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Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Bill

Volume 738: debated on Friday 20 October 2023

Consideration of Lords amendments

Clause 1

Liability of employer for harassment of employee by third parties

Workplace sexual harassment blights our society. Not a week goes by in which we do not hear about sexual misconduct in an organisation somewhere in the UK. Some 43% of women have experienced at least three incidents of sexual harassment at work. Most victims do not report it, for fear of not being believed or of damaging their working relationships and career prospects. Although sexual harassment is not confined to women, the vast majority of victims are women.

Harassment has a devastating impact on victims. Nearly half of women harassed at work said that it had harmed their mental health. One in four said that they avoided certain work situations, such as meetings, courses, locations and shifts, to avoid the perpetrator. More than one in four said that they wanted to leave their job but could not. Nearly one in five left their job as a result of this treatment.

Every person should be safe from sexual harassment, but every day new stories expose the extent of the problem in our workplaces. Just this year, there has been a torrent of misconduct allegations against prominent companies and organisations. There remain questions to be answered at the CBI, Odey Asset Management, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, the fire services, the National Crime Agency and even our NHS.

The hon. Lady is making a very important speech about a powerful topic. As a former NHS employee for over 30 years, I am aware of some poor practice and lack of control over certain individuals who are sexual predators. They are only a small minority, but they have a massive impact on other NHS workers. Does she agree with me that we must protect our precious NHS staff and stamp out sexual harassment in all workplaces?

I could not agree more. The hon. Lady points out that a few individuals damage the reputation of a whole organisation and, especially when it comes to our NHS, that is devastating. The Bill should be good for organisations because it protects them as well.

Will the hon. Lady clarify—I am not sure from her remarks so far—whether she is in favour of Lords amendment 1, or is she speaking against it?

I will come to that later, but I will be supporting the Lords amendments.

There are many good employers who have implemented measures to safeguard their employees. However, far too many have not done enough to prevent and punish sexual harassment.

My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech about an issue that, as she says, has blighted our workplaces. Does she agree that part of the problem is that employers do not act when harassment begins at a low level? Putting workers down, talking over them and belittling them is just the start and it grows from there. Too often in the past, people have just been moved to a different department. Will her Bill put an end to that sort of atmosphere in the workplace?

Yes, it should be the beginning of a culture change to prevent sexual harassment happening before it gets to a point where it has such damaging effects.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission found that in nearly half of cases reported the employer took no action, minimised the incident or placed the responsibility on the employee to avoid the harasser. What one also finds again and again is that the employer does not really know what to do. When the Bill becomes law, there will be guidance for employers so that they know exactly what is expected of them. That should help organisations to face those problems.

I thank the hon. Lady for giving way, because she is making a very important speech. Protecting people, especially women, from harassment is hugely important. The Government have a fantastic track record of bringing in legislation to protect vulnerable people. I had strong concerns about the Bill in its unamended state, particularly on making employers responsible for third-party harassment. However, yesterday I contacted Denise Rossiter, the chief executive of Essex chambers of commerce, to ask the opinion of Essex businesses. The message I received back was clear: local Essex employers warmly welcome the amendments made to the Bill in the other place. I am delighted the Government have backed them. I welcome the amendments, in particular Lords amendment 1, and I support the Bill in its amended state.

I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention and I am pleased we have come to a point across both Houses where we can pass the Bill, as amended, into law. I will come to the amendments later in my speech and she will hear what I have to say.

The current laws on sexual harassment mean that employers often adopt individualised responses to institutional problems. That creates space for employers to minimise what is going on and leads to confusion about how to respond appropriately. Only 45% of managers felt supported by their organisation when reports were made to them. Ultimately, our current laws do not protect people who have encountered traumatic experiences. We can and must do better.

My Bill will strengthen the legislative protections against workplace sexual harassment. It will help to create safer working environments that are fit for the 21st century. It introduces a standalone duty for employers to take responsible steps to prevent sexual harassment within their organisations. That will make a real difference, as it will require employers to take proactive steps to address sexual harassment. It will help to instil a culture change, and it will ensure that people who abuse women and others can no longer rely on their workplaces turning a blind eye. Instead, they will be held accountable for their actions, making workplaces safer, more productive and more enjoyable for everyone.

I have been pleased to see cross-party consensus for my Bill from the outset, with all parties willing to work together to ensure its passage. There has been unstinting cross-party support from a sizeable majority of MPs and peers, which clearly demonstrates that workplace sexual harassment is not a party political issue anymore. I am glad that today should mark the final point of the passage of these vital protections into law. It took the best part of 2023 to get us here, and I thank everybody involved for their patience and support. I express my particular gratitude to the Minister for Women and Equalities and the Government Whips, whose support during the ups and downs of the difficult passage of the Bill I have greatly appreciated.

I say a big thank you to Baroness Burt of Solihull, who has worked tirelessly in the other place to ensure that my Bill got to this stage. My thanks also go to the team at the Government Equalities Office, whose constant advice and encouragement has been outstanding. Finally, I thank my own team for sticking with me.

I will now speak to Lords amendments 1 and 2, which have undoubtedly narrowed the scope of my Bill. Lords amendment 1, tabled by Lord Hannan of Kingsclere, removes clause 1 from the Bill, getting rid of the proposed liability of employers for third-party harassment in the workplace. It means that incidents of third-party harassment will continue not to be covered by the law, other than in extreme cases resulting in clear personal injury or where a criminal offence has been committed. The legal situation will remain as it has been since third-party harassment protections were repealed in 2013. I personally think that that is a shame.

Lords amendment 2, tabled by Baroness Noakes, narrows the concept of “all reasonable steps” to simply “reasonable steps”. The practical steps that an employer might take would be substantially the same. For example, employers might consider implementing an effective equality policy, providing anti-harassment training and dealing effectively with employee complaints, among other things. The difference in the wording means that the tribunals would apply a lower threshold when assessing a breach of the employer duty compared with the original drafting of the Bill.

The Equality Act 2010 already contains a statutory defence that requires an employment tribunal assessment of whether an employer took all reasonable steps to determine legal liability. The amendment will not change the Equality Act’s existing statutory defence, but will create a different test for the new duty on employers to prevent sexual harassment. The employer duty will still send a strong signal to employers that they need to take action to prioritise prevention of sexual harassment and ultimately improve workplace practices and cultures.

I cannot stand here and say that I am completely happy with the amendments, but if I did not accept them the Bill would not progress into law, and that would be a lot worse. Peers in the other place have reached an understanding with Baroness Burt of Solihull and me: to ensure the passage of the sexual harassment preventive duty, we have accepted the amendments under discussion today. The longer it takes for legislation preventing sexual harassment to become law, the more workers—especially women—will be left at risk of workplace sexual harassment. That would simply not be acceptable.

In the face of continuous scandals, we as lawmakers cannot stand by and do nothing. Once the Bill has passed into law, it will be the beginning of a much-needed culture change. I have been most grateful for the guidance of the Fawcett Society and the wider alliance for women, who continue to support the Bill because of the substantial difference it will make to women’s lives. Without their support and guidance, I would not have been able to take this revised Bill forward. Those groups remain disappointed that the clause that would have provided protection from third-party harassment has not been taken forward. I fully accept their disappointment. Further protections are essential to give businesses and organisations clarity on what they need to do to make their workplaces safe for everybody. We hope that the debate on this Bill has encouraged all businesses and organisations to recognise that they can make a significant difference in protecting staff from harassment by customers and clients. There remains unfinished business, but the discussion is moving us forward and it is important that we get cross-party support in both Houses, which is why I keep saying that I am accepting the Lords amendments.

The Government’s own survey on sexual harassment found that every day 1.5 million people face sexual harassment from a third party at work—that does not even consider the scale of other forms of third-party harassment, for example those of a racist or homophobic nature. I will continue to make the case for protections against third-party harassment to be put in place, and I hope that the Government will listen and continue to work with the Fawcett Society and the wider alliance for women to bring the required legislation forward in the next Parliament.

I am content that as of today we have reached a consensus on a pragmatic way forward. It is vital that we send a clear signal that sexual harassment in the workplace is not acceptable and steps should be taken to prevent it. I am grateful for the cross-party support and particularly the support of the Government. I ask the House to accept the Lords amendments so that this Bill can pass into law. No one should have to wait any longer for this vital step towards safer and more respectful workplaces.

I do not propose to divide the House today and I am happy that we have got to a place where the Bill has been effectively gutted by their lordships. I am happy with the cross-party consensus on where we have got to. It is right that we have removed the third-party liability, but there is something regrettable about the way this Bill has developed. There was a good moment when, in response to pressure from their lordships, the Government proposed to introduce a new defence against Equality Act harassment, whereby it should be possible to defend a suit on the grounds that there was no intention to injure the injured party, and merely overheard conversations and civil discussions, be they among colleagues or customers, should not be liable to legal action. That was a good step; it developed and improved our equalities law. In response to pressure from the other place, the Government have now withdrawn the third-party liability measure, which is a good thing. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Anna Firth) that we are now in a position to abstain from opposing this Bill.

However, we need to debate our equalities framework in this country. Fundamentally, we need to stop bringing forward what I call performative legislation intended simply to outlaw behaviour we disapprove of, immoral conversations, bad manners, and action likely to cause hurt and distress. We cannot legislate against all of those actions and if we try—

I will be happy to give way to the hon. Lady in a moment. I recognise that we all intend to do the right thing by bringing forward this legislation. I recognise that the Government are trying to do the right thing, as is the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse). However, we get into all sorts of trouble when Opposition Members get hold of this sort of law in Committee and when the courts are required to judge on what will necessarily be obscure language about the management of human relations and free speech. The precedent being set by this law is dangerous.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that a lot of the damage that is done in a workplace, which leaves an individual, perhaps a young one in their first employment, feeling undermined, damaged, bullied and harassed, often comes from exactly the sort of casual conversation they overhear in a canteen or in the office? The intent of the Bill was not to be restrictive of people, but to protect young people in the workplace, on whom these things can have a huge impact.

The hon. Lady defines exactly the issue. She talks about the intent of the Bill being to protect people from feeling distressed, which I think is absolutely right—we should all intend that—but it is difficult for law to manage and protect people’s feelings. The consequence of writing that into black and white means that we then require courts to adjudicate on all sorts of very difficult emotional issues.

The hon. Lady talks about the intent behind the Bill. We all intend the right thing here. We are all in unity that we disapprove of harassment and incivility, but we disapprove of all sorts of things that we cannot and should not try to criminalise. The consequence of criminalising bad manners—even very bad manners—is fundamentally to curtail free speech and the freedom upon which all of our civility as a society depends.

I am glad that we are having this discussion in a very respectful way, because that is how it should work. I recognise that that discussion may not have been had enough and we need a little more time having it. Does the hon. Gentleman think that legislation guides better behaviour and that, for that reason, it is important that we pass certain laws? That is the intention of the Bill. As I say, I have accepted the Lords amendment, but does he agree that legislation guides better behaviour and that is what we should aim for?

This is an important discussion. The hon. Lady is saying that the law is a teacher—indeed, it is—and influences the culture. It is also true that the law needs to reflect the culture, so we modernise our legislative framework in response to public opinion and how things are. We now legalise things that were illegal in the past in response to the way culture evolves.

However, the law is a teacher in a bad way too. It can introduce negative effects into our culture and chill free speech. It can inhibit the sorts of conversation that are necessary for the development and progress of our society, which is a topic that will come up later in other legislation. There were significant attempts during the pandemic to effectively criminalise or inhibit free speech around the pandemic response, on exactly the same grounds that we might use in this debate, namely that it is important for public protection and the protection of the vulnerable that misinformation, disinformation and, in this context, harassment should be criminalised. That was wrong, and I really worry about the possible chilling effect of this legislation.

A narrow gap is left in this law to criminalise free speech. Many Members will raise the outrageous and unacceptable behaviour that many employees have to put up with in the workplace—I recognise that too. We absolutely need to insist that that does not happen, but that is a job for the culture and for employers. In a sense, it is a job for all of us to instil the right sort of moral conduct in our communities, but frankly it is impossible to write legislation in black and white that achieves the outcomes the hon. Lady wishes without also inhibiting free speech.

I will end with an observation about another piece of legislation that I understand is being contemplated for the King’s Speech: a conversion therapy ban. I am afraid that that is another instance where, under the noble and honourable impulse to stop outrageous and unacceptable practices going on, we are proposing a piece of performative legislation in response to a vocal and activist lobby group that will put into law an imprecise and fuzzy set of moral aspirations. Once Opposition Members get hold of it in Committee, on Third Reading and in the House of Lords, the scope will be expanded and then courts will be required to criminalise conversations between adults and their therapists, parents and children, which is exactly what happens in other countries where this well-intentioned legislation has been passed into law. The law is a teacher, but it is not an opportunity for moral grandstanding and virtue signalling. We have an obligation to put into black and white words that the courts clearly understand and that do not end up curtailing free speech.

It is a relief that we have this Bill back here today, given that it was reported earlier in the year that it was likely to be shelved, possibly because of the backlash we have just heard. The Bill has come back from the other place, albeit heavily amended, and it still represents a step in the right direction, albeit a very small one. The hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) has done a sterling job in getting this Bill through the Parliamentary maze. She has been extremely gracious and generous in her comments today, given what is left in the Bill. I think it is a fine description to say that it has been narrowed in scope. Alternatively, it could be described, as the hon. Member for Devizes (Danny Kruger) has just done, as having had the guts ripped out of it. I know which description suits what has happened better.

There is quite a contrast between what we have now and what we had when the Bill started its journey through the House. The Bill was never about criminalising free speech; it was about tackling a real and live issue in the workplace.

When the Bill started its passage, Members rightly spoke in unison about the appalling scale and nature of sexual harassment in Britain’s workplaces. Indeed, we should all be deeply concerned about the numbers of women facing harassment at work. The latest data from the Government show that nearly one in three employees experienced some form of sexual harassment in the previous year. That means that 4.7 million women each year experience harassment in the workplace, and we know that the impact on those victims can be profound. We know that it can lead to a variety of harms, including psychological, physical and economic harms, and all too often the perpetrators get away with it. According to recent data, 41% of perpetrators of sexual harassment see no sanction at all. Meanwhile, 17% of those who are sexually harassed end up working elsewhere due to their experiences. In 2023, that is not good enough. Those figures speak for themselves about why parliamentary intervention is needed.

I am glad that we are supporting this Bill. My hon. Friend talks about women being subject to sexual harassment, and we know that the problem is endemic, but it also seems that, increasingly, young men are reporting that they are falling foul of that—even in this place. It is really important that we recognise that men, particularly younger men, can be victims as well.

Yes, that is absolutely right. The Equality Act is framed in such a way that it protects everyone from harassment on the basis of their sex. I think that we now have a Bill that, after the amendments, to our regret will not protect workers from third-party harassment. The duty to take all reasonable steps has now been reduced or watered down to taking reasonable steps. We are disappointed that the Bill returns in a form that looks very different from what was originally passed by this House. It seems that the original good intentions of the Bill have—to use the terms of the hon. Member for Devizes—been “gutted”, and I am sorry to say that seems to have been with the support of the Government. Let us not forget that, when the Bill passed through the Commons originally, it did have support from the Government and it also had cross-party support, which is a rarity these days. Therefore, it is extremely disappointing that the democratically elected House seems to have given in to the unelected Lords, seemingly with the endorsement of the Government.

I have to say that the Government’s decision to support the Lords amendments that have taken the guts out of the Bill is frustrating, given that the Bill was enacting pledges that the Government had made.

Does the hon. Gentleman not recognise that this is the Bill of the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) and it is up to her to decide which amendments she does or does not accept? The Government have fully supported the hon. Lady. This is not a Government decision; it is part of the parliamentary process.

I thank the Minister for her comments. The Government have a majority, so if they wanted to keep the Bill in its original form they could have ensured that it passed. Let me quote what she said at Committee stage. She said that

“the Government committed to a package of new measures aimed at reducing incidences of workplace harassment. That includes the two legislative measures being brought forward in the Bill: explicit protections for employees from workplace harassment by third parties, such as customers and clients; and a duty on employers to take all reasonable steps to prevent their employees from experiencing sexual harassment.”––[Official Report, Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Public Bill Committee, 23 November 2022; c. 10.]

It is true that I have accepted the Lords amendment. Indeed, it was ultimately me who proposed that we should go all the way in order to preserve one thing that I find incredibly important, which is the preventive duty on employers. Does the hon. Member not agree that this is an important step and for that reason it is right that I accept the Lords amendment?

I accept what the hon. Member says. We will certainly not oppose the Bill, but we do have to challenge the Minister on why she has changed her mind, given that, last year, she said that the measures in the Bill

“continue to form a key part of the Government’s national strategy for tackling violence against women and girls.”––[Official Report, Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Public Bill Committee, 23 November 2022; c. 10.]

Why have the Government decided to change their mind on it? It seems to me that they have folded to pressure from their Back Benchers. Let us not forget that the Bill came about as a result of an extensive Government consultation, which received more than 4,000 responses.

It is not necessarily for me to come to the Government’s defence here, but I think the hon. Gentleman is tying himself up in knots with his argument. The amendment was passed in the House of Lords. He will have noticed, I am sure, that the Government do not have a majority in that House, so they cannot be held responsible for an amendment passed in it. If the Government had done as he asked by overturning the Lords amendment, the Bill would have fallen altogether, so I am not entirely sure what he is arguing for.

I am sure that the hon. Member is aware that we vote regularly on Lords amendments in this place, and that the Government use their majority to overturn them. The point that I am trying to make is this: where does this leave Government policy on the issue? The Fawcett Society found that 56% of women working in the hospitality sector, and 47% of those working in the services industry, have faced sexual harassment in the workplace. What will the Government do about that?

If the hon. Gentleman wished to press the matter to a vote as a point of principle, he could vote down the Lords amendment. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Danny Kruger) would be delighted if he did, because in doing so he would guarantee that the whole Bill fell. Is that really what he wants?

No, that is not what I want, which is why I have said that we will not oppose the amendment, but we are still entitled to express our disappointment about the capitulation. The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s 2018 report found

“a quarter of those reporting harassment saying the perpetrators were third parties”

and that third-party sexual harassment was dealt with poorly and considered

“a ‘normal’ part of the job”

by some employers. I do not think that is a situation that we should defend. Let us be clear: we would not have objected to the Bill if that had been in place—we certainly would have supported it—but we will support it as it stands because, as the hon. Member for Bath said, it is an important step in the right direction, albeit a much smaller step than originally intended.

The question remains: what is the Government’s plan to deal with third-party harassment? If they will not bring forward a legislative solution, what do they intend to do? If there were a repeat of the scenes at the Presidents Club tomorrow, what would be the consequences for the perpetrators? We need answers to those questions.

Despite the removal of the word “all” from the Bill, the duty to prevent sexual harassment is, as the hon. Member for Bath said, a new duty that represents a positive step forward. Establishing that preventive duty will shift the emphasis away from a reliance on individuals reporting harassment to employers and will encourage employers to take preventive steps. We are optimistic—we can be—and hope that the Bill will drive structural change by fundamentally shifting the responsibility from the individual to the institution, but what that will mean in reality and how much capacity the EHRC will have to investigate complaints remains to be seen. Its responsibility to create a statutory code of practice should mean that the focus will be more on working with employers. Does the Minister have any information on when she expects that statutory code of practice to be published, should the Bill be passed, and will it draw mainly from the non-statutory code of practice that has already been produced?

We believe that everyone should be able to go to work safe from sexual harassment, knowing that their employer has taken steps to create a safe working environment. That is why a Labour Government would go much further than the House has today.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) on progressing this Bill, which tackles the important issue of sexual harassment in the workplace. I thank her for the pragmatism she has shown to ensure that the Bill can progress with agreement from across the House. It is slightly disappointing to see the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders), take such a partisan approach, because the Bill has had cross-party support throughout all its stages.

It is often very difficult for private Members’ Bills to pass through this place, but the Government have fully supported the Bill, because it is such an important issue to tackle. We have especially made time for an additional sitting Friday, to ensure that the Bill passes. We remain committed to tackling sexual harassment in the workplace by introducing the employer duty, to strengthen protections in the Equality Act 2010.

While I note the concerns from my hon. Friends the Members for Southend West (Anna Firth) and for Devizes (Danny Kruger), I am very pleased that consensus has been reached here and in the other place, and I hope Members will agree that this important Bill should now be on the statute book. I would like to particularly thank my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes, who has some genuine concerns about the Bill that he has expressed today and at previous stages.

This is a difficult subject. While there may be differences in views and opinions, I am really pleased that the hon. Member for Bath has been able to progress the Bill through both Houses, because we need to make our workplaces better and safer. That is particularly true for women. We have heard recently about some of the experiences of female surgeons in the healthcare system. With my other hat on as a Health Minister, I am particularly pleased that this legislation will hopefully prevent some of those experiences in future.

I turn to the Lords amendments. Lords amendment 1 leaves out clause 1, to remove the proposed liability of employers for third-party harassment in the workplace. I am glad to hear that the amendment to remove this third-party harassment liability eases concerns that it could have had a chilling effect on free speech in the workplace. I am pleased that that has been addressed. There are some—I know the hon. Member for Bath is one of them—who are disappointed that the amendment has removed the third-party harassment liability, for very valid reasons, but this is about getting a compromise, so that we get the majority of the measures in the Bill through this place.

The Government believe it is important that workers are protected against this form of harassment, and good employers are already taking steps to ensure that their employees are protected from harassment by third parties, regardless of the legal position. However, to progress the Bill, we have had to be pragmatic, acknowledge the complexities at play and find a suitable balance. While we want to strengthen protections, we also do not wish to infringe on individuals’ rights to freedom of speech. Everyone has the right to their views and to debate them just as we are doing today, respecting others’ views in the process. The aim of the Bill is to tackle workplace harassment and not limit people’s freedoms. It is important to remember that, despite the removal of the third-party harassment provision, the Bill will still introduce a new duty on employers to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment.

The Government’s priority is to ensure that the legislation works effectively. We have consistently consulted with a wide range of stakeholders and have listened to all their views. As my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West has consulted with her chamber of commerce, the Government have done so more widely. When concerns regarding the potential chilling effect on free speech were first raised as the Bill progressed through the Commons, the Government took on board those issues. It was feared that employers may take unreasonable or drastic measures to avoid liability for harassment of their staff, particularly by third parties, to the extent that they would feel obliged to shut down conversations in the workplace. While employers will be expected to take action against workplace harassment, we recognise that those actions should fall short of prohibiting conversations. Free speech is crucial to our way of life, and it is important that we found a way forward.

With over 40 amendments tabled to the Bill in the other place following its Second Reading on 24 March, even after the Government tabled their amendment, it was clear that there remained concerns that the Bill would still have a chilling effect on free speech. The Government took those amendments very seriously, as they were fatal to the Bill. In our engagement with stakeholders and peers, we heard the strong concern, particularly about the third-party harassment issues, so we were eager to find a balance and a way forward for the Bill to reach the statute book with cross-party support. Therefore, the Government have been pragmatic and alive to the issues raised, and consensus was reached with peers by removing all but two of their amendments. The shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston, did not comment on the other amendments—over 38 of them—that we managed to get removed.

On 14 July in Committee, the Lords amended the Bill to remove from it the proposed liability of employers for third-party harassment in the workplace, which we are asking Members to support today. Again, I have said all along that we will not be introducing protection against third-party harassment. It has to be remembered that we will still be introducing a new duty on employers to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace, so I hope hon. Members can see that we are strengthening protections, but we have to be alive to the concerns of the other place.

We have accepted Lords amendment 2—to leave out the word “all” in clause 2, page 2, line 27—which changes the requirement on employers in respect of their duty to prevent sexual harassment from taking “all reasonable steps” to taking “reasonable steps”. I understand that the removal of “all” means that that duty does not go as far as the hon. Member for Bath would originally have liked, but it does reassure Members in the other place that the introduction of a duty on employers to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment will strengthen protection for workers.

Before I close, I will touch on the concerns expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes. It is important to say that the Government recognise that sexual harassment in the workplace exists, and while protecting free speech is important, we constantly hear of these experiences, day in and day out—particularly the experiences of women, but the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) touched on the harassment of men as well. We cannot stand by and let that continue. Guidance and measures are already in place to encourage employers to protect their employees, and the tribunal system is in place as well, but that is clearly not enough, which is why the Bill is so important. However, we have listened to the concerns around the impact on freedom of speech.

I am very happy to support the hon. Member for Bath, and thank her again for all her work in this place on the Bill and for her pragmatism. I know that the amendments were difficult ones to accept, but this Bill will make a difference to the safety of workers in the workplace, and I congratulate her on her work.

Private Members’ Bills are fragile things: they rely on cross-party support, but also support in both Houses. For that reason, it was very important to be pragmatic; otherwise, the whole Bill would have fallen. I am grateful for the Government’s patience and their support for the part of the Bill that we all can agree is so important, which is to create a preventive duty on employers. If the Bill passes today, it will be a good day, and I hope everybody will be able to support the amendments so that it can pass.

Lords amendment 1 agreed to.

Lords amendment 2 agreed to.