§ 10.1 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Roland Moyle)
I beg to move,That the Industrial Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1976, a draft of which was laid before the House on 11th May, be approved.The purpose of the draft Order is twofold. Substantially, it is, first of all, to put into effect the recommendations of the Northern Ireland Review Body on Industrial Relations which reported in 1974 and, secondly, to begin the process of bringing the law of Northern Ireland relating to industrial relations into line with the present legislation in Great Britain. The Order is bulky. I will endeavour to restrict my speech and opening remarks to the bare essentials but I am afraid it is a fairly comprehensive field to cover. Also there is the issue of the Report of the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments to be raised.
The Review Body to which I have referred was established in 1971 by the then Northern Ireland Minister of Health and Social Services. It was comprised of 10 representatives of the Confederation of British Industry in Northern Ireland and the entire Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions as well as representatives of the Department of Manpower Services. During the period when the Review Body was in operation, the Industrial Relations Act of 1971, of unhallowed memory, was in operation in Great Britain. That Act, I am happy to say—and I am sure the people of Northern Ireland were very happy too —did not apply in Northern Ireland and consequently Northern Ireland escaped the monstrosities inflicted on the industrial relations field which that ill-begotten piece of legislation perpetrated on Great Britain. Instead, I am happy to say, representatives of employers and trade unions in Northern Ireland together considered what action should be taken.
The approach of both sides of industry in Northern Ireland to this problem has been a model of how to conduct such an exercise. Whether one agrees with the consequences or not is another 1810 matter but the method by which the report was achieved is a model to us all on how the two sides of industry should work together. There has been a willingness to work together and pay regard to each other's susceptibilities. There has been an absence of dogma and realisation of the limitations of law in the industrial relations field.
As I contemplated their activities I realised how wise I had been to join in opposition to the Industrial Relations Act from the moment of its conception to its unlamented death. They proposed that the system of industrial relations in Northern Ireland should continue to be based on voluntary principles. I am very grateful that I get support from the Opposition Front Bench, because there was a time when they would not have supported that statement. The report of the Review Body was unanimous, another great achievement for the industrial relations system in Northern Ireland. This was a considerable achievement and I should like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the Review Body for the important contribution it has made towards the fostering of good industrial relations in Northern Ireland.
Following the publication of the Review Body's report, the Industrial Relations Act 1971 was repealed and major new legislation was enacted for Great Britain, but not at that time for Northern Ireland, in the form of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Acts 1974 and 1976 and the Employment Protection Act 1975. Many of the provisions of those Acts cover matters on which recommendations were made to me by the Review Body on Industrial Relations. As respects those matters, the Order follows closely the provisions of the Westminster legislation to the maximum extent that is compatible with the Review Body's recommendations.
Many employers' organisations and employers and many trade unions operating in Northern Ireland are off-shoots and extensions of the same bodies which operate in Ireland or Great Britain and I am sure everybody will agree that it is in the interests of all concerned, and of the avoidance of confusion, that there should be no unnecessary divergence between the law and practices on these matters in Northern Ireland and the law in the rest of the United Kingdom.
1811 However, the Trade Union and Labour Relations Acts and the Employment Protection Act go rather further than the Review Body's recommendations. In particular, they introduce a wide range of new rights designed to protect workers in their employment. It is Government policy that workers in Northern Ireland should enjoy these rights no less than their counterparts in Great Britain and to enact legislation to that effect as quickly as possible.
It has not proved possible to do that in this piece of legislation. We have selected those parts of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act and the Employment Protection Act which are of particular value to employees in Northern Ireland in the current difficult economic circumstances and have produced them in this Order. The remainder of the legislation will be introduced in subsequent Orders which are now being prepared as rapidly as possible by the Department of Manpower Services.
I am aware that the CBI in Northern Ireland wished this legislation to be confined to the implementation of the recommendations of the Review Body. However, the Government have not been able to accept that view, and in the light of the CBI's responsible attitude to the discussions throughout, I think it is entitled to a word of public explanation.
First, the measures of the Employment Protection Act have been approved by the Parliament at Westminster and form part of the industrial relations practice of the greater part of the United Kingdom, of which Northern Ireland is part. I believe there are great advantages, whatever one's views on individual provisions, in substantial uniformity of practice in these matters throughout the United Kingdom, and I believe that this coincides with the CBI's views. But such a position does entail accepting obligations as well as benefits.
I think also that the survival of Northern Ireland's economy depends on the success of the British Government's counter-inflation policy and of the action on wage costs, and those policies apply in Northern Ireland. If anything, the survival of the Province's economy is even more dependent on the success of those 1812 policies. This is part of the social contract, which includes the measures of the Employment Protection Act. Once again I do not think the Province can opt out of general practice in the United Kingdom. The draft Order was published as a proposal for public comment in October 1975 in accordance with the usual procedure. In consequence of comments received, amendments have been made to it.
In response to a request by the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, provision has been made in Article 16 for the bestowing on the Labour Relations Agency of functions which are now performed by the Department of Manpower Services. The Agency is established by this order, which says not that these functions will be transferred to it but that they may be transferred. In time they probably will be.
It means that the Agency is likely to be very similar to the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service which has been set up for action in this field in Great Britain. These provisions will enable the Department's conciliation functions to be transferred to the Agency. That will correspond to the new service in Great Britain.
The unfair dismissal provisions have been brought fully into line with the corresponding provisions of Westminster legislation. Finally, provisions have been inserted giving employees rights to protection in the case of the insolvency of their employers and in the handling of redundancies. These rather gloomy necessities are of especial importance in the current economic situation.
At this juncture it is normal to explain the contents of the measure in some detail, but I shall limit myself to touching on one or two of the main themes. First, Part II of the order, together with Schedule 1, provides for the Labour Relations Agency, which is one of the main objects of the Order and one of the major groups of recommendations to come out of the Industrial Review Body. It will be a body corporate consisting of a chairman and nine other members appointed by the head of the Department of Manpower Services. Three of the members will be appointed 1813 after consultation with employers' representatives and three after consultation with representatives of trade unions.
Article 5 states that it is the general duty of the Agencyto promote the improvement of industrial relations, and in particular to encourage the extension of collective bargaining"—that received full support from the Review Body—and, where necessary, the reform of collective bargaining machinery.The Agency can also undertake research, provide advice on industrial relations matters and undertake concialiation in relation to trade disputes which cannot be settled through the existing governmental machinery. It will discharge functions relating to the application of the Terms and Conditions of Employment Act (Northern Ireland) 1963 in sectors of industry where pay is low and the Act cannot be invoked. It will review and advise on arrangements for industrial relations training.
Article 7 gives the Agency functions relating to the settlement of trade disputes about the recognition of trade unions. Article 8 enables a claim to be submitted to and an award to be made by the Industrial Court where, contrary to a recommendation by the Agency, an employer fails to recognise a trade union. That again was regarded as one of the keystones of the Review Body's recommendation that trade unions should be recognised.
The Agency has no powers to enforce the acceptance of its views, but it will provide a constant source of advice and assistance in all industrial relations matters. I hope that in that way it will make a valuable contribution towards the well-being of industrial relations and thus towards the Northern Ireland economy. One of the reasons for the Agency being created in addition to all the conciliation and arbitration machinery was that the Review Body felt there was an overwhelming case for the creation of a body with investigative powers. In that sense none of the existing machinery available to the Government gave the power to investigate and probe a situation before producing a solution to the problem. It is thought that in that respect the Labour Relations Agency will be helpful.
1814 Part III of the Order confers upon Northern Ireland employees certain rights and protection for their employment which exist in Great Britain under the Trade Union and Labour Relation Acts 1974 and 1976 and the Employment Protection Act 1975. They have been selected for their appropriateness against the current difficult economic background. There is statutory protection against unfair dismissal which follows closely the provisions of the relevant Westminster legislation. It provides for remedies for unfair dismissal by way of complaint to industrial tribunals. It will be for the employer to show that dismissal was justified.
Article 22, as recommended by the Review Body, indicates grounds which will be ruled unfair. Grounds which will be ruled unfair include membership of an independent trade union and taking part in trade union activities. There is a guarantee, in so far as legislation makes that possible, against victimisation in those circumstances. The Order contains safeguards to ensure that the unfair dismissal provisions which it contains will not preclude the making and operation of closed shop agreements.
The employee of an insolvent employer will be able to obtain rights to the payment of debts from his employer; for example, arrears of wages, holiday pay and pay for statutory minimum periods of notice where the employer has become insolvent and the firm collapses, a situation which, I regret to say, happens too frequently in the Province these days. These rights will be provided for by the Department of Manpower Services, which will then subsume the employees' rights against the employer.
A duty is laid on employers to consult trade union representatives about the redundancy, and a timetable for doing so and the steps to be followed are also laid down.
Part V of the legislation contains a group of miscellaneous and supplementary provisions, of which I shall mention a few. Article 64 brings the law in Northern Ireland relating to liability for tort back to the position that obtained in Great Britain immediately before the passage of the Industrial Relations Act 1971 and after the legislation which was passed to remove the effects of the case 1815 of Rookes v. Barnard, which hon. Members may recall.
Article 67 touches on a point which was of considerable interest when the equivalent legislation applicable to Great Britain was going through the Palace of Westminster. The Article provides that, with appropriate modification, any Press charter in force in Great Britain relating to the freedom of the Press in Great Britain will apply to Northern Ireland. This arose from the closed shop provisions in the legislation applicable to Great Britain, and the issue was essentially a national issue. It is appropriate that action should be taken in Northern Ireland in accordance with that taken in Great Britain.
I understand that there may be deep feelings on this subject, both for and against, but it would be unwise at this juncture to have separate provisions in Northern Ireland and in Great Britain generally. I have received no representations from Press, television or radio representatives in Northern Ireland re-question a different provision in Northern Ireland from that which exists in Great Britain. That reinforces my point that it is a national rather than a Northern Ireland problem.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
I apologise for harking back, but it is sometimes difficult to know in an exposition of this sort when the Minister will pass from one Article to another. The Minister said that the immediately preceding Article, No. 64, had restored the law to the condition in which it had been before the 1971 Act, which he had previously indicated had not applied in Northern Ireland. It is a little difficult to see why that is not contradictory. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will elucidate that a little further.
§ Mr. Moyle
Yes. It was thought that throughout the United Kingdom there was to be a wide exemption from tortious liability for acts committed in trade disputes throughout our industrial relations history after the First World War until the Rookes v. Barnard case in 1962. That case cast doubts on that situation. After 1964 an Act was passed reversing the situation which Rookes v. Barnard might have been thought to have brought about. That reversal 1816 existed for the United Kingdom until the Industrial Relations Act 1971. The Act passed in 1964 did not apply to Northern Ireland, so we have taken the model of the Great Britain law as it was between the repeal of Rookes v. Barnard and the commencement of the 1971 Act, and we are now seeking to apply it to Northern Ireland.
Article 79 raises the problem of the application of the Order to Crown employment. When the corresponding provisions of the Employment Protection Act were debated in Committee, the Minister of State for the Civil Service made it clear that it was the Government's intention that civil servants should receive essentially the same benefits under the Act as do employees generally. He gave an assurance that the Government would normally observe recommendations of the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service on recognition, and its decision with appropriate recommendations on recognition for Northern Ireland. I give the same assurances in respect of this Order.
Schedule 2 contains provision for calculating normal working hours and a week's pay.
Part I of Schedule 5 implements recommendations of the Review Body by amending the Wages Councils Act (Northern Ireland) 1945 with a view to fostering the development of collective bargaining machinery to replace wages councils in sectors of industry where they are needed at present. We are fully aware of the problems here. Wages councils were set up to protect the low-paid. It has been found that in practice there have been those which do not do this and sometimes recommended wage rates are below supplementary benefit level. It is felt that the creation of proper collective bargaining machinery should solve this problem.
Part II of the schedule amends the Contracts of Employment and Redundancy Payment Act (Northern Ireland) 1965. Part III amends other Acts, consequential to the provisions of the Order.
I turn to another issue raised in connection with this and other Orders—the Twentieth Report of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments relating to Northern Ireland secondary legislation. Some people seem to have got hold of the 1817 wrong end of the stick with regard to this report. The Belfast Newsletter is in this category, although I cannot blame the paper because these matters are somewhat technical and are not widely understood outside the Palace of Westminster.
The Committee was not criticising the way in which this Order is being handled tonight by the House. That is not to say that this procedure has not been criticised, because it has been frequently by hon. Gentlemen and right hon. Gentlemen opposite.
It is not fair to say of the procedure for Northern Ireland Orders that they are laid before the House for one-and-a-half hours' debate with no opportunity to amend them. Every major Order, and perhaps every Order is first made available in proposal form and there is consultation and the opportunity for amendment. I consulted hon. Gentlemen opposite on the details of the Firearms Order in a personal capacity and I must say I found it a very pleasant occasion as we gathered on the Terrace together while I heard their point of view. The Select Committee criticised the procedure under direct rule. It poined out that what would have been an Order-in-Council in Stormont gets reduced in stature to a Regulation under direct rule. What would have been a Bill at Stormont becomes an Order under direct rule. As a consequence of this, some Northern Ireland Instruments may escape the parliamentary process. The procedures, however, are fully formulated in the provisions of the Northern Ireland Act 1974 so that, in effect, they are legal and constitutional. Second, the regulations are made under the authority of the Secretary of State, who is answerable to this House. Third, the Regulations and Instruments are examined and reported upon by the Examining Officer, who is a Northern Ireland official with the same terms of reference as the Select Committee.
The Government admit that the present situation may well lead to a less-than-satisfactory state of affairs, and they are approaching that fact with a view to seeing what close approximation to parliamentary perfection we can achieve. In short, the Government, and particularly my right hon. Friend, wish to be as helpful as possible in these matters.
1818 The 1974 Act will soon fall to be renewed in this House, and in the context in which we are speaking my right hon. Friend is reviewing the procedures in the light of the circumstances of direct rule to see whether they can be improved. I therefore ask the House in the circumstances to bear with him.
I must enter one reservation by emphasising that there are real problems here and that I cannot commit my right hon. Friend as to the outcome of his review. He wishes to be as helpful as possible, however.
This is a long and in some respects a complicated Order. It is the outcome of a great deal of deliberation and consultation between representatives of employers and trade unions in Northern Ireland and the Department of Manpower Services. The draft Order is of considerable importance to the wellbeing of Northern Ireland from both a social and an economic point of view, and I hope that it will be approved by the House tonight.
§ 10.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Airey Neave (Abingdon)
In spite of some of the remarks by the Minister at the beginning of his speech, we agree in principle with the Order. He reminded us in a standard fashion of the 1971 Act and said that it did not apply to Northern Ireland. He is now, however, proposing in this Order a dose of Socialist medicine for Northern Ireland, and I hope that Northern Ireland is aware of what is coming to it.
The Order is of immense importance to Northern Ireland and there are many here waiting to speak if they catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, who will have close knowledge of the province and will be able to make a contribution to the debate, and it is a good thing that we have the time for that.
I want lo refer to the hon. Gentleman's reference to the Report of the Joint Committee of both Houses on Delegated Legislation. Were it not for the unsatisfactory procedure to which he has referred, there would be even more detailed examination than we are able to have tonight.
I want to deal later in my speech with the Report and to refer in particiular to 1819 Article 16 of the Order, which is referred to in the Report and which concerns the wide powers of the Department of Manpower Services.
The Minister paid tribute to the Review Body for a very enlightened report. It is a pity that the Government did not adopt more of the report's recommendations. It is pleasing to note that it was unanimous and that in this case the CBI and the trade unions in Northern Ireland were able to agree over such a wide area of industrial relations. Their recommendations were framed for local conditions. The Minister made clear that the Order does not adopt those recommendations in certain very important respects. For example, Recommendation 18 says:Any changes introduced into the arrangements for the conduct of industrial relations in Northern Ireland should be specifically designed for and thus suited to local needs and conditions.A separate standard and system of industrial relations for Northern Ireland is envisaged there. It cannot be said that this Order achieves that.
While we welcome many parts of the Order, we question whether it meets the Review Body's requirements in that respect. The Review Body's report was good sense. One can look at in the context of the history of industrial relations in Northern Ireland. It will be conceded by everyone that in the past industrial relations have generally been good compared with other parts of the United Kingdom. The strike rate has traditionally been around half that in Great Britain. That is borne out by the Review Body's report. In particular, official strikes have been rare and the unions have played a responsible rôle in co-operating with the Government. The good industrial relations of Ulster have often been cited as one of the major attractions for potential investors.
The hon. Gentleman has told us that the social contract and other Socialist economic policies will apply to Northern Ireland. We wonder whether they will succeed in helping the present economy of the Province.
Since 1970 there has been in Northern Ireland, as there has been in other parts of the United Kingdom, an upturn in the number of working days lost in disputes. In 1974, in particular, there was 1820 an alarming increase in unofficial strikes, excluding the UWC strike. My hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) asked about this on 25th February 1975. One sees from the Minister's answer that the number of unofficial strikes in Northern Ireland rose from 54 in 1973 to 102 in 1974. When replying, will the Minister of State give figures for the subsequent year, 1975, for official and unofficial strikes and working days lost, to see how the situation compares with that answer to my hon. Friend?
There is obviously a strong case, and the Minister of State has made it, for modernising the statutory basis for industrial relations in Northern Ireland in various respects.
The Review Body stressed the importance of a voluntary and widely accepted system. We would like to see that process continue. The draft industrial relations Order produced last year represented that attitude and was based on the Review Body's report. It was not proceeded with, and it was decided to bring Northern Ireland within the net of Socialist trade union legislation, including elements of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Amendment) Act and the Employment Protection Act. To some of us those Acts do not seem to be inspired by quite the same basis of co-operation of a specifically Northern Ireland character which has been built up over the years. We express our anxiety about how this will turn out as far as actual labour relations are concerned. What was the point in setting up the Review Body if its recommendations were to be ignored?
This was an area where there was held, on all sides, to be a case for separate treatment in 1971. Why is it a case for different treatment today having regard to the fact that the Industrial Relations Act, which the hon. Gentleman disliked so much, did not apply to Northern Ireland? What is the point of changing the attitude to separate treatment having had a draft Order which applied the Review Body's recommendations?
§ Mr. Moyle
Would the answer not be that if Northern Ireland had been treated the same as Great Britain in 1971 it would have had to adopt the Industrial Relations Act? No, having got the same treatment, it has to adopt our Employment Protection Act and the Trade Disputes Act?
§ Mr. Neave
It did not have to adopt the 1971 Act and it was not imposed on it. But, like it or not, it will have to adopt these various Socialist Acts. There may be some good points in them but the people of Northern Ireland should fully understand what is happening.
I should like to ask the Minister of State some questions and to refer again to the Joint Committee's Report on delegated legislation.
First, I want to ask about the closed shop. The hon. Gentleman said that the Order will not preclude the closed shop in Northern Ireland. What will be the position of persons who wish to object on conscientious grounds to union membership? Will it be precisely the same as on the mainland? We regard this as an important point, especially since there are likely to be a number of religious objectors in Northern Ireland.
What is the position in regard to the law if the Order is passed by the House? The Minister should tell us how he views the situation.
Is there any danger of confusion of the arbitration and conciliation roles of the Department and the Agency? Do they overlap? To whom is there an appeal against an arbitration decision? The hon. Gentleman referred to the Article regarding the different roles of the Agency and the Department.
The next point concerns the status of Agency recommendations. For example, will ACAS codes be quoted in evidence before tribunals? Does that apply to Agency recommendations?
Finally, has there been any investigation of the additional costs to industry in Northern Ireland as a result of the Order? That point arose in regard to legislation which is now applied to Northern Ireland through this Order. This is important in a Province where industry has special problems. Therefore, it should merit special consideration from the Government.
We have heard that the Government are planning to introduce a second Order-in-Council on industrial relations in Northern Ireland to bring about complete parity between the law there and in Great Britain. This first Order does not cover some aspects of the Employment Protection Act 1975 and the two Trade Union and Labour Relations Acts 1822 —in particular, rights to guaranteed payments, maternity pay, time off and a number of other points. I think there was a recent Press release on this matter which I read.
There appears to have been little consultation with members of the Review Body, which has been meeting from time to time, since it produced its report on these most recent amendments. To what extent has there been consultion with the Review Body on the additional points? To what extent has agreement been reached? We hope that the second Order-in-Council will not be brought before the House without that consultation taking place.
Will the Government give an assurance that their proposals on maternity pay will be in line with the amendment to the Employment Protection Act which was discussed in this House? That is one matter which should be the subject of consultation with the appropriate authorities before the Order is introduced.
I conclude by a reference to the Twentieth Report of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. The Minister said that consultation had taken place on some of the Statutory Instruments. It would be a good thing if the process were to continue. While direct rule continues, it is necessary to see to it that there is a sufficient parliamentary process in respect of what is, in effect, primary legislation. That was one of the most important points made in the Report of the Joint Committee. We are here dealing with primary legislation. If the Minister of State hopes to get "a closer approximation to parliamentary perfection", he will have to move a good way forward in reviewing these procedures. We hope that he will find some method by which direct rule should seem less remote in respect of the procedures in this House.
We understand that some of the many Northern Irish Instruments made by the Permanent Head of the Northern reland Department escape any parliamentary process. What consultation will take place with Opposition parties in this House on this matter before any action is taken in reviewing the procedure and before legislation is introduced? This must be regarded as a House of Commons matter. We should like to know 1823 what action the Minister proposes to take in that respect.
I am sure that other hon. Members will wish in this debate to bring to bear their more detailed knowledge of industry in Northern Ireland. We do not oppose the Order in principle.
§ 10.42 p.m.
§ Mr. McCusker (Armagh)
It would be churlish of me if I did not thank the Minister's colleagues in the Whips' Office for their consideration and co-operation in ensuring that we did not have to debate this important order at four or five o'clock on Tuesday morning. I hope that the Minister will convey our thanks to his colleagues. I hope that that move reflects the growing unease at the way in which Northern Ireland legislation in this House is being handled.
I hoped to quote the Twentieth Report of the Review Body in the course of my argument. However, having heard what has been said about the Report, I shall not risk making the same mistake as did the Belfast Newsletter.
I wish to emphasise the fact that it is not right that a piece of legislation of this kind, which has been described as primary legislation, should get second-rate treatment. The situation can be highlighted by comparing the treatment that will be given to the Fair Employment Bill in 12 or 13 hours' time. That Bill will have received a Second Reading and will have had some 30 hours in Committee, and another full day's debate tomorrow. The Bill will at best be marginal, at worst it will be costly and damaging, and in reality it will be a cosmetic exercise, whereas this Order will set the course of industrial relations in Northern Ireland for generations to come. Nobody would deny that the Fair Employment Bill was greatly improved by its progress through the praliamentary process, and I am sure that this Order could have been given the same treatment.
One might almost ask "Why waste our time here at all? Why not have consultations with all the necessary bodies and bring the matter to the House and say "We know that this is good for you'? "If that kind of reasoning is not applied in Great Britain, it should not apply to Northern Irish measures.
1824 I must admit that we have a few more minutes than usual tonight to debate this matter, but we are still left in the position that, although we can welcome the order, deplore it, or highlight words here or there, there is nothing we can do to change or improve it.
I join the Minister in paying tribute to the Review Body and its members. When we now read that report, some of it sounds a little "old hat", but it should be remembered that the Review Body comprised representatives of employers and workers, who said on page 6 of the report:The Government should not seek to compel harmonious relationships within industry. The means for achieving improvements in industrial relations in Northern Ireland lie not in a major new statutory framework requiring conformity but in a voluntary process.In 1972 that sounded much more up to date than it does in 1976. If we still had the Parliament in Northern Ireland, the legislation recommended in the report would have superseded much of the legislation contained in the Employment Protection Act and the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act. It was interesting to hear the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) lament the fact that perhaps we shall have to go slavishly step by step with the Parliament here. I recall that his Government destroyed the means whereby Northern Ireland could benefit from having a legislature of its own to examine things in detail and perhaps come up with slight variations.
I share to some extent some of the hon. Gentleman's reservations. I ask the Minister to take this comment from someone who perhaps does not have the same degree of prejudice at others. I felt that the original order perhaps should have been dealt with as an Order containing within it the agreed recommendations of that working party. I say that in the full knowledge that I support the view that workers in Northern Ireland should enjoy the same rights and privileges as people here. I would not argue that they should not now be entitled to protection against unfair dismissals in cases involving insolvent employers, the handling of redundancies, and so on.
Hon. Members from Northern Ireland have had to deal with too many of these cases recently. We frequently receive a call from a local factory asking if we can do something to help people who have 1825 just been given two weeks' notice. We hope that the provision will ensure that when this sort of thing happens Members of Parliament and others will be able to make proper representations on their behalf.
When it comes to guaranteeing workers a written statement of reasons for dismissal, it is incredible that we have to write this into legislation. The Fair Employment Bill will become the Fair Employment Act, but if written reasons are not already being given to employees, they should start to receive them at once. It will be needed under that legislation, quite apart from the Order.
There are many similarities between the parts of the Order based on the report of the Review Body and on the Employment Protection Act. Throughout the report of the Review Body this assertion of a voluntary system of collective bargaining is repeated time and again.
On page 57 it is repeated thatthe Government's role should be primarily to support the voluntary system of collective bargaining.A voluntary system of collective bargaining now has the same meaning over here as a voluntary coalition has in Northern Ireland. It is just as voluntary as the Government allow it to be. As long as there is a £6 limit or a 4½ per cent. limit, the degree of voluntarism is rather restrained.
There is another aspect about which I should like an explanation in regard to the Order and to some extent the Employment Protection Act. I refer to the definition of a trade union official. In the first part of the Order, on page 6, "official" is defined as meaning something in relation to a trade union. On page 39 that "official" becomes a "trade union representative", and that is defined in another way.
Will the Minister tell us if there is any particular reason why we cannot have the same terminology throughout the Order? Is it necessary to have an official in a trade union in one part defined in a certain way and a trade union representative defined in a different way in another part? Partially the answer is that the part in which "trade union representative" is used is almost a complete transfer from the Employment Protection Act into the Order. The terminology is 1826 carried over. But surely it would have been tidier, in doing this, to use the same definition for the particular person or persons throughout the Order.
I am pleased that the report maintains that conciliatory processes and control should remain with the Ministry. I hope those conciliatory functions will not be transferred to the Labour Relations Agency. It was obvious from the debate on industrial relations in Great Britain that industrial relations here were, and probably still are, riddled with mistrust and suspicion. But that was not the situation in Northern Ireland. That is why the report states:An essential feature of the conciliation service is the accepted independence of its officers. On this basis a relationship of trust has been built up between the Department's conciliators, employers and trade unions.If that basis exists already and the same problems of mistrust do not exist in Northern Ireland, I suggest that the Minister should continue to keep his finger in the pie.
The conciliation service of the Department of Manpower Services provides a sounding board for the Minister, and I would not like to see that function transferred to the Agency. If it were, the Government would be totally uninvolved in industrial relations. Why not build on that admirable base? That trust should be maintained. One could almost ask that if there is already such a basis of trust within the Department, would it not have been possible to build on that base rather than to set up another agency? However, I accept that the stage could be reached where the Government could not provide the necessary detailed service. I accept the necessity of an agency to deal with industrial relations training, research, and collective bargaining arrangements in the low-pay sectors. What are the Minister's thoughts on that aspect? Achieving a collective bargaining system for the low-pay sectors is a problem. I hope that Article 16, which transfers those powers of conciliation, will not be used.
The Minister mentioned the desirability of duplicating Great Britain legislation in Northern Ireland. When I heard him talk of the benefit we gained from not having an Industrial Relations Act, I thought that we should preserve that situation. There is room for special consideration to be given to Northern Ireland, Voluntary negotiations between the two parts of 1827 industry can result in agreement. Many recommendations in the Review Body's report already coincide with the Employment Protection Act. Any further legislation should be based on that rather than another Order being brought before the House.
A major item in the report is not covered in the Order—the disclosure of information. The report states:If collective bargaining is to be on a sound basis, management and unions should have adequate information about matters to which the negotiations refer.Paragraph 256, referring to the functions of the Industrial Relations Agency, says:Other functions would include responsibilities in assisting parties in disclosure of information cases.There is a complete section, from paragraph 322 to 326, dealing with disclosure of information.
I appreciate in some respects why it has not been covered in the Order. Obbiously, the Minister will simply take that section dealing with disclosure of information out of the Employment Protection Act and duplicate it in the Northern Ireland context. But I ask him to ponder the wording and the attitude taken towards disclosure of information in the report, a report produced with the agreement of both sides of industry. Its wording is one of co-operation, of agreement, of arriving voluntarily at something which both parties think is essential.
Perhaps it is just the difference between the language of a report and the language of legislation, but the Employment Protection Act is couched in such terms asFor the purposes of all stages of such collective bargaining…it shall be the duty of the employer…to disclose…on requestcertain information. Later it speaks ofThe collective bargaining for the purposes of which an employer must disclose information under subsection (1)".Throughout Section 17 there is an aspect of compulsion on the employer. The problem of disclosure of information, which was recognised and covered in the report, could have been handled in Northern Ireland by the Agency. The basis of trust and the necessity for the disclosure of information are already established. The report suggested that Problems with individual employers and 1828 trade unions could be referred to conciliation first, and if problems remained at the conciliatory stage the Agency could become involved to bring the two sides together. The Minister should carry out consultations in Northern Ireland on this problem, based on the thinking evident in the report on both sides of industry, and see whether this important aspect of disclosure of information can be handled in a different way from that in the Employment Protection Act.
As the hon. Member for Abingdon said, that Act can be seen as being heavily biased towards the workers' side of the negotiations. I say that as someone who understands it but can stand back and say it. The 1971 Act was obviously management-biased, but all the legislation in the past two years seems heavily biased towards the other side. In Northern Ireland that split has not occurred. We have tried to act by agreement and consent.
The only other reservation I have about the legislation which the Minister will be introducing concerns maternity payments. I expressed my reservation on that during the debate on the Employment Protection Act.
Northern Ireland has had an evolving system of industrial relations based on agreement and consent. It still has a higher proportion of unionised workers than Great Britain, despite the closed shop. We still have fewer days lost. It is a situation which should be cherished. I hope that the Minister will not think that that situation can be improved simply by rubber-stamping Great Britain legislation. I think that he understands the problem and is trying to avoid it.
Despite those cautionary words, I give a welcome to the Order. I am sure it will be appreciated in Northern Ireland, especially by the workers.
We look forward to an early opportunity of discussing other legislation, though not, we hope, in the same way.
§ 11.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)
I should like to express my gratitude to the Government and particularly to the Leader of the House for arranging this debate. This is the first time a Northern 1829 Ireland Order has been discussed in the House when there is other business to follow. For a change, we shall not be leaving last. It also indicates that there may be some other hon. Members who are interested in the development of industrial relations in Northern Ireland.
Unlike the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave), I welcome every comma, sentence and clause in the Bill. It is to the credit of Northern Ireland that the review body was set up under the Stormont Government.
Throughout the years when there was vicious confrontation in Great Britain between workers and the Government, who were engaged in a very real struggle, we had reasonable men in Northern Ireland who, despite the atmosphere of violence, death and destruction and the very high unemployment there, could sit down together and reach conclusions acceptable to both sides of industry.
It was not always so. I remember the years when the trade union movement and the Government in Northern Ireland never had discussions and there were many confrontations, though not to the same extent as those between workers and the last Conservative Government here.
It was only many years after a Labour Government had repealed the Trade Disputes Act 1926 that it was repealed in Northern Ireland, and it was only when the current Lord O'Neill became Prime Minister that the Government in Northern Ireland agreed to recognise the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. This was violently opposed by many Unionists, but I think they would accept that a fairly happy relationship was established between the Government and the trade unionists.
That was more difficult in Northern Ireland than it would have been here because we have always had severe unemployment with thousands of people underpaid. In such circumstances, the employee is always open to exploitation by the employer. That is why I am delighted to see the provisions against unfair dismissal and the right of the Agency to inquire into the low wage rates in Northern Ireland.
There are more people on low wages in Northern Ireland than in any other 1830 region of this country. The fact is that there are more people in Northern Ireland than in any other region of the United Kingdom claiming family income supplement. The supplement is paid to those who are employed but not receiving a wage that allows them properly to maintain their family. That is an indication that people in Northern Ireland want to take up employment. They do not want to make themselves a burden on the social security agencies.
The hon. Member for Abingdon said that the Order is a dose of Socialism which is being imposed on Northern Ireland. The CBI in Northern Ireland has not voiced any objection to me or, as far as I know, to any other Member representing a Northern Ireland constituency. The Northern Ireland Committee of Irish Congress of Trades Unions welcomes this measure. The CBI and the trade union representatives sat on the Review Body on Industrial relations and gave their support to what is now before us. The Order has not been in circulation for a long time but it is known to employers and the trade union movement in Northern Ireland. As yet I have not heard any strenuous objection being put up against it.
I am bound to say that the Order does not go all the way. I voice a concern that is felt by the trade union movement in Northern Ireland. The Minister said that he envisages bringing forward another Order. Let him bring it forward as soon as possible. The trade unions in Northern Ireland are worried that some important sections of trade union legislation which exist in every other region of Great Britain do not apply in Northern Ireland. I refer specifically to codes of practice, disclosure of information, guaranteed payments, suspension on medical grounds, maternity provision, time off work for trade union activities and itemised pay statements. The powers that the Department will be able to confer on industrial tribunals, especially on the Labour Regulations Agency, are of particular importance. These are all important parts of trade union legislation.
The former Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme), was made fully aware by his discussions with the trade union movement of the misgivings held by prominent trade unionists 1831 in Northern Ireland about defects in industrial relations. It was fully understood that the industrial relations legislation would be exactly the same as in other parts of the United Kingdom. I know that my right hon. Friend had a happy relationship with the trade unionists. With his own background in industry, he knew what was happening in Northern Ireland. He realised more than most—he was one of the first Labour Northern Ireland Ministers to be appointed in the former Labour Government—the state of the economy. He saw the thousands of unemployed and he was aware of the low wages being paid. He dedicated himself to improving the position of employees. He tried to create conditions in which there would be more people employed than unemployed.
An important measure which we hope to see in a second Order is the bringing into operation of the health and safety at work provisions. There are important parts of that legislation which have yet to be applied in Northern Ireland. There are many old industries throughout the whole of the Six Counties where it is a real danger to be employed. In this respect Northern Ireland falls behind other parts of the United Kingdom. There have been several accidents caused by defective machinery and defective standards, and further accidents might be avoided if the legislation became effective. It is in the interests of employers that they should not have defective machinery, and they should be helped to secure that end by financial assistance and other means. The worker in Northern Ireland is entitled to the protection afforded to the worker in any other part of the United Kingdom.
Since these discussions took place, the Sex Discrimination Act has become applicable in Great Britain. I hope that the Order will make most of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Amendment) Act applicable to Northern Ireland. Why has there been such delay?
Trade unions have reservations about the functions of the Labour Relations Agency. They would like the Agency to have power to create an atmosphere in which negotiations can be conducted. The Ministry of Manpower Services has that responsibility, and it would be strange if that power were to be retained by the 1832 Ministry. It would make the Ministry responsible both for the interpretation of Government pay policy and for arbitration and conciliation. The two functions are contradictory. The Ministry should retain responsibility for the interpretation of Government pay policy, but conciliation should be reserved to the Agency.
§ Mr. McCusker
I accept that there will be a problem of demarcation between the Agency and the Ministry. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that a relationship of trust has been built up over the years between the Ministry and both sides of industry? The retention of the conciliatory function will enable the Ministry to keep a toe-hold in industrial relations, which would be useful. It might be possible to lay down the demarcation line so that the Ministry still performs the conciliatory function while the Agency gets on with the many other functions conferred upon it.
§ Mr. Fitt
I agree with the hon. Gentleman to the extent that we do not want to create an atmosphere of unrest or hostility between the officers of the Ministry and the trade unions. But it would be contradictory for officers of the Manpower Services Ministry responsible for interpreting pay policy when an argument arose to change their hats and act as conciliators. That should be the function of the Agency.
The hon. Member for Armagh (Mr McCusker) referred to the lack of consultation. Three weeks ago, before the recess, we were told that the Order was to be discussed in the House on the following Monday, and we made representations. It was the unanimous view of all Northern Ireland Members that we should have time to read the Order and discuss it with people with an industrial background who knew more about it. Would the involvement of a Northern Ireland Member in these discussions have improved the Order and made it more acceptable?
Only recently the Irish Congress of Trades Unions expressed grave misgivings about how hon. Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies voted against the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill on Second Reading and again, in effect, last week. I understand 1833 that hon. Members opposite from Northern Ireland are in receipt of a communication from a union in Northern Ireland begging them to behave themselves in future and not to vote in such a silly way. So I do not believe that discussions with representatives from Northern Ireland would in any way have bettered that Bill.
The Government have now introduced this first Order. As I understand the situation, and from my consultations, I think that it will be acceptable to both sides of industry in Northern Ireland. But there are still many facets of industrial relations legislation in other parts of the United Kingdom which do not apply to Northern Ireland, and I urge my hon. Friend to bring forward the second and third Orders with all possible speed.
§ 11.17 p.m.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
I start by making a comment on the way this legislation was brought before us. The Minister said that in some cases it was less than completely satisfactory. I congratulate him on the genius of that expression. It is not echoed from this Bench. Many Order-sin-Council placed before the House have been brought before it in a very unsatisfactory way.
We appreciate that when the hon. Gentleman laid the draft of the Order relating to firearms he consulted us. We appreciated those consultations not only for ourselves but for those bodies interested in the Order which held certain views which could only get to the Minister through their elected representatives here, and rightly so.
But there is grave worry in Northern Ireland about some of these Orders—especially, as has been said by the Select Committee about those outside the parliamentary process and especially about Regulations made under Acts of the old Stormont Administration and the old Assembly. There is no opportunity in this House to pray against those Regulations or in any way to discuss them. It is not only in that matter that there is a degree of concern among the representatives of Northern Ireland here.
Even though one may accept or reject what the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) has said about whether consultations are valuable or not, it is essential that the elected representatives should in some way express in some part of the 1834 parliamentary process what the people who have elected them have said to them. It is essential that we get that message across to the Minister.
I am aware of the difficulties in this matter. We appreciate every effort which has been made by the Government to hear the elected representatives of Northern Ireland, to facilitate them in this House, and to help them to put the views which have been put to them and which they feel are worthy of expression and argument on the Floor of the House or to be put privately to the Ministers concerned. We await the review which the Leader of the House and the Secretary of State are making of these matters, but, with the best will in the world, it must be conceded that if this Order were a Bill it would be a lengthy one. We would be discussing its articles as clauses and going into them line by line—to use a scriptural expression, precept upon precept. It would be a very lengthy scrutiny. That we cannot do. The way in which these orders are laid is completely unsatisfactory to many of us. I hope that in some way that will be remedied. We look forward to hearing exactly what the Minister has in mind.
I am sorry that the Government do not see their way clear to stick rigidly to the principle of uniformity for the whole of the United Kingdom. Many of us have very little objection to uniformity if the Minister could guarantee us step-by-step legislation. We would welcome uniformity in principle in regard to legislation in this House. Many of us have said that we would rather see some of the Bills which are laid before this House applied to Northern Ireland and thus have the opportunity to discuss them on the Floor of the House and use the parliamentary procedure.
§ Mr. Moyle
This is an interesting point of view. But as a member of the Northern Ireland Convention the hon. Gentleman argued for a devolved Government for Northern Ireland, and he was a substantial author of the Convention's report. What he is arguing now is not entirely compatible with that report.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
We must take the situation as it is. I am not for direct rule. I would like to see it brought to an end as speedily as possible, and I make no bones about that. But I do feel that the Minister cannot argue that the best 1835 way to do things, now that we have direct rule, is not to do them through the parliamentary process.
§ Mr. Moyle
I take on board what the hon. Gentleman is saying. We have direct rule at the moment. One thing that all parties in the Convention agreed on was that there should be devolved government for Northern Ireland. In these circumstances it is right for the Government to hope that we shall be able to meet that unanimous request. If we can, a Northern Ireland statute book will be carried through, and we must have regard to that statute book and the way in which things might operate.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
With due respect to the Minister, whether he makes laws for Northern Ireland by the proper parliamentary process or by this process does not really make any difference to the argument. They will still be the law in Northern Ireland. In view of what is happening in Northern Ireland, and the fact that Northern Ireland is not properly represented numerically in this House, it would be better if the full parliamentary process of passing Bills were carried through in respect of our legislation. If the Minister thinks about that, he should concede that it is better to do it in a parliamentary way, whether or not we disagree about how Northern Ireland should be governed eventually.
On these Benches we are not opposed to the workers of Northern Ireland having the same conditions as those in other parts of the United Kingdom. The majority of the people in Northern Ireland are working-class people and we on these Benches are hereby virtue of their votes. These people make up their own minds and vote in their own way. No one section of a community has any right to dictate to an elected representative what he should do on a particular issue. He must live up to what he said when he was elected. The hon. Member for Belfast, West referred to the way some of us voted on nationalisation. Is he aware that the Northern Ireland Committee of Trade Unionists is in opposition to the trade unionists of the Belfast shipyard? The latter want the Belfast Shipyard to be included in nationalisation, but the committee is mute—I do not know whether out of malice—on this issue.
§ Mr. Fitt
Will the hon. Gentleman explain the actions of the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford)? On Second Reading of the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill he said that he was opposed to it, that it was not a panacea for the economic ills of Northern Ireland and that, therefore, he would be voting against it. He then complained of a serious omission because the Belfast yard was not included. He promised that an amendment would be moved in Committee to get it included. How can the hon. Gentleman reconcile those actions?
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
The Belfast shipyard is already nationalised. We are not dealing with a private enterprise company. We say that it should be put into the British family. I do not know whether the hon. Member wants it put in some other family. The people working in the yard want it in that family, and so do the Sandy Scotts of this world.
§ Mr. Robert J. Bradford (Belfast, South)
We must distinguish between nationalisation as a concept and the implementation of nationalisation in such a way as to place Harland and Wolff in an invidious position. If a distinction of that kind is drawn it is easy to explain the point raised by the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt).
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)
Order. I remind the House that, as the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) himself hinted, it would be out of order to develop this point. We are discussing industrial relations in Northern Ireland.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I apologise Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was led up a cul-de-sac by the hon. Member for Belfast, West. He often does that to people, and it is good to get down again on to the Queen's Highway.
We on this Bench want the very best for the workers of Northern Ireland. The hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) told us that this was a dose of Socialism. I do not accept that. This is a fair and proper charter for employers and employess, who agree with it. I have had no lobby from Northern Ireland employers knocking on my door saying that they object to it because it is a piece of Socialist legislation.
1837 I have met employers of all kinds in Northern Ireland. In my constituency I have some of the largest employers, and they are happy with the contents of the Order. There are minor matters which they would like to see different but I am glad that the workers in Northern Ireland will be adequately safeguarded. They need to be safeguarded more now than ever, because the only thing people have in this situation is their job. A job is a valuable thing, and more than valuable in Northern Ireland because of the unemployment situation there.
I welcome all the safeguards. I attend many industrial tribunals and appear for people there. I pay tribute to the tribunals in Northern Ireland and the people who work there. By that process, people have found that they have the opportunity to state their case and to bring in those who can help them state their case. Justice is done, and is seen to be done, to them. It is a happy system and has been the way out of many difficulties.
There is a good relationship between employers and employees. Even the hon. Member for Belfast, West had to admit that, although there were great difficulties, there was still this good relationship. I should like to pay tribute to the conciliation work done by Dr. Quigley and others associated with him. Some of us who have experience in this area know the good work done in conciliation by the Department of Manpower Services. I agree that these powers should be retained by that Department. The words "may be" are used and not "shall be". I trust that when the time comes for the new Agency to be set up and all the factors are considered there will be unanimity, after consultations, that power should be handed over, because we have found in Northern Ireland that it is easy to pull down but very difficult to build up.
We have something which is working and I should not like hands to be put to it which would destroy it without something as good being provided in its place.
I would ask the Minister how the Order affects the working of the Safeguarding of Employment Act. The Act provides that people not born in Northern Ireland or married to a Northern Ireland citizen can be refused 1838 employment. I wonder how it affects a person who has become employed and afterwards it is found that someone born in Northern Ireland could have had the job, with the result that the first person finds himself dismissed and his permit not renewed. Was that taken into consideration in drawing up the Order? This affects not only people from Eire but those born in parts of the United Kingdom outside Northern Ireland. I should like to see those born in other parts of the United Kingdom treated in the same way as those born in Northern Ireland. I do not agree with this provision of the Safeguarding of Employment Act, which tells against United Kingdom citizens.
I trust that when we come to consider other legislation in this area we shall have more time to study those parts which interest us. I trust that one part of this legislation will not have to be used too often—the part about the insolvency of employers.
§ 11.35 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
Almost every hon. Member who has taken part in this debate has referred to the undisputed fact that, in general, industrial relations in Northern Ireland for some time past have compared very favourably with those in the rest of the United Kingdom.
All people who come from Northern Ireland have a tendency to dwell upon the disadvantages of the situation in Northern Ireland and of all the other characteristics of that part of the United Kingdom. But there are factors which weigh on the other side, and undoubtedly in the maintenance of employment and the attraction of new industries, which goes on, as it is going on today, even under the most adverse circumstances, one of the most important forces of attraction is the knowledge on the part of potential entrepreneurs that they are likely to enjoy better industrial relations in any part of Northern Ireland than they could rely upon in the rest of the United Kingdom. So I think that we should count our assets as well as our deficits when we cast up the balance sheet of Northern Ireland.
Almost everyone who has taken part in the.debate—and I join them—has also expressed appreciation of the managers 1839 of Government business for ensuring that we begin our deliberations at a somewhat earlier hour and that we have occasionally been privileged to have the fleeting attendance of some of our colleagues from the rest of the United Kingdom, whom I may be addressing on a different subject in another hour or two.
But there is another arrangement for which we should also express our recognition. It is that, I think for the first time—certainly it is extremely rare—by virtue of the suspension of a Standing Order we are able to have a longer debate on this very substantial Order than the hour and a half which is normal. Although I recognise that that was only appropriate to an Order of this importance, I am sure that the Minister will not dispute that there is no substitute for real legislation and that even if we spent on the discussion of this Order not the two or two and a half hours which we probably shall spend but the whole night we still would not be giving it—bearing in mind that it is basic legislation on the first order—the attention which legislation receives in the parliamentary process.
The Minister referred to the Twentieth Report of the Joint Select Committee. Hoping to avoid some of the inaccuracies into which the Belfast Telegraph so haplessly fell, I shall follow him briefly in doing that. Of course, he was quite right to distinguish what are two essentially different problems. The one to which the Report primarily, though not exclusively, addressed itself was that Northern Ireland legislation which altogether escapes the possibility of parliamentary control. I am sure that we were all very glad to learn that the Government were hoping to find ways, before the renewal of the interim constitution, whereby at any rate we could alleviate the disadvantages of that position.
I have in a previous debate suggested that one way might be to be able to bring before the House or before a Committee the very excellent official scrutiny reports—of which there are five to date—of that legislation which are produced by an official in Northern Ireland.
However, the other aspect upon which the Joint Select Committee touched is more important and is, of course, directly 1840 germane to this debate. That is that the greater part of substantive legislation applying to Northern Ireland is made by Order-in-Council and, therefore, without benefit of the normal parliamentary processes. Here it may be useful—I am aware that the Government have by no means been idle in reflecting upon this problem in previous months and I wish to recognise the fact that they have made no secret of their desire to bring about an improvement—if we could divide the legislation to which we wish to give better treatment into three categories. The first category is legislation which is related wholly to Northern Ireland—not only related wholly to Northern Ireland but in the form of amendment or extension of Northern Ireland legislation on the Northern Ireland statute book, to which the Minister referred in an intervention. Probably we would all agree that in that category we have available at present no practical or reasonable alternative to the procedure of Order-in-Council under the 1974 Act.
Then there is legislation for Northern Ireland which is of novel importance, which breaks new ground, and which establishes a new code or law. We had an example of this in the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Bill. That Bill contained one example of the right way to do it. One cannot read this Order-in-Council without being repeatedly struck by echoes of the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Bill. The reason is that in both cases a new code is being established—a new code governing the whole area of industrial relations and the law of employment. Of course, it was right that the fair employment code, if it was to be introduced at all, should be introduced by Bill, as it was in another place, and go through all its stages in both Houses. We shall see the evidence tomorrow that that process brought its just reward in modest but real improvements in that legislation. What is more, it means that we were able to draw out, by the process of debate, implications which it is important that the people of Northern Ireland, who will have to be bound by it and apply it, should understand. So there is a second category of substantive legislation, which, albeit applying only to Northern Ireland, should be made by Bill.
1841 I hope the Minister will not think me churlish if I say that this Order was itself a case in point. His defence perhaps lies in my transition to the third and remaining category. That is where law which is virtually the same is to apply to Northern Ireland as to other parts of the United Kingdom—part of the process, to quote his words, of bringing the law in Northern Ireland into line with that in the rest of the United Kingdom. I think there was a general sentiment from both sides to agree with him when he said it was in the public interest that there should be no unnecessary divergence between the law in Northern Ireland and the law in the rest of the United Kingdom.
Where that is to be so, and it applies to a considerable part of the Order before the House, the proper way to legislate is by legislating for the United Kingdom with whatever necessary application clauses there may be to take account of the differences of Northern Ireland statutes.
Incidentally, while referring to the existence of the Northern Ireland statute book—here I support what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim. North (Rev. Ian Paisley)—let us not forget that the Northern Ireland statute book, on which the Stormont Parliament was working for 50 years, was basically the statute book of the United Kingdom. Indeed, if hon. Members look at some of the footnote references to statutes in this Order, they will find that probably more of those footnote references are to United Kingdom than to Northern Ireland statutes. So let us not get too obsessed with the idea that there is a kind of rounded complete Northern Ireland statute book which in no circumstances must we violate by passing United Kingdom legislation which applies to Northern Ireland.
I believe that the Government will find as time goes on that there is a point where we cannot job backwards. Admittedly where legislation has already taken place in Great Britain form, we have no choice but to take a separate measure applying it to Northern Ireland. But for the future—I am sure that in this the Government are looking to the future—I believe that they will find that to general advantage, 1842 including a net saving of the time of the House, they can use United Kingdom legislation to a wide extent as a vehicle for the extension and improvement of the law which applies to Northern Ireland.
I will trouble the House with only one example—it is a striking example—which is produced by this Order-in-Council. Hon. Members who happened to read as far as Article 67 found themselves at once in familiar territory:The Department may by order direct that any charter for the time being in force in Great Britain…containing practical guidance for employers, trade unions and editors and other journalists.Where had we heard that before? Then we remembered the great debates, the repeated debates month after month, which almost absorbed the attention of public opinion and of correspondence in the Press, and which were the subject of heated debate in this House.
Now we find that in this Order-in-Council we are going to ditto that in Northern Ireland. How much more sensible it would have been from our point of view and for everyone else if Northern Ireland Members could have participated in those debates not as semi-outsiders, privileged father to vote than to contribute, but with the knowledge on the part of all concerned—ourselves and the public and the media in Northern Ireland—that those debates were directly going to affect the Press and trade unions in Northern Ireland. I repeat that there is no substitute, where the law is to be the same, for legislating at one and the same time in one and the same vehicle.
I am fortified in this when I go on a little further to Article 75. There we find an elaborate structure created whereby a person—at the moment non-existent because we are living in an interim age —called "The Head of the Department" can take all kinds of complicated steps to produce uniformity between the two parts of the United Kingdom so that, as far as possible, the legislation shall form a single whole—a single system. We want a single system. A single system is what the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) and my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North have equally been asking for.
Therefore, I lay emphasis upon this third important category which I have 1843 distinguished—namely, that the manner in which we shall legislate for Northern Ireland shall be on the same lines as for the rest of the United Kingdom.
I leave the subject with the offer of these further reflections as a contribution to the work which is being carried out by the Government in moving towards a less unsatisfactory system during the period of direct rule in legislating for all these categories for Northern Ireland.
Much as we appreciate the opportunity of being consulted—and certainly of being consulted on proposals when they are in draft—it must be said that consultation is no substitute for parliamentary debate when a matter is put forward on the responsibility of the Government. Of course, there is scope for prior consultation; but we know that often some of the most important corrections and amendments to legislation are made when the Government have made up their mind in the form of a Bill and then submit that Bill to the scrutiny of the House.
I am sure the hon. Member for Belfast, West did not want to be taken seriously when he suggested that if hon. Members were to make unwise suggestions and deliver themselves of unwise speeches it would be better that they should be deprived of the opportunity of doing so altogether. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is neither so illiberal nor so defective a parliamentarian as to have meant that. He was merely using a rather defective peg to bring into the debate a point which, from the beginning, he was determined—however briefly, and subject to censure by the Chair—to ventilate.
§ 11.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Moyle
We have had two satisfactory debates under this Order, one on the procedure for legislating during a period of direct rule under the Northern Ireland Act 1974, and the other on the main body of the Order. I regard the two debates as the best that have taken place during the time I have been involved in these matters.
In talking of the procedures of legislating in a period of direct rule, we were all talking from our own direct experience of the problems involved. On the points raised in an industrial relations context, as one who spent 10 years in the profes- 1844 sional administration of industrial relations before I came to this House I am unduly suspending my judgment on the matter, but I thought that I could recognise a fellow professional in the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker).
I found the interchange between the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) on the future duties of the labour relations industry most valuable. A decision as to which duties will remain with the Department of Manpower Services and which will go to the Labour Relations Agency is one which I shall have to take at some time in the not-too-distant future. I found the contribution of both hon. Members, as also the contribution of the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), most helpful. They have initiated a debate that will go on in Northern Ireland for somewhat longer. The fact that the issues have been posed will help to get the matter started off on the right lines.
I do not want to say a great deal in replying to the debate about the constitutional argument. I do not want to add much to what I said in my opening speech. Certainly all the comments made will be noted by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who wishes to be as helpful as possible. I am sure that he will study this debate with great thoroughness in reaching any conclusions which he may announce to the House in the debate next month when we seek to renew the 1974 Act.
§ Mr. Moyle
I had that in mind as a point I would mention before leaving the subject. Whereas I cannot promise the hon. Gentleman that consultations will take place, I will certainly convey his view to my right hon. Friend, and make sure that he is very sharply aware of the desire of the Opposition parties in this respect.
I came to the conclusion that for the first time I disagreed with my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West when he said that he did not feel that the contributions of Northern Ireland Members would improve the Order. As a matter of 1845 principle, I cannot agree with that. As a convinced democrat, I am of the view that contributions by elected representatives to all sorts of issues are bound to be valid and lead to the improvement of the situation.
It is not always given to us mortals to understand how those contributions might improve the situation, but, in spite of evidence sometimes to the contrary, I have every confidence that the principle is valid, and it has been substantiated in my experience over 10 years' service here.
Similarly, I think that the hon. Member for Armagh was being slightly facetious when he wondered why we do not meet in a little caucus in our representative capacity and agree on the amendments to Statutory Rules and Orders without going through the exhausting formalities of debate. The principle is that justice must not only be done but must manifestly be seen to be done. That is why public debate is necessary. It all springs from the desire of the Government to meet, as far as possible, the various points made on the issue.
I only wish to add to what I said in opening that the devolved government which all parties at the Convention wanted for Northern Ireland, surely is not sought in its own right. It is sought because devolved government is a method by which laws and policies particularly adapted to Northern Ireland in certain situations may be applied.
We are even wo, under direct rule, in a situation of devolved government. Albeit that the machinery might not be as ideal as any of us really want it to be, we are in a devolved government situation. If we just apply blanket legislation to Northern Ireland we are in fact removing from ourselves the opportunity to adapt, where judgment allows us to do so, laws and policies to the peculiar circumstances of Northern Ireland.
I was asked a great number of questions on the industrial relations Order by the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) and others. I would argue that the recommendation was followed by the Government. I admit that this is a matter for judgment and for differences of view, perhaps, but the Government considered the circumstances of Northern Ireland before bringing forward the present Order.
1846 Where the Government followed the provisions of the Trade Disputes Act and the provisions of the Employment Protection Act, they did so because they felt the provisions were peculiarly adapted to the situation in Northern Ireland. That is particularly so in the case of this Order. The measures applied were abstracted from the Trade Disputes Act and the Employment Protection Act because it was felt, particularly in the acute economic circumstances of Northern Ireland—they are more acute economically than in the rest of Britain—they would be of special protection to the working people in Northern Ireland.
The hon. Member asked me about figures for stoppages in Northern Ireland and gave the 1974 figures himself. He asked me for figures for subsequent years. I have figures only for 1975 so far. Happily, those show an improvement on the 1974 figures in that the number of stoppages was down to 95 and the number of man-days lost was reduced from 268,000 to 242,000. There was a modest improvement, therefore, in the situation. Unfortunately, I do not know, obviously, what the 1976 position is.
As to the question of objection on conscientious grounds and how that will be dealt with, the protection there will be the industrial tribunals. As the hon. Gentleman knows from his perusal of the Order, unfair dismissal will be considered by the industrial tribunals, and if someone feels that he has been unfairly dismissed under closed shop provisions, he will be able to appeal to the industrial tribunal, which will build up a body of practice on these matters, and they will be able to take conscientious grounds into consideration.
The hon. Gentleman also asked whether there was a right of appeal after the exercise of the arbitration and conciliation functions of the Department which might be transferred to the Labour Relations Agency. In asking that question he misunderstands the function of arbitration and conciliation. There is a right of arbitration and conciliation within a particular industry through the Government's machinery. When that has been done, through either the Government's conciliation service or the Labour Relations Agency, that is the end of it. There cannot be an appeal 1847 from that type of arbitration or conciliation to yet another body.
We do not know in detail what the labour relations code will be. That is a matter for the Labour Relations Agency when it is established.
No independent study has been made of the cost of applying these extra measures to Northern Ireland industry. But the CBI has said that if the Government went ahead and applied those provisions it would lead to increased costs for industry. We must accept that broad judgment: it will lead to increased costs. I cannot indicate the extent of the costs but they will be of an order that can be met.
I was also asked about consultations on forthcoming Orders. One round of consultations on subsequent industrial relations Orders has taken place with interested parties in Northern Ireland. The Department of Manpower Services is considering the consequences of them and will be expressing its ideas to those bodies before they are published for legislation.
Maternity pay will be dealt with in the second Order. The CBI is giving detailed information in writing about the proposed provisions. The draft Order will be published as a proposal to permit further public comment before it is laid before Parliament.
The hon. Member for Armagh made a quiet dig at the Government on the subject of voluntary collective bargaining. I cannot agree that voluntary collective bargaining has gone. Certain negotiating bodies in industry have always accepted limitations on their power to negotiate. Collective bargaining between the Government on the one hand and the CBI and trades unions on the other certainly exist. Before that bargain is put into operation there will have to be voluntary public acceptance of it. Trades unions are at present voluntarily voting on whether to accept the proposal which has been put to them. Delegates from trade unions in Northern Ireland attend union conferences. When I go to my own trade union conference there are always delegates from Northern Ireland there, and they fully participate in the debates and the voting. If the proposal put forward by the Government and the TUC is accepted, 1848 it will be as a result of voluntary, democratic debate by all representatives of the trade union movement. Therefore, there has been no suspension of voluntary collective bargaining. They would probably agree that there has been an added dimension.
The hon. Gentleman also raised the question of the definition of "trade union official". In Article 2 he will see that the definition of "official" includes the term "representative". Therefore, I do not think that there is any great clash between the terminology used in the two different parts of the Order, although I agree that elegance would have required exactly the same terminology in both parts.
I listened carefully to what the hon. Gentleman said about disclosure of information. I shall certainly work to achieve agreement between the two sides of industry in Northern Ireland, but there is always the possibility that we shall not be able to achieve the unanimity of view on that issue that we had on the matters dealt with by the Review Body. In those circumstances I should have to take my own decision, but I note what the hon. Gentleman said.
§ Mr. McCusker
The report of the Review Body goes into the question of disclosure of information in great detail. Agreement is already there in principle. I hope that it can be built on, rather than duplicating the section from the Employment Protection Act.
§ Mr. Moyle
I agree, but it is a dynamic situation. Pieces on the chessboard of industrial relations are always moving and affect the position of all the other pieces.
My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West made a very valid point on the question of low pay. I am happy to be able to assure him that we are working hard to bring into operation in Northern Ireland legislation equivalent to the Health and Safety at Work Etc. Act in Great Britain. It will be part of the industrial Orders that we are bringing forward. I hope that my hon. Friend will think that as a result of the lapse of time the legislation for Northern Ireland is, if anything, an improvement on that which was passed for Great Britain. There are some consolations in that regard.
1849 I think that I have touched on most of the points raised by the hon. Member for Antrim, North. My hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon), my colleague as Minister of State, who was responsible for arguing on behalf of the Government in the Committee stage of the Fair Employment Bill through most of the Sittings, has particularly asked me to thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks about the good relations between employers and employees in reference to the industrial tribunals. I do not want to go further on that subject tonight. No doubt there will be further references to that contribution later today, when we shall give prolonged consideration to that Bill.
I think that I have covered most of the points raised in this particularly valuable debate. I am grateful that there is total agreement in the House with the broad general provisions of the Order, and that it will receive the blessing of the House.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That the Industrial Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1976, a draft of which was laid before this House on 11th May, be approved.