Committee (1st Day)
Relevant documents: 28th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, 25th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee, 13th Report from the Constitution Committee. Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland Legislative Consent sought.
Clause 1: Sunset of EU-derived subordinate legislation and retained direct EU legislation
1: Clause 1, page 1, line 4, at beginning insert “Except for the Maternity and Parental Leave etc. Regulations 1999 (S.I. 1999/3312),”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment excludes the Maternity and Parental Leave etc Regulations 1999 from the sunset in Clause 1. These Regulations confer rights to maternity and parental leave.
My Lords, I am disappointed that noble Lords are not staying to hear my words of wisdom. I rise to move Amendment 1 standing in my name and I apologise to the House for not being able to attend the Second Reading of the Bill, but I have specific concerns about its impact in relation to my equalities brief.
It has fallen to me to lead on this group of amendments, which are related to employment and all make the same point relating to the Bill. As we know, it will sunset much of EU retained law by 31 December this year, unless an active decision is taken to retain it. That is legislation thoughtfully discussed and thought through over decades gone in a few short months from now, regardless of the consequences and the effect on people in this country. We know that there are thousands of pieces of legislation that could fall under the axe, but not even the Government know exactly how many. We do not know what consequences will be wrought when the legislation that the Government do not even know about, or have not considered, is suddenly not there anymore. Where there is no legislation, there is a recipe for a free-for-all—a race to the bottom where lack of protections in standards and for the workforce will delight cowboy companies, which will be able to undercut their competitors, ignore safety standards, ignore everything in pursuit of profit and put competitors who retain ethical standards out of business.
I am intrigued to know who the Government think they are going to please with this legislation. It is not the business world—apart from the least ethical members, of course. It is not small businesses; a CIPD poll found that only 6% of small businesses saw employment legislation as a barrier to growth. A group of business and employment lawyers we met on Monday laid out a stark picture of Britain post 2023. They said that one thing the business world fears is uncertainty. How will it trade if it does not know what the playing field will look like? They described trying to untangle the complex interrelationships of EU and UK law as “trying to untangle knotweed”. Perhaps most frighteningly, decades of case law will be overturned, so we will have none of the secondary clarifications that we have relied on for many years. We will be making it up as we go along—unless the Minister has any news that he might like to inform the House of today.
Before I completely steal the thunder of everybody else in this group, I will move on to the amendment standing in my name. MAPLE exemplifies the EU-derived employment protection law which is under threat. It is an acronym for maternity and parental leave. It is EU-inspired legislation and is one of the thousands of laws poised to go on the bonfire unless specifically excluded.
Let us take what might happen to parental leave legislation as an example. Parental leave is different from maternity or paternity leave. It entitles parents, after they have been in a job for a year, to be absent for a set period to care for a child. Employers can only postpone it in narrow circumstances when the operation of a business would be “unduly disrupted”. As currently drafted, Clause 12 or 13 of the Bill could be used to change parental leave substantially, with minimum parliamentary scrutiny. It could change the wording, for example, from “unduly disrupted” to simply “disrupted” or even “caused inconvenience”. Clause 15 could give employers the power to refuse leave altogether and, since subsection (2) would not require the affirmative procedure, there would not be a thing that MPs, elected to represent constituents who will be affected, could do about it.
A real-life case under the maternity provisions is the example of Lucy. Lucy was employed by an international law firm as an anti-money laundering manager. She continually exceeded expectations in her performance reviews and had been promoted on several occasions. Lucy took her full entitlement of 52 weeks of maternity leave. Just before she was due to return to work, she was informed that she had been replaced by her maternity cover and was offered an alternative role which she considered to be a demotion. Her employer told her that if she did not accept the new role, they would have no option but to accept her resignation. Lucy was legally entitled to return to her previous role on the same terms and conditions. Her employers’ preference to retain her maternity cover was not enough to refuse to allow her to return to the job after the maternity leave. Lucy was being discriminated against because she was on maternity leave. By asserting her rights under MAPLE, the Employment Rights Act 1996 and unlawful pregnancy and maternity discrimination contrary to the Equality Act 2010, she was able to secure a substantial compensation package and an agreement that her employer would pay all her legal costs.
What might happen to someone like Lucy if they had been treated like this after the sunset date at the end of this year? We simply do not know. All these suppositions would apply only if the Government decided to modify MAPLE. They could of course just let it fall off the edge with all the other protections that would be lost. This is not what business and employers want, and if the Government think that this Bill will win them any support from the business world, they are very much mistaken. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have added my name to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Fox, and the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, and I support the other important amendments in this group tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Fox, and my noble friend Lord Collins of Highbury.
I have checked with the official statistical offices for Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and there are roughly 900,000 conceptions each year. That is some 900,000 women on the verge of motherhood and not necessarily for the first time. I am aware of course that not all will go to full term, but the sheer scale of demand for a serious, advanced, 21st-century maternity and parental rights provision is referenced in such a figure.
What are the Government saying to this vast community of women and parents? “We will abolish the EU rules that underpin your protection and think of something for you all later”—is that it? We should be improving the maternity provision that we already have, not putting an enormous question mark next to it. While statutory maternity pay, amounting to some 47% of the national living wage, is increasing from April 2023, roughly in line with inflation, it is still falling well below what many can realistically live on. New parents often face debt and have to return to work earlier than planned.
The cost of living survey carried out by Maternity Action last year found that 51% of respondents had either relied on credit cards or borrowed money while on maternity leave just to get through. Several campaigning organisations, including the Young Women’s Trust, Gingerbread, Pregnant Then Screwed, Working Families, the Women’s Budget Group, and of course the TUC, all believe that the Bill poses a significant threat to British women’s rights at work, and I share that belief, as do many in this Committee today.
Any Bill that proposes to sweep away thousands of pieces of legislation and upend decades’ worth of case law poses a threat to women accessing protection from discrimination in the workplace. Michael Ford KC, in advising the TUC, has said:
“It is difficult to overstate the significance of EU law in protecting against sex discrimination.”
The Maternity and Parental Leave etc. Regulations 1999—the subject of Amendment 1, which I have put my name to—are among the rights that could be lost or become more difficult to access due to legal uncertainty if the Bill goes through unamended. These regs include not only the right to take maternity and parental leave but current protections against redundancy while on maternity, adoption and parental leave. It also includes the right to return to the same job after maternity and parental leave, where that is “reasonably practicable”.
Other workplace rights that have a special reference to women and could be at risk include the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, which implement the health and safety requirements of the pregnant workers directive 92/85/EEC into UK Law. I spoke at Second Reading about my personal and active involvement in the passage of that directive in 1992 while I was chair of the European Parliament’s women’s rights committee. There are also the Part-time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2000 and the Fixed-term Employees (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2002, as well as agency workers’ rights. As we know, so many more women than men work part-time in insecure work and on fixed-term contracts that losing or diluting these laws will surely increase discrimination against women.
Finally, there is the threat to collective consultation with workers’ representatives where redundancies are proposed. There is currently a spike in redundancies for pregnant women and new mothers as a result of the economic state of the country, and also the potential loss of “direct effect”, which would make it harder to bring an equal pay claim or a discrimination claim.
I ask the Minister, in the light of such uncertainty produced by the Bill for so many women, why will the Government not think again and set aside the Bill, or at the very least, remove the cloud hanging over maternity and parental rights?
My Lords, the Minister is on record as saying:
“While some of these laws will be preserved, of course, many are outdated, some are unduly burdensome, and others are increasingly unsuited to the UK’s economic circumstances.”—[Official Report, 6/2/23; col. 988.]
Can the Minister tell us exactly which of the employment rights listed on the dashboard fall into the category of “outdated”, “burdensome”, or “unsuited to the UK”? Surely these are not health and safety matters such as paid holidays, rest breaks and safe limits on working time; regulations covering asbestos, construction, working at height, gas safety and the control of hazardous substances; or equality provisions such as equal rights for part-timers, parental and maternity leave, and equal pay for work of equal value.
Kwasi Kwarteng, the then Business Secretary, wrote to me last year, when I was TUC general secretary, to promise that no workers’ rights would be worsened as a result of the Bill. So if they are not deemed “burdensome”, why not exempt them from the Bill altogether? Millions of working people depend on these rights week by week. The CBI and IoD oppose the Bill because it will cause huge uncertainty and damage our reputation. The TUC and unions oppose the Bill because it causes huge uncertainty and anxiety for working people; this has real-world effects. Certainly, it would be sensible at least to remove the sunset date of 31 December 2023, which denies proper parliamentary scrutiny and accountability.
I have one other point: the RPC gave the Government’s impact assessment for the Bill a red rating—not fit for purpose. The strikes Bill impact assessment was also judged not fit for purpose and the Minister undertook to look at it again and to address its red-rated inadequacies. Will the Minister make that commitment for this Bill too? In particular, the impact assessment for this Bill suggested that there would be no negative impact on trade and investment, but no specific consideration was given to the EU–UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement level playing field clauses and the sanctions that breaches would attract, or indeed commitments that are enshrined in the Northern Ireland protocol. Can we see not the legal advice, which we understand that the Minister will not share, but the commentary, the analysis, and the assessment of that?
My Lords, I apologise for not having been involved in the Second Reading debate on this but I think it is worth noting that in the last couple of days the EHRC has issued a briefing note about its concerns about the Bill, particularly these amendments. I am here partly to read into the record some of the concerns that our Equality and Human Rights Commission has about the things that are contained in the Bill, including:
“The Bill covers legislation on limits on working time, the right to paid holiday, rights for temporary and agency workers, and parental leave. These are important legal protections for all UK workers which have specific impacts for people with certain protected characteristics under the Equality Act, such as sex and pregnancy and maternity”,
as my noble friends have already outlined. The EHRC also says:
“Any negative impacts on people sharing protected characteristics must be identified and mitigated by Government”
and that it is
“concerned at the potential impact of the Bill on workers with the protected characteristics of sex and pregnancy and maternity. This is because the workers’ rights at risk, such as maternity and equal pay, and parental leave, disproportionately affect women”,
as the Minister will be aware. It continues:
“There may also be negative economic impacts if the ability of women to participate in the labour market is eroded.”
The EHRC goes on to talk about the “legal uncertainty” that this will create within our labour market and our equalities field. So my question to the Minister is: how are the Government going to mitigate these risks?
My Lords, what we seem to be ignoring in all these amendments is that it is essential in this legislation that we do have a sunset clause, because if we did not, we would not know how many bits of legislation we are talking about. Ministers have been asking departments to produce all their EU retained law and absolutely nothing happened until minds were focused by the fact that the sunset clauses were put into this legislation. I am going to oppose every conceivable amendment saying “This bit of EU retained law should be retained” for the simple reason that the sunset clauses are absolutely critical.
What we must do is decide how we deal with all the EU retained law. It must be sifted, because some of it is completely irrelevant to British statute. I mean, we talk about movement of reindeer between—
Is the noble Lord suggesting that employment rights are irrelevant, not important and not a consideration?
I am not arguing that at all. I am saying that much of this legislation is going to be retained and some of it will be discarded. What we have to do is decide which legislation falls into which category. That is the critical element of all this. We cannot say that we should start retaining this bit, that bit or the other, because that is not relevant.
The noble Lord is being distinctly unsuccessful in convincing his own Government that that is indeed an important thing to do.
I am saying that we have to decide how we handle the whole bulk of EU retained law. If the noble Baroness had been here for Second Reading, she would have known that I actually raised this issue. We have to sift this legislation and decide what is going to be debated in primary legislation and what is going to be subjected to secondary legislation and so forth. You cannot generalise about all the legislation coming into one category or another—it will not. Some of it will be retained, some of it will be amended and some of it will be abolished altogether. There has to be some sifting system that makes the decisions on that. Therefore, we should not be pleading for individual bits of EU legislation to be retained; we should be saying that we need a system that divides it up and sensibly deals with it in one way or another.
That is why I am not going to vote for any of the amendments that go against the sunset clause, because I think the sunset clause is critical. We would not know how many bits of legislation we were dealing with if we did not have a sunset clause.
My Lords, I have some sympathy with the noble Lord’s position, because, as he made clear at Second Reading—which we were delighted and a bit surprised by—he takes issue with the Bill. The noble Lord talks about there being a system and us being involved. However, first, Parliament is not involved in this; that is almost universally agreed around the Chamber. Secondly, the process is being conducted by a handful of civil servants, across Whitehall, who are working frantically against the clock to make serious judgments on issues of which they often have little experience themselves. They are doing it on behalf of the devolved Governments as well. The sunset clause is a ludicrous timetable against which to make extremely sensitive judgments.
The whole process is untransparent, to say the least. For example, take the dashboard which the Government keep saying will tell us everything we need to know. It does not even cover all the SIs which are now coming into scope. It does not explain which bits of law are SIs, which are the remainder, or which are other forms of retained law. It is virtually useless for anybody trying to make a judgment on whether the issues they are concerned about will be inside or outside the scope of this.
My noble friend made the point that all we need to reduce uncertainty in the first place is some set of criteria whereby certain SIs may be retained and others may not. For example, one red line could be whether an SI impacts on our trade relationships or our international obligations. We could see that and be able to judge if we had a set of criteria, but we have none of that. It is making life totally dreadful for people who are trying to make decisions inside government. Defra has 1,700 individual SIs. The common frameworks, which we will discuss later, will be dealing with about 500 SIs which translate across the whole of the internal market, and the dislodging of one may well impact 50 others.
We are trying to make sense of a process in which there is no sense. Could the Minister give us some idea of the timetable against which Whitehall is working? When will we know when those basic judgments have been made about what can be retained and what is going to be put in the “disposable” bucket? If we had a timetable which gave us some reassurance about that, or a timetable about when, for example, an SI which needed to be put in the place of something that was going to be removed would come forward, that would help. Noble Lords should bear in mind that this House takes six to eight weeks to process SIs. If you work backwards from Christmas and the sunset clause, we will need to start laying SIs in May or June to get them through in order to replace the laws we will lose. That is a measure of the chaos that is being created by the Bill. This House needs to take its processes seriously and slowly, so that we can introduce some reassurance to all those bodies outside—such as the CBI and the trade union movement—which are relying on us to create some clarity around this.
My Lords, I support my noble friend’s comments about the timetable. I have heard from people in the Department for Transport that, if they had to comply with these requirements and the sunset date, they would have to stop all other work in the department for the rest of the year. That would include the long-awaited transport Bill—which not many noble Lords are awaiting with glee.
There is another issue, which I think it is good to raise now: the question of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. My understanding is that we signed up to the European equivalent, CSM RA, which basically provides the opportunity for checking whether whatever project or design is proposed is safe. It is based on the ALARP principle, which we have had here for many years. Our Office of Rail and Road has been trying for a long time to interpret how to link the ALARP principle, which is ours, with the European one in a way that enables people who have to go through this process to feel satisfied that whatever they are doing is as safe as is reasonably practicable. This is just one of many examples in the railway sector. It would be nice to have a list, as my noble friend has said. There is much more to say on this, but on a system such as the railways, which is very safety conscious, it is important that we get this safety issue right.
Would the Minister agree that, as the United Kingdom has one of the best employment records in the entire world, which was never dependent upon the EU, these amendments are utterly pointless and could probably do more harm than good?
My Lords, further to that point, even this discussion on the first amendment that we are faced with requires the Minister to withdraw some of the assertions he has made, and which his noble friend has just made again. The very fact that we are debating maternity rights which were brought in because of the European Union means that his statement that British workers do not depend on the European Union for their employment rights is made absurd. It is correct that successive British Governments have decided that they will go along with the European rights, but it was because of the European Union that we have those rights. Therefore, we need a specific exclusion from the fact that, by 31 December this year, these regulations, and many other workers’ rights regulations and related regulations, will fall automatically, without any parliamentary decision.
I would like the Minister to withdraw his assertion about European rights. He forgets his history. Why does he think that Mrs Thatcher fell out with Jacques Delors? Why does he think that John Major refused to sign the Social Chapter? Until the Labour Government came in, British workers’ rights were less than those of workers in Europe. This is an absurd assertion, as has been made clear by the debate on this very first amendment.
I have one more general point. I tried to table an early amendment which would give Parliament an alternative way of dealing with this, where we would have a Joint Committee to look in a reasoned way at the priority, the status and the need for action to change European laws. There is an amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, to do a similar thing, but we are not debating that today.
However, there must be a better way than leaving a whole tranche of European-derived law to an unknown process, ministerial decree—when they come in with their own version of the law—or simply leaving it until 31 December when the law will then disappear. This Parliament, this House, must assert a better way of dealing with this. That is clear from this amendment and from the complete absurdity of how we are dealing with the subject matter in this Bill.
My Lords, my noble friend has done that in his Amendment 40, which is the sensible way forward.
I make a very short but rather strong point. I speak as a former member of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, who has had the privilege of reading counsel’s note on this Bill to the committee. I have been on that committee for years and have never seen a counsel’s opinion on a Bill as devastating as this counsel’s opinion on this Bill. I wanted to add my name to Clause 1 stand part, but unfortunately there are already four names on it. We are attempting to have a debate on this Bill when the counsel made clear that you cannot even call this a skeletal Bill because it is not that there is a little bit of information and too much is left for delegated powers; there is no information in this Bill—nothing—about what Ministers want to do across a massive swathe of policies.
Your Lordships’ wonderful House is attempting to have this debate based on zero information. Counsel is recommending to the committee that Clause 1 should not stand part of the Bill, nor should Clauses 10, 12, 13 or 15. In other words, the Government need to take the Bill back and realise that you cannot delegate all power across a whole swathe of policy without giving Parliament any powers in the matter at all. As we know, the government policy until this point was to transfer powers from the EU to the UK Parliament. The Government’s own memorandum made clear that the aim of the Bill is to ensure that the UK Parliament is the sole arbiter of UK law. I am sorry, but the Bill does not do that; it takes all power away from the UK Parliament.
I interject because it is important that we decide how to deal with the Bill. Either we go to the Clause 1 stand part debate, relate that to these other clauses and try to get the Government to withdraw the Bill early, or we spend weeks debating this bit and that bit with no knowledge upon which to have those debates. With that, I wish your Lordships well.
My Lords, on the issue of timing, bearing in mind what the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton of Epsom, and my noble friend Lady Andrews said, I and I am sure other noble Lords are increasingly hearing that we are not talking about 31 December as the sunset; we are talking about October. If December as the cut-off date for civil servants to find all this law is bad enough, October is disastrous. We may be replacing EU law with our own versions, but I am told by a senior civil servant that the fail rate for SIs is 10%. Therefore, the replacements will not be perfect and many will have to be looked at again once they have been published.
My noble friend Lady Andrews is right that the dashboard is a mess. Again, from talking to people close to the dashboard, they were not sure when asked whether they were talking about one directive or one directive plus the four SIs that come from it for each devolved authority. Really and truly, we must think very carefully about signing up to this sunset.
My Lords, this is to correct myself. I referred to my noble friend’s Amendment 40 in error; it is my noble friend Lord Whitty’s Amendment 44A which is the right way round.
My Lords, I fear we are in for quite a repetitive afternoon as we work through proposals to exclude one law after another from this Bill.
I want to make a couple of broader points. First, we must remember what the Bill does. It defines a corpus of law inherited from the European Union and says that it needs to be reviewed by the end of the year. As a result of that review, laws will be dropped, retained or restated. There is an attempt being made to suggest that the only option is the first one—that all these laws that are an important part of our regulatory framework will somehow disappear and that people should be very frightened about that prospect. That is obviously not going to happen. This is a fiction.
It is not in any way the Government’s intention to—
How do you know?
We know because the way that companies and employment rights are regulated cannot be changed overnight. I have no doubt that when the Minister comes the Dispatch Box he will make it perfectly clear that our intention is to maintain high standards in this area, and that is the approach that will be taken through this process. That is what is necessary.
Secondly, as many people know, before I came into this House I was a diplomat and a civil servant, and did other things. Under a Labour Government I ran the campaign against the working time directive, out of the Foreign Office. The then Labour Government did not like the working time directive and mounted what the then head of the TUC said was the most effective campaign against a piece of employment legislation ever. The Labour Government did it again on the agency workers directive.
Therefore, forgive me if I take with a pinch of salt the suggestion that the laws that we are debating, and each suggestion for an exclusion, are somehow a perfect emanation of the wonderful European law-making process. They are not, and the behaviour of the party opposite in the past on some of these specific pieces of legislation demonstrates that. The correct way forward is for the Government to review these laws en bloc in accordance with the provisions set out in the Bill and to come to a reasonable and appropriate assessment of them, not to give any of them quasi-constitutional status by excluding them from this review process. I am sure that is what the Minister will say, and we look forward to it.
When the noble Lord made his transfer from diplomacy to contentious politics, did he expect that he would be coming to this House and suggesting that the practices that he had followed throughout his very distinguished career in the public services would involve excluding Parliament from a vast swathe of legislation when, as my noble friend Lady Meacher and the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, made clear a few moments ago, there are ways of doing this which do not exclude Parliament?
Well, I had sat down. Nevertheless, of course, most of the time that I was a diplomat and civil servant, this Parliament was excluded on most of those provisions. Once the working time directive or agency work directive or whatever had been agreed at EU level, this Parliament was excluded. What we are doing is now giving the Government—and Parliament, let us not forget, through secondary legislation—the power to take a view on these things, and that is quite right.
My Lords, it is quite extraordinary that the noble Lord says that Parliament has been given power. We have been given no power. He has been in this House long enough to know that we are excluded from changing or even challenging secondary legislation. We have no purchase on this Bill, other than by the process we are going through now.
My Lords, I was unable to be present at the Second Reading of this Bill because I was at the fourth day of the Committee stage of the Financial Services and Markets Bill. There is an interaction between that Bill and this Bill, which we can discuss in more detail when we get to the Government’s Amendment 45. But, in the context of this debate and the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton of Epsom, that the sunset clause is essential, he should read the justification for the Government’s Amendment 45. It says:
“This new clause contains new exceptions to the clause 1 sunset”.
So even the Government do not believe that the sunset clause is essential; there are groups or parts of European legislation without the sunset clause and so, if special rules can be made for financial services, why does he think that we cannot have special rules for other areas of legislation?
I am very grateful to the noble Lord for letting me in. Does he not accept, though, that, when this Bill was printed with the sunset clauses in it, that was the only point at which all this legislation started to appear? They had done nothing up until that time to actually dig it out.
My Lords, it seems the debate has started quite strongly already, as I think we expected. I am indebted to the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, for her intervention, which I think puts in context quite a lot of what we will hear today. This group of amendments is part of a series, as the noble Baroness will have seen, that highlight how this is not a tidying-up exercise, as it was characterised by Rees-Mogg, and is not about reindeer-related legislation. It is about a fundamental set of changes that could affect almost everybody, potentially seriously detrimentally.
Each of these groups sets out different areas of concern; that is the point of what we are doing here today. Together, they indicate the breadth and the importance of the legislation that is being cast into doubt by this Bill. It is all very well the noble Lord, Lord Frost, saying, “Trust us”—we do not, and we will not until all these laws are ruled in, because until they are ruled in, they may very well be ruled out or amended. That is our purpose here today: to use specific examples to explain that this is real, and affects real people and real lives. That is what we are here to do.
I rise to move Amendment 23, which is in my name, and to support Amendment 1, which is also in my name and the names of my noble friend Lady Burt and the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley. I also support Amendment 40, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Collins. This set of amendments concerns employee rights; Amendments 1 and 23 deliberately focus on one of the suite of employee rights that could be swept away by the effects of the Bill. These rights could be lost as a result of the deliberate actions of the Government, bent on winding back the national clock, or they could happen as a result of accidental changes that are not picked up—legislative commission, or legislative omission. In either case, Parliament is all but bypassed in the process.
Amendment 1, as we have heard set out thoroughly by almost all the people speaking today, on parental leave, is really vital to the lives of so many people, and an important enabler to working families. It is so vital that we do not think it should be risked in the potential pitfalls that this legislation sets out. That is why we propose to exempt it from the sunset, to make sure that UK working families get the opportunities they so need with their children at the start of life.
Turning to Amendment 23, which I know no one has yet spoken about, that looks at a different but equally important employee right: the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006, known as TUPE. I am sure that noble Lords are more than familiar with this; I certainly am from my business life, and I am sure that many noble Lords are from their different experiences. To be clear, it means that when one business buys another business, there is a reasonable certainty as to which workers transfer to the new business, so that the purchaser knows what employees they are getting and what they will cost, and workers know that they cannot just be dismissed because of the transfer. This is about fairness and peace of mind, and ensuring that employees caught in an outsourcing, for example, are not driven out of work as costs are slashed.
We saw with P&O Ferries that this law has serious limitations, but it is better than nothing and we need it to endure through this process. This is also business-friendly, because it allows businesses planning that are acquisitions to know what they will be buying. Similarly, businesses that are pitching for outsourced work now, to be carried out next year, need to know what rules they will have when that work starts. So this amendment gives both workers and businesses certainty.
On Wednesday 1 February, in answer to a question regarding employee rights from the noble Lord, Lord Woodley, the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, said that
“our workers’ rights, of which we are very proud, do not and did not depend on our membership of the EU … let me repeat: UK standards did not depend on EU law”.—[Official Report, 1/2/23; cols. 658-59.]
That spirit has been reflected by speakers opposite, but, as evidenced by these two specific regulations—real regulations that exist now—the Minister was not correct. It is very clear that, as the Minister indicated, there are UK-derived laws, but these work in tandem with, and are interwoven with, laws that were imported into the UK from the EU. These work together to deliver the suite of workers’ rights that we have today.
Parental leave and TUPE are not the only important worker protections that are in danger; they are illustrative of a whole raft of legislation that is up for grabs. For example, I would emphasise the right of NHS workers, who have worked through the pandemic, to be able to carry over annual leave that they have been unable to take; maximum hours, not just for office workers but for safety-critical workers such as airline workers, deep-sea fishermen and HGV drivers; and the obligation on employers to make an assessment of health and safety risks to their workers and to keep such risk assessments up to date—I think the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, referred to that. In the second group of amendments, we will also reflect on part-time work and agency workers, which is another important area.
There are a number of other laws that are set out by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, in Amendment 40. However, I am aware that this is not an exhaustive list, so can the Minister confirm that the Government now know all the laws that will be in scope of Clause 1? How many concern, first, employment rights and, secondly, workplace health and safety? We would be very pleased to know the numbers there.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, set out, many of these laws impact women more than they do men. The Bill’s equality impact assessment confirms that the Government’s commitment to upholding high standards in equalities does not expressly acknowledge the potential disparate impact of revoking these regulations. As we know, unless the Government positively act to save a regulation, it will be abolished at the end of 2023—although the Government can decide to extend that into 2026; that is a voluntary act.
In his answer to the noble Lord, Lord Woodley, earlier this month, the Minister also said:
“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”.—[Official Report, 1/2/23; col. 658.]
Well, these are amendments about specifics. Will the Government be retaining these specific laws as they are or do they find it necessary to modernise, update or replace them? We would like specific answers on these specific laws.
I fear there is a further complication, which I would like to probe in this amendment—and here I thank the Employment Lawyers Association for some very detailed help. There is a third factor, and that is case law. On the face of it, the least disruptive course that the Government could choose is to take current law and assimilate it directly into UK law—essentially making no fundamental changes but perhaps tweaking some of the language. Surprisingly, that does not finish the uncertainty. That is because the Bill does not just turn off regulations; it turns off EU law that the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 kept in British law. Examples of the law that would be turned off are wide-ranging. The Bill also turns off the direct effect of many parts of EU law that the courts use to interpret regulations in domestic law, and this is what I wish to interrogate.
The turning off of this type of EU law is amplified by the Bill abolishing the principle of the supremacy of EU law in Clause 4, together with the general principles of EU law in Clause 5. The new Bill sets a new default that removes three principles from British law at the end of 2023. The Bill will erase the interpretive principles and settled decisions that courts have relied on to give settled and predictable meaning to hundreds of employment law rights and obligations that are derived from EU law. To be clear, the three principles are these: the direct effect, supremacy of EU law and the general principles of EU law.
Abolishing the direct effect removes rights such as a facet of equal pay law which is being used by tens of thousands of women to claim equality with better-paid men. This is because equal pay rights in the Equality Act 2010 do not go as far as the current case law, as since 1976 the Act has been supplemented by EU law. Abolishing the direct effect sets a default to abolish rights such as the right to normal pay during holiday—enjoyed by millions of workers—or the ability to carry over holiday, and with it holiday pay, from one year to another when sick. It sets a default to remove from UK law the legal reasoning that has helped extend anti-discrimination law and other protections to atypical and gig workers.
Abolishing the principle of supremacy, together with abolishing the general principles of law and the removal of the direct effect, means that the settled meaning of not only EU regulations but primary Acts of the UK Parliament, such as the Equality Act 2010, will not be the same after 2023. The Bill affects primary Acts of Parliament as they may be interpreted in the future. An employment dispute centred on the meaning of a legal right in December 2023 may have a completely different outcome from one that arises in January 2024. In other words, all the existing case law can fall away and new case law has to be built up from scratch. That will create huge legal uncertainty and a bulge of cases in the country’s courts.
These regulations, and ones like them, are used every day by workers and employers in courts and tribunals. Lawyers are asked to advise on them and use the certainty of past decisions to be able to give answers to clients that allow them to conduct their business and resolve their disputes in a settled, stable and well-understood framework of law. This reduces disputes and litigation. The settled and predictable meaning of a considerable body of employment law will be wiped away, creating unpredictability. It will be up to the courts to decide whether case law carries over or whether it changes. Legal uncertainty will undermine any plan that the Government might have for growth, as neither employers nor employees will have any clarity on the meaning of large parts of employment law that affect investment and the cost of labour. I ask the Minister to give us a very detailed response to this because it is one of the most important elements and has so far not been debated very much by the general public.
As I have said, these amendments are the first in a series that illustrate how everyday lives will be affected. They also bring into stark relief the risks inherent in this Bill of disturbing settled understandings of the law, turning legal certainty, clarity and predictability on their heads. Will the Minister please give the Committee a detailed response to this amendment, particularly setting out the view of government lawyers on the implications of removing direct effect, the supremacy of EU law and the general principles of EU law?
I repeat my question. Will the Government be retaining the specific laws set out in these amendments—parental leave and TUPE—or do they believe that there is a necessity, in the Minister’s words, to modernise, update or replace?
Does the noble Lord agree that it took trade unions years, representing cases, to win a definition of normal pay that included, when workers were normally working and were required to work overtime, that overtime? That money matters to thousands of workers, but if this Bill passes, all that case law, and all those years of hard work to win workers justice, will be swept away and we will have to start from scratch, as the noble Lord said. I hope he agrees that that would have a catastrophic impact on working families who are already struggling to manage.
I thank the noble Baroness for her intervention. To be brutally honest, it was her I was thinking of when I made that reference, because I know how hard she worked on that issue in her former life. Of course I agree, and that is why we bring it up. This is not about reindeer farming; this is about people’s lives.
I support the wise and well-expressed advice and views of my noble friend Lady Meacher. I was not going to speak but I am deeply disturbed by this legislation.
I said at Second Reading that I thought that this was bad government. I repeat that. Of course the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, is right: we need to know what EU-derived laws the Government propose to keep, amend or abolish. But this is not the way to do it. The Government should do the work first. This is lazy government and it is very improper.
It is 50 years since I first sat in the Box as a Private Secretary to a noble Lord, and I have been here for many Bills and attended many sessions in this House. I have never heard this kind of debate or seen this kind of Bill. It is shameful that the Government have not done the work. The right thing to do is for the Government to withdraw the Bill, go away and do the work, and decide what they want to keep, what they want to amend and what they want to abolish, and then tell Parliament so that it can debate and scrutinise what the Government want to do—and it can be a proper process with consultation. That will take longer, but the Government are taking on a very big job with huge complexity and scale. What you do not do is take sweeping powers which largely ignore Parliament, with the Government simply saying what they want the law to be.
I find great irony in the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Frost, that we never were consulted before. The Government, having complained about the EU being tyrannical and dictating our laws, want to substitute the Government having the same tyranny themselves. I do not think that works. Brexit was based on the return of sovereignty to Parliament. Do the Government still believe that? If so, will they act on it in relation to this Bill?
My Lords, I support every word just spoken by the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Dinton, and earlier by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher.
On the generality of the issues raised by this group of amendments, I say very gently to the noble Lord, Lord Frost, that he might like to consider whether his intervention earlier damaged the Government’s case rather more than assisting it. I have been involved, in one way or another, with the processes of this institution now for more than half a century. I have to say that his description of delegated legislation, and the implications of Parliament handling it, is not one I recognise.
My Lords, this Bill is objectionable both in form and in content. As to form, I cannot possibly improve on the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher. Like her, I have been a member of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, and I absolutely support and uphold the principles that it has enunciated, in particular in relation to this Bill.
There is one point that I could add to that, which is that we have had discussions this morning about how long it would take to draft, introduce and debate statutory instruments to replace those EU-derived laws which are sought to be removed. Let me just point out that the sunset clause means that, if the Minister decides not to introduce a statutory instrument to preserve those rights, they will disappear without any debate whatever. They will just simply evaporate.
As to content, my concern is with workers’ rights. I have to declare that I have spent most of the past 45 years of practice at the Bar dealing with workers’ rights. I want to make a few very short points. First, all the labour law rights, workers’ rights, employment rights—call them what you will—that we are concerned with in the United Kingdom are UK law. Whatever their derivation, whatever their provenance, it is UK law that we are talking about. Let me remind the House that many of the laws that we have, not derived necessarily from the EU, also fulfil other international legal obligations deriving from the International Labour Organization or from the European Social Charter and the European Convention on Human Rights, which are both instruments of the Council of Europe and have nothing whatever to do with the EU.
For example, our unfair dismissal law satisfies ILO and European Social Charter obligations. The protection in Section 146 of the Trade Union Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, the protection for trade union activists against discrimination for trade union activity, has been moulded by both the ILO jurisprudence and a particular decision of the European Court of Human Rights interpreting Article 11 of the European convention—I refer to Wilson and Palmer v the United Kingdom. Likewise the protection of our right to strike fulfils clear obligations under ILO convention 87, Article 6.4 of the European Social Charter and Article 8 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. All these are treaties and particular provisions which have been specifically ratified by the United Kingdom.
When a lawyer is consulted by a worker or employer on the subject of employment rights because some problem, dispute or issue has arisen, the lawyer does not look to see what the provenance of the law is; the lawyer looks at what UK law has to say about the problem. Let me give the Committee a hypothetical example—I am sure I have done many of these cases in the past. A worker falls off scaffolding at height and is injured. They want to sue. They sue on the basis, of course, of clear, homespun English common law—the failure to provide a safe place of work and a safe system of work, part of UK common law since Wilsons and Clyde Coal v English in 1938—but they also rely on the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations and the Work at Height Regulations which originated from EU directives in what was known as “the six pack” in 1992.
Let me give the Committee one other example from my own experience. Six years ago, I represented the National Union of Mineworkers over the closure of the last deep mine pit in the United Kingdom at Kellingley. The dispute was over the compensation payable to the redundant miners. Of course, they were entitled to their redundancy pay and, indeed, an agreed enhancement. Their redundancy pay derived clearly from UK law. There is no EU input into redundancy payment, which has been part of our law since the Redundancy Payments Act 1965. However, they also claimed because they said—and were ultimately proved right—that there had been inadequate consultation with the union over the closure of that pit and the laying off of all those men. That derives from Section 188 of the Employment Rights Act, the provenance for which is EU law. Is the Minister going to tell us that that protection and that requirement for consultation before collective redundancy—the noble Lord, Lord Fox, referred to P&O Ferries, and that was the law that P&O accepted that it had broken in that case—is going to be repealed? Or perhaps it is simply to be a subject on which the Minister will not introduce any protective statutory instrument or further legislation but will simply sit on his hands and it will disappear on 31 December this year.
We are debating Amendment 1 at the moment, but Amendments 2, 17, 21, 23—which the noble Lord, Lord Fox, referred to—and 25, and Amendment 40 in the name of my noble friend Lord Collins, set out a raft of employment laws which those who tabled those amendments seek to protect. They are just a few of the employment laws which have a provenance from the EU. It might be recalled that, at Second Reading, I identified a whole raft of health and safety laws which fall into that category. There are others which have not so far been identified, one of which is, of course, the Section 188 to which I referred to a moment ago.
Those seeking to preserve specific rights, as the amendments this morning are seeking to do, are faced with a dilemma of trying to identify what rights need protection when faced with a blanket sunset clause which will remove the whole lot unless protection is given. As my noble friend Lady O’Grady and the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Dinton, have intimated, it should be incumbent on the Government to identify what is proposed to be repealed and what the justification for it might be. I call on the Minister to do that in his speech and tell us what the Government are going to get rid of. The fact is that those who voted for Brexit, for good reasons, no doubt, surely did not vote for the removal of all these rights in the workplace or the uncertainty about whether those rights would subsist after 31 December 2023.
There is one final matter before I sit down, which is a point alluded to by my noble friend Lady O’Grady. The trade and co-operation agreement that was ratified by the United Kingdom in 2021 includes two articles, Article 387 and Article 399, which require the United Kingdom to preserve certain rights guaranteed by international treaties which it has ratified and to implement them. There is an enforcement mechanism if the United Kingdom does not do those things. I tell the Committee that the European Parliament and the European TUC are already urging the European Commission to initiate that enforcement mechanism by reason of this very Bill that we are discussing today. It does not add to the reputation of the United Kingdom that we should already be breaching a treaty that we ratified only two years ago.
My Lords, the reason these amendments and this debate are important is that one always explores the general by probing the specific to see if it holds water. I wonder if, in that respect, it might be helpful for the Minister and the Committee if he defined in his response parliamentary sovereignty as against executive sovereignty. If we understood that more clearly, we would understand the status and the rationale behind what is proposed in this Bill, which I personally see as unnecessary.
My Lords, this has been a very important and fascinating debate. I open by echoing the remarks of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds. This is Committee stage and we are probing what the Government intend. How do we better understand what they intend? The reason we have put these amendments down, particularly Amendment 40, is that we will not fully understand their intentions unless we understand their belief on the specifics. If we are to believe the noble Lord, Lord Frost, this is simply a technical exercise—one that the Government will decide with very little input from Parliament.
I have said this in other debates on other Bills: we had two excellent Select Committee reports from this House, with cross-party support, that made it clear that this is not the way to do things. They also made clear the dangers of the Executive having full power over secondary legislation, and why secondary legislation was so different. We cannot amend or change it; we either accept or reject it. If we reject it, what are the consequences? We lose the very rights we are trying to defend. So this is not even an opportunity to say that we do not like what the Government are doing. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, that there should be a better way. I accept that my probing amendments would not necessarily improve the Bill as constructed; it is extremely difficult to see how one can improve this Bill because it is so undemocratic, so wrong and takes powers away from Parliament rather than giving them to it.
I know this has been a lengthy debate, but to pick up the point made by the noble Lords, Lord Hamilton and Lord Fox, it is important that this Parliament talks about what these regulations mean to people. It is very easy to talk about laws and SIs and regulations, especially when some of the language can be very technical. It is very difficult to persuade people why this debate is so important. That is why I come back to the right reverend Prelate’s point: we have to test the specifics.
On many occasions in this Chamber, I have supported my noble friend Lord Woodley in raising what is a really good specific point concerning TUPE. We often talk about TUPE as if everyone understands what it means: the transfer of undertakings and the protection of employment. Many years ago, I am afraid to confess, I was a trade union official too. Many people here who were in local government in the 1980s will have seen the push for contracting out and the insecurity that meant: cutting wages and cutting services. These regulations do not necessarily offer complete protection but they create greater certainty, particularly when services are moved from one employer to another within, for example, local government. Real people have been protected by that regulation.
I hope that, if the Minister cannot tell today’s Committee what the impact will be, he can tell us how many people he thinks have been protected by TUPE over the last 12 months, or the last five years? He cannot dismiss this and say it is a technical exercise and that some of these regulations require modernisation and reform. What requires that TUPE be reformed? What additional protections will there be? We are talking about additional protections because, as my noble friend Lady O’Grady said, we have had commitments from this Government that there will be no reduction in workers’ rights. So, let us focus on TUPE. What will they do, in terms of this review, to enhance those regulations? Will they enhance them? Where do they need modernisation? Where does the language need to be changed? Will the Minister please answer because, as we proceed through this Bill, it is those specifics, as the right reverend Prelate said, that people outside this Parliament need better to understand.
As my noble friend Lord Hendy said, however people voted in the 2016 referendum is irrelevant to this debate. This is about rights that people have earned, fought for, gained and want protected. We have yet to hear from Ministers about this process, which will mean that we will not know which laws they intend to retain or allow to expire. That is a considerable amount of uncertainty: we do not know, with this sunset clause, what laws will simply disappear without any reference to Parliament and the people. That is a scandal. I have listed every regulation, in terms of what we understand are the current employment laws—
I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Does he agree that all EU law was put into law without the consent of the British people and Parliament? That is the EU system, is it not: proposed in secret by the Commission, voted on in secret by COREPER and eventually passed through the Council of Ministers? When have the British people ever agreed to a single EU law that we are now, rightly, getting rid of?
The noble Lord may want to re-open the debate on the referendum and EU membership, but I do not. I want to focus on people’s rights now; that is the important point. That is why I appeal, across the House, to people who may have supported Brexit and people who did not. I think the House can unite on this sort of issue. As we have heard, this is not the way to do it; there is a better way to review retained EU law and a better way to create certainty and understanding on the part of the public.
That is why these amendments are so critical, in that they ask for specifics. I am pretty certain that, sadly, the Minister will give us the same mantra that we heard in the other place: “Trust us, this is a process; we have a time constraint.” Why they have put this time constraint in place, God only knows. But the Minister will not give us an idea about the specifics, and that is really important.
As my noble friend Lady Crawley, the noble Lord, Lord Fox, and others have mentioned, this is not just about regulations; this is about case law as well. That is vital. I cannot beat the illustration of my noble friend Lady O’Grady. All Governments of all colours have had to be persuaded to give these rights. It has not been an easy journey for workers, particularly women workers, and that is the other thing about this. Hard-won rights, particularly on equal pay and equal rights at work, are under threat here. That is something that the public need to hear very firmly.
I conclude with a simple request of the noble Lord, Lord Callanan. He has assured us that UK employment rights do not depend on EU law, and we have heard the arguments in this debate. Can he confirm which of the regulations that I have listed in Amendment 40 are not covered by Clause 1? Can he give us that guarantee? I suspect that he will not; he will make some excuse. But this will not go away; this debate will continue because the public out there need to know whether they can trust this Government. I suspect that they will answer no; what they want is Parliament to decide.
My Lords, I thank everybody who has contributed. I suppose we had to have the debate in principle at some stage, and we have had it on Clause 1. I will attempt to provide some reassurance to noble Lords. I suspect that those who think that somehow the Government have malign intentions will not be convinced, but let me try my arguments anyway.
As my noble friend Lord Frost made clear, this is of course an enabling Bill. The measures in it, including the sunset, will provide for UK and devolved Ministers to make decisions to review, amend or repeal retained EU law as they see fit. I agree with my noble friend Lord Frost’s point. I understand that the Opposition will want to portray all EU law as perfect and ideally suited for the UK’s circumstances, but most of my time in the European Parliament was spent during the period of the last Labour Government. There were numerous occasions when UK Ministers, and civil servant at the behest of UK Ministers, came to give me examples of where the regulations were not suited to the UK and not in the UK’s interests. Many times, as a Conservative, I agreed with them, and we did our best to change or amend them. Often, we were not successful. This legislation gives us the opportunity—
I will let the noble Lord come back in a moment, but let me make a little progress—I might answer some of his points, you never know.
Let us not pretend that it is all perfect. I accept that the Opposition have a principled difference with us on how we go about this process, but at least let us have the debate and, I hope, make some progress. The sunset is not intended to restrict decision-making; rather, it will accelerate the review of retained EU law across all sectors, as my noble friend Lord Hamilton made clear. The Bill will allow for additional flexibility and discretion to make decisions in the best interests of this country.
I start with Amendment 1, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Fox. I take this opportunity, as I have done many times in this Chamber before, to reassure him and the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, and the Committee, that the repeal of maternity rights is not and never has been the UK Government’s policy. As I have said many times before, our higher standards in this area were never dependent on our membership of the European Union. Indeed, the UK provides stronger protection for workers than is required by EU law. I have made this point many times, and the opposition parties do not seem to want to accept it.
I am going to make this point and then I will allow the noble Lord to intervene.
Our high standards were never dependent on our membership of the European Union. We provide stronger protection for workers than is required by EU law, both under previous Governments and under this Government. Let me give the Committee some examples. We have one of the highest minimum wages in Europe. On 1 April this year, the Government will increase the national living wage by 9.7% to £10.42—higher than most other European countries. 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 to shared parental leave to enable parents to share care, whereas EU maternity leave is just 14 weeks. The right to request flexible working for all employees was introduced in the UK in the early 2000s; the EU agreed rules only recently and will offer the right to parents and carers only. The UK introduced two weeks of paid paternity leave in 2003; the EU has legislated for this only recently. Let there be no doubt about the commitment of this Government to enhancing and providing for workers’ rights.
I am afraid I can wait no longer. I am somewhat surprised that I still do not really understand what the Minister is saying. We did not put on the dashboard the regulations and laws set out so ably by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and by my noble friend and others; the Government put them on the dashboard. If the Minister is saying that these do not affect British employment regulations, how can that be true? It is simply not true. What the Minister is saying is wrong. They are on the dashboard and they will sunset if nothing is done. They affect day-to-day employee rights, and therefore the Bill potentially affects those employee rights because these regulations are on the Government’s dashboard.
They are on the dashboard if they are retained EU law. I noticed that, in all the statements and speeches from Members opposite, the words “if” and “could” were doing an awful lot of heavy lifting. I accept that there is no trust from the Opposition in the intentions of the Government and that they want to make their political attacks. The reason I outlined UK employment rights and standards was to demonstrate the commitment of this Government to those rights. The point that the noble Lord, Lord Fox, made earlier is essentially correct: while we have some very high standards, of which we are proud and will maintain, there is a complicated mishmash of laws in this area between some elements of EU and domestic law.
If the noble Lord will sit down, I will come to him in a second. I will make this point and then I will give way.
UK rights were provided in the complicated mishmash of UK law, with higher standards often based on minimum standards and provisions that were in EU law originally. That is why they have been included on the dashboard. We will conduct a review of all these regulations—which this legislation provides for—and we will do so in the context of the high standards that the UK already has.
I think I understand the noble Lord’s argument, and that he is therefore going to end by saying that he accepts Amendments 1, 23 and 40. If our standards are so high, there can be no question of the Government reducing our standards or amending or sunsetting the legislation spelled out in Amendments 1, 23 and 40. If the Minister is not prepared to accept these amendments, will he explain why, if they are in the Government’s view good, they have to be in doubt until the end of the year and then possibly dead?
As the noble Lord knows very well, that is not what I am saying. The reason that I am not saying that goes back to two points made earlier in the debate. First, there is a complicated mishmash of rights and responsibilities across these particular laws, but we will maintain our high standards. Secondly, it goes back to the argument the noble Lord, Lord Fox, made about interpretive effects. If the interpretive effects are being abolished to bring them in line with the rest of UK common law and to reduce some that have the status of primary legislation to secondary legislation, we need to review the whole panoply of employment law as a whole—which we will do, but we will do it in the context of the high standards that we have and will maintain. That is the point I am making
I am very grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. It is a question of the sunset and whether one can achieve what the Minister is suggesting in time. A lot of the worries we have are that the Government are trying to move too fast. We are trying to create a new rulebook for ourselves. I quite understand the desire for that, and I quite see the value of a timetable, because, if you do not have a timetable, things will drift into the far future, which is not desirable in view of the objective the Government have. However, they are trying to move too fast. The more we debate these issues, the more complicated they become, and the more people have to be consulted. That is the basic problem. I hope very much that, when we come to look at the sunset, the Minister will take account of these things and be a little more relaxed about the date for the sunset, otherwise we will be moving far too fast and destroying so many rights because of mistakes and misadventures.
The noble and learned Lord knows I have tremendous respect for him and there is a great deal of sense in what he says. If we are getting into a discussion about the sunset, it is my view and the Government’s view that we can do all of this, given the current sunset. Work is under way across Whitehall in the new business department on employment law and in Defra on environmental regulations to do exactly that.
I will give way in a second; let me answer the previous point before the noble Baroness makes another. I think it is perfectly possible and work is under way in the business department and in Defra, which have many of these retained EU laws, to do precisely that. As Committee proceeds, I hope to be able—maybe I will not be able, but I will do my best—to convince the Committee that we will be able to do this in time, with the given sunset. I give way to the noble Baroness.
Would the noble Lord perhaps admit that the only way in which the timetable can be met is by not undertaking the sort of consultation we have come to expect, and indeed enjoyed, during the passage of all this legislation over many years, which has resulted in it being EU retained legislation? My personal sphere of knowledge is the work in Defra. I am desperately worried that many of the things emerging from Defra that are purportedly a replacement for EU law are not being portrayed as that when they come out, and they are not being consulted on in any way whatever. I do not believe that the EU retained law workload can be done by Defra in time without it being a fait accompli by Ministers that is not consulted on and does not go through a process in this House that allows us to have any influence on it. So I would like the Minister to assure us that there will be a full process of consultation that can be contained by the deadline.
“Yes” is the answer to the noble Baroness’s question. All new regulations will be subject to a period of consultation. I have to say, with great respect, I would have a little more sympathy for the noble Baroness’s argument had any of these regulations been introduced into UK law in the first place with a period of consultation—but, of course, we all know they were not. Many of the people complaining now that these regulations are so valuable never said anything at the time about the process by which they were introduced. But I accept that is a difference of principle between us.
As I said, our high standards do not and never have depended on EU law. Ministers will have the power to preserve such retained EU law from the sunset where appropriate. Building on some of the earlier points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, this includes Ministers in the devolved Governments. As such, it is the Government’s contention—I suspect it is one that will not draw much sympathy from the Opposition—that there is simply no need for any carve-outs for individual departments, specific policy areas or sectors, particularly when I have been able to reassure the Committee on the principles of maternity rights and employment law as a whole.
My Lords, one reason we have such concerns about the timetable is that, as we have heard in exchanges today, there is no agreement on the evidence base we are working to. Part of solving that would be going back to the drawing board on the impact assessment, which, as we heard, was red rated and deemed not fit for purpose. Could the Minister explain at what point we will be looking again at that impact assessment and dealing with the criticisms of the one that received the red rating? What impact could that have on the timetable? If we could agree more and have dialogue on the evidence base, perhaps we might be able to make more progress.
I totally understand the point the noble Baroness is making. I have looked at this—indeed, I was the Minster responsible until very recently for the Regulatory Policy Committee, which does some fantastic work. But of course it is very difficult to produce an impact assessment for what is essentially an enabling framework Bill. I think what would be more relevant to the noble Baroness, and what she would be more interested in seeing, are the detailed impact assessments that will be produced on the particular regulations. If regulations are just carried on and essentially replaced, there will be no need to bring an impact assessment because there is no change. However, if change is proposed, of course the relevant departments will produce impact assessments for those particular regulations. I am sure the noble Baroness will have great enjoyment in reading those.
My Lords, perhaps the Minister will take on board that, when he says there is no need for carve-outs, his own Amendment 45 creates a carve-out for financial services. We can have a substantial debate on that issue when we get to that amendment, but the idea that you do not have carve-outs is clearly wrong; the Government’s own amendment creates one.
We will get to that debate on those technical amendments later.
I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Davies, who talked about the Financial Services and Markets Bill, which repealed a number of EU regulations and produced regulations that were more suitable for the UK.
Moving to the specific amendments we are debating, Amendment 23 relates to the transfer of undertakings regulations. It is up to Ministers and the devolved Governments to decide what to do on specific pieces of policy. This Bill, as a framework Bill, creates the tools for departments. Plans will be approved by a Minister of the Crown, or the devolved authority where appropriate, and will be shared when that work has been done, given that it is an iterative process that is still ongoing. As part of the retained EU law programme of work, as I said earlier in response to the noble Lord, Lord Fox, the Government are conducting a comprehensive review of all retained EU employment law in the context of the very high standards the UK already has to ensure that our regulations are specifically tailored to the needs of the UK economy, are workable in UK common law and help to create the conditions for growth and investment. That review includes the transfer of undertaking protection of employment regulations.
Can I ask a simple question on TUPE? My fear is that we are not getting straight answers. Does the noble Lord think that it sets a good standard to protect workers in difficult circumstances? If he does, where does it need to be improved? If he is unable to answer those two questions, what are we to conclude?
I have already given the noble Lord examples of where UK worker standards and employment regulations are superior to the base standards of the EU. I cannot give him a specific answer to his question, as he well understands, because that work is ongoing, but it is ongoing in the context of the high standards that we already have. If any changes are proposed to that regulation—it may be that the change of interpretive effect will require some ongoing changes to the regulation; I do not know because that work is currently ongoing—the regulation will be presented to this House, when the noble Lord will no doubt want to comment on it.
Moving on to Amendment 40 from the noble Lord, Lord Collins, with the introduction of the Bill, the Health and Safety Executive is, as are departments, reviewing its retained EU law to consider how best to ensure that our regulatory frameworks continue to operate effectively, maintain our extremely high standards and seek opportunities to modernise its regulations without reducing any health and safety standards. I have already given some examples of how UK regulatory standards are higher than most in the EU.
Where Ministers see fit—and that includes Ministers in the devolved Governments—they will have the power to preserve retained EU law, and much of it will end up being preserved from the sunset. I submit, and it is the Government’s belief, that there is therefore no need for specific exemptions. I suspect I have not convinced Members opposite of this fact but, nevertheless, I hope that at this stage they will feel able not to press their amendments.
In the context of some of the arguments advanced by my noble friend, has he considered extending the principle embodied in Clause 15(5), which says that, in particular subject areas, changes cannot increase the regulatory burden? This would address some of the points made in the amendments by giving an overall protection that workers’ rights will not be reduced by the changes made as a result of the Bill. It might give some comfort to those of us who support the Bill and do not doubt the Government’s intentions to see them embedded in law, in just the same way as they propose in Clause 15(5).
More generally, I am disappointed that my noble friend does not address the issue of the role of Parliament. To my mind, it is a great demonstration of the need for the House of Lords that this Bill has arrived in our House in this shape, and if we let it go out of this House in the same shape, we will demonstrate why we ought to be replaced.
I totally understand the point my noble friend makes; I am a passionate believer in the rights of this House and have happily stated on many occasions within government that in many cases we do a much better job of scrutinising legislation than the other House. It sometimes makes life a little uncomfortable for Ministers such as me defending this, but when I talk to some of my colleagues in the Commons, I realise how relatively little time is given to some legislation compared to this House.
I also understand my noble friend’s first point. I reiterate that it is certainly not the Government’s intention to reduce workers’ rights. The House will get tired of hearing me repeat it, but we have higher standards than most of the rest of Europe and we have every intention of maintaining that.
My Lords, before the Minister sits down, I should like to ask him one question. He has addressed the issue of the sunset clause in different ways; we have different opinions about that. Why were the Welsh and Scottish Ministers not given the same power to amend the sunset clause? They were not consulted about the Bill and have no powers in this respect.
They certainly have the power to examine, repeal or change EU law within their specific areas of competence.
The reason I raise this is because we are talking about the capacity of the Civil Service to do the things the Government are requiring of it. That challenge is infinitely greater for the devolved Administrations. One issue raised by the Bill is the impact the Bill has, deliberately or accidentally, not on the devolution settlement but on the capacity of Wales and Scotland to influence the way in which decisions about whether to retain, remove or amend instruments will be made. It is an extremely important point, and it deserves a serious response.
I thought I had given the noble Baroness a serious response. Within the area of devolved competence, the devolved Administrations have the same rights as the UK Government to amend, repeal or replace retained EU law.
My Lords, I am assuming the Minister has now sat down. He touched on the interpretive effects that I raised in the set of amendments, but I do not think the answer was as full as we need. I think there will be other opportunities for the Minister to come back, and I will certainly press them. In the end, my assumption is that it will be up to the courts to decide which cases are in and which are out; it will be up to the courts and the lawyers who are pressing the courts to reinterpret or allow interpretations to continue. We need to know from the Government what is their assessment of the effect of that on this body of law and others across the spectrum we are discussing.
All Governments have to make choices, and the day-to-day push and pull of government can throw up many difficult dilemmas and severely stretch the national bandwidth for decision-making, but with this Bill, the Government are giving themselves 4,000 more choices they did not need to make. In opting to make these choices alone, without debate, discussion or consensus, each of these choices is bound to become a battleground, and each will be down to a Secretary of State—decisions that will call down attention from every corner of civil, legal, commercial and social society. So good luck with that, Minister.
The first amendment in the group illustrates some of the places where these battles will be fought across the country. No matter how close to their chest the Government play this, the arguments will not go away; indeed, the more secrecy and circumspection, the more suspicion will rise. The right reverend Prelate spoke about using the specifics to test the general, and this was an opportunity for the Minister to be more specific so that we could judge the general better. I do not think he has yet achieved that; however, we have six groups in very much in the same vein, so perhaps the Minister can work on his performance. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 1.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
2: Clause 1, page 1, line 4, at beginning insert “Except for the Part-time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2000 (S.I. 2000/1551) and the Fixed-term Employees (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2002 (S.I. 2002/2034),”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment excludes the Part-time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2000 and the Fixed-term Employees (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2002 from the sunset in Clause 1. These Regulations give part-time workers the right not to be treated less favourably than a comparable full-time worker and fixed-term workers the right to be treated no less favourably than a comparable permanent employee.
I move Amendment 2 in my name and those of my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones, the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle.
We talked about some important employment law specifics in the first group, and we have some more in this one. The TUC, unions and employment lawyers have told us that they are particularly concerned about vulnerable workers, who would be hard hit by the potential removal of protections that the Bill can deliver, because a number of important rights originated in EU legislation—I come back to the point of contention between us and the Minister. That is why we have chosen to highlight the importance of the protection of part-time and fixed-term workers in this amendment.
The Part-time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2000 gave part-time workers the right not to be treated less favourably than a comparable full-time worker with regard to the terms of their contract. Part-time employees should benefit from the same terms and conditions as full-time employees unless the employer can justify that different treatment.
Likewise, the Fixed-term Employees (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2002 established protection for fixed-term workers, giving them the right to be treated no less favourably than a comparable permanent employee, unless, again, the employer can justify a different treatment. The employee can insist that the fixed-term contract be converted into a permanent one in certain circumstances, and they are entitled to be informed of certain permanent vacancies.
Any or all of these rights could be lost under the Bill, with women being particularly likely to be impacted. Some 8.2 million part-time workers in the UK fall into the most at-risk category. Some 72% of part-time UK workers are women, whereas only 40% of full-time UK workers are women. Some 750,000 workers are on fixed-term contracts, of which 56% are women. They would face an uncertain future without protection from the EU-derived Fixed-term Employees (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2002. The provisions of the Bill could see part-time and fixed-term workers treated differently from their peers in areas such as pay, holiday entitlement, pensions, and training and career development.
Not covered by this amendment, but equally vulnerable, are agency workers, of whom there are nearly 750,000 in the UK. Of these, nearly one-third work part-time, with 28,000 on fixed-term contracts, so they also have protection from part-time and fixed-term contract regulations derived from the EU. They also have the Agency Workers Regulations 2010, which could be lost at the end of this year. These provide agency workers with a right to the same basic working and employment conditions as direct employees.
As was said at Second Reading, the outlook is particularly bleak for creative workers in particular. The Government seem to have a poor understanding of what is meant by the creative sector and what the impact would be. In the impact assessment for the Bill, the definition on the dashboard states that 177,000 businesses and 658,000 jobs will be impacted. However, the DCMS definition of “creative industries” accounts for 300,000 businesses and 2.2 million jobs. Which is the correct figure? If the Government cannot work this out, how can we trust them on any aspect of the Bill or how the legislation will affect these people? Where is the audit of exactly which body of employment law is retained EU law and subject to the Bill? The noble Lord, Lord Callanan, seems to think that the figure is zero. If so, what are these regulations doing on the dashboard?
As Creative UK says, the creative industries are characterised by small and
“micro businesses and freelancers undertaking project-based work”.
Although proposed changes to workers’ rights will affect all sectors, the make-up of the creative industries means that the impact of any change on the protection of part-time and fixed-term workers is particularly important for freelance workers in the creative industries.
Of course, it is not just these regulations that are at risk as a result of the Bill: all the precedents and EU case law and principles, such as effectiveness and proportionality, by which these rights have been interpreted, will be swept away, as I outlined in the first group. The Employment Lawyers Association says:
“Abolishing the principle of supremacy, together with abolishing the general principles of EU law and the removal of direct effect means that the settled meaning not only of EU Regulations but also any primary Acts of Parliament (such as, for instance, the Equality Act 2010) will not be the same after 2023.”
I do not apologise for repeating that, because it is extremely important and apposite to our discussions. This will create a legal vacuum and huge uncertainty, not just for employees but for employers. Thousands of SMEs, many without dedicated HR resource, will potentially have to grapple with new laws or new interpretations of existing regulations. Given the sweeping away of European precedent, already overburdened tribunals will be asked to rule afresh on any regulation that is retained, at great expense to employees and employers alike. This is a waste of money and time and a huge opportunity cost. No wonder employers are overwhelmingly in support of keeping the existing regulations and the supporting case law as they are.
Other areas of particular concern for freelancers include the TUPE regulations that we discussed in the last group and that remain an important part of their lives, redundancy consultations, discrimination claims, health and safety standards and parental rights. But I hope that this amendment sufficiently illustrates the dangers and detriments involved in putting this legislation in play.
So what are the Government’s intentions? Is this the growth economy we were promised, or will employment protections be stripped away, especially against the wishes of employees themselves? Is this a way that the Government plan to introduce their Singapore-on-Thames? If so, it would be very helpful if the Minister would tell us. This is a specific opportunity for the Minister to explain. We need some clarity.
I make no apology for coming back to the Minister’s response to the noble Lord, Lord Woodley, on 1 February:
“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.”—[Official Report, 1/2/23; col. 658.]
This amendment is about a specific. Do the Government recognise that these are important issues that affect at least 300,000 people? Will they therefore retain these specific laws, or do they feel it is necessary to modernise, update or replace them? This is an opportunity to use this specific to give us some clarity. I beg to move.
My Lords, my name is on Amendment 2, and I support the noble Lord, Lord Fox.
The reaction in Committee to what the noble Lord, Lord Frost, said earlier about the options available shows the degree of trust in any particular legislation being retained. We feel forced into making specific representations on legislation because that trust does not exist, so there will be more testing by specifics.
The creative industries owe the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, in particular, a debt of gratitude for identifying at Second Reading particular legislation which affects, among others, artists and other creative workers, including intellectual property rights. Worryingly, what is being discussed today, including Amendment 2, is just a sample of the relevant legislation, as the noble Lord, Lord Fox, said, and there will be much more that business, campaign groups and other concerned parties and individuals have yet to identify as relevant to their own activities. Surely that is dangerous.
These days, the Government prefer not to talk about the EU, but when they do so it is usually in disparaging terms—although I for one live in hope that that will change. However, there is a sense in which we should forget Europe in terms of this legislation, and I say that as a remainer who would like at the very least for us to rejoin the single market as soon as possible, not least because the extent to which free movement across Europe is essential to the arts and creative industries has become abundantly clear. However, this is in practice UK legislation, and in very practical terms the statutory instruments which Amendment 2 refers to affect British workers. That this is domestic legislation is no better exemplified than by the fact that the two SIs which Amendment 2 would retain make express reference to our own workplace: to staff working in the House of Lords and the House of Commons.
To take the House of Lords as an example, as of February 2023, of the 670 employees on contract, currently, 20% are part-time and 11% are on fixed-term contracts, meaning that 31%—almost a third—of staff in the Lords are on contracts other than full time. Frankly, it is outrageous that the Government are considering removing, or risk removing, important protections for the parliamentary staff who work alongside us, let alone removing such protections for anyone else. More generally, however, removal of this legislation will affect many creative workers, as the noble Lord, Lord Fox, said. Some 32% of the creative industries workforce is self-employed, which is double the national average, although the House of Lords appears to be more closely in line with the creative industries as far as fixed-contract and part-time work is concerned.
The creative industries took a big hit with Covid and we remain grateful for the help the Government provided for freelancers, although many still slipped through the net. However, despite that and the current energy crisis, in my view, the longer term will see the further expansion of the gig economy and the creative freelance workforce. In part this is due to the inherent demands these growing industries make—that is an essential point—but for the creative workforce and indeed industry more widely, it is due increasingly to our diversity of preferred modes of working. Some of this social change can be laid at the door of the creative industries.
This is a reality which needs to be both acknowledged and supported, in which case no one should be penalised for choosing one manner of working over another or having to do so through the demands the work makes. All work and workers should be treated equally fairly, without the quantity of work done or the impermanence of a position affecting notions of quality or anything else. It needs to be added that the take-home pay of many creative workers and others working in the gig economy does not, as we know, necessarily reflect the success of those industries overall.
The overall point here is that this legislation is progress from which we should not be retreating but instead building upon, which is why it should be retained. However, if the Government really support the creative industries, they will have no hesitation in excluding this legislation from the sunset. Better still, they should scrap the Bill.
My Lords, everybody in this House understands the real and clear evidence out there that women are much more likely to be in low-paid jobs, employed in part-time work and on insecure contracts, whether that is fixed-term, agency or zero hours. Therefore, we know that we have to pay special regard to the Bill’s impact on women and equality. The equality impact assessment for the Bill warns, precisely on this point, that
“the EU law concepts that will be removed by the Bill underpin substantive rights in equality law. While GB equalities legislation is extensive, there is a possibility that the removal of the principle of supremacy of EU law and the sunset of EU-derived legislation may lead to a lowering of protection against discrimination”.
So the risk is very clear, and I have to say that I have not been reassured so far by the Minister’s attempted reassurance on issues such as maternity rights. Many of us fought for those rights—we know exactly what came from EU-derived law and what came from case law, and the way they are entangled with UK law—and there is a risk of pulling the rug from beneath them. My concern is that, even if the intent is not to worsen women’s rights, there appears to be a lack of understanding and expertise that will ensure that they do not just slip off the agenda when the sunset clause kicks in. So I would like to hear precisely how this concern about the disproportionate impact on women of the enabling Bill will be addressed. We have heard that we cannot have a proper impact assessment because it is an enabling Bill—which in itself causes great concern. I would like to hear what measures can be taken to ensure that women do not, yet again, end up losing out.
My Lords, across my whole career, I have worked with other women and admired the work of trade unions trying to help the employment protections for women in general, mothers with young children or women with other caring responsibilities, by helping them to keep working and to build their economic and financial resilience. This includes parental leave, the protection of pensions in TUPE and the other areas we discussed in the first group, but it also includes the worker protections for part-time workers, which have resulted in improved working conditions and protections for men, disabled workers and minority groups, not just for women. For those reasons, I wholly support Amendment 2.
Quite frankly, the fact that the regulations and laws which are the subject of the Bill derive from the EU seems to be a red herring. As my noble friend the Minister said, this is an enabling Bill, which will allow Ministers to retain, amend or revoke our laws and public safeguards. That these protections originated from the EU is just not the point: in reality, as my noble friend said, we have higher standards, so, had they not been introduced by the EU, the implication must be that we would have introduced them ourselves. In reality, my noble friend is saying that the fact that they were introduced as a result of EU measures, and were not objected to when they were introduced, is because Parliament itself would have chosen to have them. So we should not be here debating the fact that, because they originated in the EU, we have to tear them up or to assume that they are somehow bad. Vast swathes of long-standing and hard-won protections are under threat—
My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that they are bad to the extent that they never went through the House of Commons, the House of Lords or any of our democratic procedures? This legislation was imposed on us by Brussels and there was nothing we could do about it, so why are we fussed about removing it?
I am afraid I absolutely do not agree with the noble Lord on that point. The fact that they came from the EU was because that was the way the law worked at that stage. They were fed into by our own elected representatives there, and the principles being introduced were supported by our Parliament. It is a red herring that they came originally from the EU. Are we saying that we, as a civilised country, would not have had these protections anyway? The idea that this word “regulations” is a negative in some way—and, if it is associated with the EU, it is an even worse negative—is not the point; “regulations” is another word for “protection” or “safeguards”, and we must not forget that.
These hard-won protections are under threat, and our constitutional principles are being undermined—as are, potentially, the rule of law and parliamentary democracy itself. When or if our laws need to be changed, surely that must be approved and debated in Parliament, and not just handed to the Minister of the day, who may have no expertise in the area and who may be under the influence of a lobby group. Giving Parliament no proper say or role in changing the law exposes millions of citizens to harms that our normal constitutional safeguards are there to protect us from.
I fear speaking this way from these Benches and I hope that my noble friend will understand that this is not a direct criticism of this Administration or of this Government. It is a comment and a deeply expressed concern about the potential harms that could result from this legislation and the way in which it is being introduced. The Government may not intend this, but we may have another Prime Minister and a whole new range of Ministers soon. Given recent experience, it is not about whether or not we trust the current Government; it is about the way in which our country operates.
How much Civil Service time is being spent on trying to ferret out worker protections that currently safeguard our citizens and on presenting them to Ministers who, at the stroke of a pen, could change them willy-nilly, get rid of them or agree to keep them without meaningful parliamentary scrutiny? This is not the way to move forward.
I apologise to my noble friend and to colleagues on these Benches for speaking in this manner. I hope they can respect that this is coming from a deeply held, principled position, just as I respect that they perhaps have an alternative deeply held position. I speak as a parliamentarian who feels a responsibility in this House.
My Lords, I shall be relatively brief. These two regulations were covered in my Amendment 40, so it could be argued that I have already addressed them.
I want to focus on the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Fox, and particularly by my noble friend Lady O’Grady about the impact of these regulations on women. I know that my noble friend was part of this because we were working together on the same campaign, when my noble friend Lady Prosser launched the campaign for part-time and temporary workers’ rights within the Transport and General Workers’ Union going out. We took it to Europe to try to persuade MEPs to support us. It would be good to hear whether the Minister responded positively to the campaign to protect part-time and temporary workers when he was an MEP.
These rights have had the most effect on women. Women often choose to work part time for all kinds of reasons, but there is no reason they should have less pay and poorer conditions as a consequence. I had the same conversations with the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, when she was part of Tesco. Tesco is one of the biggest employers of part-time workers and many women were thus able to support their families.
It comes back to the fundamental issue raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann. Here we have a situation where we risk these regulations simply falling off the shelf because of an arbitrary date for a sunset clause. These are fundamental rights which have changed the lives of women and their families. If they fall off, we will have no say in it. If the Minister changes them and we do not like the changes, all we can do in this Parliament is to say no—which means we do not have the rights at all again. That cannot be right. I hope the Minister can reassure us again on the specifics.
I thank all those who have contributed. I listened with interest to my noble friend Lady Altmann but I am afraid that her points were incorrect. I will not repeat the points that I made on the first group about how UK standards are superior. Those standards were introduced in UK law by Governments of both persuasions and approved by the UK Parliament. I am tired of repeating this point, but they did not, and do not, depend on EU law. My noble friend obviously was not listening to the points that I made on the first group.
Let me respond to the noble Lord, Lord Fox, on Amendment 2. I apologise if I am repeating the same points as I made on the first group. We are essentially covering the same ground as Members opposite seek to probe me on specific regulations. As I said on the first group, it is the Government’s position that there is no need for specific exemptions or exceptions to the sunset clause.
There are something like 4,700 identified pieces of law—I hope that we are not going to go through this debate for all 4,700 of them, although maybe it would suit the Opposition to do just that. The Bill provides the tools to remove or reform retained EU law in secondary legislation, but—and this point is crucial—it also enables the Government to preserve and restate retained EU law. This allows for the preservation of the status quo and no change at all to the policy operation where it has been reviewed and deemed fit for purpose for our benefit here in the UK.
As part of this process, and as the Bill allows, the Government are reviewing all retained EU employment law to ensure that our regulations, including the Part-time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2000 and the Fixed-term Employees (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2002, meet the needs of the UK economy. We are doing so on the back of the fact that we already have much superior standards to most other countries in the European Union, and far in excess of what EU law legislates for. I appreciate that there is a principled difference between us on this, but I will keep repeating that point as many times as noble Lords ask me for exemptions.
Let me pick up the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty. I agree with him that the creative industries have made a substantial and sustained contribution to economic growth and job creation across the UK, growing, on average, at nearly twice the rate of the wider economy. The Government are completely committed to supporting these vital industries.
Let me repeat again that it is up to departments and the devolved Administrations as to what they wish to do with specific pieces of policy. With that, I hope that noble Lords will be content to withdraw or not to press their amendments.
My Lords, I am struggling to understand my noble friend’s comments. If UK law is already stronger than retained EU law, why do we need to get rid of the retained EU law? What is the problem with retaining it on the statute book and going with our stronger protections?
I am sorry that my noble friend does not seem able to understand this, but the Bill provides the tools to remove or retain EU law. It also enables the Government—I repeat this point again—to preserve and restate retained EU law. If my noble friend had listened to our debate on the first group, she would know that I made the point to the noble Lord, Lord Fox, that there is some retained EU law in this area, and a lot of UK domestic legislation that builds on and intertwines with it. There is also the interpretative effects, which were originally aligned. Therefore, while maintaining the high standards that this Parliament has legislated for, and possibly extending those standards in some areas, it is incumbent on us, in order to tidy up the statute book, to make sure that all our laws work for the best interests of this country.
Let me make the point to my noble friend before I give way to her again. Many of these regulations will indeed be preserved, retained or replaced. If it is the case that the Government come forward with such proposals, those regulations will be consulted on, and debated in the other place and debated here. My noble friend will have the opportunity to comment on them then.
I thank my noble friend. I am still not quite sure what we can say to women, who currently have hard-won protections in the labour market, about where their future rights and protections will end up. We do not have a list of all the things that are going to be changed; the Government themselves have already said they do not necessarily know all the wider ramifications of this. If those protections are, in the view of a Minister, in need of change, and presumably being weakened, Parliament will have the opportunity to look at them. However, as the noble Lord opposite said, if they do not like them, they lose the whole lot.
My noble friend asks what she can say to women. She can tell them that they have one of the highest minimum wages in Europe as a result of the policies of this Government, that they are entitled to 5.6 weeks of annual leave compared with an EU requirement of four weeks, and that they are entitled to a year of maternity leave in the UK whereas the EU minimum is only 14 weeks—that is what she can say to women workers.
My Lords, I believe I owe the Committee an apology. In withdrawing my previous amendment I said there were 4,000 unnecessary decisions facing the Government. I am afraid I was wrong. I have listened to the Minister and I understand now that it is 4,700 unnecessary decisions, on which the Government will be using important legislative and administrative bandwidth. I believe there are better things to be doing than this process, and perhaps in one of his other comments the Minister can explain why all this time is being wasted if, as he says, nothing will change—and that is our point.
When it comes to the question of interpretative effects, it is strike two. The noble Baroness, Lady O’Grady, and indeed the Minister himself, set out this intermingling of UK-derived, EU-derived and case law, and the fact that if we start pulling one piece of string there is a very great chance of it unravelling. The Minister has acknowledged there are interpretative effects, but we need a more detailed assessment of how the Government expect those to pan out as the courts get their teeth into the post-2023 situation. When I ask this in the next group, it might be better if the Minister undertakes to write a very detailed letter—possibly assisted by the department’s lawyers—that explains the legal view on how this is going to work. That is perhaps a way of avoiding me asking the question another few times.
At the end of the previous group, there was a very interesting intervention from the Minister’s own Benches on Clause 15(5), and how changes to the wording of that clause could begin to draw the sting of some of the arguments that we have heard so far and will hear later. The Minister might take to heart the advice that came from his own Benches.
We heard in the debate about the disproportionate effect that the stifling of this legislation could have on women, minorities, the creative industries and a wide group of people. That is why it was important to have this amendment in a separate group. However, given the nature of the debate, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 2.
Amendment 2 withdrawn.
House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 3.03 pm.