|Previous Section||Home Page|
Mr. King : If the hon. Gentleman reflects on his intervention, he will find the answer. As I said earlier, there has to be good sense in these matters. We cannot talk with absolute precision or lay down a mathematical formula about what should happen. He may have heard me say that a genuine constructive approach is needed. If that is shown, we are halfway there.
We hope that prospects for jobs will continue to improve as they have in the present year, and that that, and the effect of the legislation, at last will produce real and significant change in the differentials of employment and unemployment. The Bill is very timely. If the United Kingdom economy continues to grow, Northern Ireland probably has the best ever opportunity for a fundamental change in its employment prospects. That is the ideal condition in which to achieve a change in balance. We shall keep the operation of the measures under regular review with the help of the commission, and we shall undertake a major review after five years.
Of course I am aware of the criticisms of the Bill, on the one hand from those who believe it goes too far and will open up problems and cause ill feeling between employees wnen none previously existed, and on the other hand that it does not go far enough and has been too lenient with employers.
Column 205To the first I say that it is essential for both communities in Northern Ireland that we are and are seen to be a place where there is fairness and equality of opportunity in employment. That is not the case at present, and it cannot be ignored. As for the "not enough" brigade, led by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North, they seem to want reverse discrimination, quotas on employers, and the abandonment of the merit principle. That approach has been overwhelmingly rejected not just by employers, but by trade unions, and by the vast majority of people in both communities.
I believe that the Bill has the right approach. It is a powerful measure that can make a real improvement to the whole life of Northern Ireland. It demonstrates without question our determination to promote real equality of opportunity for all the people in Northern Ireland, and I commend it to the House.
"this House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which : weakens existing policies in pursuance of fair employment ; fails, in the case of political and religious discrimination, to meet the minimum requirements of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, the Sex Discrimination (Northern Ireland) Order 1976 and the Race Relations Act 1976 by forbidding outreach schemes and training programmes designed to achieve equality in employment ; does not cover those working less than 16 hours per week, thus excluding thousands of workers, many of whom are female ; weakens the existing remedies available to individuals in obtaining redress against discrimination ; fails to impose a positive duty upon public and private sector employers to pursue equality in employment ; is equivocal over the issues of contract compliance and grant distribution to employers who refuse to adopt fair employment practices and procedures ; fails to meet the minimum requirements for fair employment adumbrated by the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and which ignores the key recommendations of the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights, particularly with respect to the question of goals and timetables for the eradiction of discrimination in employment."
I listened to part of the peroration of the Secretary of State about the great period of expansion that will take place in Northern Ireland. I hope that the 400 people working at Harland and Wolff who received notice today agree with him, despite the fact that steel cutting is no longer to take place at Harland and Wolff.
Twenty-three years ago today, I took my seat in the House. The same day I joined the Campaign for Democracy in Ulster and enrolled in the Campaign for Social Justice. I mention that to show that I have been concerned with discrimination and inequality in Northern Ireland before and since it became a fashionable issue. From the early days of the civil rights movement, a number of Labour Members, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Orme), recognised that discrimination in employment was a major grievance which had to be remedied. Otherwise, we knew, the pent-up frustration and anger would lead to an outbreak of discontent. At that time, the Government of the day, unfortunately one formed by the Labour party,
Column 206did not listen. The outbreak occurred and we are living with the consequences of the inadequacies of successive Governments. In 1975 a working party chaired by our former colleague Sir William van Straubenzee produced a report which, had it been acted upon, would have achieved real progress. Instead we enacted a watered-down version, the Fair Employment Act 1976. The lack of progress by that Act in reducing the extent of inequality of employment in Northern Ireland has been fully established by the Policy Studies Institute. As the Secretary of State pointed out, the extent of the problem which has to be tackled has been demonstrated by the ratio of Catholic and Protestant male unemployment of 2.5 : 1, an appalling figure when we consider that the 1976 Act has been in operation for 13 years.
Mr. Beggs : The figure of 2.5 is often quoted, but I am unaware that there has been a properly researched investigation to prove it. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will refrain from using that statistic until he can justify it.
Mr. McNamara : I suggest that for the rest of the debate the hon. Gentleman should usefully employ his time by going to the Library and reading the PSI reports. Those reports were funded by the Government--not a Labour Government, a Catholic Government or a Protestant Government. A non- sectarian Government produced that report and those figures. That is the problem.
The PSI research discovered that the Fair Employment Act had little effect on employers' practices. The vast majority of employers interviewed for the PSI study believed that the Act had made little if any impact upon their practices and procedures. Job discrimination was still thought to be justifiable by a considerable number of employers. Informal recruitment and appointment procedures contributed to continuing levels of discrimination. Investigation by the Fair Employment Agency did not often result in the setting up of affirmative action programmes by those employers investigated. Nor did investigations appear to have made any impact beyond that of the individual organisation investigated. Very few establishments were formally monitoring the religious composition of the work force. Very few establishments were carrying out any equal opportunity measures. On the basis of the PSI reports, and the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights report, I had been looking forward to welcoming the Government's Bill as a significant step towards the resolution of that historic and well -founded grievance. In May 1988 I cautiously welcomed the publication of the White Paper on fair employment. I welcomed a number of the aspects of the White Paper as representing substantial progress : the introduction of contract compliance, the requirement to monitor, the prohibition of indirect discrimination, and, although I recognise there is controversy over this matter, the transfer of individual complaints to a specialist division of the industrial tribunals.
To that extent, I recognise that the White Paper is a significant advance on previous legislation. However, I welcomed it cautiously. I made it clear at the time that
Column 207whether the Government would be successful in reducing substantially the current inequalities between the two communities in terms of employment depended on the detail of the legislation that emerged. In particular, I stressed that the bench mark against which the Bill would be judged would be the report of the Secretary of State's Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights published in September 1987.
The SACHR report was the result of a remarkable concensus among the commission's members, who included the head of the Northern Ireland CBI, the secretary of the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the ombudsman for Northern Ireland, the head of the Fair Employment Agency, legal experts, business men, academics and others broadly representative of informed opinion in Northern Ireland.
Unlike the brief and superficial dissenting view, the report made 123 recommendations on action needed to promote equality of opportunity. They were not a shopping list of desirable items, some to be taken from the shelf and others to be left there ; they were to be taken as a whole. They constituted a coherent strategy. Remove one part of it and the rest is weakened. It is against those recommendations that we can assess the extent to which the Government have failed to deal with the problem.
The most important of the Bill's many defects is its treatment of affirmative action. It was the view of the van Straubenzee committee, of SACHR and of the Labour party that employers must be permitted and encouraged to adopt religion-specific programmes to remedy imbalances in their work forces. If they do not, or if the legal position is so unclear that they are discouraged from doing so, the legislation, I regret, will not succeed. Without affirmative action, the historic patterns of inequality cannot be changed.
There are two main problems with the Bill's affirmative action provisions. First, affirmative action is defined as meaning practices which secure "fair participation" by the two communities in Northern Ireland. That is meaningless because the Bill does not say what is fair. Nor, despite what the Secretary of State said, does it lay down any criteria by which participation could be claimed to be fair. Nor, indeed, if it appeared in a code of practice, would that be enforceable and ensure what was fair. It would be open to any tribunal to impose its own view of what was fair, even that were at odds with equality.
Does one assess fairness in terms of selection procedures or the composition of the work force ; in terms of both or of neither? That uncertainty will at best breed litigation. At worst, employers will avoid legal controversy by doing little. [Interruption.] I give way to the Under-Secretary of State.
The definition of fair employment is not the one that the Secretary of State included in the White Paper, which instead defined it as action taken to provide a more representative distribution of employment in the work force. What we have in the Bill is even less than the definition that we had in the White Paper.
Column 208The second main problem with the Bill's approach to affirmative action is that neither the provisions allowing limited affirmative action nor the provisions empowering the Fair Employment Commission to require employers to engage in affirmative action are treated as exceptions to the duty not to discriminate directly or indirectly on religious grounds. Without such an exception, the duty not to discriminate takes precedence and the ability to take affirmative action is, to that extent, restricted.
The consequences of that approach will be disastrous. The Fair Employment Agency has in the past advocated, and on occasion required, types of affirmative action which might have been challenged successfully under the existing Act. For instance, the
recommendations made by the Fair Employment Agency about training programmes for female staff in clearing banks in order to ensure fair representation of Catholics in senior grades would be of doubtful propriety. It was to be hoped that the legality of such measures would be put beyond doubt by the new legislation.
However, instead of resolving the uncertainty in favour of legalising the types of measures currently advocated by the agency, the Bill substantially increases the chance that they will be found to be unlawful. A number of measures currently advocated by the Fair Employment Agency are called into question, a point to which my hon. Friend from Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) will no doubt return if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
The Bill also renders suspect a number of measures that are clearly lawful under the existing legislation. Measures which have the effect of increasing the chances of under-represented groups can now be challenged for the first time. For example, an employer who gives preference for a job to someone who has been unemployed for a considerable time can now be challenged on the basis of indirect discrimination because that has the effect of disproportionately advantaging the members of the minority community. The employer would have to show that that practice was
"justifiable irrespective of religious belief".
The approach taken in the Bill is also incompatible with existing legislation in other areas of anti-discrimination law. Race and sex discrimination law in Great Britain enables employers to engage in equivalent types of affirmative action which the Bill would make unlawful. Employers are permitted to encourage members of under-represented racial groups under section 37 of the Race Relations Act 1976, or of a gender group under section 47 of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 to apply for jobs and to provide specially targeted race-specific and gender-specific training. But under the Bill there is to be no religious-specific training. Indeed, last year, the Sex Discrimination (Northern Ireland) Order 1988 was amended by the Government to make it easier for employers to engage in affirmative action to the benefit of women, which they will now make illegal in the context of religion.
As if that were not bad enough, the absence of an exemption for affirmative action under the Bill jeopardises existing lawful affirmative action under the sex discrimination order. Certain affirmative action measures designed to improve the representation of women in the work force may also have the effect of benefiting a greater proportion of, for instance, Catholics than Protestants, or Protestants than Catholics. The Fair Employment Agency has recognised that in its report on the investigation into the
Column 209Northern Ireland Civil Service. However, under the Bill such affirmative action for women could be rendered unlawful. Indeed, there is some evidence that clause 50 is in breach of the EC equal treatment directive. I find it amazing that the Government could have been so ill advised as to present their proposals on affirmative action to the House.
The effect of the highly restrictive, internally inconsistent and incompetent approach to affirmative action in the Bill is of considerable importance to industry in Northern Ireland.
The legal uncertainty over the scope of lawful affirmative action in Northern Ireland is already generating great confusion among employers. Some employers are willing to redress the inequality of opportunity in Northern Ireland. Research conducted by the Policy Studies Institute found that a substantial number of employers would favour special recruitment drives to attract members of the minority community when they are under- represented in employment. That could have a significant effect when one considers that 100,000 jobs change hands in Northern Ireland every year.
There was also considerable support among employers for special training programmes to increase the representation of the minority community in jobs where they are currently under-represented. Yet those measures will not be made unlawful. The Bill will cut the feet from under progressive employers, and it is patently unfair to them. The Secretary of State may disagree, but if it is religious-specific, it is illegal.
Nor should we forget that, whether we like it or not, there is an important north American dimension to the issue. As it happens, I do not like it. The Government's proposals would be taken more seriously if they had acted of their own free will rather than waited until international and domestic pressure forced them to legislate. I for one find it depressing and distasteful that international pressure should be necessary to oblige the Government to take action to uphold such a basic human right as equality of opportunity in employment. The Bill will do nothing to reduce the possibility of American disinvestment. I am opposed to disinvestment. It would be a disaster for the Northern Ireland economy. Far from that being a mischievous statement, the Secretary of State knows that, ever since I had the honour of speaking on behalf of the Labour party on this issue, I have been concerned about what has been happening in north America. If disinvestment occurs, much of the responsibility will lie with the Government and their failure to seize the opportunity presented by the Bill. The extent to which the Bill constrains employers from taking affirmative action will increase the problems of Northern Ireland employees with commercial and investment links to the United States. There is a considerable risk of escalation in the conflict between the United States requirements of what these employers should be doing and what they would be permitted to do lawfully in Northern Ireland.
The first casualty could be one of the Province's major employers, Shorts. If the Minister thinks that I was being mischievous about this, let us consider the facts. If the Bill as drafted becomes law, it is unlikely that Shorts will be able to fulfil its undertakings to the United States
Column 210Department of the Army. I think the Secretary of State is shaking his head in disagreement. Let us consider religious-specific training. I happen to have the agreement with me. It is signed by Mr. Stone in his letter about what Mr. McNulty had said. Mr. Stone was the Under-Secretary of the Army. He wrote :
"The company will design and implement what in the United States would be termed a set-aside".
That is specific for Catholics. It is illegal.
"Shorts Bros. presently has a total of approximately 7,000 workers. Turnover rate is about 3 per cent. per year, meaning that the company hires about 350 new employees per year. As a baseline for 1988 the company expects to achieve a rate of 17.5 per cent. for Catholic new hires in relation to total knew hires. In 1989 the goal will be to achieve a rate of 25 per cent., and in 1990 the goal will be to achieve a rate of 35 per cent."
Shorts has also undertaken to the Fair Employment Agency to approach Catholic schools to encourage more applications from Catholics. These are specific and religiously designed affirmative programmes. These committments will be unlawful under the Bill.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Viggers) : The hon. Gentleman would not wish to mislead the House. The Bill does not preclude any of the legitimate outreach measures of the kind that Shorts and other good employers have already introduced. The hon. Gentleman may not like to be corrected, but I am sure he will welcome that reassurance.
Mr. McNamara : Will the Minister say specifically that firms may recruit percentages of Catholics in new hirings ; that the set-aside as agreed in the Shorts agreement will be legal under the Bill in the terms in which it was agreed ; and that Shorts may go to Catholic schools to encourage people to train? If he is prepared to give those three undertakings, he is then saying that there is specific recruitment for Catholics on a religious basis. On that ground, those of us who read the Bill and did not find that in it will be delighted to know that it is included.
On the other hand, the measures agreed by Shorts are seen by many as a classic example of the type of affirmative action that is needed to rectify historical inequalities in relation to the Bill. The prospects of other firms taking similar action are seriously diminished.
Mr. Budgen : Does the hon. Gentleman agree that a difficulty in understanding the Bill and deciding whether it is merely a sham or has the teeth that he wants it to have is that all such questions are left to the commission? We in this House are not allowed to decide what is discrimination or how it shall be enforced. Wide discretion is given to the commission : it may or may not do the things that he desires.
Mr. McNamara : I shall be coming to that point later. There are certain actions which the commission would be precluded from taking, and clause 50 and the clauses relating to training, outreach and so on will catch Shorts and what that company has been doing. The same provisions making Shorts' undertakings unlawful would have a similar effect on a significant element of a Bill introduced into the United States House of Representatives by Congressman Donnelly. It would be in conflict with the law of Northern Ireland if it and the Bill now before this House were adopted in their current forms, because clause 3 of Congressman Donnelly's Bill would reduce tax credits for United States firms operating in Northern Ireland which failed to take certain steps,
Column 211including the introduction of affirmative programmes designed to give under-represented groups better access to employment and training opportunities.
If the measure now before this House inhibits affirmative action to the extent that American employers cannot comply with the provisions of United States law, that will be yet more disincentive to the establishment and expansion of American-owned firms in Northern Ireland.
But, not content with turning the clock back with regard to affirmative action, the Bill also damages the rights of individuals to seek redress. It reduces the existing rights of those discriminated against compared with their rights under the existing Fair Employment Act. There are two major steps backwards. First, the level of damages is reduced. The new maximum will be £8,500, which falls well short of what the Fair Employment Agency has been awarding and negotiating on behalf of individuals under the existing Act. Secondly, the provisions requiring an employer to engage, re- engage or reinstate a victim of discrimination will now be repealed. In other words, the Bill not only involves a retreat from existing remedies and is a repudiation of the work of the standing advisory commission ; it also involves a retreat from the proposals published in the Government's own consultative document and in the White Paper.
In the consultative document, for example, the Government proposed the adoption of a form of contract compliance similar to that adopted in the United States. Under that system, contract compliance has the function of imposing on a contractor a number of "best practice" requirements which are additional to those imposed on the mass of employers directly under the rest of the legislation.
The Bill adopts a much more limited approach to contract compliance. Under the Bill, contract compliance has a more limited function. Instead of being a positive measure designed to promote the use of best practices in fair employment, it will serve merely as a last resort sanction to be used on those employers who do not comply with the minimum standards which the legislation imposes on the mass of employers. It has turned the matter upside down. This is an important retreat both from the Department of Economic Development's consultative paper proposals and from the standing advisory commission.
The consultative document also promised to introduce an explicit legal duty on public sector employers to provide equality of opportunity. Not only has that proposal vanished, but the Bill provides weaker sanctions against recalcitrant public employers than it does against private sector employers. When we consider that 13 local authorities have refused to sign the existing fair employment declaration and that public bodies have been the subject of adverse reports from the Fair Employment Agency, the weakness of the Bill is even more apparent.
The Bill also contains a series of retreats from proposals set out in the White Paper. I have mentioned one already--the affirmative action provisions--but there are more. The White Paper promised to help the individual by providing a questionnaire procedure to ease the task of gathering evidence faced by individuals complaining of discrimination. That is not included in the Bill.
The concept of goals and timetables for the reduction of inequality has also mysteriously disappeared during the preparation of the Bill. It is no good putting that in a code of practice which is not enforceable. The White Paper promised to make available to hon. Members a draft code
Column 212of practice at the same time as the Bill was being considered. We do not have that code of practice. As the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) pointed out, we are being asked to buy a pig in a poke. That is what it amounts to. We do not have the evidence to reach some of the conclusions that the Secretary of State would like us to reach. That evidence is not in the Bill and we do not have the code.
Much of what should be in the backbone of the Bill is relegated to the status of secondary legislation. Not only has the code not appeared, but in a number of crucial areas of the Bill there is a complete lack of detail on which to form an assessment of the Government's proposals. Much of the Bill merely empowers the Northern Ireland Department of Economic Development to draw up regulations and orders in the future, after the Bill has become law.
I took the same view as the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West on the right to silence issue and the policies that were involved with that. If we are not enabled to amend the legislation, we are weakening the power of the House because we either accept or reject the lot. In several major clauses of the Bill the details are to be determined in regulations. These are significant areas, such as monitoring, contract compliance and the procedures of the fair employment tribunal. When they emerge, these regulations will not be subject to the full parliamentary scrutiny that the Bill will attract. If the use of affirmative action can be so signally mishandled when it is clear that it will be subject to effective parliamentary scrutiny, how much confidence can we have in the use by the Department of those delegated powers when only limited scrutiny, without the power of amendment, is possible?
It is a contempt of the House that the Government should expect us to consider the Bill in the absence of detail about what the code and regulations will contain. The absence of such detail will effectively stifle proper parliamentary scrutiny of the Bill. We should remember that the Northern Ireland Office has considerably more autonomy with regard to parliamentary scrutiny than its British counterpart. There are two possible reasons why the Government may have chosen this course of action. One is that they do not want effective scrutiny of the Bill. The second possibility, which is perhaps closer to the truth, is that the Government have not decided the details of the measures, even at this late stage, and even in the central areas of monitoring and contract compliance. We have no evidence to assure us that the Department of Economic Development, that poacher now turned gamekeeper, is seriously committed to bringing forth tough measures to provide full equality of opportunity. Nor do we believe that it is sufficiently competent to work through the detail, even if it has the will to do so. How else can we explain a situation where key provisions of the Bill have such bizarre unintended effects as to risk a breach of the European laws, and where such a measure came to be printed and put before the House?
Mr. Budgen : Will the hon. Member give his assessment, on behalf of the Labour party, of the workings of the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act 1976? My right hon. Friend either could not or would not tell the House about it. If it was obvious by 1985 that the 1976 Act was not working and that under the Anglo-Irish Agreement Her Majesty's Government had this matter brought to their
Column 213attention, most kindly, by the Americans, perhaps the legislation would have been brought forward a little sooner. I wonder why something so important has been so delayed.
Mr. McNamara : I agree with the hon. Gentleman to the extent that I, too, wonder why it has been delayed. He is perhaps giving too much credit to the Anglo-Irish Agreement. I believe that what so wonderfully concentrated the mind of the Government on this matter was the MacBride campaign in north America. All the hon. Gentleman has to do is look at the incidence and mounting of the MacBride campaign, how state by state fell to it, and how the money and reources, of which the Fair Employment Commission had been starved, suddenly increased as the momentum of that campaign increased. That is a good sign of the origin of some of the pressure upon the Government. That is why I find it distasteful. This is a human rights matter which has been tackled by a British Government who seized the opportunity when they saw some of the difficulties under which the Fair Employment Commission was labouring. Those difficulties arose because it was starved of funds until the time of the MacBride campaign.
I believe that the Government would have been better employed by saying to the Americans, especially when they had the report from the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights, "This statement contains everything, and more, that you could ever want in your campaigning. It will not be voluntary and will cover not just north American firms but the whole gamut of employers and all investments. We will legislate on that and ensure that your campaign is as nothing." Unfortunately, as the Secretary of State said, he has failed to implement the spirit and the letter of the SACHR report. Because of that, MacBride will not go away, and will continue to spread like measles across the United States.
I believe that, if the Government are serious about fair employment, they should demonstrate their commitment by ensuring that responsibility for the implementation of the legislation should be at the highest level, in the hands of the Secretary of State and the Northern Ireland Office. We shall be tabling amendments to that effect in Committee. We do not believe it should have been left to the Department of Economic Development and the Minister responsible for industry because of the conflicts of interest.
We also believe that there must be effective monitoring of the new legislation, and a clear goal and a target for assessing its progress. The Secretary of State should ensure that an adequate administrative structure exists within his own Department to enable him to do that. Legislation alone is not sufficient.
My hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) has already reported on how the inward investment programme is meeting this problem. Existing Government programmes and future policy development must also take more fully into account the equality of opportunity dimension, which clearly was not taken into account in the past. The Government have brought forward no effective proposals to ensure that this will happen in future.
Unfortunately, the defects identified above are accompanied by a series of flaws, which will be dealt with
Column 214in greater depth in Committee. Some of them must be mentioned now, including, first, the most important section 42 national security exemption. The failure to provide clearly for independent scrutiny of the national security exemption is a glaring gap in the Government's proposal.
Let me give an instructive and farcical case to show the way in which section 42 has worked. A member of my union, a scaffolder, was employed by the Northern Ireland Electricity Service at Coolkeeragh power station near Derry. He then sought to transfer and get employment at Ballylumford power station. He was turned down. When he asked the Fair Employment Agency to investigate it, a section 42 order was issued to halt the investigation. He could not be employed there on the ground of national security. That was a very sensible decision to take, because in the meantime the scaffolder had been cleared to work at the Army headquarters in Lisburn, right opposite the GOC's headquarters. So much for section 42 and the way it has been used to hide discrimination.
The exclusion of part-time employees from the monitoring provision of those who work for 16 hours a week is another glaring exemption, for this reason among others. Some of them are among the poorest and most dispossessed Catholics and Protestants. The majority of them work for fewer than 16 hours a week, and many are women. The significance of this fact is all the greater when one considers that the eastern health and social board has 30,000 employees, 13,000 of whom are part-timers who will be excluded. The majority of them are women struggling to bring up their families. Whichever community they come from, they will not be covered by this provision.
There are in addition restrictions on the monitoring of applications, which is rather like the counting of green and orange trees instead of seeing what they can be used for to get some effective affirmative action. There is, too, the compromising of the independence of the Fair Employment Commission.
I regret to say that the Labour party cannot welcome this seriously flawed Bill. At a conservative estimate, it fails to meet more than 60 per cent. of the recommendations of the standing advisory commission's report. It ignores substantially the recommendation of the Fair Employment Agency and the Irish Congress of Trades Unions. In significant respects, it is less effective and far-reaching than the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act that it replaces, and it is even a retreat from the commitments in the less than detailed White Paper of last year. No doubt, in time, we shall discover what led the Government to back down from their commitments. Whoever is responsible has a lot to answer for. People will have to live with the consequences of the failure to create equality of opportunity. If the Bill is enacted in its present form, it will set the clock back. For the reasons that I have enumerated, the Labour party has tabled a reasoned amendment. If it is defeated, we shall vote against giving the Bill a Second Reading. We shall seek to amend the Bill in Committee. Our motive is to ensure that the eventual legislation will achieve the objective of fair employment.
The Government are out of step, and unfortunately guided by considerations other than those which deserve the most urgent attention. The Labour party has been, and will continue to be, guided on this issue by the moderate and reasonable proposals that have been put forward by
Column 215the standing advisory commission, the Fair Employment Commission and the Irish Congress of Trades Unions. They will be our three bench marks. Our concerns are also shared by the SDLP, as is apparent from the reasoned amendment that its Members have tabled.
We are determined to ensure that the effects of the Bill are clearly and unequivocally brought to the Government's attention. There is still time for them to see sense. We are genuinely and sincerely anxious that they should do so. The Labour party believes, and is indeed convinced, that failure to tackle the massive inequalities between Catholics and Protestants will drive away north American investment, which is vital to the economy of Northern Ireland. That is why we wish to see it.
Today we should have been debating a measure which would offer hope to the poor and dispossessed in Northern Ireland that for them the constitutional road to reform could deliver tangible results. Beyond them there are the others who suffer the consequences of political instability and violence, resulting from deprivation and inequalities. Despite extensive research and analysis of the massive problem of structural inequality in employment, and expert advice on the responses needed to tackle that problem, the Government have chosen to present the House with a flawed and patently ineffective Bill. All those placing their faith, as I do, in constitutional methods of achieving social justice will be gravely disappointed. We hope that when the Bill comes to the House for Third Reading it will live up to its proud title of fair employment in Northern Ireland. For the Government it is still not too late to amend many of the proposals. We hope that they will do so in the interests of fair employment, of equity and of the individuals who live in the Six Counties.
Mr. James Kilfedder (North Down) : I listened attentively to the speech of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and to his replies to interventions from the few hon. Friends who were sitting behind him. I remain totally unconvinced about the merits of this legislation. Indeed, it speaks eloquently of the Bill that at any one time at most five Tory Back Benchers had bothered to come into the Chamber to listen to their right hon. Friend and to show their support for the Bill.
Mr. Kilfedder : It is already being pointed out to me that at least one of those five hon. Members detests the Bill. It is remarkable in a Parliament with such a tremendous Tory majority so few Tory Back Benchers should be present in the Chamber. Where are they? It is like the debate we had last week on Northern Ireland, when very few hon. Members seemed to be interested in the legislation under discussion on that occasion.
The Secretary of State might have strengthened what he described as the moral case for the Bill if he had announced that the Government intended to introduce similar legislation for the rest of the United Kingdom to combat religious, racial and political discrimination. Hon. Members should consider this carefully. I refer the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues, whether they are here to support or to criticise this awful legislation, to an article in The Times today by the distinguished chairman of the Runnymede Trust, Dr. E. J. B. Rose. He stated :
Column 216"The greatest single contribution this government could make to improve race relations would be to attack black unemployment, which is twice as high as the rate for whites."
He went on to offer cogent reasons why there should be such legislation, but there has not been a word from the Government about that.
Mr. Budgen : The hon. Gentleman is often more observant of American opinion than I am. Has he any information about whether the Americans have been advising the Government on the necessity of bringing forward similar legislation in the west midlands? As the Americans are so extraordinarily generous in the advice that they volunteer to us, they may have a view about the introduction of such legislation in England.
Mr. Kilfedder : I think that American politicians view this country as a place which has not only lost an empire but needs direction from the great and brilliant minds of Washington, who are no doubt helping the Government as much as possible--just as the politicians from the Irish Republic are guiding the hand of the Government through the Anglo-Irish Agreement.
I have the honour to represent the constituency of North Down where there is no complaint about religious discrimination. I and my constituents are unequivocally and totally opposed to religious discrimination of any kind in employment, housing or any other aspect of life. There is a growing anxiety among employees on the shop floor and in offices who have received individual notices demanding bluntly that the employee should state his or her religion. This creates grave disquiet among people who have worked loyally for firms for many years. They fear, no doubt rightly, that the hand of bureaucracy will be upon their firm and that in time they may find themselves out of their jobs.
The Bill is divisive in an area such as mine--I speak of no other area, as I know that there are problems in other parts of Northern Ireland--where good relations have existed between Protestants and Roman Catholics for a long time. I do not wish to see division, but I fear that the Bill will lead to increased division.
Mr. Marlow : Is there not a possibility--to put it no higher--that this confidential personal information could find its way, sadly, into the hands of an Opposition politician who would only too avidly give it full media coverage and all the confidentiality would be lost?
Mr. Kilfedder : The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to that, but I will not speculate. All I can say is that those notices, which imply that unless the information is supplied the person will be out of a job, will create a state of affairs which will not help good community relations in North Down. I hope that I shall be proved wrong as I wish to see good community relations maintained. The future of Northern Ireland lies in Protestants and Roman Cotholics coming together--that is the way forward--but this legislation will not contribute anything to that process.
I should have thought that it was in the hands of the Government to do something to ease the position. The hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) referred to Strabane. I do not know whether he mentioned the percentage of unemployment there, but it is appallingly high. A few months ago I suggested to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland that Northern Ireland Members of all political opinions should go to America to appeal to American business men to set up factories in areas such as
Column 217Strabane, West Belfast or anywhere else where they would help to end the misery of the dole queue. That suggestion was not taken up. It is in the hands of the Government to create employment but, as the shadow spokesman the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) has already told us, some 450 people in Harland and Wolff have already received their notice. The Government, by their policies, are driving people out of jobs.
Through this legislation, the Government are branding the Protestant people of Northern Ireland as religious bigots, in the eyes of Great Britain and throughout the world. I reject the charge. I believe that whatever legislation is brought forward should be designed to help bring the people together, providing jobs and more and better homes.
I am keeping my remarks brief to allow every hon. Member to participate-- especially the Secretary of State's colleagues, whose opinions I am sure that he is anxious to hear. As an elected representative, I face three options. First, I could vote against the Bill as being a bad Bill on any number of grounds, some of them enumerated by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North, who pointed out serious flaws. To vote against it, however, would falsely imply that I was against fair employment, which would be contrary to my political beliefs.
Secondly, I could vote in favour of the Bill, but that would imply that I concurred with the enemies of loyalist Ulster, who are delighted to have more ammunition to attack that part of the United Kingdom. Hon. Members may rest assured that people in the United States will say that the Government have been forced to bring in this legislation to deal with an intolerable situation.
I notice that the Secretary of State is laughing at the plight of the people of Northern Ireland.