HC Deb 21 July 1977 vol 935 cc1837-9
14. Mr. Ernest G. Perry

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether arrangements have yet been made for the transfer to the Labour Relations Agency of the conciliation and arbitration function now performed by the Department of Manpower Services.

Mr. Concannon

Following my announcement to the House on 21st January that these functions would be transferred to the Agency subject to the making of satisfactory arrangments for their continued performance, consultations have taken place between the Department of Manpower Services, the Agency and the staff interests. As a result an order made under Article 16 of the Industrial Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1976 transferring the functions to the Agency was laid before Parliament on 7th July. The order, which is subject to negative resolution, is due to come into force on 1st August.

Mr. Perry

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply and the rather belated decision, in view of the consternation felt about this matter in Northern Ireland, but can he give us the reasons for the transfer of these functions?

Mr. Concannon

These functions are being transferred following the representation of employers and trade unions to establish in Northern Ireland a conciliation and arbitration service which is completely independent of the Government. The development is similar to that which took place in Great Britain with the establishment of the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service. The reason why it has taken so long is that we have had to have detailed negotiations with all the men who will be involved in the transfer.

Mr. McCusker

Does the Minister remember the report on industrial relations in Northern Ireland during the disastrous period of the Industrial Relations Act in Great Britain—the report that commended the work of the conciliation and arbitration function of his Department? Is it not a pity that he will lose that intimate contact with industry, which at that time was found so beneficial?

Mr. Concannon

The intimate contact with industry will still be there. It will not be under my immediate control in the Department, but most if not all of the people who will be running the service will be the same people as are running it today.

Mr. Loyden

Is my hon. Friend satisfied with the consultations that took place with the trade unions on this and other problems? Will he say how frequently he meets the trade union on such matters?

Mr. Concannon

We have close liaison with the trade union movement in Northern Ireland. I should imagine that I meet representatives almost daily on many different subjects. 1 stress that our links with the trade union movement are very close.