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Employment Rights Legislation

Volume 827: debated on Wednesday 1 February 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what plans they have to retain employment rights legislation contained in retained European Union law beyond the end of 2023.

My Lords, we are proud of the UK’s record on employment standards, having raised domestic standards over recent years to make them some of the highest in the world. Our high standards were never dependent on us mirroring the same rules as the EU. We are seizing the opportunities provided by Brexit to review all retained EU law and ensure that our regulations are tailored to the needs of the UK economy.

My Lords, I am pleased that the Minister recognises the importance of employment rights to workers in Britain. But as he will remember, last week I asked, as did my noble friend Lord Watts, whether he would guarantee that no employment rights will fall off the statute books at year end. Not surprisingly, the Minister did not answer the question, which in my mind speaks volumes. Let us try again, please. Contrary to the impression given last week, at least 13 such legal protections, categorised as EU retained laws, are at risk. Let me name just one: TUPE, which protects pay and terms and conditions in the event of company takeovers. This right will be lost at the end of the year unless the Government actively save it. Again, I ask the Minister: can he guarantee that the TUPE protections will not be scrapped and are not for the chop?

As I have said to the noble Lord on this issue before, our workers’ rights, of which we are very proud, do not and did not depend on our membership of the EU. We have standards far in excess of those provided by the EU. Regarding the regulations the noble Lord mentions, as with all retained EU law we will look at that and see whether it is appropriate for the UK economy, and if necessary we will modernise, update or replace it.

My Lords, when this came up in Questions on 23 January, the Minister, in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, said that he had not seen the comments of CBI director-general Tony Danker, reported in the FT that day. He surely now has, but I will remind him. Mr Danker said that the plan to scrap EU laws wholesale is creating huge uncertainty for UK firms and risks throwing industry into some chaos; that companies are asking whether we are really going to erode maternity and paternity regulations and health and safety standards; and that he concluded that we need to recognise that divergence will often shrink our market size and add a skipload of red tape. Will the Minister recognise that business does not want this scrapping of EU laws?

We will no doubt have this debate at Second Reading of the REUL legislation on Monday. If those are the comments of the director-general of the CBI, then he is wrong. Our paternity and maternity regulations are far in excess of those guaranteed by EU minimums. We are proud of that and will continue with them.

My Lords, when the REUL Bill was introduced in the Commons in September, the Explanatory Notes said that there were 2,400 bits of REUL legislation. When the notes appeared here on 19 January, that number had risen to 3,200. I have just accessed the dashboard, and that refers to 3,745 bits; that is an increase of more than 40 bits of REUL legislation a day in the last 13 days. Can the Minister tell us how many of the 1,345 bits of REUL legislation added since September are about employment rights?

Noble Lords are confused: just because there is an item of retained of EU law, it does not mean it is necessarily still valid for the UK. It has been a very useful exercise to go back through the history books to find out about some of this stuff. Much of it is no longer applicable—some of it refers to sugar prices in the 1970s. My favourite bit is a regulation referring to the movement of reindeer between Denmark and Sweden. I am sure noble Lords do not believe that this is something we should retain on our statute book.

My Lords, does the Minister realise that many people are a bit worried that the end product might be the relaxation of some of the standards they have got used to, and that he could end this concern very easily by saying that whatever is changed, it will not worsen the protection currently in place?

I say to my noble friend that we have made it clear that we have no intention of weakening workers’ rights. I know this is a common refrain from the Opposition but let me repeat: UK standards did not depend on EU law. Let me give noble Lords an example. UK workers are entitled to 5.6 weeks of annual leave, compared with the EU requirement of four weeks. We provide a year of maternity leave, with the option to convert parental leave to enable parents to share care. The EU minimum maternity leave is 14 weeks. Our standards are far in excess of those provided by the EU.

The Minister is quite wrong: some protections are better than the European average, but lots more are not. The Government are very fond of rolling over trade deals; why can they not roll over the protections British workers have now, so that they will not worry about their future conditions?

Perhaps the noble Lord could write and tell me what parts of British law have worse standards than are provided by the EU, because as far as I am concerned the vast majority of our standards are in excess of those offered by the EU. We will take the opportunity of reviewing retained EU law to update and modernise it to make it fit for the UK economy.

Will the Minister recognise that his reply to the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, showed that he had not read the article by the director-general of the CBI very carefully? The main point he made, which the noble Baroness raised, was that the uncertainty created by this Bill and the inability of Ministers at the Dispatch Box to say how many measures are going to be struck down, what they are going to put in their place and when they are going to do it is damaging inward investment. Will the Minister now reply to that point?

We are providing certainty. The sunset date provides certainty: a target by which departments can look at their body of retained EU law and decide whether it needs replacing, retaining or updating.

My Lords, why are the Government intent on diminishing scrutiny in this House, as is strongly suspected by many Members? Why are Members of this House being denied the opportunity to question Ministers on these changes, and why is Parliament itself, which apparently is in the Minister’s mind, being refused the opportunity to discuss these things?

Parliament is not being refused the opportunity to discuss these things. We will no doubt have many days of debate on the retained EU law Bill. All the regulations that are updated or changed will come back to Parliament for approval, in precisely the same way as the EU regulations were introduced in the first place—in fact, they were subject to a lesser degree of scrutiny. I would have a little more support for the position of some noble Lords if they had objected to the way this legislation was introduced into UK law in the first place.

My Lords, in the very short time I have had the honour of being part of this House, I have witnessed the concerns many noble Lords have about the increasing use of statutory instruments. I have seen the potential for the use of SIs in the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill to reverse a half-century of progress on basic rights for women. I would like to—

I bring to your Lordships’ attention the Part-time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations, which were passed in 2000. These EU regulations enabled the trade unions to win a court case on behalf of more than 100,000 part-time teaching assistants and school meal staff, 95% of whom were women, who had been denied access to the local government pension scheme. Can the noble Lord confirm that His Majesty’s Government have no intention of letting these vital regulations end on 31 December 2023?

I am pleased that the noble Lord finally got round to a question. We are proud of our record on workers’ rights, particularly women’s rights. I quoted earlier the figures on the maternity leave provisions that are applicable in the UK as opposed to the EU; we want to see that happy state of affairs continue.

My Lords, before I call the fourth Oral Question, I remind noble Lords of the sub judice ruling, which currently covers the case of David Carrick. Noble Lords should therefore avoid discussion of any issue related to sentencing in that case.