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Leaving the EU: Workers’ Rights

Volume 667: debated on Tuesday 29 October 2019

(Urgent question): To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy if she will make a statement on the Government’s plans for workers’ rights after the UK leaves the EU.

The UK has a long and proud tradition of leading the way in workers’ rights and for setting the highest standards. The Government have been clear and consistent that the decision to leave the EU does not change that in any way whatever. The Government have absolutely no intention of lowering standards on workers’ rights. To suggest otherwise is scaremongering and is untrue.

The EU has traditionally set minimum standards for workers’ rights and, as all colleagues in this Chamber would expect, the UK already exceeds standards in a wide range of areas, such as maternity and paternity leave and pay. The UK offers 39 weeks of statutory maternity pay, compared with the 14 weeks of paid maternity leave required by the EU’s minimum standards. Because the Government believe in the importance of supporting families in every possible way, we have also given fathers and partners an additional statutory right to leave and pay, something that the EU is only now starting to consider. We are one of the few EU member states to have introduced shared parental leave and we are proud that in the UK we have given all employees with 26 weeks qualifying service a statutory right to request flexible working that enables so many to better balance work and life responsibilities. EU law only allows workers to make such a request if returning from parental leave.

Under the terms of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, all existing workers’ rights laws will be transferred into domestic law once we have left the EU, making sure there is no gap or lack of clarity in the minimum set of workers’ rights which, as I have already said, the UK exceeds in many areas. We are also including in the Withdrawal Agreement Bill a new requirement that every Bill brought before this place in the future that affects workers’ rights will include a statement by the Government of the day on how it impacts workers’ rights. This will ensure that Parliament always has its say. The Government have also published clauses that will require every Government, now and in the future, to monitor new EU legislation covering employment and workplace health and safety standards, and to report on those changes to Parliament so that Parliament can again have its say.

In direct answer to the hon. Lady’s question, I can absolutely assure her and this House that the Government will not lower standards on workers’ rights when we leave the EU. On the contrary, it is the ambition of this Government to make the United Kingdom the best place to work and to grow a business.

Thank you for granting this urgent question, Mr Speaker. I persisted.

The leaked memos reported in the Financial Times over the weekend are both worrying and, at the same time, utterly predictable. They shine a light on the true politics of this Conservative Government and how they are seeking to use the withdrawal agreement Bill, as with their whole Brexit strategy, to sell out workers. The Prime Minister may keep repeating that it is an excellent deal, and no doubt that will be the mantra come a general election, but I would like to get to the truth. I want to start by asking the Secretary of State about the status of the documents, and particularly which Government Departments they were distributed to and when. At what stage was the Secretary of State aware of their existence and their content? If she was not aware, why not?

This issue is critical given that last week the Government gave a number of assurances on this issue to Members in this House, while at the same time they were seemingly discussing the very opposite among themselves. They will use Brexit as a blueprint for rapid deregulation, which will see the vital floor on protections disappear. This Government have proposed a Brexit deal that benefits their pals—the millionaires, the speculators and hedge fund managers—over working people. [Interruption.] Government Members can shout at me all they want, but that is the truth. How can we trust a Prime Minister who stood up and said they would keep the “highest possible standards” on workers’ rights, when the leaks show that the Government view such commitments as “inappropriate” and that negotiators had “successfully resisted” them being included in the legally binding part of the agreement with the EU? These rights are not inappropriate; they include things such as maternity leave, working hours, paid holiday leave—things that make a difference in people’s lives.

The Secretary of State says that the Government do not intend to dilute rights after we leave the EU. May I then ask her very simply: why did they take level playing field obligations out of the legally binding part of their Brexit agreement? Crucially, has the Secretary of State’s Department or the Cabinet Office ever looked at deregulation? If so, why? We need to get to the bottom of this. The Government are relying on the complexity of the legislation to bury their true approach to workers’ rights. Once we expose exactly the consequences of their approach to leaving the EU and what it means for our communities, they know that the Government could never win support of this House and, more importantly, of working people. Rather than resisting workers’ rights, we need a fundamental shift in power from the owners of business to workers. It is only a Labour Government who will ever do that.

Well, Mr Speaker, that was incredibly disappointing. The hon. Lady obviously was not listening to a thing I said. If she will allow me, I will just repeat what I actually said, rather than what she asserts I said. It is this Government’s ambition to make the United Kingdom the best place in the world to work.

I find it extraordinary that the hon. Lady thinks that the only valid protector of UK workers’ rights can be the European Union. Why on earth does she think that her party, my party, the other Opposition parties and our strong trade union tradition in the UK are utterly incapable of building on the superb tradition we already have in the UK of exceeding workers’ rights in the EU in so many areas? Once we have left the European Union, the United Kingdom will not be represented in EU institutions and nor will we have any direct influence on future EU legislation on workers’ rights. Why then should the Government and this Parliament seek to engineer circumstances where we are required to implement legislation over which we have had no say?

As we leave the European Union, we have a unique opportunity to enhance protections for the workforce and tailor them to best support UK workers. It will be for the United Kingdom to create and enhance UK employment rights and to take advantage of the superb opportunities for new UK-wide skills, jobs and prosperity that await us after we have left the European Union.

Most eccentric behaviour by the hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Bim Afolami). It is not necessary to raise one’s hand, as though in a classroom. It is quite sufficient for the hon. Gentleman simply to stand. I do not know what he did when he was at Eton, but he does not have to worry about that now. I am glad there is a beatific smile on the face of the hon. Gentleman. That itself is a source of some solace.

May I say to my right hon. Friend that the question from the hon. Member for North West Durham (Laura Pidcock) is completely at odds with reality? If Labour Members look very carefully at wanting to remain in the EU, it is the judgments of the European Court of Justice that Professor Mary Davis of Royal Holloway, University of London—a Labour historian—has said will be a thunderclap to the left, because, with imported workers, they put business rights over workers’ rights. So, if this case is exactly what they say it is, they should be wanting to accelerate our departure from the EU to get back full control of workers’ rights to the UK.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. He has done so much to promote social justice in the United Kingdom and he deserves respect from right across this place. What I would say to my right hon. Friend is that one of the EU’s own agencies, Eurofound—Opposition Members obviously do not want to hear this, because they are all chatting—ranks the United Kingdom as the second-best country in the EU for workplace wellbeing, second only to Sweden, and the best for work- place performance. That is something to be proud of.

Despite the Secretary of State’s energetic assertions, make no mistake: the Prime Minister’s deal is disastrous for workers’ rights. Scottish workers and industry now face the spectre of Tory trade deals to lower environmental and other vital standards. The Tories can never be trusted with workers’ rights; their record speaks for itself, and anyone who believes otherwise is sorely deluded. The Prime Minister bought off Labour votes for his awful deal by pledging “the highest possible standards”. Days later, that promise, like so many others, lay in tatters.

EU law and courts provide their own backstop against UK workers’ rights being weakened. We know that this Government are planning to diverge on the key regulations post Brexit. Is not it the case that the only way to guarantee workers’ rights and avoid them being watered down is to stay in the EU? As the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations has pointed out:

“Loss of oversight from, and recourse to, the European Court of Justice will remove…protection from UK citizens”.

As a minimum, will the Secretary of State agree to undertake an equality impact assessment of the UK Government’s plans for workers’ rights post Brexit? If not, why not?

The hon. Gentleman describes my defence of our ambitions on workers’ rights as energetic. It also happens to be true, which is extremely helpful to workers in the United Kingdom. Let us look at the facts. He asserts that somehow the EU is the only thing that lies between us and the poor house, but in reality there is no minimum wage in the EU, whereas this Government are raising the national minimum wage to £10.50 an hour. UK annual holiday entitlement is 28 days, including our public holidays; in the EU it is 20 days. Our maternity entitlements are nearly three times greater than those in the EU. We have given fathers and partners statutory rights to leave and pay. We have given adoption leave. We have given employees the right to request flexible working. In every single area, the UK far exceeds the European Union. It is absolute and total rubbish to say that the EU is the only protector of UK workers’ rights.

Could we turn to practical matters for a moment? Most of our constituents are in work, have worked or are related to people in work. It would be a pretty eccentric and perverse prospectus to say to our voters, “Please vote for us. We are going to make your working life worse, your standards lower and your environment less safe.” Given the practical, non-ideological politics of Government Members, does my right hon. Friend agree that that would be a very strange political message indeed?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. To give some further cheery news, 80% of jobs created since 2010 are full-time jobs. The introduction of the national living wage delivered the fastest pay rise in at least 20 years for the lowest earners. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Gill Furniss) might like to look at the facts rather than listen to the rhetoric coming from Opposition Members. If people want good work, good workers’ rights and decent wages, they should stick with the Conservatives.

Asking people to trust the Conservative party is a bit like asking them to trust Dracula with the blood bank. We know what its record is.

Will the right hon. Lady talk about enforcement? We can have all the rights we like on paper, but this Government and their predecessors have slashed enforcement to the bone, which has meant that an awful lot of the so-called rights that people have at work are theoretical and do not exist in practice.

The hon. Lady knows that that is simply not the case. Since 2015 the Government have doubled the budget for enforcement on compliance with the minimum wage. The enforcement activity of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has meant that 200,000 workers could access nearly £25 million in national minimum wage arrears in 2018-19. The employment agency standards inspectorate has received a 50% increase in frontline inspectors. We are investing more than £1 billion in reforming the Courts and Tribunals Service. The hon. Lady is asserting non-facts; I am giving her the facts and she should listen to them.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s commitment to the UK becoming the best place in the world in which to work and grow a business. Does she agree that we need to consider the way in which employment protection and the tribunals system impact on those in low paid and insecure employment in particular?

Yes. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have consulted on proposals for a single enforcement body for employment rights. That consultation closed on 6 October and the Government will respond to it. She will know very well that this Government are committed to extending, improving and enforcing some of the best workers’ rights in the world.

I am not sure how much of a favour you have done me there, Mr Speaker. The truth is that the reality of our labour market is that lived by my constituents, not the picture being painted from the Dispatch Box. But never mind that: this is about Brexit and what it could do to our economy. The Secretary of State claims the mantle of the person who will defend family rights at work and people’s ability to defend themselves against poor bosses. Will she therefore clarify whether the TUC has recommended that we accept the Government’s deal—yes or no?

The hon. Lady will know better than I the TUC’s view of the Government’s deal. She says that the reality is not the same as what I am saying from the Dispatch Box, but she should recognise that almost 32.7 million people are in work, including a further 280,000 over the past year; that 80% of jobs created since 2010 are full-time jobs; and that we have experienced the fastest growth in real earnings since 2015. The hon. Lady should listen to the facts and not try to scaremonger. This Government are improving and protecting workers’ rights and enhancing enforcement of them.

Anyone who has travelled in the European Union will know that conditions of employment in the UK are higher, particularly on contracts of employment, as well as the other points made by my right hon. Friend. Does she therefore share my suspicion that this UQ is motivated not by care for people’s employment rights, but more by the fact that we face, possibly, a general election?

I have to say that I completely agree with my hon. Friend, because what I am hearing from Opposition Members does not resemble any of the facts. It is this Conservative Government who are protecting and enhancing the rights of the workforce and ensuring a benign economic situation, which means that more people than ever before are in work, more women are in work, fewer young people are out of work, and wages are rising. We are also ensuring that employment is safe and more secure and that health and safety rules are strong. It is the Opposition who seem to be positioning themselves for a general election.

If the Secretary of State is serious about making Britain the best place in the world to work, will she commit to scrapping the anti-trade union legislation? The undermining of trade unions over the past 10 years or so has led to an explosion of precarious low-paid employment, which is now endemic throughout the land.

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that, in leaving the European Union with the withdrawal agreement negotiated by the Prime Minister, if the European Union makes any changes to workers’ rights and employment legislation, the Government will have the facility to consult businesses and trade unions, and this House will be able to express its view on whether any changes could or should be considered for implementation in the UK. It is really important that it is this House and the United Kingdom’s courts that should judge and measure whether this or any future Government stick to their commitment to maintain the highest standards of workers’ rights.

One way in which the Government could show that they are not only committed to workers’ rights but innovative in the field of workers’ rights is to look carefully at what rights we might extend to workers in the so-called gig economy, which has emerged from the success of tech in the UK. Will the Secretary of State update the House on the progress in looking at the Taylor report and on her thoughts on this important area of the economy?

My right hon. Friend raises a really important point. In terms of zero-hours contracts and the gig economy, the number of people on zero-hours contracts is falling, and less than 3% of the people in work are employed on them. He mentions the Taylor report. Matthew Taylor said that banning zero-hours contracts would be like using

“a sledgehammer to crack a nut”.

However, it is important that we do everything we can to ensure that workers have the flexibility they need, so we have consulted on one-sided flexibility. That consultation closed on 11 October and we will bring forward our response soon.

There is no guarantee from this Government that UK employment rights will keep track with EU employment protections. For example, the gig economy was just mentioned, and the European Commission recently launched proposals to introduce transparent and predictable working conditions for gig economy workers, such as those on zero-hours contracts or in domestic employment. It is also planning other additional protections, so will the Secretary of State promise that that will happen here and that we will keep in track with EU developments?

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for raising that very important point. She is right that the EU has discussed the gig economy and enhancing the rights of working parents. It is true that the EU has introduced proposals in the transparent and predictable working conditions directive, but it is not true that those proposals go further than the good work plan. For example, we brought forward a statutory instrument in March this year under which the right to a written statement on day one for every worker will come into force in April 2020, whereas under the EU’s proposals, if it does introduce that directive, it will not take effect until the summer of 2022, so the UK is bringing forward workers’ rights further and faster than the European Union.

The Prime Minister championed the London living wage and a much higher national living wage. Does that not demonstrate his commitment to increased workers’ rights?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This Prime Minister has been extremely keen to ensure that all workers get a fair deal. He has presided over the intention to bring the national minimum wage to £10.50 at a greater speed than was previously envisaged. We will bring forward measures to ensure that that can be put into force as soon as we can.

The level playing field clause would not constrain any improvement in workers’ rights, but it would limit and stop the reduction of workers’ rights, so why did the Prime Minister want that clause to be removed from the legally binding withdrawal agreement?

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: the EU sets minimum workers’ rights that all EU members abide by, and the UK then, like many other member states, improves on that—in the UK’s case, very significantly. Under our withdrawal agreement Bill and in a no-deal situation, all existing workers’ rights will be protected, but the UK does not intend necessarily to dynamically align with all future EU legislation. When I say that, I mean that this House will have the opportunity to look at all measures that come forward, but in many areas the UK will want to do things better than the EU. Dynamic alignment means copy and paste, and we do not want to have to do that. I just gave an example to the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) of an area in which the UK is introducing the right to a day one statement much faster than the EU. That is an example of our wanting to go further and faster in improving workers’ rights.

The purpose of leaving the European Union is not to have a bonfire of workers’ rights, but to make decisions in this House. Does my right hon. Friend agree that outside the EU, this House of Commons can pass such legislation to improve workers’ rights? We should have the confidence to do so and not leave it to others.

My hon. Friend is exactly right. It is for this House, the UK’s trade unions and the UK’s parliamentarians of all parties to preserve and enhance workforce rights in the UK for everybody within it in a way that is tailored to the extraordinary opportunities that await us as we leave the EU.

Yesterday, I and a number of my colleagues signed early-day motion 57, in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field), as a public indication of support for the withdrawal agreement Bill through which we would have been able to secure some amendments that would give peace of mind, hopefully to Labour colleagues, that workers’ rights would not be undermined after we leave the EU. Does the Business Secretary share my disappointment that rather than bringing the Bill through this House, enabling us all to talk about these things and trying to get the strongest amendments possible, the Prime Minister has instead chosen to pull his Bill?

I have the greatest respect and regard for the hon. Lady, and I am sorry to say that on this I disagree with her. If Parliament really did intend to provide the opportunity for the withdrawal agreement Bill to have its Third Reading and Royal Assent, this House would also have supported the timetable to do that. Unfortunately, the fact that so few colleagues, on both sides of the House, decided to support the programme motion means that it undermined its own credibility and willingness to bring that Bill to its conclusion.

The Secretary of State will have seen the EU report that says that 90% of economic growth in the next 15 years will be outside the EU. The United Kingdom therefore has to make decisions in line with its national interest that lead to more jobs, opportunities, prosperity and security. That is what we have been seeing for the last nine years that this Conservative Government have been in place.

My hon. Friend is exactly right: a very bright future awaits us as we leave the European Union in all circumstances. From the amazing innovations in areas such as healthier, longer living through our life sciences agenda, to areas such as clean growth through our commitment to net zero, there are massive opportunities for new skills, new jobs and new prosperity across the United Kingdom. This Conservative Government will maintain and enhance workers’ rights for all.

As one of the Labour MPs who have worked in good faith to find common ground—a compromise, even—over Brexit, I was disappointed to read the leaked documents. Further to the answers that the Minister has given to a number of hon. Members, will she tell us exactly what workplace rights and protections would be introduced to prevent the Government from backtracking on the commitments that they have made?

Again, I have a great deal of respect for the hon. Lady’s position. I absolutely assure her that it is the Government’s intention to maintain all the workers’ rights regulations as we leave the EU and to ensure that Parliament has the opportunity, in every piece of primary legislation that comes forward in future, to understand—with a statement by the Government—how that might impact on workers’ rights, so that it can express its view. At the same time, the Government of the day will consult trade unions and businesses on whether the impact is positive or negative. There will be the opportunity either to align with those changes in legislation and improve on them, as the United Kingdom so often does, or not to implement them if they are not appropriate for the UK, but it should be for this place to make that decision.

Does the Secretary of State agree that if the Prime Minister’s deal, negotiated with the European Union, is ratified by this House, on leaving the EU the UK will have better and stronger workers’ rights than the bare bones provided by the EU?

The Tory party talks about protecting workers. Thomas Cook: no say and no pay. Asda: sign or resign. Royal Mail: agreements made but not honoured. Where is the intervention from the Tory Government? They will further weaken workers’ rights after Brexit, including on health and safety. Why is there no legal protection for existing workers’ rights in the withdrawal agreement?

The hon. Gentleman is not correct. There are protections for workers’ rights in UK legislation. As I have explained to many right hon. and hon. Members, the UK’s protections and rights for workers go far beyond any of the EU’s minimum standards. We are proud of that fact and have every intention of further enhancing those rights.

As the Secretary of State pointed out, parties on both sides have expanded workers’ rights far beyond the EU minimums, so will she go further and call out this campaign for what it is—a grubby attempt to divide employees from employers and a deliberate politically motivated campaign of misinformation? Moreover, it is deeply insulting to the British electorate to suggest that they are incapable of electing people to this place who share their aims and intentions in wanting to go further in protecting workers’ rights.

Yes, my hon. Friend is exactly right. It is a great shame when the House has so much to be proud of in our combined record on workers’ rights that Opposition parties are suggesting that the only way to protect workers in the UK is to stay part of the EU. It is blatantly untrue and blatant scaremongering. The Government have a proud record of enhancing workers’ rights and look forward to being able to continue that once we have left the EU.

The right hon. Lady will know that responsibility for workers’ rights is a devolved matter for the Northern Ireland Assembly. She will also know that we have not had a functioning Assembly for almost three years. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has been dedicated to the restoration of the Assembly and Executive, but his valiant efforts are now being deliberately and wilfully undermined by the Prime Minister’s stunt of an early general election. How on earth does the Business Secretary reconcile the Secretary of State’s efforts to have the institutions restored in Northern Ireland with the Prime Minister’s stunt of an early general election?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is in his place and will have heard the hon. Lady’s comments. The parties in Northern Ireland have had ample opportunity to come together, and the Prime Minister, like his predecessor, has sought at every turn to find an accommodation so that all parties in Northern Ireland can restore the Assembly. It is a top priority for this Parliament, but so too is delivering on the will of the people in the 2016 referendum. It is not acceptable that we have yet to deliver on the decision by the United Kingdom to leave the EU. We must do so.

A speech the Secretary of State gave in 2012 contains this passage about small business:

“I envisage there being absolutely no regulation whatsoever—no minimum wage, no maternity or paternity rights, no unfair dismissal rights, no pension rights”—[Official Report, 10 May 2012; Vol. 545, c. 209.]

It is no wonder we are suspicious on these Benches. If the European Commission provides protections on zero-hours contracts, childcare provision and leave that are stronger than those in the Taylor report, will the UK Government match them or deviate?

In each of the areas the hon. Gentleman has mentioned, the UK already provides enhanced rights to workers. The Government are proud of their record on improving workers’ rights and will seek to continue that record as we leave the EU.

As a Member who voted for Second Reading of the withdrawal Bill, I say to the Secretary of State that it is at best confused and at worst slightly disingenuous to put more weight on the programme motion vote than on the principle of the Bill going forward, which many of us supported, as a reason for not bringing the Bill back.

On workers’ rights, I welcome the Secretary of State’s ambition, but under this Government the qualifying period for entitlement to a tribunal doubled, tribunal fees were introduced and the Trade Union Act 2016 introduced. If the Government were serious about putting these provisions into law, she would strengthen clause 31 of the withdrawal Bill, ensure a clear role for the TUC and not just workers’ representatives, recognise that the comments of my hon. Friends the Members for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock) and for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) were aimed at improving the Bill and ultimately give the House the chance to vote on it.

I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for his personal efforts to support the resolution of committing to the will of the people in the 2016 referendum. I know it has been difficult for him personally and I sincerely pay tribute to him.

Under the good work plan, the Government are committed to taking forward 51 of Matthew Taylor’s 53 recommendations, including improving the clarity of employment status checks and introducing proposals for a single enforcement body for employment rights and a right to request a more predictable contract. And of course we have introduced a tipping Bill to ensure that employees can keep their hard-earned tips. At every level, the Government show their desire and willingness to enhance workers’ rights. On the hon. Gentleman’s specific point about trade unions, we have given a commitment that when a Bill is introduced that affects employees’ rights, the Government of the day will be required to consult businesses and trade unions, and have to seek Parliament’s view on whether that should be reciprocated in UK law.

The Secretary of State’s words ring hollow simply because workers’ rights were in the legally binding withdrawal agreement and have now been moved into the political declaration. But her reassurances ring hollow for another reason: the logic of leaving the EU to look for new trade deals is that whatever we want will come at the price of what the other country wants. The desire for a US trade deal as a political trophy would that mean workers’ rights could be traded away. Can she assure us that that will not happen in our pursuit of a US trade deal, if the Prime Minister’s deal were to pass?

I find that intervention from the hon. Gentleman, of all people, quite shameful. As an ex-Conservative Minister, he will be aware of the Government’s proud record of, and commitment to, enhancing workers’ rights and protections. It is disingenuous to suggest otherwise.

I understand what the Secretary of State says about new legislation introduced by the EU, but of course existing rules from the EU are not static and can be interpreted and changed, for example by European Court of Justice judgments. If the ECJ does interpret an existing employment right in a way that is favourable to the employee, will the Government legislate to enhance that in UK law as well?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. As I have tried to explain to other right hon. and hon. Members, whenever a new piece of EU legislation is brought into force, the Government will provide a report to the House so that the House can express its opinion on whether it enhances, reduces or changes workers’ rights, and when a Bill is introduced in this place that affects employees’ rights, there will be a requirement to consult businesses and trade unions on any impact, for better or worse, on workers’ rights. It will be for this House to decide what gets taken forward.

The Secretary of State has repeatedly discussed pay inflation in response to questions. The west midlands TUC has today published pay level analysis. My constituents are currently experiencing the worst pay squeeze in 200 years and are still earning less in real terms than in 2008. We cannot trust the Government on pay, so how can we trust them to deliver the workers’ rights that I, along with other hon. Members, have been trying to deliver with them as part of the withdrawal agreement Bill?

Again, I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for her efforts to get the withdrawal agreement Bill through the House. However, I must disagree with her. It is this Government who are committing to raising the national minimum wage to £10.50. We introduced the national living wage, our changes in the tax free allowance have taken millions of people out of tax altogether, and real wages are rising at their fastest level since 2015. There have been real increases in take-home pay for millions of workers, which is absolutely vital. This Government will always do everything we can to retain and enhance the rights of workers.

Order. I called the wrong Jim. No disrespect to the hon. Member for Strangford, but I should have called Jim Cunningham. [Laughter.] I say to the hon. Member for Strangford, you are a very great man, sir, but I was originally going to call Mr Cunningham. We will come to you; don’t worry. I am saving you up.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. We now have a situation, under this Government, where we actually have the working poor. We all want to know what the Government’s intentions are regarding workers’ rights. All we have to look at is the Trade Union Bill that one of the Leader of the House’s colleagues tried to take through the House last year. What value or credibility can we give to any of the Government’s commitments on workers’ rights?

The hon. Gentleman talks about the plight of workers. He will know that there are nearly 33 million people in work—an increase of 280,000 since last year—that 80% of jobs created since 2010 are full-time jobs, that real wages are rising, and that the Government are committed to increasing the national living wage to £10.50 an hour. Those are all incredibly important steps to give workers better rights and better conditions.

Will the Business Secretary confirm the rights of NHS staff who are skilled but do not meet the “highly skilled” threshold?

You have just called two of my favourite Jims in the world, Mr Speaker.

It is absolutely the case that the UK will always ensure that the immigration system is fair to the United Kingdom’s needs for a skilled workforce, but also fair to those around the world who would like to come here to contribute to our economy and to our fantastic NHS.

To understand the Government’s real attitude to workers’ rights, we need only look at the treatment of the Interserve workers at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Those cooks, cleaners and porters have been engaged in a long-standing dispute over terms and conditions and pay, and over the recognition of their trade union, the Public and Commercial Services Union. The Secretary of State talked about strong trade unions earlier, yet the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will not recognise the PCS. If the Government are really serious about workers’ rights, why have they allowed this dispute to run and run?

I am sure the hon. Lady will be delighted to know that in my own Department there has been a dispute resolution. It is obviously important for trade unions always to represent the workforce, but it is also important for the discussions that take place to be respectful on all sides, and I know that that is the case across Whitehall.

We have heard plenty of words from the Dispatch Box today but, when it comes to workers’ rights, is it not the case that the British public do not trust a word that the Tories say? Is it not also the case that the Government wish to use this deal to dispose of all those hard-won workers’ rights on the bonfire of a harsh Tory Brexit?

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is entirely wrong. The UK has gone beyond EU minimum standards in so many instances, including maternity entitlements, leave and pay for the other parent, shared parental leave, minimum holiday rights and the national minimum wage. One of the EU’s own agencies, EuroCloud, ranks the UK as the second best country in the EU for workplace wellbeing, and that is something of which the Government are extremely proud.

In the United States, employment contracts are at will. There is no right to union representation, there is two- week holiday pay entitlement, there are no maternity rights, and there is no entitlement to sick pay. Think of that. Is it not the case that the purpose of not making alignment with the European Union legally binding is to align more closely with the United States?

The hon. Lady will know that what she has just said is absolutely not the case. The EU minimum standard is 20 days’ paid holiday; the UK’s is 28. There is no minimum wage in the EU; in the UK, we are moving to £10.50. Moreover, we are introducing a right of transparency from day one for all employees in respect of their employment entitlements. The UK already far exceeds the EU’s minimum standards, and there is no way that, in a free trade deal, the United Kingdom will need to—or agree to—give away anything that we think is in the interests of the UK’s workers. This Government are committed to making the UK the best place in the world in which to work.

European standards are one thing, but another aspect of European Union law is that, once member states have established enhancements, they cannot row back from those enhancements. Why did the Government seek exemptions from compulsory arbitration if they were not intending to dilute those very enhanced standards to seek a trade deal with the United States?

I am tempted simply to refer the hon. Gentleman to what I have just said to his hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah). The United Kingdom far exceeds EU standards for workers’ rights. We intend to enhance those further, but it is for trade unions in the United Kingdom, for businesses in the United Kingdom and for this Parliament to decide on those enhancements once we have left the European Union.