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House of Commons
Session 2005 - 06
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Standing Committee Debates

Second Standing Committee
on Delegated Legislation




 
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Second Standing Committee
on Delegated Legislation

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman:

Mrs. Joan Humble

†Bellingham, Mr. Henry (North-West Norfolk) (Con)
†Clark, Paul (Gillingham) (Lab)
†Coaker, Mr. Vernon (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty’s Treasury)
†Creagh, Mary (Wakefield) (Lab)
Davies, David T.C. (Monmouth) (Con)
†Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings and Rye) (Lab)
†Goodman, Helen (Bishop Auckland) (Lab)
†Gove, Michael (Surrey Heath) (Con)
†Jones, Lynne (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab)
Lidington, Mr. David (Aylesbury) (Con)
†Moon, Mrs. Madeleine (Bridgend) (Lab)
†Mulholland, Greg (Leeds, North-West) (LD)
Penning, Mike (Hemel Hempstead) (Con)
†Simpson, David (Upper Bann) (DUP)
†Smith, Angela E. (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland)
†Waltho, Lynda (Stourbridge) (Lab)
Sue Griffiths, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee


 
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Tuesday 15 November 2005

[Mrs. Joan Humble in the Chair]

Draft Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order 2005

10.30 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Angela E. Smith): I beg to move,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order 2005.

It is a pleasure, Mrs. Humble, to be in front of you again to debate what appears from the attendance on the Opposition Benches not to be a highly contentious measure. The draft of the order was laid before the House on 24 October 2005, and its main purpose is to provide powers of entry to, and inspection of, employment agencies and employment businesses. The powers are needed to ascertain compliance with regulations governing such bodies operating from premises in Northern Ireland. The powers will also help to protect the interests of the recruitment industry’s users—work seekers and hirers. The provisions are broadly in line with those already in force in Great Britain and, also in line with Great Britain, the Department will carry out a programme of targeted inspections.

Consultation on the draft order confirmed that there is general support for the proposals including support from the recruitment industry itself. In addition, the order will amend the Fair Employment and Treatment (Northern Ireland) Order 1998, commonly known as FETO, to harmonise appointment criteria for the positions of president, vice-president and the panel of chairmen within the industrial tribunals and fair employment tribunal. This will enable individuals with appropriate legal qualifications from across the United Kingdom, not just Northern Ireland, to be appointed to these positions. A further minor amendment to FETO will clarify the fair employment tribunal’s power to enforce costs awards.

I commend the order to hon. Members as an opportunity to safeguard the interests of clients using employment agencies and employment businesses. I am convinced that these provisions will result in increased confidence for users of the recruitment industry in Northern Ireland.

10.31 am

Michael Gove (Surrey Heath) (Con): I apologise to the Committee on behalf of the shadow Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington), who has been unavoidably detained this morning. He and his team have looked very closely at the order that the Minister has been kind enough to introduce and would like to congratulate her on the
 
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thoroughness of her work. They agree with every particular of the order and commend it to the House. The Opposition are delighted to support the work that she is doing in this regard.

10.32 am

David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP): We broadly support the order; it is a very positive move. I have, however, one small question for the Minister. The orders talks about the powers that officers will have, but can she explain how much power they will have to enter premises? As she knows, in parts of Northern Ireland, officers and inspectors of any degree from government are not very welcome.

10.33 am

Greg Mulholland (Leeds, North-West) (LD): I echo the views already expressed. My party welcomes the order and has no issues of contention with it. As well as noting the comments of the recruitment agencies that replied to the consultation, we particularly noted the response from the Northern Ireland Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux, which anticipated that the proposals would increase the protection available for employees. That is key to this issue.

I wish to ask a brief but not entirely fundamental question on which I would welcome the Minister’s comments. Has she considered our suggestion that the responses to the consultation be published on departmental websites?

10.34 am

Angela E. Smith: I thank the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) for his generous comments. I appreciate them. A great deal of work has gone into the order, and it strikes the balance between ensuring adequate protection without putting too onerous a burden on businesses.

The hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Greg Mulholland) asked about publication of the responses. Perhaps he is not aware that the information has already been published on the Department’s website. Responses to consultation are published on the website on every occasion, so I can reassure him on that point. I thank him for his broad support for the order.

The hon. Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson) asked about the powers of entry, and I can inform him that one inspection is undertaken every four years for such businesses. Three new offences have been created for someone trying to obstruct an officer carrying out his powers. The first is obstructing an officer as he exercises the powers in the order and the second is to fail without reasonable explanation or excuse to furnish an officer with such information as may reasonably be required. Wrongful disclosure of information would also be an offence.

The one difference between the legislation in Great Britain and in Northern Ireland on powers of entry would be when an inspector could remove papers to be copied and then return the originals. However, I do not expect there to be any particular issues regarding employment agencies on powers of inspections. All the
 
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agencies that we have surveyed have said that they would welcome such powers as protection for them as well. I do not anticipate any conflict in the execution of the duties of the officers in undertaking inspections.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,


 
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    That the Committee has considered the draft Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order 2005.

Committee rose at twenty-four minutes to Eleven o’clock.

 
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