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Mr. Kilfedder : The right hon. Gentleman says that I should not be such an idiot. I am proud to have any nasty remark made to me by him, because I know that if the people of Ulster have to judge between him and me they will not go through the barbed wire at Stormont castle to applaud him. They can come to my home, as they do, and tell me that I am right, on this as on other occasions.
The Secretary of State may laugh, but the people of Ulster have had any number of Secretaries of State. Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland come and go, but they do not affect the lives of ordinary people much because they do not live in the community and are not part of it, and when they go they are forgotten.
My final option is to abstain, and on occasions such as this I regret that there is no Lobby where I can register my total opposition to this pathetic piece of legislation.
Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South) : You were not present, Madam Deputy Speaker, when the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) said that during Question Time members of the minority parties asked their questions and then left. As a member of such a party, I stayed for the whole of Question Time and am still here. When an hon. Member has been called, however, he sometimes has to go out on other business. Which would be the more heinous--to do that, or to absent oneself from
Column 218a debate and then roll in to obey the Whips without having listened to the arguments or considered the impact of a Bill on the people whom it concerns?
I believe in fair employment. I gave evidence before the van Straubenzee committee. When asked my view on discrimination I said that it was biblical, and I stand by that :
"do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith."
If anyone present in this gathering claims that he does not discriminate, he condemns himself. Each of us must discriminate, whether in choosing a hat, a holiday or even, sometimes, a job.
With fair employment, the merit principle must be paramount. Unfortunately, in the case of Northern Ireland, I am not convinced that that is so. Replying to a question from me on 3 May, the Under-Secretary of State for Employment said that he was not prepared to accept the merit principle in Northern Ireland. He dismissed our point by saying :
"while the system is appropriate in Northern Ireland, we see no reason to extend it to the mainland."--[ Official Report, 3 May 1988 ; Vol. 132, c. 713.]
I had said, as the hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) has said, that if fair employment measures were needed in Northern Ireland they were also needed in Great Britain.
Mr. Michael J. Martin (Glasgow, Springburn) : I do not seek to protect only the Scots. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is disturbing to find evidence of religious discrimination in Civil Service organisations and in nationalised companies on the mainland? If the legislation is good enough for Northern Ireland, despite all the difficulties, Ministers should at least investigate religious discrimination on the mainland, especially in the public sector.
As I made plain in a letter to the Prime Minister on 17 May last year, I stand by the merit principle. I also said :
"It is my belief that you have been forced to jettison your long-held view that employment should be by merit, and that a need to appease republican sentiment in Eire, the USA and elsewhere, has led to you allowing other considerations to determine employment policy in Northern Ireland."
Why do I say that the legislation should be applied to Great Britain? On 15 March 1988, a headline in The Independent read : "Blacks' work prospects no better than 20 years ago' ". The paper claimed in a headline the following day :
"Black teachers face jobs prejudice' ".
I find a major discrepancy in the answers given to me by the Minister for the Civil Service about employment opportunities. For example, in the Cabinet Office, which should be setting us an example, 451 top civil servants' grades show only four from the ethnic minorities. In the Home Office, only 563 of the top 4,278 employees are women.
Column 219Gentleman's support when the time comes to debate that. Is he suggesting, however, that it follows from that that there is no need to deal with discrimination in Northern Ireland?
Rev. Martin Smyth : I appreciate the right hon. and learned Gentleman's ability to listen and to reason, but I did not say that. I said that I believed that the legislation should extend to the United Kingdom if it is needed in Northern Ireland on the grounds that we claimed for it. The same prima facie grounds exist in Great Britain as are set out for Northern Ireland. I am prepared to argue that perceptions are not necessarily accurate, because there are other reasons why people are employed beyond the fact of their colour, religion or sex--at least, I should like to think so.
I notice a conflict between this Bill and the recently passed Local Government Act. I query the logic of such a Bill. The Secretary of State referred to contract compliance and recently introduced legislation which outlawed councils in Great Britain from using contract compliance lists and questions to promote their policies. Yet the Government are introducing this for the private sector in Northern Ireland.
One way of determining religious affiliations in Northern Ireland has developed in relation to the schools of primary choice. As a result, there are Protestants in Northern Ireland who, for reasons best known to themselves, have attended Roman Catholic schools, and Roman Catholics who have attended controlled sector schools. They are perceived as Roman Catholics or Protestants according to the school that they attend regardless of their religion.
I recently discovered that an alleged spokesman for the Fair Employment Agency had claimed that many Shi'ite Moslems worked for Belfast council. I say "alleged spokesman" because the figures have not been released--Belfast council has not forwarded the report to the agency.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) will realise that perception can be wrong. I read a book in which he was described as the Protestant spokesman of the Labour party. In one of Alistair Maclean's books--
Rev. Martin Smyth : I should like to be able to agree with the hon. Gentleman, but he showed his pedigree when he set out his arguments against the Bill earlier today. Impartiality is not one of his noteworthy points.
Alastair Maclean reveals the problem of perception when he writes about rifles for the Protestant IRA. Anyone who seeks to provide legislation to govern events in Northern Ireland should do so on sounder grounds than perceptions.
The basic assumption underlying the Bill is that, if there is an imbalance between the numbers of Roman Catholic and Protestants who are unemployed, the cause is always and exclusively religious discrimination on the part of employers. A bar owner in Sandy Row was approached by a man who said, "I am an Orange man, can I have a job?" The answer was, "I don't care if you are a black man--I am looking for a barman". A sensible employer will
Column 220always employ the person who is best equipped and suited for the job. If he employed people purely on the grounds of religion, he would soon be out of business.
No doubt imbalances exist, but I query the accuracy of the figures cited even on the authority of the Policy Studies Institute. I do not doubt that there are more unemployed Roman Catholics than Protestants, but it is not proven that religious discrimination is the sole or even the main cause. If I am right, the Bill will not be capable of putting matters right. It will merely build up expectations that cannot be fulfilled and, in the process, generate more bitterness.
Ms. Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) : The hon. Gentleman has made it clear that he does not believe that the high levels of unemployment among Catholics are due to religious discrimination. We should all be interested to hear him outline in general rather than anecdotal terms the real reasons for unemployment among Catholics in Northern Ireland.
"Protestant graduates find jobs come easier."
That partially answers the hon. Lady's question, but the paper gives the answer. It is found in a survey conducted by two academics, one in the university of Ulster and the other in Queen's university--both of which have from time to time provided work for the Fair Employment Agency. The survey shows that of 2,000 graduates--56 per cent. Protestant and 43 per cent. Catholic--who started their courses in 1985, the two groups opted for contrasting higher education courses, which explains the significant difference in the type of work that they later pursued. The Protestants mainly embarked on courses in science, technology and health science studies ; the others showed a preference for arts, humanities and the social sciences. My point is that the choices that people make--this was mentioned in Question Time today--will have an impact on their ultimate jobs and economic opportunities.
Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South) : Is the hon. Gentleman deploying the argument usually applied to school education--that Protestant children tend to receive one sort of education and Catholic children another? Does that continue through into higher education, so that one group is equipped to do one set of tasks and another group to do a different set?
Rev. Martin Smyth : That is not necessarily my argument. I am dealing specifically with higher qualifications. Graduates are a particular group. However, if the hon. Gentleman investigates the matter he may discover that there is a considerable difference of emphasis at different levels. I quoted the article at length to make that point.
To answer the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott) further, the most striking example of the discrepancies that affect unemployment is to be found in the security forces and in firms that provide them with services. The report of the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights, dealing with fair employment, stated :
"A further contributory factor to the continuing differences in employment and unemployment is the reluctance of many Catholics to take up employment
Column 221opportunities in the police and other security services. These forms of employment currently provide up to 30,000 jobs in Northern Ireland, amounting to more than 5 per cent. of total employment, an are heavily dominated by Protestants. It is clear that greater equality in the distribution of these jobs would make a significant contribution to reducing differentials in employment or unemployment."
The Opposition have already called that report in evidence this evening.
No one would argue that the employment pattern in this area is due to religious discrimination on the part of the Northern Ireland police authority or the Ministry of Defence. I have no doubt that the RUC and the UDR would be delighted to get more Catholics to join. I pay tribute, as I have done in the past, to the members of the Roman Catholic community who have served in those forces and have made supreme sacrifices as a result of their loyalty to the country of which they are citizens.
Mr. Beggs : Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, because there is no open encouragement, either from the politicians who represent the nationalist community or from their church leaders, to join the RUC and security forces, employment opportunities are being lost?
Rev. Martin Smyth : I agree with my hon. Friend on that. If the jobs were taken up, between 10,000 and 15,000 jobs would go to Roman Catholics which would normally go by default to Protestants. It has been said that there are two and a half times more Catholic males unemployed than Protestant males. That may be so, but the problem is that we can find no evidence to support it. To the best of my knowledge, that statistic is not based on a monitoring exercise of the unemployed. So far as I know, there are no precise statistics of Roman Catholic and Protestant unemployment or of the religious breakdown of the total economically active. Table 3.2 of the SACHR Report estimates the number of Roman Catholics unemployed as between 40,000 and 50,000 out of a total of 140,000 to 160,000 economically active Roman Catholic males. It estimates that there are 25,000 to 35,000 unemployed Protestant males out of a total of 240,000 to 260,000 economically active Protestant males. Those figures are based on the 1981 census and I presume that the margins of error arise from the fact that 19 per cent. of people refused to give their religion in their census returns. The figures, too, are obviously well out of date. I cite those figures to show that our knowledge of the actual number unemployed on religious grounds is less than perfect. I am convinced that our knowledge of the reason why a differential exists between the two groups is less precise. If, as I suspect, that reason has in large measure nothing to do with religious discrimination by employers, supporters of the Bill will be disappointed when it fails to erode the differential significance.
Ms. Abbott : Since my first intervention, I have been trying to follow the thread of the hon. Gentleman's argument carefully, but he seems to be making two divergent points. On the one hand, he says that the figures are wrong, and that is why a huge level of Catholic unemployment has been shown. On the other, he appears to be arguing that Catholics tend to have a preference for studying arts subjects and will not join the police force. With the greatest respect, a preference for the arts and the classics, and a reluctance to join the police force, would
Column 222not on their own account for the fact that two and a half times more Catholics are unemployed than Protestants. Will the hon. Gentleman elaborate his argument a little further?
Rev. Martin Smyth : I should love to elaborate on my argument. I have a fair bit of material and if I had your permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I could go on until 10 o'clock, although I reckon that the Whips would be sending me notes telling me to stop at such and such a time. I have made the point, and I hope that the hon. Lady will understand that I want to be concise. I have argued that the grounds for differences in unemployment are not necessarily those of religion. I have made the point that academic studies, personal preferences, job opportunities and such like have an effect on unemployment. I believe, however, that, above all, the unwillingness of leaders of the Roman Catholic Church and the SDLP to give a lead to people to join the security forces has added to the large number of Roman Catholics who could be in work but are not.
Rev. William McCrea (Mid-Ulster) : Does my hon. Friend accept that the statistics that have been used as the basis for much of the argument about there being two and a half times more Catholics unemployed than Protestants are part of the propaganda of the Provisional IRA and its political wing, Sinn Fein? Those statistics have not been proved, and I should be glad to hear my hon. Friend prove them. They have been trotted out as though they were true by hon. Members in all parts of the House without any proof.
Rev. Martin Smyth : I take the hon. Gentleman's point. In answer to the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott), I was about to state that I am questioning the validity and accuracy of the figures.
Mr. McGrady : The statistics are contained in table 3, paragraph 1 of the report of the independent Policy Studies Institute dated 1987. The source is "Equality and Inequality in Northern Ireland : Employment and Unemployment 1983-85". It states that there are 14.9 per cent. unemployed male Protestants and 35.1 per cent. unemployed male Catholics, which is 2.4 times as high. There are 10.2 per cent. unemployed Protestant women and 15.8 per cent. umemployed Catholic women--one and a half times as high.
Rev. Martin Smyth : I am not arguing about where the figures came from. I have actually referred to those figures. I said that we had not yet had evidence of how the statistics were obtained. I believe that figures often lie as well as liars figure.
On the question of equality of opportunity versus equality of outcome, I understand that clause 12(2)(a) will empower the commission to issue directions to employers to take whatever action the commission deems to be reasonable to promote equality of opportunity. There is nothing in the Bill to indicate when it would be appropriate for the commission to issue such directions. In
Column 223other words, in what circumstances is it reasonable to conclude that equality of opportunity is not being afforded by an employer and remedial action is called for? Our only guide on this matter is the past behaviour of the Fair Employment Agency which is due to be transformed, under the Bill, into the Fair Employment Commission. I believe that the practice of the Fair Employment Agency in past investigations of employment patterns has left a great deal to be desired. To the best of my knowledge, the Fair Employment Agency has always taken any divergence between the religious balance in a work force and that in the catchment area of the firm to be conclusive proof of the failure of the employer to afford equality of opportunity. In other words, if the firm's work force does not reflect exactly the religious balance of the working population in the catchment area, the employer is inevitably found guilty of discrimination. No other explanation is allowed.
That conclusion is arrived at despite the clear statement in the Department of Economic Development guide, which states in paragraph 3.3 :
"Equality of opportunity is not the same as equality of outcome. Individuals have different qualifications, ability and potential ability. What is important is that everyone is given the same chance to offer their talents to prospective employers."
The guide says in paragraph 4.39 :
"the fact that the proportion of a religious grouping in a workforce (or part of a workforce) is lower than the proportion of that grouping in the catchment area does not necessarily imply malpractice."
I stand to be corrected, but so far as I am aware the Fair Employment Agency has always assumed that if a religious grouping is under- represented, malpractice has been and is taking place. I should like an assurance that the Government will accept the principle that there can be equality of opportunity without equality of results. I should also like an assurance that an employer will not be pilloried by the commission for failing to offer equality of opportunity if the religious balance of his work force deviates by a few per cent. from what the commission deems to be the religious balance in the catchment area. In the past, one of the difficulties seems to have been that the Fair Employment Agency regularly moved the goal posts when dealing with a catchment area and the numbers that ought to be employed from it.
There are many other things that I should like to say, but my colleagues and other hon. Members wish to take part in the debate and there will be another time, perhaps, to deploy further arguments. 7.10 pm
Mr. Barry Porter (Wirral, South) : I am sorry that the Secretary of State has departed for his dinner. He must have thought he was friendless in this place, and he is well aware that on occasion I have expressed mild reservations about the policy followed by the Government in relation to the Province of Ulster. I am sure that the Under-Secretary of State will give him the welcome information that I shall be voting for the Bill tonight. It may be interesting to hon. Members to know why I am in favour of this Bill.
I have listened to hon. Member's statistical arguments. There seems to me to be no doubt that the 2.5 : 1 ratio exists. The only matter in dispute is how that ratio comes about. No one would argue that it all comes about as a result of religious discrimination, but it would be naive of
Column 224anyone with the slightest knowledge of the Province not to argue that some of it comes about as a result of religious discrimination. I believe that to be the case, and if any hon. Gentleman would like to argue the point I should like to hear from him now. There is that problem ; it would be foolish and naive to pretend that there is not. [An hon. Member :-- "Prove it."] I have been asked to prove it. I cannot prove it. I cannot prove the negative either. But we should proceed on the basis that that element exists, and it is the duty and obligation of the Government to do something about it. The Fair Employment Act 1976 quite clearly has not had the effect that it was supposed to have.
All that the Bill purports to do is to stiffen that legislation. Of course, there is an element in this legislation of public relations for overseas compsumption. Again, it would be naive to deny that. We would want North American money coming in and we would want investment from other parts of the world. And people in North America or elsewhere who believe, rightly or wrongly, that there is religious discrimination in employment in the Province which leads to more difficulties and foments trouble are unlikely to invest. So we are making the statement by this legislation that we are trying to do something about a perceived ill.
What is the matter with that? I do not object to saying to Americans or to anybody else that we are trying to do something about a part of the United Kingdom in which something is happening that should not be happening. It seems to me to be eminently sensible so to do.
Rev. William McCrea : As the hon. Gentleman is concerned about righting wrongs, should he not perhaps be suggesting to his Government that they bring in similar legislation as a matter of urgency for the coloured population on this side of the water?
My third reason for being in favour of the Bill is that it is quite deliberately vague. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) sees this as a criticism, but I do not. How could one prescribe in detail what will happen in each area, each place and each job? That would be nonsense. It might provide much-needed work for my hon. Friend, or indeed for me, in another guise as a solicitor, but it is not practical.
I was much taken by the Secretary of State's comment that the emphasis in the Bill is on voluntary action by employers rather than unnecessary penalisation. That seems to be right. I want the Bill to be given a fair wind to see how it works. The commission certainly has power, but this House has the overwhelming power, has it not? If it were seen that the commission was exceeding its powers and acting in an unreasonable fashion against the employer or the employee, or if generally it was not working well, the House could amend the legislation or put something else in its place. Surely, given the reasonable grounds on which the Bill is presented, we should have the grace to agree to see how it works.
The points which the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) made were, as far as I could judge, Committee points, not Second Reading points. His objections were not fundamental. I thought that he would have the grace to say that the Government were trying to
Column 225do something that ought to be done, and then see whether he could amend it in Committee ; and of course he would have the right, on Third Reading, to oppose it if it did not come up to his expectations. I expected more of him and I hope that he will think about this before the Bill goes into Committee.
I have certain reservations. I find it distasteful that people in the Province should have their religious affiliations recorded. That makes me feel uneasy, but I was slightly heartened by the fact that at least 80 per cent. of people are willing to put their religious affiliations in the census form anyway. Eight out of 10 is not a bad start.
I am also uneasy about whether legislation will make things worse rather than better. I have an inherent dislike--I am sure that the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott) will understand this--about whether legislation can make people like one another or come together rather than move further apart. Of course one is bothered about that. I do not want to see a religious relations industry built up in the Province in the same way as we have a race relations industry here.
Ms. Abbott : Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the issue is not a question of relations in this field or of legislation to make people like one another? The issue is whether the state has a responsibility to intervene to try to ensure equality of opportunity.
Mr. Porter : The short answer to that is yes, it has. That is why, despite my feelings of unease about whether it will succeed, I say that, in the event of extreme bigotry, the state has an obligation to see what it can do to make that bigotry disappear.
My main reservation is that the Bill will not get at the root of the problem. Other people have canvassed this matter, and we have wondered whether it is a matter of the education system. I am reminded of something that was said to me in confidence when I was in Belfast last week by one of the aircraft manufacturers in the Province. They have been recruiting from schools of all kinds and have made a deliberate, positive and benign attempt to ensure that there is fair employment in the factory. I inquired whether reverse discrimination was practised. The senior man said no rather quickly, but the personnel man said that, there was a difficulty, because they found that, at the age of 15, 16 or whatever it is, there was a difference in the attainment level and qualifications of those from one sector of the education system as opposed to another.
Mr. Jim Marshall : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for pursuing this argument about educational attainment and the types of education available. Will the hon. Gentleman accept that if one section of the community perceives that it is excluded from particular jobs, the education they receive will adapt in order to equip them for available jobs, so it is the economic system which distorts the school system, not the school system which distorts the economic system?
Mr. Porter : I beg leave to doubt that. It seems to me on the evidence available that certainly one sector of the education system in the Province is deliberately chosen by that sector to achieve certain ends. I am willing to pursue that at a later time, in another place perhaps.
Mr. William Ross : Does not the hon. Gentleman appreciate, and should not the Opposition Front Bench also appreciate, that some Roman Catholic parents, for those very reasons, choose to send their children to state or independent education even at the primary school stage, as is happening in my local school? Those children are perceived as Protestants and are numbered among the Protestant population rather than among the Roman Catholic population.
Mr. Porter : I did not wish to put it in such blunt terms, but the hon. Gentleman makes the point for me. So far as I can judge, the verdict of employers is that the quality of entrant they get from the Unionist Protestant sector is higher than from the other sector. I state that as a fact. It is something which ought perhaps to be recorded and reflected upon by those who have responsibility for education for Roman Catholics in the Province. I am not being critical ; I merely state, despite the fact that there may be only anecdotal evidence, that that is what I have found there.
Mr. Marlow : My hon. Friend has expressed concern about the Bill. Is he concerned about clause 7, which vests in the commission the duty of maintaining a code of practice and publicising that code of practice? It also vests in the commission the responsibility for taking such steps as it considers necessary to encourage--that is a strong word--employers to adopt the policies and practices recommended in the code. This is giving considerable power to the commission, in which Parliament has no stake.
My hon. Friend has said that Parliament can take action against organisations such as this. In my view, on no occasion have any of these quangos introduced a code of practice and Parliament has amended that code of practice. Is not my hon. Friend concerned about that?
Mr. Porter : Of course I share my hon. Friend's concern, but not to the degree of my hon. Friend. I do not think "encouragement" is a particularly strong word. We have had plenty of codes of practice for good behaviour in previous statutes. Perhaps this is something that ought to be explored in more detail in Committee.
I have said why I support the Bill, and I have expressed my reservations about it. I trust and hope that I will not be on the Committee because I might be persuaded by arguments from the Opposition Benches. We have a perfectly decent, honourable Secretary of State, who, after considerable thought, has introduced this legislation. This House would do well to at least give it a chance. 7.22 pm
Mr. Peter Archer (Warley, West) : The House of Commons is a funny place. I suspect that the hon. Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Porter), and I will be in different Lobbies this evening, yet I think he and I probably have more in common than I have with some hon. Members who are opposing the Bill. I hope he will agree on reflection that, although one cannot change hearts and minds by passing legislation, legislation can help to form opinion now and in the future. I suspect there is a great deal that we do have in common, but he will also remember that yesterday the House was discussing the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Bill and how best to contain and finally--hopefully--to put an end to terrorism. Conservative Members were even suggesting
Column 227that the Opposition are not as dedicated to the fight against terrorism as they are themselves. One important contribution which this House as a whole could make to stop paramilitary activities is to show an effective concern to end the conditions which provide a source of young recruits to the paramilitary organisations. When I held the portfolio now held by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), I did not have his knowledge of conditions in Northern Ireland ; still less did I have the knowledge of hon. Members who come here from constituencies in Northern Ireland. But I set out to try to get to know some of the communities over there--separately, because, unhappily, they are mainly segregated. I did it without attracting more attention than I had to and I talked to parents who were worried sick at the thought that their sons, and sometimes their daughters, would be recruited into the paramilitaries.
Then I talked to the young people themselves, and it became clear to me that there were three factors which helped to make them into potential recruits. The first was that there were genuine grievances in the places where they lived : there were housing problems, there were unattractive environments, there was poor administration of social security and there was the withdrawal of funding for community projects. Above all, there was this spectre of unemployment, which for so many of them is with them from the time they start school until the end of their lives.
Secondly, and as part of the same syndrome, there was the lack of anything constructive to do ; they had idle hands, which were at the disposal of the devil. Thirdly, among people in the minority tradition there was the belief that they were the victims of discrimination, that things were not fair. We could argue about statistics and whether it should be two and a half times, twice or some other figure.
We could take the point too that was made by the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume)--that perhaps the most effective thing we could do is to provide jobs across the board in Northern Ireland, because clearly it is more difficult to deal with discrimination on a falling market than on a rising one.
I do not believe that any hon. Member would question the proposition that there is an imbalance, a very real imbalance, and one which, as my hon. Friend said in an intervention, cannot be explained by any one single factor in any one primary point. I have talked to people in Northern Ireland from the majority tradition. They will normally say that there was a problem ; they will sometimes say it was a few years ago ; frequently they will say that it is getting better--and they may be right about that-- and they will explain, quite properly, that it did not always arise from conscious discrimination : there were all kinds of factors. It arose partly from the areas where factories were situated, from the perpetuation of a family tradition--if one's uncle worked there one was more likely to get a job--and it does arise partly from cultural factors in the educational system. It arises from all these things, but it adds up to a substantail imbalance and, if one is not on the right side of the divide, it adds up to a substantial handicap.
It would be wrong, of course, not to recognise that a great deal has been achieved in recent years. Managements and unions in some plants have worked very hard and have taken very real risks to try to deal with some of these problems. They have dealt with some of the practices
Column 228which made Catholics feel unwelcome : for example, the display of emblems on anniversaries. I can understand the feeling that it is a human right to put them up, but all this had an effect, and many of them have worked very hard to try to deal with it. It was not always easy for them and, of course, it does not always pay to be seen as being in the vanguard. So they have not received the recognition which they might have done, because they have not sought it. I was speaking with some of them this morning. It is important that legislation should do what legislation can be reasonably expected to do to facilitate those efforts.
The Bill could attack those problems and at the same time demonstrate a real commitment to attacking them. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North that the Government have missed that opportunity. The Bill does something towards addressing the problems, but its defects are more in evidence than its virtues. They will increase as time goes on and as people see how the Bill works. I understand the Secretary of State's problems. Some of them are caused by those who sit on his own Back Benches. Whatever he does, he will not please everybody. There are others who attack the Bill for different reasons, but the Secretary of State has missed an opportunity.
Most important of all, because it is right at the heart of any fair employment programme, is the matter that was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North about affirmative action. We can all agree about some propositions. I suspect that we all agree that it is not enough simply to provide that, in future, those who are setting on labour, or considering promotions, should not discriminate. As my hon. Friend said, affirmative action has been very much a part of everyone's thinking on this matter since the van Straubenzee report.
Those who have been discriminated against in the past are entitled to expect a programme that is designed to restore their position before everybody is given equal opportunities. The horse which has been carrying an unfair handicap is entitled not only to have the weight removed ; if that weight is to be removed halfway through the race, it should be given the opportunity to make up lost ground.