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Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, we are meeting when the hopes of so many people are fixed on the prospect of a brighter future. However, we still need to carry out our task of scrutiny and questioning. In respect of all the orders on the Order Paper tonight, I recognise the burden that the Minister has had during the past weeks and I am content for her to write in answer to specific questions that I have not had the opportunity to discuss with her in the usual way. I have one or two short questions relating to this order.
As regards Article 4, I am puzzled about why the words "may be prescribed" are to be substituted by "the department may determine". A more important question relates to Article 8, which deals with public appeals. If public appeals are to be the subject of contributions of public funds, what is the intention? For example, will it cover the use of public money for banners, posters and demonstrations, as is said to have happened previously? Will it cover public donations for demonstrations against the framework document? If not and I assume that the answer must be nowill there be operative effective guidelines or limits?
I should be grateful for an explanation about the thinking and purpose behind Article 7. We on this side of the House welcome the philosophy behind Article 11. It empowers a public authority to provide bilingual street signs where that is thought appropriate. There is no clear indication as to how the views of residents are to be ascertained and we would welcome guidance on that matter. Generally, it appears to be a fulfilment of our obligations to encourage regional and minority languages. I am extremely pleased to hear that the Government's policy is to give a general encouragement to the Irish language. I bear in mind that past encouragement of the Welsh language, although it has been rather niggardly, has been most welcome.
Baroness Denton of Wakefield: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his kindness in indicating that we have in Northern Ireland been busy in the past few weeks. I must pay tribute to my colleagues who have been exceptionally busy and, we hope, to good effect. I
For the sake of simplification, we are changing to determining rather than prescribing. It is easier to designate officers or qualifications than to prescribe them by making regulations. Discussions can then take place between government and council officials and we believe that they will be able to move more quickly.
In order to avoid the fear that the noble Lord indicated, contributions to public appeals are being restricted to persons or bodies specified in the order. It will assist councils when dealing with the many requests for contributions they receive. It also brings councils in Northern Ireland into line with legislation in Great Britain.
The possibility of prohibiting political contributions was examined but had to be rejected because of the diverse meaning that could be attached to "political". As in the Local Government Act 1972, an appeal may be made by the Lord Mayor of London, the chairman of a principal council or by a committee of which any of those persons is a member. That makes it possible for substantial contributions to be made to charities, usually made by somebody taking office for the period of a year.
It is considered that councils using their local knowledge can best decide how to have regard to the views of occupiers when considering whether to erect a second nameplate. We believe that to impose requirements as to how a council should undertake that task could prove unduly restrictive and bureaucratic and is best dealt with in relation to specific local circumstances.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the purpose of the draft Fair Employment (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 now before your Lordships is to remove the present limit of £35,000 on the amount of compensation that can be awarded by the Fair Employment Tribunal in cases of religious or political discrimination.
Fair employment issues in Northern Ireland have been high on the Government's agenda for many years. Discrimination in the workplace on the grounds of an individual's religious belief or political opinion was outlawed as far back as 1976. That legislation was considerably strengthened in 1989. The order represents a further enhancement of that law. It will help to ensure
In addition, to establishing the Fair Employment Commission as a successor to the Fair Employment Agency, the 1989 Fair Employment Act also established a new independent judicial bodythe Fair Employment Tribunalto hear and determine individual allegations of unlawful discrimination. The tribunal operates on broadly similar lines to the industrial tribunals in the United Kingdom.
When the 1989 Act was passed, industrial tribunals had power to award compensation (for example, in cases of sex discrimination or unfair dismissal) of up to £8,500. However, because of the seriousness with which religious discrimination was regarded, the Fair Employment Tribunal was given power at that time to award up to £30,000 compensation. That amount was raised to £35,000 in March 1994 to take account of inflation. However, in light of the European Court of Justice decision in relation to the case of Marshall v. Southampton and South West Hampshire Health Authority, it is now necessary to remove that limit completely.
The applicant in that particular case had successfully taken her claim of sex discrimination to the industrial tribunal in Great Britain. In awarding maximum compensation the tribunal noted that Ms. Marshall would have been awarded much more had there not been a limit on the amount the tribunal could award.
Ms. Marshall decided to pursue that matter through the European Court of Justice which delivered its judgment on 2nd August 1993. The court ruled that victims of unlawful sex discrimination were entitled to full compensation. It also ruled that the ceiling on compensation and the exclusion of the possibility of awarding interest under UK law were both incompatible with the EC Equal Treatment Directive. The Government accepted that new principle. They moved quickly to abolish the compensation limit under sex discrimination legislation, in both Great Britain and Northern Ireland. That prompted a re-assessment of the situation relating to compensation in other areas of anti-discrimination law. It was concluded that there was no valid distinction between different types of discrimination and that the new principle of abolishing compensation limits for all discrimination cases should apply. The order will abolish the compensation limit in cases of religious and political discrimination in Northern Ireland.
It is of particular interest to those who supported the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Lester, not too long ago, that the Government were vigorous in their non-acceptance of the principles behind it, and yet, on this occasion, there has been a glowing commendation from the Minister in relation to the virtue and value of the work of the European Court. I am sure that that will be transmitted by those on this side of the House to the Minister who did not accept the principles of the Bill put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Lester.
The removal of limitations on amount is absolutely critical as is the power to award interest. That has been the case in personal injury cases, as is well known. In our view, it is of particular importance because discrimination at work is not merely discrimination in terms of earning capacity since for most, if not all of us, work is not simply a means of earning money but is a central part and amenity of life. Therefore, although repentance has been a little dilatory, repentance is always welcome and therefore we support the order.
Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, this order is obviously very welcome to those of us on these Benches. The noble Lord, Lord Lester, asked me to convey his appreciation for the Government's change of heart on this matter. He put a great deal of work into this issue and he has been vindicated. The result is extremely welcome.
Baroness Denton of Wakefield: My Lords, your Lordships have given the order generous recognition. In Northern Ireland, we try to do things well.
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