HL Deb 19 April 1975 vol 360 cc1033-60

3.33 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. I have had to introduce a number of measures concerning Northern Ireland to your Lordships recently, in the form of Orders in Council. Most have been uncontroversial and your Lordships have allowed me to bring them before you with only the briefest of explanations. The measure before us today is in a different class. It is a Bill of 55 clauses and, though I believe it will be uncontroversial, it breaks new ground in some respects, and in fact would not fit into the rules for Orders in Council. So I think your Lordships will expect me to give a fairly full exposition of its contents and this I propose to do.

This is a complicated Bill, dealing with a very simple subject. Its purpose is one to which few will demur; namely, to promote equality of opportunity in employment and occupation in Northern Ireland between persons of different religious between persons of different religious nation in employment or occupation on the grounds of religious belief or political opinion, or by way of victimisation; in plain words, to ensure that, where two candidates present themselves for a job, with equal physical and mental aptitudes, one should not be given preference over the other simply by reason of his religion.

The Bill is based on, and follows very closely, the recommendations of the Working Party, set up by the previous Administration under the chairmanship of the honourable gentleman Mr. van Straubenzce, to examine discrimination in the private sector of employment, which reported in June 1973. They produced an excellent Report and I congratulate the then Minister of State who chaired it and his colleagues who were widely representative of the areas concerned, with three members from the Northern Ireland CBI, five from the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and two from the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce. Their Report was unanimous and has since been favourably received by the CBI and the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.

Since many noble Lords, especially on the Front Bench opposite, will have read this Report and been convinced by its arguments, I shall not spend very much time in justifying the need for legislation in this field. Few people would maintain that there is no discrimination of this kind in Northern Ireland, though some would claim that some of the intensely bitter complaints of the minority are exaggerated. There is only one serious objection, and that is the sceptical one that you cannot make people behave properly by Act of Parliament. The van Straubenzee Report dealt with this argument, effectively in my opinion. Legislation, they maintained, is concerned with actions rather than attitudes, and they quoted in support the First Annual Report of the Race Relations Board in Great Britain—quoted also in the Sex Discrimination Bill. The Report said: A law is an unequivocal declaration of public policy; A law gives support to those who do not wish to discriminate but who feel compelled to do so by social pressures; A law gives protection and redress to minority groups; A law thus provides for the peaceful and orderly adjustment of grievances and the release of tensions; A law reduces prejudice by discouraging the behaviour in which prejudice finds expression. The Bill follows the van Straubenzee Report in adopting a mixed approach combining the voluntary with the compulsory; it provides a means by which employment practices which breach the principle can be identified and remedied. first by an effort at conciliation; finally, if necessary, by compulsion through the courts. It makes religious and political discrimination unlawful and provides machinery for remedy. It follows the Working Party's recommendation on establishing an independent body, the Fair Employment Agency for Northern Ireland with the duties of promoting equality of opportunity in employment and occupation; working for the elimination of discrimination made unlawful by the Bill reviewing employment patterns and investigating employment practices in order to identify the existence, or otherwise, of equality of opportunity; and receiving and investigating complaints of unlawful discrimination and achieving remedies for the complainant where it finds a complaint to be well-founded. Unlawful discrimination covers not only discrimination on the grounds of religious belief or political opinion, but also includes discrimination by way of victimisation, by discriminatory advertisements and also by inciting others to discriminate. The Agency will always have to proceed through conciliation but, subject to the operation of an appeals machinery, it will have wide powers of enforcement, which it will be able to use whenever it is necessary to do so. The powers given to the Agency in order to promote both equality of opportunity and to deal with unlawful discrimination are a measure of the importance which the Government attach to this legislation for Northern Ireland.

The Bill goes wider than the Working Party's Report, however. The Working Party's terms of reference were confined to an examination of conditions in the private sector, though they recommended that the Government should consider applying their recommendations to the public sector. The Government acquiesced, and the Bill before us applies to both the public and private sectors. The Bill provides an exception for the employment of teachers in schools—but not other employment in education. In so doing it recognises, as did the Report, that special considerations exist in relation to education, having regard to the system of education. However, it provides for this exception to be subject to review by the Agency. The Secretary of State will be able to reduce or remove the exception by order. It is not the function of the Bill to alter the educational system but, as I have already said, the exemption for school teachers will be kept under review by the Agency, which will be entitled to make recommendations to the Secretary of State as to what if anything should be done at a later date to further equality of opportunity for teachers.

I now turn to the contents of the Bill. Part I deals with the establishment of the Fair Employment Agency for Northern Ireland, to which I have already referred. Clauses 1 and 2 and Schedule 1 are concerned with the functions and operation of the Agency. In addition to the Agency's principal duties, which, as I have already mentioned, are the promotion of equality of opportunity and working for the elimination of unlawful discrimination, provision is made for the Agency to engage in activities of an educational nature, including research and publicity. The members of the Agency will be appointed by the Head of the Department of Manpower Services in Northern Ireland, and it is our intention to seek out the best qualified people, men or women, to fulfil what is bound to be a most exacting role.

Part II (that is to say, Clauses 3 to 15 and Schedules 2 to 5) is concerned with the promotion and provision of equality of opportunity, and is not primarily concerned with individual cases of discrimination, which are dealt with in Part III. The concept of equality of opportunity is the cornerstone of this Bill. Broadly, it means the opportunity for persons of different religious beliefs to engage in employment and occupation on an equal basis after making due allowance for differences in age, health, ability and other personal qualities. One of the prime tasks of the Agency will be to encourage employers to adopt employment practices which provide equality of opportunity. Reference to the courts must be a last resort only.

This positive approach is demonstrated in Clauses 6 to 10 and Schedule 3, which deal with the Declaration of Principle and Intent. We hope that most, if not all, employers and vocational organisations will sign this voluntary declaration of commitment to the principle of full equality of employment opportunity and the rejection of discrimination. By signing the Declaration employers will be entitled publicly to call themselves equal opportunity employers. A register will be kept by the Agency of all subscribers to the Declaration. Failure to act in the spirit of the Declaration will lead to removal from it. The public will be able to find out whether or not a particular employer has signed the Declaration, as the Register will be available for inspection.

The remaining clauses of Part II (that is, Clauses 11 to 15 with Schedules 4 and 5) relate to a further positive function of the Agency: that of identifying and keeping under review patterns and trends of employment. The Agency will be able to investigate the employment practices of any employer or vocational organisation, or group of employers or organisations, in order to discover whether equality of opportunity is in fact being provided in an area of employment, whether defined geographically or by function. By "vocational organisations is meant bodies like trade unions, federations of employers, or professional bodies like, for example, the Law Society, the Institute of Chartered Accountants and so on. "Occupation "is defined in the Bill so as to make clear that it is limited to the means of earning a livelihood; it does not cover purely leisure activities. It will also be possible for the Agency to investigate bodies which confer qualifications for engaging in a particular employment or occupation, such as, for example, the Royal Institute of British Architects.

Where the Agency finds that equality of opportunity does not exist, it must try to solve the problem by conciliation. Failing this, it can issue directions which can be enforced through the courts. There will be a Fair Employment Appeals Board for hearing appeals against directions, but if there is no appeal, or the appeal fails, the Agency will be able to obtain an order from the court for their enforcement.

I now turn to Part III. Clauses 16 to 29 and Schedule 5 deal with unlawful discrimination. This is defined as discrimination on the grounds of religious belief and political opinion and also by way of victimisation. The Bill makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against new employees or in his treatment of existing employees; for example, in connection with promotion, training, transfer and dismissal. Part III of the Bill also deals with discrimination against contract workers, by vocational organisations, and in the granting of licences or other qualifications relevant to particular employment or occupation.

Clause 21, with Schedule 5, requires the Agency to investigate complaints of alleged discrimination made by individuals, provided that the complaint is not of a frivolous nature. Investigation and any subsequent consequential action, both conciliatory and through the courts, is undertaken by the Agency on behalf of the complainant, who cannot himself take legal action in the matter. The procedure following the completion of an investigation of a complaint is dealt with in Clauses 22 to 29, and is similar to that following an investigation into employment practices which I have already mentioned.

When the Agency finds that unlawful discrimination has been committed, it must first inform the parties concerned of its finding and then try to secure a settlement, and in appropriate cases obtain an undertaking to abide by such a settlement. Should the Agency fail to obtain a voluntary settlement, then it may issue a recommendation for action to be taken by the respondent in order to remedy the unlawful matter revealed by the investigation. An appeal to the county court against the finding of the Agency, whatever that finding, may be made by either the complainant or the respondent, according to whether the complaint is rejected or upheld. Finally, should a recommendation or an undertaking not be complied with, the Agency may apply to the county court for a remedy for the unlawful action, which may take the form of damages, or an injunction against repeating the action, or both.

Part IV of the Bill deals with other unlawful acts. Clause 30 makes it unlawful to publish an advertisement which could reasonably be understood to indicate an intention to do an act which is unlawful under Part III of the Bill, with certain exceptions. Clauses 31 and 32 deal with aiding or inducing others to discriminate and vicarious liability.

Part V of the Bill specifies a number of exceptions to the scope of Parts II to IV, and these exceptions are crucial to the acceptability of the Bill. They include employment as a priest or clergyman, cases where a person's religious belief or political opinion is a genuine occupational qualification for a particular job, and employment in a private household. Also exempted are acts done in compliance with existing legislation for the purpose of safeguarding national security, public safety or public order; and in order to comply with the provisions of charitable instruments.

In order to keep the work load which we expect to fall upon the Agency within reasonable limits, we intend to begin by exempting small firms. Small firms employing 25 or fewer people will be exempted for the first two years after the Bill comes into force, and firms employing 10 or fewer will be exempted for a further third year. This is the shortest realistic time in which it will be possible for the Agency to undertake to cover all employers of all sizes, so that a staggered introduction, as we propose, is preferable to making the Bill apply to all firms from the outset. This part of the Bill confers also the exemption, already referred to, of teachers in schools.

Part VI of the Bill deals with a number of miscellaneous matters, of which the most important are those contained in Clauses 46 to 50, by which the provisions of the Bill are applied to the Crown, the police and other public bodies. Government Departments and public bodies will be subject to investigation by the Agency in the same way as private employers, subject, of course, to the usual safeguards about the disclosure of information by the Crown. However, should the Agency consider that the employment practices of a Government Department or public body should be modified, it will not be able to issue directions enforceable by the courts, but must content itself by making to the Government Department concerned a report which must be laid before Parliament. The Bill will apply in its full rigour to local authorities. The remainder of Part VI deals with general and supplemental matters and includes the interpretation clause. Clause 55 enables different parts of the Bill to be brought into operation at different times.

My Lords, this is a long and complex Bill, but one that is, we believe, comprehensive. It is designed to deal with a very difficult and deeply ingrained problem, in the unique context of Northern Ireland. It would be foolish to expect that this Bill on its own will provide equality of opportunity for all in Northern Ireland, but we hope and believe that this piece of legislation will provide both a lead and guide for a sustained voluntary effort, together with a solid framework of administration and legal support where it is needed. In the Government's view it will play a constructive and far-reaching part in the achievement of full equality of employment opportunity in Northern Ireland, to which objective your Lordships will, I am sure, subscribe. We all hope, I feel certain, that one day the change in attitudes, which is really more important than a change in actions, may grow—and perhaps this Bill will provide one element in that growth. I commend the Bill to your Lordships, and I now beg to move that it have a Second Reading.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge.)

3.51 p.m.


My Lords, I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord for explaining the provisions of this Bill in some detail, because anyone glancing at it could be forgiven for wondering whether it is relevant to the realities of Northern Ireland today. If there are any such doubts, then it is worth recording that in 1972, when violence in Northern Ireland was at its height. representatives of all sides of industry sat down with the Government and nine months later published the Report to which the noble Lord generously referred; namely, the Report of the Working Party on Discrimination in the Private Sector of Employment. It was a unanimous Report from a Committee under the chairmanship of my honourable friend Mr. van Straubenzee. Broadly speaking, it is upon those recommendations that the Bill is based.

This is by no means the first attempt to try to move against discrimination. In, I think, the time of the premiership of my noble friend Lord O'Neill the Community Relations Commission was set up. It is interesting to see in Clause 2 that in the employment field the Agency is to take on many of those functions of a generally educational nature which were the sort of functions which the Community Relations Commission used to have. The Constitution Act 1973 prohibited discrimination in legislation or by public authorities, not only on religious but also on political grounds. That Act also established the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Feather. So there has been no lack of good intentions in the past, and indeed Lord Feather's Commission has been at work now for rather over a year.

Is it necessary then to introduce this legislation at all? The answer surely must be, Yes; necessary in order to carry forward the work to which both sides of industry put their shoulders two years ago; necessary in order to give people some rules and guidelines of a practical nature on which to act. Is this the right time to introduce legislation of this sort? Well, I think that neither the Working Party nor the Government are unaware of the difficulties with which this Bill will he confronted. Indeed, the noble Lord in his speech said as much.

In the introduction to their Report, the Working Party acknowledged the intensity of feeling which the question of religious discrimination generates, but recorded that they had found widespread agreement that, where it exists, religious discrimination ought to be dealt with in the interests of social justice and human dignity and of the social stability which is a prerequisite of economic expansion in Northern Ireland. Surely those are compelling reasons for pressing ahead with this Bill. Of course there will be pitfalls. Possibly the Bill may need amendment, but I do not think that these are reasons for shrinking from the problems with which the Government are now attempting to deal.

In a sense, the Bill is divided into two halves. One is represented by Part II, which deals with promoting equality of opportunity, and the other is dealt with by Part III, dealing with the elimination of discrimination. Part II, it would be fair to say, is constructive in its outlook. Through the guide to manpower policy and practice, both employers and employees are going to have a clear lead as to what constitutes equality of opportunity and what ought to be done to try to achieve it. Through the declaration of principle and intent to which, as the noble Lord said, employers, trade unions, and other organisations will be invited to subscribe, both sides of industry and commerce will need to stand up and be counted, and of course the register is to be open to public inspection.

This positive concept of trying to promote equality of opportunity is not borrowed from other United Kingdom legislation already on the Statute Book. The idea, so far as this Bill is concerned, originated in the Working Party's Report which, in turn, took it from the United States of America. In practical terms this part of the Bill will enable people, by looking at the headings on notepaper used by companies, by seeing advertisements and by consulting the register to know whether or not a company is subscribing to the principle of equality of opportunity.

However, there is a sting in the tail of Part II. Causes 11 and 12 lay a duty on the Agency to investigate employment patterns and practices, and if the findings are unsatisfactory the Agency, as the noble Lord explained, shall rectify matters first of all by conciliation, failing that by giving directions, and failing that by going to the county court for an injunction. There could be a danger here that these investigations may lead the Agency to conclude that in particular cases a general imbalance among employees ought to be rectified. and this in turn may tempt the Agency in effect to start to allocate quotas. This was a solution which the Working Party warned against most strongly, and this point might be worth looking at again at a later stage of the Bill.

Part III—in a sense the other half—defines discrimination and provides measures to prevent it. Broadly speaking, the measures are exactly the same as those being used to promote equality of opportunity; namely, conciliation, directions, and a final resort to the county court for an injunction. The whole process will be started by a complaint or following an investigation. Inevitably, a threat to this process is going to be that ill-disposed people may deliberately try to use the provisions of this Bill to stir up trouble. There are companies in Northern Ireland employing people solely of one religion just because the neighbourhood consists solely of people of one denomination. What will be the position, I wonder, of an employer who finds himself faced with an application from someone who, he suspects, is being deliberately planted on him to cause trouble? Looking at the Bill, it would appear that such an employer could very well find himself investigated under Part II or Part III. It is true that both processes allow for consultation and, indeed, appeal, but I think that consideration needs to be given to providing a channel of communication whereby an employer who believes he is being deliberately used can take the initiative, and perhaps get a ruling in his favour from the Agency or the Appeals Board. It may be that the Bill allows for this. I should like to ask the noble Lord about this again in more detail at a later stage.

What I am certain about is that the need to forestall an investigation or complaint against an absolutely reputable employer is very clearly illustrated by the position in which the Northern Ireland Housing Executive has found itself when construction work is being carried out on its behalf in an area which is either very strongly Loyalist or very strongly Republican. The Housing Executive has signed the Code of Fair Employment Practice, but it is only sensible for the Executive to employ workmen who are not obviously going to be at risk. One example of the consequences of not taking this precaution occurred some little time ago, when two Roman Catholics who were part of a large workforce doing repairs in the Shankhill were moved quickly to another project after the Housing Executive had received a 'phone call saying that they had just 10 minutes in which to move the two men.

The noble Lord gave a warning to the House that one cannot expect work patterns of many years to be altered immediately by this Bill. If employees are unwilling to work with other employees of a different denomination here is another difficulty which could make the position of a company which genuinely wants to become an equality of opportunity employer very difficult indeed. I find it hard to discern from the Bill who, in those circumstances, would be the respondent if the Agency found that such a situation constituted unlawful discrimination.

My Lords, these sort of difficulties and others arise from deep-rooted cause and effect. One of the most tragic effects of fear engendered by sectarian conflict has been the drawing together of people into clearly defined housing areas for their own mutual protection. I believe it is this more than anything else which leads to isolation of thought on the part of whole communities in Northern Ireland. Brought up in the Shankhill or The Falls, what opportunity is there for a man, a woman or a child to respond to an appeal for tolerance and understanding?—precious little.

I believe that one of the keys to the problem of discrimination would be some loosening of the iron ties which bind some of the Ulster city housing areas. Many people take the view that an equally vital factor is education which, as the noble Lord has explained is specifically excepted in the Bill by Part V. I am always rather suspicious of the claim that education, and education alone, is responsible for all the rights and wrongs of society. I do not believe that education either can or should work in isolation. I am sure that it needs to co-operate with other agencies and other services. But precisely because other occupations are going to be subject to this Bill, it is disappointing that it has not been possible to include teachers in schools in the scope of the legislation. Of course, higher and further education in Northern Ireland are not segregated except for the voluntary teacher training colleges. The educational problems of this Bill lie within the primary and secondary schools, not least because the rules for the composition of governing and managing bodies in control of schools generally would always afford them a Protestant majority. To change the system would entail change in the educational legislation of Northern Ireland. and I am certain that this is something which ought to be tackled not by Parliament at Westminster but by the Northern Ireland Assembly.

But in accepting, with some sadness, the education provisions of Part V, let us recognise the co-operation between the voluntary and controlled schools which exists to a far greater degree than is generally realised; let us encourage the development of mixed education for the youngest children, for nursery education is not bound by the same rules for managing bodies as are primary schools. Let us hope that some further development may be possible under Part V for keeping education under review.

To make this Bill work the good will and resolution of both sides of industry, of local authorities and of public bodies will be needed. There will also be a need for sound common sense on behalf of the Agency. There will be every opportunity under the Bill for equality of opportunity to be promoted, although I am relieved that the words "affirmative action" are not being used in the Bill. I have always thought that if a representative of the Fair Employment Agency talked about "affirmative action" to someone perched on top of a crane at Harland and Wolff he might get a ripe answer! What is needed are sensible and practical steps in the right direction, in language which everyone can understand; and for pointing the way to this we have to thank the Working Party and this Bill.

I would guess that the dividing line in Northern Ireland between hope for better things and the possibility of tragedy remains paper thin. These proposals could help to tip the scales towards a better future, and for that reason I hope that the House will give the Bill its support.

4.5 p.m.


My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, for his very full exposition of this lengthy and complex Bill. I have no doubt that it is an extremely well-meaning, well-intentioned effort, but none the less I believe it to be partly mistaken in content and wholly mistaken in its timing and method of introduction. Had I been confident of any support, I should have been inclined to table an Amendment on the following lines: This House, reaffirming its condemnation of religious discord and accepting the need for steps designed to improve the situation, nevertheless declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which, on balance, will not in its practical application contribute to religious harmony. This is a very slightly paraphrased version of the reasoned Amendment tabled by the Conservative Opposition in another place to the Second Reading of the Race Relations Act 1968.

My Lords, I intend to ignore the philosophical objections to legislation of this sort—in other words, the libertarian arguments, valid though they undoubtedly are—and to concentrate on the pragmatic objections. The first is the question of acceptability. Employers nowadays are perhaps reconciled to being denied the right to exercise their full judgment and intuition in the selection of employees. In this country a male applicant with excellent qualifications on paper may apply to an employer. The employer may none the less have an intuition that he would not fit in for one reason or another, and he may safely act accordingly and refuse him the job. But if a well-qualified female applicant, or someone of African or Asian origin applies, woe betide the employer if he rejects them on similar grounds. The same constraints do not apply in practice to workers on the shop floor. This is highly relevant, because of the provisions of Clause 32 which, broadly speaking, make an employer responsible for his employees' actions.

I well remember a speech in your Lordships' House made by the late Lord Citrine from the Labour Benches, which I found extremely impressive—one of the very few speeches which caused me to switch my voting intentions midway through a debate. The noble Lord demonstrated with great clarity and forcefulness that no power on earth, and certainly no legislation, could force a trade unionist to work side by side with a man whom he disliked for personal reasons, because of his personal habits, possibly because of his extreme political opinions, possibly because of suspicions about his honesty, or whatever it might be. We all know the fate of the Industrial Relations Act. This ultimately had to go because trade unionists believed, or had been persuaded to believe, that that legislation had been introduced by a Government which was inherently hostile to trade unionism and trade unionists. If an almost identical Bill had been introduced by a Labour Government, it might well still be on the Statute Book today.

The suspected motives of those who initiate controversial legislation of this type are even more important in attempts in a tense and violence-ridden atmosphere, such as that prevailing in Northern Ireland. As things stand, a wide-ranging and in many ways revolutionary Bill is being introduced at Westminster where Northern Ireland MPs in general, and Northern Ireland MPs representative of the urban working class in particular, are very thin on the ground as a result of the under-representation of Northern Ireland at Westminster. In this connection, I should like to suggest that the fact that the three delegates from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions supported the provisions of this Bill is not necessarily indicative of the grass roots feeling of trade unionists in Northern Ireland.

I well remember visiting the Port London over 20 years ago and being astonished by the vehemence of the hostility of dockers towards their unions. Employers were comparatively well regarded in contrast. On the other side of the coin, Westminster contains a substantial minority of MPs who opposed, and have always opposed—long before the troubles of the past few years—the continued unity of the United Kingdom, at least within its present boundaries.

To crown it all, this legislation is not to apply to England, Scotland or Wales, a fact which will produce some astonishing anomalies which I will demonstrate in moment. A greater recipe for a suspicious, hostile and unco-operative reception for this legislation in Northern Ireland is hard to imagine. If it were possible for this Bill, either as it stands or in modified form, to be introduced in whatever Northern Ireland Assembly results from the deliberations of the present Convention—if it were proposed, discussed and minutely scrutinised by the elected repre sentatives of the Northern Ireland people—then it might receive a very much warmer welcome.

I suspect that some noble Lords must already be thinking: what chance does such a Bill have, in view of the attitude of the majority who have given the United Ulster Unionist Council 55 per cent. of the votes in the Convention elections? The answer to that is that it has generally been overlooked that the United Ulster Unionist Council have on several occasions confirmed that they would support a Bill of Rights which necessarily contained many, if not all, of the features of the Bill which is before us today. It may be that they are not sincere—I have no means of knowing—but I would guess otherwise, and it is surely worth while giving them the benefit of the doubt and delaying such legislation for a few months until the election of an Assembly, because if a Bill of Rights which contains many of the most important objectives of this Bill is supported by all Parties in Northern Ireland, then it becomes very much more difficult for individuals to oppose or to try to circumvent its provisions.

Directly leading from this is my second pragmatio objection. and that is the tragedy of a missed opportunity to unite the mutually suspicious political groups in Northern Ireland. For the United Ulster Unionists Coalition to be given the opportunity to propose and support a fairly contentious Bill of Rights would be a unique occasion, a really golden opportunity, for them to demonstrate their good will towards the minority—or really the minorities because it is simplistic to suggest that there is one homogeneous minority any more than there is one homogenous majority—and to demonstrate also their willingness to make at least some compromises in the direction of the centre; and it might well pave the way for fruitful co-operation on other contentious issues in future. To be able to agree on relatively anodyne and uncontentious legislation is no real test. Indeed, if the Assembly is to be restricted to the functions of a glorified county council. why have an Assembly at all?

Coming to the wording of the Bill. I suspect that the actual intentions of the Bill in using the phrase "religious beliefs" are to relate not specifically to religious beliefs but effectively to nominal religious affiliations. If it really is "religious beliefs ", then the lawyers are going to have a field day. Consider, my Lords, the case of a Roman Catholic employer, conservative and traditionalist in his religious outlook, who advertises for a personal assistant, a job which requires close co-operation and rapport with one's employer. An applicant comes forward who is also a Roman Catholic but who happens to hold strong liberal views, and during the course of the interview he reveals that he totally rejects the doctrine of Papal infallibility, is a strong believer in birth control and possibly even a believer in abortion. Were the interview to take place in London, Glasgow or Cardiff, the employer would be entitled to say, "I am sorry, Mr. Smith. Your qualifications are excellent but I cannot see us hitting it off on a day to day basis." On my interpretation of the Bill, that would be quite illegal in Belfast.

Then, my Lords, consider the case of an employer who advertises for an export salesman or an advertising account executive, occupations which involve plying customers or clients with a good deal of alcoholic refreshment, and the applicant happens to be a practising Methodist, a strong teetotaller who objects on principle to drinking or to offering other people drinks. He could well argue that he was perfectly well qualified for the job, and that in his experience it was not necessary to oil the wheels of commerce in this way. The employer might think otherwise, and there we might find another bone of contention, with an appeal and so on.

The main objections are really on the question of political belief, because I suspect that nearly everybody in Northern Ireland, younger people at any rate, do not have the purely religious bigotry of their fathers and grandfathers. The issue is basically a political one, and this is very much a hot potato. Even on this side of the water, we have seen trouble breaking out in North London, at the time of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, between Turkish and Greek Cypriots; Greek Cypriot employees demonstrating to demand the dismissal of a Turkish foreman and so on, and for all I know perhaps the other way round. I would not be surprised if at the time of the Pakistani Army's ruthless operations in what is now Bangladesh and the subsequent Bangladeshi persecution of the Biharis, similar trouble occurred among the Asian communities in Britain, although it would not necessarily have got into the newspapers.

I will cite an example which will be more easily understood by your Lordships. In the extremely unlikely event of Mr. Colin Jordan applying for a job with a Jewish employer in London, the employer would be perfectly entitled. politely or otherwise, to decline the offer of Mr. Jordan's services. In Belfast, this would not be possible, as I interpret the Bill, despite Clause 3(2) and, to add injury to insult, under the provisions of Clause 28(1)(c) it would appear that Mr. Jordan, were he denied the opportunity of a job, could be awarded damages for injury to his feelings. It is a very curious world in which we live, when parents whose children are killed in road accidents are denied compensation for the pain, grief and suffering that arise from their loss, while other people are given compensation for the alleged mental suffering received by being denied a job.

Do not let us forget in the Northern Ireland context the totally ruthless and violent groups which have emerged during the last seven years in Northern Ireland; the Provisional IRA, the Official IRA, the Irish Republican Socialist Party on the one hand and the UVF, the Red Hand Commandos and the Ulster Freedom Fighters on the other. Is it really unreasonable that people who give vocal, verbal support, not necessarily active support, to such groups should be refused a job, because of the objections which their employers or fellow workers, or both, have, to people of all religious groups? Even excluding those who give verbal support to murderers or men of violence, are not objections in connection with other political views relating to the very existence of the State understandable? I wonder whether noble Lords would have considered it wrong if, 38 years ago in Austria, an employer belonging to the Catholic Party or to the Social Democratic Party had been highly reluctant to employ a man who vociferously welcomed the impending Anschluss? We live in a very secure, homogeneous island and we have very rarely been threatened in several hundred years of existence, and it is therefore difficult for us to under stand the fears of people who live under a constant threat.

The fourth objection is that pertaining to identifications of patterns and trends of employment, the workability of this—Clauses 11 and 12 and Clause 13 in particular, and especially Clause 11(2)(b)— Where such equality is absent, the reasons for its absence … ". The danger is that the Agency will be likely to proceed on a head-counting basis. It will ascertain that 35 per cent. of the gravediggers in Antrim are Protestants and that 27 per cent. of the chartered accountants in Armagh are Catholics and draw some sort of conclusion from this, that someone or other is either underrepresented or over-represented in these trades in relation to their total proportions in the counties in question. We must remember that throughout the world different cultural groups receive different types of education and unbringing and tend to gravitate into certain occupations. Examples of this are the Chinese in South-East Asia who tend to go into the mercantile trades; in Eastern Africa until recently it was the Asians; in the Middle East the Armenians and the Greeks, and in Spain the Catalonians, at the expense of the Castillians or Andalucians. In the United States, I often suspect that the Catholics of Maryland are more imbued with the dynamic Protestant capitalist ethic than are the neighbouring Protestants of West Virginia, many of whom are, incidentally, of Ulster descent.

A prime example of this is Canada—or, specifically, the province of Quebec. Up to 25 years ago, the French Canadians positively scorned the consumer society and the rat race; then in about the mid-1950s they realised what they were missing. The old clerical shackles were broken, and they decided that they wanted to participate fully in business and commerce. They resented it when they found that they did not get to the top immediately and they attributed this to discrimination on the part of English-speaking Canadians. Of course, there was a certain amount of discrimination, but basically their disabilities were self-inflicted in that their educational system and cultural background had not prepared them for the change. That is the difficulty of trying to classify statistics in this way. Wrong interpretations can be drawn and discrimination can be thought to exist where it does not exist at all. I believe that all these analyses may make people more self-conscious about religious differences, not less. Surely, that is not what we ought to be aiming for in the Ulster context.

I believe that Clauses 6 to 10 inclusive and the association with the rather Buchmanite declaration of intent in Schedule 3, which contains such woolly expressions as "social justice", which mean a thousand different things to a thousand different people, are superfluous in view of Clauses 13 to 33 inclusive. I am also worried about Clause 53(4), which reads, For the purposes of this Act a person is seeking employment if he is available for employment, whether or not he is aware of the existence of an opportunity for any particular employment. This might leave an employer open to action under the Act if he were to offer a vacancy to, say, a close friend, a relative or an acquaintance, rather than advertising it publicly. More likely than not, the friend would be someone of his own religion or political views. I feel that there is this danger if the clause remains unamended.

My Lords, I feel that by now what I believe to be the psychological damage resulting from the introduction of the Bill into this House will have been done, so that there is therefore no point in opposing the Bill lock, stock and barrel at this Second Reading stage. However, in view of their delicacy. I hope the Government will seriously consider the matters to which I have drawn attention and will consider Amendments in Committee to make the Bill more acceptable.

4.27 p.m.

Lord O'NEILL of the MAINE

My Lords, I should like to make a few general observations about the Bill. Owing to the courtesy of British Airways. I have managed to get over from Northern Ireland in time to say a few words. Naturally, I welcome the Bill. Looking back over fairly recent history, one sees that there have been many tragedies. We were beginning to make some progress in mixing up in the housing estates the two sections of the population. Owing to the terrible events of the last five or six years. various people have been driven back into their own areas. That is a tragedy which was touched upon by the noble Lord. Lord Belstead. One of the things which I found most helpful in breaking down these ancient attitudes was the introduction of firms not originating in Northern Ireland—in particular, American firms. I used to go to America twice a year and we brought over 30 American factories into Northern Ireland. European firms and even new British firms were helpful also. It was difficult for people working in such firms to put pressure on managers who had not been brought up in the area to discriminate. To that extent, discrimination was being alleviated perhaps more than by anything else. So that is a good "plus" which has taken place during the last 20 to 25 years.

The thing which gave me the greatest pleasure was to see the bipartisan policy still in operation today, despite all that we have been reading in our newspapers during the last few days. What could be more bipartisan than to have a committee sitting under the chairmanship of a Conservative Minister which produces legislation to be introduced later on by a Labour Government? The bipartisan policy is, I hope and pray, still in operation. There are some misguided people in Northern Ireland who imagine that if only we could go back to 1912 again and if only the Tories could ally themselves, lock, stock and barrel, with the loyalists, and the Labour Party with—shall we say?—the SDLP, then Ulster's constitution would, in some mysterious way, be safeguarded. Nothing could be further from the truth. It would be a road to immediate ruin. Therefore I, for one, hope that the bipartisan policy will continue in the way that we have seen it demonstrated today. Finally, I felt that it was very nice to listen to two Englishmen discussing Northern Ireland affairs with such knowledge. I would say to the Minister that I feel that the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, made one or two very valid and sensible points and that I hope he will take them into consideration before the Committee stage.

4.29 p.m.


My Lords, I shall detain the House for only three minutes. I did not realise until this morning that the Bill was coming up, and I shall speak only briefly. May I say how much I applaud the good intentions behind the Bill? As we all know, human prejudices, weaknesses, likes and dislikes are very difficult to legislate against. I have always thought that the matter of religious discrimination in Northern Ireland was perhaps rather exaggerated. No doubt, however, the Government have a weight of evidence to the contrary. It would be interesting if we could have the figures—and I understand of course, that the Minister probably cannot produce them now--to ascertain the proportion of unemployment pro rata to the religious denominations in Northern Ireland. Are there more unemployed Catholics, pro rata, or more Protestants? It would be interesting to know.

There is one aspect of the Bill which worries me, and I wish to refer to it for a minute or two. This is the question of political discrimination. I think it is easier to legislate against religious discrimination. I have been an employer in the past; I am hardly an employer now, because wages are too high. But let us suppose that as an employer I propose to start up a factory in Northern Ireland. I am thinking here—so far as the Bill is concerned—of a factory with more than 25 employees, because what I have in mind would not apply if there were under 25 employees. The factory which I propose to start up may have 30, 40, 50 or even 100 employees. I am now referring to Clause 17(a) of the Bill regarding discrimination in choosing employees. Suppose that two employees come to me and one is a responsible member of the Labour, the Liberal or the Conservative Party—a perfectly good man—while the other has the same qualifications but is a member of the International Marxist Socialists. Presumably his aim would be to blow up the factory, because I understand that the aim of such a body is to overthrow existing society by violence. If we were to stick strictly to the letter of the law as laid down in the Bill, I could be charged with an offence against the Bill if I did not choose the International Marxist Socialist.

I will sit down shortly, but I wish to point out what I regard as this weakness concerning discrimination for political reasons. It may act unfairly sometimes against employers and employees. My noble friend Lord Belstead brought up another point, which was valid, on this same clause. But with regard to religious discrimination, I must say, as I have said in the House previously, that if only the Catholics and Protestants in the State primary and secondary schools in Northern Ireland could be educated together, any discrimination which exists would soon disappear, certainly among the younger people.

4.32 p.m.

Viscount AMORY

My Lords, I promise not to detain your Lordships for more than two minutes. I am glad to follow my noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard. I understand that he has half his property on one side of the Border and the other half on the other side. Therefore, like the Irish judge, he will take a strict line between partiality on the one side and impartiality on the other. I want to say three things within the two minutes I have set myself. I apologise for not having heard the speeches by the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, and my noble friend Lord Belstead. I wish to say to the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, that we on this side understand the difficulties with which he and his colleagues are faced, and we appreciate the patience and the poise with which they are consistently grappling with them.

Secondly, I think it is very nice to see sitting in his place the noble Lord, Lord Grey of Naunton, who, when he was Governor in Northern Ireland, did so much to try to bring everybody together, and certainly was nothing if not completely impartial. Thirdly, it was nice to hear my noble friend Lord O'Neill of the Maine say that he hoped very much that the bipartisan policy would hold. As a layman who knows very little, if anything, about Northern Ireland I support that; in my heart I believe in that. Some of us think that if only my noble friend had been able to remain in his post some of the difficulties which we have since been faced with would have been less difficult and less extreme than they have been. Finally, may I say to the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, that every measure which he and his colleagues produce which seems to be sensible and well designed to prevent animosities becoming worse in Northern Ireland will, I am sure, receive the cordial support of this side of the House. This measure seems to be sensible, and, as I believe my noble friend has already said, I am sure it will be supported from this side of the House.

4.35 p.m.


My Lords, I shall he brief—I have risen two or three times. As the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill of the Maine, is here he can help me a lot. I want to know how all the trouble started. I think it was started by a young Irishman, quite a distinguished one, who had been fighting in Paris and who came over. He had French posters with him, he stuck them up and he started a revolution. 'The noble Lord can tell me whether that is correct. I think that was the beginning of this flare-up.

The noble Lord can also tell me—if I may ask him about this subject—whether there was not a civic organisation in Northern Ireland which was successful. It was stopping a lot of trouble. That organisation could, quite easily, have stopped the new foreign revolution which was taking place, but we sent over a Member of Parliament to deal with it. I understand that his solution was to put out of order and stop the one governing body which had kept Northern Ireland quiet for a number of years. I further understand that when it was suggested that he should not announce this on a Friday—which he wanted to do—because it was pay day at Harland and Wolff and there would be a lot of trouble, he said: "No, I must announce it and go back; I have done my job" or words to that effect. I should like the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill of the Maine, to put us right, because he is the one person who can put us right from the beginning.

4.37 p.m.


My Lords, doubtless the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill of the Maine, will write to the noble Lord, Lord Strange, with the answer to that question, which has not very much to do with the point we are discussing. I am grateful for the general reception which this rather difficult Bill has had. In particular, approbation from the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, is always valued on this side, and I am grateful for his general approval. I value his appreciation of the patience which has to be shown on this side of the House on this point.

The noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, gave us credit for good intentions and I am happy to take that credit. They certainly exist. He said, as many people say, that the instances of discrimination are grossly exaggerated. But many other people feel so bitterly about this subject and are so certain that these instances are not recognised that I do not think it helps the situation to say that. I know this to be true. Two-thirds of our population think that these accusations are largely exaggerated, while one-third think that they are hopelessly understated. The Government simply have to act on the basis that there is something here which is wrong and which ought to be put right if there is any practical way of doing it. My Lords, I have a few unemployment figures, but I do not intend to quote them. I should prefer to write to the noble Lord and be sure that I have the position exactly right. I am not sure that the figures I have been given are exactly applicable to his interesting question. I think I know the answer, but I shall not anticipate it.

We are always pleased when the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill of the Maine, supports what we are doing. It is a great help to us to know that he thinks that it is worth trying to deal with this problem in the way in which we are trying to deal with it. No one has said that it is going to succeed, but we take the view that a basis of law, with a lot of good will about, can help those people who are threatened and who are otherwise under pressure not to behave properly. I am particularly grateful for the noble Lord's support and endorse with great enthusiasm his plea that our bipartisan policy should remain. At the moment it is as firm as a rock, and long may it remain so.

I was a little confused by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Monson. What worried me was that he was in favour of what we were trying to do, but did not think we could do it. This seems to be a defeatist attitude, and I was unable to understand why he thought it was going to be positively harmful. He did not make that clear. He gave a number of marginal cases of which I think you will be able to find any number. Over the Race Relations Act, there were some good ones about Dutch cooks. These made the Act look ridiculous; but it has been a strength in this country towards nondiscrimination against blacks; and long may it last. I do not expect a Bill of this kind to do much more. The fact that some instances can be found that look rather silly is not very relevant. The noble Lord also seemed to object to our bringing in this legislation at Westminster; but Northern Ireland is a part of the United Kingdom at the moment and at Westminster is the Government. If the Convention comes to a conclusion that sets up an Assembly which is acceptable to the Government at Westminster, then it may be that it would have been better for is to be introduced there. But this is anticipating something that we have no business to anticipate. We undertook to deal with the question a long time ago. I do not think that one should await the result of the Convention, which is not yet sitting, before taking action.

The noble Lord asked for a Bill of Rights as being something less controversial than this Bill. My own view is that it might be more controversial—


My Lords, I did not ask for a Bill of Rights. I said the United Ulster Unionist Council had themselves proposed a Bill of Rights.


My Lords, I thought that the noble Lord supported that. In any case the position over a Bill of Rights is that Lord Feather's Commission is looking at that now. It was announced the day before yesterday. That is something to go on with. I was worried about the noble Lord's un-Longford-like definition of a Catholic who did not believe in Papal infallibility, did believe in birth control and was not very sound on abortion. I wondered whether this was a fair case to put before the House; but my noble friend Lord Longford is not here so we can pass on.

My Lords, I think that what the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, said will be looked at very carefully by the Government. He made a number of points. Not least, I think, was that it is desirable that people should stand up and be counted on this kind of issue. The register that we propose will do just that. He made a point of which the Government are aware: the danger of the study of an imbalance giving way to an approval of quotas, what is known as benign discrimination. Both the van Straubenzee Report and we in Government deplore it and have no intention of getting involved with it. I give an absolute assurance of that. On the other hand, I think it is desirable that a body like the Agency should be able to look at trends and to estimate balances, provided it does not use quotas as a way of redressing them. That I think we shall do.

The noble Lord raised an important point about what happens if an ill-disposed character is planted in a factory to stir up trouble. This may happen; it very likely will. The procedure is perfectly in order. What happens is that the Agency, at the request of the ill-disposed person, goes to the company and says, "It is alleged that" certain things are happening. The company then, originally, in an entirely informal way, discuss the case. One of the things that they can say is: This man has been given £100 to do it. We know who it is from and will give evidence to prove it." This will have a big effect on any decision that the Agency will make. But the kind of decision that the Agency may make when it comes to the general practice of a firm, that is to say in advertising and the rest of it, is a business decision rather than a legal decision. It is for this reason that there is an appeal to a special body. The Agency appeal is here under Part II; whereas in Part III it is an offence against the law which is being investigated and the appeal is to the courts.

The noble Lord spoke about victimisation. Of course one of the things one wants to deal with is victimisation; but the proper recourse here is to the police. That remains the case. I am not particularly worried that the attempt to stop victimisation will be sabotaged. I think that it will help people to bring this matter out into the open more fearlessly than otherwise. The noble Lord was sorry about the exception of education. I do not think it was a starter, with the known views of the Churches on this subject. I think it would be a great mistake in a rather controversial Bill like this to try to force something through which one knew at least one side and half of the other were totally opposed to. Although this may come, it cannot come yet. It must be noted that it only goes as far as secondary schooling, and that all types of education above secondary are nonsectarian and the Bill applies to them.

I do not know whether I have answered all the questions. If not, I will try to do so when I read through Hansard. I am grateful for the general feeling that this Bill should have a Second Reading.

On Question, Bill read 2a and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.