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Employment Rights

Volume 669: debated on Thursday 9 January 2020

2. What plans the Government have to negotiate for dynamic alignment with the EU on employment rights after the UK has left the EU. (900001)

6. What plans the Government have to negotiate for dynamic alignment with the EU on employment rights after the UK has left the EU. (900005)

The Government have been clear that the future relationship will protect the UK’s sovereign right to regulate, and have no plans to align dynamically with EU employment legislation.

Since October, the withdrawal agreement Bill has undergone major changes, including the stripping out of previous commitments to workers’ rights. Will the Secretary of State publish a revised impact assessment so that he can be honest with the public about what his Government have in store for them with their hard Brexit plan?

The reality is that we actually go beyond Europe in many areas of workers’ rights, including maternity and paternity leave, and we should be proud of that. The hon. Gentleman asks specifically about the change to the withdrawal agreement Bill, but it does not affect the rights of workers. It should be for this Parliament to set the standards. In our manifesto, we committed to having high standards. The real question that should be asked is why a number of member states do not meet the standards set here in the United Kingdom.

So far, the Prime Minister has taken workplace rights out of the withdrawal agreement in October and the withdrawal agreement Bill in December. What confidence can we have that workplace rights will be protected under this Government?

The hon. Lady says that as if she supported the Bill in October, but she did not. She did not support it when those things were in the clause, and now she is lamenting that they are out of the clause that she did not support. The reality is that the purpose of the withdrawal agreement Bill is to implement the international agreement that the Prime Minister has reached with the European Commission. Of course it is for the House, in the course of its business, to determine what standards it wants on workers’ rights, the environment and other areas. The Prime Minister was clear in the manifesto that we are committed to high standards in those areas. I think that is something that the hon. Lady and I can agree on.

Does the Secretary of State agree that, contrary to what the hon. Member for Bedford (Mohammad Yasin) said, we need dynamic alignment like a hole in the head? The purpose of Brexit is to enable us to make our own laws and rules, set our own taxes and chart our own course.

My hon. Friend has championed Parliament’s taking control of these issues for many years, and he is absolutely right: it is for this House to determine the standards, and we should have confidence in its ability to do so.

I thank the Secretary of State for his answer on dynamic alignment. As his Department winds up, I thank him personally for leading it with such professionalism, and I thank his team at DExEU.

On dynamic alignment, I ask my right hon. Friend to reflect on the fact that the Brexit vote was about this House being sovereign. For me, as a Welsh Member, that is the Union of the United Kingdom, and this House being sovereign over our alignment.

I extend a particularly warm welcome to my hon. Friend on his return to the House, and I thank him for his contribution to the Department during his tenure. He is right both in having confidence in this House setting high standards on workers’ rights and the environment, and in emphasising the importance of that from a Union perspective. Of course, Wales supported leaving, just as England did.

Will the Secretary of State give an absolute guarantee that post Brexit, under a Conservative Government, there will never be a point at which workers in the EU27 enjoy stronger employment rights than they do here?

I am absolutely clear that we will deliver on our manifesto—[Interruption.] Members seem surprised that the Government want to deliver on our manifesto. The manifesto says that we are committed to having high standards. As I said earlier, the real issue is that, in a number of areas, EU standards are lower. The UK has three times the maternity entitlement: it has 52 weeks of maternity leave, 39 of which are paid, whereas the EU requires only 14 weeks of paid leave. That is the area that I urge the hon. Gentleman to focus on.

A Government genuinely committed to workers’ rights would have given a straight yes to that question, but the Secretary of State did not. If he committed to dynamic alignment on workers’ rights, there would be nothing stopping the Government going beyond it in the years ahead. Should we be surprised by their lack of commitment? The Prime Minister said that the weight of employment law was “back-breaking”. Is not the truth that the Government will not end up with stronger rights for UK workers at the end of this Parliament?

I really do not think Opposition Members should be talking about a lack of commitment when it comes to the withdrawal agreement, given that their party leader was neutral on the issue during the general election. The reality is that the hon. Gentleman, like so many Members on the Opposition Benches, having said that he would respect the result of the referendum, went back on the manifesto commitment and did not do it. It is now time to listen to the electorate and deliver that. We are absolutely clear that in doing so, as we set out in our manifesto, we will maintain high standards on workers’ rights.