Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 560 - 579)



  560. Thank you. Turning to the American perspective on fair employment in Northern Ireland, I know that you and your colleagues have done quite a lot of work on this when you have been in the United States. How do you envisage American involvement making a continuing contribution to fair employment issues in Northern Ireland?

  (Marjorie Mowlam) I would first like to acknowledge the interest that American businesses and government have shown in trying to help on this issue and I think it is crucial that we acknowledge that. Can I also add that sometimes the proposals may not necessarily be the most helpful in achieving results. I am not a supporter of MacBride and I do not know if you were "earwigged" about it when you were there; I think it would be counter-productive. I do not think it would help inward investment. The second principle which says companies have to give protection to people on their way to and from work is not a company commitment but a government civil commitment and I think it would inhibit inward investment. I have my doubts about that. I do not want to be seen as critical in any way of their commitment because it is strong and we welcome it and it has made an enormous difference. I think the short answer to your question is inward investment because numerous Americans have put their money where their mouths are and have invested in Northern Ireland, e.g. DuPont, Nortel, Liberty Mutual, smaller companies — who have I forgotten?
  (Mr Ingram) A lot!
  (Marjorie Mowlam) It is probably dodgy to mention some and not others, but it is extensive. The other side of the fair employment equality legislation is a job to go to and, as I tried to say in the introduction, this is a crucial part of making peace work and so we went on the Eleven City Tour and what made a big difference on that tour was it was led at different times by Unionists and a member of the SDLP. It started with David Trimble and Seamus Mallon, and then as we went round the United States others replaced them. That gave the clearest message possible to the American business community that things were changing. We thank America for what it has done in the past and, as we say, invest, invest, invest!

  561. Would it be fair to say in respect of the MacBride campaign that whilst there are aspects of MacBride that are probably now incorporated into fair employment legislation, there are other aspects of MacBride which we could not legislate for simply because at a practical level—and you have mentioned one example—it would not be feasible and, in fact, it is not an employer responsibility in any case?

  (Marjorie Mowlam) That was the point I was making. I think I would go stronger than you have. Our fair employment legislation now is stronger than MacBride. We have some of the strongest fair employment legislation across Europe. I think we should celebrate that. We still have a way to go. We have still got to get it implemented. We have got to make very sure that it is monitored and works, but we have come a long way. As I say, MacBride has its difficulties, but we should never under-estimate the reason why it was done, i.e. people wanted to make a difference. There was a proposal from a Congressman Walsh on having 3,000 or 4,000 people from north and south of the border given a passport and trained up in America. That again, knowing Mr Walsh, was done with the most positive thoughts in his mind. We were not so keen and we were not alone in that as Government, many of the parties agreed with us. What it would do is take 3,000 or 4,000 of our brightest and best away for two years and we want them there working in Northern Ireland.
  (Mr Ingram) 30,000 or 40,000.

  562. Would it be fair to say, Secretary of State, that the Government's approach to the American interest in fair employment broadly reflects the approach adopted by the churches when they issued what I think they called "the call", which was putting the focus on to inward investment, but recognising that that inward investment was going into an environment where there was already strong fair employment legislation and provision to ensure that fair employment was there?

  (Marjorie Mowlam) I could not answer that question, Mr Donaldson, without looking at the full detail of what the churches said and I would prefer to go on record stating the parallel importance of legislation alongside inward investment. They are two sides of the same coin for me and I think both are crucial.
  (Mr O'Doherty) Chairman, can I confirm a figure of 4,000 per annum.
  (Mr Ingram) That was a global figure.
  (Marjorie Mowlam) They are both right!

  563. In terms of the Government's objectives in influencing American companies to invest in Northern Ireland, that is a situation where, as I understand it, the Foreign Office, for example, are in the process of drawing up codes of ethical behaviour to guide British companies abroad. Where does that fit in in terms of our approach to attracting American companies to invest in Northern Ireland?

  (Marjorie Mowlam) I do not know the details of the code of ethical behaviour. I cannot believe that what we do in the United States is against any code of ethical behaviour, because what we are doing is, as you and other Members of Parliament from Northern Ireland know, working with growing district councils and twinning with cities elsewhere in America who are doing everything they can with a verve and spirit that I wish was repeated elsewhere in the United Kingdom. They are going all out to get investment in different district councils, MPs leading delegations. That is the way to do it. Go and talk face to face and get the investment and I hope it continues and I am sure they will do it in a very ethical fashion.
  (Mr Ingram) In terms of inward investment coming into Northern Ireland, we are attracting quality companies and that is what we are seeking to do, i.e. attract companies that would have a long-term commitment, that are financially sound, that have proper status, because that is clearly what we would want. We would not want to have another Delorean experience, not to put too fine a point on it. That kind of examination of the type of companies that are coming in is done and those who have done the job of Economic Minister have got to go through great wads of justification before any amount of public money is put in front of those companies by way of incentives. Whether that is an ethical standard or not is perhaps debatable because it is looking at a whole lot of different characteristics, but if there were any questions at all about the nature of a company then that would be highlighted hopefully before any judgment was made and public money put in front of them.
  (Marjorie Mowlam) I do not understand. Is the code of ethical behaviour from the Foreign Office for how business by departments should be achieved or the nature of the companies that you are attracting?

  564. As I understand it, it is a code of ethical behaviour to guide British companies abroad.

  (Mr Ingram) It is a way in which they operate within foreign markets and so there is a standard in terms of the way in which we approach how we fly the flag internationally, that is basically the best way of describing that. I thought your question was relating to what do we do when we are looking at companies coming into Northern Ireland and I think I have set out the range of factors we would look at and refer again to the Delorean experience. We have got to ensure that these are quality companies with a genuine intention to locate and create employment prospects.

  565. I think where I was coming from was that you might find that some in Irish America, for example, might look at that and say, "Well, hold on a minute, why is it wrong for us to draw up the MacBride Principles as a code of ethical principles for the way that America should operate in a place like Northern Ireland and you object to that and yet the UK Government is drawing up a code of ethical behaviour for how British companies should operate in the United States?" I am simply making the point that you might find that that is something that is raised.

  (Mr Ingram) We would ask those who are making comments about what happens in Northern Ireland in terms of the fair employment legislation to do what you are doing, and that is to study it and if there are ways in which it can be improved upon, as we have done recently with the Order and which I gave evidence on in December, and the Assembly will be in a position to improve upon anything that is currently in place, clearly they would take into consideration whether any change was a deterrent or an attraction and those are the types of judgments which have to be balanced in all of this. In terms of the MacBride Principles, the Secretary of State has answered that, we will go much further and it has not been seen to be a deterrent. In fact, it can actually be an encouragement to tell people they are coming into an investment area which is trying to tackle some of the fundamental problems that have been there for a long time in order to try and bring harmony into the working environment rather than encouraging disharmony, and that is one of the things we do sell, that our legislation is about making a better environment for companies to invest in and it is not a deterrent.
  (Marjorie Mowlam) If you want a comparison, trying to put a contradiction between us saying that MacBride and the code of ethical behaviour is not helpful, we would need to study to see if there was a contradiction, but I think that it is best to leave it at that. The other way that we are working with America, in answer to your first question, Mr Donaldson, is there are people trying to set up co-operative type banks, which they have identified as a parallel help and I think it is a very constructive idea, alongside the big inward investments so that very small businesses that want an extra florist or an extra chair in the barber's can get that because they are the ones in terms of venture capital that have a great deal of trouble getting money. So they are looking at setting up a co-operative institution where the very small can go for that help. That is a very, very positive and constructive step coming from the United States. Many women from Northern Ireland businesses and women from American business have met together and they are trying to establish joint venture companies that are similar in nature. So there are a whole host of different bits going on in America, all of which will produce positive results.

  566. In terms of contradictions, I think you will understand that when we talked to many of the American politicians last week, we found a sharp contradiction between their desire to have all kinds of fair employment provisions and affirmative action programmes in Northern Ireland, but their marked reluctance to pursue similar projects and programmes in their own districts and cities. We will not worry too much about the contradictions. Finally, Mr Ingram suggested in his earlier evidence to the Committee[2] that the MacBride Principles may have been in conflict with the EU regulations. Would you like to expand on what that means and in what way you feel the MacBride Principles may be in conflict with European law?

  (Mr Ingram) I think it goes back to an earlier answer in terms of contract compliance. If we are trying to define the law and ascertain where certain initiatives that could be taken could be in conflict, we are better setting out in legal terms where the various parts of the law may be in breach and again that is something we could come back to you on. So if we can give you a better definition of that in terms of the legislation then we will do so.

  Mr Donaldson: I think it would be very helpful if we could have a memorandum[3] identifying those aspects of the MacBride Principles which you feel may contravene European law and which law that applies to. Thank you.


  567. Secretary of State, I owe it to Mr Grogan to say that his apparent reluctance to participate actively in the discussion is not because of any sense of apprehension about the witnesses but because he has lost his voice.

  (Mr Ingram) We have been sitting in fear waiting for the questions still to come from him!

  568. In the spirit of this Committee I would like to thank and congratulate him for having participated silently throughout the session.

  (Mr Ingram) He has nodded with every answer we have given!

  Mr McWalter: He was told to glare!

  Chairman: We have some concluding questions about National Security Certificates which the Minister of State also alluded to when he was here on 9th December, but Mr Salter wants to ask a question first.

Mr Salter

  569. This is more a comment than a question. When we went to Massachusetts we met State Representative Byron Rushing, who was one of the most active MacBride campaigners in the early 1980s, and he said to us that he felt that MacBride and the MacBride campaign and the MacBride Principles predated the 1989 Act and in quite a frank admission he said he would be quite relaxed to see the MacBride Principles removed from the Massachusetts State legislation when the Executive was up and running. I thought that was significant coming from a former MacBride campaigner and something that we possibly could not celebrate but certainly could be pleased about. My final point was just to ask if you could, in addition to the memoranda you have kindly promised to send us, also look at the definition of "functions" for the purposes of section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. Do you agree that the public procurement functions of public authorities in Northern Ireland are included within the meaning of the word functions? In other words, have we not got under the 1998 Northern Ireland Act a requirement for some limited form of contract compliance? I do not know the answer to that and it would be unfair to suggest anybody could answer that off the top of their head, but I would be grateful if that point could be clarified.

  (Marjorie Mowlam) With pleasure, we will certainly clarify that point. Can I say in response to your first question, I think this is an example of how the commitment in America to finding a peaceful settlement has been directed at some of the underlying causes and when they feel progress is made they are not shy of moving on and giving support in other ways and I think that should be acknowledged.


  570. Secretary of State, I said I was going to follow up on the Minister of State's evidence on 9th December about national security certificates. I am not quite sure how this applies, but I think I should probably declare a parallel interest in the subject of a constituency nature because of Ms Samar Alami and the Israeli bombing episode. Ms Alami is one of my constituents and the national security certificates arise in her case as well. When he gave evidence on national security certificates, the Minister of State mentioned continuing discussions with the Northern Ireland Bar Council, and I think it would be helpful to know where those discussions have reached?

  (Marjorie Mowlam) I have no evidence to suggest that they have reached any specific conclusions yet, but they are continuing because they were not happy, as you are well aware, with the tribunal based on the Immigration Service tribunal that we were suggesting.

  571. And are likely to continue for some time?

  (Marjorie Mowlam) I would like to get it settled as quickly as possible. Nothing specific has come out, but we will continue to push and, as the interest is obviously wider than just the cases that we are dealing with, we will do what we can as quickly as possible and let you know how we get on.

  572. If it is a continuing issue, is it your understanding from the discussions that the Bar Council still regards the provisions of the legislation which envisage the appointment of counsel on behalf of a person, but not responsible to that person, as being contrary to Bar ethics?

  (Marjorie Mowlam) That is the central point, yes.

  573. And that is a continuing issue?

  (Marjorie Mowlam) Yes.

  574. Is there a similar question concerning the acceptability to the Bar Council of England and Wales regarding the equivalent procedure in the immigration context?

  (Marjorie Mowlam) I do not know.
  (Mr Ingram) Of course, we would not answer for another jurisdiction.

  575. I fully understand that. But in the context of the discussions which you are having with the Bar Council of Northern Ireland, I cannot help feeling that similar considerations which may be occurring elsewhere are not ungermane.

  (Mr Ingram) It arose out of an immigration issue, and clearly we have to work in concert across Government Departments because we deal with the same concepts of national security and rights of the individual, but they are separate jurisdictions and the compatibility between the principles has to be enshrined in the legislation. I do not know if that specifically answers your question, but clearly the Government, in layman's terms, have to have joined-up thinking in this.

  576. I think it would be helpful for us to know if, in fact, there are continuing conversations with the Bar Council in England and Wales, even though I totally appreciate that it does not fall under your departmental responsibility.

  (Mr Ingram) Obviously it would be helpful as you go to prepare your final report if we could give you the position at that time because of the discussions that are going on and they may be settled at that point or they may not. We will give you the position at the time of publication.

  577. Including what is happening in other parts of the field.

  (Mr Ingram) That is fine.

  578. Secretary of State, my final question is not remotely intended to be a trick question, but it seems sensible that we actually clarify this point while we still have you in front of us rather than doing it in writing afterwards. I think you said about Dr Stringer's group to which Mr Gibson also referred. As I understand it, it consisted of the existing statutory equality commissions but did not include groups representing age, sexual orientation or dependency. I think you said in your evidence that sexual orientation was included and it is just a case of whether you want to clarify that one way or the other?

  (Marjorie Mowlam) I am being told I do. I understood, when I originally saw the papers, that it was the four bodies and they would listen to the views of those that did not have a Commission and so what I was trying to imply, perhaps cack-handedly, for which I apologise, was that it was made up of the four Commissions, but the other disabilities that did not have representation by a Commission, i.e. age, sexual orientation, whatever the third was,—
  (Mr Gibson) Having a dependant.
  (Marjorie Mowlam)—evidence was provided and their views were taken into account so that they were not put at a disadvantage for not having a Commission, and therefore their voices not heard at the working party.

  579. Thank you very much indeed for that. We obviously have the benefit of the press release that was put out in connection with Dr Stringer's work. Secretary of State, I am conscious that we have kept you a long time and you and the Minister of State and your colleagues have been extremely patient. This is not, I hasten to say, a case of Professor Parkinson's law of work expanding to fill the time available. We were always going to ask the questions which we have had the opportunity of asking. You have been very good to allow us to ask them. I speak on behalf of the whole Committee in thanking you most warmly both for appearing and for the comprehensiveness of your answers.

  (Marjorie Mowlam) Thank you very much for having us. We look forward to implementing what we have talked about.

2   Q. 10. p. 12. Back

3   See Appendix 3, p. Back

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