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4.15 pm

Lord Browne of Belmont: In welcoming this order, I recognise the constant need to review and refresh the groupings in Northern Ireland that require specification for the purpose of sentencing. I fully support the Northern Ireland Office in its efforts to bring about such provisions. However, I point out that until now no such legislative sanction has been available against "glaigh na hEireann, despite initially being cited by the Independent Monitoring Commission in February 2006—some two and a half years ago. If further groups emerge—and I sincerely hope that they do not—that possess the structures, ideology and capability of a terrorist grouping and the Secretary of State receives assessments confirming that, I hope that it will not take two and a half years before their inclusion under the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998.

I give a guarded welcome to the despecification of the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Red Hand Commando. We have to recognise the hard work and dedicated efforts by community leaders in Northern Ireland and the organisations themselves to bring about such a situation. What continuing support and assistance do the Government intend to give loyalist communities so that they can continue to stride away from the grip of the paramilitaries and ensure that those who were once consumed by the past never return to it?

I note that the Provisional IRA remains a non-specified organisation. What efforts has the Minister made to see the final withdrawal of the IRA’s Army Council? That is necessary so that further political progress can be made in Northern Ireland. Can the Minister give an assessment of the continued specification of the Loyalist Volunteer Force and other such groups which, although they masquerade as politically focused paramilitary movements, adorn themselves with such convenient shrouds simply to gain control and deference in their local community? They are nothing more than a facade for deeply damaging criminal empires. Indeed, in the 18th report of the Independent Monitoring Commission, the LVF was recognised as such. Is it not high time that they were treated as such?

Lord Bew: Like other noble Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing this order and for the manner in which he introduced it. He made a convincing case. I have just one query, and it may not be possible for him to deal with it this afternoon. From our discussions today, and in the other place, it is clear that there are matters of considerable sensitivity here. An issue that was raised in the other place but not, so far as I am aware, fully responded to by the Government was, in the event of the devolution of policing and justice powers in Northern Ireland—the day for that seems to be drawing quite near—what happens to the Secretary of State’s power to specify an organisation? From our discussions, it can be seen that these are complicated and difficult matters. I am not clear—perhaps I should be—and I know others are not clear about what happens to the Secretary of State’s power in this matter. Will it become a devolved matter or will it remain with the Secretary of State?

Lord Rooker: I am grateful for the comments. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Bew, the power will not be devolved. I regret if that was not made clear

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during the debate in the other place. If and when the devolution of criminal justice arises, this issue will not be devolved. It will remain with the Secretary of State at the Northern Ireland Office. I have made that clear on the record.

I am grateful for the muted support. I realise that there is general support. The last thing that the Government or I are saying is that these organisations are perfect. They are not. I was rightly asked why it had taken so long to specify "glaigh na hEireann and was then criticised for despecifying the Ulster Volunteer Force, but the Ulster Volunteer Force’s statement of 3 May 2007, which I shall not read out, is, from its point of view, quite momentous. In many ways, it is along the lines of what came out from the IRA. It is clear from the last paragraph that it took the UVF three years to issue that statement; it was not an overnight job. I will put the final paragraph of the statement on the record:

Baroness Harris of Richmond: I—

Lord Rooker: I am in the middle of a point; I shall be happy to give way to the noble Baroness in a moment. It took the UVF three years to get that far, so it was not an overnight job. In addition, following that, it has taken time for the Secretary of State to consider despecification. We have received reports on "glaigh na hEireann, which identifies itself as a new organisation. Clearly, we have to ensure that it genuinely exists so that the Secretary of State can use his powers for specifying and so that we do not fall foul of judicial review and other matters. Therefore, it is not an overnight job either to despecify in the case of the UVF or to specify in the case of "glaigh na hEireann. I gladly give way to the noble Baroness.

Baroness Harris of Richmond: I am very grateful to the Minister. I think that the question concerned the UDA, or is he going on to answer that?

Lord Rooker: I had not got that far; I was dealing with questions about the UVF. I shall come on to answer the specific questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, but he asked why we are despecifying the UVF. That is a fair point. On the one hand, the UVF took three years to make its statement of May last year, and the Secretary of State has considered that. On the other hand, I was asked why it has taken two years or more to specify "glaigh na hEireann. My point is that these things do not happen overnight. There is a set of laws and procedures for the Secretary of State to follow. These things are not done on a whim or a hunch; they are done after careful consideration and after taking advice from the Security Service and the chief constable.

Lord Smith of Clifton: I congratulate the noble Lord on his pronunciation of the new republican bodies being listed, but some confusion arises because sometimes he refers to the UDF. I know that these initials are very confusing, but that is why my noble

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friend was somewhat confused. Perhaps Hansard would note that the Minister is referring to the UDA at this stage.

Lord Rooker: Let us be clear on this. I know that my voice is not perfect. I recently went on an overseas trip for the Government to save the whales in Chile and I caught a bug on the plane. So far, I have referred only to the UVF. I have not referred to any other organisation. I make it absolutely clear that I have been referring to the UVF, the Red Hand Commando and "glaigh na hEireann, which I was trained to say a few days ago. I have not referred to any other organisation. I want to make that clear for noble Lords and for Hansard.

I turn to the detail of the questions. I shall not take too long on this but it is important because we are about to go into the Recess. The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, asked why we were despecifying the UVF when it had not really decommissioned. That is absolutely clear. We took the decision to despecify the UVF and the Red Hand Commando after carefully considering the test laid down in the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998. As I said, that decision was reached in consultation with the Security Service and the chief constable. We strongly believe that the UVF has met the threshold for despecification. The May 2007 statement was a very positive step and we are satisfied that the UVF has made sufficient progress since then to enable despecification. I make it abundantly clear that we shall not hesitate to respecify if there is any change in the UVF’s activities. Decommissioning is one of the elements taken into account when considering despecification. However, it is not the only factor to be taken into account in making the decision in the round.

The UVF must go on to decommission, but we are satisfied that it has done enough to be despecified at this point. The list of specified organisations is kept under review and, if necessary, we will not hesitate to respecify any organisation. In its 18th report, the IMC recommended that the Government consider the issue of despecification, and the Secretary of State has done so and reached his decision. It did not recommend us not to despecify.

We are committed to decommissioning as a central part of the political process. We want the total and verifiable decommissioning of all paramilitary arms at the earliest possible moment, and an end to the old vestiges of paramilitarism. The UVF statement of May 2007 shows a strong desire by the leadership to address the issue of weapons. However, more must be done than putting all ordnance beyond reach, and the path laid down for decommissioning must be followed in due course. Normal society cannot have the long-term presence of institutions such as the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, as I have said. That is the legal route to decommissioning. If that organisation is not there, there is no legal route to decommissioning, and the full consequences of that must be apparent to the relevant organisations. Our patience is getting thin. The structures are time-limited and will not be there for ever, so they had best make haste to decommission while it is legal to do so.

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Lord Glentoran: It may be my English, but it seems clear that the commission said on 1 May:

not specification. It says “revisit”; I do not know when the Government first visited despecification. I understood that to mean that they should revisit their decision to despecify. If they had not made that decision prior to the report to despecify, then I have it wrong, I think.

Lord Rooker: I hope that I got it correct originally, because the decision on specification or despecification is not for the Independent Monitoring Commission, but for the Secretary of State. He has considered it in the round and reviewed all organisations, hence we have come along with a package of specified organisations, which I read out. If Parliament approves the order, two will come off and one will be added, but that is the Secretary of State’s decision, subsequently approved by Parliament, one assumes. I will not get into the semantics because I do not have the IMC report in front of me, but it asked him to revisit the matter. He looked at it in the round, which he is required to do; it is not just about the issue of decommissioning.

The noble Lord also asked me about attempts to procure weapons and involvement in organised crime. The IMC commented in the 18th report that it believed that individuals had attempted to procure weapons, but in our view that has not been as a result of any decision by the leadership to increase the UVF stocks. Indeed, the leadership has taken some action against offending members on the weapons issue. That is in line with the leadership’s statement of May 2007, the final paragraph of which I read out. The Government have to draw a distinction between the actions of individuals and the organisation as a whole, and we are satisfied that the actions were not on behalf of the organisation.

It is evident from the arrests in Lithuania in January that law enforcement agencies are working hard to combat the activity. As I said, the Organised Crime Task Force is working hard to detect, disrupt and dismantle criminal gangs involved in organised criminal activity. Key successes include over £35 million-worth of criminal assets being disrupted, seized and recovered or settled, over £4 million of illegal drugs being seized, and £1.6 million of counterfeit goods being seized over the past year. Cash-in-transit attacks in Northern Ireland fell by 56 per cent in 2007: there were 22 attacks compared with 51 in 2006.

4.30 pm

I was then asked—this is where I have to be clear in my diction—what the UDA had done since it was despecified. On 6 October 2007, the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning confirmed to the Secretary of State that a meeting between it and the UDA had taken place in which decommissioning was discussed and named interlocutors were appointed. We hope that this progress will be continued and that a tangible result will be forthcoming. It illustrates some, but limited, progress since the organisation’s despecification in November 2004. It is modest, but it is a step in the right direction. The direction of travel is clear.

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The LVF remains specified. Like other specified groups, it must engage with the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning and turn away from violence. It remains on the list. I hope that I have satisfied the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, who was kind enough to give me notice of some of his concerns regarding the despecification of the UVF.

I regret that I did not keep track of which noble Lord asked me about the Provisional Army Council. Everybody looks forward to the day when the vestiges of all Northern Ireland’s paramilitaries, including the Provisional Army Council, have been relegated to where they belong: in the past. There is no hope for the future for these organisations, whatever they may feel about what they have done in the past, collectively, independently and individually. Financially, economically and militarily, there is no support for them. The climate has changed in Northern Ireland and they need to move with it. I understand that far less than noble Lords who live in Northern Ireland, but I do understand that these things take time. So far, effort has been channelled towards ensuring that all those who come to the table to negotiate can walk away with a vestige of success—there is no victory or defeat here. The victory is for the people, the economy and the society of Northern Ireland. If they can all come to the table and walk away with a degree of success over a period of time—not success in terms of victory—that will be the testament, but it will not happen overnight: it is a very slow process.

However, slow though it may be, what we are able to report today shows that there is progress. I hope that I and other Ministers can in the future report similar progress—it will be slow and it will be from time to time. There will come a day when those organisations have all gone. We hope that it will be as soon as possible, but we realise that it will not be overnight.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Maternity and Parental Leave etc. and the Paternity and Adoption Leave (Amendment) Regulations 2008

4.34 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (Baroness Vadera) rose to move, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Maternity and Parental Leave etc. and the Paternity and Adoption Leave (Amendment) Regulations 2008.

The noble Baroness said: The regulations before the Committee today make clear for employees and employers the terms and conditions to which an employee on additional maternity leave or additional adoption leave is entitled. Additional maternity or adoption leave is the second six months of the 52-week leave period. The regulations are necessary as a result of the amendments made to the Sex Discrimination Act in April this year, following the Equal Opportunities Commission 2007 case against the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

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Those amendments mean that employers will no longer be able to treat employees taking additional maternity leave less favourably than those on ordinary maternity leave in respect of employment benefits. The regulations clarify that the non-pay contractual benefits that women have during ordinary maternity leave are explicitly extended to additional maternity leave and that right applies to adopters taking additional adoption leave as well. They ensure legal clarity and consistency with the amended Sex Discrimination Act.

The regulations will come into force in October this year, given our commitment to common commencement dates for new employment legislation, and will apply to parents where the expected week of childbirth or placement for adoption is on or after 5 October 2008. The Sex Discrimination Act amendment also applies to women whose expected week of confinement is 5 October 2008 onwards. The timing of the maternity and adoption regulations before us today therefore dovetails with that of the Sex Discrimination Act changes.

Examples of the type of contractual benefit covered include accrual of contractual annual leave and the provision of company cars and mobile phones. Of course, that would be the case only where an employee is already entitled to such benefits as part of their normal contract of employment for their ordinary maternity leave.

These amendments, taken with the Sex Discrimination Act changes, also require that the full 52 weeks of maternity and adoption leave now be counted when assessing how long an employee has been working for an employer. Employers will benefit from the removal of the risk of claims for sex discrimination if they provide only the terms and conditions as currently required. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Maternity and Parental Leave etc. and the Paternity and Adoption Leave (Amendment) Regulations 2008. 25th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.—(Baroness Vadera.)

Baroness Wilcox: I thank the Minister for whizzing through that. Regulations 4 to 7 of the Maternity and Parental Leave etc. and the Paternity and Adoption Leave (Amendment) Regulations 2008 amend the Maternity and Parental Leave etc. Regulations 1999 to extend the non-pay terms and conditions to which a woman is entitled during ordinary maternity leave—OML—to the period of additional maternity leave, in future known as AML. Regulations 8 to 10 of the amendment regulations 2008 amend the Paternity and Adoption Leave Regulations 2002 to extend the non-pay terms and conditions to which a woman is entitled during ordinary adoption leave to the period of additional adoption leave.

The regulations were debated in the other place yesterday. My honourable friend Mr Jonathan Djanogly gave a long, extended description of what they were all about. I want to avoid the Committee suffering that. He did it beautifully and received a lot of answers. However, a few questions were left, so perhaps the Minister would not mind if I ask one or two.

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According to the DBERR impact assessment, the regulations will impose costs of more than £162 million, but will create zero financial benefit. Does the Minister believe that at a time of rapidly increasing economic competition it is right to lumber business with yet more regulations and costs? The British Chamber of Commerce estimates that government regulations have cost business in excess of £65 billion since 1998. There have been 14 new regulations every working day. Is this not just another one? It is often claimed that the bulk of the regulation under which United Kingdom business struggles is derived from Europe. Although the Government are well known for their zealous application of the European regulations, I do not think this is another one; I think these are regulations of their own creation. Perhaps the Minister will confirm that.

Many small businesses cannot afford to employ an extra member of staff. Therefore, how does the Minister believe that such businesses will be able to afford to maintain the benefits and privileges due to a member of staff on additional maternity leave and hire another member of staff to cover their job?

That is the end of the questions that I should like the Minister to answer now, if she can, with the help of her civil servants—or later, if she cannot at this stage. Every one of those questions relates to economics; obviously, I could have made a very long speech about regulations affecting maternity benefits and adoption law, but I do not think that she needs to hear me go through all that right now.

Lord Addington: We really do not have any fundamental objections to this statutory instrument, but there is one question to which I would like a response. Why are not maternity and paternity leave combined to be parental leave? That would mean that women were no longer quite so stigmatised, with problems about employment and so on. Why is this not being considered? If it is being considered, when can we have an answer? The idea that one parent should choose which of them takes on responsibility would seem to be a logical extension of much of the Government’s rhetoric, if not policy. When will some consideration of this be given? Other than that, I do not really have much to add to the debate, but it would surely be a logical extension of what we have talked about to allow fathers to share more of the leave and childcare duties.

Baroness Vadera: I thank noble Lords for their contributions and questions. With respect to the question on impact assessment, there is a cost of £162 million, including the adoption. That is a cost that amounts to approximately £125 per firm employing people. We understand and, I believe, share a passion with the noble Baroness about better regulation. However, it would be interesting to note the benefits around the importance of the role that women play in the labour market. In encouraging women into the labour market, we face productivity challenges; we have high levels of employment and a tight labour market, and it is very important that women continue to participate in that.

The noble Baroness may be interested to know that, while women’s employment rights have increased, the evidence shows that their participation in the labour

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markets has also been increasing. Compared with 1971, when they made up 38 per cent of the workforce, women are now 45 per cent of the workforce. Female employment rates in 1971 were 42 per cent and are now 70 per cent. That is among the highest in the EU, although the maternity entitlement is also the longest. But of course there is a balance to be struck and a legitimate discussion to be had to ensure that we are not complacent or introducing rigidities into the labour market.

On the noble Baroness’s question on gold-plating, this amendment followed a case in the High Court, in which we were considered to have underimplemented and were therefore required to implement. I strongly refute the suggestion that we zealously gold-plate or overimplement regulations.

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