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Employment Law (Low-paid and Vulnerable Workers)

Volume 549: debated on Thursday 6 September 2012

4. What assessment he has made of the likely effect of proposed changes to employment law on low-paid and vulnerable workers. (119394)

22. What assessment he has made of the likely effect of proposed changes to employment law on low-paid and vulnerable workers. (119415)

We are conducting a Parliament-long employment law review to remove unnecessary burdens on businesses and give them the confidence to grow and create more jobs. Of course, we also remain committed to providing protection for low-paid and vulnerable workers.

I welcome the hon. Lady to her new job and congratulate her. I advise her to take more advice from the Business Secretary and a little less from the Chancellor’s prodigy, the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock), who is sitting two up from her.

Obviously, there is genuine concern as taking away employment rights from low-paid workers is not a substitute for a proper economic growth strategy. At a time when we should be looking at ways to encourage growth and hire people, rather than fire them, what assessment has been made of the positive impact on GDP of the proposed changes?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question and his kind words. It is a particular delight that my first questions at the Dispatch Box come from my near neighbours in the west of Scotland. I also thank him for his advice. Of course he is right to point out that just removing employment rights is not the way forward. However, impact assessments have been published in respect of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill. It is still progressing through this House and the Government intend to make further announcements next week on employment law reform.

I, too, am delighted to welcome the hon. Lady to her new role, particularly as she is my constituency neighbour. I do not know whether she is aware that on average women workers in my constituency earn £180 a week less than they do in her constituency. What does she think the impact of the Government’s proposals will be on women workers, who are more likely to be in lower paid, less secure jobs in the first place?

I thank my parliamentary neighbour for that question, in which she highlights the discrepancy between our constituencies. Of course, women are being hugely helped by many of this Government’s reforms, particularly our taking low-paid workers out of paying income tax. That is especially helpful for part-time workers, who are disproportionately women. She also raises the issue of the pay gap between men and women, which the Government are committed to addressing.

It is very good to see my hon. Friend at the Dispatch Box. Adrian Beecroft identified in his report a number of ways in which current employment legislation is impeding the creation of new jobs. Will my hon. Friend assure me that the coalition Government will act to implement those parts of the Beecroft report that will enhance the creation of new jobs?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. Contrary to many of the headlines, the Beecroft report contained a wide range of proposals, many of which the Government were already committed to bringing forward. A call for evidence on one of the more controversial issues mentioned in it closed on 8 June and the Government are committed to progressing on an evidence-based policy. It is worth bearing in mind that some business organisations have expressed concerns about that policy, but the Government will respond formally shortly.

I welcome my hon. Friend to her new post and I know that she will make an effective and assiduous Minister. Does she share my pride as a Liberal Democrat Member of this coalition Government that we are introducing measures such as flexible working and shared parental leave and rejecting the specific Beecroft proposal of a fire-at-will policy, all of which will disproportionately affect low-paid and vulnerable workers?

My hon. Friend makes her point very forcefully. I am very enthusiastic about the coalition agreement proposals for flexible working and shared parental leave and I very much look forward to taking them on.

I, too, add my congratulations to the hon. Lady. As I did with her predecessor, I wish her just a smidgen of success. Given the number of Scots who have already spoken, we should all know that “smidgen” is a Scottish term for “a very little”. In the past two and a half years, Ministers have dithered on creating opportunities to get people back to work and have presided over a package of measures that make it easier to fire rather than hire employees. Given that the hon. Lady has backed her Secretary of State in saying that the watering down of employee rights, especially for low-paid female workers, is the wrong approach, will she now change course and put in place a proper strategy for growth, or will her new right-wing ministerial colleagues pressure her to follow the same failed approach?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his congratulations in person, having received them on Twitter yesterday. The Government are announcing a range of different measures today that will support the economy and improve competitiveness. They are on the right track and I am very committed to ensuring that we make them a success.

More than 900,000 private sector jobs have been created since this Government came to power. Will the Minister guarantee that her Department will deliver growth and that we will continue to see a rise in private sector job creation?

The hon. Gentleman is right to point out the success in the creation of private sector jobs. Members on both sides of the House share a concern about the problems of unemployment, which is why it is vital that the Government continue with our measures to kick-start the economy.