HC Deb 13 July 1978 vol 953 cc1703-5
1. Mr. Loyden

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when he last met the Northern Ireland trade unions.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Roy Mason)

Northern Ireland Ministers are in constant touch with representatives of the trade unions in Northern Ireland in the course of our ministerial duties and departmental responsibilities. In the past 12 months, we have had more than 50 meetings with trade unions and trade union leaders. I also spoke at the economic conference organised by the Northern Ireland committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions on 8th March 1978.

Mr. Loyden

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reply, and, of course, I accept that in his day-to-day work as a Minister he is in constant touch with the trade unions on matters affecting himself and the trade unions. But does he not agree that sectarianism is probably at its lowest level at the point of production and, therefore, that workers, through their trade unions, could play a more positive role in Northern Ireland in seeking the solutions which right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House seek? Does he not agree, further, that opportunity should be taken to develop the role of the trade unions in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Mason

My hon. Friend is quite right. The Northern Ireland committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions is playing an important part in crossing the sectarian divide in the Province. None of the trade unions has a sectarian base. They do not involve themselves in sectarianism in Northern Ireland. Neither do they become involved in the political wrangles in Northern Ireland. As such, they are a credit to the Province, and we have a good working relationship with them.

Mr. Kilfedder

Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware of the widespread discontent amongst many full-time trade union officials in Northern Ireland about the fact that, although some of their members are appointed to statutory boards—indeed, one has been appointed to no fewer than 20 statutory boards—many other trade unionists never receive any appointment? What is the reason for this discrimination which gives £3,000 to £4,000 a year to a select few trade unionists?

Mr. Mason

For nominations to these special boards the trade unions themselves are approached, and they make their nominations. But I must remind the hon. Member that at least 40 trade union leaders in Northern Ireland are serving the Province in various other professional and semi-professional capacities.

Mr. Fitt

As the trade unions are such a credit to Northern Ireland, why has my right hon. Friend so far resisted the request made by them, especially by Terry Carlin, the Northern Ireland officer of the ICTU, to have the Quigley report debated and its conclusions confirmed or rejected by this House?

Mr. Mason

My hon. Friend will recognise that the new economic concept for Northern Ireland has moved on from the Quigley report. Using that as a base, the Economic Council, with its fair share of trade union representation, is dealing with it now on a more forward-looking plane. The trade unions themselves are playing a positive part in that role.

Mr. Bradford

When the Secretary of State met the trade unions, did they raise the issue of the high cost of electricity and gas in the Province? If so, will the right hon. Gentleman endeavour as soon as possible to reduce the cost, especially that of gas, which is three times that in any other part of the United Kingdom?

Mr. Mason

Yes. The Economic Council has been working on that. It has prepared a paper on the future of energy requirements in the Province, and gas is one of the topics that is touched upon.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Is the Secretary of State aware that we on the Opposition Benches yield to no one in our admiration of the trade unions and trade unionists in Northern Ireland for the part they have played in maintaining production and industrial harmony through years of terror and difficulty?

Mr. Mason

I am obliged to the hon. Member. He is quite correct. In spite of the troubles, the trade unions, allied with the management of industry, have managed to achieve a higher manufacturing output, higher productivity and a better industrial relations record than Great Britain as a whole. That is in spite of seven years of trouble.

Mr. Litterick

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Question on the Order Paper in my name—No. 17—is identical to Question No. 1.

Mr. Speaker

I noticed that. That is why I did not call the hon. Member. His Question will be reached.