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Non-disclosure Agreements: Regulation

Volume 654: debated on Thursday 7 February 2019

2. What steps the Government are taking to regulate the use of non-disclosure agreements in cases of (a) sexual harassment and (b) maternity discrimination. (909061)

The Government share the concern that non-disclosure agreements have been used to hide workplace harassment and discrimination, or to intimidate victims into silence. That is clearly unacceptable. We will be consulting on measures to improve the regulation of non-disclosure agreements, including how best to ensure that workers understand their rights when they have signed a non-disclosure agreement.

Thanks to changes brought in by this Government, local authorities are subject to very limited scrutiny. A scan of responses to freedom of information requests shows that the use of NDAs in local authorities is prolific and out of control. Given that the Prime Minister’s planned consultation has yet to materialise, will the Minister confirm that the Government have no idea at all how widespread the use of NDAs is anywhere?

Non-disclosure agreements have a legitimate place in the workplace and can cover matters other than harassment or discrimination. For example, they have a legitimate use in the protection of trade secrets and when a settlement has been reached. As I have outlined, we will be consulting on the issue, and we are determined to make matters easier for workers.

We should be very clear that employment NDAs are being used to cover up lawbreaking. Maternity discrimination and sexual harassment are against the laws that this place has put on our statute books. Therefore, as well as considering the future of NDAs, will my hon. Friend consider the future of the Equality and Human Rights Commission? It should be enforcing our laws, but it has failed to use its extensive enforcement powers.

I thank my right hon. Friend, the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, for highlighting the issue; she is quite right. It is true that there has been a tailored review of the effectiveness and work of the EHRC, and the Secretary of State has met the commission. We are looking at its delivery and effectiveness, but we will welcome any suggestions from my right hon. Friend and her Committee.