Lord Moylan (Con)
My Lords, I rise with considerable trepidation to disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, on a matter of employment law in which he is such an expert whereas I am not even a lawyer. I had not expected to find myself in disagreement with everyone who has spoken so far, but I have genuine concerns about this Bill.
I start with a small technical issue which I may well have got wrong; the noble Lord may correct me. It seems to me that someone who is serving as a non-executive director of a company or a public body, as I do on the Ebbsfleet Development Corporation, would be caught by this Bill and effectively have to be made subject to a contract of employment, thus becoming an employee of the body that they were meant to be supervising. I cannot imagine that was the noble Lord’s intention and I may well have got it wrong; it is a point that can be dealt with at later stages of the Bill. I use it to illustrate the fact that the argument for this Bill, that the current situation is messy, with four, five, six, seven or however many different statuses you count for people who work, fails to recognise how messy and complicated real life actually is. If anything, to catch up with the modern labour market, this Bill would create more categories rather than trying to reduce them, in effect, to two or, at maximum, six, depending on how you cut the noble Lord’s cake.
On the point about changes in the labour market, I was very comfortable to hear what the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, had to say, because we cannot go back to looking at the labour market in terms of a monolithic industrial market from the 1960s and 1970s, with a small number of large employers and a very large number of more or less substitutable industrial workers. Yet that seems to be the sort of lens through which this Bill is being looked at.
I am surprised that so far in the debate there have been no comments about the effects on employment, particularly youth employment, that this Bill might have. We may all be assuming that the very welcome consequences for the labour market of Brexit, mentioned by my noble friend Lord Blencathra, and rising wages and tightness of labour markets, will mask any of those effects, so that, net, we will see very few, but none the less, we must factor that in. It is very surprising that nobody has mentioned it.
My next point is slightly more difficult and is about the dignity of work. If work is one of the curses we take from our expulsion from the Garden of Eden, the dignity it can confer on humanity is part of that recompense. There are many people in this House—I am one of them and I venture, without absolute certainty, that as a practising barrister the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, is another—who have been what he would regard as genuinely self-employed for much of our lives. We have not had the protective benefits of a contract of employment, but nor have we had the downsides: that is, being told what to do, having a boss and having people who now take it as their responsibility, in some cases, to decide what you can do in your private life and your social media. But we decide and assume that this is what other people want and would benefit from.
I regard this as essentially a backward-looking Bill that does not embrace changes in the labour market and makes rather patronising assumptions about what is good for other people that we would not accept. I hope that we can reflect on that, consider whether it should proceed and how it might be amended in future to remove those objections.