Clause 77

Equality Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:15 pm on 23rd June 2009.

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Offshore work

Photo of John Penrose John Penrose Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

I beg to move amendment 240, in clause 77, page 58, line 4, leave out ‘with or’.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 241, in clause 77, page 58, line 6, leave out ‘with or’.

Photo of John Penrose John Penrose Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

I hope that the amendments are entirely technical ones. I am relying on the Minister’s expert legal brain to solve the problem about which we are worried. As the notes explain, clause 77

“contains a power to make an Order in Council in relation to work on board offshore installations. The power may be used to apply Part 5 (with or without modification) to those working on such installations.”

The amendments would trim that power, so that it can no longer be used to apply part 5, with or without modification, but just without modification. Are the Government wedded to allowing part 5 to be applied with or without modifications? If so, will any legal limits be set to the extent of the modifications that can be proposed? I am sure that we are all happy to accept an assertion of the Minister’s good character and intentions, and so forth, and no doubt she would apply the provision responsibly, but it is important to bind future Ministers and to ensure that they do not have untrammelled powers that are not subject to parliamentary scrutiny. It is an entirely technical point on which I hope that she can reassure us.

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Solicitor General, Attorney General's Office

I am pleased to be able to make this clear. As the hon. Gentleman said, leaving out “with or” would, in effect, exclude the power to make modifications to the provisions. However, the power is a limited one that allows the provisions of part 5 to be modified in their application to offshore work, but it does not allow any limitation of the substance of the protections in the Bill. How the protections apply may be modified. If we accepted the amendments, we could only use the order-making power in clause 77 to apply part 5 and the corresponding Northern Ireland legislation to offshore work without modifications.

Modifications of the law, when applied by means of secondary legislation, are not new; it is simply a prudent approach to drafting. I could give several examples. For instance, section 201 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 enables the application of that Act “with or without modification”. So we are not doing anything novel. It is important in a consolidation exercise to ensure that we have sufficient flexibility, especially in relation to offshore work, to adapt the legislation to the technical and practical realities of the offshore environment. We do not have any modification in mind at present, but we might at some point find it necessary to adapt the terminology in part 5 to ensure that it translates appropriately to particular circumstances—for example, those of workers who spend part of their time on ships and part on rigs.

Such an approach will facilitate a clearer and more accurate application of the provisions of part 5 in what is characteristically a very fluid area of employment, thus enabling the modifications that might be necessary to ensure that the law works in the various situations to which it will be applied. Probably the important point is that this is about the modification of the application to offshore work, but it does not allow any limitation of the substance of the protections contained in the Bill. That is probably the point about which the hon. Gentleman sought assurance, and I am pleased to be able to give it.

Photo of John Penrose John Penrose Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

That is an admirably clear and concise response, and I am sure that everyone accepts the need to make modifications for the particular situations on board ships or rigs. Based on the Minister’s reassurances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 77 ordered to stand part of the Bill.