HC Deb 25 May 1989 vol 153 cc1151-5

  1. '(1) Subsection (2) below applies where, by reason of any undertaking or directions under section 12 of this Act, any directions substituted for such directions by the Tribunal or any order made by the Tribunal for the purpose of giving effect to any such undertaking or directions, a notice has been served on any person under section 35(2) of this Act.
  2. (2) If, while the notice has effect, the Commission forms the opinion—
    1. (a) that the progress specified in the notice in respect of any period has not been made, and
    2. (b) that the person concerned ought to take action for promoting equality of opportunity in addition to the action required to be taken under the existing undertaking or directions,
    section 12 of this Act shall again apply in relation to the person concerned as if the Commission had conducted a fresh investigation under section 11 of this Act.
  3. (3) Where, by virtue of this section, the Commission secures a written undertaking from the person concerned or serves a notice on him containing directions—
    1. (a) the undertaking or directions shall have effect in place of the existing undertaking or directions, and
    2. (b) any notice previously served on him under section 35(2) of this Act shall cease to have effect, but without prejudice to any power to give a new notice under that subsection.'.—[Mr. Viggers.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

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

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The Bill, having passed its Second Reading and completed 18 Committee sessions, now moves back to the Floor of the House.

New clause 1 represents a significant strengthening of the provisions in the Bill dealing with goals and timetables, and complements other amendments on the same subject which have been tabled to clauses 30 and 31.

As the Bill stands at present the Fair Employment Commission may serve on an employer a notice relating to goals and timetables, and may make further inquiries of the employer at six-monthly intervals to assess what progress has been made. The amendments to clauses 30 and 31 to which I have just referred will enable an employer to set his own goals and timetables in the context of the periodic review of his work force which he is obliged to undertake under clause 30. The amendment will empower the commission, in those circumstances also, to make further inquiries in order to assess progress.

The new clause essentially completes the exercise by enabling the commission to follow up a notice relating to goals and timetables by means of seeking further undertakings from an employer or issuing further directions to him. Both undertakings and directions are, of course, enforceable before the tribunal. An employer's failure to achieve the objectives which the commission thinks he should be able to achieve, as a result of action taken following earlier undertakings or directions, or his failure to achieve such objectives within the time the commission thinks appropriate, therefore become the triggers to allow the commission to seek further undertakings or to impose or modify, so as to strengthen, directions. The new clause also makes it clear that undertakings given or directions issued under this clause replace and supersede any previously given by or issued to the employer. I trust that the new clause is clear and I believe that it will be acceptable to the official Opposition as it will strengthen the Bill. I commend it to the House.

Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South)

I agree with the Minister that the Bill was fully discussed in Committee. On a number of important points we were able to convince the Government of the need to alter and, in some cases, improve the Bill. We are delighted that the Minister and the Government have been able so to do.

In the spirit of bipartisanship that has arisen from the Bill, we certainly welcome new clause 1. As the Minister rightly says, it strengthens the goals and timetables and, therefore, it is warmly welcomed by the official Opposition.

5.15 pm
Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East)

There is no doubt that new clause 1 does exactly what the Minister and the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) suggest—it strengthens the goals and timetables set out in the Bill.

It is important to consider the backcloth against which the goals and timetables will be used. The Bill is not what it purports to be—in favour of fair employment. To me and my colleagues, fair employment means that a person gains employment on merit—that that person is the best for the job. By inserting the provision that, over a specific period, the work force must be of a certain composition means that the criterion for employment is no longer merit, but the religious or political views of those who come to the personnel office. [Interruption.] I am sorry, but does the right hon. Gentleman wish to intervene? He seems to have stopped the gesticulation in which he was engaged. Perhaps that is the kind of behaviour that we can expect from the Alliance party.

Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil)

Is the hon. Gentleman talking to me?

Mr. Robinson

The right hon. Gentleman seems to be unaware of the gestures which he makes, which suggests more about his character than anything else.

Rather than enforcing the principle of employment on merit, the Bill means that people will now be employed on the basis of their religion. That is contrary to the spirit of fair employment and, for that reason, my colleagues and I will oppose the new clause.

I made it clear in Committee, and I repeat today, that I support the principle of fair employment. I believe that the best way to ensure fair employment is to impose severe punishments on anyone who discriminates in his employment policy. The steps that have been taken by the Minister, however, have been taken because of pressure coming from the Republic of Ireland as a result of the Anglo-lrish Agreement. The documentation that we discussed earlier this afternoon specifies that the Bill is part of the process instigated by the Intergovernmental Conference. The Secretary of State, however, has tried to deny that there is any basis for my argument that the government of Northern Ireland is now shared between the Government of the Irish Republic and the British Government. The Bill was born out of the Intergovernmental Conference and was pushed through the Anglo-Irish process by the Government of the Irish Republic, no doubt with accompanying pressure from those with republican traditions in the United States.

The new clause will bring more division within the workplace and it will not assist in bringing a proper peace to the work force. We have a good work force in Northern Ireland and our workplaces have not experienced many problems. The Government, however, are attempting to introduce tension in the workplace and the new clause will go a long way towards that.

Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East)

I have to agree with many of the observations of the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson). Will the Minister point out to us how he sees a policy of goals and timetables being able to rest easily with the merit principle? Does he not agree with the views expressed by the Confederation of British Industry, which is committed to fair employment and held seminars on fair employment long before this legislation was drawn up? Does he accept that the Bill puts severe pressure on the merit principle? As the CBI interprets it, it is expected that employers should meet heavy demands without somehow transgressing that principle. How are they to avoid transgressing the merit principle if they are forced to comply with goals and timetables?

Mr. Viggers

I reaffirm that the merit principle, the appointment of the best man or woman for the job, is central to this legislation. It is a principle which has guided us throughout the drafting of all the clauses. The hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) referred to the CBI and I pay a tribute to the co-operative attitude of the CBI. I think that the CBI would recognise, as perhaps the hon. Gentleman does not, that it is necessary to have legislation to rectify the imbalance in employment in Northern Ireland. That is what this legislation sets out to do.

The new clause simply broadens slightly the application of goals and timetables, which was extensively debated in Committee. I would not wish to go further into the merits of the issue, except to say that we are urging companies to apply good personnel practice and to look to all the population in Northern Ireland for recruitment purposes. In so far as companies may have been drawing from only one part of the community, we are encouraging them to look at all the community. So the guiding principles in this Bill have been the merit principle and good personnel practice.

There is nothing further to say on that point and, on the basis of those two principles, I commend the new clause to the House.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:

The House divided: Ayes 182, Noes 3.

Division No. 216] [5.21 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Atkinson, David
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Banks, Tony (Newham NW)
Amos, Alan Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)
Arbuthnot, James Batiste, Spencer
Armstrong, Hilary Beith, A. J.
Ashby, David Bell, Stuart
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Bellingham, Henry
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Benyon, W. Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Bermingham, Gerald Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Boateng, Paul Hunter, Andrew
Boscawen, Hon Robert Ingram, Adam
Boswell, Tim Irvine, Michael
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Jack, Michael
Bowis, John Janner, Greville
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Bray, Dr Jeremy Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Bright, Graham King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Kirkwood, Archy
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Knapman, Roger
Buck, Sir Antony Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Burns, Simon Latham, Michael
Butterfill, John Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Livsey, Richard
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Lord, Michael
Carrington, Matthew Lyell, Sir Nicholas
Chapman, Sydney Macdonald, Calum A.
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) McGrady, Eddie
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Clwyd, Mrs Ann MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Cohen, Harry Maclean, David
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) McNamara, Kevin
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Madden, Max
Corbett, Robin Mans, Keith
Corbyn, Jeremy Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Cormack, Patrick Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Couchman, James Mates, Michael
Cran, James Maude, Hon Francis
Curry, David Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Davis, David (Boothferry) Mellor, David
Devlin, Tim Michael, Alun
Dixon, Don Mills, Iain
Dorrell, Stephen Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Dover, Den Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Durant, Tony Mowlam, Marjorie
Dykes, Hugh Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley
Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas Paice, James
Fallon, Michael Pike, Peter L.
Favell, Tony Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Price, Sir David
Fishburn, John Dudley Riddick, Graham
Forman, Nigel Rossi, Sir Hugh
Forth, Eric Ruddock, Joan
Foster, Derek Ryder, Richard
Fox, Sir Marcus Sackville, Hon Tom
Franks, Cecil Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Freeman, Roger Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Garel-Jones, Tristan Skinner, Dennis
Garrett, Ted (Wallsend) Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Golding, Mrs Llin Stanbrook, Ivor
Gow, Ian Steen, Anthony
Gregory, Conal Stern, Michael
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Stevens, Lewis
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Ground, Patrick Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn Summerson, Hugo
Hague, William Tapsell, Sir Peter
Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom) Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Hanley, Jeremy Temple-Morris, Peter
Hannam, John Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Harris, David Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Thorne, Neil
Haynes, Frank Townend, John (Bridlington)
Hayward, Robert Vaz, Keith
Heddle, John Viggers, Peter
Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE) Waddington, Rt Hon David
Hill, James Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Hinchliffe, David Walden, George
Hordern, Sir Peter Waller, Gary
Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A) Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd) Wareing, Robert N.
Howells, Geraint Wells, Bowen
Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd) Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W) Winterton, Mrs Ann
Winterton, Nicholas Young, Sir George (Acton)
Wise, Mrs Audrey
Wood, Timothy Tellers for the Ayes:
Worthington, Tony Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory
Yeo, Tim and Mr. John M. Taylor.
McCrea, Rev William Tellers for the Noes:
Molyneaux, Rt Hon James Mr. Roy Beggs and
Robinson, Peter (Belfast E) Rev. Ian Paisley.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am not complaining because I have done this, but I understand that while I was out of the Chamber the hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens) suggested that I had been given incorrect information and had tabled an early-day motion including that material. The document that I received, and on which the early-day motion was based, is a sworn affidavit that I interviewed the constituent of the hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth in my office for one and a half hours, and that during that meeting he was unable to deny the total authenticity of that material. Subsequently, I have sought, and gained, a further affidavit from a person who was directly involved in the drawing up of the original affidavit. I stand behind every statement that I made and seek to confirm the information contained in the affidavit.

The original affidavit is signed by Mr. Coughlan, a self-confessed phone tapper, in which he states that he, on behalf of Mr. Tiny Rowland and Lonrho, tapped the phones of the A1-Fayeds.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

Order. Mr. Speaker dealt with that point earlier on and the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) has now got his point on the record.

Forward to