HL Deb 28 February 1992 vol 536 cc512-24

12.52 p.m.

The Paymaster General (Lord Belstead) rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 18th December 1991 be approved.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of the order is to consolidate and modernise existing trade union law in Northern Ireland and to enact new provisions to bring the law broadly in line with that applied in Great Britain by the Trade Union Act 1984 and the Employment Acts of 1988 and 1989.

As your Lordships will appreciate, the legal and administrative framework for industrial relations in Northern Ireland is separate from that in Great Britain but the legislation has generally followed that in the remainder of the United Kingdom.

Thus the Employment Acts of 1980 and 1982 have already been replicated by the Industrial Relations (Northern Ireland) Orders of 1982 and 1987. Currently therefore trade union law in Northern Ireland is substantially the same as that which applied in Great Britain prior to the Trade Union Act 1984 but it is based on more ancient Acts extending in some cases back to 1871. This old legislation was modernised in Great Britain in the 1970s. The proposed order would effect a similar modernisation and would also reflect the industrial relations provisions of the Trade Union Act 1984 and the Employment Acts of 1988 and 1989.

The reforms in Great Britain are equally relevant to Northern Ireland where the days lost in the 1970s due to industrial action were comparable to those in the remainder of the United Kingdom. As with the rest of the 'United Kingdom I am glad to say that the 1980s' figures show substantial improvement—in the last five years of the 1980s the days lost due to industrial action were a quarter of those lost in the last five years of the 1970s. The figures for 1990 and 1991 have shown further improvement and demonstrate that the reforms already introduced have proved their worth.

The order is designed to provide an open, democratic and balanced framework of law within which responsible trade unions should operate. It places limits on unacceptable behaviour but no union going about its business in a reasonable manner has anything to fear from its provisions. Indeed the acceptance of the role of law in industrial relations by trade union members and the general public has been one of the most significant developments of the 1980s.

At the heart of the order are the provisions for pre-industrial action ballots and secret ballots for elections to the principal executive committees of unions. Those democratic provisions will help to ensure openness in trade union activities, prevent the misuse of industrial power and give Northern Ireland trade union members the right to have a say in the conduct of their union's affairs.

Very importantly for the Northern Ireland economy, the reforms will also help to reassure employers and inward investors that a fair framework of law is in place in Northern Ireland.

The proposal for the order was published on 24th September 1990 and a wide range of interested parties was invited to comment. During the consultation period discussions were also held with both sides of industry. On the one hand, the trade union movement objected to further trade union law while employers' organisations urged parity with Great Britain. Having considered the various representations made, the Government came to the conclusion that there is no compelling reason why Northern Ireland's trade union law should not be broadly in line with that in the remainder of the United Kingdom. The draft order has that effect.

The order contains 108 articles and six schedules. New provisions account for approximately half of the order and the remainder consists of a re-enactment and modernisation of existing legislation.

The key new provisions deal with the rights of trade union members in Articles 29 to 38; industrial action ballots in Articles 44 to 46; trade union elections and membership registers in Articles 47 to 56; the appointment of a Certification Officer and a Commissioner for the Rights of Trade Union Members in Articles 69 to 73; the removal of the statutory trade union recognition role of the Labour Relations Agency in Articles 82 to 90; and the removal of statutory support for the closed shop in Article 101.

All of those provisions already apply in the rest of the United Kingdom and it is worth noting that some 80 per cent. of trade union members in Northern Ireland belong to unions based in Great Britain. Because of local considerations, two significant differences from Great Britain law have been retained in the order. The first is the "contracting in" arrangement by which trade union members in Northern Ireland may not be required to contribute to their union's political fund unless they have given written notice of their willingness to do so. This arrangement has worked satisfactorily in Northern Ireland since it was introduced in 1927. The second difference is the absence of an Employment Appeal Tribunal in Northern Ireland. The present caseload of appeals would not justify the establishment of a specialist appeals body and appeals will continue to be dealt with by the courts.

I would also draw your Lordships' attention to two minor and technical amendments to the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Acts of 1976 and 1989. Both are contained in Article 106. The first ensures that agreements reached in cases conciliated by the Labour Relations Agency are final and brings the law into line with that applying in unfair dismissal and sex discrimination cases. The second in Article 106 is an "avoidance of doubt" provision about the powers of the Fair Employment Tribunal when determining religious and/or political discrimination complaints which also include allegations of unfair dismissal or sex discrimination. It would be remiss of me in this context if I did not take this opportunity to stress the importance the Government attach to tackling the problems of religious discrimination in the workplace, and here I would most certainly acknowledge the very constructive role played by both trade unions and employers in combating sectarianism and in encouraging fair employment practices.

As I have already sought to indicate, around half of the provisions in this order consist of a consolidation and modernisation of existing law. Apart from the fair employment amendments and the two differences to which I have already referred, the balance relates to provisions which already apply in the remainder of the United Kingdom and with which employers and unions are already familiar.

This order will therefore give Northern Ireland workers rights and privileges which are already enjoyed by their counterparts in Great Britain. The fact that it will bring a uniformity to trade union law throughout the United Kingdom is a benefit to both sides of industry in Northern Ireland and to potential inward investors. Overall the order will help to secure industrial relations stability and thereby assist in Northern Ireland's economic regeneration and prosperity. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 18th December 1991 be approved.—(Lord Belstead.)

1 p.m.

Lord Prys-Davies

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Blease should be leading me in a discussion of this order because he is the one Member in your Lordships' House who has devoted his lifetime to the trade union movement in Northern Ireland. His is the voice that should be heard.

It is a substantial order and it is controversial. The Minister explained its provisions with his customary clarity and fairness but I did not find his defence of the order persuasive. The Government only just managed to collect sufficient support for it in another place. However, the real question is: what lasting damage has been caused by the order?

Damage has been caused because the order has been so offensive to trade unionists in Northern Ireland who do not believe that they deserve it. It is not clear to me and, I am sure, many noble Lords, on what basis the Government decide whether GB legislation should be extended to Northern Ireland. The point is relevant because I note that the Government have decided that a Public Bill which is currently before the House is not to apply to Northern Ireland. I refer to the Prison Security Bill. When the Bill was introduced into this House on 14th February the Chief Whip, who piloted it through the Second Reading stage, explained that it was not necessary to extend it to Northern Ireland because of the different circumstances which prevailed there. He set out the general principles which appeared to guide the Government in such a situation. He then said: There is no advantage in seeking parity between the jurisdictions for its own sake. Decisions for Northern Ireland must be made on the basis of what is needed for the Province".—[Official Report, 14/2/92; col. 967.] We fully agree with that principle; we fully agree with that test. However, in our submission the Government have not demonstrated that Northern Ireland needs this industrial order.

There is no evidence that trade unions or trade unionists have abused their position and there is no evidence of malpractice. On the contrary, the affairs of the trade unions in Northern Ireland have been well-regulated and well-served by people of the quality of my noble friend Lord Blease. Moreover, it is the trade union movement which has bravely and consistently opposed the campaign of intimidation that has been waged in the Province.

The trade union movement in Northern Ireland is one of the most important centres of stability and democracy in the turbulent currents there. That has been acknowledged by a succession of Ministers; indeed, it has been acknowledged this afternoon by the noble Lord, Lord Belstead. We on these Benches regret that so much time and effort has been devoted to this order, which will contribute very little to inward investment or to economic development in Northern Ireland.

If it were thought by Ministers that trade union relations should be improved, would it not have been far better to put in train a comprehensive review of the whole field of industrial relations involving both sides of industry and that to be followed by legislation if it were deemed to be necessary? That was the constructive proposal put to the Government by the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. Sadly, it was not taken up by the Government.

As the order's principal object is to achieve parity we are sorry that an opportunity was not taken in the order to give a right of appeal to the employment appeal tribunal, as is the case in England, Wales and Scotland. That was requested by both the trade union movement in Northern Ireland and the Labour Relations Agency. Further, we regret that the order continues the existing contracting-in arrangement to pay the political levy instead of introducing a contracting-out arrangement, as is the case in Great Britain. I appreciate that the Minister has touched upon those two matters. However, we believe that they were reasonable requests to which the Government could have acceded—and they would have been consistent with the principle of parity—if they had a real desire to meet the reasonable requirements of the trade unions in Northern Ireland. The Government conceded nothing.

There are three categories of trade unions in Northern Ireland. There are the GB based unions, the Republic of Ireland based unions and the few unions based in Northern Ireland itself. The trade unionists believe that some of the provisions of the order will have an unequal impact on the unions, depending on their Republic of Ireland domicile, their GB domicile or their Northern Ireland domicile. For example, it will be difficult to apply a sequestration order against a Republic of Ireland based union. Therefore, the perceived unequal application of the order is a matter of some anxiety. I ask the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, whether the department will issue a statement setting out in clear terms the exact implications of the order for the three categories of trade unions that I have mentioned. That is another reasonable request which was sent to the department by the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.

I now wish to raise three other specific issues. The first is an important issue concerning the life and safety of those trade unionists who are employed in security-related work. I am sure we all agree that as a consequence of this order nothing should be done that would or might endanger the lives of those working in prisons or police stations or who are employed by firms which are contractors with the Crown. That is a particular risk which is unique to Northern Ireland and the order should, if necessary, include unique provisions to deal with the risk.

The department will know well that anxiety has been expressed by the Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance—the union concerned—that Articles 48(7) and 51(3) may in some circumstances expose the identity of its members who are working in sensitive locations such as those I have mentioned. Therefore, those two articles in particular are potentially risky.

It is appreciated, in fairness to the department, that amendments have been made to the original draft to endeavour to meet the criticism, but I am told by The Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance that its worries remain. In the real world of terrorism—we have heard about that this morning—it could be relatively easy for a member or supporter of a terrorist organisation, acting in bad faith, to obtain access to information on the register of members and exploit it for his own purposes.

The Minister's right honourable friend in another place, Mr. Michael Howard, has listened to the advice of the TUC on this issue. He has given an assurance that only the independent scrutineer should be allowed access to the register of members on behalf of any union members who are concerned that the list may be inaccurate. That is the effect of the words which are to be found at col. 815 of the House of Commons Hansard for 28th January. It would be appreciated if the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, could give an assurance in identical terms when he replies to the debate.

A small point arises out of Article 48(7) (b) when it is read in conjunction with Article 60(4) (b). Those two articles deal with a postal vote. Do they mean that trade unions will have to issue to each member who is entitled to vote a pre-paid addressed envelope? We would appreciate guidance on that point.

Finally, I turn to two matters relating to the certification officer. It is to be regretted that he is to be serviced by the Labour Relations Agency. The Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Trades Union Congress believes it is essential that the agency must be seen to be independent of this new office that will exercise the quasi-judicial functions set out in Articles 74, 77 and 79. However, the officer will be attached to the Labour Relations Agency and serviced by the agency. Article 69 is clear on that. I must confess that I do not see how one can negotiate a way around that difficulty. I should have thought the officer should be serviced, and his staff should be appointed, by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland himself.

Why does the order not contain a power for the certification officer to exempt a trade union from strict compliance with the provisions of an article if he is satisfied that the rules of a particular union achieve the objectives of the legislation? That would have been a useful and helpful provision.

I have no more to say about this order which we fear will achieve little of real value for Northern Ireland but which has and will continue for some time to cause unnecessary offence to the trade union movement in Northern Ireland.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham

My Lords, I fear that if we need an example of the inadequacy of this way of governing Northern Ireland, we need look no further than this order. It will have a major impact in Northern Ireland on the trade unions. It is being dealt with by affirmative resolution. It is difficult to analyse precisely why the Government felt it necessary to bring this legislation forward at all.

I can quite see that administrative tidiness might suggest that Northern Ireland should have the same trade union laws as the rest of the UK. I can see that party dogma might suggest that if it is thought to be a good measure for GB, it is therefore a good measure for Northern Ireland. But surely it is a good principle of legislation, as it is for handymen, that "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". There is not the slightest evidence that there is a trade union problem of the kind there undoubtedly was in the United Kingdom as a whole at the time the Government undertook their programme of trade union reform.

The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, will know that we on these Benches, by and large, supported the thrust of trade union reform as it came along during the 1980s. However, that legislation was designed to deal with the problems of over-mighty unions; unions run by tiny, unrepresentative minorities; unions meddling in politics and unions exceeding their legitimate place in society. My own observations in Northern Ireland and my discussions with many people involved in the trade union movement lead me to believe that none of the problems that I have just referred to could remotely apply to Northern Ireland. I wish to ask the Government what problem they are trying to solve because there does not appear to be a problem to be solved in terms of trade union relations in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Needham, the honourable friend of the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, said in another place on 10th February that employee/employer relations in Northern Ireland are good. The Minister himself conceded that in his introductory remarks. I believe there is fairly widespread agreement that trade unions in Northern Ireland have good standing and they have a good relationship both with their members and with employers. What is of crucial importance is that the level of strikes in Northern Ireland is considerably lower than that in the rest of the United Kingdom. The number of days lost through strikes in 1989 was well under half the level in the rest of the United Kingdom.

The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, has referred to my next point. It is a matter upon which I know that the noble Lord, Lord Blease, is expert. The trade unions in Northern Ireland have a particular role to play as champions of the fair employment and anti-discrimination legislation. They play that role vigorously and well. Therefore, there are justifiable fears, to which I hope the Government are sensitive, that any weakening of the trade unions could work towards discrimination on grounds of religion or other background. That role of the trade unions as defenders of fair employment can be underestimated and undervalued, but in my view it is crucial to the success of the Government's policies to end discrimination.

Finally, if one looks at the pattern of trade union and employer/employee relationships in Northern Ireland, one should really look at measures that we on these Benches have long advocated. Those matters are greater employee participation, greater profit sharing and all matters that build on and improve what are generally good industrial relations by involving employees more in their own success and destinies. We on these Benches wish that the Government had not felt it necessary to impose reforms on Northern Ireland which, although appropriate in the rest of the UK, do not seem particularly relevant in the Province.

Lord Blease

My Lords, first I wish to thank my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies for his kind personal remarks. He delivered a thorough, constructive and searching response to the Minister's clear and comprehensive presentation of this major industrial relations order. The order contains some 150 pages. I fully support the principles and approaches of my noble friend's speech and the questions he put to the Minister. I welcome too the useful and interesting contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham.

I wish to make three points. First, I repeat my criticism of, and opposition to, the completely circumscribed and undemocratic nature of the Order in Council in terms of parliamentary procedures presently operated under the Northern Ireland Act of 1974. The procedure adopted for parliamentary deliberation on this important order is, in my opinion, a denial of natural justice, especially as the order proposes sweeping legislative changes which seriously affect the employment rights and the conditions and protection of Northern Ireland workers.

I should make clear my position in respect of these matters. In no way are my remarks meant as a personal criticism of the noble Lord, Lord Belstead. I fully accept that in his ministerial duties the noble Lord must adhere to the direct rule provisions enacted by Parliament.

The noble Lord is bound by the procedures approved for today's debate, which do not provide for changes or amendments to the order as tabled. I am aware that, as the Minister mentioned, the initial stages of the order commenced some four years ago. The process of consultation was promoted by the Northern Ireland Department of Economic Development in September 1990. However, as this order is hailed by the Government as so important and vital to the whole operational future of industrial development, economic growth, inward investment, industrial productivity and harmony between management and workers, why was it not deemed appropriate to be considered in detail by an appointed Northern Ireland Standing Committee of another place?

The order repeals, re-enacts and amends 14 separate Acts, covering a period of some 121 years. Six of those Acts are primary United Kingdom enactments. Is there not a responsibility on the Government, on Northern Ireland Ministers and, indeed, upon Northern Ireland elected representatives to exercise all available parliamentary procedures and functions to ensure that this major legislative change is subjected to deliberative scrutiny and debate in a Standing Committee under Standing Order 101?

My second point concerns the argument presented by the Government that the order will harmonise industrial relations legislation and the rights of workers in Northern Ireland with those in Great Britain. Desirable as it may be to promote standards and procedures which provide for good industrial practice, the order does not provide for the individual rights of workers nor for the management-worker partnership in industrial affairs already referred to.

Those matters were dealt with at length in well documented and argued submissions made over a year ago by two Northern Ireland trade union representative bodies, the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance.

My noble friend Lord Prys-Davies has already mentioned, in connection with the NIC, the paper that it submitted. I should like to refer to the contents of that paper and its conclusions. The paper states: The NIC reiterates its previous position that the provisions in this Draft Order are not based on any empirical examination of the industrial relations situation in Northern Ireland, but represent merely a dogmatic decision to introduce such parts of the GB legislation as suits the political philosophy of Government. Nor has there been any attempt to analyse the GB experience of the implementation of the equivalent legislation provisions. As stated earlier in the document, the NIC is prepared to participate in a full and open review of industrial relations". However, we know that that request by NIC was not granted.

The second paper from which I wish to quote was presented by the Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance—NIPSA. Some matters have already been mentioned in the debate about NIPSA's proposals or conclusions in respect of the order. It would be useful to quote from that document. It states: If there were a case for bringing the law here exactly in line with Britain, even though we have a separate legal and administrative framework for industrial relations, there could be no justification for departing, as the Draft Order does, from the GB provisions for appeals from Industrial Tribunals and for 'opting-out' of the payment of a political levy. If the Government is insisting on setting up the full machinery for a Certification Officer and for a Commissioner for the Rights of Trade Union Members and on the public purse meeting the expenses of these officers, it can no longer defend its refusal to set up for Northern Ireland an Employment Appeals Tribunal to deal with appeals from Industrial Tribunals. To insist that these appeals must be made directly to the Court of Appeal is to condemn people in Northern Ireland to an inferior and more expensive system of justice. In Britain the Government was forced to recognise that once a trade union had gone through all the elaborate procedures to acquire political objects and set up a political fund, it was unreasonable not to insist that its members would have to sign individually … that they were willing to contribute to its political fund. If the general aim of the Government is to make our legislation the same as in Britain, there can be therefore no longer be any case for insisting that in this respect Northern Ireland must remain different".

Perhaps I should make some reference to the substance and intent of that industrial relations harmonisation which the Government propose to bestow on the workers of Northern Ireland. The provisions in Britain are not considered by trade unionists and the British TUC as bringing harmony, industrial development and economic expansion to the workplace.

I must quote from a letter sent to me on 14th February by the TUC which stated that it was enclosing documents which went before the General Council of the TUC, about the conclusions of the ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations in 1989 and 1991. The actual conclusions are attached to the documents … The point … is that the legislation which the Government is extending to Northern Ireland has been held by authoritative and independent ILO bodies as being inconsistent with the obligations on Britain arising out of the ratification of ILO Conventions 87 and 98". The paper stated: Working people in Britain already have fewer rights than those in any other European Community country. The Government wants to keep it that way … As well as being out of step in Europe, the British Government's employment legislation has been found to be in breach of international conventions. The Government's record has been criticised by the International Labour Organisation, the United Nations body responsible for employment matters. The ILO called on the Government to amend the law on eight specific counts in order to bring it into line with the minimum requirements accepted by well over a hundred countries around the world. The eight counts on which Britain has been found guilty by the ILO are: the union ban at GCHQ; the denial of negotiating rights to teachers; allowing employers to blacklist union members; restrictions on unions' rights to discipline members; the ban on unions paying fines on members' behalf; the restrictions on sympathy action; allowing employers to split companies artificially to limit legal industrial action; allowing employers to sack members who go on strike". That is the situation in Great Britain. It is the sort of situation which we are asked to foist upon Northern Ireland.

My noble friend Lord Prys-Davies mentioned the matter of working days lost through industrial action. When the order was debated in another place, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mr. Richard Needham, stated: 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". [Official Report, Commons, 10/2/92; col. 731.] That was a misleading statement by Mr. Needham made in Parliament. I have the total figures for the comparisons in Northern Ireland, Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland for working days lost per 1,000 employees over an 18 year period from 1973 to 1991. The references Mr. Needham made to the 1970s covered three periods of critical community unrest in Northern Ireland. The increase of working days lost during those periods did not occur because of trade union action, nor were they disputes about wages or working conditions. The working days lost were the outcome of political partisan organised widespread community action. It was politically motivated action which included workplace stoppages. Many active trade unionists took part in those political stoppages, but not as trade unionists, nor for any great trade union decision or approval of procedure.

In my view it was wrong to use those inflated figures to bolster support for this industrial relations order. No trade union procedures nor trade union industrial relations legislation could have prevented the work stoppage then promoted. While I hope and pray that there will be no reason for recurrence of those ugly events in the community, the legislation proposed in the order cannot prevent such a work stoppage nor can the penalties for breaches of the law and provisions in the order be enforced.

Mention was made of the number of days lost in strikes both in Britain and in Northern Ireland. I could expand on that at some length but I shall make only one reference. There is a direct and relevant ratio between the full-time working days lost and the dramatic fall in full-time employment, and the tragic effect that that has on family life and happiness. It could be debated at some length and demonstrated that there is this interaction. However, I feel that this is neither the time nor the place.

I have no doubt that the order will proceed, with all its disadvantages to workers and trade unions in Northern Ireland. Whatever the future may be for the full implementation of the order, I am confident that trade unions in Northern Ireland will continue to work earnestly for the rights, wages and working conditions of their members. I believe that they will continue to enjoy the good, honest and creative working relations that exist between the trade unions and management in the Province.

1.30 p.m.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I thank the three noble Lords who have responded to the moving of this order. I agree with all three that this is not the way to deal with important legislation for Northern Ireland. However, at the moment it is the only way. I thank your Lordships for the detailed way with which the order has been dealt, even though I realise from what has been said that it does not attract universal support, notwithstanding the fact that all the new provisions it contains already apply in Great Britain.

In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, it is correct that the case for the order is that the legal and administrative framework for industrial relations in Northern Ireland is separate from that in Great Britain; but the legislation has generally followed that in the rest of the United Kingdom. The noble Lord says that it is no good simply saying something as though by rote; there must be a reason for a specific order. In this case there is such a need. Without going exhaustively over the ground again, it is quite clear that if one looks at the number of days lost through industrial action in Northern Ireland, there has been a steady improvement. I take pride—as quite rightly does the noble Lord, Lord Blease, with his record and knowledge of these matters—in the fact that by and large the record in Northern Ireland has been better than it has been both in the Republic of Ireland and in Great Britain. There has been a steady improvement in Northern Ireland at the same time as there has been a steady improvement in Great Britain. I account some of that improvement to the fact that we have replicated some of the industrial relations legislation passed in the Westminster Parliament for Northern Ireland. I now ask your Lordships to take another step and replicate three more of the industrial relations and employment Acts which have been passed by both Houses of Parliament.

Having said that, perhaps I can add that I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Blease, that the contribution made by and large by harmonious industrial relations in Northern Ireland, and particularly by the keeping of sectarianism off the shop floor, has been of the most enormous importance in recent years to the industrial and commercial history of Northern Ireland.

One last point that I wish to make on this general lead-in matter, to which all noble Lords referred, is that we must not forget the importance of the perception of those we want to be inward investors in Northern Ireland. If they see what they believe to be a fair and transparent system of industrial relations in place in Northern Ireland, it is the more likely that inward investors will set up there, which is what we want them to do. Surely in that context no one can possibly query the need and desirability for holding secret ballots prior to industrial action and for trade union elections.

I shall not go on about that. There is something of a political gulf in that regard between the official Opposition and the Government. However, your Lordships will perhaps forgive me for again reiterating the general case.

The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, was good enough to give me notice of a series of questions that he intended to ask. Some of them overlap with what other noble Lords have said. The first question concerned whether there was not an unequal impact of the order on unions based in Northern Ireland, in the Republic of Ireland and in Great Britain. With regard to the technicalities of the order, there is practically no difference between the unions which are based in the three different territories. The only outstanding difference is that the balloting requirements for unions' principal executive committees will not apply to the unions outside Northern Ireland. That is the only significant difference.

That recognises the realities of the situation and does not in some way give the unions based in the Republic of Ireland some kind of advantage over those based in Northern Ireland. As I said, only 8 per cent. of Northern Ireland trade unions belong to Republic of Ireland based unions. I believe that puts the matter in context. With regard to enforcement, the Government take the view that all the unions operating in Northern Ireland should observe Northern Ireland law. Failure to do so will be a matter for the courts.

The noble Lord asked whether the balloting provisions of the order would place at risk the identity of persons working in security-related establishments. It is the fact that the order was amended during the consultation period in order to provide adequate flexibility to safeguard trade union members working in security-related establishments, and in particular so that there would not be open access to union registers and members would only be able to inspect their own details. Where security is a consideration a member's name and an identifier, such as a payroll number, is all that needs to appear on the register. That is possibly the most important point which has been injected into the order. All that is required is not necessarily the name and address, but the name and some form of identifier, such as a payroll number. Incidentally, as the noble Lord will probably be well aware, but it is worth me saying so once again where security is again a consideration, it is possible for the ballot papers to be delivered by means other than just through the ordinary postal system.

The noble Lord asked whether in elections trade unions would need to provide members with pre-paid and addressed envelopes. The answer is yes, but the order provides that members must be given the opportunity to vote by post and to do so without direct cost to themselves. The union may apply to the certification officer for assistance towards the expenditure incurred. I hope that the noble Lord will consider that equitable.

The noble Lord asked two further questions about the certification officer. The first question which the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, asked was whether the certification officer could be seen as independent of the labour relations' organisation. It is important to bear in mind that the certification officer is serviced by the Labour Relations Agency for purely administrative purposes, or in the jargon, "pay and rations". That is in line with what has happened so far as ACAS and the certification officer are concerned in Great Britain.

Importantly, the certification officer is to be completely independent of the Labour Relations Agency. When detailed arrangements as to office accommodation are being finalised I give an assurance to the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, that the point that he has made this morning will most certainly be borne in mind in order to see if there is any way in which we can meet that particular point.

Finally, the noble Lord asked whether the certification officer will be able to exempt unions from strict compliance with the provisions of the order. The noble Lord will forgive me if I cannot give a definitive answer to that question in the absence of specific details. All I can say this morning is that the certification officer can only approve rules if they comply with Northern Ireland law.

The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, also recommended that there should be a comprehensive review of trade union law. As I believe I said earlier on, 80 per cent. of Northern Ireland trade unionists are members of the trade unions of Great Britain. Great Britain's legislation has been most successful in reducing the number of days lost and in returning unions to their members in a variety of ways. Although the Government would be prepared to listen to any constructive proposals which had the support of both sides of industry, for that reason I believe that a full-blown review is something which need not be on the agenda.

Before I finish perhaps I may say that I very rarely find myself in disagreement with the noble Lord, Lord Blease. I felt that the noble Lord was a little extreme, in my terms at any rate, in his references to the International Labour Organisation. The Government believe that there is nothing in general employment law of this country which contravenes any ILO convention ratified by the UK. Where the ILO committees have made observations on aspects of UK law, the Government have always responded, and will continue to respond, as and when appropriate. I end by thanking noble Lords for taking part in what I know is a controversial order. I commend the order to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.