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Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, perhaps to the surprise of my noble friends on the Front Bench, I applaud their reaction to what we said in Grand Committee and in earlier discussion of the Bill. We have made the point repeatedly, and in a way the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, referred to it when she said that we had raised the possibility of employers coercing vulnerable employees or would-be employees into giving away the rights they were allowed in law.
That is precisely right. Not only were we concerned, but also unions and other external organisations were concerned that the way in which Clause 39 was drafted could mean that vulnerable people seeking employment could sign away rights to which they were entitled in law in order to obtain employment. The contract between employer and employee is rarely equal. The employee wants the job and is often willing to make some concessions or sacrifices in order to obtain it. We do not believe that vulnerable people should be exploited in such a way. The Government have accepted our arguments and should be applauded for so doing.
Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: My Lords, before the Minister replies, in view of what has become a classic occasion of employment law debate, two sentences in addition to those of my noble friend may be appropriate. Of course I welcome the Government's agreement that the clause would have given rise to a risk of unscrupulous employerswho are not the majorityleaning on workers to give up their legal rights to employment protection. Whatever disagreements I may have on the minutiae of the case law were resolved in our Grand Committee debate.
I do not remember the noble Lord, Lord Prior, taking part in that debate and what he understands to be the position is still obscure, except that we have had statements of the Official Opposition's employment law policy from the Front Benches and Back Benches. That policy will be read with great care, as it was presented at great length by the Front Bench spokesman of the Official Opposition. On reading it in detail, commentators will find it to be an antediluvian policy in regard to employment protection rights.
I see that the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, wants to interrupt. She always wants to interrupt when I describe the Official Opposition's position on the Bill. They have not moved one amendment on this clause, or any other, in favour of workers' employment protection rights. They have obstructed the idea of employment protection rights throughout, and now they want to keep a provision that debate has shown would be a danger to employees.
I congratulate the Ministers. There has been a good debate between them and us to which the Opposition contributed nothing. They did not table any amendments. They did not seem to understand what the debate was about, except that it might favour workers. We have now had the antediluvian policy stated at great length. We shall read it with great care
Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I am aware that this is Report stage, although I have to say that the other side are not. I cannot allow the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, to continue in the way he did in Grand Committee, talking about us as wicked employers who are virtually grinding the faces of the poor. He called me someone from the past. The noble Lord is living in the past. As I said, with all the directives now coming from Brusselspaternity leave, maternity leave and so onit is difficult for small businesses to continue. The noble Lord should remember that the day you ruin small businesses and medium-sized enterprises, the poor workers will have reason to thank you. Enough is enough, and the noble Lord should stop it now.
Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: My Lords, I always take great care to notice what the noble Baroness says. I am never able to satisfy her or to give her any pleasure in the arguments I advance. It is true that I am old; I now feel very old. But the Ministers and I have exchanged views on the matter. They want to abolish Clause 39 because of its risks. The noble Baroness wants to keep it despite its risks. We will notice that antediluvian policy and workers will know what to make of it.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the urge to make cheap debating points is almost irresistible, but I shall try very hard to resist the temptation. Perhaps I may bring the debate back to the fundamentals of the clause and the amendment that we are considering, rather than continue with the political, economic and employment history about which we have been hearing.
In putting Clause 39 into the Bill, we wished to build on the possibility that is raised through a number of legislative vehicles; namely, that there might, by full agreement and in full knowledge of the consequences, be compromise agreements that would mean that the full rigour of employment legislation might not always be necessary in particular workplaces. Through Clause 39, we attempted to remove some of the existing limitations in previous legislation that would restrict
When that clause came before the Grand Committee, we were subject toI do not believe it is rude to saya barrage of criticism from my own Back Benches; namely, from my noble friends Lords Wedderburn, Lord McCarthy, Lord Gladwin, Lord Lea, Lady Turner, and others. In particular, my noble friend Lord Wedderburn cited the case of BCCI v Ali, a recent Law Lords' decision. He pointed out that the effect of Clause 39 might be to extend the possibility of compromise agreements to cases where employees would be signing away future rights, rights that they did not know existed, or with consequences that they did not know existed.
We did not believe that that was the case. Indeed, I have two pages of notes about BCCI v Ali that I shall refrain from reading to the House. We recognised that it would not be acceptable if the impression were gained from this legislation that it was possible for employers to induce employees to sign away future rights, or rights that they did not understand, and to use that to the disbenefit of employees. We considered the possibility of amending Clause 39. We have read the Law Society brief. We know that there are possibilitieswe considered all of themof doing this by amending rather than by removal. We took legal advice on the matter, and also took ministerial judgment. We came to the conclusion that the simplest course for all concerned in reality, as well as in appearance, was to remove the clause as it stands. We believe that that will be for the benefit of the Bill. We are grateful to all those who have taken part in the debates that made such amendments possible. I commend the amendment to the House.
Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.
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