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GlenysThornton.jpgGlenys Thornton on a dangerous clause in the Deregulation Bill

It’s the opening day of Committee today on the Deregulation Bill and we have several examples already of what a mixed bag it is. No prioritisation, no criteria, no costing, the occasional impact assessment – most of which Ministers want to bury – and no consideration of the government’s long term or unforeseen consequences of its proposals.

Following hard on the heels of an attack in Clause 1 on workplace health and safety, Clause 2 removes the power of Employment Tribunals to issue wider recommendations to employers found to have unlawfully discriminated. Prior to the introduction of this power in the Equality Act 2010, a tribunal could only provide a remedy to successful claimants but not recommend an employer address the root causes of such discrimination. This meant that where the victim had left the workplace, the tribunal was powerless to ask the employer to change policies, practices or a culture that could likely lead to further discrimination.

The government wants to repeal this provision because of “employer fears about inappropriate or excessive recommendations”. Yet there is no credible evidence to support this argument. In 2012 there were 19 cases where tribunals issued wider recommendations according to a study published in Equality Opportunities Review (EOR). In 15 of those cases, the recommendation was for training on equality and diversity. For seven, respondents were asked to address equality issues generally or to review policies. These are proportionate and reasonable suggestions to address serious cases of discrimination. 

Later in the day, we move onto taxi licence deregulation and Clauses 10-12, which Ministers rushed into the Bill during the Commons stages – hoping it would go unnoticed.

How wrong they were. Peers across the House of Lords have been inundated with representations, ranging from women’s safety organisations such as the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, Police and Crime Commissioners, trade unions, students unions and local government leaders. All have highlighted the serious safety implications these measures would have, particularly in light of recent events in Milton Keynes and the Alexis Jay report into child sex exploitation in Rotherham.

Following concerted pressure and campaigns to get the clauses removed, the government u-turned recently and agreed to pull Clause 10, which would allow anyone without a private hire vehicle (PHV) licence to drive a minicab when it is ‘off duty’. The other two clauses however, remain in play.

Clause 11 ends mandatory licence checks, so that they only need be updated every three years. This could lead to drivers with criminal convictions or medical conditions that make them ineligible doing so for long periods of time without the licensing authority having the knowledge to revoke their license.

Clause 12 allows cross border subcontracting of bookings, which will lead to taxi bookings being passed to any operator around the UK. But it also allows a watering down of licencing. That could see PHV drivers opting to get licenced in the least-stringent area while at the same time leaving licensing authorities without the enforcement powers over those then operating outside of the area. It’s a hotch-potch clause in hotch-potch legislation, but clearly dangerous too. That is why Labour Peers will tonight lead a vote to get it deleted from the Bill.

Baroness Glenys Thornton is Shadow Equalities Minister in the House of Lords. She tweets @GlenysThornton

Published 21st October 2014

Taxi times

Glenys Thornton on a dangerous clause in the Deregulation Bill

Bill_McKenzie.jpgBill McKenzie on the Coalition’s unforgiveable attempt to ditch a vital element of workplace health and safety

Some call it a Christmas tree, some a dog’s breakfast but either way the Deregulation Bill is a convoluted mish-mash of clauses covering over ten departments, including a plan to remove the self-employed from health and safety legislation unless they’re on a ‘prescribed list’. Who is on that list isn’t yet clear – from accountants working on building sites to hairdressers dealing with cuts of their own.

The UK has a first class system of health and safety that is respected around the world. At its centre is the Health and Safety at Work Act, which celebrated its 40th anniversary this year. The system was built around the principle that those who create risks are best placed to manage them. Without being complacent, this approach has saved countless people from being killed, injured or made ill by work activities.

So we should be alarmed at what is now proposed in clause 1 of the Bill – a move that springs from a recommendation by Professor Ragnar Lofstedt, in his review for the government, to exempt the self- employed who pose no potential risk of harm to others. Such an exemption was proposed notwithstanding that it was generally accepted (including by the professor himself) that the duty on the self-employed in these circumstances was limited, and that little would be saved in terms of cost and time and indeed precautions if such an exemption were introduced.

The Lofstedt Review also advanced the argument that the exemption would address perceptions of a heavy handed approach for the self-employed, even though scant evidence was provided to support this. The manufacturers’ association, the EEF has refuted the view that the self-employed saw health and safety as a burden.

Attempts to translate the recommendation into practical legislation proved problematic and Ministers concluded from the pre-legislative scrutiny that it would leave too much confusion as to who was exempt and who was not. Given the minimal requirements on those self-employed who pose no risk to others, it would have been logical to hold onto the status quo. But rather than settle for this, the government has embarked on pressing a clause which introduces a much wider exemption – covering two million self-employed.

There was no prior consultation on this policy change and the outcome of the consultation which has subsequently taken place – on draft regulations – will not be available to us until after the Lords committee stage has ended. This is unacceptable, not least as the changed approach is fraught with danger. Experts at the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have previously stated that relying wholly on a prescriptive approach to determine exemptions would lead to unacceptable consequences. It will not be easy for the self-employed to know if they are exempt or not, especially if they get their information by informal means. And there is a risk, highlighted by the TUC and others, that those who run workplaces which include the self-employed will conclude – wrongly – that they have no duty of care to them.

While many will continue with sensible precautions because it makes good business sense, some will not – potentially giving a spur to bogus self-employment. Moving away from the requirement for all to have to undertake a risk assessment – however limited – runs counter to the preventative approach to health and safety. And when things go wrong, the costs fall on the state in terms of benefits and the NHS.

Particularly worrying is the HSE’s own analysis of the draft regulations, it shows that many occupations will be exempt which have injury rates statistically higher than the average for all, including motor mechanics, van drivers, HGV drivers, metal working and maintenance fitters. Why on earth should these activities be outside the regime?

Clause 1 of the Bill is an unforgivable unravelling of our health and safety system and must be strongly resisted.

Lord Bill McKenzie of Luton is a member of Labour’s frontbench team in the House of Lords

Published 21st October 2014

Clause 1 moment

Bill McKenzie on the Coalition’s unforgiveable attempt to ditch a vital element of workplace health and safety

Wilf_4x3.jpgWilf Stevenson outlines our plans to tackle the scourge of secondary ticketing at sporting events

Last night, in the Grand Committee room of the Lords, a powerful cross bench group of peers debated whether it was time to legislate against ticket touts. Former Sports Minister Colin Moynihan and test cricketer Rachel Heyhoe Flint (both Conservatives) joined with Labour in pressing the government to strengthen regulations along the lines of the cross-party agreement that preceded the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The main focus of the discussion was the upcoming Rugby World Cup.

The promoters have said that emerging problems include: tickets being advertised and sold on line before they’ve even been released (meaning the seller cannot guarantee they will ever be able to honour the transaction), tickets being sold at prices well above their face value, and fans buying tickets which do not guarantee them entry to the ground as they are not allowed to be transferred (under the terms and conditions of sale). They feel that consumers are being priced out, mis-sold or defrauded when tickets are re-sold on the secondary market, and wish to protect their ability to make tickets available at affordable prices.

The secondary ticket companies meanwhile, feel that people should have the right to buy surplus or unwanted tickets, and say that by providing a platform for buyers and sellers they offer an excellent and increasingly secure service.

The issue has a long history, with both the Coalition and the previous Labour government trying to respond to public pressure, as it pulls in different directions. People want access to tickets when they go on sale, but they are against thousands being bought up by those seeking to make money out of a scarce commodity. Equally however, people feel that they ought to be able to buy tickets at a premium if they want to, should they decide last minute to attend a game.

Recent technological changes are having an effect as well. If computerized ‘botnets’ are hoovering up tickets on line, what chance has the ordinary punter of acquiring them in the first place? And if, as has been alleged by the recent Metropolitan Police report on the Olympics and Paralympics, this is an area where money laundering and criminal gangs are active, where should the public interest in this issue lie?

Labour has been working on this issue with the Rugby Football Union (RFU), which sets tickets prices at a level that is affordable for fans from all backgrounds. The RFU has ambitions to grow the sport further as part of the World Cup legacy and it is therefore important that rugby is, and is seen to be, a game for all. That means watching England must remain affordable, but the RU believes ticket touts price many people out of rugby. 

The RFU sees many cases of mis-selling and fraud each season. As a not for profit organisation, every penny it makes or saves is reinvested into rugby. No wonder it considers it unfair when highly organised touts buy up large numbers of tickets to resell at huge profits whilst contributing nothing back into the game.

Amendments we have tabled to the Consumer Rights Bill would ensure that all transactions involving the resale of a ticket should include detailed information about the seller and the terms and conditions relating to resale. Such transparency would place no extra burden or costs on the industry, as there are already regulatory requirements to list ticket information details.

The government continues to resist our proposals but they will have a hard job in carrying the day against such powerful cross-party support when the Bill goes to the floor of the Lords for its Report stage. That should be a good match. Anyone care for a ticket?

Lord Wilf Stevenson of Balmacara is Shadow BIS Minister in the House of Lords. He tweets @Missenden50

Published 16th October 2014

Tout and about

Wilf Stevenson outlines our plans to tackle the scourge of secondary ticketing at sporting events

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