Examination of Witnesses (Questions 520
WEDNESDAY 19 MAY 1999
MP, RT HON
MP, MR GEORGE
520. I wondered if I might ask an addendum to
my colleague Mr Hunter's question about the RUC. Clearly the community
imbalance within the RUC does significant damage to the public
image of the UK Government and, of course, particularly in the
United States, we were very conscious that the only figure they
knew about employment was the RUC figure which they cited as 93
per cent Protestants, seven per cent Catholics. I would just like
to ask, given your answer, whether in fact you are yourselves
making every effort to make the Patten Commission aware of the
importance of this concern so that it will be something to which
they will be giving very active consideration with your help?
(Marjorie Mowlam) Can I say to you, Mr
McWalter, we have made no submission to the Patten Commission.
It is an independent body. One of the frustrating things one discovers
in Government is that independent bodies mean you cannot affect
their outcomes. As a result, I have not communicated with the
Patten Commission because they are their findings and their results.
I think experience tells me when you look up at the make up of
the Patten Commission, who is on it and the history of Mr Patten's
work in other areas, for him not to be aware of the statistics
clearly quoted to you repeatedly when you visited the States would
not be the case. Their terms of reference, etc, would mean they
would look in detail at this question. On the issue, can I just
say that it is obviously crucial and I am sure that it was pointed
out in America that one of the reasons for the low numbers of
Catholics in the RUC is the threat and intimidation to their families,
to their children, to their spouses if they apply. I do not think
that can be under-estimated. I am sure it was pointed out also
that in times of the ceasefire, the number of Catholics and women
applying for the RUC has gone up considerably. If my memory serves
me correctly, we are now in the 20 per cent of applications from
women and Catholics. Correct me if I am wrong, George, in a minute.
So it is beginning to change. I think this is a potentially very
difficult issue in Northern Ireland, and once we have got over
the present hurdle of the Executive and decommissioning this will
be the next big one. It is not going to get easier because on
the one side the RUC say very clearlyand it is truethey
have given lives of colleagues over the last 30 years, they have
held the democratic fabric of society together, sometimes against
the odds, and they are now going to go through Drumcree and then
take the Patten Commission, which inevitably means the structure
will change, and that is not easy for people. On the other side,
quite clearly it has the support of the last survey which showed
about 60 per cent of the communitywhich means there are
40 odd per cent who do not feel it polices for them. Now whether
that is real or perceived, and it is quite clearly the case in
some areas of Northern Ireland, that equally needs to be addressed.
So the issues that Patten is facing are not easy. I think that
it is up to us to give him the time and space, he says he will
report by the summer, and then we can examine it and address those
issues in the round because it is a difficult one for everybody.
521. You are aware, of course, of this Committee
Report which said intimidation was not the only factor.
(Marjorie Mowlam) No.
522. There were many other factors which could
indeed be addressed and taken into account.
(Marjorie Mowlam) Yes, I was not saying
it was the only one. There is a number of factors and they all
have to be considered. But I am saying it is one of those issues
that is complicated, and the issues that Patten is addressing
are not easy, and I think to pull one out and try and address
it in isolation does not always help.
523. Being optimistic for a moment then, and
imagining we have got this transfer of powers and all these other
difficulties have been overcome, and we get our Executive and
Assembly, what arrangements do you envisage for the operation
of your own responsibility for equality issues under the Northern
Ireland Act? What will you be left with?
(Marjorie Mowlam) Well, continuing the
fantasy for the momentand I think it is an area that we
are at present working onI think it may help particularly
in this regard if I put on record what we will be responsible
for and what the Assembly will be responsible for, because I do
not think this is clear yet and I think it will be of assistance.
The Assembly will be responsibleI will give you a copyfor
fair employment, sex discrimination, race relations and disability
legislation. The Office of the First and Deputy First Ministers
will be the sponsor department for the above legislation and responsible
for Commission supervision and funding. I will be responsible
for the statutory obligation and the appointments to the Equality
Commission and the Human Rights Commission. Fair employment, sex
discrimination, race relations and disability legislation are
therefore all transferred matters. The appointment of Equality
Commissioners are therefore reserved matters. Statutory obligation
is a reserved matter. Human Rights Commission is an excepted matter.
I will not go into all that. Does that give you a fair idea of
524. It does.
(Marjorie Mowlam) The short answer is
I hope to do less.
525. I noted your response to, I cannot remember
which colleague, who said about the system in the United States
of having each person within the Equality Commission having a
broad range of responsibilities.
(Marjorie Mowlam) Yes.
526. So as to prevent ghetto-isation where you
get a disabled person and the people concerned about race or whatever.
(Marjorie Mowlam) Yes.
527. As I understand it then from your answer
there, that would not be something you would be seeking to influence,
that would be something home grown in the United States. If we
had a view that having well-rounded people rather than ghetto-ised
people, we would not be able to influence things in that way,
would that be right?
(Marjorie Mowlam) I think what was important
was that these were exactly the worries of the different Commissions
when we were looking at the issue initially in terms of the unified
group, one inequality was greater than another and the money would
be unequally distributed. I think our concerns on both those fronts
have been voiced with the people that are trying to bring it forward
under the Dr Stringer Commission. It will be them that decide.
Now I do not think there is any disagreement among them as to
the desire to make sure in terms of their previous functions that
all those are carried forward by the new body and that they themselves
will make sure, both financially and in terms of saying that one
inequality is better than the other or worse than the other, that
they will deal with that. I hopeand this is a personal
viewthat they look at this positively because one of the
arguments that convinced me of the value of the united group was
that it made it easier both for people with difficulties, if you
were a black woman, lesbian and you did not know where to go under
your discrimination, you only had to walk through one door. I
think it helps the complainant. Similarly if you are a business
and filling in seven different forms or eight or four or however
many it will end up that you are filling in because of requests
from the different bodies, there is some value in them working
to make sure that their forms and their applications are similar
or there is one for everybody. Now I do not know how they will
handle that, but I think if they help businesses then they will
help their statistics, they will help their monitoring and they
will help their outcomes. So there is an advantage in that for
both sides I think. There is also from a personal point of view
an added advantage that there are differences in the legislation,
some inequalities are treated stronger by law than others. If
I was campaigning, I would campaign to level up. Now that is one
of the advantages that I see if I am sitting where they are from
the changes which have been made.
Mr McWalter: Very interesting.
Chairman: Do you want to ask any others?
Mr McWalter: No, I will leave it at that.
Chairman: You do not want to dwell on institutional
Mr McWalter: I thought I might deal with that
after my colleagues deal with other matters.
Chairman: I think we were expecting you to come
in on that now.
528. Okay. Moving to the pessimistic scene thenand
I thought my colleagues might deal with other matters firstif
we do not get the transfer of powers to the Assembly and the Executive,
how are we going to manage within Government to continue the momentum
you have established in these matters?
(Marjorie Mowlam) I am not going to answer
that question, Chairman. I am sorry to be awkward but it is a
highly political question in terms of the present situation in
the talks process; if it does not work, what stays, what goes,
and I would prefer to avoid it. Can I do that?
529. I rather thought that might be the answer
therefore I am happy to accept that at the moment.
(Marjorie Mowlam) Sorry.
530. I want to explore the issue of contract
compliance and quite frankly it is probably more a question directed
at Adam following his evidence to us on 9 December. There Adam
said in response to a question from Tony McWalter in respect of
instituting some elements of contract compliance in order to buttress
their fair employment objectives that the Government's policy
on this is that we do not believe that the public sectortalking
specifically of the public sectorprocurement policy should
be used as a means of achieving social policy objectives.
(Marjorie Mowlam) Yes.
531. Then he went on to say the second area
that we have to put into legislation is the risk in our judgment
of being challenged under European Union Regulations and European
Union law, which has been a consistent Government position for
very many years.
(Marjorie Mowlam) Yes.
532. Could I put it to you that the Cabinet
Office Better Regulation Task Force, which published a report
last week, actually saysand for the record page 1, Section
25"We urge the Government to use its purchasing and
funding muscle to promote equality practices among contractors
and suppliers to the public sector". Then it goes on to say
on page 26 "The public sector purchasers should be ensuring
that their suppliers and contractors conform with the requirements
in equality legislation, particularly with regard to employment
provision". Now I would suggest that is moving in a fairly
substantial way down the road of contract compliance. I accept
this is merely a Task Force recommendation. Are you aware of discussions
in Government circles which, if you like, are moving the debate
on contract compliance on?
(Marjorie Mowlam) Of course there are
discussions going on in other Departments, and it is not an idea
that we reject easily. There is an innate attractiveness in the
idea. I would argue that we have done it in a way that in a sense
achieves what the Task Force and others want to do, but almost
backwards because it is not that we ignore or are neutral on the
issue in any sense at all. Any employer that is found by the Fair
Employment Tribunal to have broken the law is liable to heavy
fines, no ceilings on that at all. An employer who blatantly refuses
to follow certain procedures set out in the Order can be designated
an unqualified person and denied contracts. So I would argue that
there is there an element of contract compliance but not up-front.
So we achieve in a sense the outcome that the Task Force are looking
for but without, as John Hume and many others have said, stopping
investment happening because people see it as a limiting factor
to invest. I think that is an important aspect. Let me say overall,
what we have done with New Deal is try and make sure, whether
it is short, long, male, female, Catholic, Protestant, etc, that
they all get the opportunity, and we are working towards that
with the success we have so far had so that, in terms of contract
compliance, the goals are achieved. There are many ways to skin
a cat and I think we are getting there.
533. Thanks very much for that answer. Can we
be quite clear about this, in respect of the ministerial team
within the Northern Ireland Officethere is in principle
no objection to the aims of contract compliance. We are merely
talking here about what is the most effective means of securing
(Marjorie Mowlam) Contract compliance
says you want to take into account fair employment, equality and
justice at work place. That is quite clearly central to our thinking.
We just do not think that contract compliance, as it now stands,
is the best way to achieve it. I think some of the other regulations
we have in place achieve that. Also you get caught in terms of
value for money and efficiency. The next question from somebody
else could be: "If you do that, how do we know you are getting
value for money?" Taking into account the different aims
we have, I think we have done our best to achieve the objective.
Can I justwith the permission of the Chairgive a
personal example of why I think there are sometimes dangers with
contract compliance. I can remember when I was at university,
when we were campaigning hard to make sure by contract compliance
that certain goods made with child labour were not allowed in.
We bought our coffee from so and so, etc, like we all did.
534. You and me both.
(Marjorie Mowlam) Absolutely. All I remember
looking back when I had time when I started drinking as opposed
535. Long time ago.
(Marjorie Mowlam) Yes it was a long time
ago. the problems that are created sometimes by that are
that large families are needed and children need to work in the
evenings in sweat shops, because of the need to have children
to pick in the fields because of the nature of agriculture. Now
I am not condoning any of those acts, all I am saying is that
before you introduce a change, you have to be aware of the up
and down sides and therefore in relation to, say, Third World
countries, something like contract compliance could have an incredible
down side unless, at the same time, you look at employment practices,
you look at machinery for agriculture, you look at Third World
debt. So I am just trying to give a personal example that sometimes
what looks at first as a very simple, very straight forward thing
that can be achieved, sometimes does not necessarily achieve that
and there may be other ways that one gets to the outcome without
losing sight of the principles.
536. Moving on to the second area of objection
in the previous evidence, and this was reiterated in the White
Paper, Partnership For Equality, where it said in respect of contract
compliance there is a potential conflict with EC law, what precisely
does the Government think are the legal constraints in this regard?
(Marjorie Mowlam) I think it is the ambiguity
that exists is the answer I have been given in terms of contract
compliance in relation to the regulations in Europe. That is my
understanding. I have as a result of preparing for this Committee,
just for my own personal understanding, asked exactly what they
are and what progress is being made on this front.
537. Have you had any answers to that?
(Marjorie Mowlam) Not yet, because I
did not start preparing for this until yesterday.
538. That is more than I did. Again perhaps
we could ask for this information to follow.
(Marjorie Mowlam) Certainly.
539. I will make the point for the record that
my information is that last year the European Commission was encouraging
national governments to use public procurement to achieve certain
social purposes, including equality policies, and that in a recent
case at the European Court of Justice it was held that contract
conditions imposing social conditions were acceptable under European
Community law provided those conditions did not discriminate against
out-of-state contractors. So quite clearly I would suggest that
some clarification we could all benefit from in that regard. This
one is a moving target.
(Marjorie Mowlam) I quite agree and particularly
with the ECJ and others it is worth going into it and certainly
we will and we will get back to you.
Mr Salter: I think that is very helpful. Thank
you very much.
Chairman: Mr McWalter and I have now rearranged
the deck chairs on the Titanic and he would like to ask you a