Glenys 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