§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Lyell)
My Lords, at the outset, I wish to give an unconditional apology for the trouble and embarrassment that I have caused to the House through not being in my place when this particularly important Bill was called. It is the first time that it has happened to me, but that is still once too many.
This evening it is important to place the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Bill in context at the outset of this Second Reading debate. Traditionally three grievances were associated with the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland. Your Lordships may remember that movement in its infancy 20 years ago. Those grievances of 20 years ago related to discrimination in voting rights, housing, and employment practices. I think that your Lordships would agree that the first two have been addressed successfully; but the difficulties associated with the third grievance have proved more enduring despite the enactment and enforcement of the significant anti-discrimination provisions in the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act 1976. Clearly, more is needed to ensure that equality of job opportunity is provided for both communities, and this Bill is designed to provide just that.
The Bill was supported by both Government and Opposition—and I believe by almost all sides—in another place. It is appropriate that this should be so because the Bill addresses an issue to which all those who work for peace, prosperity and above all for reconciliation in Northern Ireland are committed, and that principle is equality of opportunity in employment. Such equality is morally right, and that, in itself, is sufficient justification for the Bill before us this evening. But it is much more than that. It is first a political priority; secondly a social necessity; and thirdly an economic imperative.
Each individual has a right to expect fairness in competing for employment. Politically no government could condone the denial of such fairness, whether intentional or in any way unintentional, and it is self-evident that equality of job opportunity is vital to social stability. But it is also of central economic importance. Essentially equality of opportunity is about recruiting the best man or woman for the job. It is about canvassing job opportunities as widely and openly as possible. It is about ensuring that all compete on an equal basis and are assessed by the same criteria. It is about selecting on the basis of job-related ability or aptitude; namely, on the basis of merit.
796 That is not only fair, it is also efficient, and it ensures the widest possible use of the talents of the people of Northern Ireland. Indeed, anything less is wasteful of human resources and talent. That is why equality of opportunity procedures must be an integral part of good personnel practice. As such they contribute to the economic strength, professionalism and above all all-round competence of those undertakings in which they are actively implemented.
At the heart of the Bill lies recurrent emphasis on the active practice of fair employment. That is the keynote of the Bill. It is the unifying theme in a comprehensive piece of legislation that blends fairness with firmness. I think that when we examine the Bill, your Lordships will find those two main principles throughout the Bill. But of course the purpose of the Bill is to provide fair employment in order to redress the disproportionate distribution of job opportunities between the two communities, Protestant and Catholic.
That purpose—the provision of fair employment—is why the Bill clearly rejects such concepts as "quotas" and "reverse" discrimination, and why it sets its face against divisive measures which would exclude individuals from training opportunities purely because of their religion. It is also why the philosophy underlying the Bill reflects the central issue of the merit principle at the point of selection together with the importance of recruitment on the basis of ability and aptitude. And of course it is evident that the purpose of fair employment is best served by the provision of employment for both communities in the first place. That is why the Government have continuously emphasised the need to provide more jobs and increased investment in the Province, and that is why all those with a sincere interest in the promotion of fair employment work hard to increase both jobs and investment in Northern Ireland.
I stressed a moment or two ago the two coaxial qualities of firmness and fairness, and we believe that the basic fairness of the Bill's provisions must be matched by firmness. That is why the Bill contains an extensive range of measures which will promote not only the effective and continuous practice of sound, fair employment procedures, but also the close auditing and supervision of that practice by the new Fair Employment Commission.
The Bill places a number of important legal obligations on employers: to register with the new commission; to monitor the composition of their workforces and to submit annual monitoring returns to the commission; and to review their recruitment, training and promotion practices at least once every three years. In carrying our their review duties, employers will be obliged to have regard to the new code of practice; to determine on the affirmative action necessary to ensure fair participation for both communities, and to consider, in the context of such affirmative action, the practicality of setting goals and timetables. In addition, the Bill contains a range of criminal offences and economic sanctions to help to ensure compliance. In particular, all public sector contracts (including those of government) and 797 government grants can be withheld from employers convicted of default and on whom the commission has served a notice of disqualification.
The Bill establishes a tough regime. We offer no apology for that. The serious nature and the longevity of the problem which the Bill addresses, demand much stronger measures than those contained in the 1976 Act. But they also demand that the new commission should have complementary enforcement and educational powers. Both functions are important and both must be used because it is wrong to assume that the fair employment problem can be tackled effectively by placing duties and obligations on employers only. They provide jobs and they carry the main responsibility for ensuring that recruitment and selection are fairly conducted on the basis of merit. But noble Lords will agree that they must be supported in their endeavours not only by government and the commission but also by the trade unions, the churches and all other influential organisations in society particularly in Northern Ireland. This message deserves particular emphasis. The delivery of equality of opportunity is a communal challenge and it must be addressed collectively if it is to be tackled effectively.
That is why the new commission has been given important educational as well as enforcement functions. In addition to inheriting the existing agency's extensive promotional duties, the new commission will have power to conclude voluntary but legally binding agreements with employers. It will have a duty to advise employers on the conduct of their periodic reviews when asked to do so. It will also have a duty to give advice to any prospective individual complainant who requests it in writing and it will have a wide discretion to provide legal assistance with certain individual cases. Moreover, it will be responsible for the new code of practice in which it will be able to include detailed operational guidance and advice to employers on such matters as affirmative action, monitoring and review duties. Furthermore, the Government have indicated already that they expect the commission not only to draw up and publish its own rules of procedure but to consult employers' organisations and other interested parties in doing so.
But while much can be done to promote good fair employment practice by committed voluntary endeavour—and I commend the educational initiatives of both employers' organisations and trade unions in this regard—the fact remains that strong enforcement is also necessary. In particular, it is essential that the new commission should be able to audit the good practice required of employers. So, in addition to inheriting the present agency's powers of investigation and direction the new commission has been given significant new powers, many of which complement the duties now placed on employers.
For example, the commission can enquire into the scope, content and interpretation of monitoring returns and direct improvements where necessary. It can enquire into the conduct of an employers general review and direct improvements in, or advances in the timing of, such reviews. In addition, it can issue notices specifying the setting of goals 798 and timetables, enquire about progress in relation to them, and issue further notices if necessary. And of course the commission has been given the specific duty of promoting affirmative action as well as promoting equality and working for the elimination of discrimination. It will have the power to direct a wide range of affirmative action measures. Some—such as measures to encourage applications—are mentioned in the Bill itself. Others will be recommended in the code of practice. Moreover, the commission has been given power to disqualify employers convicted of default; to ensure that public authorities do not contract with such employers; and to seek a High Court injunction to stop the placing of any such contract.
So with double the financial and staffing resources of the present agency the new commission will be able to exercise persuasive educational and energetic enforcement functions. Enforcement of course is an area where the new fair employment tribunal has also been given significant powers. The new tribunal will determine individual cases of discrimination, and exercise an appellate jurisdiction in relation to directions of the commission. It can issue its own orders of enforcement amending, endorsing or adding to such directions. It will be able to impose monetary penalties of up to £30,000 or certify to the High Court for non-compliance with its orders. In addition, the amount of compensation awarded in individual cases of discrimination will also have a similar maximum of £30,000.
The Bill as it stands represents the most comprehensive and incisive piece of fair employment legislation ever placed before this House. In Committee I shall be asking your Lordships to approve a number of amendments, mostly consequential or technical, but others of more significance. Noble Lords will not be surprised about that, because in another place my honourable friend gave a number of assurances. Your Lordships would be surprised if I did not fulfil those obligations. For example, we intend to seek your Lordships' approval for an amendment which will provide protection for affirmative action training against charges of both direct and indirect discrimination, while of course prohibiting religion specific training. It is likely that other Government amendments will be proposed strengthening the Bill's provisions on monitoring. That will give the commission a discretion—following the hearing of an individual case before the tribunal—to seek a change in the employment practices of an employer to better afford equality of opportunity. It will also provide protection for gender specific training from challenge on the grounds of indirect religious discrimination. Consideration is also being given to an amendment in the area of redundancy to avoid any erosion of gains towards fair participation in the workforce of individual firms through existing redundancy practices.
Of course, successful legislation depends not only on content but also on careful preparation and effective implementation. Much has been and is being done to prepare the ground for enactment of this Bill. Its philosophy and central message—that is the need for the active and sustained practice of 799 fair employment—were articulated in the Government's Guide to Effective Practice. That guide, which was personally endorsed by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, was circulated to every employer in the Province in 1987. An extensive programme of seminars was organised to both promote it and to encourage the introduction of voluntary monitoring in the private sector. A support scheme was introduced to give private sector employers free consultancy advice, free training and financial assistance towards the introduction of monitoring. That scheme has been a considerable success. Over 450 private sector companies are now moving forward with voluntary monitoring in anticipation of the legal requirements of the Bill. Moreover, it has been decided to extend the scheme for a further year in order to assist employers during the transitional period.
Good progress is also being made with the introduction of voluntary monitoring in the public sector; both employers' organisations—such as the Confederation of British Industry—and trade unions have introduced their own training programmes. There are most encouraging indications that the advice in the Government's Guide to Effective Practice is being implemented. For example, both the Engineering Employers' Federation and the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions have negotiated successfully on an agreed declaration of protection for employees closely based on that advocated in government's own guide.
So, in anticipation of this Bill, the momentum of good practice has already been stimulated. The Bill will increase it substantially—not least because monitoring and review will become statutory obligations backed by strong enforcement powers. But as your Lordships will appreciate, effective implementation is also vital to success; and the Government have indicated already how this will be carried forward. The White Paper committed the Government to both continuous evaluation of the impact of this legislation and to its formal review after five years. Progressive evaluation will be carried forward through regular consultations, at six monthly intervals, between the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State and the chairman of the new commission. Formal review will be undertaken by the central community relations unit which reports directly to the Secretary of State. In conducting its review the unit will consult with outside bodies such as the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights, employers organisations, the trade unions, the Equal Opportunities Commission and, of course, the Fair Employment Commission. Moreover, the outcome of the unit's reports will be published so that all interested parties are informed on the consequential action proposed.
The detailed arrangements that have been made for effective implementation, the successful preparatory work already in hand and, above all, the radical and incisive provisions of the Bill all testify to Government's firm commitment to ensure the practice of fair employment in Northern Ireland. 800 There is no room, or justification, for doubt on that score. Indeed, all those with a genuine interest in fair employment will now do two things. First, they will pledge their clear and unequivocal support to this legislation; and, secondly, encourage increased investment in the Province, because your Lordships and all who have studied the history of Northern Ireland over the past 20 years can be in no doubt that the creation of new jobs and the expansion of economic opportunities will assist considerably with the implementation of this Bill. The Government will be maintaining their efforts in this regard and hoping to build on their recent successes. In doing so we will welcome support from all those who are in a position to stimulate increased investment. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time—(Lord Lyell.)
§ 7.2 p.m.
§ Lord Prys-Davies
My Lords, we welcome the important Bill which is before the House. I very much look forward to the speeches of noble Lords who are to take part in the debate, and I shall take particular interest in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, in view of his background and experience with the Race Relations Board and the Community Relations Commission.
I should like to thank the Minister for explaining the background to the Bill and its purpose and for his clear summary of its main provisions. As the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, said, the main object of the Bill is to achieve effective equality opportunity of employment in Northern Ireland. That is an objective which is easy to state in abstract terms and to justify in humanitarian terms. All political parties are publicly committed to that. Yet, the objective has remained elusive. Catholic male unemployment remains at 2.5 times that of Protestant male unemployment.
I do not propose to take up the time of the House in parading the measures which have been introduced in Northern Ireland since 1969 to seek to erode discrimination in employment. However, I want to underline the significance of the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act 1976. That Act was a milestone. Much was expected of the Act. I believe that it is agreed by now that that has not worked as well as was hoped. The current ratio of Catholic to Protestant unemployment is virtually the ratio which prevailed in 1976, notwithstanding there being about 100,000 job changes per year.
There are no doubt many reasons for the ineffectiveness of the 1976 Act. I think that with hindsight it can now be seen more clearly that discrimination in Northern Ireland is deep rooted in history, custom and practice, all of which has a discriminatory impact. The 1976 Act underestimated the difficulties of bringing about the necessary changes in attitudes and practice, while it overrated the potential for voluntary action.
The experience since 1976 has demonstrated clearly the need for more effective legislation. That is the view of the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights, the Northern Ireland Committee 801 of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the Northern Ireland Council of the CBI. Your Lordships will also know that since the mid-1980s, there has been a growing campaign in the United States requiring American corporations to ensure fair employment on merit in their Northern Ireland subsidiaries wherever the need is apparent. In 1985 the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights, with Government support, undertook a major review of the adequacy of the laws preventing discrimination. In 1987 it published its report, which called for urgent changes to be made to the Fair Employment Act.
Since then, we have waited patiently for this Bill. It is now here. I feel sure that the Minister will agree that the Bill before us is different in several substantial respects from that introduced last December, which met with some heavy criticism. The Bill has been greatly improved as a result of the exhaustive examination which it received in another place and significant improvements have been made to accommodate the arguments voiced in Committee. It is now a much better Bill. I am grateful that the Minister has indicated in his speech that further significant amendments, as well as technical and consequential amendments, will be tabled by the Government to further improve the Bill in accordance with the undertakings given by Ministers in another place.
Part I of the Bill sets up the Fair Employment Commission to replace the Fair Employment Agency, which was one of the basic structures established by the 1976 Act. It also sets up the Fair Employment Tribunal which will replace the Fair Employment Appeals Board, also established by the 1976 Act. However, far more is involved than merely a change in name. Those bodies will exercise the new powers conferred by the Bill, and also the powers exercised by the predecessor bodies to the extent that they remain untouched by the Bill. Therefore, I believe that employers and employees should grasp the fact that it will be necessary to read the Bill alongside the 1976 Act. I am sure that that is a point which the Minister will confirm.
The Minister has summarised the functions of the commission and the tribunal. We have been told that the commission will be concerned with patterns and practices of employment and that it will not be involved with allegations of discrimination against individual employees. It will be for the tribunal to hear complaints of alleged discrimination against individual employees. The tribunal will also enforce directives and hear appeals against directives issued by the commission. There will be a right of appeal from the tribunal on matters of law only. It will be a right of appeal not to the High Court, but direct to the Court of Appeal.
One cannot help feeling that to give an employer the right of appeal to the tribunal instead of to the High Court is to demote the status of the commission. Some employers who may be ill-disposed towards fair employment legislaton may be encouraged by this appeal procedure to undermine the authority of the commission. Should not the appeals against the commission decision go direct to a judge of the High Court, possibly sitting with two assessors?
802 This brings me to a major issue of concern. Who is to appoint the president of the tribunal? We heard from the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, that the tribunal is an august body. We are told in Clause 3(2) that the president will be appointed by the department. The department in question is the Northern Ireland Department of Economic Development, which is itself heavily involved with this legislation and in the preparation of subordinate regulations. Surely the appointment should not be made by the department, let alone the Civil Service head of the department. The appointee must be independent of and seen to be independent of the Department of Economic Development.
Given the heavy responsibilities of the office, the choice of president will require very careful consideration if the right appointment is to be made. The president must be capable of giving a fair lead to the tribunal. He must be a sound lawyer, able to translate the law (which may well be complicated) for its lay members so that they understand the law which is being applied. He must be skilled in assessing the evidence. From these Benches we say that there is only one department with the necessary knowledge of barristers and solicitors and with the experience in making such an appointment; namely, the Lord Chancellor's Department here in London. We shall be tabling an amendment to that end.
I turn to Part II of the Bill. The Minister summarised the new duties placed on employers. We are particularly pleased that the duty on many employers to monitor and review the religious composition of their labour forces is now set on the face of the Bill. We are also pleased that affirmative action programmes to achieve fair participation may include the setting of goals and timetables by employers to assess progress in implementing affirmative action. We are gratified that contract compliance is placed on a statutory footing, but some of us are not so sure that the criterion in the Bill is the right one. We may well have to consider that aspect.
Part III involves heavy amendment of the definition of discrimination contained in the 1976 Act; but we believe there is one serious omission from this part of the Bill. We believe that it should have incorporated an amendment to Section 42 of the 1976 Act which enables the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to issue a certificate—popularly known as the Section 42 certificate—which will prevent an investigation by the commission into the merits of a claim of alleged discrimination on the ground of risk to national security. Under the 1976 Act the Secretary of State's decision is absolute. It is not appealable.
We fully understand why the Secretary of State should want to retain the power to issue a Section 42 certificate and we agree that that power must be retained. However, it is a fundamental point that a person who feels that a certificate has been wrongly issued on the basis of inaccurate evidence and as a result has been refused employment should at least have the right to call for a judicial review of, or possibly have a right of appeal against, the decision. That is a requirement of natural justice and possibly also of the European Convention on Human Rights. 803 Therefore, can a procedure be produced to ensure that the Secretary of State has acted fairly in issuing a certificate but which will not involve a threat to security? That is another important issue which we will want to consider in Committee.
In another place, the Government promised to introduce significant amendments on aspects of affirmative action, sex discrimination, monitoring, redundancy and the effects of indirect discrimination. The Minister touched upon some of those issues but, if I follow him correctly, not all of them. We believe that it is essential, if the Bill is to be effective, that employers can engage in affirmative action programmes designed to correct imbalances in their workforces without being entrapped in a legal minefield, as they would be with the Bill as it stands, because their action might be deemed to be discriminatory. It is also important to eliminate the conflict, where it exists, between the Bill and the Sex Discrimination Order 1976. I believe the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, touched upon that.
The Bill would be undermined if the monitoring provisions referred to by the Minister are not framed effectively to ensure that employers acquire accurate and not misleading information about the religious affiliations of their employees. If redundancy practices are allowed to reverse the achievements of affirmative action programmes, we shall not have made much progress.
Finally, we hope that the Government will ensure that the inadequacies in the definition of indirect discrimination will be addressed in their amendments. We shall have to consider very carefully the amendments to be tabled by the Government as they relate to matters of the utmost importance and go to the root of the Bill. It is vital that the Government get this right. If the Government fail to satisfy us that the amendments will meet the objectives of the Bill then I have to say that the support of these Benches for those amendments will not be forthcoming.
We agree that the Bill has been considerably improved in another place; but, as I said, we believe that additional improvements are still necessary. We are not suggesting—I do not think it has been suggested by the Government—that the Bill by itself will redress the imbalances in employment in Northern Ireland, but the Opposition will be looking for tangible and early evidence of the effectiveness of this legislation. However, if the undertakings given by Ministers in another place are fully honoured we believe that the Government may finally emerge with a workable Bill which, if it is effectively enforced, adequately monitored and reinforced with a range of social and economic policies, can be effective.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Lord Bonham-Carter
My Lords, it is with great pleasure that I follow the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies. I shall endeavour not to cover the same points with which he dealt so thoroughly though there will be occasions on which I shall be guilty of repetition. Before talking about the Bill I must first offer an apology. I miscalculated the time taken by 804 the House in dealing with the Hythe Marina Village (Southampton) Wavescreen Bill and the Dock Work Bill. I had therefore thought that we might start this debate rather earlier. I am committed, I regret to say, to leaving the House at about eight o'clock; I hope that noble Lords will forgive me for doing so.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, that this extremely important Bill has been greatly strengthened by the work done in another place. I welcome the undertakings given by the Minister that further amendments about affirmative action, training, monitoring measures and so on will be introduced in Committee. There are two questions to which one must provide some kind of answer in the light of the relative failure of the 1976 Act. One must ask whether this measure is necessary. Secondly, one must ask whether the law is the right instrument for dealing with this problem.
The answer to the first question is an unqualified affirmative for the reasons which have already been given. In a region of unusually and tragically high unemployment, unemployment among the Catholic population is two and a half times higher than that among the Protestant population. There are all kinds of reasons for this. It may be caused partly by the areas in which people settle, by the nature of people's educational backgrounds and by the traditions of the community in which they live. All those may be causes which add to or increase this disproportionate level of unemployment. However, in addition, there is one reason which is not doubted or denied by anyone. I refer to discrimination on the grounds of religion and political persuasion. Each of the factors must be tackled but one which we are addressing today and which is addressed by the Bill is that of unlawful discrimination.
To answer my second question, I would argue that the law has an important role to play in tackling unlawful discrimination. In the first annual report of the Race Relations Board we briefly set out the role of the law in this area. We said that it was as follows:The law is an unequivocal declaration of public policy".That is an important thing to be made clear when dealing with something of this kind. The law is far more authoritative than any number of speeches by any number of politicians, no matter how distinguished. Secondly, it gives support to those who do not wish to discriminate but who may do so because of social pressure. Thirdly, it gives protection and redress to potential victims and to actual victims of discrimination. Fourthly, it provides for the peaceful and orderly adjustment of grievances and reduces discrimination and prejudice by discouraging behaviour in which prejudice finds expression. Therefore, for all these reasons, we on these Benches greatly welcome the strengthening of the 1976 Act and of the Bill which reaches us in a greatly improved form.
There are a number of points at which we shall want to look in Committee. Many of them have been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, but there are one or two others to which I should like briefly to draw attention. We should look carefully at the structure and division of responsibilities between 805 the Fair Employment Commission and the Fair Employment Tribunal. The commission will be a broadly educational body. It will issue a code of practice. It will offer advice and undertake investigations but will also have some enforcement powers. The tribunal will be a quasi-judicial body. It will hear individual complaints; it will enforce the commisson's directives; and it will hear appeals against directives. It is extremely important that the functions of these two bodies should be clearly and logically defined.
In 1976 the Race Relations Board and the Community Relations Commission were amalgamated. I think on reflection that the change was not in all respects a step forward. It mixed up a quasi-judicial role with an educational and advisory role. The relationship between a body and a person who is being advised, persuaded or educated, and the relationship between a law enforcement body with quasi-judicial functions and its clients is very different and should not be confused. I say that because in Committee we should pay this matter careful attention.
One should not hope for too much from individual complaints. It is essential that individuals should be given the right to complain, but in my experience individuals are rather reluctant to complain, especially about something as fundamentally humiliating as being discriminated against on the grounds of religious opinions or political beliefs. People do not want to relive that experience. Therefore we shall find that in some respects the individual complaints procedure, particularly if it is not backed by legal aid, will not produce as much as some people hoped for it.
I should like to welcome the emphasis put on indirect discrimination, a concept with which we are familiar in race and sex discrimination and which is now coming up in Community directives on equal treatment of men and women in respect of pensions and benefits. It is extremely important that we should look with care at that definition. If indirect discrimination is to become a concept which impinges on our lives in many different areas—in areas such as pensions, race relations, sex discrimination and in employment—we should have a common definition which we can understand. The definition in Clause 48 of the Bill is not exactly the same as the definition which appears in the draft directive on equal pay for men and women issued by the Commission. We should try to ensure that those two definitions are in step. Otherwise we shall confuse ourselves and other people.
Another matter which we shall want to examine carefully is the machinery whereby contract compliance is enforced. Contract compliance, if properly used, is one of the most powerful instruments for influencing patterns of employment. It is patterns of employment, whether occupational or geographical, at which this legislation must be directed. It was suggested in another place that the monitoring procedures in the Bill might be intrusive and divisive. I found that a strange criticism. I was not aware, though I stand willing to be corrected by those who know more, that in Northern Ireland people had much difficulty in recognising each 806 other's religious or political affiliations. Indeed it is that basis of immediate recognition on which the discrimination takes place that the Bill is intended to heal. It is carrying the paradox—I hope that I am not being racist if I say "Irish paradox"—almost too far to accuse the Bill of leading people to be employed on the basis of their religion when it is just that very practice of employing people on those grounds in Northern Ireland that provides the justification for the Bill.
We must look with care in Committee at the provisions for special training. This Bill is a good Bill in principle and one which we support. Much of it is based upon experience gained from race relations legislation and from sex discrimination legislation. However, it goes well beyond race relations legislation which is at present on the statute book in this country. Yet unemployment among young blacks in this country is just as disproportionately high compared to the rest of the population as unemployment among Catholics is disproportionately high in Northern Ireland.
One has to ask oneself why the political will to do something about the situation appears to be so much stronger in the Northern Ireland Office than in the Home Office. Some people may conclude that violence and terrorism have something to do with it. That would be a very dangerous conclusion to allow people to draw. But the response to Toxteth and Brixton lends some plausibility to that suggestion. I ask the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, to draw the attention of his colleagues—that is, his right honourable friend the Home Secretary and his other honourable friends—to the Bill which he is introducing. I also ask him to point out to them its relevance in other fields as regards what is going on in the mainland.
§ 7.31 p.m.
§ Lord Monson
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, will not, I think, expect me to give the same welcome to this Bill as has been given by previous speakers; nor am I able to do so. Anyone who criticises a Bill the title of which begins with the innocuous sounding and indeed benign word "Fair" runs the same risk as Americans who venture to cast doubts upon the virtues of motherhood and apple pie. Nevertheless, I am encouraged by the admission made by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland while speaking in the Standing Committee in another place when he said that the word "Fair",has deliberately been left undefined in the Bill".—[Official Report, Commons, Standing Committee B, 16/2/89; col. 464]I am not surprised. In the following column another Conservative member of the Committee pointed out that the word "fair" was undefinable in law. In other words, it is clearly subjective; one man's fairness can be another man's unfairness.
It is claimed that the present state of affairs is unfair because unemployment is 2.4 times as prevalent among males of one religious denomination as among males of another. But that clearly cannot be attributed to deliberate discrimination. After all, the British Government have been in complete charge in Northern Ireland for 807 17 years now. As the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, pointed out two days ago, the Secretary of State has the sweeping powers of a colonial governor. It is obviously unthinkable that successive British Governments would have presided over a system of deliberate discrimination all these years. That is borne out by the fact that unemployment among females shows relatively little variation between religious affiliations—probably no more than exists in Scotland. If there were deliberate discrimination, one would expect it to apply to both sexes.
Differences in attainment between different religious groups are nothing new; they are by no means confined to Northern Ireland. For over 100 years, from the beginning of the 19th century when the restrictive laws against them were relaxed, Jews in East and Central Europe, and to some extent in Western Europe, were more entrepreneurial and dynamic than Christians. In the Near East and the Middle East, Jews and Christians are more dynamic than Moslems. In Fiji, Hindus are more entrepreneurial than Christians and in Malaysia Buddhists and Confucians are more dynamic than Hindus, who in turn are more entrepreneurial than Moslems: hence the very strict job reservation in favour of the latter.
Returning to Scotland, I would bet good money that Protestants have higher average earnings and suffer lower unemployment than Roman Catholics. The same may well be true in England and Wales, although I would not put quite so much money on it. The fact is that religion and culture in many parts of the world go hand in hand. There have always been customary job patterns adopted by particular cultures. In Northern Ireland one group tends to be involved in the building trade, running pubs and betting shops and another group in engineering and in shipbuilding. Again, one group is concentrated physically largely west of the Bann where high unemployment is endemic because of the geographical isolation of that area; indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, referred to that fact. Another group is concentrated east of the Bann where chronic unemployment is not quite so severe.
Members of one group reduce their employment prospects by being unwilling to join the security forces either because they do not recognise the legitimacy of the state or, more usually, because of vicious intimidation: that intimidation bears particularly heavily on the minority community in Northern Ireland. There is also the fear that a member of a particular religious persuasion may turn out to be an informer prone to tip off terrorist groups that a particular part-time member of the UDR, or a part-time policeman, leaves his job at a particular time taking a certain route, and may thereby be set up for assassination. That is most unfair on many innocent people, but I suggest no less fair than sending many bewildered Italian waiters to the Isle of Man as we did during the Second World War.
The extremely high birth rate of the Roman Catholic population is also an important factor. It is by far the highest birth rate in Europe, with the exception of Turkey—if you consider Turkey to be 808 in every respect part of Europe. It is interesting that the one Official Unionist member of the Standing Committee on the Bill, Mr. Beggs, revealed that he was one of a family of 12 children—an unusually large family by Protestant standards. He said that four out of the 12 children had to emigrate, not because they were deliberately discriminated against but because it was clearly unrealistic to expect that every member of the family would be able to find work in Northern Ireland.
Finally, there is the probability of some residual, straightforward discrimination. But within the British Isles such discrimination is by no means confined to Ulster. In De Valera's time, Protestants in the South were not allowed to become librarians. Doubtless that was because it was feared that they might corrupt the unsullied minds of Roman Catholic youth. I do not know whether that is still the position; there are so few Protestants left in the South that the question may well be purely academic now.
I remember an opinion poll published in this country many years ago which revealed that approximately 16 per cent. of Conservative constituency associations would not consider a Roman Catholic candidate and approximately 28 per cent. would not consider a Jewish candidate. They did not even have the excuse that people of another religion were threatening to deprive them of their nationality or of many of their secular freedoms. Doubtless the situation has changed in recent years, but that was the case less than a generation ago.
Incidentally, it is a paradox, is it not, that it is perfectly legal to discriminate against people on political grounds as regards employment in England, Scotland and Wales but not in Northern Ireland. I make no comment on that fact, but perhaps it would be sensible to bring the two patterns into line; I am talking now about political grounds and not religious ones.
As the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman said in another place recently, equality does not mean merely absence of discrimination. That brings us to the meat of the Bill.
A curious feature which immediately strikes one is that the Bill does not seek to produce a fair balance among all religious sects and persuasions; it seeks to do so only between Protestants and Catholics, as the Under-Secretary of State announced in the Standing Committee. There are a number of Vietnamese boat people who have settled in Northern Ireland as refugees. This Bill will benefit the Catholics among them—if benefits there be—but not the Buddhists. There is discrimination for you!
The next thing one notices is that some of the objectives of the Bill run counter to all one's natural instincts and traditions. By that I mean universal instincts and traditions and not merely those existing in Northern Ireland. If one hears that the Smith family has worked for the Jones family for generation after generation, one's natural instinct is to say, "How marvellous, what a splendid example to us all". But, uniquely in Northern Ireland, a different reaction is asked of one. The fact that Smith's father, 809 grandfather and great-grandfather worked for the Joneses is meant to count for nothing should Robinson come along, who is equally well qualified and happens to be of the religious persuasion needed for Jones to achieve a so-called balanced workforce.
Again, all of us know that, if one has a good, trusted employee who says that his brother, cousin or good friend is a first-rate chap and one is looking for another employee, one would be well advised to interview the man in question—but in Northern Ireland one would be ill advised to do so if the Bill goes through unamended. Particularly reprehensible is the ban, albeit an indirect ban, on flying the national flag (under pressure from the Americans I understand, stimulated as they were by the winner of the Lenin Peace Prize). I also understand that photographs and portraits of the Queen can no longer be displayed, even by firms that have won the Queen's Award for Industry. Perhaps the Minister will confirm the accuracy or otherwise of that fact when he winds up. Can he also confirm what Mr Viggers meant when he spoke of offensive flags (Standing Committee B, col. 506)? I hope that he was not referring to our national flag.
What is so monstrous is that few races are so fanatically devoted to their flag as the Americans. Anyone who insults the Stars and Stripes virtually runs the risk of being lynched. I know what I am talking about because I spent three-and-a-half years in that country as a child.
Next we come to the dirigiste, bureaucratic and quango-forming nature of the Bill. As a Conservative Member conceded in Standing Committee, the legislation goes against the grain of everything that the Government of the United Kingdom have stood for. The Conservatives consistently voted against the more bureaucratic and illiberal features of the Race Relations Bill 1976: I could produce hundreds of quotations from the House of Lords Hansard and Hansard of the other place from speeches from both Front and Back-Bench Conservatives attacking a great many aspects of that Bill. Have Conservative attitudes changed since then? Here I give a paraphrase of a paragraph from a leader in a large circulation Conservative newspaper:[The Fair Employment Commission] seeks to make [religious] record-keeping compulsory over a wide area of our [provincial] life. That could be the first step towards installing legal quotas for religious groups in every area of employment. Taken together, those changes would enormously increase the powers of the religious bureaucrats. Especially important would be the opportunity it would give them to go on harassing firms until they applied employment quotas, that is to say privileged access for religious minority groups".The newspaper in question was the Daily Mail of 4th June. All that I have done is to substitute "Fair Employment Commission" for "CRE", "religious" for "racial" and "provincial" for "national".
On 6th April in the House, the noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil, speaking to an opposition amendment to the Companies Bill which would provide for compulsory women directors said:The last way to overcome … prejudice is to make silly provisions on the pages of the statute book".—[Official Report, 6/4/89; col. 1288.]810 In the other place on 6th June, Mr. John Lee, Employment Under-Secretary, replying to calls for legislation against age discrimination said:We believe the best way to overcome these barriers is not by legislation".—[0fficial Report, Commons, 6/6/89; col. 65.]All this is in line with current mainstream Conservative thinking, and confirms one's suspicions that the Bill is largely the product of external pressures upon Her Majesty's Government.
One of the most alarming factors is the Government's misapprehension about the inevitable effects of the Bill. In Standing Committee, the Under-Secretary of State asserted:The aim is not to ensure some form of equality of disadvantage, sharing out … the unemployment fairly between the different communities. That would be an entirely negative objective".—[0fficial Report, Commons, Standing Committee B, 23/2/89; col. 166.]Indeed it would; but that is what will inevitably happen. A high level of unemployment is endemic in Northern Ireland because of the Province's geographical remoteness and lack of raw materials, and so increasing employment in one community will inevitably reduce it in the other. Unemployment is a mirror image of employment.
Enthusiasts for the Bill (among whom I include of course the Minister) claim that it will reduce the level of violence and so attract more outside investment, thereby creating more employment; but it is hard to see how shifting unemployment from working-class Catholics to working-class Protestants (it is mainly a working-class problem, the middle classes being more mobile and adaptable) will reduce the level of violence. It will surely merely shift it from one area of the Province to another. As a Labour Member of the Standing Committee said, there is no such thing as a pain-free equal opportunities policy.
Although the Government fiercely defend themselves against accusations that the Bill introduces quotas, its long-term effect will be almost the same as if quotas had been introduced. The only difference is that the new employment patterns will take longer to come about. The end result is bound to be the same.
Perhaps the saddest thing is that the Government are with one hand trying to play down and discourage feelings of strong religious identity—for example, by encouraging interdenominational schools, which is something that we all welcome—while on the other hand presenting this Bill which actually heightens religious consciousness. Indeed, people can be fined £2,000 for giving false information as to their religious identity. Most of us know the famous joke about the Englishman who went to Ulster and was asked what religion he belonged to. He replied, "I am an atheist", and the Ulsterman asked, "Are ye a Protestant atheist or a Catholic atheist?" With the Bill the Government are enshrining in law the concept of Catholic and Protestant atheists or agnostics.
An employer should be able to say to a job applicant, "Look, I do not care what your religion or your background is or where you come from. You have first-class qualifications and references. That is all that interests me. I should like to employ you". 811 Under the Bill, that may no longer be possible. The employer may have to say, "Look, this is embarrassing. I know that you have excellent qualifications and references, but, frankly, I am worried about your religious background. My implied employment quota—it is not laid down, but it is my unofficial employment quota—is slightly out of balance and I am terrified of having the Fair Employment Commission breathing down my neck and possibly bringing a court action against me which might lead to a massive fine. I am afraid that I shall have to look for someone else with exactly your qualifications who comes from a different religious group. If I do not succeed within, say, a fortnight, then you have got the job, but not otherwise, I fear". Is that the sort of thing that is likely to improve community relations? I do not believe so.
If all other things were equal I would have to concede that it would not be unfair to share chronic unemployment more equally between Catholics and Protestants; but the great difficulty is that other things are not equal. Despite deliberate fudging and obfuscation, the Anglo-Irish Agreement makes it clear that the moment that 50.001 per cent. of Northern Irish voters vote in a border poll to leave the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland will be whisked out of the United Kingdom and handed over to the Irish Republic before we can draw breath—even if not one of the 50–001 per cent. happens to be Protestant.
The effect of the Bill will be to oblige more and more young Protestants to emigrate, thereby upsetting the religious balance in the Province, bearing in mind the birthrate differential, and so bringing forward the day when the magic figure of a 50.001 per cent. vote in favour can be reached. Naturally, that fuels the suspicions of conspiracy theorists.
Indeed, an article by John Lloyd in the Financial Times of 7th April 1989 maintains that the Anglo-Irish Agreement is the unequivocal sign of the Conservative Party politely waiting for Unionists to sidle up to the Irish Republic. With that in mind, the only way that the Bill could live up to its claim of being fair would be if it were to be accompanied by a revised Anglo-Irish Agreement which provided that the Province should not cease to be a part of the United Kingdom unless 50 per cent. of each main religious group voted for the change.
I do not like religious labels. I have always tried to avoid mentioning religion in the many times I have spoken on Northern Ireland in your Lordships' House. But, after all, the Bill goes out of its way effectively to stick religious labels on people. So there is a logical consistency in my suggestion; more important, there is justice in it.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Lord Mottistone
My Lords, I have to declare an interest because I am advised on this matter by the CBI in Northern Ireland. I should add that my wife comes from Northern Ireland.
The views of the CBI in Northern Ireland are somewhat different from those of the noble Lord, 812 Lord Monson. Through a statement by its council as recently as May this year, it has emphasised its support for the overall objectives of the Bill. After all, the CBI lives in Northern Ireland among all the problems there.
However, the organisation feels that the Government in Northern Ireland in their turn have not given sufficient public appreciation of that fact. On the contrary, the Government have claimed that the public sector is making major strides in its own fair employment practices. The implication, as seen by the CBI, is that this legislation is primarily required to make private employers do what the public sector has already done. This takes no account of what the private sector employers have already achieved on the same lines.
One example was referred to by my noble friend—and I hate to say this of him—in a rather condescending way. That is the fact that over 400 private employers have taken advantage of the fair employment support scheme. So they are already monitoring and adopting practices given statutory force by the Bill.
The implied criticism of the private sector can be put right by the Government publicly recognising that the solution to the problem is as much the responsibility of the public sector as it is of the private sector. It can also be done by recognising publicly that religious imbalances among the unemployed, which are severe, are not directly connected with religious imbalances among those in employment, which exist but are very much less severe.
In so far as employers as a whole are responsible for the unemployed imbalances, the public sector and the private sector bear them equally. Clearly CBI members and other private employers greatly resent having much more of the blame for unfair employment practices cast on them by the Government than is either true or fair. Here I had a moment of sympathy for the noble Lord, Lord Monson; in effect he said that fairness meant different things for different people. The Bill is about fairness for employees. The message that I received from the CBI in Northern Ireland was that the Government are not being fair to them in this area.
Surely the Government would find it much easier to give effect to the Bill, when it is enacted, if they treated private employers as partners in doing so rather than as scapegoats. This is a fundamental matter to which I hope that my noble friend will give urgent attention and about which I hope he will have some encouraging remarks to make in winding up. If I may say so, I hope that the remarks will be encouraging in a way which does not leave us with a general impression that the superior government in Northern Ireland see private employers as just one of those lackeys which have to be encouraged to do things by legislation rather than by being brought into partnership in the way that I suggest.
I do not believe that my noble friend is responsible for these matters in Northern Ireland, being much closer to the soil than others. I am quite certain that he will not take this attitude. If, as I see it, it is not his responsibility, perhaps he will undertake to pass 813 on to his right honourable and honourable friends the very great concern which is conveyed to me by the CBI in Northern Ireland and which I am trying to convey to your Lordships.
There are several other points of detail in the Bill on which the CBI would appreciate reassurance, either now or at later stages when I hope to raise them under various amendments. I give two examples now. The CBI wishes to know how the Government intend to convince all employers that the fair employment commission is a new and highly professional body and that it is properly and fairly accountable for its activities. It is not just a re-run of the same old body as before. In talking about this, my noble friend made much of the duties and obligations of this new commission. I wonder whether that means that the commission has professionalism in order to carry out those duties and obligations.
The second point which the CBI wishes to know is how the Government intend to provide adequate separation within the FEC between its advisory and its casework staff. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, questioned that area of separation of duties with one overall body. Perhaps he was tallking more about the tribunal than the commission, but I think the same applies to it as well. I hope that my noble friend will be able to touch on those two points now. They will be the subject of amendments which I shall put down together with other matters.
In conclusion, this is a good Bill in principle in the part of the world where it will be operated. Although I have great sympathy for what the noble Lord, Lord Monson, stated in the broadest sense with regard to communities which do not have special problems, there is a difficulty about translating what life in England is like to what, sadly, life in Northern Ireland is like these days. Although it is a good Bill in principle, it will not work if the Government do not publicly show that they believe that the public and private sectors are essential and equal partners in what the Bill seeks to achieve. Neither part of industry is blameless in the matter of fair employment in Northern Ireland. Equally, neither side can be accused more than the other of not trying to do what the Bill seeks to achieve.
I should be very grateful if my noble friend could pass those points on to his noble friends. If he does not manage to achieve this partnership to which I referred, I fear that the Bill will be a waste of our time and will achieve no more than its predecessor.
§ 7.59 p.m.
§ Lord Blease
My Lords, some weeks ago I heard a prominent Irish historian say that Northern Ireland has a problem for every answer. Whatever the essence of truth contained in that ironic remark, there can be no doubt that, while the legislative proposals in the Bill may be the Government's genuine answer to the blatant and proven needs for fair employment measures in the Province, it has certainly produced many serious and challenging problems for the Government and the 814 administration as well as for politicans, employers, trade unions, the Churches and the general community.
I agreed wholeheartedly with the Minister when he said that this was not only a government concern but also a community concern. Noble Lords are all acutely aware of the intensity of feeling which the question of religious discrimination generates. We are also aware of the sensitivity aroused by the diverse opinions about the extent and the causes of discrimination in employment. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, has touched on many of these issues that are paraded around Northern Ireland. I am pleased that he has placed them on the official record. These matters need to be answered, at least to some degree. They are serious matters which have serious implications. Serious allegations are made about them. However, now they have been placed on the record, and we shall return to them.
The issues of religious discrimination feature largely in the annals of Irish history. Since the establishment of the separate government for Northern Ireland in 1920, the religious/politico aspects of discrimination have been compounded and have become increasingly complex. While discrimination in Northern Ireland has pronounced religious/politico features, this is not unique. Many other countries besides Northern Ireland have had to contend with the crucial problems of discrimination on such diverse grounds as race, religion, language, political opinion, sexism and national origin. Critical issues continue to confront many governments today arising from these elements of discrimination.
A considerable volume of legislative measures, of social techniques and of practical administrative experience has evolved and developed in efforts by democratic governments throughout the world to overcome these problems of discrimination and to promote justice and fairness in employment opportunities. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, touched upon some of these matters that have already been experienced throughout the United Kingdom. We must seek to note and improve upon these experiences, and certainly adjust them to whatever requirements are necessary in respect of Northern Ireland affairs.
For over 40 years I have been directly involved in separate community and government efforts in Northern Ireland to find fair and reasoned measures to eliminate religious politico discriminatory elements of employment, and of economic development, in whatever form these may be found. In 1955 and 1958 I joined with trade unions and church organisations in voluntary efforts to promote cross-community understanding and active efforts to counter identified discrimination in employment. As a trade union official, I was appointed in 1972 by the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (now the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw) as a member of the working party on discrimination in the private sector of employment. The working party was chaired by Sir William van Straubenzee and reported in 1973. The report was the basis for the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act 1976. It was based on voluntary educational efforts which in 815 the long term failed. However, they were an attempt to bring the community together in what was considered then to be desirable aims and objects.
Since then, I have been actively involved in numerous studies about discrimination in employment, including the studies undertaken by the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights, the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the British Institute of Management for Northern Ireland, which has already been mentioned, the Confederation of British Industry for Northern Ireland and the Irish Council of Churches.
I have read with interest the numerous reports issued by the Fair Employment Agency over the past 13 years. Those reports contain a voluminous amount of detail concerning the practicalities of seeking to implement fair employment practices. I have also read the reports by the Committee on the Administration of Justice in Northern Ireland. I may add that I followed carefully the general community implications and the public discussions arising from the eight policy studies published by the Government since 1978 on the matter of fair employment practices. These publications are outlined on page 8 of the White Paper on fair employment in Northern Ireland which was issued by the Government in May 1988.
Since the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Bill was published in December 1988, we have had the mass of Official Reports of parliamentary debates, and the accompanying papers, together with wide media coverage and public comment, all of which dealt with elements of the proposed legislation. I hope the House has not found this recital of detail wearisome. I have attempted in all earnestness to convey to the House the extent of the discussions, the reports, the measures and the efforts which have taken place to find some acceptable, positive, practical and fundamentally fair solutions to the problems of discrimination. Those efforts were not initiated last week, the week before or even last year, but have been undertaken by various government departments, by various institutions of state in Northern Ireland and by numerous voluntary bodies, including employers and trade unions. Together they have done a magnificent job. From this side of the House I pay tribute to the work that has been done in this field by the Confederation of British Industry, in co-operation with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, to eliminate violence and to encourage industrial development and remove any elements of discrimination in employment.
However, we live in a real world and these things happen in peculiar ways. From correspondence and from other sources, I am convinced that the expectations of the general community have been raised by the declared principles of this Bill. Hopes have been heightened that this sense of unfairness may be eradicated from our hard-working industrious scene in Northern Ireland. The principles of this Bill were clearly stated by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mr. Tom King, when he spoke in a Second Reading debate in another place on 31st January 1989. I feel it is 816 important that I quote his remarks in full so they will be on the record for consideration by this House. Mr. King states:It is a key objective of the Government, not merely to prevent discrimination but, much more importantly, to encourage and achieve genuine equality of opportunity in employment. The principal objective of this Bill is a moral one. It is to ensure that a person's opportunity to obtain employment and all its benefits is determined not by which part of the Northern Ireland community he or she comes from, but according to ability, and ability alone. That is a fundamental right of every human being. It is a major political objective of this Government to ensure that it is delivered in Northern Ireland.Behind that moral principle lies a stark economic fact: that the male Catholic population in Northern Ireland today has an overall rate of unemployment some two and a half times that of the male Protestant population. It is beyond question that there are substantial and continuing differences in the relative rates of unemployment and employment between the two sections of the community—despite the 1976 Act, despite the hard work of the Fair Employment Agency over 13 years, and despite the efforts of many employers and of successive Governments to attract investment to those areas of greatest economic depression and those areas most severely affected by the troubles.Nor is it right to think of this only as a Catholic grievance; discrimination against Protestants clearly exists as well, and is equally unacceptable".—[Official Report, Commons, 31/1/89; col. 196.]That ends the quotation, but I shall continue by stressing the importance of the basic principles presented by the Government concerning this particular Bill. The principles declare that fairness in employment should be pursued through methods which are themselves fair to all. Policy and practice must be forward-looking and capable of sustaining their own momentum. They further state that fair employment should contribute to the healing of divisions in the community.
The platform on which those basic principles will rest is not, as has already been stated in this debate, that the merit principle will be ignored. Appointment on merit has been emphasised by the Government in their statement that:The Government believes that it is the direct corollary of these basic principles that appointment to jobs should always be solely on merit, without regard to religious affiliation or belief and in accordance with the obligation not to discriminate".I join with other noble Lords in welcoming the Minister's succinct and well-presented introduction of the Bill. I welcome the assurance that the Government propose to put down a number of amendments to the Bill. I ask the Minister to indicate how early we may expect those amendments to be available.
I compliment my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies on his excellent analysis of the Bill and I fully support amendments which he intends to put forward. I welcome the proposals to amend the Bill in order to strengthen it, to achieve the declared objectives and to remove some apparent anomalies.
A number of organisations which support the principles and objectives of the Bill have contacted me regarding specific aspects of the legislation with which they are unhappy. Those organisations include the Irish Congress of Trade Unions Northern Ireland Committee, the Irish Council of Churches and the Confederation of British Industry for Northern Ireland.
In conclusion, the image of Northern Ireland as a sectarian, violent, evil, discriminatory community 817 has been perpetuated abroad for personal or political gain by persons who, it is quite apparent, are ill-disposed to the interests of the people of the Province and of the whole of Ireland. It has been claimed that the United Kingdom Government have taken action to promote the Bill in response to pressures under the Anglo-Irish Agreement. It is also thought that influence has been brought to bear at the EC level and that there has been arm-twisting by some American politicians and investors. I am glad that the Minister for Industry, Mr. Peter Viggers, on 17th October 1988—before the Bill was presented —stated that the Government:are committed to fair employment simply because it is right and because we find it toally unacceptable that anyone should be put at a disadvantage on account of their religion".We know the limitations of legislation. I concur with the Minister that this has to be a community as well as a government effort. The creation of jobs must go hand in hand with the legislation if the proposed measures are to succeed. The mere transfer of jobs from one area to another will not resolve the problems of discrimination. The full implementation of the legislation must be accompanied by radical improvements in general prosperity in Northern Ireland and in the employment situation.
I have pleasure in supporting the Second Reading of the Bill. I look forward, with my noble friends, to participating in the Committee stage and to making the Bill a success.
§ 8.14 p.m.
§ Lord Moran
My Lords, employment is a serious problem in all parts of Ireland and has been for a long time. My grandfather moved to Yorkshire from Ireland after he qualified as a doctor because he found that there were jobs for only 50 per cent. of those who qualified as doctors in Ireland at that time.
We are all naturally opposed to discrimination of any sort—religious or otherwise—in employment in Northern Ireland or anywhere in the United Kingdom. But discrimination is already illegal in Northern Ireland. This Bill, though clearly well meaning, is, despite the clear and persuasive explanation given by the Minister, one about which I am far from happy.
What are its origins? To some extent it is obviously a conciliatory move in the context of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. However, it is hard to believe that it is not also a response to pressure forom the United States. On 19th September 1987, the Economist said:In agreeing to legislation Mr. King has responded to arm-twisting from a formidable Irish-American lobby, campaigning on the MacBride principles".I believe that we shall never succeed in appeasing Irish-American opinion. The MacBride principles to which the Economist referred are those of 1984, which urged positive discrimination in Northern Ireland against Protestants. The two people principally concerned in drawing up those principles were the late Sean MacBride, former chief of staff of the IRA—and whatever else he was, he was certainly no friend of this country—and former Congressman Mario Biaggi of Noraid, who led the 818 ad hoc congressional committee on Irish affairs and was enormously influential—and successful—in persuading the states in America to pass legislation in accordance with the MacBride principles. He is no longer with us because he was convicted in 1987, and again in 1988, of racketeering, mail fraud and accepting bribes. He is now serving terms of eight years and two and a half years in prison and is no longer a Congressman. The policy, unfortunately, marches on.
We know that Mr. Haughey favours the MacBride principles, as does Mr. Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein. One of the most sensible things that was said about the principles was said by the previous American ambassador, Mr. Charles Price. When he went to Belfast he said that the MacBride principles would prove totally counter-productive. He added that employers do not want to hire people on the basis of religion; they want to hire people who want to work. He said, I think very rightly, that those who advocated the MacBride principles in the United States were not close enough to the situation to appreciate their negative effect.
The application of those principles constitutes serious interference in our domestic affairs. Of course American investment is very important in Northern Ireland, it accounts for approximately 11 per cent. of the jobs there. But there are other sources of employment. I was very pleased to see that the French firm Montupet had decided to invest in Northern Ireland; it accounts for approximately 11 per cent. of the jobs there. But there are other sources substantially in Wales and I hope will also invest in Northern Ireland. They are, happily, indifferent to Western religious differences.
The concept underlying the Bill of contract compliance or affirmative action is, as I understand it, an approach which is rejected by the Government for Great Britain. They made that clear during the passage of the Local Government Bill. But they seem to favour it in Northern Ireland. I remember that when the matter was discussed in 1986 a report in the Financial Times of 16th May that year stated:The Fair Employment Agency in Belfast said it had a legal opinion from senior counsel that UK law 'does not permit reverse discrimination' and the MacBride principles advocate 'affirmative action which almost by definition would imply reverse discrimination'".As has been pointed out, the fundamental problem is very complex. There is the problem of geography —that of where people live in relation to the jobs that exist. Unfortunately, Catholics, I believe, are reluctant to work in the police and other branches of the security services which I understand account for a substantial number of jobs in Northern Ireland. I have heard a figure as large as 30,000 mentioned. That represents quite a substantial percentage of employment. I wonder whether this is a problem that can effectively be dealt with by legislation. I am inclined to think not.
There is also the burden on businessmen. The Minister spoke of criminal penalties backed by economic sanctions and about withholding government grants and public sector contracts. Clearly, it must be difficult for businessmen, faced with onerous requirements of the type in the Bill 819 and the threat of criminal penalties and economic sanctions, to face a future of that kind. I was told in a letter from a Northern Ireland businessman whom I know:Whatever the merits of it"—he was talking about the Bill—I have no doubt that it will bring suspicion and trouble to the workplace which is not there at present".That is something I personally regret. It would be tragic if legislation made life so difficult for businessmen in Northern Ireland that they were tempted to move elsewhere, to Wales, Bristol or even to the Continent. That is something that we must bear in mind
I was glad to hear the Minister say that the Bill would operate both ways. I thought about a firm like Du Pont which, I understand, has a plant near Londonderry employing about 1,500 people, mainly, I believe, Catholics. I do not know whether the Bill would require the firm to reduce the number of Catholics that it employs. I hope not.
However, my most serious reservation about the Bill is about the recording of religious affiliations, which are called in the Bill and the papers associated with it "perceived religion". The paper to which the Minister referred—the discussion paper that was put out called A Guide to Effective Practice—states:Monitoring is crucial… regular and systematic monitoring is an absolute; it involves the identification of the perceived religious affiliation of job applicants and the existing workforce".It requires people to ask where someone went to school and, on the basis of that, to discover his or her perceived religion. That is something that I personally would strongly object to being asked. I note that the Minister said in his speech that the Bill is to be amended to strengthen monitoring.
One of the most extraordinary things in connection with the Bill was the document produced by the Government called Classification of Schools for Monitoring Purposes. It stated:The information can, in the majority of cases, be used to classify an individual as having been educated either: in a school attended mainly by Protestant pupils; or in a school attended mainly by Roman Catholic pupils".It then listed with "P" all the schools in Northern Ireland attended mainly by Protestants, with "RC" all those attended mainly by Roman Catholics, and with "NK" all those which could not be classified.
It seems to me that that is to set in stone people and schools according to whether they are perceived as Protestant or Catholic. I think that, in the context of Northern Ireland, that is entirely mistaken. On 23rd July 1987, Dr. Mawhinney said that it is the Government's policy to encourage integrated education. Surely that is right. The day before yesterday, the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, asked the Minister about integrated schools in Northern Ireland. The aim should surely be to try to move away from religious labels and differences in Northern Ireland and to work towards a situation where those differences do not matter. The Bill seems to me to have a diametrically opposite effect.
Although, therefore, I think it important that there should be no discrimination and that the best man 820 should get the job, wherever he is and whoever he is, I think that the Bill is misconceived and, far from being beneficial, may put back progress towards a better future in Northern Ireland.
§ 8.26 p.m.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
My Lords, it is an indication of the interest that Members on the Labour Benches take in these matters that we feel it right and proper to provide two speakers. Quite frankly, I could not elaborate very helpfully on the remarks of my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies who, I believe, gave a very sober assessment.
Not all, but most, Members have said that they welcome the fact that the Bill is before the House. I do not think that anyone has said that the Bill in its present form is wholly acceptable. Quite properly, a number of amendments will be forthcoming designed to strengthen the Bill as it is seen by a number of individuals.
Northern Ireland and its affairs have had a good innings in the House this week. We spent at least three hours on two distinct aspects of life in Northern Ireland—the first, substantially political, dealing with the government of Northern Ireland and, the second, an appropriation order dealing with the manner in which the Government's income was spent on providing services to meet the needs of the people of Northern Ireland.
What we are about tonight is, I believe, to welcome and support the Government's desires to deal with what is in effect called the Irish problem. That is the resentment by one group or another at what it perceives to be discrimination and unfair advantage. The problem is more relevant in Northern Ireland than in many other parts of the world and certainly any other part of the United Kingdom. The Bill seeks above all to improve the quality of life, atmosphere and raison d'être for ordinary, good people of all religious denominations, and none, in Northern Ireland, to enable them to live the life that they want to live.
The Government are in a dilemma. They do something and are criticised for it. If they did nothing, they would be criticised for that. Clearly, the shape of their proposals will not be wholly acceptable to one group or another, but that is the nature of things. We on these benches commend the Government for deciding, after a long period of primarily taking what I would call the voluntary route, that they want to put some statutory teeth into their intention that so far as is possible—and that is the crucial phrase—they will not tolerate discrimination and unfairness, especially in the employment field. Employment concerns matters which are absolutely vital to the health and happiness of a nation, a community and a family.
On Monday last noble Lords were given sad figures by my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies to show that in Northern Ireland there was an overall unemployment of 15 per cent. with male unemployment running at 19 per cent. If, as we were told, 2.5 per cent. more of the Catholic population than the Protestant population are unemployed, perhaps one may assume that in some areas a 821 representative figure of between 30 to 40 per cent. of people in the Catholic communities are unemployed. That is absolutely horrendous. Whatever the circumstances of noble Lords in this House—and we all have different backgrounds—every one will understand how much bitterness there must be in the hearts and souls of many people there.
We believe that it is morally right for the Government to bring forward this Bill. But my noble friends Lord Prys-Davies and Lord Blease sounded warnings which the Government must take on board. It would be the height of cynicism on our part if we were to take as a promise and offer that a measure such as this, which is designed to do a great deal, will achieve much in a short period. Indeed, the Minister has not said that. However, the sad fact is that in the circumstances of Northern Ireland, more so than in some other places, we know that it will be an uphill struggle to try to change the mores of so many people.
We are not here to comment on the rights or wrongs of the discrimination that takes place. We look at the facts. The Government say that there is a need for greater equality and more fairness and that they intend to take various measures to deal with the situation. Of course as soon as they put pen to paper, some people will say that if that is what they want to do, they should be able to achieve their aim in a different way.
Reference has been made to pressure coming from various quarters. I should like the Government to acknowledge that there have been no undue pressures. I think that it is perfectly proper for pressure to come from business, industry, religion, the community, political bodies, friends in America and all over the world. If pressure is directed towards the reduction or eradication of discrimination in employment, then it is we believe legitimate pressure. Reaction to pressure depends on the merits of that pressure, and the reasons why people pressurise. This side of the House certainly does not wish the Government ill. Indeed, we wish them well in trying to eradicate what is genuinely felt to be inhumane and unethical and for good reasons is not to be tolerated. Those reasons must also be stated and accepted.
I was interested to hear the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone. In the business community of Northern Ireland there is a feeling that somehow or other private employers are carrying the can—perhaps I categorise it rather clumsily. They acknowledge that it is a difficult situation and they are entitled to be resentful. In his winding up speech the Minister has a duty to say to employers in Northern Ireland, whether or not they are members of the CBI or whatever their professional associations, and he has been invited to do so, that the Government are not "having a go" at the private sector and affirming that there is nothing wrong in the public sector. In fact, there is just as much possibility of unfair discrimination in the public sector and the public services.
As I see it, the badness, sadness, unfairness and inequality in employment opportunities know no bounds whether it happens in the private or public 822 sector, in one community or the other. It is almost inherent in the Northern Ireland situation. It is to the credit of the Government that they are trying to eradicate that situation.
The Minister will be aware of my interest in prison matters. Indeed, I have indicated it more than once to the House. I have with me a letter from Mr. Finlay Spratt, who is the chairman of the Northern Ireland Prison Officers' Association who write; to Mr. Cecil Black of the prison personnel department at the Northern Ireland Office in Belfast. They are exchanging views on how to deal with this problem in the prison service. On the issue of "identification of schools attended" Mr. Finlay Spratt writes (and I assume it is on behalf of the members of his association):The identification of schools attended is, in my view, totally unnecessary for the following reasons. Staff from all religions may have attended schools which were situated in questionable areas and, accordingly, preconceived ideas can be formed as to a person's background which can have a detrimental effect on promotion prospects etc. in the future. It should suffice to say the religion of the school is Catholic (primary) or Protestant (primary) without identification of the actual school attended".It seems to me, as someone who does not live there, to be eminently sensible, if we want to ensure the monitoring, registering, and correcting of any imbalance to do with the religious nexus.
Mr. Finlay Spratt had a reply from Mr. Black:Monitoring the religious composition of the work force is concerned with general statistical patterns and trends, not with the personal religious beliefs of any individuals. To be useful for statistical purposes, information must be factual and capable of being checked … The approach which the Prison Department prefers is classification by the employer on the bails of a statement of fact by the applicant or employee, i.e., the name and address of the primary school he or she attended".I fail to be convinced why that is necessary as an additional piece of information, especially in this computer age when, as we know, all kinds of use and misuse can be made of information. Mr. Black continues:It is established Government policy that all applicants for jobs in the Northern Ireland Civil Service shall be monitored on the basis of the name and address of primary school attended. The arguments for monitoring applicants, recruits and existing staff on this basis are based on consistency and to support proper statistical analysis".Mr. Black may very well be right. He is a civil servant and head of the prison personnel department. The people on the ground—those whose lives and futures are affected—tell him that that is not necessary and could very well have a detrimental effect. Then Mr. Finlay Spratt wrote to Mr. Black about political views. He said:Whilst the drafts deal with sex, marital status and religion, the question of political views held remains to be addressed. This, I believe, is a vital inclusion into a document of this nature. I firmly believe that religion does not have the same sensitivity or bias as the expression of one's political views. An example would be the Anglo-Irish Agreement which affects the whole population of Northern Ireland. I am quite sure that discrimination is far more likely on this issue than the simple question of religion".Mr. Black had this to say on political views:The Code of Practice does not mention 'political views' nor, for that matter, discrimination on grounds of sex or marital status. The Code relates only to information about religious affiliation and how this is to be monitored under strict rules of confidentiality. Political opinion cannot and will not be monitored and therefore is not covered by the Code of Practice. On the other hand, paragraph 6.2 of the Policy Statement makes it 823 clear that employees who think they may have been discriminated against on grounds of religious belief or political opinion may make a complaint to the Fair Employment Agency".The correspondence states:It is my understanding that regulations under the proposed new Fair Employment (NI) Act will permit monitoring on the basis of a direct question about religion or on the basis of the name and address of the primary school but self classification of the type of school by the employee will not be allowed".I raise the matter with the Minister because in that short contrast between the views of one civil servant and those of another in the Prison Service one has the crux of the dilemma.
In giving a warm welcome to the Bill, my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies reminded the Minister that there are a number of rainchecks on the Bill going through this House comparatively undisturbed. Promises were made in another place, and the Minister has said that the Government intend to deliver those promises. My honourable friends in another place and I need to understand precisely what is being proposed. It is much better to have the right Bill than to get it through quickly. In the context of Northern Ireland it is much better to spend time on achieving all-round agreement on matters rather than trying to have something on the statute book.
We on these Benches have bent backwards not to make matters on Northern Ireland partisan issues. On many occasions we have strenuously avoided pressing matters to a vote in this House because we realise that if Members of this Chamber are seen to be divided on Northern Ireland matters it gives grist to the mill for individuals in Northern Ireland.
My noble friend Lord Blease made a very fair point: that with regard to the Bill the public may be expecting the Government to deliver too much. We may all be guilty of a little euphoria in saying that the Bill may solve a problem. However, my noble friend made some sharp allusions to the nature of the Northern Ireland problem. We on this side of the House shall certainly collaborate with the Government as fully as we can to ensure a speedy passage to the Bill. However, we need to see the colour of the Government's money with regard to the amendments. Having seen them and agreed to them, I hope that the Bill will be on the statute book and will operate in the way that it is designed to work as quickly as possible.
§ 8.44 p.m.
§ Lord Lyell
My Lords, the last few words of the noble Lord encapsulate, I believe, the entire tenor of the debate that we have had this evening. There have been one or two questions. I would not say that they were criticisms. I am pleased that my noble friend Lord Mottistone has returned. I am not sure whether he won his competition on the water of the Thames. However, I call it the return of the Viking.
§ Lord Mottistone
My Lords, the House of Lords beat the House of Commons in the sailing race today. However, I did not contribute much to the win because, although I finished the course, I capsized and was rather a long way back.
§ Lord Lyell
My Lords, although such comment might or might not be fair, I congratulate my noble friend. I am sure that we are all delighted to see him in good health and competent—as indeed we would expect a distinguished officer of the Royal Navy to be—even on the waters of the Thames. However, he won.
At the outset, I pointed out that the Bill was fairly wide-ranging. If there is one main objective in it, it is that merit should be the main criterion for employment in Northern Ireland. I believe that nobody who has spoken this evening would dissent from that. The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, asked me how the Bill knitted in with the 1976 Act. I confirm that it should be read together with the 1976 Act. Indeed, he will have seen that substantial parts of the Act remain unamended. Some of them remain in the body of the Bill because we have substituted new elements in the Bill for the 1976 Act.
The noble Lord also asked about the tribunal. The tribunal will already have practical experience. It will have experience of employment agencies. Fair employment is not just a matter of law. As I stressed, and I think that noble Lords would agree, it is a matter of practice and of practicality. It is working for the workforce in the workplace. The talents of the tribunal's legal spokesmen—indeed the practical experience represented by the president—we believe will be a notable addition to employment procedures in Northern Ireland.
The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, asked about the appointment of the president of the tribunal. I appreciate that he and his noble friends feel strongly on this matter. Certainly the views of the noble Lord opposite and his honourable friends were put over strongly in another place. The appointment by the Department of Economic Development would in no way compromise the independence of the president. However, there are arrangements for appointment by my noble and learned friend who normally sits upon the Woolsack. We would not be opposed to the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies. We shall consider very urgently whether we have news for him at a later stage. We have taken his points on board. However, I think that noble Lords will accept that we shall have to wait for the views of my noble and learned friend.
The noble Lord spoke about Section 42. We are well aware of the concern that has been expressed tonight and elsewhere about the Section 42 procedure. The system whereby my right honourable friend the Secretary of State issues a certificate confirming that an action taken by an employer was taken in order to safeguard national security or protect public safety or public order has led in some areas to allegations that the procedure can be used to cover up acts of discrimination and that somehow it should be open to somewhat closer scrutiny. Perhaps noble Lords will agree—it is part and parcel of what was laid down in the 1976 Act—that national security safeguards should continue to exist. I think that all of us would accept that the prevailing circumstances of Northern Ireland require such a safeguard.
825 However, we believe that any major change to the system, whereby my right honourable friend is invited to sign a Section 42 certificate, would undermine that safeguard which we regard as essential. If an employer had acted in good faith on grounds of safeguarding national security and was required to justify his action in debate before the fair employment tribunal in any particular case, he would not be able to do so without revealing the information, which could be particularly damaging. This could put lives at risk.
§ Lord Prys-Davies
My Lords, that is why we suggested that the appeal should be by way of judicial review. We accept that the Secretary of State must retain the power to issue the certificate, but we would argue that it must be open to an individual to ask for the decision to be subject to a judicial review.
§ Lord Lyell
My Lords, we certainly take that; but we have been considering for some time whether we could change, or how we might change, this procedure to meet some of the problems set out by the noble Lord. It was stressed by my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in another place on 25th May that certainly we would be examining these administrative procedures closely to see whether we could revise them. I am afraid that I have no news tonight, but possibly at another stage I might have some more news.
The noble Lord also raised the question of indirect discrimination. The definition given in the Bill is the same as is used in sex and race legislation. We think that the definition is clear and consistent. It is important to the employer, who has to be aware of the responsibilities in different areas.
The noble Lord, Lord Monson, in a wide-ranging speech raised one or two interesting aspects. Certainly I am unique in that I am not a mother and I loathe apple pie, so they are two starters with which I could not quite agree. I also recall his lucid comments in your Lordships' House and elsewhere on Turkey and his knowledge of the Turkish language. I am not too sure whether the problems that he has adduced at earlier stages on other subjects could be relevant. I shall certainly digest what he said on that particular score.
So far as concerns the anti-discrimination provisions of the Bill, they are directed against any form of religious discrimination. That would include discrimination against Buddhists, or any religion to which the Vietnamese boat people in Northern Ireland might belong. It would be totally against the principles of the Bill to use any religious discrimination whatever.
The noble Lord also had a question about the national flag. There is nothing in the Bill to suggest that it is illegal to fly the national flag. The noble Lord will know that in Northern Ireland there is a multiplicity of various sectarian symbols, as well as graffiti, which can be—and I am afraid sometimes are—deliberately deployed in a provocative way in some areas in order to annoy and irritate individuals. That is why the existing guide to effective practice strongly recommends that any display that could be offensive should be stopped.
826 The noble Lord also raised the question of goals and timetables. If the noble Lord were to glance at Clause 35, he would see that goals and timetables are in no way quotas. Quotas are fixed and have to be fairly rigid. They would require reverse discrimination for their attainment, and there are no such things as unofficial quotas. They would be illegal.
I am glad to see that my noble friend Lord Mottistone has returned from his aquatic adventures. He started off by mentioning the CBI in Northern Ireland. I pay my tribute to them. They have achieved much. My noble friend also thought that somehow I had been in some way possibly condescending in mentioning that 450 separate concerns had made use of the Government's financial assistance towards the implementation of some of the measures in the Bill that we have tonight.
If I in any way caused the noble Lord to feel that I was condescending, I am sorry. I think I was just reading carefully and trying to express my remarks in my normal way. My honourable friend the Minister responsible for these matters in Northern Ireland is in close and, so far as I am aware, frequent contact with the CBI representatives in Northern Ireland on this as well as many other matters, and I am sure that my noble friend will be too. I understand that there was a meeting with them today shortly before the debate in your Lordships' House got under way.
I indicated in my opening remarks that we expect the new commission to consult closely with employers in drawing up the new code of conduct and the code of procedure. We would expect to see that they take time to address the question of how the commission would check on its advice and enforcement functions so that they could be separated, as the noble Lord would wish.
The Government have repeatedly stressed the importance of both the CBI and the private sector working closely with the Government in promoting economic improvement in Northern Ireland. I take my time out now to pay tribute to everything that has been achieved by the CBI. If my noble friend feels that there is a problem he will know that my door is open, and between now and another stage of the Bill he may wish to get in touch with me. I look forward to receiving any thoughts or comments that he has, and I have no doubt that he will have much more to say at a later stage.
My honourable friend in another place and I have both recognised the contribution made by the CBI. The problems and the solutions which we have looked at this evening, and which we believe that the Bill will address, are as much a matter for the public as for the private sector. If my noble friend is in any way thinking that the private sector is made into a scapegoat, may I invite him to cast his eye over Clause 45 where he may find some interesting thoughts and remarks which would be directed at Ministers of the Crown and others who have responsibility for the public sector? Let not my noble friend or anybody in your Lordships' House think that the public sector is escaping its responsibilities in the area we are discussing tonight. We are fully prepared to work closely and in co-operation with 827 the CBI in promoting fair employment. We believe that the new commission will be under a duty to provide advice—close and technical advice—to employers on their periodic reviews.
The noble Lord, Lord Blease, made his traditionally kind remarks of encouragement. When I mentioned in my opening remarks that fair employment and the measures in the Bill were a matter not just for the Government or for employers but for everybody, I noticed that there was warm appreciation from the noble Lord, Lord Blease. I am particularly grateful for his appreciation because he is an expert in the field that we are discussing, and has been involved in it for many years. It was a most generous and appropriate commendation that he gave this evening. The CBI and the unions have been particularly unstinting in their endeavours to check on fairness of employment.
We are still contemplating most of the major amendments which I mentioned and which we hope will fulfil undertakings given in another place. They will be introduced at the next stage. I give the noble Lord, Lord Blease, and other noble Lords the undertaking that we shall make them known as early as possible. I hope that that will give the maximum time before the next stage. I shall pass on the noble Lord's concern, and if we can advance the publication of the amendments by 24 hours we shall do so.
The noble Lord, Lord Moran, made an interesting speech. I was particularly flattered that he was kind enough to say that I gave a clear and persuasive outline of the Bill. I was also interested to note that his late grandfather moved from Ireland to practice in Yorkshire. No doubt he will accept that I am particularly grateful to one or two practitioners of medicine in Ireland who have cured me of sundry problems.
The noble Lord mentioned the question of pressure from and the appeasement of people from outside Northern Ireland and Europe in connection with employment measures. We are in no way responding to Irish-American "arm twisting", as he called it, or to the vague platitudes referred to as the "MacBride principles". We are legislating to seek to provide fair employment for everybody in Northern Ireland; that is, for both communities. It is absolutely right that employment should be on merit and on merit alone.
In agree entirely with the remarks made by the former United States Ambassador, Mr. Charles Price, when he called the MacBride principles "negative and counter-productive". The Government have been successful in attracting inward investments such as Montupet. The noble Lord spoke about Japanese companies in Wales and he will know that we have also had success with those companies, not least with a South Korean company called Daewoo. It announced that it wished to invest in the Province just prior to the announcement from Montupet.
828 I agree that the Government's success in attracting such companies does more for fair employment in Northern Ireland than anything else, let alone any matters that we might be discussing this evening —that is even taking into account the thoughts of the noble Lord that there may have been at stake an element of the MacBride principles. We addressed the problem of fair employment long before the MacBride campaign got underway. The clarity and the strength of the legislation before us this evening make unnecessary any reference to those principles.
My noble friend Lord Mottistone may be assisted to know that I recognise the financial implications for employers as regards the burdens on business. However, fair employment practice is no more than efficient personnel practice and recruitment. We believe that 450 separate concerns in Northern Ireland are wrong. For that reason we have announced a 12-month extension of the current assistance for companies which require guidance.
As regards monitoring, the noble Lord, Lord Moran, will see that it is extensively referred to from Clauses 27 and 28 onwards. The employer may use a variety of methods to ensure that returns are as accurate and comprehensive as possible. I appreciate, as will all noble Lords and anyone who knows Northern Ireland, that it can be a sensitive matter. However, your Lordships will find Clause 28(3) of considerable assistance. It is an amendment that we made as a result of queries and discussions in another place. We believe that it provides valuable help and assistance.
We agree with the noble Lord, Lord Graham, that monitoring is essential. It is one of the key aspects of the Bill. We agree that enforcement is needed both in the public and private sectors. It is wrong to assume that the private sector will in any way carry the can. If the noble Lord looks at Clause 45 he will see that any responsible person in the public sector will face severe penalties. In my opening speech I made a major point which I am happy to repeat. We have consistently stressed the need for collective effort and communal endeavour.
I hope that I have covered all the points of concern which were raised by your Lordships. This has been a preliminary examination of the Bill. In my opening remarks I stressed that there are three main elements which concern the civil rights movement 20 years ago. We believe that the Bill tries to bring about a fair conclusion to the third main problem which began 20 years ago. We believe that it is absolutely right to put beyond any doubt the fact that recruitment, training and employment should be entirely on merit. The Bill before us this evening is a major step towards proving that. We believe that it will achieve a considerable amount and look forward to further discussions with your Lordships.
§ On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
§ House adjourned at seven minutes past nine o'clock.