§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Read a third time.
§ Clause 6 [Complaints involving matters within the jurisdiction of industrial tribunal]:
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Lyell) moved Amendment No. 1:
Page 5, line 25, after ("President") insert ("or Vice-President").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, the amendment which stands in my name on the Marshalled List this evening follows on from a series of amendments which I moved at an earlier stage of the proceedings on the Bill. Your Lordships may remember that this large series of amendments—I think it is called, "the Lyell Package"—provided for the creation of the office of vice-president of the industrial tribunals and the Fair Employment Tribunal. The proposed new amendment is purely technical and consequential upon the group which I moved at an earlier stage.
§ At present in Clause 6(1) we make reference only to "the President". The amendment which I propose will substitute a reference to "the President or Vice-President". It will empower the vice-president to act in place of the president when the latter is not available and a matter arises concerning a complaint involving matters within the jurisdiction of industrial tribunals. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.999
§ Clause 54 [Redundancy]:
Lord Prys-Davies moved Amendment No. 2:
Page 46, line 29, leave out from ("employer") to ("and") in line 31.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment relates to the Bill's redundancy clause. Noble Lords who were present at the Second Reading debate will recall that the Minister told the House that the Government would be bringing forward an amendment in the area of redundancy, and here I quote the words of the Minister,
to avoid any erosion of gains towards fair participation in the workforce of individual firms through existing redundancy practices".—[Official Report, 28/6/89; col. 798.]
§ We did not see the amendment until last Thursday. It is now incorporated as Clause 54 of the Bill. I believe that it is fair to say that we all found this amendment to be baffling. Moreover, I am not sure whether I understand it even today.
§ An employer's redundancy policy can affect the structure of the workforce just as much as the promotion policy. For example, if an employer uses affirmative action programmes to rectify imbalance in the workforce but is then forced two or three years later, because of difficulties facing the company, to make employees redundant and bases his redundancy policy on the traditional practice of last in, first out, then the attempts made over the preceding years to secure equality of opportunity would be eroded and, possibly, negated.
§ When on Report the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, asked the Minister a simple question—that is, whether this amendment would adequately cover the last in, first out point—it seemed to the House that the Minister was unable to give a specific and clear answer to the question. I have since had an opportunity to read the words of the Minister but they are no clearer; indeed, they are woolly. That will not help employers when they have to implement the provisions of this Act.
§ In our view the confusion is probably—although, I am cautious in my comments—caused by the last limb of Clause 54(1)(a). The aim of the amendment is to remove those words. Therefore if our amendment is accepted, an employer can ignore the practice of last in, first out without having to construct an affirmative programme and without his policy being in accordance, and here I quote, "with an agreed procedure"—whatever those words may mean.
§ We urge the Government to accept this amendment. By doing so, the employer will know that he can ignore the old practice of last in, first out without having to call in aid an affirmative action programme and the agreed procedure. I beg to move.
§ Lord Lyell
My Lords, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, will forgive me—and I am sure that your Lordships will be happy—if I reiterate briefly how we see Clause 54. We have constructed this clause very carefully and with great sensitivity because of the way in which—and I explained this at an earlier stage—we are dealing with redundancy.
1000 First, unlike recruitment, training and promotion issues, which are constructive issues with which we have been dealing most of the way through the passage of this Bill and which relate to entry into, or movement within, employment, as your Lordships will be aware, redundancy is something emotionally different. It involves exit from employment. That difference and that aspect of the matter is fully recognised by the Government.
Secondly, Clause 54 as drafted strikes the right balance between providing protection for employers who wish to preserve gains in the percentage of an under-represented group in their workforce. That is the core of the argument and of the discussion which has prevailed through the proceedings on this Bill from 31st January of this year, when it started its journey in another place, right through until this evening. It provides protection for those employers who wish to preserve such gains. But, on the other hand, the clause avoids instrusive interference in very delicate industrial relations matters.
Thirdly, like Clauses 53 and 55, Clause 54—as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, will appreciate—is basically an enabling clause. It gives employers the necessary flexibility to look at and to address redundancy schemes when they wish to preserve the gains made by an under-represented group.
Fourthly, I should like to stress to the noble Lord the fact that Clause 54 is consistent with the definition of affirmative action, which, as he will be aware, involves two kinds of action to secure fair participation; namely, the adoption of practices to secure fair participation and the modification or abandonment of practices that have or may have the effect of restricting or discouraging such participation.
Further, Clause 54 respects the consensus which we believe should underlie all industrial relations matters and the need for a sensitive approach to redundancy. The clause gives employers security of protection from both direct and indirect discrimination when they are negotiating—this is important—an agreed redundancy procedure with the unions or workforce representatives. I shall clarify that point briefly later.
Finally, Clause 54 is at the heart of this part of the Bill which is designed to avoid selection for redundancy on the basis of religious belief or political opinion.
The noble Lord, and the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, at an earlier stage, referred to the question of last in, first out, which is one possible method of selection for redundancy. I have stressed that the purpose of Clause 54 is to protect those gains. It is a matter for negotiation between employers and the unions or workforce representatives. That is why there is no specific reference to last in, first out. Any gains in representation of an under-represented minority are likely to result from those most recently recruited. If an employer and a union were, off their own bat, to conclude a last in, first out agreement those gains might be dissipated. The amendment allows employers and unions collectively to address that difficulty, and, as part of an affirmative action 1001 programme, negotiate a method of redundancy other than last in, first out.
Employers and employees, or their representatives, could decide to base a redundancy scheme on criteria other than last in, first out; such as the skills of the individuals, the need to retain certain skills, the possibility of releasing those workers with skills for which the demand may be disappearing, or other factors such as qualifications or disciplinary records. If such a redundancy scheme is negotiated in preference to a scheme of last in, first out, or replaces one of that nature, the effect of the amendment is that the employer is protected against direct and indirect discrimination even though the object of the scheme is to preserve affirmative action and even though the scheme will have a disproportionate effect on the over-represented community in that particular workforce.
I hope that the noble Lord will see that we believe that Clause 54 as drafted should continue at the core of the Bill that we have pursued consistently for more than six months now. The noble Lord felt that there was no definition of "agreed procedure". We believe that "agreed procedure" has a meaning in the Bill. As we understand it, it means a formal agreement between the employer and his trade union or his workforce representatives. The inclusion of the term is fully consistent with the basic principle and practice of consent which I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Blease, will accept should underlie all industrial relations matters. The agreed procedure gives full respect to trade union negotiating rights in respect of redundancy by making the adoption of any scheme, conducted as part of affirmative action, conditional upon trade union support or that of the workforce representatives.
I am sorry if I disappoint your Lordships, but we believe that Clause 54, as drafted, provided flexibility for employers. Flexibility and good practice are the best method to deal with the sensitive issue of redundancy. To put explicitly into the Bill one scheme which may or may not be agreed or may or may not be used by that workforce or in that area would be giving false guidance and would remove the flexibility that we believe to be essential. For that reason, I am afraid that we cannot agree with the noble Lord and accept his amendment.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Lord Bonham-Carter
My Lords, perhaps I may ask the noble Lord a question before he sits down. I am not disappointed. I am totally bewildered. I cannot understand what we are being asked to accept. What happens if there is not an agreed procedure? It is as simple as that. Why should there be an agreed procedure? To take the first in, last out as an example, why should the unions abandon that principle? If they do not abandon it, what then happens? That is what I should like to know. That is what I cannot as yet understand.
§ Lord Lyell
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I stress that we want flexibility. I did not raise the question of last in, first out. It was the noble Lord's 1002 noble friend who raised it at an earlier stage. I gave the same answer. The principle of last in, first out has preoccupied the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, and the noble Baroness. I gave an answer. We believe that we need flexibility.
§ Lord Prys-Davies
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his lengthy explanation of Clause 54. The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, asked the simple question: how will the clause affect the principle of last in, first out? That is a practice deeply rooted in custom and history. As I understand it, a substantial part of the difficulty in Northern Ireland is how to overcome such practices. The Minister failed to answer that simple question. The clause fails to do so.
The Minister says that we have to show that the redundancy policy is in pursuance of an affirmative action programme, and we have to be satisfied that it is in accordance with an agreed procedure. Have there been any discussions with the trade unions in Northern Ireland as to whether the proposal is acceptable? Whatever his answer to that question, the critical question which the Government must answer is: how do we overcome those deep-rooted practices and customs?
We have been told more than once that the problem is not that of direct discrimination; it is of indirect discrimination, which is deeply rooted in practice, custom and history. If the Government attach importance to affirmative action and to enhancing equality of opportunity, it would assist the employer considerably if the last limb of Clause 37(1)(a) were deleted.
I do not propose to take this matter any further tonight. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, for raising the key questions that he did. The Minister expanded the explanation he gave last time. It will now be up to our colleagues in another place to reflect upon his explanation. Having listened to him, my view is that the clause provides hostages to fortune. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Lord Bonham-Carter moved Amendment No. 3:
After Clause 58, insert the following new clause:
§ Subsections (2) and (3) of section 42 of the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act 1976 (certificate that act done for the purpose of safeguarding national security, or of protecting public safety or public order to be conclusive evidence of that fact) should cease to have effect.").
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the amendment standing in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies. I do not apologise for raising this matter yet again. It was raised on Second Reading, in Committee and on Report and we raise it now at Third Reading. I do so simply because the arguments which were deployed by the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, did not seem to me to answer the case which was put by the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, and by me for removing Section 42(2) and (3) of the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act 1976. Subsection (2) reads, and I ask noble Lords to listen to this:
A certificate signed by or on behalf of the Secretary of State and certifying that an act specified in the certificate was done for a purpose mentioned in subsection (1) shall be"—
and this is the heart of the matter—
conclusive evidence that it was done for that purpose".
Those are the terms of the subsection which I regard as unacceptable.
§ I do not want to hear the noble Lord tell me that it is essential that the Secretary of State should have the right to issue Section 42 certificates. The point is that if the use of that power is not to be a source of suspicion and controversy, there must be some independent element, there must be some kind of appeal.
§ At Second Reading, in Committee and on Report the noble Lord argued, first, that for reasons of security the Secretary of State needs this power. If he wants confirmation of that he will find it in cols. 204, 678 and 824 of Hansard. Let me remind the noble Lord that none of us denies that. No one is saying that the Secretary of State should not have that power. No one is trying to take it away from him; no one is trying, in the words of the noble Lord himself, "to dismantle it".
§ Secondly, he argued that since the passage of the 1976 Act, the power under Section 42 had only been used on 17 occasions. Let me remind the Minister once more that that is not the issue about which we are arguing. The point is that if the power had been used on only one of those occasions, if on only one of those occasions a certificate had been issued wrongly or based on false information, an individual would have been the victim of an injustice, an injustice for which he had absolutely no redress. The amendment is directed at that.
§ It is a very serious situation in this country that a person can be the victim of an injustice based on secret information and he has no redress—there is nothing he can do. He does not merely not get the job but he is marked for life on the basis of evidence which he believes to be false. I find that absolutely unacceptable and I cannot but believe that it is contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights.
§ Thirdly, the noble Lord argued that to provide a wider scrutiny of matters such as this would jeopardise sensitive information. Perhaps noble Lords will look at col. 204 of Hansard in this regard. I must ask the Minister this question. If that is so, why under the sex discrimination order is a certificate subject to judicial review? Why is wider scrutiny of women of a different order from wider scrutiny of people on grounds of their religion or political persuasion? The Minister will have an opportunity to explain that.
§ Fourthly, he argued that applications for Section 42 certificates were not treated lightly. I am sure that is true; I am sure that his right honourable friend takes the utmost trouble and most conscientiously examines what is put before him. No one supposes that he does that lightly, but once more it is not the point that I am driving at. What we are talking about is human fallibility. People can make mistakes. What we want to do is to protect the noble Lord's right 1004 honourable friend from his own fallibility. We want to provide redress for victims of human fallibility. That fallibility is not confined to the Secretary of State; there is the human fallibility of the security services who provide the Secretary of State with the sensitive information on which he has to base his judgment.
§ These are the questions which the noble Lord must answer. After his years of experience in Northern Ireland, he must be conscious of the suspicious scrutiny with which any action taken by the Secretary of State is examined. He must also be aware that the reputation of the security services who supply this information in Northern Ireland is not totally beyond reproach. Whatever one may think of it, after Stalker, Kincora, Colin Wallace, Peter Wright, etc., it is more than ever necessary to be scrupulously careful in dealing with matters such as those which we are discussing.
§ I plead with the noble Lord on this occasion to address himself to these serious arguments which we have now put to him on no fewer than four occasions. Moreover, he admits it. He says that ever since 31st January he and his colleagues have been examining administrative procedures. I do not think those procedures are all that difficult. We have proposed one here. He has a precedent in the sex discrimination legislation. But we have to ask him for how much longer he will be examining these administrative procedures. We further have to ask him whether it is an administrative matter that is at the heart of this issue. It is my view that it is not an administrative matter but a judicial matter providing the individual who is caught under this clause with redress if he thinks that he has been wrongly or unjustly treated. I hope that the noble Lord will address himself to that and that he will also inform us of the progress he has made since 31st January in dealing with the problem which prompts this amendment. I beg to move.
§ Lord Prys-Davies
My Lords, from these Benches I wish to support the amendment which has been so ably moved by the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter. I wish to emphasise that it is the duty of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, when issuing a national security certificate, to act fairly and to be seen to act fairly.
That is not a novel principle. It is the concept which governs administrative procedures in this country. We therefore assert with as much conviction as we can command that the person who is affected by the Secretary of State's certificate has the moral right to know that the Secretary of State had acted fairly in issuing the certificate. The best way to give him that assurance is to give him the right to lodge an application for judicial review. Yet, as the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, has pointed out, as it stands, the law of this country denies him that moral right. He has been denied it for 14 years. It is surely irrelevant and inconsequential whether the number of certificates which have been issued is 17 or one. However, we are entitled to ask the Government for how much longer such a person is to be denied the right to judicial review.
1005 We obviously accept that we have to seek a just balance between the legitimate interests of the state and national security on the one hand and the legitimate interests of the individual on the other hand. However, to the best of my recollection, the Minister has not dwelt on the need to strike that just balance. We say that the department must grasp the need to seek that balance and therefore that the Secretary of State's exercise of this power to issue a certificate must in all cases be accompanied by effective legal scrutiny of the decision. We ask for the fourth time that the Government respond favourably to this amendment which, as I said earlier, has been so ably moved by the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter.
§ 9 p.m.
§ Lord Blease
My Lords, the essence of this amendment was dealt with on Report and in earlier parts of the debate on this Bill. It has been very ably moved by the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, and supported by my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies. There is little I would wish to add to the arguments that have been presented, other than to stress what has already been mentioned. Living in Northern Ireland, I know only too well the difficulties of implementing this provision. In so far as it is humanly possible with my capabilities, I have tried to put myself in the position of a Secretary of State. I would welcome this provision because I think the Secretary of State and his ministerial colleagues are under a constant siege. I believe this provision adds protection to the decisions of the Secretary of State.
Further, I believe the provision reinforces public confidence in that the facts of the matter under review will not be made public, so the danger of potential leaks regarding security matters is not a risk. However, it would certainly give added confidence to the public that what is being done is being done in their name and in the name of justice as regards those concerned. I merely wished to add those points from a Northern Ireland point of view.
§ Lord Fitt
My Lords, at the outset I wish to apologise for not having taken part in the debates on this legislation to the extent that I wished. I had a family illness and I was not available to speak on the legislation. However, I have read the report of the debates with a great deal of interest and concern. I was one who took part in the Committee stage of the original fair employment legislation when the two clauses which have been referred to this evening were drafted. I remember very well, particularly in Committee, that we were all imbued with the belief that, some way or other, the legislation which we were then proposing would have the effect that we so desired of taking into consideration the awful problem of discrimination that had existed in Northern Ireland for so long. Sadly, in 1989, we find that that legislation will not be as effective as we wish it to be. This evening the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, in moving his amendment, brings back vivid memories of the way in which we view legislation concerning Northern Ireland. That legislation is always caught up with problem of security.
1006 The noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, and my noble friends on these Benches will not be unaware of the serious discussions and concerns which were expressed here on the passage of the prevention of terrorism legislation. One of the big concerns that we expressed concerned exclusion orders. We were told that the Home Secretary was privy to some information which would allow him to take decisions in which the victim of the decisions would have absolutely no say. The victim's elected representative and his legal representatives could make whatever inquiries they thought necessary, but they would be faced with the fact that the Home Secretary had made the decision because it involved security.
We are faced with exactly the same problem in this legislation. Throughout the many years I was an elected representative in Northern Ireland, people used to come to me who had a very enviable record in Her Majesty's Services, or in His Majesty's Services during the last war. They had given their all in the Army, Navy and Air Force, but they had the awful impediment of being Catholics. That impediment existed even though they had given service during the war. After the war ended, as they were ex-servicemen, they were given some slight priority in the terrible contest that was taking place for jobs not only in Northern Ireland but indeed in other parts of the United Kingdom. I have vivid recollections of their visits to my advice centre. I was an elected representative, but not limited by the constituency. An elected representative in Northern Ireland does not restrict his representation to the constituency.
I remember a painter who had 22 years' service in the Royal Navy. He told me that he was working in Palace Barracks, which was an Army establishment in Holywood, County Down. One Sunday afternoon, completely out of the blue, his superior officer told him, "You have been dismissed". When he asked why, he was told that it was for security reasons. He pointed out that he had 22 years' service in the forces of the Crown. I took the case as far as I could—to the Minister of Defence, to the Home Secretary, and to all the other agencies which appeared at that time to be in a position to give some redress. They could give absolutely none.
That is why I share the concerns which have been expressed about the Bill and support the amendment moved so ably by the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter. Security can be an excuse for discrimination. In Northern Ireland security can be the be-all and end-all in relation to the maintenance of the status quo.
I believe the Bill to be sincerely motivated. I believe that this Government, albeit a Tory Government, are motivated by the same concerns which motivated the government in 1976. I also believe that the American influence had no mean part to play in the promulgation of this legislation. I do not believe that this legislation is perfect. I do not believe that any legislation in this field could ever be perfect. However, as I see it, if it does not do any good at least it will not do a great deal of harm. But the amendment would ensure that where there was the slightest hint of injustice the victim of that injustice would have the right to have his case 1007 looked into. Justice would have to be seen to be done in every aspect of the legislation.
§ Lord Lyell
My Lords, this ground has already been covered at various stages of the Bill. The speeches of noble Lords have had a common strand of great sincerity and commitment, and if I may so so to the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, no little eloquence. In his opening remarks—I hope that I paraphrase what he said correctly—the noble Lord said that no one was trying to dismantle the certificates. There has been no dissension in relation to the other common theme which runs through this subject, namely security.
The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, need make no apology when he speaks on Northern Irish matters in your Lordships' House. He tempted me into some dangerous areas on the last occasion. My name was splashed over the newpapers, not always in the most flattering light. It was said that some of my comments were not far from the truth. I thank the noble Lord for taking me down that particular avenue.
The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, and the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, have drawn attention to two aspects of problems in relation to Section 42 certificates. In his closing remarks, when we last discussed the matter, the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, emphasised that justice must be seen to be done, particularly in this context. I shall come to that point in a minute.
The noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, mentioned one aspect which I took to heart. I have had the honour of serving in Northern Ireland for five and a half years. Every day that I serve in Northern Ireland the more I realise I have to learn. When dealing with the particularly difficult area of security and when signing the certificates we are discussing, I consider and balance the arguments that have been put so persuasively by your Lordships. I am occasionally convinced by those arguments. Then one must look at other aspects and, little by little, come to a decision on the balance of all the factors that are drawn in together.
I have stressed the vital security interests that surround these Section 42 certificates. I beg the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, to accept that at no time do any of us who have to deal with these matters use security as a mere blanket. The noble Lords, Lord Prys-Davies and Lord Bonham-Carter, have perhaps taken to heart what I said at an earlier stage, that the fairly fierce power available to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has been used 17 times in 13 years. It may be thought that that is 17 times too many without the safeguards that the noble Lords seek.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Lord Lyell
My Lords, perhaps I may finish. We are in danger of getting out of order. If the noble Lord raises another point we shall be out of order. I shall conclude my remarks in a moment so perhaps he can contain his patience until then. I have listened to his views on the matter and perhaps he will now 1008 do me the courtesy of listening to mine. He may wish to correct me at the end.
That is an overriding factor that we must take into account. It is a question of people's lives being at stake when matters of this delicacy are discussed. One needs no further graphic illustration than that of the gentleman who was kidnapped and found murdered yesterday. No one yet knows why that happened, but the reasons for it are not apparently a matter that would necessarily concern the Government. However, the noble Lord and all noble Lords who know Northern Ireland will understand that the issue of security is particularly relevant to the lives and safety of people in Northern Ireland.
The noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, said that he felt that scrupulous consideration of the certificates and the factors was necessary. I do not recall him stressing that that was what he was after. It seems to me that the thrust of the amendment is concerned with judicial scrutiny.
I do not think that I can go further tonight than I have gone at earlier stages, but the noble Lord raised one point about sex discrimination and Section 42 certificates. There may be an apparent anomaly between Section 42 of the 1976 Act and Article 53 of the Sex Discrimination (Northern Ireland) Order of 1976. That was amended by a 1988 order regarding sex discrimination. So far as the 1988 order concerns Northern Ireland, it removed from sex discrimination legislation in Northern Ireland the certification procedure which still exists under Section 42 of the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act 1976. That amendment order was a consequence of what was known as the Johnston case in the European Court. That case was concerned solely with equality of opportunity between the sexes. It was not concerned with equality of opportunity between people of different religious beliefs or—and here we come into murky waters—political opinion. We believe that the case is not of direct relevance to the legislation before us tonight.
The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, stressed once again tonight that the certificates must be seen to be fair. I find it particularly difficult to know how, or how far, one can satisfy the noble Lord on the security aspect. We have tried to do so. I have with me the words, chapter and verse, of the erstwhile noble friend of the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, speaking from this position in December 1975. He quoted almost the same words as I am quoting this evening. I do not believe that the factors regarding security in Northern Ireland have changed that much in those 13 years. The issue is bi-partisan.
However, there is one aspect that may concern the noble Lords, Lord Prys-Davies and Lord Bonham-Carter, who have put their names to the amendment. They seem to believe that it preserves the certificate and the procedure. But in fact it may allow judicial review, having preserved the certificate. However the amendment that is before us this evening as drafted repeals the provision under which the certificate can be issued. If that was the intention, I am sure that it will be made clear but it seems to me that there has been a slight lack of clarity in the understanding of the noble Lords who have moved and spoken to this amendment.
1009 I was very grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Blease, in this area. I am sure he will accept that we take very seriously the issue of the certificates.
In reply to the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, I stress that we are not now dealing with exclusion but with a fairly narrow aspect of fair employment and equality of opportunity in employment for people of different religious faiths and possibly of political opinion. That is the area with which we are dealing tonight. I apologise to the noble Lord and all noble Lords who have spoken but our position has not changed over the consideration of this particular Bill since the first time I spoke. I cannot recommend that your Lordships accept the amendment in the names of the two noble Lords who have spoken.
§ Lord Prys-Davies
My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, replies to the Minister, perhaps I may point out that the amendment moved by the noble Lord and supported by me leaves intact the power of the Secretary of State to do any act, and that includes issuing a certificate:for the purpose of safeguarding national security, or of protecting public safety or public order".Subsection (1) of Section 42 remains untouched by our amendment. What are affected by our amendment are subsections (2) and (3) which provide that the certificate shall be conclusive evidence.
I believe that the Minister's comments on the amendment are out of order.
§ Lord Fitt
My Lords, with the leave of the House I think I should give the Minister an opportunity to assess and take into account the impact of what he said during the course of his reply. He referred to a murder that had taken place in Northern Ireland yesterday in rather strange circumstances. He said—and Hansard will confirm it or otherwise —that the reason for that murder was something about which the Government should not be terribly concerned or take into account.
I know exactly what the noble Lord meant; namely, that it was not a case of terrorism or the person who was killed being a member of the IRA but that certain doubts had been expressed that he might have been involved in other illegal activities. However, I suggest to the noble Lord that every death that occurs in Northern Ireland which has been brought about by terrorism is the concern of the Government.
I rise only to give the noble Lord the opportunity to speak again. I know that he did not mean his words to sound as they will sound in Northern Ireland had not I risen to my feet to give him the opportunity to express an otherwise opinion.
§ Lord Bonham-Carter
My Lords, I have listened with great care to the words of the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, in reply to the amendment which I and the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, tabled. I am disappointed that in point of fact he did not move from the arguments that we heard at Second 1010 Reading, in Committee and on Report. He goes on reiterating that the overriding factor is security.
No one denies that security is essential. No one wants to remove the right of the Secretary of State to issue Section 42 orders. All we are saying is that in view of the situation in Northern Ireland, it is more than ever important that security measures should be seen not to override justice to individuals. I do not believe that it is impossible to provide—by means of the proposal that we have put forward—precisely that security to the individual without affecting the security of the state.
The Minister agrees with this in his reiterated statements that the Government are considering administrative measures to deal with this problem. It has been going on since 31st January. I do not propose to press this amendment but I can tell the noble Lord that I shall be asking a Question once every three months to see whether he has made any progress in dealing with the problem which I regard as of the highest importance not merely to Northern Ireland but to this country in general. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Schedule 2 [Minor and consequential amendments]:
§ Lord Prys-Davies moved Amendment No. 4:
Page 54, line 31, at end insert—
("(4) Paragraph 2 does not apply unless the President or Vice President has directed that the complaint under this Order shall be heard and determined by the Fair Employment Tribunal under section 6(2) of the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act 1989.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is an amendment to an amendment introduced by the Government at Report stage. The Government's amendment is to be seen between lines 20 and 30 on page 54. This part of Schedule 2 addresses the situation where, on the same facts, there can be a complaint of unlawful discrimination under the sex discrimination order and under this Bill. If we correctly understand the government amendment, the effect of this schedule as it stands is that the hearing of the case under the sex discrimination order will be delayed until the proceedings under the fair employment legislation have been disposed of.
§ At Report stage we said that this solution raises grave problems. We believe that it may well be in violation of Community law, because the relevant part of the sex discrimination order is derived from Community law. We believe that people will be drawn to challenge its legality under Community law.
§ I asked at Report stage whether the Government had obtained advice from counsel experienced in Community law. I am not sure that we received a positive answer to that question. That is one part of our concern about the schedule as it stands. However, we believe that the schedule is inconsistent with Clause 6(2) of the Bill. Our amendment draws attention to that clause. Under Clause 6(2) the president of the Industrial Tribunal (which is the tribunal that will consider a case under the sex discrimination order) has a discretion—I emphasise 1011 that it is no more than a discretion—as to whether or not a matter may be heard by the Fair Employment Tribunal.
In reply to a question that I asked on Report, the Minister interpreted paragraph 29 of Schedule 2 to mean:
that is the Fair Employment Tribunal,
would hear both sex and religious discrimination cases simultaneously."—[Official Report, 17/7/89; col. 682.]
Surely that cannot be correct. In our view there is nothing in Schedule 2 to warrant that interpretation.
§ As the Bill stands, and having particular regard to Clause 6(2), it is in the discretion of the president of the tribunal to decide whether it would be appropriate for an action proceeding under the sex discrimination order to be transferred to the Fair Employment Tribunal. If the Government's amendment to Schedule 2 is valid, we submit that Clause 6(2) should be amended in line with our amendment in order to regularise the position.
§ That is a technical point. The point of substance is that we believe, as we believed at Report, that in this respect the Government's amendment to Schedule 2 is in violation of Community law.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Lord Lyell
My Lords, noble Lords will have grasped that we are dealing with a special situation when a case of sex discrimination is under way before an industrial tribunal, and a complaint of religious discrimination is or can be made in addition to the complaint under the sex discrimination order. Under the Bill as drafted, there would be an opportunity for the president of the Fair Employment Tribunal to consider whether or not to give such a direction that the sex discrimination proceedings should be heard by the Fair Employment Tribunal. The amendment would leave the president no reasonable opportunity to consider the giving of a direction. The amendment would have the effect that proceedings before the industrial tribunal would continue, and could reach a conclusion, before the president gave a direction. That would nullify the existing provision in Schedule 2 which is there for the precise purpose of permitting the president to draw breath, as it were. It would be quite unworkable to require the president to take his decision while an industrial tribunal continues its deliberations.
Furthermore, the amendment would seriously diminish the advantages of Clause 6. Clause 6 is there to ensure, as far as possible, that there is no need for facts to be heard twice by both an industrial tribunal and the Fair Employment Tribunal. But the amendment before your Lordships ignores that consideration. The amendment would seek to have the industrial tribunal proceed with its deliberations even though there was a threat and a very strong possibility that those deliberations would not be brought to fruition. I wonder whether the noble Lord has considered how he or any of us could justify that considerable waste of time and effort by the 1012 industrial tribunal, the complainant, the respondent and any representatives and witnesses.
We believe that the amendment should be rejected because it would not help good management, personnel relations or, more importantly, the judgment process. We believe that Clause 6 gives all the discretion and the flexibility required by the president or vice-president in this sphere. We believe that that flexibility is needed by all parties: the complainant, the respondent and all the representatives and witnesses. I do not think that the noble Lord means to put such a grave obstacle in the way of very good personnel relations. All the powers of flexibility which may be needed by the president and vice-president are contained in Clause 6.
§ Lord Prys-Davies
My Lords, I have listened carefully to the Minister's response. The argument is highly technical and we shall have to reflect upon his words.
However, my immediate reaction is that he does disservice to our amendment. We say that, as the second schedule and Clause 6(2) stand, there can be a conflict. There is nothing in the Bill to resolve that conflict. Our amendment in no way takes away the discretion from the president of the tribunal. We say that in the event of a conflict the decision of the president will prevail and, in arriving at his decision, the president will have regard to all the evidence before him. However, if he determines that the case is to be transferred to the tribunal, that decision will prevail.
I ask the Minister and the department to consider the relationship between the schedule and Clause 6(2) and to consider the point which we have made that there could be a conflict. Our amendment would resolve that conflict. However, I shall not press the matter further this evening and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Lord Lyell
My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass. At this stage it is my happy and pleasant duty to sum up what we have discussed and considered during our deliberations on all stages of the Bill.
Your Lordships will agree that this legislation will shape the practice of the equality of opportunity and employment in Northern Ireland in the years ahead. I hope that that may be even longer than the period since the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, was in this position. I hope that this legislation will be a benchmark in this matter of equality of opportunity in the employment field in Northern Ireland.
In order to achieve that, the legislation must provide clear guidance on duties and obligations in the workplace. It must also set in place suitable and equitable arrangements to ensure the development of sound, defensible and, above all, practical employment practices. It is for that reason that my right honourable and honourable friends very much welcome the careful attention and immense effort and scrutiny which all your Lordships have given to the Bill. I am very grateful to all noble Lords who 1013 have contributed so eloquently, lucidly and in such detailed way to consideration of the Bill.
At Second Reading I indicated that we believed that firmness and fairness were two qualities of the Bill. Discussion in your Lordships' House has emphasised both of those qualities. It has also shown the importance of establishing a point of balance between them. On the one hand the Bill must be tough and effective; on the other hand it must be even-handed and flexible. Our views may differ on how we reach that point of balance and that objective.
However, in sending the Bill to another place for consideration of the work that we have done upon it, I should like to stress the very wide degree of support that exists throughout your Lordships' House for the principal provisions in the Bill and the very significant and substantive points on which we all agree.
At the outset we agreed that a new Bill was necessary. The 1976 Act and the very great achievements which flowed from it were considerable. We have taken them into account and we have admired them. However, it will not have escaped your Lordships' notice that here and elsewhere it has been thought that new and tougher legislation is required. We took the initiative in proposing new legislation.
We have consulted very widely. Some of your Lordships may say that we have consulted too widely and for too long. However, we have listened very carefully to the views and concerns that were put to us both before and after the first drafting of the Bill. The provisions in the Bill follow detailed and comprehensive consultation with employers, trade unions and the existing agency, the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights, as well as a range of other special interest groups. We are very grateful for all the comments which have been put forward. In particular, we found that the report on fair employment which was produced by the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights was very helpful and influential.
Your Lordships will all agree that in order to have fair employment there must be employment in the first place. Every single one of us wants to see more jobs for both communities, and indeed for everyone in Northern Ireland. We should also like to see those who profess an interest in fair employment in Northern Ireland putting their efforts and commitment into the promotion of increased investment for the Province. A sincere commitment to fair employment is incompatible with the promotion, let alone the endorsement, of measures which advocate disinvestment. They threaten existing investment and very often make it more difficult to attract new investment into Northern Ireland.
There is a campaign associated with the vague platitudes which are known as the MacBride principles. This campaign has not created one single new job in Northern Ireland for anyone, Catholic or Protestant, let alone attracted one single dollar of investment into the Province. It incorporates very 1014 damaging economic consequences, and that is one reason for our firm and unrelenting opposition to that campaign.
We have agreed on the crucial importance of affirmative action and on the need to ensure that employers can implement affirmative action programmes, particularly in the fields of training and the encouragement of applications, without fear of attracting charges of discrimination, be they direct or indirect. We see the use of goals and timetables in the Bill as well as voluntary and enforceable undertakings between employers and the commission as most significant elements in this area.
We find more common ground between us on the need for effective enforcement measures. The introduction of criminal penalties, the imposition of monetary penalties by the tribunal and the use of economic sanctions for enforcement are all seen as essential elements in giving this important legislation for Northern Ireland effective bite and teeth.
Understandably, there is a different degree of emphasis between the Government and Opposition but both are broadly agreed on the basic design of the engine that drives this Bill forward. The Government have had many points pressed upon them. We have tried to explain our approach in each case. We have taken on board suggestions and brought forward amendments throughout the progress of this Bill both here and in another place to accommodate many of the important points raised. However, if differences remain they are differences of approach to a common and shared objective.
We have spent many productive and, I hope, fascinating hours considering this Bill. I believe that it has been substantially improved during that consideration. Your Lordships have shown generous concern for the cause of fair employment in Northern Ireland. I pay tribute to all noble Lords who have spoken but in particular to the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, who during my career in the Northern Ireland Office has followed all aspects of Northern Irish affairs with courtesy and understanding. On this Bill the noble Lord has performed in a manner he should be proud of. I am grateful for the way he has put forward his arguments. I hope I have managed to meet some of them. Certainly, I have taken on board the points raised, and if I have not been able to meet them all I hope the noble Lord will accept that it is merely that my approach is marginally different to his. We are immensely grateful to him for what he has done.
The noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, and the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, have been of immense help in their specialist fields. They have brought great knowlege and detailed study particularly to the later stages of the Bill. We are grateful for the courtesy with which they have argued their case.
The noble Lord, Lord Blease, of course has great knowledge of everything that goes on in Northern Ireland in regard to employee participation and discussion. We are grateful for the points that he raised tonight and during the various stages. We believe that we have done a very great deal for the noble Lord as well as for everyone who is involved in employment in Northern Ireland.
1015 I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, need never apologise for any comments that he might make or for his attendance. We know that the noble Lord attends on almost all the occasions that we discuss Northern Ireland. We are grateful for his support of this Bill.
The Bill started in another place on 31st January this year. Tonight your Lordships send the Bill to another place for consideration of our improvements to it. I believe that our work on the Bill shows the efforts of your Lordships here tonight and also those who were present at earlier stages. Your Lordships' House has been shown in the very best light and for our part we want to express our gratitude. That gratitude will be shared by everyone who has Northern Irish employment, the economy and the well-being of every person in Northern Ireland at heart. We are extremely grateful for what has been done. I commend the Bill to your Lordships.
§ Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Lyell.)
§ Lord Prys-Davies
My Lords, as the Minister has said, this is a very important Bill for Northern Ireland. It has provided us with an opportunity, not likely to be repeated for many years to come, to remove a major mischief; namely, unfair practice in employment in Northern Ireland. It is also a complex Bill containing baffling clauses and many interrelated provsions.
I believe that the House will support me when I say that the timetable in your Lordships' House for the consideration of the Bill—unlike the timetable in another place—has been inadequate to enable the House properly to discharge its historical role as a revising chamber. The Second Reading of the Bill was held no more than three weeks ago on 28th June. The Committee stage took place eight days later on 6th July when the Government tabled about 37 amendments to their own Bill. A significant number of those amendments were substantial by any account. The Report stage took place on 17th July when the Government tabled a further 22 amendments. Today, 20th July, three days later, the Bill completes its passage through your Lordships' House.
How can the House deal effectively with such an important Bill within the constrictions of this timetable, bearing also in mind that the duty of scrutinising Northern Ireland Bills, because they are Northern Ireland Bills, is borne by very few Members of the House? The work of scrutinising the Bill has fallen to very few of us. It has been suggested to me by one shrewd observer of this House that this may be some evidence that the Brits are growing tired of Northern Ireland. I should like to place that on the record.
The Bill, notwithstanding the kind words of the Minister, leaves the House with our work unfinished. In a few respects we have been able to improve the Bill. In many other respects the Bill has been weakened by amendments introduced by the Government. One does not normally expect a government to weaken their own Bills. In at least four vital parts, the Bill in our view leaves the House ill-defined and unclear.
1016 I refer in particular to the provisions governing indirect discrimination and to the definition of that term, the Government having decided to ignore recent case law on the definition of "indirect discrimination". The provisions relating to affirmative action to protect training schemes are ill-defined; the protection of those redundancy schemes which depart from the practice of last in, first out are in our view inadequate; and finally, the resolution of the conflict between the sex discrimination order and the Fair Employment Act appears to us to be in conflict with Community legislation.
We have tried to the best of our capacity to protect the Government from their own mistakes, but of course we should be delighted if time were to show that our worries were unfounded. But what if we are right? If experience shows that our concerns are well founded, the people who will suffer are the people of Northern Ireland. I say that because it will be that much more difficult to attract the billions of pounds of inward investment that is necessary to meet the chronic weaknesses of that Province.
I wish to thank the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, for his unfailing courtesy and for his immense patience and kindness. Whatever criticisms I have levied from time to time at the Bill, they have not been aimed at the Minister or at any of his colleagues in the Northern Ireland Office. I regret to say that they have been aimed at the Department of Economic Development. The history of the Bill in your Lordships' House, with the Government introducing amendments which have the effect of eroding their own Bill and of failing to honour the commitments that have been made by Ministers, suggests to me at least that there may be deep-rooted problems within the Department of Economic Development in Belfast.
Finally, I want to thank the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, for his immense support. It has been a pleasure for me to work in common harness with him. Given his experience, expertise and ability, his support at all stages has been invaluable. I value very much the guidance I have received from my noble friend Lord Blease, who is deeply rooted in the history of industrial relations in Northern Ireland, and from the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, who has not been able to devote as much time as he would have wished to this Bill for the reasons which we well know. I must also place on record my appreciation for the help I have received at every stage of the Bill from the two specialist advisers who have assisted the Official Opposition and to whom I have looked for guidance.
§ 10 p.m.
§ Lord Bonham-Carter
My Lords, I associate myself with the words spoken by the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, about the Bill and its passage through the House. In particular, I concur with his view that the usual channels misjudged the size of the task which confronted this House in dealing with it.
As the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, pointed out, there have been amendments not only from our Benches and his Benches but also from the 1017 Government Benches. It is a Bill which is of the greatest importance not only to Northern Ireland but also to the United Kingdom. If we cannot deal constructively with the problems in Northern Ireland, it will be a terrible failure on the part of this country for which we shall all pay. This is not something which we can just shove off as being across the sea, as it is rather tempting for some people to do and to which, obliquely, the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, referred.
In a sense it has been a hard fought conflict because in point of fact we all supported the principles which lay behind the Bill. Therefore we were all committed to doing what we could to make it better and more effective. Of course it is when you are working towards a common objective and differ about means that the most acute difficulties often arise between friends.
Therefore we are—or at least, some of us are—inevitably disappointed that we did not get our way on a number of matters such as those mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies. In particular, I was disappointed as regards the amendment which I moved today which was about this very fundamental issue of human fallibility. Unless we in politics take this matter really to heart, we shall go on making very large mistakes which will affect most seriously our fellow human beings.
We were trying to protect the Secretary of State, for whom I at any rate—and I know many others—have the greatest respect, from his own fallibility and the fallibility of his advisers. I think that that is most important and something which we should remember not only on this occasion but also on other occasions.
We have spent a great deal of time on this piece of legislation and I do not propose to detain your Lordships much longer. However, I must join in the tributes which have been paid to those who participated in the proceedings on this Bill, not least those in another place and in particular Mr. McNamara who made a substantial change to the Bill.
I also welcome the willingness of the Government to accept amendments to the Bill, both here and in another place. I should like to join the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, in the tribute he paid to the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, whose industry and conscientiousness in dealing with every single clause in the Bill can only be a source of admiration and of respect to those who work with him. I should also like to thank and pay tribute to the work of the noble Lord, Lord Blease, the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, and my noble colleague Lady Seear. All of them have helped in our common efforts to make this an effective and constructive piece of legislation.
Finally, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, who has had to preside over this extremely difficult measure, which incorporates very complex notions such as that of indirect discrimination, in combination with other legislation on the subject which sometimes leads to what appears to be conflict. I should like to thank him for his courtesy, his patience and his kindness to those of us who must 1018 have appeared at times to be obstinately putting difficulties in his way.
I hope that the reservations which we have suggested in relation to the Bill may prove to be unfounded and that it helps to achieve its object to change the imbalance of opportunity in Northern Ireland which lies at the heart of many of its tragic problems.
§ Lord Blease
My Lords, when the Minister introduced the Bill on 28th June he claimed that it was the most comprehensive and incisive piece of legislation ever placed before the House. After some 16 hours of debate, I would describe the Bill somewhat differently. I consider it, as others have already said, to be complex, tortuous and unclear on a number of important definitive legal and administrative matters.
When I spoke on Second Reading, I declared myself firmly in support of the Bill's principles and objectives, as did other noble Lords. I have since been disappointed by the Government's unwillingness to accept reasoned and helpful amendments and the principled and pragmatic approaches which have been put forward. However, this evening I wish to confirm my support for the legislation and to join other noble Lords in wishing every success to the declared objectives on the face of the Bill, namely,the promotion of equality of opportunity in employments and occupations in Northern Ireland between persons of different religious beliefs".I declare my support because, while unhappy with some aspects of the Bill, and however difficult it may prove in human terms, I believe ii to be more constructive to light a candle than to curse the darkness.
A number of professionally interested people in Northern Ireland and many representative organisations such as the Irish Council of Trade Unions, the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights, the Confederation of British Industry and the Churches have all meticulously followed the parliamentary progress of the legislation. Some have already publicly expressed their disappointment that the measure falls far below the high expectations raised in the White Paper and the Government's pronouncements about the Bill.
However, I am sure that those interested people will join noble Lords in wishing all those who carry direct responsibilities and duties for the administration and implementation of the measure every success in the achievement of the Bill's objectives. Among those upon whom the Bill places direct responsibilities are officials of the Department of Economic Development, the president, vice-president and members of the tribunal and the Fair Employment Commission and its staff.
Noble Lords will be aware that on 26th April the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the right honourable Tom King, announced the Government's intention to appoint Mr. Bob Cooper as chairman of the new Fair Employment Commission. Mr. Cooper has been chairman of the Fair Employment Agency since its formation in 1019 1976. He has carried out the extremely difficult and controversial task with a sense of great purpose and justice. He has shown distinctive, strong and effective leadership. I am sure that noble Lords will share the Secretary of State's confidence in Mr. Cooper's proven ability to give sound, sensible and fair leadership to the new Fair Employment Commission. We wish Mr. Cooper success in the challenging days ahead in which he has to play a key part in the commission's work.
I wish to join other noble Lords in thanking the Minister for the courteous and kindly way in which he has steered the Bill on its passage through the House. I agree with the sentiments already expressed about the manner in which he has handled this difficult Bill. The Minister dealt gallantly with a difficult brief. I felt at times that his measured tone mellowed the harsh negative ring of the facts that he had to deliver. At the same time, we are pleased with the few major points that he conceded. I hope that it is not presumptuous of me if I seek to thank all noble Lords who have contributed positively to the 1020 debate. I do not wish to mention each one by name. Their interest, efforts and sensitive understanding of the difficult issues confronting the Northern Ireland people are warmly appreciated by all peaceable and community-spirited citizens in the Province—Catholic, Protestant and dissenters.
Finally, I wish to thank my noble friends on the Front Bench and the noble Lords, Lord Prys-Davies and Lord Graham of Edmonton. I especially wish to express my grateful thanks to the noble Lords, Lord Prys-Davies and Lord Bonham-Carter, both of whom devoted more time to this than we can readily appreciate, extending into the small hours of the morning. They sought with care and skill to help to improve the Bill. They have both been acutely sensitive of the critical issues which the Bill seeks to redress. They have presented their arguments in a manner that encourages and promotes confidence in the Northern Ireland parliamentary procedures. They have sought also to develop a sense of trust, confidence, fairness and justice among the people of Northern Ireland and a strong sense of trust and confidence in good government in the Province. With those words, I support the Bill.
§ 10.15 p.m.
§ Lord Fitt
My Lords, throughout the centuries both Houses of Parliament—the other place and this Chamber—have tried to legislate for the good government of Ireland and, recently, Northern Ireland. Some of their measures have met with success, some of them with devasting failure. Yet as a Member of this House at this time and in regard to this legislation, I fully accept the Government's good intentions. I believe that the Government are motivated through this legislation to try to erase the awful problem of discrimination which has been self-evident in Northern Ireland since the creation of the Northern Ireland state.
Given the circumstances in which Northern Ireland was created and the 50 years of one-party government there, the very fact that there was a 65 per cent. majority against a 35 per cent. minority meant that it was inevitable that discrimination would take place. The majority government and the majority population, like the South African Government of today, felt themselves to be in a siege situation. Therefore no concessions could be made to their political opponents.
I was born and reared in Northern Ireland, a member of the political minority. I saw at first hand the awful effects of discrimination that took place throughout all the years of my political life there. I do not think that any government in Great Britain—with the exception of a few members who involve themselves in Northern Ireland and speak to the people—can realise the frustration, the fears and suspicions that exist.
This evening I listened to my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies say how baffling the clauses were in this Bill. I can tell him that in a peculiarly Irish way the more baffling the clauses in the Bill the more the provisions are understood in the streets of Belfast. There is nothing technical or legalistic about the clauses of the Bill in the minds of the people of Northern Ireland.
In view of all the discrimination that has taken place in the past, will this be effective in trying to create a better society? I do not think that any government can claim that they are better informed, better motivated or more well-intentioned than any other government. I remember very well that in 1975 and 1976 when the Labour Government were in power, they initiated the original fair employment Bill. I know how I felt as a member of the committee on that Bill and I remember the opposition that we met from the Tory Party. We thought that forcing through that legislation would be constructive in bringing to an end some of the most vicious discrimination that existed in Northern Ireland. Obviously it has not succeeded, and in their own way this Government are now attempting to see whether they can better the situation.
We are all aware that a lot of the original motivation for this legislation emanated in the United States—we are quite well aware of that—with the so-called MacBride principles. I do not agree, and never have agreed, with the MacBride principles. I believe those principles were trying to create a situation in which one community would 1022 seem to have superiority over another community. Some of the people who were behind the MacBride principles in America were not motivated by trying to create better social conditions in Northern Ireland. They were motivated by a highly hostile attitude towards any British Government's conduct of affairs in Northern Ireland. So that interest cannot be taken seriously in trying to grapple with the situation as we know it in Northern Ireland.
Day after day we read of the so-called discrimination in Shorts or in the Belfast shipyard, where, in the terminology of avowed nationalism or republicanism, too many Protestants are employed. The IRA does not want to see anyone employed in the shipyard or in Shorts. How can it claim that there are too few Catholics employed in Shorts one week and then the very next week set off a load of bombs to try to disrupt whatever employment there is in that establishment? The IRA cannot have it both ways.
When I first read the Second Reading debate and the Committee stage of the Bill in another place, after all the years that I have lived in Northern Ireland the tremendous complexity of trying to bring about a more just society in Northern Ireland was brought home to me. My noble friend Lord Blease who has lived in Northern Ireland throughout his life will recognise that there is no Act of Parliament, and there is no statute that one can place on the statute book which could cope with this problem. However, the legislation can create the situation whereby in the end people will realise that discrimination does not achieve any objective but creates frustration, bitterness and the ongoing problem that has existed in Northern Ireland for so many years.
I believe that the Government are sincere. I say in conclusion that the same situation exists now as existed in 1976 when the previous fair employment legislation was put on the statute book. I do not believe that there is any room for division between the Labour and Conservative parties on this issue. If any division can be seen between the parties in the final days of debate in another place, and if the Labour Party is not seen to be giving its support to this legislation, that will immediately be jumped on by those people in America who are more motivated by hostility towards the British in Northern Ireland than they are in bringing about a situation which could end discrimination and bring, about fair employment. Any sense of disagreement between the Government and the Opposition in this Chamber will be fiercely exploited by those Republicans in America who do not wish this legislation to have any success, but who want to see an ongoing saga of the troubles in Northern Ireland. They see that as being to their benefit.
§ Lord Lyell
My Lords, I hope that I may be permitted to reply very briefly to all the nice things that have been said about my colleagues, about myself and about the Bill. Perhaps I may return some of the compliments to noble Lords who have spoken in the debate.
In addition to his Celtic eloquence, the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, seems to be a skilled dancer since 1023 he has been attempting to dance on the head of a pin. On the one hand he suggested that too many amendments were being introduced in your Lordships' House. On the other hand he suggested there were further excellent amendments which we might have accepted. I take that in the spirit in which it was intended.
I think that the majority of the amendments to which the noble Lord referred were tabled in reply to commitments that we gave to his honourable friend the Member for Kingston Upon Hull, to whom I should have paid tribute in the course of my earlier remarks. I do so now unreservedly. In his particular arena he has displayed tremendous energy, persistence and tenacity in championing his approach to the Bill. I believe that we have done our bit to reply positively to the points that he raised with amendments moved in this House as well as in another place.
With regard to the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, and the noble Lord, Lord Blease, about the timing and programme of the Bill, that is a matter for another place. However, I remind the noble Lord to look at the good book. To paraphrase the same chapter and verse of which I reminded him before—St. John, Chapter 8, Verse 7—"let he that is without sin [in metaphorical terms] cast the first stone". If the noble Lord will look at what was said by his honourable friend on 11th November in a place very far from your Lordships' House about the Government's wish to introduce the Bill in this House, he will see that there were differences of opinion.
The Bill received its Second Reading in another place on 31st January. I am sure that noble Lords will appreciate that that is not perfect timing in order to achieve the objective that we all want—to have the Bill on the statute book. As a result of what we have done tonight, and what we hope another place will do shortly in considering our work, it will be a matter of months before the regulations and code of practice can be printed and in place.
I look forward to the participation of the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, who has warned me that he will be asking questions. We shall always be grateful for his participation in Northern Irish affairs. There is no question of hiving off Northern Irish affairs to oblivion. Certainly not in my career. This is one of the first major Bills that I have had the privilege of taking through your Lordships' House.
The noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, raised a particular point with which I very much agree. He said that we all agree on the main thrust of the Bill. It is minor differences of opinion—the noble Lord called them acute differences of opinion—which sometimes create difficulties. I hope that we have gone some way together to resolving those differences.
The noble Lord, Lord Blease, quite rightly referred to the pace of the Bill. I am reading some of the remarks made when the Government, supported by noble Lords opposite, put similar legislation through your Lordships' House. The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, used terms such as a "complex" and "not always easy" Bill. He said that it had been 1024 meticulously presented. On that occasion it took one and a half hours at Second Reading: we took three; three and a half hours on Committee: we took seven and a half; one and a quarter hours on Report: we took four; and we have taken about one and a half hours on Third Reading. I believe that that shows that we have been meticulous. I believe too that it reflects the quality of the work that we have done in your Lordships' House.
The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, used two words—"good intentions". I reply to him, "the road to hell"—that is not in the good book. This Bill is about good personnel practice. The noble Lord raised the question of Shorts. One in five of the apprentices at Shorts in 1988 were Catholics. One in eight of the workforce are Catholics. Thus, that major employer has shown that good personnel practice is alive and well in Northern Ireland. I believe that the Bill will help Northern Ireland and everyone in the Province.
§ On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons with amendments.