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Column 242reservations, I approve of the purpose and the policy of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the purpose and policy set out in the Bill. If one has reservations about legislation which is before the House, one is at least able to show that in the Division Lobby. Tonight I shall give the Government the benefit of the doubt. 8.39 pm
Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil) : I have listened carefully to the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow), as one always does, but the most interesting part of his speech was at the end when, having expressed all those warm sentiments about removing discrimination in Northern Ireland, he was asked what he would do about it and the answer was nothing.
Any piece of legislation that deals with the difficult issue of discrimination always comes up against the practical aspects of how these things will be judged, and against the problems over which lawyers will always wrestle as to how one legislates for one person to like or love another, and how to express fairness. Of course, we all know that we cannot do that perfectly. No piece of legislation that deals with discrimination has ever done it perfectly. But the fact that the legislation is there provides a bulwark and a backdrop for people to have the legitimate correction of a complaint. The Sex Discrimination Act 1975 is imperfect in its actions, but its existence helps to act as a bulwark againt sex discrimination. No doubt the same is true of the racial discrimination legislation. Certainly the experience in the United States of America is that where there is legislation in all sorts of areas, even relating to discriminatory discounts for small firms, such as the Robinson Patman measure, it is a help. It may be ineffective as a counsel of perfection in its ultimate jurisdiction and in the way it is carried through, but its very existence helps to solve the problem. Surely that is the way in which we should be dealing with this matter. It has been said that all the Opposition parties intend to vote against the legislation tonight, but we shall not do that. We shall vote for the Bill, with caveats, many of them listed in the Labour party amendment, about provisions which are inadequate. We must remember that this is a Second Reading debate, dealing with principle. That principle requires a piece of legislation which tackles discrimination to be considered by the House. We all know that on many occasions when we try to make amendments in Committee the Government refuse them. Committees are being reduced to a farce because the Government do not listen to the arguments, but on this occasion we must give the Government the benefit of the doubt. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton), who has made such a significant contribution to Northern Ireland debates, gave the White Paper a qualified recommendation. He listed a number of key questions which have remained unanswered. His excellent speech bears re-reading now. Nevertheless, the legislation is an attempt to address a serious problem in Northern Ireland so we shall give it a qualified welcome. We are prepared to give it a Second Reading.
There is little change in what we see before us and what was recommended in the White Paper. A number of questions spring to mind, some of them articulated in the
Column 243Labour party amendment for which we shall vote. It will fail, of course. If it does, we shall vote for the Bill and argue the case later for the amendments.
Other amendments are worth mentioning. I make no apology for the fact that they were mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Mossley Hill when he considered the White Paper. I am sorry that they have not been taken into account. It is important that the question of penalties should be addressed. A £2,000 penalty is adequate for non-registration, but it is not adequate if we are dealing with deliberate misinformation in the case of very large contracts. For instance, in a contract valued at £500,000, a fine of £2,000 for deliberate misinformation would be nothing. I hope that the Government will consider a sliding scale of penalties for misinformation according to the size of the contract.
The second key point relates to legal aid. We are glad that the Government have agreed that the commission can take up cases on behalf of individuals. That is helpful, although undoubtedly it will be budget-limited. If the commission has at its disposal only a finite sum to fight such cases, it will rightly pick cases to establish useful precedents which the courts can use afterwards. This may not help an individual who cannot afford to pursue a case, as so frequently happens. The lack of adequate legal aid provision is a significant deficiency of the Bill.
Positive discrimination has not been dealt with. What would happen if an individual sought to take up a case against a firm which wanted to introduce positive discrimination to correct the religious imbalance in an area? What would happen if a person wanted the firm to operate positive discrimination to provide a fairer reflection of the religious make-up of the area? Would that be subject to the legislation played in reverse, as it were?
The next question is addressed in the Labour amendment. It must be of great concern to people in Northern Ireland and here that the legislation clashes with existing legislation on sex discrimination and racial discrimination. I am sad not to see a tie-up on the employment rights of women, particularly those of ethnic minorities. In a comprehensive speech, the hon. Member for--
Mr. Ashdown : I used to live there so I should remember the constituency. I recall that I lived next door to Captain Orr, one of the hon. Gentleman's predecessors, but that is a matter best not spoken about at the moment.
The hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) mentioned the chill factor. This is an important matter brought out by the Standing Advisory Committee on Human Rights and it is one to which the Government should address themselves. Perhaps it cannot be legislated for, but I hope that the Government have thought about it and will consider how to deal with it.
Once again we are dealing with legislation which is not a solution in itself but merely an instrument which can be used to try to achieve a general solition in Northern Ireland. It does not tackle some key areas such as how to create jobs. We have to read the legislation against the miserable background of a Government who have
Column 244imposed their ideology on Harland and Wolff in a crazy and ludricrous way. Their policy has today delivered to a primary pillar of the Belfast economy the bitter pill of 450 job losses. This is a direct result of the Government's idiotic policy of not allowing Harland and Wolff to bid for Ministry of Defence contracts until it is in the private sector. Here we see the Government taking steps to improve the labour market on the one hand while casually destroying it on the other. It makes no sense.
With all those caveats and concerns, I believe that the Bill will provide at least an instrument which may help. It deserves to be debated and to go into Committee. It deserves to be improved along the lines which have been suggested in the House, and I hope that that will happen. In that spirit, we support the Second Reading. 8.47 pm
Mr. Budgen : Yes, but it was claimed that legislation inexorably followed from the problem. I smiled as I reflected on how his predecessor would often have said that to suggest that a problem was capable of being cured by legislation was certainly something to which one would expect the Liberal and the Socialist traditions in the House to adhere but certainly not something that Tories on the whole believed in.
When you stand in a non-political way at an election, Mr. Deputy Speaker, knowing that you will be seated in that Chair for most of the ensuing Parliament, and someone says to you, "Sir Paul, we expect that there will be less legislation if there is a Tory Government," I expect you smile. It is undoubtedly the case that, as Governments settle in, they forget the scepticism that they ought to have about legislation.
I am sure that the hon. Member for South Down will recognise that among the persons who have affected the opinions and prejudices of myself and my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) have been his predecessor and also a great friend of his predecessor, Mr. T. E. or Peter Utley. He once wrote a pamphlet entitled "What Laws May Cure", expressing a high Tory scepticism about the value of legislation and suggesting a number of tests that might be applied before the House proceeded to legislate. He asked whether there was a consensus for the legislation, whether the law would be enforceable, whether it could be specific and whether it could avoid being discretionary and arbitrary.
When applying those tests to the Bill, as my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) has said, we have the advantage of the 1976 Act. I make no party political point, but it was introduced by a Labour Government --by a party which, on the whole, believes in the efficiency of legislation and holds that men's minds can be cured and altered by Acts of Parliament. When I asked my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, in what I hoped was a helpful intervention, to explain whether the Bill was building on the 1976 Act, I was amazed when he seemed to reply that it was not. I would not be so impertinent as
Column 245to say that my right hon. Friend had not read the brief, but if he had looked at the White Paper he would have seen on the first page : "The basic objective is to strengthen and broaden the existing legislation".
If my right hon. Friend had had the White Paper handy, he would also have been able to answer my question about the way in which the 1976 Act was working. Paragraph 2.4 gives a detailed exposition of the various proceedings that have been dealt with before the agency. I have no doubt that after my impertinence in asking him how the agency worked--I noticed a message coming over from the civil servants--my right hon. Friend would have been told about the question asked by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) on 25 May about the agency's activities, which is in the helpful reference sheet put out by the Library.
It is clear that when my hon. Friend came to advocate the Bill he had nothing in his mind about the necessity of bolstering the 1976 Labour Act, although that is the thrust of the White Paper. He saw the Bill as a political necessity arising from two things--the Anglo-Irish Agreement and a desire to placate American influence. He did not bother to convince the House in any way about the 1976 legislation. He did not say, "We do not know that it is very good, but it did a partial job. For instance, we have noticed a certain amount of improvement in the discrimination problem in the Province." He simply ploughed through his remarks on the basis that more legislation was necessary.
The more that we apply the Utley tests, the more sceptical we become. When I read the Bill I thought to myself, as I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Sir H. Miller) did, "My goodness, what would happen if this sort of legislation were proposed for the west midlands? When we went back to the west midlands at the weekend our constituents would be jumping up in anger." It seems that political opinion in the Province is slightly different. I do not say that there is a consensus in favour of the 1976 Act, but there seems to be a form of reluctant acquiescence.
This legislation is severely defective, and plainly not a great improvement on the 1976 Act, and greatly to be condemned because it gives the commission law-making powers that no one should have. The commission will decide what is discrimination and, in a selective way, who should be proceeded against. It is the most arbitrary and political way of enforcing the law, and we are left with no proper proof that the problems of Northern Ireland will be improved by legislation.
It is sad when a Conservative Government, with the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady), say, "There is a problem ; therefore it can be cured by legislation."
[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott) seems very
Column 246angry. If an employer is unwise enough to employ less good people because he or she does not like the colour of someone else's skin or their religious beliefs, that employer will provide a less good service, and when he competes he, will find that he loses. Let us suppose that I am running a small business and need a lady to do a job that the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington could do. If she applied for the job--I know that she would say that such an idea is wholly unrealistic--and I refused her because of the colour of her skin, I would then have to employ a less good person who would offer a less good service. The market exercises a discipline, but in this context the law does not change people's minds or behaviour.
There is no evidence that the 1976 Act has done any substantive good--there is only the strong suspicion that poor old Northern Ireland is once again being used as a political pawn, partly to placate the Republic and partly to placate the Americans.
Mr. Michael J. Martin (Glasgow, Springburn) : Like any other hon. Member, I feel loyalty to the party that I serve in the House, and I am on a three-line Whip to vote against the Bill. Nevertheless, I feel that it would have been better if we had had a free vote tonight. I never thought I would see the day when I would oppose any Government who were trying to bring in legislation to do away with discrimination in Northern Ireland. But I feel that I have some knowledge of the circumstances, living as I do in Glasgow, where the sons and daughters of Ulstermen and people from Eire came to settle because of the great famine and lack of opportunity. My ancestors come from Rathmullin. In my grandparents' day there was terrible discrimination in Glasgow ; adverts in newspapers said that Catholics need not apply. Such discrimination still exists, but it is nowhere near as bad as that in Northern Ireland.
No one should kid himself that education is a problem and that because Catholics are educated in a particular way they enter certain services and industries. That is nonsense. Certainly, the Catholic schools in which I was brought up did not specialise in technical subjects. It was considered a great achievement for a Catholic school to turn out a teacher, a doctor and a dentist, but boys like me took up apprenticeships in the engineering industry. It did not make a bit of difference who we were ; if we completed the training, we were able to do the job.
No foreman in the Rolls-Royce factory where I worked, which turned out the RB211s, was able to say, "That person must be a Protestant because he is a good engineer doing a good job." That is nonsense, and it does not apply in Northern Ireland.
The Government should consider the fact that discrimination takes place not only in Northern Ireland but on the mainland. It is sad that we are even discussing the legislation. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) said that no legislation could do away with discrimination. Legislation does help. His argument was used when John F. Kennedy wanted to help Martin Luther King and his people in the deep south. Those who were against helping black people in America said that legislation would not help them. It has been proved that legislation, although not the full answer, certainly helps.
Column 247It is a sad feature of our society that bowling and golf clubs bar black people, Catholics and Jews. On many occasions in the Chamber I have spoken about the British Rail Engineering Ltd. workshops in my constituency. The religious make-up of its management is such that Catholics would not be able to obtain promotion. Yet it would be difficult for an employee to complain about that.
It is galling to have a nationalised industry and Civil Service departments where discrimination takes place, and yet taxpayers' money is used to provide those jobs. A sad feature of Northern Ireland is that a great deal of taxpayers' money goes to provide these jobs. Why should that money be used to help a religious clique?
If we introduce this legislation in Northern Ireland, we should at least examine the problems on the mainland. Every year without fail articles are written about the masonic lodges in our police forces. I have nothing against anyone joining a masonic lodge if that is what he wants to do. However, lodges that are exclusively for police officers create a problem, because they cause a lack of confidence in sections of the community.
Wherever religious discrimination exists in the United Kingdom, steps should be taken to eliminate it. The outside world must be asking what is going on in communities up and down the country where people still think in the same terms as their grandfathers and great-grandfathers.
Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury) : It is now more than 150 years since the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts in this House, which was the legislation which prevented anyone other than Anglicans from attending university and from participating in certain professions. Some of us who come from dissenting religions, however, still have folk memories of the sense of injustice that that legislation caused and of the fact that Quakers, Jews and other non-conformists were obliged to leave the professions to go into trade. No one should ever under-estimate the deep sense of injustice that can be felt if people believe that they are being discriminated against solely on the grounds of religion. That sense of injustice can be very deep and can go forward for many generations.
The discrimination does not have to be deliberate, positive, malicious or cruel. It is possible, especially in employment, for people to discriminate unconsciously. My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) referred to people getting jobs on the basis of their father, their brother or their uncle. Of course, if people get jobs solely on that basis, almost certainly they will be awarded jobs, too, in the Northern Ireland context, because of their family connections and their religion.
We must make it clear that we are committed to fair employment because it is right and because we find it repugnant that anyone should be put at a disadvantage because of their religion. We must make it clear that we are determined to tackle the problem of religious discrimination in employment. Everyone should welcome the proposed legislation, which would require all employers not only to avoid discrimination, but actively to practise equality of opportunity and, where necessary, to take affirmative action. Some hon. Members have skated over this a little too glibly and have pretended that there is no problem in Northern Ireland, but despite almost 10 years
Column 248of anti-discrimination legislation and enforcement, unemployment among the Catholic community in Northern Ireland has remained disproportionately high.
A Catholic male is two and a half times more likely to be unemployed than a Protestant.
Mr. Budgen rose --
Mr. Baldry : Appointments to jobs should always be on the basis of merit. For that merit principle to operate properly, it is essential that there should be no unnecessary obstacles in the way of any applicant being considered on merit. Employers in Northern Ireland must be encouraged to open up their recruitment practices and processes to the widest possible range of applicants.
Under-represented groups must be given a fair and full opportunity to compete for employment. To do that is not only just and equitable, but it will thwart those critics and enemies of Northern Ireland who use the statistics of comparative unemployment--for example, unemployment among male Roman Catholics as compared to that among Protestants--as evidence that employers should not invest in Northern Ireland and that it should be ignored.
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said, there is now an economic opportunity for Northern Ireland and for other parts of Europe in the period coming up to the European single market in 1992. I was in Korea two weeks ago. Companies in Korea and the far east want to invest in Europe before the single market is created, as do other companies throughout the world. Now is the time for Northern Ireland to take advantage of those opportunities, but the enemies of Northern Ireland will tell companies not to go there--to go to Wales or anywhere else--because there is discrimination in Northern Ireland.
The issue of employment discrimination in Northern Ireland has been exploited in the United States by proponents of the so-called MacBride principles. We know that since 1986 a coalition of local politicians and Irish American groups, through a series of shareholder resolutions and state legislation, have sought to force American companies operating in Northern Ireland to adopt those principles. Although the principles are vague, imprecise and impractical, that campaign threatens to harm substantially the long-term prospects of Northern Ireland's economy.
American firms currently employ some 10,000 people in Northern Ireland-- around 10 per cent. of the manufacturing work force. With this Bill on the statute book, those in the United States who are concerned about fair employment will have all the ressurance that they need that Northern Ireland is a place where equality of opportunity is actively implemented and the MacBride
Column 249principles will be as redundant then as they are irrelevant now because it will be demonstrably clear that we are fully committed to fair employment.
We should not forget that if Northern Ireland is to prosper, investment and job creation are essential complements to the more effective practice of equality of opportunity. If Northern Ireland is to flourish and if the unacceptable employment differentials between Protestants and Catholics are to be reduced as quickly as possible, there is no doubt that more jobs are needed. All of us in the House must promote the considerable attractions that Northern Ireland presents as a location for new investment. That investment and those jobs will come more easily if there is no shadow of a suspicion of religious discrimination in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland undoubtedly has a lot to offer and we should trumpet that fact abroad.
It is sad that in debates such as this we hear very little of what Northern Ireland has to offer the world. Northern Ireland has plentiful skills and a traditional work ethic. In many ways, it is an educational showcase not only with two major universities but with many good schools. Northern Ireland has a high level of computer literacy, good labour relations, a well-trained work force, favourable tax allowances, highly competitive labour costs and a proven track record with international companies such as du Pont, Ford, GEC, and so on. In the past year du Pont alone has invested £180 million in new facilities. That is all very good news which we should be trumpeting abroad and, in so doing, helping to attract new jobs and new investment to the Province.
In the short time available to me, I do not intend to go into the details of the Bill because that has been done exhaustively throughout the debate and I am sure will be done in Committee as the Bill goes through the House, but we must make it clear that at the centre of the proposals is a determination to maintain the principle of appointment on merit. The Bill is clearly against quotas and reverse discrimination, because in the climate of Northern Ireland their effect could be catastrophic on acceptance by the wider community of the fairness of the equal opportunity proposals. In the context of Northern Ireland, religious monitoring must be the key to fair employment practice, for only such monitoring can supply the basic information necessary to determine whether fair employment is practised. The emphasis of the Bill is rightly on voluntary effort by employers rather than on unnecessary penalisation.
I hope that the Bill will demonstrate beyond peradventure to the whole world not only that Northern Ireland has a great deal to offer but that all forms of discrimination in Northern Ireland will be eliminated if the House has any say in the matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) asks what laws may cure. The fact is that we in this House have the ability, through legislation, to demonstrate to the world that we are doing everything that we can to eliminate discrimination. If those who argue against legislation feel that there is a better way, let them come forward and demonstrate what it is. Until that time we must use the best means available to us. I hope, therefore, that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.
Column 250There is, however, one note of sadness which the House cannot pass over in silence this evening. For many years until now there has been a considered consensus of hon. Members in all parts of the House in seeking the best way to move forward in Northern Ireland. That has implied a number of things. First, it has assumed that the Government of the day, of whichever party, have been using their best endeavours, as people of good will, to find the best way forward in Northern Ireland. Secondly, it has assumed that the Opposition of the day seek to find such common ground as they can with the Government of the day to move forward in what, on any account, is perhaps one of the most difficult situations that this House faces today.
Sadly, that consensus has now apparently been broken, and the Labour party has clearly decided that it is far easier to criticise whatever the Government are doing. Of course, whatever one does in Northern Ireland, one can either argue that it is not enough or that it is too much, but what the Labour party is doing is showing that, for the most part, it is a party of political pigmies--and the same goes for the SDLP--who have not the courage to stand by the Government on certain issues and say, "We do not agree entirely with this legislation but at least it is a step in the right direction, so we shall give the Secretary of State the benefit of the doubt for wanting to achieve something and move forward on a positive basis and we shall support him." Instead, the Opposition Front Bench spokesman merely seeks to carp and to find any division whatever. I can only assume that his speech today was written by a lawyer because if I had been given a brief to carp and nit-pick at whatever points were made in this Bill I should have been hard put to do a better job. Not one positive statement has been made from the Labour Front Bench in this debate. I hope that Labour Members will reflect that what the hon. Gentleman said may well find favour with those groups that he enumerated at the beginning of his speech as being the starting point in Irish politics, but I doubt very much whether they will command much respect in Northern Ireland or in the rest of Britain.
Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East) : The course of this debate has not been unexpected to anyone who has sat through the numerous debates we have had on Northern Ireland down the years, and I have no intention of following the course which others have followed in this debate. I prefer to deal with a single specific aspect of this legislation, and that is the methodology of the investigations and the setting out of the reports which have been followed in the past by the Fair Employment Agency and which will undoubtedly have to be followed in the future. If we are ever to get anywhere we must have absolutely accurate statistics, and I do not believe, despite all that has been said, that those statistics as yet exist in Northern Ireland.
The reports in future must have a single, uniform system applied to them. In my preparation for this debate--I am sorry that I have such a short time left to speak--I took the opportunity to compare a number of the reports, and I discovered that some reports treated the folk employed as being drawn from all of Northern Ireland. The Civil Service is a case in point, a most prominent one, but there are others, such as Northern Ireland Railways,
Column 251the Ulster museum--which surprised me somewhat--and the Northern Ireland Electricity Service, which did not really surprise me. Then, on the report of employment patterns in the Belfast area, with particular reference to engineering, I discovered that the Fair Employment Agency used the travel-to-work area. Council areas were used for the reports on AVX, Hyster, Lucas, and the North Eastern education and library board. For the report on the Northern Ireland airports, the home towns of the various employees were listed and those home towns extended from Coleraine to Newcastle. Then, as a second string to their bow, they listed the council areas of Belfast, Ballymena, Carrickfergus, Lisburn, Antrim and Newtownabbey. For the Western health and social services board, the report gave numbers and percentages of employees and also drew attention to the fact that the catchment area included Donegal, in a foreign country. In one class of employee, 7 per cent. of the employees are from Donegal.
No boundaries were drawn concerning the reports on the newsletter in the Irish News. However, we discovered that the statistics in the Belfast Telegraph seemed to be based on the number of persons who were available for each printing trade. I should have liked to deal with that matter, but unfortunately time does not permit me to do so.
If we are to produce something that makes sense and that fits together in a comprehensive manner, it is vital that each investigation should be carried out in exactly the same way, that reports should be prepared under exactly the same headings and that people should know exactly what statistics and what areas are being discussed.
In many urban areas employees will walk to work. People who live in rural areas will have either to drive or use public transport to get to work. We need to know exactly what area we are looking at and the criteria, but we do not have that information.
It is essential to find out what criteria are to be applied and those criteria should be used strictly all the time. If no information is supplied under a given heading in one report, although that information is given under the same heading in another report, the reason for the lack of that information in the first report should be stated. Only when that information is provided and only when the same procedure is followed in all reports will they make sense. I ask the Minister to take that point on board. We on this Bench agree with the first one and three quarter lines of the Opposition amendment but very little else.
Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South) : We have had a wide-ranging debate and the difference of opinion among hon. Members is not perhaps unexpected. My first task is to explain why the Opposition will, though extremely reluctantly, be voting against the Bill. I take as my starting point the Secretary of State's speech. I am sure that he was speaking on behalf of the Government when he said that, as a moral principle, no matter where anybody lives in Northern Ireland, he or she should have equal opportunities when applying for a job.
Column 252There is no difference between the Secretary of State and me on that point. There is also no difference between his party and mine on that point.
The Secretary of State also said that it was not just a question of stopping discrimination ; we need to encourage equality of opportunity. It is at that point that the Secretary of State and I, and his party and mine, begin to differ. I accept that the Secretary of State takes a different view of the implications of the Bill, but our understanding of it, and the expert opinion that we have received about it, coincides with the view of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) rather than with the view of the Secretary of State--that the Bill will not carry out the intentions that the Secretary of State and the Government would like it to carry out.
The Bill is seriously flawed, particularly over the taking of affirmative action. If the Bill were to be enacted as it stands now, it would make the situation far worse in the Province and it would not lead to the increased inward investment in Northern Ireland that all of us wish to be achieved.
The Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers), say that that is not true. The only people whom I have heard say that that is not true are the Secretary of State and his Under-Secretary of State. Every expert opinion that I have read bears out our view about affirmative action rather than the Government's view. I suggest that the Secretary of State and the Under- Secretary should re-read the Bill and understand it properly.
It is for those reasons and because we believe that the Bill is seriously flawed that it is in everyone's best interests, at this stage, to defeat the Bill so that the Government can come back to the House with another Bill on which there is some unanimity. We could then begin to carry out the objective that we all want to attain--fair employment in the North of Ireland.
Mr. Tom King : The hon. Gentleman is an experienced enough Member of Parliament to know that what he has said is rubbish. If the Bill is defeated, it will not come back in this Session and it will be the end of an attempt to introduce measures that we believe will genuinely help fair employment. The hon. Gentleman understands the parliamentary process and I trust that he accepts the short title of the Bill, which refers to :
"the promotion of equality of opportunity in employments". Anything beyond that can be amended in Committee. The House should give the Bill a Second Reading and then we can argue the points fairly in Committee. The hon. Gentleman is profoundly wrong, and I would be appalled if he denied us the opportunity to prove that we are right.
Mr. Marshall : The Secretary of State knows that I do not doubt his sincerity, and I do not doubt the Government's desire to do something about fair employment in the North of Ireland. Our assessment is that the Bill will fail to do that.
I want to deal with the two specific points that the Secretary of State raised. First, he said that the Bill could be amended in Committee. Our experience with this Government is that it is exceedingly difficult to persuade them to accept amendments in Committee. Secondly, the Secretary of State said that there was no further parliamentary time for another Bill on the subject this
Column 253Session. We believe that the present legislation, especially in terms of affirmative action programmes, is substantially better than the provisions in the Bill.
The House will be disappointed by the lack of enthusiasm shown by the majority of hon. Members from Northern Ireland. I exempt the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady), but the majority of hon. Members from the Province who spoke tried to call into question the validity of the statistics. Every rational and sane person accepts the validity of the statistics. If one is not prepared to do so, one has only to go and see the reality of the situation in Northern Ireland.
It is difficult to accept or understand that position, but it illustrates the wide gulf between perceptions and reality in the North of Ireland. It is necessary that there should be some unanimity in the House over the need for fair employment in the North of Ireland. I must repeat the offer that I made to the Secretary of State a few minutes ago. If he is prepared to withdraw the Bill and to have consultations with the Opposition, I am sure that we can offer the Bill an easy and ready passage not only through the House but in Committee.
If we are ever to achieve lasting peace in the North of Ireland, all our citizens there must have equal political access and equal economic opportunity. Whatever the reasons for the present inequality--whether direct discrimination, indirect discrimination or the excuse we have heard this evening about accidents of geography--one cannot doubt the fact that Catholic male unemployment in Northern Ireland is a staggering two and a half times that of Protestant males. Clearly, there has not been equality of opportunity in the jobs market.
Any new legislation must be judged against two criteria--first, its impact on the existing jobs market, and, secondly, its impact on inward investment, particularly American investment. Judged on the first criterion, the Bill will be a signal failure. Whatever the conclusions we may reach, hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree that the acid test for fair employment legislation must be the extent to which it enables employers to implement programmes of affirmative action, and to which it enables the new Fair Employment Commission to require affirmative action programmes. Despite the view of the Secretary of State, we are advised that the Bill as drafted endangers existing programmes and retards the possibility of more extensive affirmative action in future. If our assessment is correct, the Bill is fatally flawed.
On the second test--the need to attract foreign investment--the Bill may well prove to be a short-term propaganda success. I note that one of the Under-Secretaries--and, presumably, officials from the Northern Ireland Office--is parading round the United States of America, no doubt selling the Bill as a propaganda victory to the anti-MacBride campaigns in the United States. The Bill may well succeed in that short-term objective, but without a doubt its lack of teeth and substance will quickly become apparent.
We all accept that new investment in the form of new jobs is necessary if any significant attack is to be made on the imbalance in Catholic and Protestant employment. In that context, American investment is particularly important. However, it will not be long before the Bill is revealed as a toothless wonder. No matter what short-term
Column 254propaganda success the Government may achieve, when that happens American companies will again come under pressure when they seek to invest in the North of Ireland or to place orders there.
The proposals do not match up to what we believe is necessary. Worryingly, in our view--