To ask Her Majesty's Government how they will ensure that employment protections for women currently provided by European Union law will be maintained when the United Kingdom leaves the European Union.
My Lords, in her Lancaster House speech, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister made a clear commitment that all workers’ rights will be protected in negotiating Britain’s exit from the European Union. We will not roll back on employment protection for women.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply and for his reassurance, but is he aware of research carried out by the Equality and Human Rights Commission that documented the extent of pregnancy and maternity discrimination in the UK? It found that 50% of mothers of young babies indicated that maternity had impacted negatively on their opportunities, status and job security. What will the Government do to ensure that current employment law, which includes lots of EU law, is enforced and that women are protected from maternity discrimination in the workplace? This is of grave concern to many women who have suffered this discrimination. We have laws in place, but we have to make sure that they are carried out.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for referring to that research, which of course I am aware of. We are also aware of the EU minimum standards and of where we are at the moment. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister made clear, we will continue to meet those standards, but we will also be quite clear that we are ahead of European Union standards on a whole host of different areas, whether that is paternity leave or shared parental leave. We are doing our bit and will continue to do so; it is a matter for the UK Government to then decide in future.
My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that, when we have left the European Union, we will be able to enhance women’s rights in the workforce and not have to seek the agreement of 27 other member states and the Commission to do so? If the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, wishes to see improvements, it will be this Parliament that decides, and that is why we are leaving the European Union.
My noble friend makes a very good point. There was an intervention in the debate on Monday from the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, when she asked exactly this point about why we could not meet European standards and so on. She ended up by citing me and saying that I had replied,
“that the Government would take note of what the EU does in the future but that the whole point of Brexit was that we could make our own decisions”.
She went on to say:
“That is exactly what many of us are extremely concerned about”.—[Official Report, 5/3/18; col. 949.]
But as my noble friend has made clear, it is a matter for the United Kingdom Government and for the United Kingdom Parliament to decide these matters in the future.
My Lords, we have listened with varying degrees of patience to the Government’s assurances that they have no intention of diminishing the rights of women post Brexit. I understand what the Minister says with regard to our current level of provision. Nevertheless, the Government have built a get-out-of-jail—through the back door and without primary legislation—Henry VIII card into the EU (Withdrawal) Bill. Will the Minister guarantee that such power, should it ever pass in your Lordships’ House, will never be used to diminish the hard-won rights of women either in EU legislation or elsewhere?
Surely the noble Baroness accepts my right honourable friend’s statement that we will continue to maintain rights. Thereafter, it will be a matter for the United Kingdom, and for the United Kingdom alone, to decide on these matters. That is what we are going to do. Surely, the noble Baroness accepts that that is far better than these matters being decided elsewhere.
My Lords, is it not the case that we follow European directives regularly—for example, on pregnant workers’ issues. Will we continue to examine directives and fall in with them, or will we not?
My Lords, obviously we will take note of all EU directives and look at them, but again would not the noble Baroness far prefer it that this Government and this Parliament decided these matters for themselves?
Will my noble friend agree that the very last thing we should refer to Henry VIII clauses is women’s rights?
My noble friend makes a very good point about women’s rights: two of his wives lost their heads. I will think about that.
Will the Minister tell the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, that we can go beyond EU standards now as far as women’s rights are concerned, while we are still a member of the European Union. This Parliament remains sovereign, which is why we are not instructed by an advisory referendum.
I do not think that the noble Lord listened to my noble friend Lord Forsyth as he should have done. My noble friend Lord Forsyth made exactly that point. This Parliament is sovereign, and we are ahead of what happens in Europe on many things. Can the noble Lord look very carefully at what my noble friend said?