Debates between Baroness Noakes and Lord Hannan of Kingsclere during the 2019 Parliament

Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Bill

Debate between Baroness Noakes and Lord Hannan of Kingsclere
Lord Hannan of Kingsclere Portrait Lord Hannan of Kingsclere (Con)
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My Lords, I rise to oppose Clause 1 standing part of this Bill. It is the first time I have ever done anything like this, so I hope noble Lords will bear with me if I get anything wrong. My impression until now has been that when people oppose these clauses, they do so in a theatrical or perfunctory way. In other words, they declare their opposition as a prelude to them bellyaching about the various things they do not like in it, but in the expectation that the clause will eventually be included. But not on this occasion—as a result of constructive talks among interested parties on all sides, I rise in the expectation that Clause 1 will not be part of the final legislation.

In that spirit, I will take this opportunity to thank noble Lords on all sides for the generous and constructive way in which they have approached this, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, colleagues on her Benches and on all Benches, and not least my noble friend Lady Scott of Bybrook, who with great delicacy and aplomb has had to find a solution that all sides can live with. I assure noble Lords on the Benches opposite that those of us who had problems with this Bill have moved considerably. I do not intend to rehearse all the arguments that we heard at Second Reading from my noble friends Lord Leicester, Lord Moylan, Lord Strathcarron, and others. Suffice to say that this is, in every sense, a solution which all sides have moved towards.

Speaking for myself, I would much rather have a world in which we had something closer to free contract, whereby if you want to employ me and I want to work for you, and we are both happy with the terms and conditions, the Government should not come between us and declare this or that clause of it to be illegal—but we are a long way away from that. So let me simply take this opportunity to thank all of those who have been involved. I look forward to hearing from noble Lords on all sides, particularly from the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, and from my noble friend the Minister. I beg to oppose this Clause.

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, I echo all that my noble friend Lord Hannan said, and I am delighted that we have reached agreement and a way forward on the Bill. I will just add a few words on why I added my name to opposing Clause 1 standing part of the Bill. This is not simply a free speech issue. Clause 1 amends Section 40 of the Equality Act 2010. A new subsection (1B) defines a third party as

“a person other than … A, or …an employee of A’s”,

which noble Lords will recognise as a double possessive. It has both “of” and “A’s”. While a double possessive can occasionally be used to avoid ambiguity, there is no ambiguity in Clause 1. Fowler’s Modern English Usage, which is my Bible, has it listed as a sturdy but indefensible “freak of idiom”. My own view is that when we legislate, we should use the best possible version of the King’s English that we can find. I tried to table a specific amendment on this, but the usually very helpful Bill Office refused to let me do so, even though there is no direct prohibition in the Companion. I have no idea how one is supposed to correct grammatical errors or poor use of language other than by an amendment—I shall have to fight that another day.

The wording is also found in the Equality Act 2010, in Sections 39 and 40, so I can celebrate that by removing Clause 1 from this Bill, the Bill has been saved from repeating that poor use of the English language. But the 2010 Act remains intact with its double possessives, and I hope that my small intervention today might someday lead to its rectification.