Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence - Fourth Report


Further memorandum from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

  I am writing in order to clarify or provide further information on some points that were raised when Adam Ingram and I appeared before the Committeee on 19 May 1999.

  In my introductory remarks I may have given the impression that representation on the Equality Commission Working Group was wider than it actually was. I clarified the point at the end of the session but, for the record, the Working Group consisted of the chairs and chief executives of the four existing equality bodies—namely the Fair Employment Commission, the Equal Opportunities Commission, the Commission for Racial Equality and the Northern Ireland Disability Council—and a Trade Union representative.

  In response to question 507 I undertook to advise the Committee of those UK Departments and public bodies which are to be designated for the purposes of Schedule 9 to the Northern Ireland Act 1998. Final decisions on designation have not yet been made but I will provide the Committee with this information as soon as it is available.

  You enquired (question 508) whether the Irish Government were meeting their commitments on equality under the Good Friday Agreement. The Employment Equality Act 1998 was signed into law by the President in June 1998 and the target date for its implementation is 1 September 1999. On 8 March the Minister announced arrangements for the equality infrastructure which is being put in place to underpin employment equality and equal status legislation. This consists of two new bodies; the Equality Authority, which will replace the existing Employment Equality Agency, and the Office of the Director of Equality Investigations which will provide a forum of first redress. Mr Niall Crowley, formerly Director of Pavee Point has been appointed as Chief Executive Officer of the Equality Authority, and he took up duty on 9 June. A revised Equal Status Bill was published on 19 April, with a view to enactment in 1999. The Bill has passed Second Stage in the Dail and is awaiting a slot for Committee Stage.

  In reply to question 520 I said that, from memory, 20 per cent of the applications to join the RUC were from Catholics and women. In fact the number of applications received from the Roman Catholic community has risen to 22 per cent while those from women has increased to 36 per cent.

  I made reference to John Hume in reply to Question 532 posed by Martin Salter. I should make clear that I was not attributing views on contract compliance to Mr Hume. My point was simply to draw a parallel between contract compliance and the MacBride Campaign in terms of their possible effects on investment. John Hume's concern was that MacBride was a disincentive to investment.

  The Committee enquired (Questions 536 to 538) about the implications in EU law of adopting a more active policy to promote fair employment objectives among employers through contract compliance. Our response to the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights' proposals for including terms in public sector contracts encouraging recruitment of the long-term unemployed and affirmative action by employers was set out in the white paper "Partnership for Equality" (Cm 3890, March 1998). The White Paper stated that contract compliance ran counter to the spirit of market liberalisation in public procurement which had been promoted by the European Union and the UK Government, while admitting that EU law provided some limited leeway for the inclusion of social clauses. This response was based on the 1989 Commission communication on regional and social aspects of public procurement (COM(89)400).

  On the same day as the White Paper was published, the Commission issued a new Communication on public procurement which included a brief section on social aspects. This accepted the permissibility in principle of including "as a condition of execution of public contracts, compliance with obligations of a social character, aimed for example at promoting the employment of women or encouraging the protection of certain disadvantaged groups" and it "encourages the Member States to use their procurement powers to pursue the social objectives mentioned above". However, no practical guidance was offered on the circumstances in which such clauses would be acceptable and the document stated that "the Commission intends to clarify the principles which can be applied to allow social factors to be taken into account". No further clarification has yet been issued and the ambiguity of the Commission's guidance raised the possibility of legal challenge by an unsuccessful tenderer, should contract compliance be applied.

  The policy of the UK Government over many years, reiterated in Treasury guidance on public procurement of November 1998, has been opposed to using public contracts as a means of pursuing social policy objectives. As Mr Salter pointed out at the Committee session, the Cabinet Office Better Regulation Taskforce review of anti-discrimination legislation published on 12 May has recommended that the Government should use public contracts to promote equality practices among contractors and suppliers. The Government is currently considering the totality of the Taskforce's recommendations with a view to a formal response by 12 July.

  In relation to my response on the Northern Ireland Civil Service (Question 549), the following figures will be of interest to the Committee. At 1 January 1999, in the Civil Service overall, the percentage of Protestants was 55.2 per cent, Roman Catholics 39 per cent and 5.8 per cent were undetermined. Roman Catholic representation amongst the Senior Grades at Assistant Secretary and above has increased from 5.9 per cent in January 1985 to 23.9 per cent in January 1999.

  Adam Ingram undertook, in response to Question 554, to provide the most up-to-date statistics in terms of Catholic and Protestant employment. These are attached at Annexes A-C and update statistics that were included in the Department of Economic Development's memorandum of 6 October 1998 to the Clerk of the Committee. A copy of the Fair Employment Commission's "Summary of Monitoring Returns 1998" which provides detailed statistics on both the Public and Private Sectors is also enclosed.

  At Question 566 Adam Ingram agreed to provide information on aspects of the MacBride principles which might contravene European law. Our legal advice is that there is no clear instance in which the MacBride principles, as amplified, are in conflicts with EU Law.

  At 569 Mr Salter asked whether Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act might require some limited form of contact compliance by virtue of its reference to the functions of public authorities. This seems a rather strained interpretation of the Act. The primary means for implementing the Statutory obligations under Section 75 will be through equality schemes which require assessments of a public authority's policies. Policy responsibility on public procurement lies with the Department of Finance and Personnel and I would expect it to assess that policy and any future changes to it in the context of its equality scheme. However, other public authorities are required to implement that centrally determined policy.

  Finally, you raised the question of the appointment of counsel to represent individuals in appeals against National Security Certificates before the Tribunal provided for in the Northern Ireland Act 1998. Adam Ingram undertook (576) to check whether there are continuing conversations with the Bar Council in England and Wales about similar procedures in the immigration context. We are advised that at present there are no ongoing discussions. In Northern Ireland, consideration of the Bar Council of Northern Ireland's position on special advocates continues and they have been consulted about the procedural rules for the Tribunal.

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