My Lords, taking this Bill through your Lordships’ House has been somewhat of a challenge, but I am delighted to see the finishing post coming up—for this House anyway—until it wends its way back to the Commons and the final hurdle under the sure guidance of the honourable Lady, the Member for Bath. I am grateful to everyone who has worked so hard to bring the Bill to this stage, which has necessitated a great deal of pragmatism and compromise on all sides, not least by the Minister.
The Bill will not return to the Commons as it was when it first arrived in your Lordships’ House but, in essence, it will still protect workers from sexual harassment and it will impose a duty on employers to take reasonable steps to ensure that their employees are protected. Sexual harassment and assault in the workplace, particularly on women at all levels—even, we learn today, on female surgeons—are rife. The Bill will go some way towards rectifying this. We need a change of workplace culture, and this Bill will make a good start.
I thank all Members who have participated in the Bill, including the Minister, the officers of the Government Equalities Office and my legislative adviser, Mohamed-Ali Souidi. The EHRC has also given us excellent advice and will be charged with enforcing the new duty and helping and advising employers. On behalf of the EHRC, I ask the Minister to ensure that the necessary resources are made available to enable it to do this work. An Act is just a piece of paper until and unless it is properly enforced—in this case, that will be no small job. I look forward with great relief to now waving the Bill goodbye for its final stages in the other place.
My Lords, I express my sincere thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, for all the work she has put in, and thank the Minister for her support in the passage of this Bill through the House. The Bill represents an excellent step in the right direction. Clearly, we still have much to do. I also echo the sentiments and hope that the Government will move forward on this and will provide the necessary resources to make sure that all the provisions can be fully implemented.
My Lords, I sincerely thank the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, for her work in taking this important Bill through the House. The noble Baroness has been patient and has shown great pragmatism—I think we have used that word a few times—in the progression of this Bill to help tackle workplace harassment. It is an honour to be here to confirm the Government’s ongoing support. We believe it is important that everyone feels safe and able to thrive in the workplace.
The noble Baroness asked me how the EHRC will enforce the new duty—that is important. The EHRC’s regulatory approach for any new duty will include producing a statutory code of practice based on its current technical guidance in the area and a mechanism for employees and employee representatives to be able to notify the EHRC of breaches and potential breaches of the preventative duty. It will also be able to use powers under the Equality Act 2006 to undertake strategic litigation, investigation and enforcement activity to target systematic non-compliance with the preventative duty, in accordance with the litigation and enforcement policy. On how that will be funded, I will write to the noble Baroness.
The Bill will help the Government to deliver their commitment to introduce the employer duty as part of the violence against women and girls strategy. The employer duty will send a strong signal to employers that they need to take action to prioritise prevention of sexual harassment and, ultimately, to improve workplace practices and culture. I thank all noble Lords and organisations who raised important issues in the debates and discussions throughout the Bill’s progression through the House. I believe this Bill now strikes the right balance between protecting free speech and tackling harassment. While there has been much debate and amendments have been made to the Bill, I think we can all agree that workers should feel safe and be free from sexual harassment in the workplace. Therefore, I hope the Bill can progress with the full support of the House today.
Bill passed and returned to the Commons with amendments.