community, have had our voice and our advice ignored not only by this Government, but by successive Governments. While that continues and while this Government listen to, accept and implement the advice given by enemies of the Union, the condition of Ulster will not improve. Those who sit on the Government Front Bench and those who sit in No. 10 Downing street bear the ultimate responsibility for the condition of the Province and for the murders, deaths and violence there. They alone are the people who will answer one day at the bar of history. I am a professing Christian and a committed Christian, which the Minister does not understand. I believe that one day they will all answer before the throne of the returning judge on judgment day.
§ Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)
You are no doubt, sceptical of such statements, Mr. Speaker, but I will try to be brief. I welcome the improvements and strengthening in the Bill and the suggestions that there will be further improvements of it in another place. The right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) earlier criticised Labour Members for adopting a different position on Third Reading from the position they adopted on Second Reading. He might reflect on the fact that it is because we adopted a different position on Second Reading that it was possible, in a desire to obtain a more bilateral response, to achieve an improved Bill.
The argument of the hon. Members for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) and for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) that Protestants are discriminated against in many areas in Northern Ireland is correct. I made that point myself when we were discussing the White Paper that led to the Bill. It seems to be an argument for saying that this Bill is the type of legislation that is required. It can be of benefit to the Protestant population as well as to the Catholic population in Northern Ireland. The hon. Gentlemen should have applied their minds in Committee to the way in which the Bill will operate so that they could strengthen its provisions to protect the interests of the Protestant community in the areas they represent.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), I have reservations about the Bill. It would work at its best if it was working in a fair weather economic situation in Northern Ireland, where there were plenty of jobs already. If we were talking about youngsters coming on to the job market and about who would get the chance of what job, or if we were talking about people changing jobs or promotion or about people moving, it would be much easier to operate such provisions. Even in the current circumstances, if we had a vastly improving economic system, with new jobs emerging all over the place, such legislation could operate to balance out discrimination and to introduce a fairer work mix in Northern Ireland. However, there is economic conflict in Northern Ireland and it must be added to the terrorist conflict and the sectarian politics of the Province and it cannot help. Conflicts between capital and labour, and capital and capital in search of markets, cannot assist in circumstances of high employment.
The fact that some hon. Members representing Northern Ireland have spoken in favour of an enterprise culture seems to run up against the type of provisions in the Bill and the other economic and social circumstances that should be seen as the context of such legislation. The privatisations of Harland and Wolff, of Short Brothers and of the electricity industry and the destabilisation of the health and social services are vast problems that affect the legislation working as fully as it should.
Northern Ireland is in great need of an extension of democratic provisions, of devolved power and of a Bill of Rights to protect everyone in the different minority positions in the different sections of the Province. If we were to have a Full Employment Bill and a Democracy Bill for Northern Ireland, we might have all the different elements that would enable us to begin to work together to improve the position. We now have one part, or at least a nudge towards one part, of those three elements and 1224 perhaps it will be of some assistance; but a Full Employment Bill and a Democracy Bill would be of far more importance.
§ Mr. Viggers
With the leave of the House, I shall seek to respond to some of the points that have been made in the debate.
The House is nearing the end of a long road on this fair employment legislation. It started when my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Hurd), then the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, ascertained in July 1985 that the 1976 legislation had not been as successful as was hoped in rectifying the imbalance in employment in Northern Ireland. In September 1986 we published a consultative document which was followed by the guide to effective practice, then the White Paper, then the Bill. There has been wide consultation and I know from my discussions with individuals that we have the good will of many employers in Northern Ireland and of employer and, I trust, employee representatives as well.
For the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) to say that the Bill is a product of Dublin rule in Northern Ireland is ludicrous and does not square with the facts. Yes, I have been to Dublin and have discussed the legislation with those in Dublin, but we have had many other discussions as well—
§ Mr. Viggers
It has been helpful to have those contributions and saying that the Bill is the product of Dublin rule does not square with the facts.
I welcome much more the contribution, in so far as he made this point, of the hon. Member for Antrim. North (Rev. Ian Paisley) who said that the legislation exists and urged people to use it. I echo that. The legislation is there to be used and I urge all people to use it. Indeed, I urge the hon. Gentleman and others to promote participation in this legislation, in industrial matters and in matters relating to Government generally.
I assure the House that the legislation is even-handed, but we must face the fact that, despite the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act 1976, male Catholics are still two and a half times more likely to be unemployed than Protestants. That is unacceptable and to that extent there is an imbalance, which we are seeking to rectify. The legislation is even-handed.
§ Mr. Viggers
The hon. Gentleman says, "Get them jobs", but that is exactly what we are seeking to do, and with a level of success. I say with great pride that since I have held my current post unemployment in Northern Ireland has fallen from 134,988 to 107,625. I know those figures well and am proud of them. We are working hard to improve employment, and I urge all hon. Members to do all they can to improve the position.
The hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) referred to the 16-hour limit for part-time employees and asked for an assurance that if it appeared that the limit was causing injustice we would rectify that quickly. If an employee works for less than 16 hours per week he will not be covered by the Bill. In Committee I gave an assurance that we would take powers to vary the 16-hour limit, so I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that he seeks.
1225 The hon. Gentleman also asked about participation by public bodies and local authorities in the monitoring procedures. Progress is being made in encouraging monitoring and setting up procedures. We hope that more work will take place on that when the legislation becomes law.
The right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) asked specifically about Church bodies and their concern that they might be debarred from selecting people who shared the faith which they seek to promote. I made a long speech on the subject in Committee. We have included an exemption from the anti-discrimination provisions for those jobs whose "essential nature"—those being the important words—requires them to be done by persons holding or not holding a particular religious belief. The test is deliberately tightly drawn because we are anxious that there should be no wider loophole for exemption. We think that the provision is fair. It is parallel with the provision in the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act 1976.
The hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) alleged that the legislation will not be fair in that it breaches the merit principle and will mean that the best man or woman will not be appointed to the job. I assure him that our guiding principle in the legislation is that the best man or woman should be appointed.
The right hon. Member for Yeovil made a moving speech based on his personal experience of growing up in Northern Ireland. He said that from his experience and knowledge the legislation was right. He said that he supported it on Second Reading and that he would support the Third Reading. The right hon. Gentleman approached the legislation from his personal experience of Northern Ireland.
I approach the whole subject from a different viewpoint—that of one who is reluctant to add any new burden to industry and who believes that the principles on which the Conservative Government have been operating are right and that we should be slow to impose any extra burden on industry. I recognise that the legislation will impose extra burdens, although I believe them to be light. I believe that they will be acceptable to good employers. All we are asking them to do is to engage in good personnel practice.
Approaching the legislation from a different viewpoint from that of the right hon. Gentleman, I am convinced that it is appropriate and right in the context of Northern Ireland. On that basis I commend it to the House.
§ Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 96, Noes 4.1226
|Division No. 220]||[10.33 pm|
|Amess, David||Ashby, David|
|Amos, Alan||Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy|
|Arbuthnot, James||Atkinson, David|
|Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)||Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Ingram, Adam|
|Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)||Irvine, Michael|
|Beith, A. J.||Jack, Michael|
|Bermingham, Gerald||King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)|
|Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard||Kirkwood, Archy|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Knapman, Roger|
|Bright, Graham||Lawrence, Ivan|
|Brooke, Rt Hon Peter||Lightbown, David|
|Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)||Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)|
|Burns, Simon||Lord, Michael|
|Butterfill, John||Lyell, Sir Nicholas|
|Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)||McGrady, Eddie|
|Carrington, Matthew||MacGregor, Rt Hon John|
|Chapman, Sydney||McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)|
|Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)||McNamara, Kevin|
|Coombs, Simon (Swindon)||Martin, David (Portsmouth S)|
|Cope, Rt Hon John||Maude, Hon Francis|
|Cran, James||Mawhinney, Dr Brian|
|Davis, David (Boothferry)||Mowlam, Marjorie|
|Devlin, Tim||Moynihan, Hon Colin|
|Dixon, Don||Pike, Peter L.|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Powell, Ray (Ogmore)|
|Dover, Den||Sackville, Hon Tom|
|Durant, Tony||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Dykes, Hugh||Skinner, Dennis|
|Fallon, Michael||Stern, Michael|
|Favell, Tony||Stevens, Lewis|
|Fishburn, John Dudley||Stradling Thomas, Sir John|
|Forman, Nigel||Summerson, Hugo|
|Forth, Eric||Taylor, Ian (Esher)|
|Freeman, Roger||Taylor, Matthew (Truro)|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)|
|Gow, Ian||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Greenway, John (Ryedale)||Viggers, Peter|
|Gregory, Conal||Waddington, Rt Hon David|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)||Walden, George|
|Hague, William||Waller, Gary|
|Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)||Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)|
|Harris, David||Wells, Bowen|
|Haynes, Frank||Winterton, Mrs Ann|
|Hayward, Robert||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Heathcoat-Amory, David||Wood, Timothy|
|Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)|
|Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Howells, Geraint||Mr. David Maclean and|
|Hume, John||Mr. John M. Taylor.|
|McCrea, Rev William|
|Molyneaux, Rt Hon James||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Paisley, Rev Ian||Mr. Roy Beggs and|
|Ross, William (Londonderry E)||Mr. Peter Robinson.|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ Bill read the Third time, and passed.