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Employment and Workers' Rights

Volume 624: debated on Thursday 27 April 2017

6. What steps the Government are taking in preparing the great repeal Bill to protect (a) employment and (b) workers’ rights. (909874)

I shall start by saying that I am going to disappoint the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) as I will stick to my brief.

The White Paper published on 30 March sets out that the employment and workers’ rights that are enjoyed under EU law will continue to be available in UK law after we have left the European Union as the great repeal Bill will convert EU law into domestic law. This will give certainty and continuity to employees and employers alike, creating stability in which the United Kingdom can grow and thrive.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that answer. Since the Health and Morals of Apprentices Act, it is the Conservatives who first protected workers’ rights and put those protections on to the statute book. Will he confirm that, post-Brexit, we will continue to do so not only to protect them, but to enhance them, thereby proving that we are the real workers’ party?

I thought so. It was the very first piece of employment legislation in this House, brought in by a Conservative Government long before the Labour party existed. I suspect that we will still be bringing in such legislation long after the Labour party has ceased to exist. My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we will continue to protect workers’ rights. Indeed, the Prime Minister has made it plain not just that we will protect rights, which was the line I started promulgating last summer when I took this job, but that we will expand them. She has appointed the Taylor commission, under Matthew Taylor, with the explicit aim of ensuring that these rights are appropriate to the modern age and will protect people in the modern age.

All the evidence shows that public holidays improve the productivity and wellbeing of workers, including those in the NHS still awaiting their £350 million a week as promised by the leave campaign. Does the Secretary of State agree with having an additional four days, as the Labour party proposes? Although that would still be short of the number in Finland and Spain, which have 14 and 15 days respectively, it would bring us in line with the European average of 12. At the moment we only have eight. That is an example of how, when we leave—

Well done—very good. I think we have the gist. The thrust of the question has been communicated and we are eternally grateful to the hon. Lady.

The short answer is no. The more elaborate answer is that employment rights in this country are better than the European Union minimum across the board. That is true of the average number of mandatory annual holidays and maternity rights, to give just two examples. I am afraid that we do not have an awful lot to learn from the European Union in that respect.

After these questions, we go into a general election that, as the EU has already said, will make very little difference to its negotiations. It has a lot more to do with exploiting a civil war on the Labour Benches and preventing yet another civil war on the Tory Benches. In terms of workers’ rights, what about those who are currently in work? This week, Diageo announced that there could be 100 job losses in Scotland, with 70 in Leven. The union has described the company as

“hedging their bets over Brexit”

and the Government have been asleep at the wheel. Now, regarding the workers—

I suppose if there is one thing I should take lectures from the Scottish National party on, it is promoting civil conflict. If the hon. Gentleman’s question is whether our priority is the promotion of the economy, the answer is yes.

The reason that the SNP is outpolling the Tories so highly is that we are united in getting behind workers’ rights and getting a decent deal in Europe. The Secretary of State has put aside these negotiations for narrow political benefit, which he will not have in Scotland. What is he going to do about these threats to jobs?

We will seek the best possible deal to maintain our relationship with the European Union. Over and above that, we will seek the best possible deal with the rest of the world, which already gets 60% of our exports.