To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when he intends to respond to the report of the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights on fair employment in Northern Ireland (Cm. 237).
I have today written to the chairman of the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights giving the Government's response to the commission's report on fair employment and outlining our plans for new legislation in this field.The Government are committed to ensuring that all employers in Northern Ireland positively practise equality of opportunity in employment. It is in the interests of all the people of Northern Ireland that there should be, and be seen to be, fair treatment for all.I have today published an outline of the Government's proposals for legislation which have been drawn up after wide consultation with interested parties including employers' organisations and trade unions. Copies of the brochure, and of my letter to the chairman of the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights, have been placed in the Library and are available in the Vote Office. I welcome this opportunity to acknowledge the contribution which the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights report has made.The main features of our proposals are as follows. All employers in Northern Ireland will be required to practice equality of opportunity. All public sector employers, and all private sector employers with more than 10 employees, will be required to monitor the religious composition of their work force. Failure to do so will be a criminal offence. For a transitional period, the threshold in the private sector will be 25 employees. Employers who fail to meet their obligations will not normally be eligible for Government grants and contracts.Employers will be enabled to undertake affirmative action programmes designed to give under-represented groups better access to employment and training opportunities. The Fair Employment Agency will be strengthened and restructured with its educational, promotional and investigative functions concentrated in a new Fair Employment Commission which will inherit the agency's assets, staff and experience. The commission will audit the monitoring returns compiled by employers registered with the commission, and it will investigate employment practice and patterns.Individual complaints of alleged religious discrimination will be dealt with by a separate tribunal using the same sort of procedures as are already successfully used for employment matters in the existing industrial tribunal structure. In pattern and practice cases, the commission will he able to apply to the tribunal for an order of compliance if its directions are not obeyed.We intend to publish a White Paper in the late spring, and new legislation will he introduced at the earliest opportunity.