HC Deb 11 June 1976 vol 912 cc1951-4

I beg to move Amendment No. 28, in page 8, line 4, leave out 'failures' and insert 'any failure'.


With this amendment we may discuss Amendment No. 31, in page 8, line 6, leave out 'secure equality of opportunity' and insert 'remedy such failure'.


The amendments are attempts to remove imprecision and ambiguity. It is a question also of trying to keep a check on the operation of the agency as it proceeds under the terms of Clause 11.

Throughout the Bill there is the objective that intensive investigations shall be made. There is such a wide interpretation of the concept of equality of opportunity that we must be able to tell an employer precisely what his failure is. It is not enough to talk in terms of failures to provide equality of opportunity". We must tell an employer "This is precisely what you are failing to do by way of providing equality of opportunity, or what you are doing by way of discrimination." There is no such precision if we leave the words which we seek to remove. The amendment is a plea for precision and clarity.


After a period in which the Government were able to accept so many suggestions made by hon. Members opposite, I have to be resistant to this. These are technical, drafting amendments designed to ensure that the investigations and so on are related to specific failures, not to the broad concept of failure. The idea is to limit the busy-bodying propensities of the agency if necessary to the consideration of the precise allegations involved.

I have sought technical advice from the experts because my own legal days are, I regret to say, very far in the distant past. Their advice is that the precision of the Bill is not improved by the substitution of the words of the amendment. Therefore, I hope that the House will accept that the amendment should be withdrawn or negatived.

Mr. Powell

I have no doubt that the Minister of State is correct in saying that the Bill as it stands is as precise as it would be if the amendment were accepted, but it would mean something different if my hon. Friend's amendment were made. As I apprehend it, my hon. Friend was not making merely a drafting proposal. The difficulty which he and some of the rest of us feel is that having in paragraph (a) spoken of ascertaining failures to provide equality of opportunity", which are necessarily individual cases—as is shown by the words existence, nature and extent"— the Bill, instead of saying what the agency should do to deal with them goes on to deal with something different, or at any rate not specifically related to those failures. The agency is to consider action… to secure equality of opportunity". It may be that we have been wrong in reading paragraphs (a) and (b) conjunctively instead of disjunctively. Maybe paragraphs (a) and (b) are separate from one another; but if they are, we seem to be left in the air, with the agency under paragraph (a) ascertaining failures and then doing nothing to remedy them, but instead making general proposals and indications under paragraph (b).

Therefore, perhaps the Minister of State will accept that there is here a real point, not a drafting point, and will at any rate endeavour to meet our difficulty. I repeat as briefly as I can that it is that paragraphs (a) and (b) do not seem to be related to one another, and that the operations under paragraph (a) seem to be of a different kind from those under paragraph (b), so that we are at a loss to see how they link together in the purposes and activities in which the agency is to be assisted. I hope that the Minister of State can respond to at any rate an honest endeavour at clarification.


I am grateful for that further explanation by the right hon. Gentleman, which directs my mind to a different point from the one with which I was dealing earlier. My difficulty is that I have not assessed the amendments before now in the manner in which the right hon. Gentleman has put them forward. But, from what I can remember of drafting statutes, paragraphs (a) and (b) should be read conjointly rather than separately.

I admit that it would have been clearer had "and consequently" or some phrase of that kind been the concluding words of paragraph (a). On the basis that statutes are constructed as a whole, I cannot see how paragraph (b) can be construed in any other way than conjointly with paragraph (a). We have no control over the way in which the courts will interpret these clauses. The clause seems to me as clear as we can make it in this House.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. Concannon

I beg to move Amendment No. 29, in page 8, line 5, leave out 'provide' and insert 'afford'.

Mr. Speaker

With this we may take Government Amendments Nos. 30, 32, 33, 36, 40, 46, 57, 58, 74, 79, 84 and 85.

Mr. Concannon

In Committee we christened this clutch of amendments the four verb amendments. I gave a specific promise to look at them and to come back on Report with another form of words. I hope that this lexicographical choice meets with the understanding of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell).

Mr. Powell

My hon. Friends and I would like to offer a special word of thanks to the Government for having come forward with what has been called "this clutch of amendments". It results from our attempting what is generally a temerarious proceeding—namely, to challenge, in some ways by implication, the technical competence of the draftsmen by suggesting that they have been using two or three words where one word would do and switching about from one formulation to another within the same statute.

I think it possible that there may be a slightly different draftsmanship tradition as between the former Northern Ireland Parliament and Office and this House and those who advise this House. Whichever it is to be, we must be consistent within the same statute. I am glad that the Government have recognised that the consistency could be improved and have so thoroughly imposed consistency throughout in this way.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 30, in page 8, line 6, leave out to secure ' and insert ' for promoting'.—[Mr. Concannon.]

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