Growth and Infrastructure Bill — Commons Amendments

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:00 pm on 24th April 2013.

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Photo of Lord Pannick Lord Pannick Crossbench 6:00 pm, 24th April 2013

I would anticipate that when the employee is given advice, one of the terms and effects of the agreement in relation to which he will need to be given advice is as to what happens if and when the shares are to be sold or the company goes into liquidation. No doubt some advice will have to be given-I doubt in very great detail-as to what the mechanisms are. In any event, this is, as I say, a very extensive requirement for legal advice. These are very complex matters.

The third point I want to emphasise is that the amendment also specifies the identity and characteristics of the person giving the advice. It does so by incorporating the requirements in Section 203(3A) and (3B) of the Employment Rights Act 1996, which states who is an "independent adviser" for the purposes of Section 203(3). The categories are: "a qualified lawyer"; a person certified by,

"an independent trade union ... as competent to give advice", in this context; an advice centre worker,

"certified ... by the centre as competent to give advice", in this context; and a category of,

"a person of a description specified in an order made by the Secretary of State".

The statutory requirements also state that the adviser must be independent of the employer. Again, I am grateful to the Minister for the assurance that he gave earlier in this debate in relation to the criterion of independence.

I am very doubtful indeed that any trade union or advice centre would wish to certify someone as competent to give advice on all the aspects of the terms and effects of the agreement which I have mentioned. My understanding-I should be grateful if the Minister could confirm this in due course-is that it is entirely a matter for the employee as regards from whom he or she seeks the legal advice. Given the complexity of the matters on which advice must be given, I cannot imagine that any sensible employee would choose to see other than a lawyer and I would be astonished if any trade union or advice centre gave advice to any employee not to go and see a lawyer on these matters.

The fourth point I want to emphasise in relation to this extensive amendment, which I welcome, is that the reasonable costs of the advice otherwise incurred by the individual must be met by the company. What costs are reasonable must of course be determined in the context of the breadth and complexity of the advice which needs to be given. The employer must pay the costs, so the amendment says, even if the employee or prospective employee decides not to take up the job offer on Clause 27 terms. I should also be grateful if the Minister would confirm my understanding that if necessary-it may not be necessary-the Treasury will bring forward legislation to ensure that the benefit of the legal advice is not treated as a taxable benefit in the hands of the employee.

I welcome this amendment, which is undoubtedly broad in its scope and which will confer very substantial protection to individuals. I should add that the addition of this amendment does not alter my opinion of Clause 27 or, I suspect, the opinion of the majority of your Lordships. It remains a deeply unsatisfactory provision, for all the reasons identified by noble Lords across the House at every stage of the Bill. The best that can be said for it-the best-is that it is so half-baked that it will have little, if any, practical effect. I hope that the noble Lords who have expressed that view are correct.

Finally, I suspect that Clause 27 will be remembered by future historians of this coalition Government for one striking feature of it. Many policies which have been pursued by this Government have troubled one or other of the coalition partners but, as the debate on Monday demonstrated and as the Division lists confirmed, the Government have achieved by Clause 27 the quite remarkable feat of persisting with a proposal which is widely opposed in both coalition parties, as well as on all other sides of the House. I therefore regret that the Government wish to persist with Clause 27 but I very much welcome the positive move of this amendment. I will listen with particular care to the debate but, for the moment, I beg to move.