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Northern Ireland Assembly

Monday 14 May 2001 (continued)

Ms Rodgers:

The cull sow welfare scheme was initiated in response to demands and concerns expressed by the industry. As I understand the situation, the factory concerned would not be able to take all of the cull sows. The opportunity exists to bring the cull sows to the factory or to put them into the welfare scheme. There is not much difference in price. The same price for the cull sow scheme is being paid in GB.

There are susceptible animals in Gosford Forest Park, and that is the reason the park has not yet been opened. Above all, the Department has to be seen to be abiding by its own guidelines, and I will continue to be guided by the veterinary advice on that matter. I do recognise the problem, but everyone has problems at this time.

Mr Hussey:

I welcome the good news contained in the Minister's statement. The Minister will be aware that I had a written question down, believing that the Agriculture Committee was dealing with the costs of veterinary certification for movement certificates.

Will the Minister request her officials to look at the administration of this so that payment can be made directly to the vets, rather than burdening the farmers with additional administration?

Ms Rodgers:

My understanding is that the vets are dealing directly with the Department and that the Department is paying the vets. That is, and should be, the case. If there is some misunderstanding about that, I will be able to clear it up. I made the position clear at the industry meeting 10 days ago. The farmer does not pay the private vet, but the vet is paid directly by the Department on production of the necessary documentation.

Mr Byrne:

I thank the Minister for her statement, and I welcome her comments on the efforts to regain regionalisation for those parts of Northern Ireland that have had no foot-and-mouth disease so far. Does the Department of Agriculture have any guidelines for those people, particularly the candidates involved in the local government or Westminster elections?

Ms Rodgers:

My Department has been in touch with the returning officer. He has agreed to issue the Department's guidelines to all the candidates with the rest of their papers. Candidates and canvassers are asked to abide by the guidelines. This means staying away from farm land and farm animals. I do not need to spell out that people traipsing from farm to farm would be extremely risky. I want to underline that, because there are sheep on some of the farms, and we are concerned about the sheep flocks.

I imagine that people seeking election - and many of them are in this Chamber - will already be aware of the guidelines and will adhere strictly to them. However, there may be some candidates who are not as aware of the risks as those of us who are in the Chamber. It is important that all know that the guidelines apply to canvassers and candidates as well as to ordinary members of the public. We are no different.

Mr Paisley Jnr:

I too welcome the Minister's statement and the good news about the tests on flocks in north Antrim, as will many people in that area. I understand that compensation has been paid for only 11,000 of the 46,000 animals that have been culled to date in Northern Ireland. Can the Minister explain what has caused the delay in paying three quarters of those who have lost animals?

I understand that 10,000 serology tests can be carried out per day. Is the Minister convinced that she has adequate resources to deal with the extensive serology testing required? How soon does she expect to have those tests completed?

Finally, can she tell the House whether the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development has traced all the sheep that were unaccounted for at the beginning of this crisis - and which appear to lie at the heart of this disease - so that we can ensure that the disease does not spread any further? I also endorse the comments that have been made by several Members, right across the House, about the equestrian industry. I hope that special relief can be given to that industry so that those involved do not lose further income.

Ms Rodgers:

I thank Mr Paisley Jnr for his question. There is no delay in the compensation payments. They are being processed, and they will be paid out as soon as that has been done. We have accounted for all of the sheep that came in the consignment that caused the initial concern.

They have all been accounted for and have been culled or had already been slaughtered in abattoirs.

I cannot remember the other question.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

It concerned resources for serology testing.

Ms Rodgers:

When we initially began the serology testing, we clearly had to get up to speed. The problem was not the capacity to do 10,000 tests a day, but rather the capacity to take 10,000 blood samples a day. We have brought in private vets to help and are also bringing in other people in the Department who have expertise in taking bloods.

We are almost at 10,000 tests a day. I am happy that we are able to deal with that number. Clearly it would be better if we could do 20,000 tests a day, but 10,000 a day are as much as we can deal with. Unfortunately, it will take a few weeks to finish the serology tests.

Mr Armstrong:

I welcome the cull sow scheme, which will alleviate many of the stock problems on the pig farms. It is very disappointing that the fixed amount is only £30 - again, somebody is making a great deal of money out of the farmers. However, it is very good news that the farmers have up to 30 June to complete the IACS form.

Will the Minister consider letting beef cattle that would be over-30-months old before the 10 km area ban is lifted move to abattoirs on welfare grounds? I believe that her officials, and a meat plant, are in favour of that type of operation's happening this week.

Ms Rodgers:

The issue to which the Member refers is being addressed under welfare considerations. I anticipate that some limited direct slaughter from the 10 km surveillance zone may be possible.

Mr Kane:

I report to the Minister, and to the House, the enormous sense of relief among the tourist trade and the farmers following her announcement that there has not been a further outbreak at Murlough in north Antrim.

Can the Minister confirm that there is a determination to progress the farm-to-farm sale of livestock from 23 May? What measures will be required of farmers to ensure that that is done with as little risk as possible? These transfers are desperately needed and are a welcome development for farmers' cash flows and animal management and welfare.

Ms Rodgers:

The details and protocols of the farm- to-farm movement of animals on 23 May will be in the farming press at the weekend. In addition, I will be having my regular meeting with the industry and getting the information out to the farming community through that. The union, in particular, will be made aware of the situation.

Mr Leslie:

In common with the other Members for North Antrim, I echo the considerable sigh of relief following the news that there was not a further case of foot-and-mouth disease in the Ballycastle area.

I commend the Minister and her Department on the serology programme. I must say that processing 43,000 tests in a week is a very impressive figure - I trust that the testing is, indeed, robust. The Minister has pointed out that the testing may produce false positives, but I trust that it will not produce false negatives. The results of the testing so far seem to completely contradict the view of the rumour factory. That is a great relief, and I hope that that will continue.

To what does the Minister attribute the confirmed outbreak in Cushendall?

Does she consider that this resulted from the illegal movement of animals, and, if so, where did those animals come from?

1.00 pm

Ms Rodgers:

The results of blood tests so far confirm our suspicion that there is blatant infection in the sheep flock. Fifty-five cases recorded with the ELISA titres were sent to Pirbright, as they were inconclusive or false positives. Of those, three proved positive on the Pirbright test, which meant that although they did not have the disease, they had been exposed to it. In the case of one inconclusive result at Pirbright, we have restricted the herd and are clinically inspecting and resampling it.

With regard to the three positive results that were found, one small flock of approximately 64 sheep was culled, and the other two had already been culled under the precautionary measures. We are discovering that there is a danger in some cases, and we are getting to it little by little. I cannot answer the question about the Cushendall outbreak, because we have not reached its source. However, it is being investigated and followed up. In those cases we follow up all known connections with any other flocks or movements, but we can run into a blank wall. This is not necessarily the fault of the farmer concerned, but it can suggest that somewhere along the line there has been illegal movement. However, I cannot say at present.


Game Preservation (Amendment) Bill: First Stage

The Minister of the Environment (Mr Foster):

I beg leave to lay before the Assembly a Bill to amend the Game Preservation Act (Northern Ireland) 1928.

Bill passed First Stage and ordered to be printed.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

The Bill will be put on the list of future pending business until a date for its Second Stage is determined.


Family Law Bill: Consideration Stage


Mr Deputy Speaker:

Members will have a copy of the Marshalled List of amendments detailing the order for consideration. The five amendments all relate to clause one and have been grouped together for debate.

Clause 1 (Acquisition of parental responsibility by father or step-parent)

The Minister of Finance and Personnel (Mr Durkan):

I beg to move amendment 1. In page 2, line 10, leave out

"section 13"

and insert

"paragraph (a), (b)(i) or (c) of Section 18(1)."

The following amendments stood on the Marshalled List:

No 2 (clause 1): In page 2, line 23, leave out "Accordingly" and insert "The Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 shall be further amended as follows". - [Mr Durkan]

No 3 (clause 1): In page 2, line 23, at end insert

"( ) in Article 3(4) (circumstances in which the court must have regard in particular to matters listed in Article 3(3)), after sub-paragraph (a) there shall be inserted -

'(aa) the court is considering whether to make an order under Article 7; or'" - [Mr Durkan]

No 4 (clause 1): In page 2, line 24, leave out "of the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995" - [Mr Durkan]

No 5 (clause 1): In page 2, line 30, leave out "of that Order " - [Mr Durkan]

I also want to take this opportunity to speak to amendments 2, 3, 4 and 5.

Amendment 1 corrects an inaccurate reference to the legislation in Scotland dealing with the joint registration of births by unmarried parents. There has been some confusion about the appropriate sections of the Scottish legislation to which this Bill should refer.

Amendment 2 is a drafting amendment and is consequential to amendment 3. Although amendment 2 is a drafting amendment, it does not stand alone. Amendments 3 to 5 depend on amendment 2's being passed. Amendment 3 is the only substantive amendment to clause 1.

It requires a court, when making an order under article 7 of the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995, to have specific regard to the best interests of the child. In particular, it requires the court to take account of the wishes and feelings of the child when making a parental responsibility order in favour of the child in respect of an unmarried father or a step-parent. This amendment flows from the Committee Stage of the Bill, and I am happy to take it forward.

Amendments 4 and 5 are, again, purely drafting and technical amendments following from amendment 3. They in no way alter the substance of the Bill. They reflect the way in which amendment 3 has been drafted.

The Chairperson of the Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety (Dr Hendron):

I am very pleased to support the amendments brought forward by the Minister in relation to the principle of the best interests of the child. I am particularly pleased that the Committee's report on the Family Law Bill, which deals primarily with the acquisition of parental responsibility by unmarried fathers and step-parents, enjoys the unanimous support of the Committee. I thank all the members for their industry and commitment in considering the detailed and sometimes complex arguments in relation to this short but significant Bill.

On behalf of the Committee, I also extend my appreciation to the Committee for Finance and Personnel for its co-operation in affording us the opportunity of scrutinising the Bill, which makes appropriate amendments to the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995. The Committee further wishes to place on record its gratitude to the 16 individuals and organisations who provided such a high standard of detailed written and oral evidence.

The Bill, although short and containing only five clauses, was widely accepted as significant but complex, and, in addressing three broad areas, it provoked a series of arguments relating to sometimes competing equality and human rights issues. It was with particular regard to the rights of the child that the Committee sought the amendments to clause 1 that have been brought forward by the Minister. They basically reinforce article 3 of the 1995 Order, which states that courts must place paramount consideration on the best interests of the child when making a decision on its upbringing.

The Bill relates to three broad areas. First, it provides that an unmarried father who jointly registers the birth of his child with the child's mother shall have parental responsibility for that child. It also provides for a step- parent to apply to a court for an order conferring parental responsibility on the step-parent in relation to a child of his or her spouse.

Secondly, the Bill creates a statutory presumption of paternity where a man was married to a child's mother at any time between the child's conception and birth, and where he has been registered as the child's father in the Register of Births, Deaths and Marriages. In both cases, that parental responsibility may be terminated only by a court order.

Thirdly, the Bill updates the law by enabling courts to direct the taking and testing of bodily samples to prove or disprove a child's parentage. Currently, the courts are confined to directing the taking and testing of blood.

The backdrop to this Bill lies with the Government's recognition of the changing patterns of family life. Fewer people are marrying, and increasing numbers are choosing to live together. In 1999, almost 7,000 children were born outside marriage in Northern Ireland, representing 30·3% of all live births. Of those, 4,487 - 64·5% - were jointly registered by the unmarried father and mother.

Under the 1995 Order, unmarried fathers can acquire parental responsibility for their child only by entering into a parental responsibility agreement with the mother of their child, or by obtaining an order from the court. However, the level of take-up through these mechanisms has been low. In 1999, less than 200 parental responsibility orders were made in respect of unmarried fathers.

Nonetheless, it appears that that trend does not reflect unwillingness on the part of unmarried fathers to assume parental responsibility, given that substantial numbers of live births outside of marriage are registered jointly by the mother and father. As current legislation does not confer parental responsibility on the unmarried father who registers the birth of the child, the vast majority of unmarried fathers have no formal relationship with their children.

It is, therefore, widely accepted that clause 1 of the Bill is fraught with difficulty; it involves competing human rights and equality arguments. Some say that the Bill discriminates against unmarried fathers by not granting them automatic parental responsibility for their children. The Committee acknowledges that the rights of unmarried fathers are firmly embedded in the rights of children and mothers.

In that context, the Committee had particular regard to the case of McMichael versus UK. The European Court of Human Rights found that the rights of an unmarried father were not infringed by the fact that he did not have parental responsibility. The court upheld the UK Government's view that the non-automatic granting of parental rights to unmarried fathers was a justified interference in family life to protect the rights of mothers and children from unworthy or abusive fathers.

Therefore, favouring a degree of caution, the Committee took the view that any differential treatment between parents on the basis of gender or marital status in articles 8 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights was reasonably justifiable on the basis of the need for protection for mothers, fathers and children.

The Committee was content with the provision in clause 1 for a step-parent to apply for a court order conferring parental responsibility for a child of his or her spouse. It accepts that in many second marriages a strong bond is built between a step-parent and a child who may have lost contact with the natural parent. From a practical perspective, for taking decisions with the other parent on the child's education and welfare, it is important that a legal relationship be established between the step-parent and his or her new children.

The fact that the natural parents will continue to have parental responsibility and can alert the court to objections that they may have - objections that it must take on board - provides for fair representation and should help to guard against the absent natural parents being sidelined. The inclusion of the best interest test, for the court to consider when making an order to confer parental responsibility on the step-parent by way of the proposed amendment to clause 1, is most welcome. The rights of children lie at the heart of the Bill. Consequently, there is a clear duty to protect their best interests.

The Committee is satisfied that the Bill provides a mechanism for the courts to divest unmarried fathers and step-parents of parental responsibility, which is viewed as a sensible safeguard to protect children and mothers from violence, abuse and intimidation. The Committee also considered the argument that the Bill should provide equally for married parents to lose parental responsibility where the circumstances warrant it. However, the Committee was satisfied with the current provision in such circumstances, whereby parental responsibility can be held additionally by the health and social services where it is felt that the child is suffering significant harm and will be taken into care.

The Committee considered the arguments for the Bill to have retrospective effect but concluded that that could impose unfair obligations on the unmarried father who had not registered his children with the intention of securing parental responsibility. On the other hand, an unmarried father can avail of the existing procedure of entering into a parental responsibility agreement if he wants to establish a legal relationship with a child born prior to the commencement of the new legislation.

Several witnesses made compelling arguments for the acquisition of parental responsibility to be linked to the provision of emotional and practical care, direction and guidance to the child. Some proposed that the definition of parental responsibility in the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 be amended.

(Mr Speaker in the Chair)

Although the Committee accepts the arguments against redefining parental responsibility, particularly because this would have effects outside the Family Law Bill, it strongly agrees with the many witnesses who stressed the importance of developing an effective, high-profile and widespread publicity campaign about its implications.

1.15 pm

A public information document about how to obtain parental responsibility must be made available to all new parents, and the document must set out what parental responsibility entails in clear terms. The publicity campaign must place as strong an emphasis on rights and powers as it does on the duty to provide emotional care, direction and guidance for the child. The importance of showing respect and support to the mother should also be highlighted.

Clause 2 is accepted as a sensible provision. It puts the common law presumption that a man who is married to a woman between the conception and birth of a child is the father of that child and the new legal presumption that any unmarried man who is registered as the father of a child is the father of the child on a statutory footing. The Committee was satisfied that the Bill provides for the presumption of paternity in both instances to be rebutted on the balance of probabilities.

Clause 3 is a welcome, technical measure that will provide the courts with additional powers to help determine the parentage of a child in a less invasive and distressing way. Existing mechanisms allow for blood samples to be taken only from the child or putative father. However, the new legislation will provide for courts to direct that bodily samples, such as saliva or hair, be taken for the purposes of scientific tests to determine parentage.

The Committee was satisfied with the Office of Law Reform's assurance that, under article 3 of the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995, a court shall have regard to the wishes and feelings of the child in relation to tests for determining parentage. Members were satisfied with the general principle that responsibility for the costs of determining parentage will be decided after the event. If a parent with care instigates proceedings to obtain a declaration of parentage and is successful, the absent parent who has disputed parentage will pay the costs.

I commend the Bill, as amended , as a progressive and balanced piece of legislation that takes account of the rapidly changing basis on which people are choosing to live together by encouraging unmarried fathers to have meaningful and legal relationships with their children. The Bill sensibly seeks to recognise and accommodate changes in family structures. However, the Committee is satisfied that it contains safeguards to ensure that the rights of children are promoted and not compromised.

Mr Speaker:

I would like to say something to ensure that a precedent is not established here. The Chairperson referred not only to the matter under debate - the amendments to clause 1 - but to a number of other clauses as well, for which he provided explanation and comment. This is a reasonably short Bill, and it was not necessarily an unreasonable thing to do at this juncture. However, it is important that it should not set a precedent. Chairpersons, when dealing with one clause, cannot, for instance, take into account the following 65 clauses that some more substantial Bills may have.

The Member referred to the Bill as amended. I have little doubt about what the House will do, but at this point it is not amended - he should have referred to the Bill as presented.

The Minister of Finance and Personnel (Mr Durkan):

I welcome Dr Hendron's comments on the amendments and some of his broader remarks. I am glad that he is able to record the Committee's support for the amendments as well as for the broad purposes of the Bill. The Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety scrutinised this short but significant Bill thoroughly, and that thoroughness was reflected in Dr Hendron's coverage of the issues that were of particular concern and interest to the Committee.

I am grateful for the role that he and Committee members have played, and, like him and his Committee, I am grateful for the role of the Committee for Finance and Personnel in allowing scrutiny in this particular way. I welcome the fact that the Committee has been able to give the Bill some thought and that its thinking has facilitated some of the amendments before us. I am glad too that the good working relationship that I have previously acknowledged between the Office of Law Reform and the Committee for Finance and Personnel has been matched by the relationship between the Office of Law Reform and the Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety.

Mr Speaker:

Amendment 1 - moved or not moved?

Mr Durkan:


Amendment agreed to.

Amendment (No2) made:

In page 2, line 23, leave out "accordingly" and insert

"The Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 shall be further amended as follows" - [Mr Durkan]

Amendment (No3) made:

In page 2, line 23, at end insert

"( ) in article3(4) (circumstances in which the court must have regard in particular to matters listed in article 3 (3), after sub-paragraph (a) there shall be inserted -

'(aa) the court is considering whether to make an order under article 7; or'' - [Mr Durkan]

Amendment (No4) made:

In page 2, line 24, leave out "of the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995" - [Mr Durkan]

Amendment (No5) made:

In page 2, line 30, leave out "of that Order" - [Mr Durkan]

Clause 1, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 2 to 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Long title agreed to.

Mr Speaker:

The Bill stands referred to the Speaker.


Code of Practice on Access to Workers
During Recognition and Derecognition Ballots


The Minister of Higher and Further Education, Training and Employment (Dr Farren):

I beg to move

That the Code of Practice on Access to Workers During Recognition and Derecogntion Ballots, laid before the Assemby on 13 April 2001, be approved.

I refer to the draft code of practice on access to workers during recognition and derecognition ballots as the draft code. It was laid before the Assembly on 13 April 2001 and is subject to the affirmative resolution procedure of the Assembly. I will provide background information for Members.

From 8 March 2001, under the trade union recognition process, trade unions were given a statutory right to seek recognition for the purpose of conducting collective bargaining in the areas of pay, hours, holidays and other agreed matters. There is also a right for employers to seek derecognition of a trade union where the statutory acceptance criteria no longer apply. Where disputes arise about recognition, they may be referred for adjudication to the Industrial Court, the Northern Ireland body equivalent to the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) in Great Britain.

The draft code corresponds closely with that in operation in Great Britain from June 2000. It is important to emphasise that that code only comes into play in limited circumstances, when the Industrial Court orders a ballot to be held. That would happen at the later stages of the adjudication process on trade union recognition. The court will give notice to both the employer and union that a ballot is to be held. The aim of the draft code is to provide practical guidance to both employers and employees about the issues that arise in such circumstances.

Given the purpose of the legislation, focus is placed on the rights of unions and workers in relation to employers. However, it is important to appreciate that that rests on the presumption that a voluntary agreement should always be preferable. That presumption is demonstrable at every stage of the adjudication process and in the code of practice. It follows that unions and employers are expected to show good faith and act reasonably and responsibly throughout the process. If the question of recognition comes to be resolved by ballot, which implies at least some degree of impasse in resolving it, the draft code sets out how employers and trade unions are expected to conduct themselves before and during the ballot arrangements.

The code itself does not impose legal obligations, and failure to observe it does not, in itself, leave anyone open to legal proceedings. However, it is important to appreciate that provisions of the code are admissible in evidence, and are to be taken into account before any court, tribunal or, indeed, the Industrial Court itself, where considered relevant. It is also important to appreciate that full consultation has taken place in Northern Ireland on the code's content. I understand that there is general and widespread acceptance of its provisions. The code itself has also been subject to some discussion and deliberation in the departmental Committee.

I commend the code to the Assembly.

The Deputy Chairperson of the Committee for Higher and Further Education, Training and Employment (Mr Carrick):

Members of the Committee are grateful that the Department consulted us on the draft code of practice, enabling us to examine it in detail and to highlight several concerns.

The Committee notes that the code of practice should take effect only towards the end of a potentially lengthy adjudication process, based on the Employment Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1999, which gives new rights, principally to workers and trade unions. However, there is also a right contained in the legislation for employers to seek derecognition of a trade union. Both the legislation and the code of practice presume that a voluntary agreement is always preferable. Unions and employers are expected to act reasonably and responsibly throughout the process. The Committee welcomes the fact, in the light of its response to the Minister, that that duty is now more explicitly stated in the code.

Members also questioned where more guidance was needed in the code to cover situations when agreement cannot be reached on access to workers. We have noted the Minister's response that a more prescriptive approach may be neither practicable nor successful in that area, given that individual circumstances are likely to be highly varied. We also note that the Industrial Court panel has been empowered to stipulate access provisions in such cases when necessary.

1.30 pm

There are also potential difficulties for employers when any multiple-union applications are made. We have noted that the industrial court will not accept competing applications on the presumption that it would not be appropriate for it to adjudicate on that matter, nor to become involved in inter-union disputes.

In Great Britain, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) has confirmed its commitment to resolving such inter- union issues before application stage. In Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (NIC-ICTU) expects to adopt a similar stance. Multi-union applications are very much the exception rather than the rule, and they are likely to remain so.

I approve of the principles contained in the code and note that an almost identical code of practice has been operating in Great Britain since June 2000. Very few cases have needed to proceed as far as a ballot, and there has been no indication of difficulties with the laid-down procedures.

The Department is aware that the code cannot be a static document and will need to keep pace with developments. The Minister has given a commitment that this area will be closely monitored over the coming months to ensure that the intention of the code is being delivered. The Higher and Further Education, Training and Employment Committee looks forward to receiving the results of that monitoring in the future and will be keen to ensure that the code of practice is operating effectively in Northern Ireland. I commend the motion to the House.

Mr Dallat:

I support the motion, and I thank the Minister for bringing it to the House. As indicated, the nature of the legislation dictates that it will come into force only in the very rare circumstances when voluntary agreements between employers and unions cannot be reached. One hopes that the voluntary route would be used more often. Indeed, that has been the case in Britain. The motion recognises the preference for voluntary settlements and facilitates that. However, it also sends an important message from the Assembly that it will, if necessary, empower the unions to have access to their members.

We must not forget that the unions have played a key role in the development of labour relations and in the evolution of modern industry and commerce. We salute the work of the unions in many fields, which has transformed the rights of workers, not simply in terms of pay, but also in conditions of employment, health and safety and as partners in the development of successful businesses. Unions will continue to play a key role as we enter a new era, which is fraught with difficulty but also brings exciting challenges.

We have concentrated in the Chamber recently on the issue of skill shortages in certain sectors. The Committee is currently looking at the relationship between industry and further education. These are good times for the economy - unemployment is at an all-time low, and there are many more people in employment in Northern Ireland than ever before. Nevertheless, progress brings with it problems - real problems in which the unions have a critical role to play.

However, we must not forget the bad times. Just over 10 years ago, unemployment stood at more than 15%. Economic times were not so good, and industrial relations may not have been as good either. It is important that we bear that in mind when considering the motion.

Dr Farren:

I express my thanks to the Members who have spoken, particularly those on the Committee for the consideration they have given to the code of practice and for the general support they have expressed for that. I have been pleased to take account of some of the comments that have come from Committee members, and those have been incorporated into the code. I want to emphasise that the code represents a further step in the strengthening of rights on both sides in the work place - the rights of employers and, significantly, the rights of people in the workforce and the rights of the trade union movement.

In recent years, we have seen a series of measures adopted with respect to industrial relations and employment legislation that have sought to strengthen those rights. The code will be monitored, and I want to emphasise the voluntary approach to recognition and derecognition. The code will indicate how both sides should proceed on those rare occasions where the voluntary approach has not resulted in a positive outcome.

Question put and agreed to.


That the Code of Practice on Access to Workers During Recognition and Derecognition Ballots, laid before the Assembly on 13 April 2001, be approved.


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