HC Deb 25 May 1989 vol 153 cc1172-5
Mr. Jim Marshall

I beg to move amendment No. 74, in page 2, line 21, leave out 'Department' and insert 'Lord Chancellor'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this, it will be convenient to consider the following amendments: No. 75, in page 2, line 24, leave out 'Department' and insert 'Lord Chancellor'.

No. 76, in page 2, line 26, leave out 'Department' and insert 'Lord Chancellor'.

Mr. Marshall

I hesitate to slow down the rapid progress we are making on the Bill, but I must address amendment No. 74 and the others in a little more detail than was given to the three previous amendments.

The amendment concerns the person or body who is to appoint the president of the Fair Employment Tribunal. Under the Bill, the president of the Fair Employment Tribunal is to be appointed by the Department of Economic Development. I do not intend to go into a diatribe or a detailed criticism of the history of the Department of Economic Development as this is not the appropriate place or time. The amendment should not be seen as a direct or indirect criticism of the Department of Economic Development.

We seek to remove the power of the Department to appoint the president and to vest that power in the Lord Chancellor. Our reason is to emphasise the independence of the tribunal. As the Minister knows from Committee, we believe that if the president of the Fair Employment Tribunal is seen to be appointed by the Department of Economic Development, it could call into question the independence not only of the president himself, but of the tribunal.

All parties are agreed that it is vital that the tribunal is both seen to be and is in practice impartial and independent of the Government. The Bill shows that the Government themselves partially recognise that problem. Once the president of the tribunal is appointed, he is appointed for life. Once he is appointed, there is no further need to genuflect either to Ministers or to the Department of Economic Development. The Government should go the whole hog and remove any nexus between a Government Department, such as the Department of Economic Development, and the president of the tribunal.

6.45 pm

Before the Minister tells me that that would create a precedent and might create problems for appointments in the future, I must point out to him that there are precedents that support the basis of our amendment. I will highlight two of them. The Lord Chancellor appoints the president of the industrial tribunals for England and Wales. More importantly, the Lord Chancellor also makes appointments to bodies whose remit is within the confines of Northern Ireland Departments. The president of the Social Security Appeals Tribunal for the north of Ireland, for example, is appointed by the Lord Chancellor. There is support for the amendment from all parties in the Chamber. I urge the Government to accept the amendment.

Mr. Viggers

I must point out to the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) that the president of the Fair Employment Tribunal is not appointed for life. He is appointed until the age of 72 and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will join with me in wishing Mr. Maguire a long and happy retirement after the age of 72.

I cannot accept the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that the appointment would be made better by the Lord Chancellor than by the Department. I understand the hon. Gentleman's desire to emphasise the similarities between the functions of the president and those of a judge. There are considerable similarities, but there is one important difference. Industrial tribunals, fair employment and the regulation of employment practices and employment matters generally are transferred matters, which in the event of devolution would be the responsibility of a devolved Administration. We had a similar discussion in Committee when it was suggested that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State should have direct responsibility for fair employment matters, rather than most of the statutory responsibilities resting with the Department of Economic Developments.

Mr. Molyneaux

That is a vital point. The Minister said that if devolved government were achieved that would be one of the responsibilities of the devolved Government. That is something new and we are encouraged by it. But the Anglo-Irish Agreement does not say that. It says that, in the event of agreement being reached under article 4, certain matters may be devolved, but not the transferred matters. That is an advance and I am grateful for it.

Mr. Viggers

What I have said is clearly understood. I am certainly not enunciating a new principle. If the right hon. Gentleman thinks that I am, perhaps we need to discuss why that should be. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that I was enunciating simple and clear principles.

In the event of devolution, it would be inappropriate for the Lord Chancellor to have responsibility in transferred matters. It would be open to a devolved Administration and a devolved assembly to make whatever changes they thought fit in employment law. It would be strange if the Lord Chancellor and a devolved Administration were involved in the same area and it would only cause confusion. I ask the House not to accept the amendment.

Mr. Jim Marshall

As the Minister knows, we discussed these matters in Committee. We put similar arguments and the Minister has given virtually the same replies as he gave in Committee. Perhaps we are at a stand-off. Before gracefully withdrawing the amendment—[Interruption.] We will continue to make our point in another place and in this House again, if the Bill returns amended from the House of Lords. We seek to emphasise the absolute independence of the tribunal both from Government Ministers and from specific Government Departments, such as the Department of Economic Development, in the north of Ireland. A method of doing that has still to be found.

We regret very much that the Government are not prepared to accept the Lord Chancellor instead of the Department in that role, but perhaps the Minister will reconsider the problem. When the issue is raised in another place, perhaps the Minister who replies there on behalf of the Government could respond to this point as sympathetically as the Minister has just done. Perhaps with a little more understanding and co-operation we could seek to bring about the change that we desire. I shall withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Beggs

I raised this matter in Committee and was grateful for the support that was given to me then. I should be opposed to the amendment being withdrawn.

Rev. Ian Paisley

It would be more helpful if the House knew about the deals between the two Front Benches and if we knew which amendments were to be withdrawn and which put up for barter because what we are doing now is a charade. We shall press the amendments for all the reasons that were given by the Opposition Front Bench spokesmen who have appealed to hon. Members from Northern Ireland. We realise that there is reason, but I should have thought that it would be far better if the Lord Chancellor made the appointment because that would remove this issue from politics and from a Government Department. The appointment would then be removed from a Government Department and from accusations of Government patronage. I should have thought that that would be a good way to proceed. The Opposition should hold on to their amendment and seek to divide the House.

Mr. Jim Marshall

I should like to make two points in response to what the hon. Gentleman has just said. I must emphasise to the reverend gentleman that there is no agreement in terms of timetabling the remaining stages of the Bill—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) seems to find this amusing.

Rev. William McCrea

I certainly do.

Mr. Marshall

Of course, and I understand the reasons. His ignorance of this matter was obvious in our previous discussions. If he had had discussions with his hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) he would know that this matter was discussed fully in Committee and that we were heavily defeated.

That brings me to my second point, which is a political point. If we were to seek to press the amendment to a Division now and if we were to suffer a heavy defeat of around 170 votes to 15 or 20, it would hardly enhance our ability to ensure that a change was achieved in the Bill in the other place. For that and other reasons. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Hon. Members


Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 26, Noes 101.

Division No. 217] [6.52 pm
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Haynes, Frank
Beggs, Roy Ingram, Adam
Bermingham, Gerald McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Boateng, Paul McNamara, Kevin
Corbyn, Jeremy Madden, Max
Dixon, Don Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Garrett, Ted (Wallsend) Michael, Alun
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Molyneaux, Rt Hon James
Mowlam, Marjorie Skinner, Dennis
Paisley, Rev Ian Wise, Mrs Audrey
Pike, Peter L.
Powell, Ray (Ogmore) Tellers for the Ayes:
Robinson, Peter (Belfast E) Mr. William Ross and
Ruddock, Joan Rev. William McCrea.
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Amess, David Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Amos, Alan Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Arbuthnot, James Hunter, Andrew
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Jack, Michael
Atkinson, David Janman, Tim
Batiste, Spencer Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Beith, A. J. Kirkwood, Archy
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Knapman, Roger
Body, Sir Richard Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Boswell, Tim Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Bright, Graham Lord, Michael
Burns, Simon McCrindle, Robert
Butterfill, John MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Maclean, David
Carrington, Matthew Mans, Keith
Chapman, Sydney Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Chope, Christopher Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) Paice, James
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Rossi, Sir Hugh
Cran, James Rumbold, Mrs Angela
Curry, David Sackville, Hon Tom
Davis, David (Boothferry) Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Devlin, Tim Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Dover, Den Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Durant, Tony Stanbrook, Ivor
Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas Stern, Michael
Fallon, Michael Stevens, Lewis
Favell, Tony Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Fishburn, John Dudley Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Forman, Nigel Summerson, Hugo
Forth, Eric Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Fox, Sir Marcus Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Freeman, Roger Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Garel-Jones, Tristan Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Gow, Ian Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Thorne, Neil
Gregory, Conal Townend, John (Bridlington)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Viggers, Peter
Ground, Patrick Waddington, Rt Hon David
Hague, William Walden, George
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Waller, Gary
Hanley, Jeremy Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Harris, David Wells, Bowen
Hayward, Robert Winterton, Mrs Ann
Heathcoat-Amory, David Wood, Timothy
Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)
Hill, James Tellers for the Noes:
Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A) Mr. Stephen Dorrell and
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd) Mr. J. M. Taylor.
Howells, Geraint

Question accordingly negatived.

Amendment made: No. 4, in page 2, line 32, leave out from 'provide' to end of line 38 and insert 'for specified functions of the President (including functions under sections 6 and 17 of this Act) to be exercised in specified circumstances by a person appointed, in accordance with the regulations, to a panel of chairmen'.—[Mr. Viggers.]

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