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Mr. Ross : When I was interrupted, I did not imagine that I would have such a long rest to think more carefully about my remarks. I was pointing out that, during the Bill's passage, no concession whatsoever was made to the Unionist point of view. During one period-- [Interruption.]
Mr. Ross : Sadly, some right hon. and hon. Members have voted on a subject about which they know little, and they show even less desire to learn because they are never present in the Chamber to listen. If they were, they might know more about the issues on which they vote. However, that would lead them to oppose the Government, which would not be liked very much either. It is in the interests of the Government Whips, as well as my own, that they leave the Chamber as soon as possible.
In Committee, the question was raised of persons employed by charitable bodies and by churches. It was pointed out that they should fall outside the terms of the Bill because such posts require a certain commitment from the people who fill them. The example given concerned a religious commitment. The Minister's reply on that occasion showed that he did not have a clue as to what is meant by a religious commitment in Northern Ireland terms, thus confirming--as he has done time and again during the passage of the Bill--that he did not have a clue about the situation in Northern Ireland and that it is beyond his comprehension.
I find the Bill offensive. I remarked earlier that it is offensive to work people, who dislike being asked about their religious affiliations. It is insulting also to the ability, integrity and intelligence of employers, because it implies that they recruit people on the basis of the religion to which they belong. It may be that an employer can draw many high-quality workers for a large establishment from one religious community. The probability is that he could not do that, and therefore the legislation is accusing employers of employing people of lesser competence. If that is the case, they will not be in business for very long. Every business man and every employer is looking for the best quality employees that he can find, but he will not be allowed to do that under the Bill. The Bill will turn employers into pernicious snooping policemen. It will find out whether an employer believes that he is providing equal employment, and it will then demand that he takes affirmative action, which is reverse discrimination. An employer will even be asked to anticipate the possibility that one section of the community might be under-represented and take action before that occurs. If an employer is found guilty of having an imbalanced work force, he will be given six months to correct that imbalance.
Jobs are scarce in Northern Ireland ; if someone has a nice, safe, secure job, he will not leave in six months. Therefore, the possibility of a company having a meaningful turnover in six months is nonsense.
I turn to the question of merit which was so clearly enunciated at the Dispatch Box by the Prime Minister ; she said that people should be employed on merit alone. I found it interesting that, when the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) spoke about merit, he qualified it. He said that people should be employed on merit and according to need, and that people should be employed
Column 1222because they needed a job. In my experience, anyone who does not have a job is looking for one, so by implication they need a job. If anyone can suggest a cohesive and sensible way of combining merit, the need for a job and a fair spread of religious denomination within the catchment area--whatever that may be--I will be pleased to listen, but I have not heard it yet and I do not expect to hear it from the Minister this evening.
How should one determine discrimination or imbalance in a work force? We have never been told the criteria. No effort has been made to tell us what should be taken into account. The basic problem is that one has to determine a geographical area around a factory. I have read many reports of investigations carried out by the Fair Employment Agency. I found shifting sands of criteria. One has only to read the reports of Londonderry to see the verbal contortions used by Mr. Cooper, who has featured so prominently in this Third Reading debate, and other writers of those reports to avoid the truth. I believe that Protestants suffer fairly grievously from discrimination in many firms in that area and no efforts have been made to expose those firms to anything like the extent that efforts were made when firms that are owned and run by Unionists are under investigation. We shall also find that the Government will try to avoid giving the advice that I asked to be given to incoming employers so that they can be made aware of the dangers they will face if they transgress criteria that have not yet been explained to any hon. Member or anybody in Northern Ireland. Those criteria will not be explained clearly and factually to any incoming investor or employer. We have not been told what the time scale will be for the reports that have to be prepared on individual firms or all the firms, or on the cases that may be brought to the attention of the investigating body in Northern Ireland.
I could go on, but we have wasted the time of the House in useless argument and in useless proposals--useless not because they lack merit, but because the Government are determined not to listen to anything that Unionist Members say to them about Northern Ireland. If one looks at Northern Ireland today, after 10 years of this Government and nearly 20 years after the House assumed responsibility for the governance of that Province, one can only conclude that those who have been running Ulster have made a mighty poor job of it in those 20 years.
One of the reasons for that poor job--indeed, the principal reason for the present unhappy condition of the Province which I have the honour to represent--is the fact that we who represent the majority community and who won another election only last week, thereby showing the support we enjoy in the community, have had our voice and our advice ignored not only by this Government, but by successive Governments. While that continues and while this Government listen to, accept and implement the advice given by enemies of the Union, the condition of Ulster will not improve. Those who sit on the Government Front Bench and those who sit in No. 10 Downing street bear the ultimate responsibility for the condition of the Province and for the murders, deaths and violence there. They alone are the people who will answer one day at the bar of history. I am a professing Christian and a committed Christian, which the Minister does not understand. I believe that one day they will all answer before the throne of the returning judge on judgment day.
Column 122310.22 pm
Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East) : You are no doubt, sceptical of such statements, Mr. Speaker, but I will try to be brief. I welcome the improvements and strengthening in the Bill and the suggestions that there will be further improvements of it in another place. The right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) earlier criticised Labour Members for adopting a different position on Third Reading from the position they adopted on Second Reading. He might reflect on the fact that it is because we adopted a different position on Second Reading that it was possible, in a desire to obtain a more bilateral response, to achieve an improved Bill. The argument of the hon. Members for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) and for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) that Protestants are discriminated against in many areas in Northern Ireland is correct. I made that point myself when we were discussing the White Paper that led to the Bill. It seems to be an argument for saying that this Bill is the type of legislation that is required. It can be of benefit to the Protestant population as well as to the Catholic population in Northern Ireland. The hon. Gentlemen should have applied their minds in Committee to the way in which the Bill will operate so that they could strengthen its provisions to protect the interests of the Protestant community in the areas they represent.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), I have reservations about the Bill. It would work at its best if it was working in a fair weather economic situation in Northern Ireland, where there were plenty of jobs already. If we were talking about youngsters coming on to the job market and about who would get the chance of what job, or if we were talking about people changing jobs or promotion or about people moving, it would be much easier to operate such provisions. Even in the current circumstances, if we had a vastly improving economic system, with new jobs emerging all over the place, such legislation could operate to balance out discrimination and to introduce a fairer work mix in Northern Ireland. However, there is economic conflict in Northern Ireland and it must be added to the terrorist conflict and the sectarian politics of the Province and it cannot help. Conflicts between capital and labour, and capital and capital in search of markets, cannot assist in circumstances of high employment.
The fact that some hon. Members representing Northern Ireland have spoken in favour of an enterprise culture seems to run up against the type of provisions in the Bill and the other economic and social circumstances that should be seen as the context of such legislation. The privatisations of Harland and Wolff, of Short Brothers and of the electricity industry and the destabilisation of the health and social services are vast problems that affect the legislation working as fully as it should.
Northern Ireland is in great need of an extension of democratic provisions, of devolved power and of a Bill of Rights to protect everyone in the different minority positions in the different sections of the Province. If we were to have a Full Employment Bill and a Democracy Bill for Northern Ireland, we might have all the different elements that would enable us to begin to work together to improve the position. We now have one part, or at least a nudge towards one part, of those three elements and
Column 1224perhaps it will be of some assistance ; but a Full Employment Bill and a Democracy Bill would be of far more importance.
The House is nearing the end of a long road on this fair employment legislation. It started when my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Hurd), then the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, ascertained in July 1985 that the 1976 legislation had not been as successful as was hoped in rectifying the imbalance in employment in Northern Ireland. In September 1986 we published a consultative document which was followed by the guide to effective practice, then the White Paper, then the Bill. There has been wide consultation and I know from my discussions with individuals that we have the good will of many employers in Northern Ireland and of employer and, I trust, employee representatives as well.
For the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) to say that the Bill is a product of Dublin rule in Northern Ireland is ludicrous and does not square with the facts. Yes, I have been to Dublin and have discussed the legislation with those in Dublin, but we have had many other discussions as well--
I welcome much more the contribution, in so far as he made this point, of the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) who said that the legislation exists and urged people to use it. I echo that. The legislation is there to be used and I urge all people to use it. Indeed, I urge the hon. Gentleman and others to promote participation in this legislation, in industrial matters and in matters relating to Government generally.
I assure the House that the legislation is even-handed, but we must face the fact that, despite the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act 1976, male Catholics are still two and a half times more likely to be unemployed than Protestants. That is unacceptable and to that extent there is an imbalance, which we are seeking to rectify. The legislation is even-handed.
Mr. Viggers : The hon. Gentleman says, "Get them jobs", but that is exactly what we are seeking to do, and with a level of success. I say with great pride that since I have held my current post unemployment in Northern Ireland has fallen from 134,988 to 107,625. I know those figures well and am proud of them. We are working hard to improve employment, and I urge all hon. Members to do all they can to improve the position.
The hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) referred to the 16-hour limit for part-time employees and asked for an assurance that if it appeared that the limit was causing injustice we would rectify that quickly. If an employee works for less than 16 hours per week he will not be covered by the Bill. In Committee I gave an assurance that we would take powers to vary the 16-hour limit, so I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that he seeks.
Column 1225The hon. Gentleman also asked about participation by public bodies and local authorities in the monitoring procedures. Progress is being made in encouraging monitoring and setting up procedures. We hope that more work will take place on that when the legislation becomes law.
The right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) asked specifically about Church bodies and their concern that they might be debarred from selecting people who shared the faith which they seek to promote. I made a long speech on the subject in Committee. We have included an exemption from the anti-discrimination provisions for those jobs whose "essential nature"-- those being the important words--requires them to be done by persons holding or not holding a particular religious belief. The test is deliberately tightly drawn because we are anxious that there should be no wider loophole for exemption. We think that the provision is fair. It is parallel with the provision in the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act 1976. The hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) alleged that the legislation will not be fair in that it breaches the merit principle and will mean that the best man or woman will not be appointed to the job. I assure him that our guiding principle in the legislation is that the best man or woman should be appointed.
The right hon. Member for Yeovil made a moving speech based on his personal experience of growing up in Northern Ireland. He said that from his experience and knowledge the legislation was right. He said that he supported it on Second Reading and that he would support the Third Reading. The right hon. Gentleman approached the legislation from his personal experience of Northern Ireland.
I approach the whole subject from a different viewpoint--that of one who is reluctant to add any new burden to industry and who believes that the principles on which the Conservative Government have been operating are right and that we should be slow to impose any extra burden on industry. I recognise that the legislation will impose extra burdens, although I believe them to be light. I believe that they will be acceptable to good employers. All we are asking them to do is to engage in good personnel practice.
Approaching the legislation from a different viewpoint from that of the right hon. Gentleman, I am convinced that it is appropriate and right in the context of Northern Ireland. On that basis I commend it to the House.
Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time : The House divided : Ayes 96, Noes 4.
Division No. 220] [10.33 pm
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)
Column 1226Banks, Tony (Newham NW)
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)
Beith, A. J.
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard
Bray, Dr Jeremy
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Cope, Rt Hon John
Davis, David (Boothferry)
Fishburn, John Dudley
Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Lyell, Sir Nicholas
MacGregor, Rt Hon John
McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Maude, Hon Francis
Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Moynihan, Hon Colin
Pike, Peter L.
Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Sackville, Hon Tom
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Twinn, Dr Ian
Waddington, Rt Hon David
Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Winterton, Mrs Ann
Tellers for the Ayes :
Mr. David Maclean and
Mr. John M. Taylor.
McCrea, Rev William
Molyneaux, Rt Hon James
Paisley, Rev Ian
Ross, William (Londonderry E)
Tellers for the Noes :
Mr. Roy Beggs and
Mr. Peter Robinson.
Question accordingly agreed to.
Bill read the Third time, and passed.