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House of Commons Hansard
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Written Statements
04 March 2019
Volume 655

Written Statements

Monday 4 March 2019

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Workplace Harassment or Discrimination: Confidentiality Clauses

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The Government have today published a consultation on measures to tackle misuse of confidentiality clauses in situations of workplace harassment or discrimination. These proposals will boost understanding among workers and employers of their rights and legal responsibilities and is part of our modern industrial strategy to create a fairer workplace.

There is increasing evidence that confidentiality clauses are being abused by a minority of employers to intimidate victims and conceal harassment and discrimination in the workplace—including sexual assault, physical threats and racism. This is unacceptable. Today’s proposed reforms will help put an end to the unethical use of these agreements and encourage good practice from employers and lawyers. This includes:

Legislating that confidentiality clauses cannot prevent any disclosure to the police.

Requiring a clear description of the limits of confidentiality provisions within a written statement of employment particulars (in the case of confidentiality clauses in employment contracts) or within settlement agreements.

Extending the law that means a worker agreeing to a settlement agreement receives independent advice, by specifying that the advice must cover the limits of any confidentiality clauses in the settlement agreement.

Most businesses legitimately use non-disclosure agreement and confidentiality clauses in agreements to prevent the disclosure of confidential information. In addition, settlement agreements are often utilised to help resolve workplace disputes without the need to escalate matters further.

However, a minority abuse their power in the workplace to conceal victims of harassment or discrimination through NDAs or confidentiality clauses. For example, by suggesting that a worker cannot “blow the whistle”, despite the fact that no provision can remove a worker’s whistleblowing protections.

In addition, through an NDA or settlement agreement, employers could insist that a worker is unable to discuss an issue with other people or organisations, such as the police, a doctor or a therapist. This can leave victims afraid to report an incident or speak out about their experiences, leaving others exposed to similar situations, and putting customers and other businesses at risk. The proposals set out today will help end this unethical practice, through extending the requirement to receive independent advice to cover limits on confidentiality clauses, and by requiring that signatories must be provided with a clear overview of their rights.

Our modern industrial strategy is creating a fairer and more equal workplace, to boost productivity and earning power for all. Our proposals support this by helping to create a more level playing field between workers and employers, providing more understanding over rights and legal responsibilities.

The consultation period will run for eight weeks until 29 April 2019. The consultation can be found at: www.gov.uk/government/consultations/confidentiality-clauses-measures-to-prevent-misuse-in-situations-of-workplace-harassment-or-discrimination.

I am placing copies of the consultation in the Libraries of both Houses.

[HCWS1373]

Housing, Communities and Local Government

Homelessness and Rehousing

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I have announced over £19.5 million in direct funding to 66 local authorities to provide support to those who are homeless, or at risk of homelessness, to secure accommodation in the private rented sector.

Everybody deserves a stable, safe and secure place to call home. It is vital we give people facing homelessness a route out of it and a chance to rebuild their lives. The private rented sector has an important role to play in this. This announcement adds another powerful tool for local authorities to use to help prevent and relieve homelessness for thousands of households.

Through this funding local authorities will be able to provide financial support to help people access the private rental market and maintain their tenancies, through the payment of deposits or rent payments. It will enable authorities to provide support to tenants to help them overcome difficulties that might otherwise threaten their tenancies. It will also enable 35 authorities to purchase an insurance policy to cover the costs of landlords if tenants default on their rent or damage their rented property, enabling individuals to access parts of the private sector they could not previously access.

This funding complements existing Government action to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping. It sits alongside our £1.2 billion funding programme to tackle homelessness, and the Homelessness Reduction Act, the most ambitious legislative reform in decades, to ensure more people receive the help they need, at an earlier stage. It also forms part of our wide-ranging reforms to rebalance the relationship between landlords and tenants, and deliver a fairer, more affordable, higher quality and more secure private rented sector, and ensures that vulnerable people receive the support they need to navigate housing options at a local level.

The full list of successful areas and allocations of funding can be found here:

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/housing- minister-unlocks-private-rented-sector-for-most-vulnerable.

As part of this work to protect vulnerable people, I would like to stress the Government’s commitment to ensuring those who receive housing support are able to access the properties they need. Our latest figures show that around half of landlords said they would not be willing to let to tenants on Housing Benefit—ruling out thousands of vulnerable people and families. As the Prime Minister recently stated, we have already started working with Shelter following their campaign raising awareness of so-called ‘No DSS’ adverts. Over the coming months, Ministers will meet with industry representatives including mortgage providers, landlord associations, tenant groups and property websites to develop ways to stop the unfair exclusion of tenants in receipt of housing support. This will help us take steps to eradicate this practice and ensure people in receipt of housing support can access the homes they need.

Rapid rehousing pathway 2019-20 funding round

Separately, I have also announced that we are inviting local authorities to apply for the Rapid Rehousing Pathway 2019-20 funding round. This second round of funding invites local authorities to bid for all or any elements of the Rapid Rehousing Pathway which includes Somewhere Safe to Stay hubs, specialist Navigators, Local Lettings Agencies and Supported Lettings. This follows the announcement of a combined 53 ‘early adopter’ areas in December 2018 and February 2019. The link to the applications page can be found here:

http://www.gov.uk/government/publications/rapid-rehousing-pathway-2019-to-2020-funding.

Applications for the new funding round will be accepted up to 23:59 on 29 March 2019, and we intend to announce successful bids in the spring.

[HCWS1374]

International Trade

Informal Trade Foreign Affairs Council

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The informal EU Foreign Affairs Council (Trade) took place in Bucharest on 21 and 22 February 2019. The formal agenda covered the World Trade Organization (WTO) and EU-US trade. I represented the UK at the meeting. A summary of the discussions follows:

WTO modernisation

Commissioner Malmström highlighted that the risk to the multilateral system was real, but was not sufficiently appreciated by much of the WTO membership.

Discussion focused on the need to keep the US engaged and anchored within the multilateral system while addressing US concerns about the appellate body. I stressed the seriousness of the current situation. Commissioner Malmström mentioned the recent launch of e-commerce negotiations as a positive development.

US trade

Commissioner Malmström said the Commission was focused on delivering the outcomes of the July 2018 Juncker-Trump meeting. She did not know the contents of the US 232 report into cars and reiterated that €20 billion (£17.2 billion) of EU “rebalancing measures” had been prepared. She called on member states to endorse the mandates.

In discussion, the mandates were endorsed by an overwhelming majority of member states. I urged the importance of moving forward at pace, emphasising the significant UK interests. Discussion revolved around timing. The Commission highlighted their commitment to moving forward as quickly as possible. The presidency offered an extraordinary Council meeting if needed to facilitate this.

[HCWS1375]