HL Deb 16 March 1987 vol 485 cc1270-85

7.2 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Lyell)

My Lords, I beg to move that the draft Industrial Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1987, which was laid before your Lordships earlier this year under the Northern Ireland Act 1974, be approved.

The draft order which we have before us this evening, with a few exceptions, contains provisions which are analogous to those contained in the Employment Act 1982. Like that particular Act, the order before us has two main purposes. First, it extends and strengthens the protection which the law provides for people who work in closed shops, most importantly by making all closed shops subject to the test of a ballot and by providing increased compensation for closed shop dismissals. Secondly, the order restores the right of employers to seek legal redress against those who organise indiscriminate and irresponsible industrial action, including trade unions themselves. The anomaly whereby trade unions enjoyed a far wider immunity than their individual officials will be brought to an end.

I want to make it quite clear that this is not an attack on trade unionists in Northern Ireland. Indeed, I should like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the excellent Northern Ireland workforce and the many responsible trade union officials who have sought to be, and often have been, a very stabilising influence in the Northern Ireland situation.

The order will not put at hazard responsible management or responsible trade union leadership. However, Parliament has an obligation to safeguard the liberty of the individual and it is for this reason that we are making changes to the law on the closed shop. Your Lordships will be well aware of the Government's view on the closed shop. The Government do not believe that people should be required to join a union as a condition of getting or holding a job as this runs counter to the great traditions of personal liberty in this country. This view was made clear in the Green paper called Trade Union Immunities published in 1981, and more recently in the Green Paper, Trade Unions and Their Members, which was published last month, February 1987.

In Great Britain the Government have taken a step-by-step approach to tackling the practice of the closed shop. Likewise in Northern Ireland the Government introduced measures in the Industrial Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1982 (which parallels the Employment Act 1980) to limit the worst of the abuses of the closed shop. The present order now follows the Great Britian Employment Act 1982 in introducing further controls on the closed shop; indeed almost half the order is concerned with providing redress for individuals in the closed shop situation.

Similarly it is right for Parliament to intervene to underline the rule of law. As the famed gentleman Thomas Fuller said: Be you never so high the law is above you". I am sure that your Lordships will always associate the forceful reiteration of that with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, who is normally on the Cross-Benches. Nevertheless, I understand that this immortal statement was attributed to one Thomas Fuller.

At present trade unions are above the law in that they have a virtual total immunity from actions in tort. The second half of the order is concerned with reducing these immunities. The order refers to and amends existing legislation. I think noble Lords will agree that references to previous legislation always make the going a bit heavy. If your Lordships glance through the order you will see exactly what I am aiming at. However, I assure your Lordships that the principles underlying the order are simple and straightforward. Therefore I do not propose to deal with each article separately but instead I intend to refer only to the main provisions in describing the effect of the order.

Perhaps I may direct your Lordships' attention to Article 4, in page 4 of the order. This enables the Department of Economic Development to pay compensation to persons who were dismissed for not being union members in a closed shop between 1976 and 1982. The persons concerned are employees whose dismissal would have been unfair had the additional closed shop protection provisions of the Industrial Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1982 been in force at the time they were dismissed. This is a strict parity provision and it brings Northern Ireland into line with an earlier ruling of the European Court of Human Rights.

Your Lordships will see Article 5 in pages 4 to 11. This article extends the circumstances in which dismissal for non-membership of a trade union in a closed shop is to be regarded as unfair. In particular, it reinforces the balloting requirements for new closed shops provided by the 1982 order, with a balloting requirement for all existing closed shops if non-union membership is to be relied on as fair grounds for dismissal.

The existing rates of compensation for closed shop dismissals are too low and the cost does not necessarily fall on the right party. The order therefore contains an entirely new framework of compensation for closed shop dismissals. Your Lordships will find that Article 6, in page 11, provides that for unfair dismissal due to non-membership of a trade union, or indeed membership of a union, as envisaged by Article 5, the minimum basic award is to be £2,200.

Perhaps I may direct your Lordships' attention to Article 7, in page 12 of the order. This creates a new special award available where the employee asks for reinstatement but this does not take place. Where the industrial tribunal does not make an order for this to take place, the special award will be two years' pay subject to a minimum of £11,000 and a maximum of £22,000. In the case where reinstatement is ordered but the employer does not comply the special award will be increased to three years' pay subject to a minimum of £16,500 but no maximum. Article 9, in page 14, enables someone who is claiming unfair dismissal as a result of trade union pressure also to claim compensation directly from the union as well as from his employer. Any award of compensation may be either wholly against the union or the employer or it may be apportioned between the union and the employer.

It is important to ensure that employers are not subject to outside pressure to form closed shops through "union labour only" requirements in contracts. Article 13, in page 18, therefore declares void any term in a commercial contract which requires the use of union labour only. It also makes it unlawful to exclude non-union firms from tendering lists, or to terminate a contract on the grounds that non-union labour will be used in performing that contract. These provisions would be ineffective if trade unions were free to accomplish the same results by industrial action or the threat of it. Article 15, in page 20, therefore removes immunity from anyone who puts pressure on an employer to contravene Article 13 and from those who organise industrial action designed for the same purpose.

The later articles in this order deal specifically with trade union immunities. The changes that they make are limited but significant. I stress that they do not affect the ability of trade unions to organise, to seek recognition from employers, to bargain collectively or to organise industrial action by their members in pursuit of improvements in their pay and conditions.

Since 1906, trade unions in Northern Ireland have enjoyed total immunity from civil action even if they have acted unlawfully. It is anomalous that trade unions should have a wider immunity than individual trade union officials. Article 16 will repeal the only remaining substantive part of the Trade Disputes Act 1906 and thereby bring the immunity for trade unions in line with the immunity for persons. Article 17 defines the circumstances in which trade unions are to be liable for the unlawful acts of their officials. Article 18 sets limits on the amount of damages which may be awarded in proceedings in tort against a trade union. Article 19 makes it clear that union provident funds, and also political funds which are not used to finance industrial action, are not at risk.

The other main change in relation to trade union immunities is made by Article 20, which tightens up the definition of a trade dispute. It specifies that there is a trade dispute only when workers are in dispute with their own employer and the dispute is wholly or mainly about matters such as pay, conditions or jobs. The effect of these changes is to exclude from the definition of a trade dispute, first, disputes between a trade union and an employer where none of that employer's employees is in dispute; secondly, disputes between trade unions or groups of workers where no employer is involved in the dispute (inter-union disputes); and, thirdly, disputes which are not predominantly about terms and conditions of employment.

Finally, I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to Article 24, which makes statutory provision for schemes designed to assist unemployed persons improve their employment prospects, either through temporary employment, self employment or voluntary work. These include schemes such as Action for Community Employment, Enterprise Allowance and Community Volunteering which are already in operation in the Province but are presently funded on an extra-statutory basis. This provision is not connected to the question of trade union organisation or immunities, but the order before your Lordships is a convenient vehicle to provide firm parliamentary authority for schemes which are acknowledged to be highly successful and parallel some of the special employment measures in Great Britain.

Legitimate union activity, responsibly carried out with moderation and due regard to the rights of others, contributes to our national good. However, if it is based on monopoly power and pursued with disregard for the rights and interests of others, hardship to individuals and the community can result. This order poses no threat to responsible trade unionism. Rather it will enhance industrial rights and will constrain ill-considered and unlawful disruption in the workplace, with consequent damage to the economy and above all jobs. That is why I commend this order to the House.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 22nd January be approved.—(Lord Lyell.)

7.15 p.m.

Lord Prys-Davies

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, for his clear exposition of the detailed provisions of the order. The provisions make major changes in the law on industrial relations in Northern Ireland. I should also like to thank the Department of Economic Development for the helpful background material which it was good enough to send to me at my request. However, I make it clear that we do not welcome this order.

As the Minister has explained, the main purpose of the order is to apply the provisions of the Employment Act 1982 in Northern Ireland. With the greatest respect to the Minister, we have not been given a convincing reason, and we have not been referred to convincing evidence, to show why that is thought to be necessary. The Minister has referred to the rule of law and he has referred to the liberty of the individual. However, the trade unions in Northern Ireland do not pose a threat to law and order; they do not pose a threat to the rights and interests of individuals.

The noble Lord said that the law will be applied because it is applied in England, Wales and Scotland. However, my point is that uniformity is not always a major aim of government policy in Northern Ireland. Those of your Lordships who were present last Tuesday will recall that the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, was at pains to demonstrate why the law on public order in Northern Ireland should be different in some material respects from that applying in England and Wales. He said that it must be different because the circumstances in Northern Ireland were different.

Northern Ireland is also somewhat different in the field of industrial relations. The subject was devolved to Stormont by the Government of Ireland Act 1920. The comprehensive Industrial Relations Act 1971, the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act 1978, the Employment Act 1980, the Employment Act 1982 and the Trade Union Act 1984 have not been applied in Northern Ireland. Indeed, industrial relations in that part of the United Kingdom, fashioned by industry and the trade unions and assisted by the Labour Relations Agency since 1976, have worked smoothly. I believe that that will be the evidence of my noble friend Lord Fitt and others. Therefore, there is no evidence that there is a need for new legislation, and to the best of my knowledge there is no demand for legislation.

For the past three years, following publication of the equivalent to a White Paper in Northern Ireland, Ministers at the Northern Ireland Office have spoken consistently in glowing terms about the role of the trade unions and of industrial relations in Northern Ireland. Two years after the passing of the Employment Act 1982, which is now being applied in Northern Ireland, Mr. Christopher Patten, who was then Parliamentary Under-Secretary, paid tribute to trade unionism in Northern Ireland in these words: I would not like this opportunity to pass without paying my own personal tribute to the work of many brave and dedicated men and women in the trade union movement in maintaining a civilising influence in this community throughout the last 15 years. What you have contributed here in Northern Ireland presents one of the most valuable of the many contributions which your movement has made to our social and industrial history". That is an unqualified testimonial.

A month later Mr. Adam Butler, then Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office, uttered an equally unconditional testimony about industrial relations. He 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". The Minister, even tonight, referred glowingly, and I thought with gratitude, to the stability which the unions had introduced to the life of Northern Ireland.

Why, therefore, should the Government seek to introduce the order in this divided community in 1987? I am not aware of any evidence at all that the trade unions have abused their power in the past. I believe that the noble Lord referred to abuses of power in general terms in his introduction. There is no evidence of the abuse of power.

On the contrary there is acknowledgment in the explanatory document, which the department published last May when this proposed order was published, that the unions had not abused their position. The evidence is within the explanatory document. It is to be found in paragraph 35 of the explanatory document which explains Article 4 and Schedule 1 of the order. This is the article which authorises the department to pay retrospective compensation to persons who were dismissed for not being union members in a closed shop during the years between 1976 and 1982.

In paragraph 35 the department acknowledges that, few, if any, claims are expected under the compensation provisions in Article 4 and Schedule 1. The Minister referred to the employees concerned who could make a claim under Article 4, but according to the explanatory document few, if any, claims are expected to be made under this order. I understand from leading trade unionists in Northern Ireland that they are not aware of a single claimant who has a claim for compensation outstanding under Article 4. Can the Minister give the name and address of a single person in Northern Ireland who, to their knowledge, has such a claim?

I suggest that the article and the schedule—it is a long schedule of about 1,200 words—have been devoted to a non-existent problem. I come back to the question: why then is this order being introduced? Is it the case that the Government have grounds for believing, or fearing, that some unions, or union branches, in Northern Ireland whose members are employed in the supply and provision of essential services are likely in the future to embark upon political strikes not against any employer but against the Government in protest over the Anglo-Irish Agreement, and that the Government require the power of suing the unions and, if need be, of sequestrating their funds in order to meet that threat or potential threat? Perhaps the Minister can answer that question? It is an important question, and we should like to know the answer to it.

Articles 16 and 17 abolish the indemnity of trade unions from an action in tort on the grounds specified in the order, and a dispute with the Government would come within the scope of those articles. The articles mean that the unions can be compelled to pay damages and be fined for contempt of court. We know that heavy damages and fines are an effective way of weakening, if not crippling, the trade unions.

There are three groups of trade unions in Northern Ireland: the GB-based, the Northern Ireland-based, and the Dublin-based. But the order draws no distinction between them. Yet it seems to me that there is at least one vital difference between the Dublin-based unions and the others. That difference becomes apparent if and when commissioners for sequestration are appointed on the failure of a union to comply with an order of the court to pay damages or to pay a fine for contempt.

Since 1982, lawyers have learnt a great deal about this ancient writ of sequestration, which was well understood in the 17th century but which had been dormant for almost a century and a half prior to 1982. We know that the commissioners for sequestration can demand of union solicitors, union accountants, union bankers, and union stockbrokers, information about the assets of the union, their location and the name and address of the trustees, and so lay their hands on the union's assets. Union solicitors, accountants, bankers and stockbrokers who are within the court's jurisdiction have no choice but to be in breach of their duty to their clients and to disclose to the sequestrators the information they require; otherwise, they themselves will be in contempt of court.

However, can the commissioners for sequestration demand such obedience from Dublin solicitors and Dublin accountants who are at no peril for non-compliance with their request? This is a proper question to ask the Government, bearing in mind that the Irish Transport and General Workers Union and the Irish National Teachers Organisation, to name only two of the Dublin-based unions, have thousands of members in Northern Ireland.

Are we correct in assuming that a Dublin-based union with its assets in the Republic will escape sequestration which could befall other unions in the Province? Will this distinction be fair as between unions? Indeed, will it lead to union branches in the North becoming affiliated to, or members of, a parent body in the Republic in order to escape the threat of sequestration? Then, conversely, is it right that the sequestrators should be allowed to sequestrate Dublin funds which have been subscribed by members who are citizens of and resident in the Republic and who are outside the jurisdiction of the courts of Great Britain? Is that right?

Therefore is the order fair, and indeed is it workable? I should be grateful if the Minister will confirm to the House whether it is the Government's understanding of the legal position that the funds of the Dublin-based unions which are deposited in the Republic can be reached by the sequestrators? Can the Minister also confirm to the House whether this order has been the subject of a discussion at the inter-governmental conference?

I have concentrated on the most damaging articles contained in the order. However it contains 19 other substantive articles of which 16 are seen by the trade unions in Northern Ireland as being provocative, offensive or unfair to the trade unions or their members. I shall be very brief with the remainder of my comments because I have taken up my time. I must refer to the group of nine articles (Article 4 to Article 12) which cover unfair dismissal or action short of dismissal. A number of questions arise on these nine articles. Will the holding of this periodic ballot in support of a closed shop be disruptive in the workplace? Is the percentage of support at 80 per cent. too high, as the trade unionists claim it to be? It is noted that the compensation paid in cases of unfair dismissal is far too high, being two and a half times higher than that paid for unfair dismissal on other grounds. Is this excessive compensation but a provision to be exploited by individuals who are anxious to pick up easy money?

Then there are three other articles, Articles 13, 14 and 15, which cover union membership or union recognition in contracts. I can only say to the Government with as much conviction as I can command that it is feared by the trade unions in Northern Ireland that the consequence of these three articles sooner or later will be to depress the level of wages in Northern Ireland's low wage economy. It would be interesting to know whether the Minister can tell the House if the labour relations agency has been consulted on these three articles, and indeed on the 24 articles of the order. What was its response? We know that the Government have been consulting for a matter of six weeks, but we do not know the result of the consultation. We do not know what response they have received from parties who responded to the order.

I am advised by leading trade unionists in Northern Ireland that this order will do nothing to improve industrial relations. On the contrary, it will almost certainly lead to instability in industrial relations. The Minister may plead and may repeat the statements that this order is not aimed at the trade unions in Northern Ireland; but the trade unions believe it to be an anti-union order. It will alienate the trade union movement which has, over the past 18 years on the evidence of Ministers, been a steadying influence and a civilising influence in that torn Province. I am just wondering whether this order is also evidence that we are dealing with a Government who have no vision of a Northern Ireland within which very high priority is given to bringing together all the affirmatives in the Province. For the reasons that I have given, we on these Benches cannot support this controversial order.

Lord Hampton

My Lords, I too should like to thank the noble Lord the Minister for introducing this order. As I understand it, it is to bring the law as regards industrial relations in Northern Ireland into line with that in force in the rest of the United Kingdom. Should there remain any real differences perhaps the noble Lord the Minister will write to me explaining the reasons, should he not wish to take up the time of the House during the dinner hour. I noted with interest what the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, said that he did not feel there was any need for uniformity of law throughout the United Kingdom; but I think we disagree with him about this. We believe that where the law can be the same it is better.

I shall be brief. The explanatory note states that the order: requires companies to include a statement about employee involvement in their annual reports". It is this one point on which I shall concentrate. We are very concerned that employees, so far as is reasonably possible, should be informed about and involved in the running of their company. The order deals with companies of 250 employees or more and therefore tackles the problems of remoteness in larger companies.

We on these Benches take pride that it was through the efforts of my noble friend Lord Rochester at the time of the passage of the Employment Act in 1982 that the Government introduced an amendment at Third Reading (referred to in the Official Report of 13th October 1982 at cols. 824 and 825) that is the word for word basis of Article 11 of the present order on page 4. 1 had thought of reading out the relevant paragraph (3), but I think it is sufficient to draw your Lordships' attention to paragraph (3)(b). This reads: The directors' report shall in that case contain a statement describing the action that has been taken during the financial year to introduce, maintain or develop arrangements aimed at… (b) consulting employees or their representatives on a regular basis so that the views of employees can be taken into account in making decisions"— I emphasise the words "in making decisions"— which are likely to affect their interests". We accept that in problems of considerable commercial sensitivity it may not be practicable to consult employees before a decision is taken.

In our view the changes here proposed are only a small but valuable step towards improving the country's industrial performance by increasing the extent to which employees are involved in the activities of the company in which they work. With those few comments, I confirm that we support this order.

Lord Fitt

My Lords, I rise for only a few minutes to reinforce the objections which have been put forward by my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies. I am very unhappy about the way this order has been introduced into this House, the fact that it has been brought here before it has been debated in Parliament—

Lord Lyell

This is Parliament, my Lords.

Lord Fitt

—where elected representatives could have expressed an opinion on this most controversial order. I reinforce what has been said by my noble friend to the Minister. He drew attention to the fact that time after time, both in this House and in another place, Ministers come to the Dispatch Box and tell us that we cannot have the same type of legislation for Northern Ireland because Northern Ireland is totally and completely different as a region of the United Kingdom.

I have lived in Northern Ireland throughout my political life. It is sad that I have to add my voice here this evening with a Belfast accent to the objections put forward so vividly by my noble friend Lord PrysDavies.

The one organisation in Northern Ireland to have occupied a key position throughout the troubles which began in 1968, almost 20 years ago, is the trade union movement. That movement has a most difficult role when compared with any other trade union branch in the United Kingdom. It has had to deal every day with the very real sectarian differences that exist not only in Northern Ireland but among its own members. There have been times of crisis in the past when the trade union movement in Northern Ireland has had to undertake a very demanding role in appealing, day after day and almost hour after hour on some occasions, to their own members not to get involved in the fratricidal strife taking place.

My noble friend has drawn attention to the fact that a succession of Ministers from both Conservative and Labour governments have clearly pointed to the responsibility that has at all times been shown by the trade union movement. Even at the height of the very serious political disturbances we have had, notably in 1974, when the Ulster workers' strike brought the power-sharing Executive to an end, all the trade union activity in the streets in opposition to the Executive took place without the sanction of the trade union movement itself. They were individuals, as such. The trade union movement as a whole did not sanction a political strike either at that time or on the few other occasions when such strikes have occurred in Northern Ireland.

I cannot see any reason for the introduction of this legislation. Certainly, I have never supported any anti-trade union legislation in the United Kingdom. It may be that we have all seen and lived through industrial disputes and strikes here in the United Kingdom. Perhaps, in the minds of some people, the Government are justified in introducing legislation to contend with industrial disputes such as those which brought a great deal of violence to the streets of the United Kingdom. I can understand that, even though I must make it very clear that I did not agree with that legislation.

However, in Northern Ireland there is absolutely no need for this legislation. There are no cases where workers have been victimised or prevented from taking employment because of the closed shop issue. There have been no cases which could be verified where workers were refused employment because of religious or other barrier. Certainly, given the whole history of Northern Ireland and the sectarian divisions which exist within the community, one can have suspicions that a religious bar does operate in certain industries. But that is not the fault of the trade union movement. The movement has at all times voiced its opposition to any discriminatory practice that might take place on grounds of race or religion. Indeed, we have legislation on the statute book in Northern Ireland to take account of such divisions.

The Anglo-Irish Agreement has led to a situation where the elected representatives have not taken their seats in the House of Commons to represent their constituents. I believe that is a very sad commentary. I have no doubt that those representatives, even though they may be Unionists and on the face of it inclined to be anti-trade union, if they had taken their seats, would be voicing their objections against this legislation. It is sad that mine will be the only Belfast voice raised in opposition to this legislation.

My noble friend Lord Prys-Davies asked some very pertinent questions this evening and I hope that the Minister will avail himself of the opportunity—because it will not take a great deal of time to inquire—to answer these questions. I am quite certain, however, that his answers will fail to convince any Member on this side of the House to accept the legislation. I believe the legislation is totally objectionable and totally unnecessary within the context of Northern Ireland.

7.45 p.m.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I wish to voice as forcibly as I can my objections to this type of business being dealt with in this way. Here we have an order containing 25 articles and four schedules. In another place and in your Lordships' House there have been a number of Bills of less complexity than this order. Yet we are asked to let it go through almost on the nod. That is the first complaint I wish to make. The Minister will know that I normally support almost totally what the Government have to do in Northern Ireland. They have a rotten job in that respect and I believe they are entitled to the fullest support where necessary. However, I have this objection to make.

Your Lordships may ask why I make the objection. It is because we have to dispose of this within an hour. There is so much involved in connection with the legislation that my noble friend on the Front Bench spoke for 19 minutes and actually flipped through it. He did not deal with it in the depth that he would have wished. That is a serious criticism. The order is "parcelled away" in the dinner-hour and is legislation, as has been said by other speakers, which is not really relevant to the situation in Northern Ireland.

First of all, trade unions, being what they are, are at their strongest when employment is at its highest. We are talking about the area of the United Kingdom that far outstrips any other in its rates of unemployment. Article after article of this order is punitive. It is anti-trade union legislation; nothing else. I was a little surprised to hear the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, on behalf of the Liberal Party, accepting the order with open arms—the Liberal Party, the great freedom thinkers. This is going to put people in a straitjacket completely unnecessarily.

It is of course a fact that throughout the history of Northern Ireland, and certainly during these troubled years there has been no more stabilising influence than the trade union movement, as was said by my noble friend Lord Fitt. Your Lordships may care to cast your minds back to an occasion a few years ago when the noble Lord, Lord Murray—Mr. Len Murray as he then was—as general secretary of the TUC, actually led a back-to-work walk in Northern Ireland. In doing so, he suffered the vilification of being spat upon and abused by certain members of the more outrageous sections of the political spectrum. That was a contribution that he was prepared to make.

It is a little sad that this measure is being introduced, as regards Northern Ireland, in this way. As my noble friend Lord Fitt has said, despite the differences that there are in Northern Ireland between Republican trade unionists and Unionist trade unionists, they have one thing in common. It is to try to keep their industrial base reasonably intact. It is an excellent base and will stand comparison with many. They want to keep it intact for the sake of the community and in preparation for a time when perhaps the present situation no longer obtains, although that will not be in the near future.

When I was in another place, I met numerous delegations from the Northern Ireland TUC, from the TGWU and from my own union, the AUEW. I never heard one word from them which could lead one to a conclusion other than that their sole objective was the good of the people of Northern Ireland and they did not indicate any desire to become involved in nonsensical behaviour which would in any sense, be detrimental.

I did not note his words exactly, but I think the Minister referred to the question of rather dubious tendering and so on. I say to the Government that there was a very valuable tender in Northern Ireland 18 months or two years ago that was the absolute height of dubiety and I raised the matter in your Lordships' House. Though I was pleased to see that Northern Ireland had work which would benefit some members of my own union—I am talking about the Tucarno contract—it was impossible to elicit what went on.

The complaint was never answered by the Secretary of State in another place or by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, here, when I asked whether the normal commercial practices had taken place for the letting of that contract to Tucarno. British Aerospace were literally frozen out of it in a most disreputable way. That was the charge that was made and it was never answered.

These measures are worthy of more than an hour of your Lordships' time. I had not intended to speak, but I could not believe that I was listening to somebody trying to push something like this through the back door, because it is worthy of a far more extensive debate than we have been given the chance to have tonight. I am only speaking off the top of my head, but I have no doubt that my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies and I, given a longer debate, could have spoken at greater length with more information at our elbow, which would have exposed these measures that the Government are pushing through tonight for the shabby and totally unnecessary measures that they are.

Lord Kilbracken

My Lords, I wish to intervene for a very few moments, first to express my complete support for what has been said by my noble friends on these Benches, and, secondly, to regret what has been expressed from the Alliance Front Bench by the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, in support of the order. I also want to point out and put on the record that through-out this debate on a matter of extreme importance there has been for most of the time no other occupant of the Benches opposite than the Minister who will reply. There have been no Back-Bench listeners or speakers, let alone anyone from the two unionist parties in Northern Ireland, and only half-a-dozen on this side of the House. I believe that that adds to the evidence that there is a high degree of indifference towards extremely important Northern Ireland matters that is typical of this House and of another place.

Lord Lyell

My Lords, perhaps I may begin by saying that I am very grateful for the close attention that has been paid to the order by everybody who has spoken? I would not have expected all the discussion this evening to be filled with sweetness and light, but all the views have been expressed in concise terms and in the most businesslike way in which your Lordships traditionally do business. I accept that there are strong feelings, as have been set forth by your Lordships, about the order.

I want to start by trying to answer some, if not all, of the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies. He first asked me about the need for legislation and why we needed to debate this order. I think your Lordships will agree that, as I sought to stress at least twice in the course of my opening remarks, this order concerns individual freedoms, and there is nothing that divides us in your Lordships' House on that.

I have already indicated—as was indicated when we discussed this matter in 1982 in regard to England, Scotland and Wales—that we do not believe that people should be required to join a union as a condition of getting or keeping a job. This is the position in Great Britain, and we see no good reason why workers in Northern Ireland should be deprived of freedom of choice regarding trade union membership. I believe that your Lordships will agree with me there. I think that is common ground between us. I stress again that there is nothing in this order which is any threat to responsible trade unionism.

I fully support what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, and the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, about the community being united in jobs. But I think that the community is also united in believing that the same freedom and liberty as there is in Great Britain should be available to everybody who works in Northern Ireland.

The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, asked about other statutes dealing with labour relations which apply to Northern Ireland as well as to Great Britain. There are as follows: the Trade Union Act 1906, the Contracts of Employment and Redundancy Payments (Northern Ireland) Act 1965. There were two industrial relations orders in 1976 and an industrial relations order for Northern Ireland in 1982. All of those mirrored—I think that the proper word is replicated—the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act 1978. The last order of this nature which dealt with Northern Ireland replicated conditions in the Employment Act 1980, and the order before us this evening is replicating in almost all conditions, apart from Article 24, the Employment Act 1982.

I take note of what your Lordships have said about this order; but I do not think that I can go through word for word all the debates that took place in 1982 on the Employment Act, as each issue applies to Northern Ireland.

The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, also asked me about Article 4. This article replicates Section 2 of the 1982 Employment Act. As he will be aware, that follows the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of, I think, three employees of British Rail in 1982.

The noble Lord asked whether the trade unions had been opposed to political strikes. I stress that a trade union can dissociate itself from industrial action and avoid any financial penalty. He raised the somewhat difficult and knotty problem of trade unions which have their headquarters in the Republic of Ireland. I am sure the noble Lord agrees that trade unions which operate in Northern Ireland but have headquarters in the Republic will want to act within the law, especially in Northern Ireland. I do not believe that any union would deliberately seek to frustrate or break the law. If a union does so, it must take the consequences of that action wherever there is a breach. If unions have members in Northern Ireland, then I think your Lordships would agree that they must observe Northern Ireland law.

Lord Dean of Beswick


Lord Lyell

The noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, does not believe that. We can probably argue that on Wednesday afternoon.

Lord Prys-Davies

May I intervene?

8 p.m.

Lord Lyell

Perhaps I may just finish this matter. The noble Lord, Lord Dean, who raised the matter, shook his head. He can question that on Wednesday afternoon, if he does not believe it.

Thirdly, the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, raised the question of sequestration. That, of course, is a matter for the courts in Northern Ireland. If I may take the matter of jurisdiction in Northern Ireland and in the Republic a bit further, certainly legislation which would be enforced against a union having its headquarters in the Republic is covered by Section 8 of the Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Act (Northern Ireland) 1927. That section provides that where proceedings are brought against a trade union not having its headquarters in Northern Ireland, then legal processes—for example, a writ that might cover documents concerning sequestration—will be served on any person whose name is furnished by the union to the Registrar of Friendly Societies in accordance with the provisions of the 1927 Act. Further, if the trade union fails to provide such a name then the writ or other form of process may be left or sent by post to any place of business of the union.

Lord Prys-Davies

My Lords, will the Minister clarify one point? It is not really a question of how the trade union that is based in the Republic can be sued in Northern Ireland. The question is whether the commissioners for sequestration sequestrate the funds of a Dublin-based union if the funds are in the Republic. That is the question.

Lord Lyell

My Lords, if the noble Lord wants a full reply to that I shall have to write to him. I sought to give a preliminary reply by saying that sequestration is a matter for the courts. I do not think that we should have the full sequestration Acts as they apply right through in Northern Ireland added to the debate tonight. Perhaps I may write to the noble Lord on that particular point. If I have missed anything, I shall write further concerning sequestration being a matter for courts.

Section 8(4) of the Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Act (Northern Ireland) 1927 provides for enforcement. It provides that Section 15 of the Trade Union Act Amendment Act 1876 shall apply in the case of any failure to transmit any information, such as the name and address of a person who will be authorised to accept service of a writ for sequestration, to the Registrar of Friendly Societies with a fine at level 1 on the standard scale for any breach of that particular information.

The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, also asked at least two other questions. He asked about Articles 13 to 15. I am advised that the Labour Relations Agency was consulted. However, it did not specifically comment about Articles 13, 14 and 15.

The noble Lords, Lord Hampton and Lord Prys-Davies, mentioned the need for uniformity within the United Kingdom. I stress that the Government think that there should be parity within the United Kingdom unless there are good reasons against such a course. We know of the difficulties associated with public order in Northern Ireland. That was raised six days ago and everyone spoke about those matters, which require special arrangements. I believe that trade union relations in Northern Ireland should be on the same basis as those in the rest of the United Kingdom.

As regards the matter of supporting trade unions, I believe we recognise the valuable contributions made by trade unions in the difficult situation in Northern Ireland. I endorse everything that has been said and the stand being taken by the trade union movement against any form of intimidation from any source which would affect the right to work. However, as was borne out by the helpful comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, the whole tenor of the order before us this evening supports responsible, lawful behaviour. If the trade unions in Northern Ireland continue to act responsibly they will not suffer any detriment as a result of the order before us this evening.

The noble Lord, Lord Hampton, asked a question concerning the major differences between the 1982 Act and the order before us this evening, quite apart from Article 24. Perhaps I may write to him. I think he seemed agreeable to that course.

The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, made the robust comment that he thought we should not be taking the order at this hour. Perhaps he can voice his opinions through the usual channels; I am sure they will be noted. I stress to the noble Lord and to all your Lordships that the order before us this evening has nothing to do with the special religious difficulties that abound in Northern Ireland. I hope that I have not said anything—I would not say anything—to exacerbate those conditions. This particular aspect of labour relations in Northern Ireland, and any aspects of discrimination at the workplace or other places of business, are dealt with by the Fair Employment Agency. Perhaps that can be discussed on another night.

I wish to thank the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, for his support for all the Government have to try to do in Northern Ireland. He pointed out that his noble friend had spoken for a respectable time. I accept that. I do not think that his noble friend was over the odds in any way.

Lord Dean of Beswick

Everyone else has been held up.

Lord Lyell

Yes, my Lords, I appreciate that. I know that others have business which they wish to press. We shall not be very long. This is a fairly massive order. It is replicating the fairly massive 1982 Employment Act. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, made a number of points, and I hope that I have been able to answer some, if not all, of them.

As regards the behaviour of sundry persons in Northern Ireland, the noble Lord, Lord Murray, certainly has my sympathy. As your Lordships know, this is a risk everyone takes in taking part in the political life of Northern Ireland.

The noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, voiced strong support for the comments made on his side of the House. I did not glance around but certainly there were one or two supporters on the Government side of the House at some stage. Whether they have now gone out for revictualling or refreshment, I am not sure.

The noble Lord referred to the Unionist side. There is no member of your Lordships' House who subscribes to the Democratic Unionist Party.

Lord Dean of Beswick

And we do not want any!

Lord Lyell

They may be lords of the heavens above, but not on earth. I do not know why the Unionist Members of your Lordships' House did not come. Perhaps they have good reasons. As for the behaviour of Unionist Members of another place, that is for them to argue.

I have sought to justify what we are putting forward this evening. I reiterate that the order before us this evening will have no ill effect upon responsible and competent trade unionism in Northern Ireland. I stressed at the outset that we see no good reason why workers in Northern Ireland should not have exactly the same rights as individuals as do other workers doing identical jobs and often affiliated with the same unions in Great Britain. I beg to move.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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