HL Deb 04 March 1999 vol 597 cc1906-7

10.14 p.m.

Lord Dubs rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 22nd February be approved.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of this order is to amend the law in Northern Ireland on trade union subscription deduction arrangements—a system known as "check off'—and to place it on the same footing as the law in Great Britain. The change to the law in Great Britain was effected by the Deregulation (Deduction from Pay of Union Subscriptions) Order 1998 which came into force on 23rd June 1998.

The relevant provisions are located in Articles 35 and 36 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1995. These have been unpopular both with employers and trade unions because they impose unnecessary burdens and costs on them.

These burdens are eased by the order's provisions in two ways. First, the requirement on employers to obtain repeat authorisations from individual workers at least every three years, confirming their wish to continue paying their trade union subscriptions by "check off', is removed. Secondly, employers need not notify workers one month in advance if the amount to he deducted by "check off' is to increase.

These changes do not affect those aspects of the legislation on "check off' which provide necessary protection for workers. Written authorisations are still required from workers before deductions through "check off' can begin, and workers are free at any time to withdraw their authorisation if they so wish. Itemised pay statements under Article 40 of the Employment Rights (Northern Ireland) Order 1996 showing the amount of any deduction are still required to be provided by employers. These arrangements are considered by government to provide a sufficient safeguard to ensure that employees are informed about and in control of deductions from their pay.

While the order removes the burdensome aspects of the law on "check off' which are universally unpopular, it retains the necessary protections and freedoms for individuals to opt in and opt out of the "check off' arrangements on pay.

I commend the order to your Lordships. I beg to move.

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

Earl Attlee

My Lords. I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation of this order. We are entirely content with it because it reduces a burden on business.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead

My Lords, I. too, do not oppose the principle of the draft order, which fulfils a manifesto commitment made by the party now in government. It was endorsed by the electorate of England, Scotland and Wales. The party in government did not field candidates in Northern Ireland; therefore. those in Northern Ireland, particularly members of trade unions, did not have the opportunity to express their approval.

I wonder what the reason was for the intention originally to embody this clear-cut formula in what was called a composite order or, as the late Eric Heffer said, a composite Order in Council. Why was it intended to do that, rather than to repeat the same formula that was used in the rest of the United Kingdom, fulfilling as it did the clear-cut manifesto commitment? It may be difficult for the Minister to answer that, as he was not responsible, but it seems to be something of an anomaly. Maybe there is a message in that for the Assembly when it comes to do the work and tries to avoid the vital commitment in a composite order which, among other things, has no relationship to this particular item.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, I am grateful for the comments that have been made. On the specific point made by the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, I understand that it is not possible to legislate in Northern Ireland in the same way as it is in Great Britain. In Great Britain, under provisions in the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994, the Secretary of State has power to make orders removing or reducing burdens on business. That power does not extend to Northern Ireland.

It had been planned to legislate by a deregulation Northern Ireland Order in Council. However, there was insufficient time to complete all the stages required for a deregulation measure containing a number of different issues before the transfer of power to the Assembly. Consultation took place on draft provisions dealing only with the trade union subscription deduction arrangements with a view to there being an early measure introduced by the Assembly.

Yet again, we have some differences in Northern Ireland, but I think we end up in the same place as in Great Britain. Provisions will be the same and businesses and employees will benefit similarly from this order.

On Question, Motion agreed to.