Examination of Witnesses (Questions 540
WEDNESDAY 19 MAY 1999
MP, RT HON
MP, MR GEORGE
540. We had better go back to the positive line,
I think about how you cope with an elected Assembly and Executive
and ignore the issues about contingency plans for failure, which
perhaps with the Titanic business we will not draw that analogy
of the Chair. You have got your Equality Unit established within
the Northern Ireland Office, presumably from what you have told
me that is what will have to act as a source of advice to you.
Is that how you are going to do it? You are going to review the
decisions of the Equality Commission within your Office?
(Marjorie Mowlam) I understand that Unit
will be in the Office of the First Minister and the central secretariat
for him to do that. Part of the devolved legislation will be the
Equality Commission, which will fall to them.
541. You will be referring some matters to them,
perhaps they will then make decisions about them and refer them
back to you?
(Marjorie Mowlam) That is why I want
a Memorandum of Understanding between the Equality Commission
and the HRC, and then we are going to have to look at the detail
of this between us. As we are not yet at that stage, those discussions
have not taken place. They will be ones that we will need to have
both internally and with the First Minister and Deputy First Minister.
542. You are mindful of the difficulty of you
throwing the ball and then catching the ball back, as it were,
i.e. perhaps it is more appropriate to have a clearer independent
element within this whole process?
(Marjorie Mowlam) I think that we are
aware of the many difficulties that can arise. We are looking
at how the Scots are doing it. We are trying to share experiences.
I think there is a certain common sense in not moving too quickly
to agree a certain outcome until you get a better feel for how
things are functioning. There is a chance to review, there is
a chance to change, and I think we will do our best not to pre-commit
ourselves to positions we have to then wriggle out of, but rather
give it time to be created, set up and for the discussions and
talks to take place.
543. Can we put it on the record that you are
strongly aware of the need for this independent element within
(Marjorie Mowlam) No, that is not what
I have just said.
544. I am only asking if you are strongly aware
(Marjorie Mowlam) I am strongly aware
of the potential difficulties, misunderstandings, problems that
could result not just between the HRC and the EC but between us
and the devolved Assembly. We shall have a long time in the summer,
hopefully when devolution has taken place (it is up to the parties
in Northern Ireland to reach an agreement on outstanding issues)
to address exactly these questions, but I do not want to commit
myself to a particular mechanism of handling potential difficulties
now, even though I hear and respect and understand the suggestion
that you are making.
Mr McWalter: Thank you.
545. Let me just ask one supplementary question
arising out of your answer to Mr McWalter. I can understand why
a number of the other answers you have givenif I use the
word "tentative" I am not suggesting they have been
anything other than firm have implied that they are contingent,
that you have to wait on other developments. I have to say that
the questions which Mr McWalter has been asking do seem to me
to be free-standing, as to whether you need to have independent
advice separate from the advice available from the First Minister
and the Deputy First Minister, and I am absolutely surprised that
that question has not been addressed, since it is a question which
inevitably quite a lot of people will be asking.
(Marjorie Mowlam) Yes, I understand and
do not dissent from the importance of the content of the question
both you and Mr McWalter are addressing. Not in the least do I
dissent from that. All I would do, Mr Chairman, is point out the
amount of time and the amount of human beings that are working
on this and it is very difficult, week in and week out, when you
are still in negotiations and in talks, to move things forward
at the same time. What we have doneand I think the Civil
Service have worked very hard to achieve thisis we have
papers circulating not just on the structures, but the guidelines,
the objectives and monitoring across the board that I cannot give
the Committee here a firm view on. If we had devolved institutions
in place then I think a criticism levelled at the Department would
be a valid one. At the moment, all I would say is that I think
we have moved at incredible speed in getting things in place,
and I think we have to be very careful because what we do not
want to do is to pass on to a devolved Assembly dud institutions
which have inherently structural or other difficulties in them.
This is clearly an area that needs addressing when the First and
Second Minister can focus on it, but while the First and Second
Ministers are still addressing issues of what the structures are
going to be like and as we come up, as you and many others in
the room are aware, into the marching season their attention is
diverted. I am sure we will get time to address these, but they
are not ones we can address in isolation.
546. Thank you very much indeed for that answer,
Secretary of State, but if you will forgive me saying, it sounded
more like there has not been time to do it than the answers that
you gave to Mr McWalter about the fact that it was not the right
time to do it. We are not in any way seeking to be critical of
the Department. We totally realise the work that has got to be
done, and it may well be that the first answer you gave to Mr
McWalter was in a sense a cover for the fact that it had not been
possible to do the work, but I do think that the answers were
(Marjorie Mowlam) I did not mean to implyand
I apologise to the Committee if I didthat it is not the
right time. It is the right time to do a lot of work on this.
That work is going on and varying progress is being made in different
parts of it. There are papers circulating in the Civil Service
looking at this, but it has no validity or standing until we have
firmed that up. So, yes, it is the right time and it will need
to be looked at carefully.
Chairman: I think we now know where we are.
547. In your introductory remarks, Secretary
of State, you said that, in terms of employment and people moving
into employment, it was a situation that was "roughly fair".
I suppose in the long term this means that the unemployment differential
peters out if you are given long enough to deal with it. We had
evidence given by Dermot Nesbitt that the unemployment differential
between Catholics and Protestants is an appropriate focus for
concern. How important is the unemployment differential in your
(Marjorie Mowlam) Obviously it is important.
You stated that I said it was roughly fair. What I was trying
to point out was that there clearly is a differential, but there
is deprivation and unemployment in both communities that needs
to be addressed. What the new TSN gives us a chance to do is to
address deprivation in employment and in other issues, like housing
and education and health, across the communities, and by doing
that we obviously take into account the high numbers among the
Catholic population, but we do not reverse discriminate against
others. You suggested that previous submissions have suggested
it would peter out. If my memory serves me right, the differential
has gone up and down over time and what we need to do, regardless
of what the causes are for it, is address the unemployment, and
that is what we are trying to do by TSN, by the New Deal, by child
care, by Family Credit, by Working Families Tax Credit. Does that
address the point you were making, Mr Barnes?
548. Yes. I was speculating as to whether it
would peter out over time even though it would take an exceptionally
long time. Can I now refer to the Northern Ireland Office. There
was an argument that was put to us by the Committee on the Administration
of Justice that the Government appeared to have removed itself
from the list of actors who have a role to play in tackling the
unemployment differential. You had said earlier, however, that
the departments were looking at potential in the future in order
to tackle the situation itself. How do you feel about the role
of the Government on the issue?
(Marjorie Mowlam) In terms of tackling
549. No, within those avenues that the Northern
Ireland Office has direct control over.
(Marjorie Mowlam) I can assure you that
we are not telling everybody else to tidy up their houses and
leaving our own unattended. We are working very hard in terms
of training and in terms of interviewing and in terms of application
forms, as I suggested in answers to questions earlier from Mr
McCabe and we are doing all we can to front load people to apply
to the Civil Service. We are trying to deal with unemployment,
not only in terms of the differentials but also to make sure that,
in terms of fair employment, the Civil Service meets the same
goals as we would put to anybody else. I think we are addressing
that at the front end, but the real problem in terms of the Civil
Service is that the percentage of Protestant and Catholic is roughly
five or six percentage points difference. Where there is a problem
is at the top three or four levels of the Civil Service, which
is male dominated and there are not many Catholics to be seen
either. We are looking internally at how, alongside the principle
of merit and alongside open competition, we can do what we can
to improve that situation.
550. In terms of the Civil Service and maybe
more generally, do you feel that particular goals and timetables
should be set in order to meet the ending of differentials as
far as unemployment is concerned?
(Marjorie Mowlam) They are available
under the Equality Commission aims and objectives. In terms of
the statutory obligation to promote equality of opportunity, there
are targets and monitoring available. In terms of TSN and our
own policies directly being implicated, we are not only now consulting
on priorities but we are looking at the best ways to collect data
and monitor so that we do have in place practices that will produce
data that we can act on.
551. Can I just pick up on disability issues.
I am on the Committee that is dealing with the Disability Rights
Commission Bill, and because of the reasons you have explained
about the Equality Commission, that will not apply to Northern
Ireland. There is concern expressed by some people about that
because this obviously applies to employment aspects as well.
The disability legislation provides access to work for disabled
people. Do you feel that the early start that you talked about
earlier, the fact that it is really a matter of weeks or so in
moving towards an Equality Commission, is going to be something
that will then help the other things that you mentioned as being
there? You talked about one gateway. It was not always easy to
divide people into different areas. I was just wondering how you
felt about the criticisms by those in Northern Ireland who are
worried that they are not getting a Disability Rights Commission
when there has always been a considerable commitment across the
board in Northern Ireland for disability rights?
(Marjorie Mowlam) There is a commitment
not just among those in the disability lobby but across Northern
Ireland. It would not be an unfair statement to say that disability
has not always been at the top of everybody's agenda, and that
gender and religious and other inequalities are usually given
a higher profile, but I hope that as a result the Disability Commission
and the disability lobbies in Northern Ireland they will have
a stronger voice and be heard through that unified Commission.
As I say, if they are thinking tactically, and I am not part of
that lobby, you would look at what the others have got and say,
"Okay, if this is one Commission we should all have the same",
and I would be a strong supporter of that. I hope that clarifies
the commitment that we clearly have to try to help other inequalities
raise their profile and that is one of the arguments why I very
strongly supported one Commission. As the disability lobby in
Northern Ireland knows as well as most, after devolution it will
be the Assembly that will be responsible for disability legislation,
and one of the arguments that we have always made in favour of
devolution is that there will then be representatives closer to
the people that will hear their arguments.
552. The signs are that they will move on that
because they took a very strong line in the Forum on disability
(Marjorie Mowlam) Good. It is up to them
and if they are doing that, I welcome it.
553. Secretary of State, the Chairman has already
welcomed the progress the Government is making on New Deal and
I am sure the Committee as a whole welcomes any move forward in
that regard. As the tide rises all boats get lifted and that is
one of the central ways of tackling inequality in employment.
Will there be any extra money for TSN given that it is a key programme
and it is clearly successful?
(Marjorie Mowlam) The money that was
allocated to Northern Ireland, whether it was the £200 million
for New Deal, whether it was the money for the Social Exclusion
Unit which we put into our Social Inclusion Unit or the money
for the child care strategy, has been allocated to the particular
schemes. Thatcherism did not hit Northern Ireland in the way it
hit elsewhere because a lot of the public sector was in place.
For example, our ACE scheme which we are now transferring to TSN
gave us a start in some areas that other parts did not have. I
do not apologise for transferring them because I think the New
Deal addresses many of the problems that were found in ACE. You
would get a young person coming in and they could not cope. I
would go round schemes and you would see a kid who was trying
to lay bricks, but they could not read the instructions, and what
New Deal does is give them four to six weeks for their difficulties
to be taken into account and handled, otherwise you are just putting
them through like sausages and you do not deal with the difficulties.
I think what we are doing is trying to make sure that there is
some degree of flexibility in the new TSN, making sure that what
we do actually meets the needs of the people we are trying to
help and as a result there is some cross-departmental work going
on with the new TSN to make sure that flexibility is there. I
cannot give you a straight answer as to whether extra money is
being put in, but I hope it will suffice to say that extra money
is being put in where there is a need, and that is how we are
trying to respond, rather than stopping the infighting with different
departments saying, "It is ring-fenced, you cannot touch
it". That is what we are trying to make happen on the ground.
554. Secretary of State, you indicated earlier
that the figures show that the employment situation is changing.
One of the things that we came up against in America is that the
perceptions are increasingly getting outdated. Can the latest
figures be put in front of the Committee as to where the mix is
going so that if we deem it relevant in due course we can base
our recommendations on the up-to-date position rather than the
historical position? It might be helpful if that was dealing with
as many sectors as possible, including all areas of the public
(Marjorie Mowlam) I look to Adam because
it is your work, but the answer is yes, is it not?
(Mr Ingram) Yes. There is no reason why you cannot
have that type of detailed information because that is the first
line of the framework upon which we and the Assembly will be making
555. I hope that is helpful, Chairman.
(Mr Ingram) It may be helpful to look
at the whole economic strategy because I think that does impinge
upon what is happening in the changes within the workforce and
the demands for new training approaches. As the characteristics
of the economy in Northern Ireland change, then there are new
opportunities, but also problems arising because traditional industries
are disappearing, not because of Government changes but because
of international changes and changes in the marketplace.
556. Structural changes.
(Mr Ingram) Yes, structural changes and
whatever else. We can give you as much detail on that as you want,
but I would not give you too much that we obscure what you are
trying to drive at.
557. It is the meat, it is the core message
that we can pick out which I think is certainly what I would be
(Marjorie Mowlam) That is exactly what
we are trying to do when I said be flexible in terms of not just
TSN allocations but looking at that in terms of Making Belfast
Work, for example, which was a response in terms of a particular
geographical area. I think we should move. These are not policies
yet, but we are looking at how the IDB could use a special incentive
in a particular area where there is not a factory. Because of
our size and our tightness, those are the kind of things that
we are trying to address. We are helped in a sense because, as
I said earlier, the public sector is much bigger in Northern Ireland.
Now, that is both a help and a hindrance in longer-term developments.
I think the figure was four out of ten jobs are in the public
sector, which indicates the size of our public sector in Northern
Ireland. So a lot of the changes that came elsewhere in the 1970s
and 1980s did not come, but what is hitting us on one side is
the global market and the changing nature of the sectors that
are with us and on the other hand we have got quite a high level
of inward investment of some of the new IT stuff, call centres,
because we have worked very hard with many of the big companies.
Adam and I spent quite a bit of time earlier in the year going
round 11 cities in America talking to 1,000 business people and
that has paid off. Investments, thanks to John Hume, started quite
high and we have done our best to increase that. So the mix of
sectors is beginning to change quicker than elsewhere. We also
have some advantages in terms of the structure of the family,
which has changed so quickly in the last 20 years here and is
not changing quite as quickly there, and so some of the benefit
changes which are needed to respond to the structural family changes
are coming through in time and are actually meeting difficulties
as people face them. That is happening in parallel.
Mr Hesford: Thank you.
Chairman: Following on from what you have just
said, Secretary of State, can I comment on exchanges we had in
the United States where those to whom we were talking wanted to
get a clearer fix on what our objectives were. They made the point
that if there were geographical pockets of high unemployment,
then the problems sounded as though they were more structural
and rather less admissible to this legislation, although this
legislation remains important and I pass that on in the light
of policy decisions you are engaged in taking at the moment. Mr
558. Secretary of State, Minister, you mentioned
in your opening remarks the role of the Human Rights Commission
and you indicated that the Human Rights Commission may express
views on equality issues from time to time. You will be aware
of the controversy regarding the composition of the Human Rights
Commission in Northern Ireland and you will be aware that Unionists,
from my party leader down, are very concerned about the composition
of the Human Rights Commission in terms of its ability to reflect
the balance of the community. My party leader is on record as
saying that he does not regard the composition of that Commission
as reflecting the community balance. Equality is an important
issue and part of the equality issue relates to community balance.
Would it not be better if you addressed the issue of the composition
or membership of the Human Rights Commission before asking that
Commission to make pronouncements on equality? I have to say to
you from a Unionist perspective, Unionists will look on those
pronouncements with a very suspicious eye given that they do not
feel that the composition of the Human Rights Commission reflects
a proper representation of that community.
(Marjorie Mowlam) Yes, I am aware of
your leader's concerns on this issue and, as I indicated earlier,
his concerns on the Human Rights Commission are mirrored by concerns
from other parties representing other communities in relation
to other Commissions. So it is a problem that both communities
feel at different times in terms of the make-up of bodies and
it is a problem that complaints are received on consistently.
Can I say in response that what we have tried to do is in terms
of using the principle of merit, using open competition, using
transparent procedures so everybody can see how decisions are
made and we feel this is the best way of trying to get a committee
that can perform the functions successfully. Sometimes if you
are appointed on merit it means that it is not exactly 50:50.
I can assure you in relation to the Human Rights Commission that
other criteria, apart from just qualifications, academic, industrial,
personal, geographical, are taken into account, of which community
is one of them. Not everybody fills that bit of the form in, but
we do take it into account. "We" not being us, the Government,
but the Civil Service Commission that makes these decisions. As
I said to both your leader's concerns and to the other community
who have complained equally about other appointments, what we
are trying to do is look at ways that we can encourage more people
from whatever community to apply. We are open to whatever suggestions
your party or any other can come up with or anybody from the Committee
as to how we deal with both the merit principle and getting a
balance. You may go for quotas. There is always a difficulty with
quotas, but we are looking at the different options and if that
is what you are suggestingthen it would be useful to know
so that we can respond to people's wishes.
559. Secretary of State, I am not suggesting
quotas, but I am suggesting that you are under a statutory obligation
to ensure that the composition of the Human Rights Commission
reflects the community balance and, I have to say, as an elected
representative from Northern Ireland, you did not get it right
and in my judgment there were applicants for positions on the
Human Rights Commission who met the qualifications but did not
get selected. Perhaps that is for another day.
(Marjorie Mowlam) I would like to put
on record that it is not my decision.
There is a Civil Service Commission with representatives from
outside Northern Ireland that look at the application forms with
specific criteria and guidelines and reach a conclusion, but I
do take your final point that I am sure we will return to this
and we are looking at options to help facilitate questions of
this kind. It will be a problem the new Assembly will have to
address as well.
1 See also Ev. p. 161. Back