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Column 192Chamber waiting to be called. I understand that there are pressures on you, Mr. Speaker, but I hope that you would not penalise me for perhaps saying a word or two across the Dispatch Box.
Mr. Speaker : Twice during the course of the statement, when there was a great deal of noise while the Secretary of State was speaking, I warned those who were intervening from sedentary positions that they could not expect any precedence in being called subsequently to ask a question.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is pretty-- [Interruption.] Hold on a bit ; you may get reprimanded. It is pretty clear, Mr. Speaker, that you did not quite establish which hon. Members were making the noise, because the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Sir D. Price), an ex-Minister, whom I would not describe as a lager lout, at his age, was swearing, I believe at the leader of the provos, and after about five minutes he was called. So you obviously did not carry out what you threatened to carry out. If you cannot carry it out for him, you cannot carry it out for us.
Mr. Speaker : I am sure that the whole House will agree that, when we have a statement by a Minister for which we have all been waiting for a long time, it should be heard in silence and listened to with attention and not amid shouts from a sedentary position. It is not good parliamentary manners.
Mr. Robert Adley, supported by Mr. Robert Hicks, Dr. John Marek, Sir Gerard Vaughan, Mr. John Home Robertson, Mr. Hugh Dykes, Mr. Tam Dalyell, Mr. Nicholas Baker, Mr. Eric Martlew, Mr. Peter Rost, Mrs. Rosie Barnes and Mr. Andrew Rowe, presented a Bill to repeal section 42 of the Channel Tunnel Act 1987 : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 17 February and to be printed. [Bill 57.]
Mr. Menzies Campbell, supported by Mr. David Alton, presented a Bill to prevent the unofficial resale at unreasonably high prices of tickets to events to which the public are admitted : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 3 March and to be printed. [Bill 54.]
Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the draft Industrial Training Levy (Engineering Board) Order 1989 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the draft Industrial Training Levy (Construction Board) Order 1989 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.-- [Mr. Maclean.]
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to establish a house purchase savings scheme for the armed forces enjoying the same tax relief as houses for owner occupiers and the same treatment under the Building Societies Act 1987.
My Bill seeks to tackle an injustice that has affected the armed forces for a generation. The present Government have a good record on armed forces pay. Indeed, they have applied in full the recommendations of the pay review body in every year since they were elected. But the core of the Thatcher revolution, the heart of the new prosperity, is the ownership of a home. In the country as a whole, approximately 64 per cent. of the population live in owner-occupied accommodation. Within the armed forces, among other ranks fewer than a quarter own houses, and even among officers the figure is below the national average. Moreover, those who do own houses have very severe problems in so doing, as I shall explain in a moment.
Let us consider the position of a sergeant major, or even a major, who retires after many years of service with the bulk of his earning capability behind him and without even the first toehold on the property ladder. A number of such people have ended up commuting the bulk of their public service pensions to buy the most modest little dwellings. Some have simply ended up homeless, and I have had a number of them in my surgeries.
A sergeant whom I know, who has served 21 years in the Army, including 11 tours on active service in Ulster, said :
"I have seen a corporal opposite me with eighteen years service and a sergeant with twenty-two years service round the corner evicted by bailiffs. I have three children at school. I do not understand why I should be joining the back of a queue behind delinquents and squatters for a council house after serving my country for over twenty years."
Had he not joined the Army, that man would almost certainly have been an owner-occupier rather than applying for a council tenancy. I have been approached by any number of former and serving Army officers--most of them worried about the men who have served under them rather than about their own position.
The way in which the Ministry of Defence has tried to tackle this difficulty has been to encourage service men to buy their own houses while they are serving. This has achieved much progress in the Navy and Air Force because most of their personnel serve in this country, but unfortunately in the Army just over half the trained strength serve outside mainland Britain. The problems of buying a house in Ulster are every bit as serious as in Germany or elsewhere abroad. The result is that for the soldier, unlike his civilian counterpart or his counterpart in the other two services, buying a house does not mean buying a home--it means becoming an absentee landlord. Is it really fair to ask a young family to take on the burden of renting their quarters, paying the mortgage on a house of their own and trying desperately to get a tenant to balance the books? Even if they get a tenant, and no scheme can guarantee that, they have to pay tax on the rent from the tenant, but they get no tax relief on the rent that they pay for their quarters and they also have to pay agents' fees. The result, of course, is that the soldier rapidly decides that the best way to escape all the problems that arise, with or without tenants, is to leave the Army, and a
Column 194growing proportion of soldiers are doing so. Premature voluntary release from the Army is now up 73 per cent. on what was already an unsatisfactory figure five years ago.
The sad thing is that it is going up fastest among the minority who have bought houses. Their wives simply get desperate. For example, Canterbury's own regiment--the Queen's Regiment--has three battalions, one in Germany, one in Leicester, and one in Tidworth. How on earth is a corporal in Germany or Ulster expected to make mortgage payments in one place and pay rent in another? His wife almost certainly cannot get a job as there are no jobs for wives in BAOR. What is happening in the Queen's Regiment, as in so many others, is that, as soon as a couple have managed to buy a house, the pressure is on the soldier to leave the Army.
The way the problem is tackled by every other employer I know who sends people abroad--including the Civil Service, clerks and drivers in the Foreign Office, teachers sent abroad, as well as the whole of the private sector--is that anyone who goes abroad lives free. As that would be unrealistically expensive for the Army, I am asking for a much more modest scheme which would cost the taxpayer very little. I am asking for a housing savings scheme to be established which would attract the same tax benefits that the rest of us get as owner-occupiers but without forcing the soldier to buy and then let a house. The particular scheme that I have put to the Minister--there is no time for me to go into details now--involves allowing the soldier effectively to buy a quarter, but not that physical building-- he buys at a fixed national average price on an index, and when he moves out has to sell back at the new index price.
I have been through the scheme in detail with two building societies. They tell me that the index already exists in outline and that in principle they would be willing to lend against this form of security. The scheme would not cost the taxpayer a penny beyond the amount already available from the taxpayer if the man goes out and buys a house, but it has the enormous advantage that he is not under any pressure to leave the Army when tenant- related problems arise. I do not wish to push the details of any one particular scheme too hard, but if we are to keep a modern Army together, with the lean recruiting years of the 1990s coming, and if we want to keep the best people in the armed forces, it is essential to introduce a scheme which allows service men to accumulate capital while serving so that they can own a house at the end of their service, with the same tax advantages as their civilian counterparts but without having a house hundreds of miles away that they have to try desperately to let. This is a very grave problem, and one which must be tackled soon. It is a grave injustice and also a foolish injustice because it is driving many of the best people out of the Army.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Julian Brazier, Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith, Sir William Clark, Sir Jim Spicer, Sir Marcus Fox, Sir Antony Buck, Sir Charles Morrison, Mr. John Heddle, Mr. David Evans, Mr. Keith Mans, Mr. Ian Taylor and Mr. Jacques Arnold.
Mr. Julian Brazier accordingly presented a Bill to establish a house purchase savings scheme for the armed forces enjoying the same tax relief as houses of owner occupiers and the same treatment under the Building
Column 195Societies Act 1987 ; And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time on Wednesday 1 February and to be printed. [Bill 56.]
Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Bill
Order for Second Reading read.
Mr. King : 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.
Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North) : Everybody would deplore discrimination, but to what extent is existing discrimination possibly dependent on the fact that outsiders would not wish to invest in those areas where they might feel IRA activity would render their investment less successful? Also, to what extent is the existing differential in levels derived from the fact that there is intimidation, particularly by the IRA, against people taking up employment opportunities?
Mr. King : I will say a word about the different causes, but my hon. Friend is right to say that those are two of the elements that contribute to this problem. I have never ceased to remind this House and everybody in Northern Ireland of the damage to employment prospects that terrorism certainly does.
It would be wrong for me or for anyone to pretend there is a simple explanation for these problems. There is no doubt that to some extent higher Catholic unemployment has been caused by discrimination. I have drawn attention to discrimination against Protestants at times as well. To
Column 197some extent it is caused by terrorism, by geographical differences, by where people live--my hon. Friend drew attention to that as well--or by differences in education, family size or the skills traditionally associated with one community or another.
But rather than get bogged down in what could be a very long argument about the relative significance of each of these problems, I simply want to say two things. First, the Government recognise that the problem is a complex one, and therefore calls for a variety of different responses. Secondly, we are not willing to accept the problem as though it is in some way inevitable. In a part of the United Kingdom which has a rate of unemployment higher than that of any other region, it is essential that any inequalities are tackled vigorously ; that those jobs that are coming are fairly distributed, and everyone has the fullest opportunity to be fairly considered for jobs for which they are suited ; and that Northern Ireland should be seen nationally and internationlly as a place to invest where employment practices are fair.
We do not want the improved perceptions of Northern Ireland as an expanding region with a good supply of well-motivated and highly skilled workers to be tarnished by an image of unfairness in employment. It is not in anyone's interest--for unemployed Protestants, any more than for unemployed Catholics--that that situation should be allowed to continue.
This Bill marks a further stage in our determination to meet this challenge. We can go right back to the work of Sir William van Straubenzee, a former colleague on this side of the House, in 1973 which led to the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act 1976. Much has been achieved since that time, but it is also clear that we need to reinforce our efforts if we are to get the improvement that we need. More recently, in 1985, we set in hand a major review of the situation, and the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights undertook a comprehensive review itself starting in 1985. In 1987, we issued to all employers a guide to effective practice, and in 1988 we established a fair employment support scheme giving free consultancy and financial assistance to introduce better practices. Indeed, many employers are already adopting the practices set out in this Bill. I referred to the work of the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights. The recommendations contained in its excellent report have formed the basis for the central provisions of this Bill. The Government strongly endorse many of the views of the standing advisory commission, which have been of major importance in formulating future Government policy on fair employment in Northern Ireland.
I said at the outset, and I have always said, that there is no question of Protestants being dismissed so that Catholics can take their jobs. I have also said that the Government reject absolutely the proposal that there should be a proportion of jobs reserved for Catholics and another for Protestants. To make appointments on the basis of religion, with whatever motives, would be not only morally wrong but grossly unfair to those individuals who were affected by it. It would also be directly against the economic interests of Northern Ireland employers. One of
Column 198the main principles underlying the Bill is that religion should be irrelevant to anyone's chances of obtaining employment.
This is one of the lessons we have learnt. Another which has emerged from the past 10 years' experience of the existing fair employment legislation is that simply to prevent or to avoid direct and deliberate discrimination is not in itself enough to ensure equality of opportunity between Catholics and Protestants. Disadvantage arises often from unconscious discrimination as well as from deliberate sectarian prejudice.
Established patterns of employment tend to perpetuate themselves, particularly in a divided society. This can very easily lead to the virtual exclusion of either Catholics or Protestants from a particular work force. Without any deliberate or malign reason, one section of the community may find itself effectively excluded from consideration when vacancies are being filled. One of the main aims of the Bill is therefore to ensure that, where necessary--and it very often will be necessary--employers take positive steps to open up their employment opportunities to applicants from all sections of the community. Equality of opportunity is not something that will happen of its own accord ; it must be planned for and worked for, like other business objectives, and that is what a main part of this Bill is about.
Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East) : The Secretary of State keeps talking about Catholics and Protestants. Should he not be taking about perceived Catholics and perceived Protestants and on the basis of which primary schools they attended? Does he not recall that there was a famous case in Northern Ireland when an individual complained on religious grounds, because he was a Free Presbyterian, of discrimination perpetrated against her by another Protestant denomination? Will the Secretary of State confirm that the freedom of each Protestant denomination to complain when it believes that it is being discriminated against by another Protestant denomination will be included in the Bill?
Mr. King : Of course it will be open to people to raise complaints about discrimination on the basis of religion. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has raised that point in an entirely constructive way to help to tackle the evil of discrimination, wherever it may arise, and not in any sense to suggest that this measure is not a sensible way in which to proceed. I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's intervention. It has helped to make that point very clearly. What this Bill seeks to do is to improve the recruitment and employment policies of Northern Ireland employers. The Bill places a number of new duties on employers and provides new ways in which employers can obtain the information and the advice which they will need in order to discharge their obligations as effectively as possible.
Part I of the Bill deals with the new institutional arrangements. In place of the Fair Employment Agency, the Fair Employment Commission will be established with considerably enhanced powers and a substantial increase in funding and staffing. Its powers will be to investigate and give directives for changes, if necessary, and to investigate patterns and practices of employment. The commission will have significant powers, but they are very much intended as back-up powers. I emphasise that the Bill's first aim is to promote a constructive working relationship between the commission and employers. The
Column 199commission will be responsible for drawing up the new code of practice, with detailed guidance for employers on how to improve their employment practices and to help them in that way. In advance of the new code, we shall make available before the Committee stage a preliminary draft of the revised guide to effective practice, which will serve in the interim period, in advance of the new code being available, as the first code.
The commission will seek to help employers to find workable solutions to their problems, and will be keen to encourage voluntary undertakings, in suitable circumstances, to achieve those objectives.
In addition to the commission, the Bill establishes a new fair employment tribunal, which will operate on the model of industrial tribunals. It will deal with individual complaints of religious discrimination, such as the one to which the hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) referred, as well as with others that might more commonly occur. It will also deal with the enforcement of directives of the commission, or it will hear appeals against directives.
In this way, a new body will be established which will cover both the responsibility for determining individual cases and appeals and enforcement. It will be exclusively concerned with fair employment issues and thus will build up considerable experience and expertise in such matters. Another very important point that many people have recognised and appreciated, and one that is very different from the present situation, is that this body will be quite separate from the body that is conducting the investigations, giving advice and trying to help employers to meet their commitments and obligations. That will be the task of the Fair Employment Commission.
Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne) : Is my right hon. Friend able to tell the House that the Bill's proposals have been broadly welcomed by employers in Northern Ireland, whether they be Roman Catholic or Protestant?
Mr. King : There is a general recognition among industries and employers of the need for fair employment to be established in Northern Ireland. Many employers have spoken to me and have given warm general support for the objectives. But I am also aware that there are employers who are concerned about the specific application of individual aspects. Those matters will be discussed in Committee because there are concerns about the ways in which details will apply. I have found that the employers to whom I have spoken support the need for firm legislation and are determined--as people determined to work for the good of the Province--that Northern Ireland shall be recognised as a place where fair employment practices operate. However, there may be concern about details and those are matters that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will seek to discuss in Committee.
Mr. Marlow : I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way, and I apologise if he is about to come to this matter. He has implied that the commission will have a great deal of power and will be able to direct companies as to what they should do with regard to fair employment practices. Could he tell the House what these powers are and in what areas the commission will be able to give direction? Could my right hon. Friend be specific?
Mr. King : I may be able to help my hon. Friend because I am coming to the point about the duties of employers, when the matter will become clear. Part II deals with the new duties of employers. It deals with the duty to register, to monitor and periodically to review their practices to see if they need affirmative action. It provides duties and powers for the commission to assist employers and to assess how they are doing. It also provides for Government grants and public sector contracts to be withheld from defaulting employers.
There have been a number of misconceptions about monitoring. Monitoring is concerned with the overall pattern of a work force, not with the religious affiliation of any particular individual. There have been suggestions that monitoring will reinforce or introduce sectarian divisions. As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow), that is one of the employers' concerns. We do not believe that that is the case. It is certainly not the experience of those employers in Northern Ireland, both in the public and the private sectors and in the Civil Service, who are already operating monitoring programmes. Monitoring is a statistical exercise and any information about identifiable individuals is subject to very important statutory safeguards.
Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East) : Does the Secretary of State agree that, when monitoring takes place, it is important that there should be a reliable degree of accuracy and that, where up to 8 per cent. of employees cannot be identified, there is an unreasonable degree of accuracy? Steps should be taken to correct that.
In addition to the monitoring of employees that I have described, the Bill also provides that all public sector employers and private sector employers with more than 250 employees will also be required to monitor applications for employment, to cover applications to join the existing work force. The second important obligation on registered employers is to review their employment practices, to assess whether fair participation is being achieved and to consider what affirmative action may be needed.
The Bill does not attempt to define fair participation or to prescribe any particular levels or proportion of participation for which all employers should aim. What is fair must depend on the circumstances of the individual company. It must take account of where it is, the size and nature of the catchment area from which employees are drawn, the type of work involved and the availability of suitably qualified applicants.
In essence, what the employer must ask himself is whether, given all the factors and circumstances, the composition of the work force is broadly in line with what may reasonably be expected, or not. Does the composition of the recruits reflect the mix of Protestant and Catholic employees that might be expected, given the catchment area and the balance of population, or not? If it does not, what plan of action and affirmative action is needed to achieve fair participation?
Those questions require the local knowledge of the employer. There can be no absolutely right level of mix ; it will vary from work force to work force and from place to place. There is no precise mathematical formula to
Column 201recognise whether a broad pattern is roughly right, or markedly out of line. That is something that a fair employer should be well able to assess.
Employers can call on the commission to advise on how the review should be carried out. The employer will also have the code of practice, which will guide him on the sort of changes that may be required in his employment practices.
I make no secret of the fact that that is not an easy or precise exercise. I have sought to explain to the House that there are different situations, as anybody who studies these matters knows well. Anybody who has studied the report produced by the Ford Motor Co. at Dunmurry, which analysed the complexities of the issues involved, knows how difficult are some of the issues that must be assessed. But anybody who studies the matter also knows how easily one can tell the difference between those who are genuinely trying and those who are making no attempt at all.
Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West) : My right hon. Friend says that the measure builds on the principles of the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act 1976. Will he tell the House how many proceedings have been brought under that Act and how often the authorities, acting under the Act, have made specific proposals for changes in the law? Are we simply going through a charade to try to ensure that we receive the MacBride money?
Mr. King : I did not say that the Bill builds on the principles of the 1976 legislation, but rather that it develops the approach to fair employment and tackling discrimination. The Bill carries it further. I would need to check the exact number, but not many proceedings have been brought under the 1976 Act. One of the criticisms that could be made of it would be that it was based on a voluntary approach and involved a declaration of intent. There was a lack of monitoring of that intent and people were able to certify themselves as equal opportunity employers. There was little monitoring to discover whether that intent was being carried through into practice.
We considered moving from the declaration of intent to a declaration of practice, which would be closely observed. My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) may have been with us all the way through a succession of consultation documents and White Papers on the matter, and nobody can say that the issue has not been the subject of exhaustive discussion. We decided not to follow that practice but to lay duties on employers first to register if they employ more than 10 people-- for the first two years, the relevant number will be 25 people. Once employers register, they will have to monitor the composition of the work force and they will have to submit an annual return. They will also have to review their performance and assess their progress every three years.
Mr. Budgen rose--
Mr. King : I do not intend to be heckled by my hon. Friend. I have tried to give him an honest answer and to explain the background to the problem and why there were very few prosecutions or actions. I explained in my opening remarks that the situation was virtually unchanged since the introduction of the 1976 Act and following the assessment of the standing advisory commission, commissioned by the Government in 1985, the need for more effective action was identified. That is precisely why the Bill has been introduced. What happens if the outcome of an employer's monitoring and review shows that there is a need for affirmative action? Such action is defined in the Bill as the adoption of practices designed to secure fair participation in employment by Catholics or Protestants and the abandonment of practices which may restrict or discourage fair participation. There have been many calls for that definition to be made more precise. At present, however, it can cover a whole range of different approaches, and we do not wish to exclude options that might be relevant in given circumstances by being more precise. It might depend on--
Mr. Marlow rose--
Affirmative action might involve widening the catchment area, removing obstacles that stop some people applying, the setting of goals and timetables of the ending of haphazard recruiting arrangements. It might involve the setting up of special training facilities. It might, indeed, involve the ending of displays of provocative flags and emblems at work or widening the range of schools contacted. The code of practice may include these and other actions.
I read the article by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) in The Irish Times this morning. He sought to find all sorts of problems and difficulties in the Bill and to pretend that the arrangements would somehow be more restrictive. He tried to make out that the Bill would make more difficult the lives of employers who genuinely sought to operate in a constructive manner. I found the whole article incredible. I profoundly believe that the Bill will lead to greater possibilities, and to more, rather than less, affirmative action.
The hon. Gentleman even referred to Short Brothers plc. I do not know whether he sought to imply that Shorts would not be able to respond positively to any undertakings that it has given, but I find it extremely mischievous of him even to have introduced such a suggestion into his article. I do not believe that it is true. I believe that the Bill will help constructive co-operation between the Fair Employment Commission and employers
Column 203who sincerely wish to address the problem of inequality. It is mischievous and damaging to Northern Ireland to suggest otherwise.
Mr. John Hume (Foyle) : Does the Secretary of State accept that affirmative action in employment legislation is not the only affirmative action that is necessary to create fair employment? The best fair employment legislation in the world will not create another job in Strabane. Does he accept that figures produced in the House show that the two constituencies in Great Britain and Northern Ireland with the highest unemployment are my own constituency of Foyle and Belfast, West? Some of us do not think that that is a coincidence and believe that it is the result of action taken by previous Governments of Northern Ireland to starve those areas of investment. If we are to have fair employment, we need affirmative action that will encourage inward investment into areas that have previously been starved, in addition to good fair employment legislation.
Mr. King : I want to address the problem of all areas of high unemployment. Some of the most substantial investment has gone into the Du Pont operation, for instance. I know of the considerable expansion of Desmonds and of the other investments that have been made. I am also conscious that Foyle has quite unacceptably high unemployment. I am also very conscious of the problems of trying to improve employment opportunities in west Belfast, given that some of the activities that take place there are singularly unattractive to potential investors but, as I think the hon. Gentleman will concede, that is not to say that we have not been trying. The whole House welcomed the news of the investment in the old De Lorean plant. I leave it to others to determine whether that is in east Lisburn or west Belfast, but there is no doubt that that can contribute significantly to employment opportunities for many in west Belfast. I accept the assertion that the creation of jobs must go hand in hand with the legislation if it is to succeed. The Bill will simply not work if we are merely transferring jobs from one community to another, and it must be accompanied by a general improvement in the employment situation.
Mr. Cash : Does my right hon. Friend realise that, although he has been subjected to some carping remarks, some Conservative Members wish to congratulate him on introducing a measure that will genuinely help the people of Northern Ireland in a manner that goes way beyond what many hon. Members have suggested, because the difficulty of obtaining employment on a fair basis lies at the root of many of the present troubles?
Mr. King : I profoundly agree with my hon. Friend. Of all the measures with which I have been associated, measures to establish fair employment and equality of opportunity in employment in Northern Ireland are some of the most important.
Part II of the Bill deals with the withholding of Government grants and public sector contracts from employers who are in breach of any of their major statutory obligations. Disqualification will be determined by the commission, if an employer has been convicted of failure to register or to submit monitoring returns or of
Column 204falure to comply with an order or the tribunal. This will be a very powerful sanction, over and above any other penalties for which the employer may be liable.
Public sector bodies will be precluded from accepting tenders from disqualified employers and will require any subcontractors not to be disqualified. Northern Ireland Departments will be authorised to withhold financial assistance from employers who have been disqualified by the Commission. That will apply not just to grants but possibly to loans or investment. Those are tough sanctions, but it would be wrong for any employer who deliberately ignores his obligations to receive any such support from Government or public funds.
I have sought to deal with the main elements of this important Bill. We believe that it will have a real effect in improving employment practices in the Province.
Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East) : The Secretary of State sounds as if he is beginning to wrap up. Before he resumes his seat, perhaps I can extract some more information from him. I imagine that every right hon. and hon. Member desires fair employment in Northern Ireland : it is not the concern of any individual section of the community. Every section of the community at one time or another has suffered through unfair employment.
The Secretary of State has said that certain encouragement would be given to ensure that a proper balance would be kept in accordance with the balance in the community. I am the chairman of the board of a leisure centre which employs about 140 people in an area which has a very small Roman Catholic community. Roman Catholic employment in that leisure centre is vastly higher than the percentage of Roman Catholics in the community. Those people were appointed because they were the most capable people for the job. They got their jobs on merit, because of their ability. Is there any suggestion that I should redress the balance by making jobs more available to Protestants to reflect the balance of the community?