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Lord Fitt: My Lords, the noble Baroness has answered many of the questions that I had intended to ask. The most important concerns the difference between trade unions in Northern Ireland and in the rest of the United Kingdom because of the existence of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. Was there any difficulty in finding agreement? Many of the trade unions in Northern Ireland cross the Border.
Before I sit down I want to congratulate the Minister. Many new phrases and words have been brought into being and coined because of the circumstances in Northern Ireland. I see that she has found another one and she can take credit for it. This is the first time I have ever heard of "agentisation". She can take credit for introducing that word into the Northern Ireland vocabulary.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her introduction of the order and for the opportunity to reiterate what she saidso many people who have contributed to trade unions in Northern Ireland have done so much in the struggle against sectarianism.
Some of the articles are curious. They may well be part of general law in this country but that does not excuse their oddity. Why is a direct debit equivalent for the payment of union subscriptions limited to three years only? My subscription to my trade unionthe Bar Councilgoes on forever, or until death, whichever comes first. On an occasion as solemn as this I must not intrude into private grief, but I believe that even the dwindling number of Conservative Party supporters who pay subscriptions by direct debit are able to subscribe, if they wish, however misguided they may be, for a period of longer than three years. Why does the protection of the law after a strike ballot last for only four weeks? Many people who are concerned with union negotiations feel that that is rather too tight a timetable.
I entirely agree with the Minister when she said that one wants to develop, assist and support democracy in unions with every possible mechanism available. Therefore, why does Article 140 take away financial state assistance for unions to have ballots and even the obligation on an employer to make premises available for such a ballot? It seems to me quite nonsensical to want internal union democracy and to take away two of the means for bringing that about. The Minister has dealt with the question of VAT. Is it not the case that the CBI and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions both support an employment appeal tribunal in Northern Ireland?
My final question to the Minister is this: why is it that the right to belong to the union of one's choice is not allowed in this legislative scheme? I am conscious of the fact that I have bowled a fair number of questions and that I have not had my usual opportunity to give full notice of them to the Minister. At this time of night and in the spirit of harmony in which we always operate, I am perfectly content if the noble Baroness feels it to be more useful and efficient to write to me rather than to reply to the questions of which I did not give her full notice.
I should have said that my noble friend Lord Fitt and the noble Lord, Lord Holme, in one case were short and in the other, silent, because they both have serious difficulties about transport owing, I believe, to an incident of government policy to do with the conduct of the railways.
Baroness Denton of Wakefield: My Lords, I take the message about it being appropriate this evening to respond promptly, although British Rail and the unions negotiate their own settlements or problems. I say quickly to the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, that the problems resulting from cross-Border activities were discussed with the Northern Ireland Committee. As I have said, the one area where there may have been a problem has been taken out.
Baroness Denton of Wakefield: My Lords, I suspect that it is indeed very effective. I also suspect that there are many of my gender who would argue with that. I shall write to the noble Lord. Most of the questions he raised were raised by the Opposition Front Bench spokesmen in the other place. There are answers. I fully appreciate the difficulties that may affect people in getting home. I also appreciate the problems which the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, has. Lady Fitt is not in the best of health and I wish her a speedy recovery. With the great affection which this House has for Northern Ireland, I commend this order to the House.
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