I propose to take Questions Nos. 10 and 18 together.
In keeping with the voluntary nature of our industrial relations system, responsibility for trade union rationalisation rests largely with the trade union movement itself. The role of the Government is one of encouraging and facilitating the process. The Trade Union Act, 1975, was specifically introduced to facilitate and encourage the amalgamation of trade unions by simplifying the procedures and by making grants available towards the costs involved.
While the response to the Act in the first few years of its operation was less than was anticipated, I am encouraged that a number of amalgamations have taken place in recent years and that many more are in progress or under active discussion at present. Since 1970 the number of unions has declined from 95 to 74.
Under the terms of the Act, grants may only be paid at present where trade unions successfully complete an amalgamation or transfer of engagements. I accept that this can be a considerable obstacle to inducing unions to consider amalgamation options. The Bill on industrial relations reform which is at present being drafted will provide that financial assistance may be available for expenses incurred in attempting an amalgamation or transfer of engagements even if the proposed amalgamation or transfer does not eventually go ahead. I would hope that this measure will encourage further amalgamations among unions.