HC Deb 10 February 1992 vol 203 cc719-45 7.36 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Richard Needham)

I beg to move, That the draft Industrial Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1992, which was laid before this House on 18th December, be approved.

As hon. Members will appreciate, industrial relations in the 1980s have been transformed in a way that would have been inconceivable in the 1970s. The confrontation between manager and worker has been largely eroded. Perhaps the clearest evidence of that is the reduction in working days lost due to industrial disputes. In the United Kingdom in the 1970s, nearly 13 million working days were lost each year because of industrial action, but in 1990 this had fallen to fewer than 2 million. In most workplaces, co-operation and partnership are the order of the day, but that is not all; productivity has been increased and much of our lost competitiveness has been regained.

Great Britain's poor industrial relations record in the 1970s was closely paralleled in Northern Ireland, which makes it just as important that the process of step-by-step reform of industrial relations law be extended to Northern Ireland. Those who would contend that there is no need for the Great Britain reforms to be applied in Northern Ireland should remember that, in the last five years of the 1970s, the average number of days lost in Northern Ireland was more numerous than in Great Britain. On too many of our shop floors the "I'm all right, Jack" attitude seems to have crossed the Irish sea. Now all that is beginning to change.

The Government have, through the industrial relations orders of 1982 and 1987, already replicated in Northern Ireland the first two tranches of the Great Britain reforms and the benefits can clearly be seen in the much improved industrial relations performance. It is worth reiterating that, during the last five years of the 1970s, the days lost in Northern Ireland averaged 565 per year per thousand employees, in contrast with an average of 128 days per year in the last five years of the 1980s. In other words, four times as many working days were lost in the last five years of the 1970s as were lost in the last five years of the 1980s.

The 1991 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development economic report on the United Kingdom described as "impressive" the Government's structural reforms such as deregulation, privatisation and employment legislation, indicating that they were reversing the United Kingdom's relative economic decline. We are following all those routes in Northern Ireland to improve our competitiveness. It is important for employers—local, national and international—that the improvements in employment law established elsewhere in the country are reflected equally in legislation in Northern Ireland.

It is also important for workers in Northern Ireland that, like their counterparts across the water, they are entitled to expect their unions to be democratic institutions responsive to their wishes. Equally, responsible unions will wish to ensure that the policies that they are pursuing reflect the views and interests of their members. The public, too, will have greater confidence when they see that union procedures are operated in an open and democratic manner.

Thus the secret balloting provisions, which are at the heart of the proposed order, will ensure that members of unions have a real say in the two key areas of who shall lead them and whether they take industrial action. The order regulates the way in which unions run their affairs and gives remedies for union members who consider that their democratic rights have been infringed.

The Government believe that it is right that there should be a certification officer in Northern Ireland. The post of certification officer in Great Britain was established in 1975 under a Labour Administration. The order also mirrors Great Britain by establishing a post of commissioner for the rights of trade union members.

The order also removes the statutory support for closed shops, which constitute an unacceptable barrier to employment, limit job opportunities and drive up labour costs. I think that perhaps now even the most left-wing of Opposition Members realise the damage done to the image of trade unions among ordinary people by the denial of freedom which any closed shop must bring. I am delighted that, as with many other parts of the order, the Labour party is now converted to our view, even though it strenuously opposed and voted against the equivalent reforms when they were proposed in Great Britain. Perhaps the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) can now tell the House whether the Pauline conversion of the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) applies to him. Perhaps he could take this opportunity —I am sure that he will—to clarify what Labour would intend to do, if it were to occupy the Government Benches, in respect of many of the proposals in the order of which the hon. Member for Sedgefield now appears to approve.

All the provisions in the order have been operating effectively in the rest of the country and I am encouraged in moving the order by the fact that it contains nothing that has not already been proved to be important and worth while in practice. That applies to secret ballots for union leadership, for strikes, and even for political funds. If trade unions in Great Britain can follow proper democratic procedures, I am sure that there will be no difficulties in practice in Northern Ireland.

In the wider aspects of democracy in Northern Ireland, the trade union movement has given a most courageous and responsible lead in keeping sectarian tensions off the shop floor and encouraging and supporting full equality of employment opportunities. I mention fair emloyment becuse the order makes some minor and technical amendments to the fair emloyment legislation which gives me an opportunity to underline the Government's commitment to tackling the problems of religious discrimination in employment and to pay tribute to the unions and hon. Members who support that legislation. Just last week the Irish Congress of Trade Unions organised a large rally outside Belfast city hall to express abhorrence at the sectarian killings and to stress the right to life. I count it as a privilege that I attended the rally and I was heartened by the messages of support from Great Britain and Irish trade union leaders.

However, there is a balance to be struck between trade unions in their social and political role and the power of trade unions in the workplace. Perhaps I may give the House two examples. First, we have managed to attract a large proportion of southern trade through Northern Ireland ports. One of the reasons for that is our good industrial relations record in contrast to some of that in southern ports. I believe that this legislation will help to continue that difference by keeping out disruptive elements. Secondly, we must think about inward investors, particularly those from the United States and Japan, who have had in the past an image of the United Kingdom as a strike-ridden and disorganised area. That has now changed and, if Northern Ireland is to compete with the rest of the country in attempts to attract outside investment, we need the same framework of trade union law.

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

As the order impinges on the fair employment legislation in respect of article 106, what has happened about the form that was circulated widely by firms demanding the name of someone's father, the name of the father's employer, the names of that person's brothers and sisters and the names of their employers? If that form has now been withdrawn, is it not unfair that the people who would not fill in that form did not have an interview and therefore jeopardised their right to be employed by particular firms, especially in the centre of Belfast?

Mr. Needham

The hon. Gentleman has raised that point with me previously and he was right to do so. As far as I am aware, the form has been withdrawn, but I will confirm that. As for the rights of those who may have been affected because they refused to complete the form, that is clearly a matter which they could take before the commission. If the hon. Gentleman knows of any examples, I am sure that he will be in touch with me about them.

I have put the draft order out for wide consultation and I decided, particularly in the light of the sensitivity of the legislation and the important role of the trade unions in Northern Ireland, to give as much time as possible. I started that process in September 1990. Since then, I have had no response or requests for meetings from any of the Northern Ireland political parties. As to the representations that I did receive, all employer organisations pressed for parity and the trade unions opposed all the changes in the order.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Before the Minister moves on from the role of the trade unions, will he clarify one point? Recollecting the highly questionable role in the mid-1980s in relation to the miners' strike, what are we to make of reports today that M15 plans to take over Scotland Yard's IRA role? What are we to make of the arguments between on one side senior officials at the Home Office such as Mr. Ian Burns, and the Metropolitan police, and on the other side—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. I do not see that this has a great deal to do with the matter before the House.

Mr. Dalyell

If the press reports are to be believed, it has a great deal to do with the role of the trade unions in Northern Ireland and their democratic rights. Therefore, I think that it was a legitimate question.

Mr. Needham

I always admire the hon. Gentleman's use of parliamentary procedure to make his point. However, it is stretching it a bit far to say that the reports to which he refers will have any effect on trade union members in Northern Ireland and I have to tell him that the reports have absolutely nothing to do with the order.

The main concern that the unions put to me was the question of retaining trade union statutory recognition. I thought long and hard about that and went back to employers' organisations for their views. However, for the reasons that I have just given, and the need to retain and attract inward investment, I was not prepared to accede to their requests.

We have had representations from potential and existing investors that they would either not come or withdraw because of the differences between mainland law and our own. I see no reason in principle why trade unions should not have to fight for the loyalty of their workers in the workplace by the quality of the services that they offer rather than through statutory protection. In the past, I believe that that has led to the leadership becoming remote from the views of their workers. I do not believe that statutory recognition has done anything to improve the lot of trade union members in Northern Ireland since 1982 when we last reviewed the situation. As hon. Members will know, up to this year there has been an increasing tide of inward investment and many interesting projects are in the pipeline.

Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)

The Minister referred specifically to Japan earlier. Does he agree with the comments made by his predecessor in the Department, Mr. Adam Butler, who was responsible for economic development, and who said: The Province offers industry an industrial relations record equal to that of West Germany and Japan, and the most productive and efficient workforce in Europe, with the highest academic standards. How can the Minister reconcile the then Minister's view with the view that, in effect, this legislation is required to make us competitive with Germany and Japan?

Mr. Needham

Because we have moved on since then. In 1982, there was no Japanese investment in Northern Ireland and there was no Korean investment in Northern Ireland. There was no investment from a range of companies that have since come in. As I have said, it is very important to ensure that what we do in Northern Ireland gives us the same opportunity to garner inward investment, such as exists in Wales, Scotland or anywhere else in the country. I do not believe that that would be the case if we had let the recognition procedures remain. For the reasons that I have given, it is up to the trade unions to fight their corner, to get members and to ensure that when they have them they do not just rely on the law to keep them, but maintain the quality of service which will keep their members happy.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)

Granted that a trade union meets all the criteria that the Minister has laid down, how would he guarantee to the trade union that the employer would recognise the right of that trade union to represent its members?

Mr. Needham

There cannot be any guarantee, any more than there is in the rest of the country. The hon. Gentleman knows that in Northern Ireland employee-employer relations are good and that a strong trade union organisation is very unlikely to be rejected by an employer on the good ground that, if he were to do so, it would be difficult to show that he had the full confidence of his work force. I see no need for there to be such a statutory recognition, which does not exist anywhere else in the country.

Mr. McNamara

In that case, why is it necessary to advance that as an argument for encouraging inward investment? If relations are that strong, why should potential employers not be told that we have a strong, skilled, well represented and well-motivated work force represented by trade unions and that therefore they should recognise them and negotiate with them?

Mr. Needham

For the reason that it may be the wish of an employer to do exactly that. However, I do not see any reason why there should be statutory procedures for that. As I have said—the hon. Gentleman knows this as well as I do—the main importance in Northern Ireland is to try to attract investment into Northern Ireland and to grow the companies that we have there. To do that, it is crucial that employment law in Northern Ireland mirrors that in the rest of the country. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that we are going to get American, German, Korean and Japanese investment into Northern Ireland by allowing companies from those countries to come in on the back of statutory trade union recognition rights—I give him an example which he may think is amusing, but it is not amusing when we have 14 per cent unemployment and we are struggling to get investment into Northern Ireland—I can tell him that that would act as a disincentive.

As I have said, I thought long and hard about that matter, not least, as the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) has mentioned, because of what my predecessor said. I came to my decision, and I am sure that, in the light of the image that we have at the moment and our need to get investment, it is the right decision.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

Is the Minister saying that there is nothing wrong with the trade unions who operate in Northern Ireland? He has praised many of their activities and the cross-community connections that they engage in. However, the problem is overseas investment into Northern Ireland and the perception of people elsewhere. Are we altering the law to try to influence people overseas in terms of investment, instead of trying to explain to them what the situation is in Northern Ireland? Therefore, there is no need for such an order.

Mr. Needham

The hon. Gentleman spends much time on Northern Ireland affairs, and for that the people of Northern Ireland are grateful, but he has not yet been involved in trying to persuade those from overseas to change their perceptions about Northern Ireland. There are a great number of perceptions about Northern Ireland. My job and that of the business community is to try to ensure that there is as level a playing field in terms of attracting investment to Northern Ireland as possible. Trade union legislation, for the reasons that I have given, matters. For those reasons, it is important to ensure that there is parity between the two sides of Northern Ireland and the rest of the country.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Is the Minister really saying that the difficulty in getting inward investment in Northern Ireland is the present trade union legislation? We have heard the appalling figure today—in nine months the Industrial Development Board secured 44 jobs. Is the Minister saying that that is why the IDB is not making progress? While there may be people from Northern Ireland who are quite happy with this legislation, I do not think that anybody would suggest that that is the great difficulty in obtaining inward investment in Northern Ireland. I am glad that the boss of the IDB has gone. Perhaps there will be some more jobs. One job a week is not a good tally.

Mr. Needham

The hon. Gentleman must not let pigeons out of his loft, shoot them and then say to me that I had been part of the release. I have never said that trade union recognition was the main reason why we were failing to get inward investment. Least of all was it the reason why the IDB figures were so low last year. I said that there have been those who wanted to bring investment to Northern Ireland, but who did not do so, said that they would not do so, and even thought of going elsewhere with their future investment, because trade union law in Northern Ireland was different from that in the rest of the country.

Whereas I accept and have praised the social and often political role of trade unions in Northern Ireland, that cannot always be said about the role of trade unions in the economic sphere. I quoted—I think that the hon. Gentleman was present—what the figures were at the end of the 1970s, when they were worse than in the rest of the country. I shall not bother to quote the firms from which those figures came; the hon. Gentleman knows them as well as I do. I do not believe that it makes any sense even to consider giving trade unions in Northern Ireland the power which, in some circumstances in the wrong hands, could take us back to those problems in some areas of Northern Ireland industry.

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Needham

I have given way five times. The hon. Gentleman can make his speech. There is plenty of time. I am sure that he will catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Flannery

On this point?

Mr. Needham

I should like to get on. If there is time later, I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Flannery

I am sorry that the Minister will not allow—

Mr. Needham

The hon. Gentleman can make his own speech in his own time.

Secondly, the unions made a strong argument for changing the rules on political subscription from contracting in to contracting out. I have to say that I find that a quite astonishing suggestion from the paymasters of the Labour party. Why on earth should working people in Northern Ireland have to contract out of paying a levy to a political party which wishes to hand them over to another jurisdiction where not only is there a lower standard of living but whose social policy would be bitterly opposed by the vast majority of British trade union members? Perhaps when the Labour party agrees to allow the people of Northern Ireland to join it, and when it is prepared to accept without qualification the wishes of the majority of Ulster people to stay in the United Kingdom, there might be a case for considering a change. Until then, it is cheeky hypocrisy, and the hon. Gentleman knows it. It is a policy of "I'll take your money, Barney, but you will not be invited to the feast."

As to the other points that were raised by the unions, I accept that, so far in Northern Ireland, we have maintained a good working relationship between Government, employers and unions, and I wish that to continue. I have, for example, recently established new consultative machinery, involving, among others, the unions, to assist the Government with the task of economic regeneration in Northern Ireland.

To return to the point made by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) about the IDB, until this year it has had an increasing rate of success in attracting inward investment to Northern Ireland. Certainly in the past year its success has been disappointing, and not only for the IDB. In the middle of a major recession, it has also been extremely difficult for any Government inward investment agency anywhere in Europe to attract inward investment. However, a considerable number of projects are in the pipeline. It would be entirely wrong to try to massage the figures, rather than to try to ensure that the IDB makes certain that the inward investment that we get comes to stay, is profitable and brings the right long-term employment for Northern Ireland.

I am a former member of the National Graphical Association. I have had my fingers badly burnt, so I doubt whether it is wise to leave industrial relations matters entirely to good will. As some 80 per cent. of Northern Ireland union members belong to Great Britain unions, I strongly support parity on industrial relations law, as I do on many other economic issues on which the trade unions also have no difficulty in supporting me.

Whatever distinguished economists may wish to write from the safety of their Victorian towers, the fact is that Northern Ireland has done better than most other regions of the United Kingdom in working its way through the recession. I congratulate employers and workers on that achievement. One has only to see what has happened to Shorts in the east, or to Desmonds or Maydown in the west to realise what can be done to increase productivity and competitiveness. Because of our image, we have to create the best possible environment to attract long-term inward investment, as well as ensuring that our indigenous industry grows, and grows fast.

The order, by democratising trade unions and giving greater freedom to employers to get on with the job of making and selling their products in a more productive business atmosphere, will help to continue the improvement that I am convinced has already begun, and I commend it to the House.

8.5 pm

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)

The Minister declared his interest as a former member of the National Graphical Association. I declare mine as a current member of the Transport and General Workers Union—or the Amalgamated Transport and General Workers Union, as it is known in Ireland—of which I have been a member since July 1963. I am proud and privileged to be the secretary of its parliamentary group.

The Minister's speech—the figures that he gave and the arguments which he seemed to be advancing—appeared to be parodying the well-known expression that Northern Ireland is "a problem without a solution." By contrast, the order is a solution without a problem.

The Minister's speech was noticeable for its concentration on the details of proposals contained in the order. He clearly failed to provide any evidence showing that the order is necessary, desirable or even beneficial to Northern Ireland. He cannot claim to make such advances as he did on the basis that he has made them while existing law has been in operation. It is not surprising that the Government are finding it hard to make a rational case, because the explanatory document which accompanied the original draft was distinguished by its complete failure to give any sign of the real reasons why any such legislation should be necessary for Northern Ireland, other than the fact that there is similar legislation in Great Britain.

On several occasions, the Minister was asked to fill that gap and he failed to do so. The Minister has not justified the order and he cannot do so. He cannot claim that there is a problem to which this so-called solution corresponds. There is no evidence of any industrial relations difficulties which are hindering economic growth and employment prospects in Northern Ireland. Indeed, the official organised trade union movement falls over backwards in its attempts to encourage prospective employers to come to Northern Ireland. They are members of every ministerial team and delegation which goes to America and elsewhere in search of employment.

There is no evidence to suggest that trade unions have been guilty of any abuse of their position in Northern Ireland. Such evidence as exists shows that the trade union movement in Northern Ireland has always behaved with the utmost sense of responsibility. Indeed, last month's demonstrations—which the Minister mentioned—against the Teebane massacre gave the lie to the suggestion that trade unions in Northern Ireland, politically, economically or socially, are anything other than responsible in their attitudes, because they know that their members' lives, incomes and hopes for employment depend on their responsibility.

Further, the Minister knows as well as all hon. Members of the enormous debt owed to officers and officials of the trade union movement in terms of industrial relations and a wider social harmony. Their ability to act has been based on their recognition by workers who have elected them to their positions of responsibility—their recognition of their responsibility not only economically on the factory floor but also socially. Their ability to act in one area has depended upon their ability to act in the other.

The trade unions have led the way in anti-intimidation and anti-discrimination campaigns in Northern Ireland, but they have been able to do so and have had great success in keeping it outside the work force because one could not distinguish their industrial role in any way. That role was economic and was concerned with defending the working conditions and incomes of their members.

The order is as irrelevant to the real economic and social problems facing employers and employees in Northern Ireland as the recent proposals put forward by the Secretary of State for Employment are to those of us living in Great Britain. I have no doubt that the order will be seen as yet one more cynical attempt by the Government to divert attention from their disastrous legacy of high unemployment, bad investment and bad growth.

The Minister regards his order as a modernisation of the industrial relations framework. I cannot accept that, since one of the most basic elements of a modern industrial society is fairness. That is a quality which is distinctly lacking in the legislation before the House tonight.

This legislation is intended to strengthen the hands of employers at the expense of organisations representing employees and nothing could have been made clearer from the Minister's statements. We do not believe that a framework which seeks to damage the interests of employees can be in the ultimate interests of industry as a whole, or of society.

As well as being deficient in terms of fairness between employees and employers, there is a grave doubt about the extent to which the realities of life in Northern Ireland have been taken into account. For example, while postal ballots for union elections and ballots on industrial action are perfectly sensible, the legislation does not adequately take into account the security implications of the requirement to maintain a list of members. Members of unions in security sensitive posts, union members who are also part-time members of the security forces and those who are employed by firms carrying out work on behalf of the Crown would find themselves placed in an invidious and dangerous position. It is especially ironic when one considers that the Government advise many employees to ensure that their names do not appear on lists of any sort which are open to external scrutiny, but then in trade union legislation they demand that employees' names should be on lists openly available.

After much pressure, the Minister began to recognise that there was a difficulty here. Although he has made some improvement on the previous draft, it is not clear that the full implications have been taken on board and that they will be effective to any extent. Therefore, we can legitimately claim that the legislation will put at risk the position of union members in the categories I have already outlined.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Surely that point was raised in regard to the fair employment legislation, to which the hon. Gentleman's attitude was entirely different. I would be more concerned if lists of religious affiliations were available, as they are through the fair employment legislation. I accept his point that the proposed lists are dangerous in the present situation and that people may be put at risk. Perhaps those on this side of the water do not realise how much people fear that they are to be put at risk. However, the fair employment legislation poses an even greater risk because religious affiliation is made known and available. From recent publications, it is clear that employers with just a small number of employees have listed their religious affiliations.

Mr. McNamara

I have listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman, but I do not accept his point. I do not believe that people are specifically targeted because of their religious affiliations. I do not accept that those people should be called, of all things, legitimate targets because of their position as members of the security forces or because of the work that they carry out on behalf of the security forces.

The decision to limit the power of unions to exercise disciplinary powers over their members is somewhat worrying. Again the Minister has failed to show that such powers have been abused in the past. What he appears to have neglected is the extraordinary heroism that many full-time and lay officials have demonstrated in the workplace. I do not believe that anything that affects their ability to provide positive and constructive leadership is in the best interests of Northern Ireland. The ability to cock a snook in the workplace at authority or lay officials or elected shop stewards could undermine much of the work which the Minister has praised and which has been carried out by trade unions.

The Minister should reflect on the role of the Northern Ireland Committee Irish Congress of Trade Unions. It is one of the few organisations in Northern Ireland to cross the sectarian divide. It preserves unity among employees who come from very different traditions. Can the Minister assure the House that he is confident that nothing in the legislation will hinder the officers of the NICTU and its affiliate unions in their tasks?

The Minister will also be aware of certain anomalies in the legislation. It is incorrect to claim that the order replicates Great Britain legislation when there are substantial differences in areas that would have enhanced the position of trade unions and their members. For instance, on the provisions governing the political funds, the order reproduces the 1927 legislation. The Minister says that the order means that money will be denied to the pockets of the Labour party. It does nothing of the sort. All the legislation does is to enable unions to have political funds. It does not say that political funds have to be used or that unions have to affiliate to the Labour party. Many of the unions in Northern Ireland that collect money in this particular way keep that money in Northern Ireland. Many unions that have political funds do not affiliate to the Labour party. The union for which my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) speaks is not affiliated to the Labour party.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that about 90 per cent. of trade unionists in Northern Ireland belong to British trade unions, the majority of which are affiliated to the British Labour party. Is not it the case that the vast majority of those British trade unionists who contract in to pay the political levy believe that they are helping to advance the cause of the British Labour party? Is not it therefore fraudulent for that tightly knit group of politically motivated men to hold that money back within separate Northern Ireland political funds and apply them to other purposes? Surely the hon. Gentleman, as a representative of the British Labour party, should be trying to put an end to that fraudulent conduct.

Mr. McNamara

If the hon. Gentleman is able, outside the House, to substantiate that claim about particular people in particular organisations, I am sure that they would be pleased to see the evidence on which he has based that accusation and deal with it properly.

A surprising number of figures have been advanced about the number of trade unions affiliated to the British Trades Union Congress. The largest local government and civil service trade union in Northern Ireland is not affiliated to the British TUC. Many other trade unions in Northern Ireland are not affiliated to the British TUC. Some trade unions organise north and south of the border. Some trade unions organise in this island and in Northern Ireland. Some trade unions organise in this island, in Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland. Some trade unions only organise in this island and some then organise in England and Wales but not in Scotland, and vice versa. There is a whole range of different circumstances. The suggestion that 80 per cent. of all trade unionists are affiliated to British-based trade unions is open to considerable correction.

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

I intervene to make the point that the Minister would not allow me to make. The trade union movement is recognised internationally by the United Nations through the International Labour Organisation. In this country certain unions, including the National Union of Teachers, are forbidden by the Government to have any negotiating rights because the Government are their masters. The Government have been condemned three times by the ILO for not recognising that trade unions have the right under international law to negotiate. However, the Government, when acting as an employer, will not allow them to have that right. That attitude pervades the Government's approach to trade unions, and they are displaying that same attitude to trade unions in Northern Ireland.

Mr. McNamara

I much regret that my hon. Friend will not be a Member after the election to see that anomaly and abuse rectified.

The second concept on which the Minister is not prepared to give parity with the rest of the United Kingdom relates to employment appeals tribunals. They are not to apply to Northern Ireland. Appeals are to go to the courts, which will be a slow procedure, and it will be difficult for them to reach conclusions.

In sum, the order represents a vindictive, petty-minded 19th century approach to industrial relations. The Labour party believes in partnership in industry rather than in division. We believe in a collective approach in the workplace and in wider society. Without co-operation, Northern Ireland will sink; with it, it will survive and prosper.

The Opposition believe in a fair and efficient framework for industrial relations which harnesses the spirit of partnership and co-operative endeavour in the workplace. We believe in an advanced, high technological society where Britain will be among the leaders rather than the laggards in the European Community.

The real problems of Northern Ireland will be resolved only by a positive partnership between the Government, employers and employees and with a common commitment to training, research and industrial development. We believe that the best interests of employers and employees will be best served if there are effective rights and duties to make the most of one's talents and to open opportunities to the widest possible extent within society.

At the beginning of his speech, the Minister asked what the Labour party's attitude was to a number of matters. It might be helpful if I were to explain what an incoming Labour Government will introduce in Northern Ireland. First, there will be basic employment rights for all employees which will come into force, whatever the hours they work or the company size, on their first day at work. There will be equal legal status for all workers, including part-time, temporary and sub-contracted home workers, most of whom are women. There will be a charter for all employees, offering new rights and protections, including parental leave for people with family responsibilities, a statutory minimum wage, full trade union representation, protection against discrimination and unfair dismissal, and improved health and safety. The European social charter will he implemented and that will give further protection at work. Employers will be responsible in law for promoting equal treatment at work for all their employees, particularly for women and disabled people. There will be a fairer, more stable legal framework for industrial relations.

We need to guarantee basic rights for all in our society and in industry, particularly women, disabled people and the low paid. We need a system of industrial relations where unions play their full role in protecting the interests of employees and protecting economic growth. On the basis of this order, we cannot get that until the Government are removed from office, and the sooner the better. We oppose the order.

8.20 pm
Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East)

The opposition of Ulster Unionists to debates on Orders in Council that cannot be amended is well recorded. I draw attention to the motion in the names of the leader of the Ulster Unionist party, my right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) and other hon. Members regarding the Select Committee on Northern Ireland. Natural justice should bring about a Select Committee on Northern Ireland, with the approval of the whole House, and matters such as those before us tonight should be properly debated and amended. if desirable, in a Select Committee on Northern Ireland.

In the Green Paper "Industrial Relations in the 90s" reference is made in paragraph 1 in the introduction to the widely held view of Britain's industrial relations problems of the 1960s and 1970s. It says: nothing did more to damage the reputation of the British economy abroad or to undermine confidence at home in the possibility of economic recovery than the belief that these problems were beyond any real or lasting solutions. Paragraph 1.2 says that Britain's poor industrial relations were generally acknowledged to be a fundamental cause of weaknesses in the British economy. Britain's industrial record of strikes, restrictive practices and overmanning seriously and persistently damaged its ability to compete in the markets of the world. Under the heading "Industrial Relations in the 1980s", in paragraph 1.5, we are told: Now as Britain enters the last decade of the twentieth century. the situation has been transformed. During the 1980s Britain's industrial relations have seen improvements which would have been inconceivable in the two previous decades.

The economy of Northern Ireland is closely linked to that of the rest of the United Kingdom. If the economy in the rest of Great Britain catches a cold, the economy of Northern Ireland gets pneumonia. The economy in Great Britain can recover fairly quickly, but the agony of Northern Ireland is prolonged and it takes a long time to recover lost markets and employment opportunities. Northern Ireland has always suffered from high unemployment. It may have suffered from the poor image internationally of British industrial relations. Therefore, the changes in industrial relations legislation in Great Britain, which have helped to transform the perception of Britain's industrial relations, are welcomed by my party.

It is satisfying to know that the transformation of Britain's industrial relations has helped Britain to secure and maintain the highest share of American and Japanese investment of any member state of the European Community. At last, positive spin-off is reaching Northern Ireland, where American and Japanese companies are providing stable employment and prospects for expansion.

If the changes in the legislation outlined in the order—for example, that agreements entered into between employers and trade unions will become contracts enforceable in law, requiring each party to the agreements reached to seek to avoid industrial unrest—give more confidence to overseas investors to locate in Northern Ireland, the legislation will bring benefits to Northern Ireland's economy and with that hopes for the long-term unemployed.

International companies should be made aware that, even in the absence of the Order in Council, industrial relations in Northern Ireland have been among the best in the United Kingdom. According to the Employment Gazette, some 1,903 strikes were recorded in the United Kingdom in 1990. The region with the highest number had 722 or 37.9 per cent. Another had 523 strikes or 27.3 per cent. I shall not mention those regions for fear of further damage to their image, but the world deserves to know, and it must be recognised, that Northern Ireland had the fewest strikes of any region of the United Kingdom with only 18 or 0.9 per cent.

Industrial relations reform in Great Britain has contributed to significant improvement in industrial relations and subsequently a significant overall reduction in the number of strikes and days lost. While the Employment Gazette of July 1991 confirms that stoppages in Northern Ireland were the lowest by region in the United Kingdom in 1990, one must assume that the record for the fewest strikes will be held by Northern Ireland when the order becomes law.

The order will give comfort to employers and protect the rights of trade unionists. The absence of abuse of trade union power in Northern Ireland will mean that, although the order may improve industrial relations, it will not result in major changes. The vast majority of trade unionists in Northern Ireland are law abiding and would not support or encourage unlawful behaviour. Traditionally, high unemployment has meant that those fortunate enough to find work do not jeopardise their employment by industrial unrest. The Northern Ireland work force is open to exploitation and the order will provide some protection.

Article 5 says: The Certification Officer shall maintain a list of trade unions and list of employers' associations containing the names of those organisations which are entitled to have their names entered therein under the following provisions of this Article. The certification officer can remove the name of an organisation from a list if it appears to him not to be a trade union or … employers' association … but shall not do so without giving the organisation notice of his intention to do so and without considering any representations made to him". Under paragraphs 3 and 4, an organisation can be entered in the list for a fee of £45. However, under article 6(2) an independent trade union has to pay £305 to be certificated. Is there some prejuice against a trade union being an independent trade union? How can it be justified that one body can register for £45 while £305 is sought from another?

I support the provisions that require the keeping of proper accounting records and the making of annual returns. It is only fair to their members that unions and employer associations keep such records. Memberships will be helped by the provision that the most recent annual returns must be available on request.

Article 32, in part IV, deals with the right to a ballot before industrial action is taken. I support the right of union members to stop their union calling them out on strike without a proper ballot. No organisation should be able to force its members to act against their will or conscience. Proper ballots should be held before a union can call a strike. It must be a call and not an order.

Being a trade union member should not place a man or woman at the behest of that organisation. He or she should enjoy the basic right of choice and should not be subject to discipline by the union for failing to respond to a call to participate in industrial action. Unions should be the instruments of the workers, rather than workers being the instruments of trade unions.

Collective action is an accepted norm in industry. It has always been used and it will continue to be used by workers if their representatives feel that they are being treated unfairly. That does not mean, however, that an individual must be a party to collective action that he feels it would not be appropriate to be party to as a matter of conscience. If the call is justified, workers will respond collectively. The measure of justification for corporate action will be the response of workers to it. Industrial action to enforce trade union membership is unacceptable in a free society. Provisions that prevent such action are, therefore, to be supported.

Article 106 in part XII introduces the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Acts. In Northern Ireland we have an horrendous situation in which a Government who are supposedly committed to freedom in the workplace have enacted legislation that encourages employers to recruit on the principle of merit while being expected to monitor religion to ensure that there is some sort of notional religious balance in the work force. Regardless of whether the workplace is based in a Protestant or Roman Catholic area of Northern Ireland, an employer must endeavour to ensure that there is a balance between Protestant and Roman Catholic employees despite the danger to which that might expose employees who, through the distorted employment map, may find that the only place where they can obtain work is in an area where they would rather not be.

Similarly, a trade union has no right to demand that recruits are union members. The fact that an applicant for a job is or is not a trade union member should be irrelevant to the selection process. Similarly, an employer should not be allowed to discriminate against an applicant on the ground that he is a trade union member. In Northern Ireland we are endeavouring to retain the merit principle in employment as against bureaucratic interference in the employment market. The illegality of industrial action to enforce trade union membership and the prevention of discrimination against trade union members are in accordance with our endeavours.

I support article 20 in part III, which is headed Industrial action authorised or endorsed by trade union without support of a ballot". The Ulster Unionist party supports measures to ensure that industrial action is called only as a result of such action being favoured by union members through a secret ballot. Shows of hands at factory gates discredit unions and are an infringement of personal liberty given the intimidatory nature of such gatherings. All union members should have the right to vote for or against industrial action. They should have the right also not to take part in any such action, regardless of whether the majority is in favour of taking that action.

I support the provisions for secret ballots that are set out in part IV. The entitlement to vote in such a ballot must be accorded equally to all those members of the trade union who it is reasonable, at the time of the ballot, for the union to believe have a right to take part.

Part XI is headed Machinery for Promoting Improvement of Industrial Relations". It runs from article 82 to 90. Given the lack of research into industrial relations, the work of the Labour Relations Agency in producing its survey of the private sector in 1988, as well as its current work on the public sector, is to be commended. We look forward to its publication in due course.

Articles 91 to 94 refer to industrial courts and courts of inquiry. During a debate on 11 May 1987 on industrial relations in Northern Ireland the Minister's predecessor, the hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers), who took a keen interest in Northern Ireland matters while he had ministerial responsibilities, said: The vast majority of trade unions operating in Northern Ireland—there are 88—are Great Britain-based, but eight have their headquarters in Northern Ireland and five are based in Dublin. The five Dublin-based unions have about 19,000 members, which is about 7 per cent. of the total union membership in Northern Ireland. Enforcement of Northern Ireland court judgments in the Republic will be possible when the Republic gives effect to the European convention on jurisdiction and the enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters. In practice, we do not anticipate a particular problem."—[Official Report, 11 May 1987; Vol. 116, c. 142.] I have a copy of the convention. Perhaps the Minister will be able to tell us whether it has yet been ratified by the United Kingdom. It is stated in my copy that it has not been. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will tell us what progress has been made towards ratification by the Irish Republic.

Mr. Mallon

I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman sees no problem in the enforcement of our High Court judgments against unions whose headquarters are based in the Republic of Ireland. Will he explain how a receiver could be asked to operate within such a union and how funds could be sequestrated on the basis of a decision of the Northern Ireland High Court if the headquarters are in the Republic of Ireland?

Mr. Beggs

The hon. Gentleman has asked an interesting question which I think would be answered much more easily by the Minister when he replies.

I pay tribute to Northern Ireland trade unions for their courageous public opposition to terrorism and their support for the rights of workers in Ulster irrespective of their religious background. Those workers should have the right to life and the right to work. The vast majority of trade unionists have fostered good working relationships in industry and commerce throughout the troubles. They have helped to maintain harmony in the workplace in the face of sectarian paramilitary assaults and intimidation. Trade unionists in Northern Ireland have acted responsibly in the past. Trade union officials deserve credit for the part that they have played in securing industrial peace in Northern Ireland. The common sense of Ulster folk, including trade union officials, will prevent industrial strife in future and help to encourage new investment to provide employment opportunities that can be shared by all sections of the community.

8.39 pm
Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)

One of the problems of this debate is that we are in danger of shooting the messenger rather than rejecting the message. I must express my admiration for the Minister's work overseas, in the face of great difficulties, in trying to attract inward investment to the north of Ireland.

Reference has been made to the Industrial Development Board figures that were released today, although no one knows whether they present the entire picture. Irrespective of the figures, we must pay tribute to the Minister for his efforts. He does a difficult job in the current circumstances and it should not go unremarked—especially as I intend to oppose the order. I do not attack the messenger—and I do not mean that in any disparaging sense—only the message.

There must be something remarkably perverse about a Government who, in a place such as Northern Ireland that has so many problems, tamper with the very things that are working. We had an education system that had served the north of Ireland extremely well, but the Government introduced root and branch reforms with the result that that which was working extremely well is now in a state of confusion. I am glad to say that it is still working very well, but not as a result of the Government's efforts. Lo and behold, the same now applies to trade union activity and industrial relations in the north of Ireland. They have worked extremely well throughout the years, but they are now being tampered with by the Government. In our debate last week, the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) quoted the old American maxim, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Once again with this order, the Government are taking that which is working and doing very well and changing it and creating difficulties.

The order does not meet the pretensions enshrined in its title. It puts into north of Ireland legislation the anti-union, anti-worker programme that the Government have introduced in the remainder of the United Kingdom. It is framed not on the experiences of trade union relations in the north of Ireland, but on the Government's perceptions of the problems of the British economy and of trade union relationships in Great Britain. It could be described as being an ideological hammer to crack one of the few remaining protections for the ordinary working person in the north of Ireland. That is in direct contrast with developments in other EC member states and elsewhere in Europe. The disadvantaged and the weakest sections of the working community, especially part-time workers—who, in the north of Ireland, are almost by definition women—will have their protection substantially weakened by the order. It will not meet the essential need to protect the weakest in society, but it is in line with the Government's refusal to advance workers' rights through the European social chapter.

There is an implication—indeed, I would say even a direct claim—in what the Government are doing that the United Kingdom economy cannot sustain improvements in the rights of the least protected workers. That is an indictment not of the work force, but of the economy that the Government have created and of the Government themselves. The order does not have its origins in the industrial issues in the north of Ireland. If the Government think that it does, we have a right to know what those issues are. What has caused so much concern that the Government have introduced this order for the north of Ireland? Is it the number of strikes? The hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) showed clearly, in the figures that he quoted, that that cannot be so. Is it abuses by the trade unions in the north of Ireland? We could not accept that theory, either. Is it unrest fostered by trade unionism or industrial relations? There is no justification for or evidence of that. Is it violence engendered by industrial unrest? No. None of those stands up. There is no evidence to suggest that there has been a reason within the north of Ireland to introduce such an order; there is only the fact that the Government want to import Great Britain legislation into the north of Ireland, without reference to the potential damage to industrial relations that it might cause.

Earlier, I quoted the words of a previous Minister in charge of economic development, Mr. Adam Butler. It is worth repeating his remarks. He said: The Province offers industry an industrial relations record equal to those of West Germany and Japan, and the most productive and efficient work force in Europe. Yet this order is being introduced to deal with that most productive and efficient work force in Europe and with the trade unions in the north of Ireland, which have a record equal to those of west Germany and Japan. I wonder why. Again, empirical evidence has not been presented to show the need for the legislation. It is the Government's ideological craving to impose their will, irrespective of the result.

The IDB also had something interesting to say about trade union relationships in the north of Ireland. In its 1990 document "Forward Strategy", it states: Northern Ireland companies benefit from many natural advantages—industrial tradition, strong educational base, strong work ethic, effective industrial relations. That is the system that the Government want to change radically. I ask the Minister to cite the reasons why. What are the industrial relations abuses in the north of Ireland suspected in the past and in the present that have potential for the future and that must be dealt with in such a way? It is only right that we should he given reasons why. We have been given no reasons to date, and I do not believe that we ever will—they do not exist. The Minister cannot give us reasons.

As has been pointed out, there is a contradiction in the application of some of the articles in the order. Many unions operating in the north of Ireland have their headquarters in Great Britain, in the north of Ireland or in the Republic of Ireland. That will lead to an unequal impact when unions have their headquarters in the Republic of Ireland but their membership in the north of Ireland. If there were ever to be the sort of industrial problems in the north of Ireland imagined by the Government—and there has been no evidence of any in the past—the order would lead to administrative and legislative confusion. An example would be in the election of senior executive officers. How could the union election provisions under part VII of the order apply to a union based in the Republic of Ireland but with its membership

I do not believe, as the hon. Member for Antrim, East said, that that problem could be dealt with easily. We are all aware of the difficulties in the harmonisation of legislation north and south of the border. We know how long that takes. I wonder why there was not some effort made to reach harmonisation with the Republic of Ireland for this order, so that there would be at least a basis for equality and a common approach. Perhaps that was too difficult or just not possible, but at least we have a right to question whether it was tried.

I am astounded by the way in which the rights of workers within the system in the north of Ireland are treated so shabbily in the order. I refer first to the workers in firms with fewer than 20 employees.

They will have no right to know the disciplinary procedures that will apply to them, even in the event of dismissal. In a situation in which there is religious discrimination and political and sectarian tensions in the workplace, it would strengthen the position of both employers and employees for the latter to know the disciplinary procedures.

Those who have given less than two years' service will have no right to know the reason for their dismissal, which could have serious consequences. Workers whose employment ceases through no fault of their own will find that their social security benefits are affected. An individual having less than two years' service in a company might be disqualified from social security benefits simply because he or she is not able to give the reason for dismissal.

Natural justice also demands that someone who is dismissed from employment should know the reason. Anyone working for a firm having 20 or fewer employees has a right to that information, yet the order will deny that right.

If a dismissed person wants to bring his case before an industrial tribunal he will be required to make a payment of £150. There are provisions to award costs against those who bring frivolous or fallacious claims. If the unemployed are to seek any redress at an industrial tribunal, they will he expected to find a large sum of money out of their own pockets. That is unacceptable, especially in respect of people who are at their most vulnerable. Having been dismissed, they may then discover that they are unable to pursue their rightful case because they lack the necessary cash.

Already, people who bring successful cases before an industrial tribunal cannot be reinstated, and the amount of compensation is ridiculously inadequate. Added disadvantages are being heaped upon them.

The certification officer will in effect be attached to the Labour Relations Agency. That is a bad mistake. There will inevitably be a clash of interests, because the officer's quasi-judicial function will conflict with the agency's neutrality and independence. The officer will be required to adjudicate against the interests of trade unions while being part of the Labour Relations Agency. The officer is given both an adversarial and conciliatory role.

I touched earlier on the difficulties that will arise where unions have their headquarters in the Republic. It is a matter of regret that there is no reciprocity with the Registrar of Friendly Societies in the Republic. There should be mutual recognition, or some common form of registration, so that the problems that will otherwise arise can be avoided.

Similar problems will arise in respect of articles 7,8, and 9 as they apply to property, trusteeship, and indemnification. The order does not, and cannot, differentiate between property, assets, and funds in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. How can the Northern Ireland High Court appoint a receiver to investigate the affairs of a union whose headquarters are based in the Republic? How could the court sequester the union's assets, or remove its trustees? That provision will present practical and legal problems—that is, if there is any need to implement the order. If there is no need, one questions the purpose of the measure.

The order will make it difficult to take action against members who ignore the democratic decisions of the majority of their colleagues. That right exists in any organisation. I remind the Minister that his own party exercised that right recently in relation to a member who was deemed to be guilty of making racist remarks about others. The same can happen in any political party, because the Whip system is so strong—and rightly—that people have to answer to their colleagues. Yet the order substantially reduces that right in respect of trade unions. We should compare that with our own situation, to see to what extent it is justified.

Where something is working, it is foolhardy to tamper with it, without any guarantee that the working of the organisation will be improved. As I said earlier, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

8.55 pm
Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

The order is being presented at an incredible time. We are two months or less from a general election. Suddenly, measures that have operated for a long time in Great Britain are being brought forward and pushed to Northern Ireland. We are dealing with a measure on industrial relations. It is not the poll tax that Northern Ireland has never had that it is suddently to get in the last rush.

Given that a general election is on the horizon, it would be possible for the Government to present in Northern Ireland, where Conservative candidates are standing, a measure that sought a mandate for these provisions. If they are so good and can he argued for, and if there is the kind of empirical evidence that the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) sought, all this could be done in the context of Northern Ireland, so that its views are properly considered within the political process.

There is a great difference between Northern Ireland and Great Britain in many matters, including industrial relations. Unemployment in Northern Ireland is higher than in any region of Great Britain. In those circumstances, the trade unions find difficulty in negotiating, increasing their membership, securing recognition rights, and undertaking the other tasks that they are required to perform in the interests of their members. It is therefore much less likely in Northern Ireland than elsewhere in the United Kingdom—although I do not believe that it happens in a wider context—that union members will exhibit any tendency to act as tearaways, to act irresponsibly, striking first and thinking later.

The Minister has advanced no argument for the order, apart from the perceptions of some people overseas in regard to inward investment; he has produced only bland statements, as opposed to the results of detailed investigation revealing the views of potential investors. I doubt very much whether those perceptions exist. It is possible that many assume that the industrial relations legislation that the Government have introduced to influence their friends overseas already operates in Northern Ireland. Although that does not make it right in a British context, it is unlikely that it is given a second thought—and, if it is not given a second thought, it cannot be used as the linchpin of the argument for the order.

The provisions of the order have been debated at length, at more promising times of day and to a packed House—the principles that affect Great Britain, that is. On this occasion, unfortunately, not many hon. Members are present—even Northern Ireland Members.

As the Minister recognised, the trade union movement in Northern Ireland does a great deal to try to tackle terrorism, and to seek to knit the two communities together. It supports bodies such as Counteract, the anti-intimidation unit sponsored by the Irish Confederation of Trade Unions. The youth section is represented by the "Hands off my mate" campaign.

Such examples illustrate the value of the work of the trade union movement, much of which takes place outside the normal day-to-day negotiation on behalf of union members and has a wider social impact on the situation in Northern Ireland. The order would impose strict controls on what are termed "political objectives", and the expenditure of money on such objectives. Normally, they are tied in with party-political objectives. The order states that, if part of the purpose of funding is to undermine political parties and positions—to persuade people to point in other directions, as it were—that is unacceptable.

How do contributions to Counteract fit in with those provisions? Presumably, the legal interpretation could apply to the political position with which Sinn Fein is associated, or that of the Ulster Defence Association and any body that it might support. A host of problems, many of which have already been mentioned, arise in the order.

Industrial relations reform in Northern Ireland should not be produced as an afterthought to clear the ideological decks before a general election, and to press earlier ill-thought-out measures on the area. It should be given deep and serious consideration: it could well be part of the general election campaign in Northern Ireland. Proper industrial relations reform should be associated with what Northern Ireland needs most to begin to displace those who stand for violence and intimidation.

Massive economic and social regeneration is needed. Any attempt to gain money, here and there, from overseas will do nothing to encourage it, even though that money may be needed. The Government should commit themselves to ensuring that a collective response is adopted towards Northern Ireland so that employment can pick up. Fair employment legislation would then stand a much better chance of succeeding.

The social charter provisions are infinitely more relevant to Northern Ireland than this order, which has been introduced during the final days of a dying Government. That is disgraceful. It runs counter to the Minister's analysis. He had some sound points to make about the trade union movement in Northern Ireland and the work that it does, especially its counter-terrorism work. To pay the trade union movement back in that way is entirely inappropriate.

I was disturbed to hear that the request for a response to the documents that were issued at an earlier stage led to the political parties in Northern Ireland choosing not to respond but to leave it until tonight to make their points. Northern Ireland needs politicians who are very much aware of the position in which working people, in particular unemployed people, find themselves. The problems that face them have been reflected in the speeches made tonight.

Mr. Mallon

Apart from the points that have been made by the members of the Northern Ireland political parties who are here tonight, does the hon. Gentleman accept that Members of Parliament from Northern Ireland spend more time dealing with the problems faced by their constituents than most politicians anywhere else in the world and that, by the very nature of the problems in Northern Ireland, all Northern Ireland politicians, of whatever party, have that record within Northern Ireland? Is it not very damaging to the political process to use at every opportunity Northern Ireland politicians as whipping boys for the mistakes of other people—in this case for the mistake of introducing this legislation that is not needed?

Mr. Barnes

I grant that Members of Parliament from Northern Ireland have more problems to deal with in their constituencies than do the average representatives from England, Scotland and Wales. Some will deal with them in a valiant and full way. There are disparities between Members of Parliament anywhere.

I am not sure why I am being taken to task. The main thrust of my argument was against the Government's position. I then advanced the argument that it was disappointing that no formal response had been put to the Government, based on earlier documentation. Those political parties that are based in Northern Ireland, that are active in Northern Ireland and that have their roots there depend for their position in Parliament upon the votes of masses of trade unionists and people who formerly were in trade unions but who are now unemployed and desperately in need of their assistance. That does not mean that the efforts of Northern Ireland Members of Parliament are not appreciated.

When I gave way to the hon. Gentleman, I was about to compliment him on the points that he made in his speech that seemed to me to deal with the provisions of the order in a way similar to the way in which they were dealt with previously in the House by Labour Members of Parliament.

9.9 pm

Mr. Needham

I have to say to the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) that, whatever else may be said of this order, it cannot be said that it has been rushed through. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman was not present when I explained that it had gone out to consultation in September 1990, having been published, I think, in 1988. I always listen to the hon. Gentleman's contributions to these debates, and I always compliment him on the fact that his heart is in the right place. Where his head sometimes takes him I am not quite sure.

The hon. Gentleman talked about massive social and economic regeneration. That is an elegant expression, but what does the hon. Gentleman actually mean by it? Is he suggesting that his party, if it were to get into power, would increase significantly the amount of money that is made available to Northern Ireland? Surely "massive social and economic regeneration" could not be accomplished by the private sector on its own. I should think that hon. Members on both sides of the House, like all the parties in Northern Ireland, agree about the need for massive social and economic regeneration. That is what we are trying, and have tried for the past 12 or 13 years, to achieve.

The hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East said that the social chapter should be employed in Northern Ireland to create employment. How many additional people does the hon. Gentleman think Harland and Wolff or Machies or Desmonds would take on if the social chapter were introduced in Northern Ireland? The whole point about the social chapter is that, by comparison with the Germans, it would make us less competitive because we shall have to start paying German social costs.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

Why do the Germans want it?

Mr. Needham

The Germans want us to have it because they know jolly well that it would make it difficult for us to compete with them.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Answer the question.

Mr. Needham

The hon. Gentleman invervenes, from a sedentary position, in an argument in which, up to now, he has not shown much interest. As I indicated to the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East, there is no conceivable likelihood of additional jobs arising from the introduction of the social chapter. In fact, the opposite is likely to be the case. Take, for instance, the 48-hour rule. Over the years, that has been adapted by industry in Britain and Northern Ireland to fit certain shift patterns, and in certain industries it gives us an economic advantage. The introduction of this change in a place like Northern Ireland could very well do enormous damage to companies such as Dupont as they compete with their German opposite numbers. Does the hon. Gentleman suggest that that step would help to provide employment in Northern Ireland?

Mr. McNamara

Dupont in Germany already operates the 48-hour rule. It is a question of averages over a period of weeks.

Mr. Needham

As the hon. Gentleman knows, Northern Ireland desperately needs to be competitive. Anything likely to turn it into a high-cost economy would damage employment prospects.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

It is a level playing field.

Mr. Needham

In no way can it be considered to be a level playing field if the rules in Germany fit German employment patterns but do not fit ours. Because of the difference in productivity and in the history of investment, our industry would be put at a disadvantage.

The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) quoted what a predecessor of mine had said in 1982 about our productivity. I do not have my predecessor's words at hand, but, on the recognition issue, I have already accepted what the hon. Gentleman has said. It is absolute nonsense to suggest that the productivity of Northern Ireland industry bears comparison with the productivity of Japan or Germany. I wish that it were so. I wish that we in Northern Ireland had such a rate of productivity. Were it so, we would have a much greater industrial base and would pay much higher wages.

The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh is not as naive as that. He knows as well as I do—even with a gobstopper in his mouth—that the productivity levels in every economic report are not as high as that. That is one of the major reasons why it is crucial that we improve productivity and do not saddle Northern Ireland employers in industry and commerce with costs that they cannot bear if they are to maintain present employment levels.

Part of the strategy that the Government are adopting in Northern Ireland is to try to force those employers towards achieving higher productivity and greater competitiveness. I am glad to say that all the Northern Ireland Members have a large measure of support for that policy. If the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East has had time to read the economic strategy that I have proposed, I do not think that even he would have much difficulty in following it.

Mr. McNamara

The Minister says that he wants greater productivity and higher investment. How will low wages affect those two issues? On the basis of his argument, we shall pay people in Northern Ireland less and less.

Mr. Needham

The hon. Gentleman turns every argument on its head. We have to achieve higher investment and productivity over a period of years in Northern Ireland. That will not be achieved by saddling employers in Northern Ireland with a series of straitjackets, with respect to either industrial relations or the social charter.

Mr. McNamara


Mr. Needham

The hon. Gentleman says, "Rubbish", but he proposes a national minimum wage for Northern Ireland. The Department of the Environment and a range of economists who have studied the figures know perfectly well that that policy will create massive unemployment among women workers in Northern Ireland. It is estimated that between 25,000 and 50,000 women in Northern Ireland stand to lose their jobs due to the introduction of a national minimum wage, which is based, not on wage rates in Northern Ireland, but on wage rates throughout the country.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

That is not in the social charter.

Mr. Needham

The hon. Gentleman, who continues to contribute from a sedentary position, says that that policy is not in the social charter. Indeed it is not, which makes it doubly dreadful. We would have to contend not only with the social chapter mentioned by the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East, but with a minimum wage, which would have a devastating impact on Northern Ireland.

Mr. McNamara

Precisely how does the Minister arrive at his figures 25,000 to 50,000 people—mainly women—who will lose their jobs in Northern Ireland? Who will do their jobs if they do not? Does he not know that the social charter will give benefits, not on the two-year qualification basis that he wants, but to all workers at all times and will seek to stop the exploitation of low-paid workers, particularly women, in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Needham

Nobody wants to exploit women working in Northern Ireland. The hon. Gentleman's form of exploitation is to put them out of work. I shall state clearly how that would happen. It is no good the hon. Gentleman smiling at his hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours).

Northern Ireland women work largely in the garment industry, which has to compete not with German textiles or French textiles, but with imports from all over the world. Over a period of years, the garment industry in Northern Ireland will have to adapt and increase its productivity and investment to try to ensure that it can compete.

If the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) proposes to introduce a national minimum wage based on £3.40 an hour—the 50 per cent. he mentioned—immediately the Labour party comes into office, I shall be perfectly happy to take him to any number of employers in Northern Ireland. In fact, I shall ensure that they write to him in the next few weeks and give him details of the problems that his policy will create for them.

Mr. Mallon

I agree with the Minister about productivity, but to use an analogy, at one time chimney sweeps who did not put little boys up chimneys did not have the same productivity rate as those who did, but that changed. Is not the basic flaw in the Minister's argument that, although productivity can be kept high by paying people peanuts, that is not the point? We must promote high productivity while paying people a just and fair wage.

Mr. Needham

The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that there is a limit to the wages that an employer can afford to pay, in terms of the products that he manufactures. The hon. Gentleman says rightly that none of us wants a low-wage economy, and that we want to move to higher productivity and to different sorts of products. The hon. Gentleman knows that that takes time. If he wants to protect those who are on low wages, he should follow the routes that all Governments since the war have followed—either the taxation route or the introduction of measures such as family credit. If the hon. Gentleman considers the profits of companies in his constituency or the profits of companies in Northern Ireland generally, he cannot suggest that the only people who should pay are the employers. The employers are not making the profits to do so. If the employers were asked to pay and could not, they would go out of business, as the hon. Gentleman knows, and their customers would buy elsewhere.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North came out with a panoply of measures which I have never heard from him before. I should be interested to know how much they would cost and I hope that he will keep them to himself. If he starts to publicise the brave new world that he hopes to foist on the economy of Northern Ireland, it will not be a question of the Industrial Development Board announcing 44,000 new jobs a year. It will be a question of it announcing 44,000 losses, because it will be impossible to bring inward investment to Northern Ireland, in contrast to the south.

The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh asked about the south and made a perfectly fair point. Only 10 per cent. of trade union members in Northern Ireland are members of trade unions from the south. Some 80 per cent. are Great Britain affiliated. We believe that the trade unions with headquarters in the south will abide by the laws in Northern Ireland. The fact that they are southern unions which operate in Northern Ireland does not mean that we cannot introduce industrial relations legislation in the north of Ireland. The hon. Gentleman made a point about trying to move closer together on industrial relations law. The legislation in the south which was recently introduced has gone a considerable way towards the proposals that we have introduced in the north.

Mr. McNamara

Is the Minister not aware of the fact that the Government of the Republic, for whom I hold no brief—the Minister, not I, raised the point—have stated that they will implement the social charter? Is the Minister not aware that the Government in the south already give protections, which are so sadly lacking in British legislation, to part-time and women workers?

Mr. Needham

The hon. Gentleman knows full well the position of employment and the conditions of employment in the south. He knows that legislation recently introduced in the south brings it closer to us on industrial relations legislation. If the hon. Gentleman believes for one minute that the Government of the republic will introduce the social charter in ways which would move the republic towards German wage costs and social costs, and which would put even more people in the republic out of work, he lives in an even bigger cloud cuckoo land than I thought he did.

The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh made a serious point about the security of personnel in relation to the electoral register and to the balloting provisions to take account of union representation. The register of members needs to contain only members' names and an address —not a postal address, but some form of identification address such as a payroll number. We have taken into account the point made by the hon. Member and, with respect, he should perhaps occasionally take into account some of the fears that exist elsewhere in Northern Ireland about the issues raised by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley). Moreover, in security-related establishments, the delivery of ballot papers need not be by post.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North suggested that what we proposed was a solution that did not have a problem. Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the need for secret ballots before a strike is not a problem or that we should not have elections for union officers? Is he suggesting that closed shops are not a problem? Of course there are problems, and the hon. Gentleman is aware of them. I listened in vain for the hon. Gentleman's proposals on the subject of this order—although I heard an enormous amount about his proposals for increasing unemployment in Northern Ireland.

The order is intended to promote enterprise and industry in Northern Ireland. As the hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) said, its purpose is to ensure that employers in Northern Ireland can expand, so that we get inward investment, and to ensure a level playing field with other parts of the United Kingdom.

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 90, Noes 87.

Division No. 74] [9.25 pm
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Batiste, Spencer
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Beggs, Roy
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Bellingham, Henry
Bendall, Vivian Needham, Richard
Blackburn, Dr John G. Neubert, Sir Michael
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Boscawen, Hon Robert Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley
Bottomley, Peter Paice, James
Brazier, Julian Paisley, Rev Ian
Burt, Alistair Patnick, Irvine
Butler, Chris Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Butterfill, John Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g) Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
Carrington, Matthew Porter, David (Waveney)
Carttiss, Michael Raffan, Keith
Chapman, Sydney Riddick, Graham
Chope, Christopher Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm
Clark, Rt Hon Sir William Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John Ross, William (Londonderry E)
Currie, Mrs Edwina Sackville, Hon Tom
Davis, David (Boothferry) Shaw, David (Dover)
Dover, Den Shelton, Sir William
Dunn, Bob Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Durant, Sir Anthony Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Fallon, Michael Speed, Keith
Fenner, Dame Peggy Stanbrook, Ivor
Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey Stevens, Lewis
Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S) Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Forth, Eric Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Franks, Cecil Summerson, Hugo
Glyn, Dr Sir Alan Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Thompson, Sir D. (Calder Vly)
Irvine, Michael Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater) Trimble, David
Kirkhope, Timothy Walden, George
Knight, Greg (Derby North) Ward, John
Knox, David Warren, Kenneth
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Wheeler, Sir John
Lightbown, David Widdecombe, Ann
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Wiggin, Jerry
Maclean, David Wolfson, Mark
Malins, Humfrey
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick Tellers for the Ayes:
Mills, Iain Mr. Timothy Wood and
Molyneaux, Rt Hon James Mr. Timothy Boswell.
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley, N.) Grocott, Bruce
Anderson, Donald Hardy, Peter
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Hinchliffe, David
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Hood, Jimmy
Battle, John Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Benton, Joseph Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Bermingham, Gerald Jones, Ieuan (Ynys Môn)
Boateng, Paul Kilfoyle, Peter
Boyes, Roland Leadbitter, Ted
Bray, Dr Jeremy Lewis, Terry
Caborn, Richard Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Callaghan, Jim Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Loyden, Eddie
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) McAllion, John
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) McCartney, Ian
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Macdonald, Calum A.
Cousins, Jim McFall, John
Cryer, Bob McGrady, Eddie
Cummings, John MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Dalyell, Tam McMaster, Gordon
Dixon, Don McNamara, Kevin
Dunnachie, Jimmy Madden, Max
Eadie, Alexander Mallon, Seamus
Eastham, Ken Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Enright, Derek Meale, Alan
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E) Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Flannery, Martin Murphy, Paul
Flynn, Paul O'Brien, William
Foster, Derek O'Hara, Edward
George, Bruce O'Neill, Martin
Godman, Dr Norman A. Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Gordon, Mildred Quin, Ms Joyce
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Redmond, Martin
Robertson, George Vaz, Keith
Rogers, Allan Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C)
Rooney, Terence Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Wigley, Dafydd
Salmond, Alex Wilson, Brian
Short, Clare Wise, Mrs Audrey
Skinner, Dennis Worthington, Tony
Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury) Tellers for the Noes:
Soley, Clive Mr. Frank Haynes and
Spearing, Nigel Mr. Thomas McAvoy.
Stott, Roger

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That the draft Industrial Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1992, which was laid before this House on 18th December, be approved.

Resolved, That the draft Industrial Relations (Northern Ireland Consequential Amendment) Order 1992, which was laid before this House on 18th December, be approved.—[Mr. Needham.]