HC Deb 19 July 1995 vol 263 cc1667-71 3.30 pm
Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act 1976 to encourage recruitment of the long-term unemployed. I wish to say something about the context of the Bill. Much has been done in this area already in Northern Ireland. In fact, "Labour Research" of May 1995 published an article which said that Northern Ireland leads the way on fairness laws. It pointed out that Northern Ireland is doing much better with fairness laws than we are doing with race discrimination laws on the United Kingdom mainland.

The Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act 1976 was amended by section 55 of the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act 1989 to add a new section 37C to encourage applications from under-represented communities and to approve any action taken in pursuit of affirmative action and to bring it within the law. Section 58 of the 1989 Act defined the affirmative action as employment of members of the Protestant or members of the Roman Catholic communities in Northern Ireland". My Bill would add a new section 37D to the 1976 Act, which would extend permission for "affirmative action" to acts done in preferring those persons who have been unemployed for the previous year or longer in pursuance of affirmative action.

It is important to point out what the legislation would not do. It would not force employers to recruit, but would allow them to recruit if they so wished and if they thought that it was in the interests of their business and the greater cause of affirmative action to do so. It would benefit both communities. It is very sad to have to say that there are two communities; I think that we are talking here about people from both traditions, and hopefully one day they will live in the same community.

The Bill would allow the possibility of employment for many people who have been in excellent training schemes. I have visited Northern Ireland in the past few months to look at those training schemes. The problem is that, although many people in Northern Ireland are highly trained, they are still among the long-term unemployed. I have seen people take the trouble to take higher national and graduate courses and training schemes, only to return once again to the long-term unemployed register.

More importantly, the Bill will allow deep pockets of long-term unemployment to be targeted by foreign assistance. A Bill has just passed through the House of Representatives in the United States which says that the International Fund for Ireland money must be used in areas of high unemployment. The reality is that assistance cannot be targeted at the moment without the amendment that I propose to the Act.

The Bill would also allow for intermediate employment schemes, such as Glasgow Wise, which I have heard praised by those from Northern Ireland who have seen them in action. Those schemes could be transferred to Northern Ireland and targeted at the long-term unemployed.

More importantly, why should we do that for the long-term unemployed in Northern Ireland when there are long-term unemployed elsewhere? The long-term unemployed in Northern Ireland are a symbol and a reality of the failure of the policies in Northern Ireland. I believe that they are a barrier to the long-term peace process in Northern Ireland. Despite the £3.4 billion transfer to Northern Ireland, there is still a massive surplus of long-term unemployed.

It is said that two thirds of the unemployed are to be found in Roman Catholic communities. I thank hon. Members who are Ulster Unionists for providing details of the problems in their constituencies. In East Antrim, 50 per cent. of the people in Rathcoole are unemployed and benefit-dependent. South Belfast is symbolically seen as a well-off community, but there is deep unemployment in Taughmonagh, and in the Village area on the Donegall road. I know from hon. Members of the situation in North Down. Unemployment exists throughout Northern Ireland. It has a large long-term employed population, who will have no stake in the future peace unless they can share in the peace dividend.

The world and the House looked on in the past few weeks, as we saw displays of discontent and the burning of vehicles over a particular issue, fuelled by the anger of the long-term unemployed. We saw also sectarian parades undertaken not out of pride, as they should be, but in anger against another community. The members of the other tradition are always seen as enjoying prosperity rather than the tradition to which one belongs, which is an indictment of how little has been done by the Government.

One factor contributing to long-term peace will be demilitarisation—getting arms off the street. Others include a return to the rule of law, the withdrawal of paramilitary policing, democratic free elections on a non-confessional basis and the right to work. In proposing my Bill, I ask for only one additional cautious step to be taken.

3.38 pm
Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes)

I apologise to the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty) for opposing his Bill, because I do not challenge his motives. The Bill's objectives are entirely laudable, but I have a severe problem with the hon. Gentleman seeking to introduce legislation that would have the effect of reforming and amending the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act 1976.

That legislation is an essential foundation for fair employment in Northern Ireland that has to do with discrimination—principally on religious grounds. In seeking to amend the 1976 Act as a way of achieving entirely laudable objectives, the hon. Member needs to think through the consequences.

When the 1976 Act came before the House, it was introduced by the then Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, the right hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Orme), not only as a party political measure but after considerable discussion through the usual channels and in a working party established to consider fair employment in Northern Ireland.

That Committee was originally chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon), and subsequently by Mr. William van Straubenzee, then Member of Parliament for Wokingham and also a Northern Ireland Minister. That working party devised the basis for the Bill introduced by the right hon. Member for Salford, East on 16 February 1976.

The debate on the Floor of the House involved the then Labour Minister and Conservative Opposition spokesman, and a number of hon. Members expressed grave concern at even the passage of that legislation. In view of the assurances then given by the right hon. Member for Salford, East, it would be wholly wrong to use the 1976 Act as a vehicle for the objectives of the hon. Member for Falkirk, East.

I say that because much feeling was expressed, especially by my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor), who then represented Glasgow, Cathcart. He said that it was wrong for the Government to bring forward legislation relating solely to fair employment in Northern Ireland. He felt that there was religious discrimination throughout the country. I am prepared, of course, to acknowledge that long-term unemployment in Northern Ireland is far too high. I note that the hon. Members for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) and for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) are in their places.

No one can deny that long-term unemployment in Northern Ireland is a problem. It is no more of a problem, however, than long-term unemployment in my constituency, which suffered tremendous redundancies in the 1980s in the steel and fishing industries. I have always maintained that, when legislating for a certain part of the kingdom, we should always have regard to the implications for other parts of it.

To introduce a Bill to amend the 1976 Act would open up a can of worms, bearing in mind the difficulties that the House encountered when the Act was passing through the House. More importantly, an amending Bill would create unfairness in the rest of the kingdom, especially in constituencies such as mine, where there are many long-term unemployed.

Legislation of the sort proposed by the hon. Member for Falkirk, East should not be tagged on to existing legislation. The hon. Gentleman referred to the 1989 amendments to the 1976 Act. I had grave misgivings about those amendments. I felt that we were exposing ourselves to undoing all the delicate arguments that were advanced during 1974–75 before the 1976 Act went on to the statute book. I was anxious in 1989, and I would be loth to use a second opportunity in less than 20 years to use the 1976 Act as a vehicle for what I agree are laudable objectives. That is not the way to proceed.

I remind the hon. Member for Falkirk, East of the views expressed on Second Reading of what became the 1976 Act by a former Member, the right hon. J. Enoch Powell. He and his party opposed the measure. Mr. Powell said from the Unionist Bench that he felt that any opportunity that the House used to legislate separately for employment opportunities in Northern Ireland, be it to improve the prospects of the long-term unemployed or to improve the lot of someone who might suffer discrimination, would be more likely adversely to affect his constituents than to assist them. His view was endorsed by many Members representing the Official Unionist party, and by the late Sir James Kilfedder. It was taken up by other Members from across the political divide in Northern Ireland.

We should be extremely wary before we use an opportunity that would be presented by the Bill to open up a can of worms. I suggest to the hon. Member for Falkirk, East that the correct approach would be to introduce a Bill concerned solely with promoting long-term unemployment opportunities throughout the United Kingdom. Many of my constituents worked in the steel industry for 20 or 30 years, and they have been unemployed for five or 10 years. The same can be said of those who worked in the fishing industry in Grimsby.

It would not be fair to them for the House to legislate especially for Northern Ireland while they continue to suffer employment. It is with a heavy heart, and with great regret, that I ask the House not to grant the hon. Gentleman's leave to bring in his Bill.

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 111, Noes 53.

Division No. 210] [3.45 pm
Adams, Mrs Irene Litherland, Robert
Ashton, Joe Lynne, Ms Liz
Austin-Walker, John McAllion, John
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Macdonald, Calum
Beggs, Roy McKelvey, William
Beith, Rt Hon A J Mackinlay, Andrew
Brown, N (N'c'tle upon Tyne E) Maclennan, Robert
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) McMaster, Gordon
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) McNamara, Kevin
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Madden, Max
Campbell-Savours, D N Mahon, Alice
Canavan, Dennis Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Chidgey, David Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Martin, Michael J (Springburn)
Connarty, Michael Martlew, Eric
Corbyn, Jeremy Michael, Alun
Cox, Tom Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Cunliffe, Lawrence Miller, Andrew
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE) Molyneaux, Rt Hon James
Dafis, Cynog Morley, Elliot
Dalyell, Tam Mowlam, Marjorie
Dixon, Don Mullin, Chris
Eagle, Ms Angela Murphy, Paul
Eastham, Ken O'Brien, William (Normanton)
Faulds, Andrew Parry, Robert
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Fyfe, Maria Purchase, Ken
Galloway, George Rendel, David
Gapes, Mike Roche, Mrs Barbara
Garrett, John Rooker, Jeff
Godman, Dr Norman A Ross, William (E Londonderry)
Graham, Thomas Rowlands, Ted
Hanson, David Salmond, Alex
Hardy, Peter Sedgemore, Brian
Hill, Keith (Streatham) Sheerman, Barry
Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld) Simpson, Alan
Hood, Jimmy Skinner, Dennis
Hoon, Geoffrey Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Howarth, George (Knowsley North) Spearing, Nigel
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Spellar, John
Hutton, John Steinberg, Gerry
Jackson, Glenda (H'stead) Stevenson, George
Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H) Stott, Roger
Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O) Sutcliffe, Gerry
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW) Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham) Timms, Stephen
Kennedy, Charles (Ross, C&S) Tipping, Paddy
Khabra, Piara S Touhig, Don
Killfoyle, Peter Trimble, David
Kirkwood, Anchy Turner, Dennis
Lewis, Terry Tyler, Paul
Vaz, Keith Wise, Audrey
Wareing, Robert N Worthington, Tony
Watson. Mike Young, David (Bolton SE)
Wicks, Malcolm Tellers for the Ayes:
Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen) Mr. Harry Barnes and
Winnick, David Mr. John Gunnell.
Alexander, Richard Hawkins, Nick
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Hunter, Andrew
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Lawrence, Sir Ivan
Biffen, Rt Hon John Maitland, Lady Olga
Booth, Hartley Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Bowden, Sir Andrew Neubert, Sir Michael
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes Nicholls, Patrick
Bruce, Ian (Dorset) Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Butterfill, John Rathbone, Tim
Carlisle, Sir Kenneth (Lincoln) Redwood, Rt Hon John
Carrington, Matthew Riddick, Graham
Chapman, Sir Sydney Robathan, Andrew
Colvin, Michael Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)
Deva, Nirj Joseph Shaw, David (Dover)
Duncan, Alan Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Duncan-Smith, Iain Speed, Sir Keith
Dunn, Bob Spring, Richard
Durant, Sir Anthony Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter Sweeney, Walter
Fry, Sir Peter Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)
Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan Thornton, Sir Malcolm
Gorst, Sir John Viggers, Peter
Grant Sir A (SW Cambs) Waterson, Nigel
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Whitney, Ray
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archibald Tellers for the Noes:
Hampson, Dr Keith Mr. Michael Fabricant and
Harris, David Mr. Michael Brown.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Michael Connarty, Mr. Harry Barnes, Mr. Richard Burden, Dr. Norman Godman, Miss Kate Hoey, Mr. Norman Hogg, Mr. Jim Marshall, Mr. David Marshall, Mr. Calum Macdonald, Mr. William O'Brien, Mr. Mike Watson and Mr. Jimmy Wray.