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Leaving the EU: Equalities and Human Rights

Volume 629: debated on Thursday 12 October 2017

2. What discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union on the effect of the UK leaving the EU on equalities and human rights. (901056)

I have regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues, including my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, on ensuring that all the protections in the Equality Act 2010, including the public sector equality duty, will continue to apply after we have left the EU.

I apologise for being a newbie, Mr Speaker.

Will the Minister confirm that pregnant women will not be obliged to work night shifts after we have left the EU? They currently enjoy such a protection under EU law.

EU equalities law has already been overwhelmingly transposed into UK law via the Equality Act. As I said, Ministers must also comply with a public sector equality duty. On workers’ rights more broadly, the Prime Minister was clear in her Lancaster House speech, which she made some time ago, that one of our key priorities will be to protect and maintain them.

As the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, may I say how heartening it is to see seven Ministers present to respond to Women and Equalities questions, which shows the importance that the Government attach to these issues?

Ministers have been consistent and clear that their policy objective with the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill is for things to stay the same after we leave the EU, with our having time to debate policy changes after that point. It is clear, however, that the removal of the charter of fundamental rights in itself creates a significant change in the underpinning of equality rights. Will my right hon. Friend meet me to discuss how we can avoid that unintended consequence?

The right hon. Lady should take it as a compliment that seven Ministers are required to cope with her.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) points out, the Government are committed to this agenda, which is why so many Ministers are prepared to answer questions this morning. She raises an important point. I have been very clear that there will be no backsliding on our equalities agenda and law as we leave the EU. I know that my right hon. Friend has a meeting with the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Dominic Raab) next week. That will be an important time to discuss how we can make sure that there will be no backsliding.

Many protections in EU law, especially equality rights, have already been written into UK law. Does the Minister therefore agree that our leaving the EU should not cause any detrimental impact on or removal of the rights and equalities that we currently enjoy, and will merely present us with the opportunity to further improve the law wherever we in the UK see fit to do so?

Absolutely, and it is worth my pointing out that in several areas, UK law already goes beyond existing EU law.

Does the excellent Secretary of State agree that one of the many advantages of coming out of the EU is the fact that this Parliament will be able to improve equalities and human rights without being restricted by the European Union?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have been one of those countries around the world that has constantly stood up for human rights and that has been credible because of our human rights record and our legal framework. We are determined that there will be no backsliding. I have no doubt that this Government, and future Governments, will want to continue to make progress.