HC Deb 11 June 1997 vol 295 cc1126-8
2. Mr. Connarty

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what plans she has to review legislation relating to fair employment in Northern Ireland. [1377]

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Adam Ingram)

The previous Secretary of State asked the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights to carry out a review of employment equality, including the effectiveness of the current fair employment legislation. The commission will publish its report shortly and any recommendations made will be given the fullest consideration. The Government greatly appreciate the efforts SACHR has made to produce a comprehensive report which will inform our future thinking in this important area of policy.

Mr. Connarty

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply and welcome him to the Government Front Bench in a very important Department of this Parliament. I am sure that everyone who cares for the people of Northern Ireland will look forward to the publication of the report with intense interest. In particular, those concerned will be interested to find out what penetration there was of prosperity in Northern Ireland in different communities during the period of the ceasefire. Will my hon. Friend give me an assurance that the fair employment review will attempt to find ways of bringing employment and prosperity to those communities that are at this moment suffering from endemic unemployment problems, whether we are talking of the Shankill road or the Falls road; Caulside in Antrim or the Bogside in Derry?

Mr. Ingram

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind comments. I know that he has shown a close and active interest in this subject; that interest is more than welcome. The more people, including politicians, from the mainland who participate in Northern Ireland affairs, the better it is for us all

I am sure that my hon. Friend understands that his question turns on a complex issue that I expect will be touched upon by the fair employment review. My hon. Friend will be aware that all Government employment agencies have a commitment to target their activities on areas of social need in line with the policy appraisal and fair treatment guidelines.

Mr. Roy Beggs

In welcoming the Secretary of State and her ministerial team to the Northern Ireland Department, may I observe that it is with regret that neither Northern Ireland Members nor Ministers are able to welcome Her Majesty at the garden party in Northern Ireland? I hope that the business managers will take some account of that and ensure that such a clash does not happen in future

We seek to promote fair employment in Northern Ireland. Does the Minister accept that public bodies and the private sector, through the appointment of recruitment officers and monitoring officers, have gone a long way to ensure fair employment and that appointments are made on merit? Will the Minister examine and publish the cost to the public sector over the past five years of out-of-court settlements following allegations of discrimination?

Will the Minister also—[HON. MEMBERS: "Come on."]—will the Minister seek to establish within the civil service expert legal advice to ensure that most allegations of discrimination are challenged and that justice is being done? Will he especially monitor the Newry and Mourne health trust—

Madam Speaker

Order. Questions are becoming far too long. I have complained that answers are long but now questions are turning into Adjournment debates.

Mr. Beggs

Finally—[HoN. MEMBERS: "Hooray."]—will the Minister monitor the situation in the Newry and Mourne health trust, where only two of the 80 midwives are Protestants?

Mr. Ingram

The conflict between Northern Ireland questions and the garden party is a matter of regret. It is something which will have to be taken on board for the future

The hon. Gentleman raised a number of matters and I do not think that you, Madam Speaker, would allow me to deal with them in detail. Perhaps I may write to him on some of the specific issues he raises and place my answers in the Library—if answers are available. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will share with me the view that there is a need for a proper overview of fair employment policy in Northern Ireland so that all sectors of the community benefit from it.

Mr. McGrady

I, too, welcome the Minister to the Government Front Bench

In the context of fair employment, does the Minister accept the principle that fair employment opportunity is as much a matter of geographical location of industry as of individual application? Perhaps he will look into his new portfolio from the point of view that areas of high unemployment, such as my constituency, have not had one inward investment job in the past decade. Some Government Departments have hampered the introduction of such jobs. The planning department, for example, has sat on the report of an inquiry into an industrial site for the past three months even though it had ample opportunity at the public inquiry to make its comments. In that context, fair employment cannot be provided unless jobs are distributed equally

Mr. Ingram

The hon. Gentleman will understand that the distribution of jobs is not only a matter for the best efforts of the Government; it is also determined by those who invest in particular areas. It is for them to decide where to make their investments. I said earlier that the function and underlying purpose of all Government agencies is to target areas of social need and to seek answers to the very points that the hon. Gentleman made. I have asked my officials to draw up a programme for me to visit all areas in Northern Ireland so that I can begin to understand some of the local economic development issues that are involved. That will take longer that many hon. Members may be prepared to wait, but I shall do my best, and as quickly as possible.

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