Fairness at Work and Power in Communities

Chris Stephens Excerpts
Thursday 12th May 2022

(1 week, 3 days ago)

Commons Chamber
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Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue, which she has done on a number of occasions, and rightly so. It remains a commitment of the Government to support unpaid carers, who do an amazing job in supporting their families and, importantly, supporting the economy and other areas of social care through their work and their commitment to their families. We remain committed to unpaid carer’s leave and indeed will introduce it when parliamentary time allows.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
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I have listened to the Minister’s speech so far. He is talking about business being dynamic, but of course there are rogue employers out there. He promised a Delegated Legislation Committee on 25 January that there would be an employment Bill in the Queen’s Speech—may I ask where it is?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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We remain undiminished in our commitment to balance, as I outlined, the flexibility of the labour market with protections for workers. Indeed, we have already been working on a number of areas. We have made really good progress in extending the right to a written statement of core terms of employment to all workers—we have made access to that a day one right—and quadrupling the available aggravated breach penalties used in employment tribunals to £20,000 as well as any number of other issues, many of which I will outline in the debate. However, we clearly want to do more, and we will do that as parliamentary time allows.

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Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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My hon. Friend has done amazing work in raising the profile of ensuring that there is a fair system for tipping and that the tronc actually goes to those at the front end, who are often on low wages. As I have said, the primary purpose of our employment measures is to protect those who are at the lowest end especially. I reaffirm our commitment to building on my hon. Friend’s continuing work in that area.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens
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The Minister is being generous in giving way. He says that, where employers adopt bad practices, the Government will act, but it has been nearly five years since the Taylor review reported on issues such as zero-hours contracts and short-term shift notices. Once again, may I ask where the employment Bill is to tackle those issues?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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I will come back to the future of work in a second. The hon. Gentleman talks about zero-hours contracts, but we cannot just throw that term around as if it described a single exploitative work product. I have talked about how we have a dynamic and flexible labour market. Many, many people who are on zero-hours contracts like to be on them. There is still exploitation and there are still bad bosses out there, which is why I say that where there are bad practices we will act, but it is important that where businesses are playing fairly we salute them and support them in creating jobs and boosting our economy. We will all become poorer if the public lose faith in Britain’s businesses.

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Angela Rayner Portrait Angela Rayner
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I absolutely agree. The frustration is that people in the north and in the midlands—areas like the one I represent—have been told that there will be “Levelling up, levelling up, levelling up,” yet at the first sign of any sort of sprig of help for our economy, they trash it by taking away the support that is there and doing something that really does not add up to levelling up and supporting our great industries in the north and in the midlands.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens
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My Unison comrade makes an excellent point. Does it not also apply to the Government’s ludicrous decision to close Department for Work and Pensions offices, and now to close Insolvency Service offices throughout the UK?

Angela Rayner Portrait Angela Rayner
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I thank my Unison colleague and friend, who I have known for many years, and who has fought for working people and great public services for many years. Yes, I absolutely agree with him: it does not make sense. The theme I have highlighted throughout my speech is that the Government say one thing, but it is always jam tomorrow, and their actions are completely divorced from what is happening on the ground.

The Conservatives have had 12 long years to make the changes that our country desperately needs to secure our future, but they have failed. All the while, we have seen the watering down of workers’ rights, and rogue bosses such as those at P&O taking advantage of our lax rules while Ministers stand idly by. Instead of an employment model that delivers for working people, the Conservatives have ushered in a race to the bottom on the backs of working people. Outsourcing, zero-hours contracts and agency work have driven down pay, standards and conditions for everyone across our whole economy.

Labour’s approach is to offer people real help right now, and a vision for the future of work in which working people enjoy dignity and are treated with respect. This is what is missing from the Government’s programme: real help right now, when people need it—a vision for a better Britain, with a more secure future. Work should provide not just a proper wage that people can raise a family on but dignity, fairness and flexibility. Labour will make Britain work for working people. This Conservative Government have not got a plan—they have not got a clue. Ministers claim they are getting on with the job, but they are failing Britain’s workers and their communities today.

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Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
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It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Enfield North (Feryal Clark). I will concentrate much of my speech on employment, which is ironic, given the collective industrial action that appears to be taking place on the Conservative Benches. I just hope that the ballot was conducted in a legal way.

I may be alone in this, but I am disappointed that the hon. Member for Ipswich (Tom Hunt) is no longer in his place. The anti-immigration rhetoric that he was using is in stark contrast to the reality of the situation. I do not believe that any human being is illegal. When we use words like “illegal” about fellow human beings, we are on very dangerous ground indeed.

In stark contrast, though, I have been in tears of joy over the past few days, but I can assure Members that it is not over the Queen’s Speech. I am delighted to say that it is over the great news of the council elections. As you know, Mr Deputy Speaker, the good people of Glasgow South West are among the most sophisticated electorate in these islands. In the Greater Pollok ward, they hit it out of the park. They have elected the great Roza Salih, who becomes the first refugee elected as a councillor in Scotland. What a wonderful achievement that is for this “brilliant young woman”, as the First Minister of Scotland said. This is someone who has served with distinction in the Glasgow South West constituency office. She was so good that she has been promoted twice: she is currently the office manager, and has helped to serve constituents diligently. She will make a fantastic councillor. Is that not something, when we hear the rhetoric from some on the Government Benches about “immigrants”? They use this anti-immigrant language, when we have a brilliant young woman who is now engaging in public service. That is why I want asylum seekers to be given the right to work.

The Blair Government made a mistake when they stopped asylum seekers having the right to work. It is absolutely scandalous that we allow asylum seekers to live on the equivalent of what I was earning as a youth trainee with Strathclyde Regional Council 30 years ago. It is not right. After a period of time—say, six months—asylum seekers should have the right to work and make their contribution to this economy.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald
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The hon. Gentleman is right to focus on this issue. The Government’s Homes for Ukraine scheme has a lot to recommend it, if only it worked properly for everybody. It is absolutely right that people should have recourse to public funds and to work, but surely that should apply to every refugee; it should not simply be restricted to one group. I am delighted that this group has that, but should it not go across the board universally?

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens
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I agree with the hon. Member. People who seek sanctuary in this country want to make a positive contribution across these islands. There should be a right to work.

Navendu Mishra Portrait Navendu Mishra (Stockport) (Lab)
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I associate myself with the hon. Gentleman’s comments about his office manager who has been elected to Glasgow City Council; I was on a Unite trade delegation with her many years ago and know her well. On his point about refugees and asylum seekers, does he agree that the Home Office has serious issues when it comes to dealing with those people, not only under the current Home Secretary, but under the former Home Secretary and former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), who was the architect of the hostile environment against people of colour? The Home Office has had long-standing issues under this Conservative Government, and it needs root and branch reform.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens
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I thank the hon. Gentleman very much for that. I should say, if I have not already, that Roza is indeed a Unite activist and former member of the Scottish Trades Union Congress general council, Scotland’s workers’ parliament, and she was indeed in Cuba with him on a delegation.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The Home Office must be one of the most dysfunctional Government Departments—I know it is a competition, but we only need to ask people who are looking for a passport at the moment. I associate myself with the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman); she was quite right about the challenges around EU law and EU workers’ protections. I mentioned Strathclyde Regional Council earlier, which the Tory Government decided to abolish, and I remember when TUPE was good legislation and protected workers on that basis.

I will focus my remarks on my first intervention on the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully). The fact that the Government picked the Under-Secretary of State to lead for them on fairness at work tells us a lot about their priorities.

Many hon. Members have talked about the promised employment Bill, so I will quote directly from a Delegated Legislation Committee. On 25 January—Burns Day, not a date anyone Scottish can forget—at 10.46 am, the Under-Secretary of State said:

“Clearly, the employment Bill, as the hon. Member for Glasgow South West knows, is primary legislation. It will be announced, when it comes forward in parliamentary time, in the Queen’s Speech.”—[Official Report, Third Delegated Legislation Committee, 25 January 2022; c. 24.]

I believe Hansard is accurate, and the record has not been corrected in any way. That tells us that an employment Bill is not a priority for this Government, and I want to know why it is not.

Many hon. Members have spoken, and we hear regularly on the Work and Pensions Committee, about the impact on women and black and minority ethnic workers of unfair working practices and indignities at work. That starts with zero hours contracts. We had the Under-Secretary of State telling us that zero hours contracts are a good thing but simultaneously that they are exploitative. They cannot be both. Perhaps we should take on the argument that zero hours contracts are a good thing and people want them. Let us only allow zero hours contracts where there is a collective agreement with a recognised trade union, and then we will find out how many people actually want them.

There is no legislation on short-term shift changes, as many hon. Members have said. People can turn up to their work expecting to have a five-hour shift, only to be told they have to work 10 hours that day or, worse, to be told that there are no hours for them to work that day, while they still have to pay out transport and childcare costs. We need legislation to tackle that and to ensure that, where it happens, it means double time for workers.

There is no protection where a company ceases trading. We had a good example in Scotland where a hairdresser operating out of a hotel upped and left for Portugal, leaving the workers with no wages. Those workers had no protection at all. They went to the hotel to ask for wages and the hotel said, “Not our responsibility.” I want to see legislation to fix those sorts of issues, because that is the reality of what is happening. The pandemic amplified those issues. They did not go away with the pandemic; the pandemic emphasised them. I am sure my friend the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald) would agree, because he and I have proposed similar legislation on this.

We really need to sort out the status of workers in this country. There are far too many workers who are bogusly self-employed. That leads to the double hit of people being caught up in the loan charge scandal as well, because they think they are directly employed and they are not. I remember sitting here in the debate on the private Member’s Bill, the Employment and Trade Union Rights (Dismissal and Re-engagement) Bill, when we were promised there would be a better way of doing it, and I do not see that either.

I will conclude with two quick things. I am concerned at the Government’s changes, announced just before the end of the last Session, that will make sanctions on benefit claimants easier. That is going the wrong way, and I believe it goes against what the Government promised. They promised they would start introducing warnings before sanctioning people. We were given commitments that that would be the case, but those commitments seem to have disappeared.

Marsha De Cordova Portrait Marsha De Cordova
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for the excellent speech he is making. On the subject of sanctions, does he agree that all the evidence shows that sanctions and conditionality do not work, especially when they pertain to disabled people, and that the Government should be seeking to scrap the sanctions regime?

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens
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I do want to see the end of the sanctions regime, and I agree that conditionality is not working. As a bare minimum, the Government could introduce what is known as a yellow card or warning system before someone is sanctioned, rather than people just turning up and being sanctioned because they were five minutes late. We are politicians, and we are late for meetings all the time—that is just the way the world works. Would we be sanctioned for being five minutes late? I do not think so.

Lastly, I join others in supporting the principle of freedom of peaceful assembly. It was a year ago that fellow Glaswegians and I were on Kenmure Street to stop the Home Office taking away two people in an immigration van. I congratulate the good people of Edinburgh on stopping an immigration raid last week. The principle that people are able to assemble freely and peacefully must remain in these islands.

I support and join with my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen North: we need employment law to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament if this Government will not act. If they will not act, when the people of Scotland get a choice and they look at employment law, they will choose independence over this Government any day of the week.

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Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
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No, I will not give way. The many Members who have risen should listen to the point that I am making rather than interrupt it. The fact is, the furlough scheme—the greatest employment protection scheme ever devised in this country—is an example of how the Government act innovatively, nimbly and quickly to deal with the serious issues of the day.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens
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I thank the Minister for giving way, but she cannot have it both ways. She cannot give Opposition Members trouble by saying that all the Bills tabled are manifesto commitments when an employment Bill was in the 2015 Conservative party manifesto, the 2017 Conservative party manifesto and the 2019 Conservative party manifesto. When will the Government table an employment Bill? They promised it in January.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am making the point that we do not need an employment Bill to deliver employment legislation.

Paid Miscarriage Leave

Chris Stephens Excerpts
Thursday 17th March 2022

(2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
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I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) on securing this debate. I wish we had more time today to discuss this matter, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Allan Dorans), too, who made a fine contribution. It will come as no surprise to the House that I will be supporting both my colleagues and what they have done.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Lanark and Hamilton East for the petition, which called on the UK Government to introduce at least three days of paid miscarriage leave for parents who lose a baby before 24 weeks of pregnancy. It received more than 40,000 signatures, which suggests that there is support among the wider public. On 21 June last year, she presented a private Member’s Bill to change the law, which has its Second Reading tomorrow. She also secured a Westminster Hall debate on the issue on 8 March 2022, and there have been two early-day motions, one on “Miscarriage leave and employment policy”, and another on “Miscarriage leave in Northern Ireland”, which have been supported by Members from all parts of the House.

Mention has been made of my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson), who led on the Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Bill in 2018, which came into effect in April 2019. That secured two weeks of paid leave for all parents who lost a child up to the age of 18. She also launched a ten-minute rule Bill to make provision about leave and pay for employees where a close family member has died, and that is scheduled for Second Reading. My colleagues have a strong record on this area and I am proud to be associated with them. They have my full support.

Miscarriage is the most common kind of pregnancy loss, affecting around one in four pregnancies. The loss of a baby at any stage of pregnancy is an unimaginable tragedy, and our sympathies are with families who have suffered a baby loss. In the UK, the definition applies to pregnancies up to 23 weeks and 6 days. Any loss from 24 weeks is called a stillbirth. If the baby is born alive, even before 24 weeks, and lives even for a matter of minutes, that is considered a live birth and a neonatal death.

There is no statutory entitlement to leave for anyone who loses a baby before 24 weeks. Will the Minister consider that matter? As he knows, I have pursued him regularly and rigorously in many debates covering his brief about the long-awaited employment Bill—we have waited at least four years for it. It will cover a host of issues, as he will be aware, not just those around the Taylor review, and could help many workers.

Too many workers are left without support due to cracks in the current system, which leaves paid provision of leave at the discretion of employers and can result in discrimination against parents in low-paid and part-time work. That is why it is vital for the Minister to carefully consider the call that my hon. Friends the Members for Lanark and Hamilton East and for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock have made today for paid miscarriage leave.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock touched on, the SNP Scottish Government are committed to matching the laws that have been introduced in New Zealand and introducing three days of paid miscarriage leave in the public sector in Scotland. That will be welcome, but as has been said, to introduce paid miscarriage leave in the private sector requires legislation in this place. I think there is support on both sides of the House to ensure that that happens.

The Scottish Government have committed to establishing a dignified and compassionate miscarriage service by the end of 2023, including by ensuring that maternity units have dedicated facilities for women who are experiencing unexpected pregnancy complications. As part of delivering that commitment, a scoping exercise will shortly be issued across all 14 health boards to help to establish current service provision for miscarriage care and the support that is available to women who experience unexpected pregnancy complications.

In addition, the Scottish Government are listening to the voices of those providing miscarriage services, women who have experienced miscarriage and organisations who support them through a series of roundtable discussions. I hope that the Minister has listened carefully to what my hon. Friends have said. I am sure that we will have support from the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders). I hope that the Minister will look positively at what we think is a sensible measure to introduce a policy of paid miscarriage leave across these islands.

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Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am saying that it is one of the tools for employers to value their people, which is why we want to ensure that we can have a tailored response to people’s life events. I talked about miscarriage and we have also rightly talked about all the other areas, including women’s health and, indeed, men’s health, whether that is mental or physical. Flexible working can be at the heart of wraparound care for employees, but it is not the only tool.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens
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Those of us on the SNP Benches often accuse the Government of stealing ideas from their distant cousin, the Liberal party of Australia. Is this not a case where the Liberal party of Australia is correct and more progressive than this Government on paid miscarriage leave?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am saying that we want to work with employers. We want to showcase the very best and to explain to employers—rightly—that any statutory limit we set is a minimum limit. Any sensible employer that values its people understands that very few businesses, if any, are anything without loyal, productive people. They can value them by showing increased flexibility, including through the examples that I gave of compassionate leave for life events.

Our consultation also talked about ad hoc flexible working and we want to explore how non-contractual flexibility works in practice. That can be done far faster than over the weeks talked about by the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders). I have discussed the question with the flexible working taskforce, which will ensure that the role of ad hoc flexible working and the question of supporting women with health conditions are part of its considerations.

We have heard about employment measures and when they are coming to the House. I reassure Members that the Government are committed to building a high-skill, high-productivity and high-wage economy that delivers on our ambition to make the UK the best place in the world to work and grow a business. We will do that by continuing to champion a flexible and dynamic labour market and as we build back better we will introduce new employment measures to make it easier for people to enter and remain in work as soon as parliamentary time allows.

I extend my condolences once again to anyone who has experienced the loss of a baby. I understand and sympathise with the difficulties suffered by parents in this situation. I have highlighted some of the broad range of activity that the Government already have under way to support people in the workplace who experience difficult life events, including those who have lost a baby. It is also the case that employers have an important part to play because they know their employees and that a supportive workplace benefits both employees and employers, including on productivity and wellbeing.

I thank the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East once again for her contributions to the debate and I thank everybody who has worked hard to raise awareness of the impact of miscarriage.

Draft National Minimum Wage (Amendment) Regulations 2022

Chris Stephens Excerpts
Thursday 10th March 2022

(2 months, 1 week ago)

General Committees
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Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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The figures are based, as I said, first on the evidence, weighing the benefits for the lowest paid with the increased cost pressures on business. Of course, it is not only for the minimum wage or living wage itself, but pushing the differentials up for other people who are slightly further up the chain. I suppose that we could make the argument, “Do you want a rounded percentage or a rounded cost?”

Having had that evidence, there is then, effectively, a negotiation between the employers’ and workers’ representatives on the commission. They then come up with that recommendation, in between, of what they feel the economy can bear. It is not always rounded—clearly, that would be easier for everybody concerned—but we do not always allow perfection to be the enemy of the good. I think we have come up with something that is good for low-paid workers and for keeping to the manifesto commitment.

The national living wage for those aged 23 increasing by 6.6% to £9.50 is an increase of 59p. A full-time worker will be more than £1,000 better off over the course of the year. The regulations also increase the rates for younger workers and apprentices, and the accommodation offset, so workers aged 21 and 22 will receive an increase of 82p an hour to a minimum hourly rate of £9.18. Workers aged 18 to 20 will be entitled to an extra 27p an hour, taking their rate to £6.83. Under-18s will have an increase of 19p to an hourly rate of £4.81, and apprentices aged under 19, or those in the first year of their apprenticeship, will receive an increase of 11.9% to an hourly rate of £4.81—51p more.

I will announce another change to the regulations that we will shortly bring forward. Last year, we asked the Low Pay Commission to gather evidence on the use of the live-in domestic worker exemption to minimum wage entitlement, which exempts employers from having to pay the minimum wage to workers who live in the employer’s home and are treated as part of the family, such as au pairs. The Low Pay Commission heard evidence from au pairs, domestic workers, and agencies for those workers. The commission concluded that the exemption is not fit for purpose, and recommended that it be removed. We have accepted that recommendation, and will introduce legislation to remove the live-in domestic worker exemption when parliamentary time allows.

We have pledged to continue raising the minimum wage in the coming years. As I mentioned, our manifesto includes a target for the national living wage to reach two thirds of medium earnings by 2024.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
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The Minister talked a lot about consultation with business, but he will be aware that some businesses do not comply with the legislation. Can he tell us a bit more about that, what the Government are doing to invest to ensure that their national minimum wage compliance unit is fully staffed, and whether there will be any approach to increase staffing in that area?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Gentleman. Enforcement, which is covered by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, is clearly really important. We work closely with HMRC to ensure that it is resourced to enforce in this area. We will also look at a single enforcement body, as part of our wider work. One of the things that it will look at, in a number of enforcement areas, is the national minimum wage and the national living wage. Clearly, that will bring even more experience and resource to bear for it to enforce in this area, along with a number of other areas that businesses may be encroaching on. That is really important, because if a business is falling short in one area there is every chance that it is falling short in other areas as well. By bringing those enforcement regimes to a single enforcement body, it will be more effective and efficient, and it will be able to drive out poor behaviour by employers.

We understand the difficulties faced by business, workers and consumers at the moment, and our targets remain dependent on the economic circumstances, but we will continue to monitor the labour market. The draft regulations ensure that the lowest-paid workers are fairly rewarded for their valuable contribution to the economy. We will continue to monitor the impacts of increasing the national minimum wage, and will remain abreast of concerns on the cost of living. We will shortly publish this year’s remit to the Low Pay Commission, asking it to provide recommendations for new minimum wage rates to apply from April 2023. In the meantime, I commend the draft regulations to the Committee.

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Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
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It is a pleasure to see a friend of the worker in the Chair, Dr Huq.

I thank the Minister for his presentation, and I will make a number of points. First, the so-called national living wage is no such thing. The Scottish Government promote the real living wage, which is set by the Living Wage Foundation and which is £9.90 an hour; you will be aware, Dr Huq, that in London it is £11.05 an hour. Although there is a suggestion that the Government have introduced a living wage, it is not a real living wage.

Setting minimum wage rates appropriately is important because workers spend their wages in the wider economy, so there is a boost. I noticed that the Minister did not develop that point, but businesses have an interest in ensuring that there is an adequate minimum wage rate level, because workers spend that money in the private sector and use it when they can.

The reality is that in-work poverty remains the norm and is on the rise. One other way of helping to tackle in-work poverty, in addition to the national minimum wage rates, would be the much-promised employment Bill. We have been waiting for it for four years, so perhaps the Minister can tell us where it is, and whether it remains a priority for the Government to help workers in the gig economy, where work is traditionally low paid and where there is, I am afraid, a lack of enforcement of minimum wage rates.

I want to develop the points made by my fellow Glaswegian, the hon. Member for North Wiltshire, regarding some of the figures. I have been and remain concerned about the age discrimination that goes on in the national minimum wage rates, and they do look peculiar as they have been presented. Perhaps the Minister can explain why, for example, a 17-year-old could be working in McDonald’s flipping hamburgers next to a 37-year-old who was doing the same job but would be paid a different rate. Both are participants in the labour market and they are doing the same job, but with vastly different wage rates. I am not sure that that is sustainable going forward.

Perhaps the Minister can also explain why some wage rates seem to be getting a low increase—in fact, some of the increases are lower than the price of a Freddo bar—while others are getting a big increase. There does seem to be a presentational difficulty with what the Minister has put forward. I would be obliged if he could write to the Committee to explain why for some wage rates the increase is 9.8%, for example, and for some it is 4.1%. I am sure that apprentices will welcome their increase, because that is something that we have raised before.

Could the Minister also write to the Committee on the current number of vacancies in the national minimum wage compliance unit and the actual numbers employed by that unit? I am concerned that according to the last figures that I saw, in a parliamentary answer, the numbers employed by the state in the national minimum wage compliance unit are a tenth of those chasing social security fraud. I think that ensuring that we have a good and robust national minimum wage compliance unit will help more workers in the economy.

My last question for the Minister is this. We are obviously in a cost of living crisis. He has today presented figures for April onwards, but he will be aware of the forecasts that inflation could increase within the next year, so what scope does he have to review the minimum wage rates still further? Is he in a position to look at those wage rates and increase them further, or is it possible that he may be in a position to do so in the next financial year? I ask because that may very well be required in the cost of living crisis.

I conclude by reminding the Minister of the words that we heard yesterday at the Select Committee on Work and Pensions, of which I am a member, from the great writer and author Jack Monroe about the consequences of the cost of living crisis. I would hope that every Minister has placed those words in their offices and on their walls, so that they know exactly what they need to do going forward.

None Portrait The Chair
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Order. Both Opposition speeches went a little out of scope of the regulations. I am very nice, so I let that go, but we are talking about just these regulations. Would anyone else like to say anything else? No. In that case, I call Minister Paul Scully to respond.

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Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens
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I do apologise, but I think the only thing that has not yet been covered is whether the Government are keeping the minimum wage rates under review for the next year because of what is happening with the cost of living crisis.

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is difficult to do mid-year, but there will be other fiscal events, and there are other areas of support for people during the cost of living crisis. At the moment, we are going through the process of setting the remit for the Low Pay Commission to consider. It is doing a lot of evidence work now. April and May are usually its busiest time for gathering evidence, which it then considers. The LPC effectively goes away on retreat in the autumn to have those negotiations, and we usually announce the figures in October so that they are ready to start in the next financial year. It is difficult to get something substantive mid-financial year, but, as I say, there is always scope for us to look at how we can work through the cost of living crisis and pressures, which will invariably increase.

We all know that with Putin’s war, he has inflicted misery on Ukraine, and it is right that we support Ukrainians and stand steadfast with them. Hon. Members will have seen the increase in sanctions this morning, and they will inevitably have an effect on us. That is the price we are paying for Putin’s war and for freedom, frankly, and we have to acknowledge and face up to that. We will certainly see what we can do in the round, whether it is on energy, inflation or supply chains. However, I am going slightly off on a tangent, and I do not want to push that too far.

Once again, I put on the record my thanks to the Low Pay Commission for the evidence gathering that it performs and the way it works to get a consensus between employers’ representatives and workers’ representatives, which is not always easy. The LPC believed that it would face a particular challenge this year, but it came up with a really good settlement that will benefit millions of people up and down this country. I am looking forward to receiving the Low Pay Commission’s recommendations for 2023 later this year, but in the meantime I commend the regulations to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That the Committee has considered the draft National Minimum Wage (Amendment) Regulations 2022.

Draft Trade Union (Levy Payable to the Certification Officer) Regulations 2022 Draft Trade Union (Power of the Certification Officer to impose Financial Penalties) Regulations 2022

Chris Stephens Excerpts
Tuesday 25th January 2022

(3 months, 3 weeks ago)

General Committees
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies.

The purpose of the regulations is to enact the reforms made by the Trade Union Act 2016 to the powers of the certification officer—the regulator of trade unions and employers’ associations. The regulations were commented on by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee in the Lords in its 25th report, on grounds of policy interest. Before I explain the content of the regulations, it is important that I provide Members with some context to the reforms.

Unions play an important role in effective industrial relations. They also play a significant role in our workplaces and in wider society. There is therefore a legitimate public interest in trade unions running their affairs according to what is required of them. It is necessary that they have a responsive and diligent regulator. It is vital that we all have confidence that those affairs are conducted properly. The provisions in the 2016 Act are about proportionate and effective regulation. We are bringing the current powers of the certification officer up to date with the situation that we accept as completely normal in other sectors.

The 2016 Act brings in three reforms to the role of the certification officer. The first enhances the CO’s investigatory powers. Those reforms were implemented in commencement regulations made in December 2021, and they will commence in April. As they are not the subject of the regulations before us, I will only briefly explain the Government’s intentions.

The current system largely relies on union members bringing complaints to the CO—for example, on the conduct of elections. The 2016 Act gives the CO the same powers to investigate all breaches that she currently holds for financial matters and the register of members. That will enable her to act without having to rely on a complaint from a member. That is a wholly reasonable power for a regulator.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
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There are at least two Members present who served on the Trade Union Bill. Can the Minister remind us who can make a complaint to the certification officer?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will come back to that in my closing remarks. The CO will be able to take up her own views on a matter when there is a breach. It is a wholly reasonable power for a regulator and works on the basis of similar regulators.

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Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The regulations in no way attack; they are simply designed to fund the work of the regulator. Most regulators get their costs paid for by the people they regulate. That is eminently reasonable.

The regulations we are considering today bring into effect the second and third reforms set down in the 2016 Act, relating to financial penalties and the levy. We consulted separately on both reforms in 2017 and we conducted a further engagement exercise on the levy last year. The majority of respondents to both consultations and the further engagement exercise were trade unions. I know that they are concerned about the measures, as we have heard, but we have listened to their concerns and I will explain the measures in the regulations.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens
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The Minister is being very generous in giving way. On the consultation in 2017, we should note that there have been two general elections since then, so why are the Government proceeding now?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Because we have proceeded as quickly as we can, given the circumstances of parliamentary time. We wanted to make sure that, in response to the consultation, we could reflect the views of the trade unions by making some changes to the regulations. I will outline them in a second, but I repeat that this is the right time to be making the changes.

Under the financial penalties regulations, the certification officer’s enforcement powers are strengthened by allowing her to impose such penalties against organisations that breach their statutory obligations. The maximum amount of penalty will vary by the type of obligation breached and will be banded into three groups to take account of the severity of the obligation breached. That approach found support during the consultation.

The most important statutory obligations required of trade unions relate to political funding, the proper conduct of union elections and personnel propriety considerations. Those obligations are serious matters and I believe that the maximum penalty of £20,000 should be made available to the certification officer. That is in line with the penalties imposed by other bodies, such as the Electoral Commission.

For other failures of statutory governance requirements, a lower level of maximum penalty, £10,000, is appropriate, and that includes the requirement to keep the membership register up to date. Where breaches do not relate to failures of governance as a whole but to requirements to provide information, comply with investigatory requirements or breaches of internal union laws, the regulations limit such fines to a maximum of £5,000.

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will talk about the distribution in a second.

The regulations also provide for a reduction in the maxima by 50%--bearing in mind that we are talking about the financial penalties—for unions whose membership is under 100,000. That means that no small or medium-sized unions will pay more than £10,000, £5,000 or £2,500, depending on the type of obligations breached. The Government took heed of consultation responses that charging interest would unduly penalise small unions, so we decided not to charge interest for the late payment of penalties.

The Trade Union (Levy Payable to the Certification Officer) Regulations 2022 provide for a levy on unions and employers’ associations to fund the certification officer’s work. It is no longer acceptable for the taxpayer to fund the regulation of these organisations. As my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton said, a levy is one of the ways used to fund such regulators. The regulations establish a framework for the levy that is equitable, affordable, predictable and simple.

First, the time that the certification officer spends on each of the different categories of regulated organisations, which are non-federated trade unions, federated trade unions, non-federated employers’ associations and federated employers’ associations—

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens
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We know from the Trade Union Bill Committee that the net cost of the certification officer’s work was about £500,000. Can the Minister tell us what it is today?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will go through the structure in a little more detail shortly.

To make the levy equitable, the certification officer will be able to broadly apportion the levy between the different types of organisations according to how much time she spends on them.

Secondly, I know that many hon. Members and unions are concerned about the affordability of the levy. That is why the certification officer must exempt lower-income organisations from the levy entirely. No organisation will pay more than 2.5% of its annual income, as set out in its annual return to the certification officer.

Thirdly, it is important that a levy is predictable, so the Government will continue to fund the cost of any internal inspectors that the certification officer hires, as the use and cost of those can vary significantly. That was discussed during consideration of the Trade Union Act 2016. For the same reason, the Government will also fund the cost of any external legal advice that the certification officer may seek. That was not identified during consideration of the Act, but the Government believe that that approach will allow for a fairer levy.

Finally, the Government have taken steps to ensure that the levy is simple and transparent. The certification officer will need to aim to ensure that income from the levy matches expenditure over a three-year period, as well as explain how she calculated the amount of levy each organisation is charged. A number of the certification officer’s existing fees will be abolished and subsumed into the levy. That will be the subject of separate regulations, which will be made under the negative procedure, and we intend them to come into force at the same time as the levy.

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Craig Mackinlay Portrait Craig Mackinlay (South Thanet) (Con)
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I declare that I am a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales. That body does similar things to those that a union might do: it represents its members, makes representations to Government and ensures that the regulated activities that we undertake as members are properly monitored and controlled. There has never been any issue that the Government should somehow pick up the bill for those things—

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens
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The taxpayer.

Craig Mackinlay Portrait Craig Mackinlay
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Or the taxpayer, absolutely. So I am quite surprised that there is huffing and puffing over this. The Minister has made it clear that 2.5% is the maximum. Has he calculated whether, if that 2.5% maximum levy, which I doubt will apply in many cases, were applied across the income of all the trade unions that are registered, it would cover the true cost of the certification officer’s work, or would there still be a shortfall that taxpayers were expected to make up?

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Imran Hussain Portrait Imran Hussain
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I first declare an interest as a proud member of Unite the union, Unison and GMB.

For well over 100 years since the founding of modern organised labour, trade unions have been at the forefront of improving the pay, terms and working conditions of ordinary people across our country. It is because of the struggle of trade unions, even in the face of opposition, obstruction and oppression at the hands of big business and Governments, that working people today have statutory sick pay, which means they are not left completely out of pocket when illness strikes, a minimum wage, which helps to provide a basic floor against poverty, and high safety standards, which ensure that dangerous work places are no longer the death traps they once were.

Yet despite the immense improvements that they have made for working people over the past century, our trade unions are as important today as they have ever been. Working people are still exploited by unscrupulous employers and our trade unions still provide the only real bulwark against even greater exploitation. That has been made all too clear over the last two years of the coronavirus pandemic, with bad bosses, for example, using the dishonest tactics of fire and rehire to take advantage of the workforce.

It seems, however, that the Government do not recognise the value and importance of our trade unions.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens
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Is the shadow Minister not as curious as I am that, four years since the Government started a consultation and after four years of promises of an employment Bill, there is no employment Bill, but there is now this levy being imposed on trade unions? Does that not say all about how this Government view workers’ rights in this country?

Imran Hussain Portrait Imran Hussain
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right and adds to the point that I was beginning to make. It is clear that the Government do not recognise or value the importance of our trade unions. Instead, as we see with the measures before us today, they choose to attack rather than support those who are fighting for working people.

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Imran Hussain Portrait Imran Hussain
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The hon. Gentleman is somebody who I have time for and who normally makes some very good points. However, pay structures within organisations are pay structures within organisations—again, that issue is not relevant here. I take the point; he wants to make a political point. Again, I do not see the relevance of that issue in this debate.

The second statutory instrument deals with the financial penalties that the certification officer can impose. As the Minister pointed out, these can range up to £20,000 for a level 1 breach and closely resemble fines imposed in a criminal setting. However, the burden of proof is much lower, which means that the certification officer, in a politically motivated complaint, can impose a huge fine with a much lower evidential threshold. As I have pointed out, trade unions have high levels of compliance, with just one complaint for every 200,000 union members. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East pointed out earlier, the question is: what is the need for greater financial penalties when there has been no need for them in years gone by? This is a deliberate attempt by the Government to squeeze every last penny that they can from our trade unions, preventing them from putting funds forward, representing their members and fighting for working people. That is another reason why these statutory instruments must be voted down today.

The Minister also referred to the expansion of the certification officer’s investigatory powers—although that is not included in these SIs, Mr Davies, I do not think we can have this debate without discussing it. This expansion, giving the certification officer new and wide-ranging powers, will allow for the initiation of investigations against a trade union even if there are no complaints from within the union itself, allowing anti-union organisations to submit vexatious and politically motivated complaints against trade unions. Even if no such complaint is upheld, the damage to the trade union will already have been done, with valuable time, money and resources being spent on fighting vexatious complaints rather than unscrupulous employers.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens
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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, because he is emphasising the point that was made repeatedly in the Trade Union Public Bill Committee, namely that this process could include far-right organisations attacking trade unions for their fine anti-racism campaigning work. Does he believe, as I do, that if the Government are consistent, the people who make these sorts of vexatious and malicious complaints should have a levy and a fine imposed on them if they make these sorts of complaints against trade unions?

Imran Hussain Portrait Imran Hussain
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman, and I hope that Government Members also agree. We believe this measure is politically motivated, but even if they do not, surely they would accept that it widens the scope and allows for far-right organisations to make malicious or vexatious claims, which at the very least will have to be investigated, and somebody will have to pay for that.

That is the issue at the heart of this debate. This legislation is not well thought out, as the hon. Member for Glasgow South West has said. We maintain, of course, that it is politically motivated. I ask hon. Members to think about that and I particularly ask those who are members of trade unions to accept that point at least. This ministerial direction, which has huge implications, has also had a concerning lack of scrutiny, as it will never receive a proper debate in Parliament or a vote involving all Members.

That takes me to the lack of scrutiny that these measures as a whole have had. Rather than holding a debate on the Floor of the House, the Government have chosen to tuck these SIs away and try to pass them in Committee, which begs the question: why the avoidance of scrutiny? Why the avoidance of debate? The reality remains that the Government know that this is anti-union, anti-workers and anti-rights legislation. They want it passed in Committee rather than exposed in the full House.

Having looked at the clock, I will bring my remarks to a conclusion. Again, I say in the most respectful manner to the Minister—I do not envy him his job; he often gets rolled out in some of the most difficult to defend places—that I hope he answers some of the questions that have been raised by Opposition Members. Thus far, he has not answered any of them; he has said that he will deal with them in his concluding remarks. I ask him to address the serious concerns that have been raised by Opposition Members; set out why he believes that these regulations, which so clearly impede the ability of trade unions to represent working people, should be introduced, especially at a time of great economic uncertainty when working people are facing one of the greatest assaults on their rights in the workplace; and announce when he will fulfil the promise to give trade unions the power to hold ballots electronically by delivering the pilots that were announced half a decade ago.

When trade unions are empowered, working people are empowered, wages rise, conditions improve and productivity soars, so if the Government have any intention of fulfilling the promises they have made to working people, they will pull these regulations and repeal the Trade Union Act 2016. The Labour party has a proud history of standing up on the side of working people and those across the country who fight to protect them and their rights, and we will never shirk those responsibilities. We will therefore be voting against these regulations today.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens
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It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Davies, and I wish everybody a happy Burns day—the day of our national bard. As you know, Mr Davies, 90% of the world claims Scottish heritage; the other 10% are not trying hard enough. In discussing this legislation, I was reminded of the national bard’s poem “Address To The Toothache”. What I have heard so far from the Government—their excuses for trying to force through this levy—reminds me very much of that poem.

I am proud to declare my membership of Unison’s Glasgow City branch, my role as chair of the Public and Commercial Services Union’s group in this place, and my role as a trade union activist for 25 years before I came to this place. I am a proud trade unionist, and I always will be. I am proud of the work that trade unions have done across these islands.

As someone who sat on the Trade Union Bill Committee, I think it is important to give some context for some of the difficulties that the Government have found themselves in over the past four or five years, and that they still find themselves in. They are attempting today to impose fees on trade unions—a tax on trade unions, as was mentioned earlier—for complaints that could be made against them. At the same time, the Government tried to stop trade unions paying employers to take their subscriptions off under the check-off regulations. The Government ended up having to abandon that part of the Bill. They also had to abandon the holding of lists of those who were picketing an industrial action, because of concerns over breaches of human rights. At the time, they voted down attempts to introduce e-balloting for industrial action and internal trade union elections while they were using e-ballots to decide their own parliamentary candidates and their candidates for London Mayor—you really couldn’t make it up.

In the four years that we have been waiting while the Government have held the consultation—as I mentioned earlier, there have been two general elections since the consultation started—they have been promising an employment Bill, but where is it? We now know: when the Government were asked at the last Queen’s Speech where the employment Bill was, they admitted publicly that it was not a priority. Dealing with zero-hours contracts, short-term shift change notices and all the other abuses that we see in the workplace is not a priority, but imposing a tax on trade unions somehow is.

I have real concerns. I deliberately asked who makes a complaint for the certification officer to look at. In my view, it should be a trade union member. Trade union members have the right to go to the certification officer and raise a concern that they have with trade unions. However, I am sure the Minister will confirm that under the current Trade Union Act, with the new powers that have been issued to the certification officer, any organisation or member of the public can make a complaint against trade unions.

As the right hon. Member for Warley and the shadow Minister mentioned, that can include far-right organisations. Far-right organisations can make complaints against trade unions for their spending on anti-racism work. The trade unions have been one of the drivers in the fight against racism in this country, and I am proud of that, but we can have far-right organisations making vexatious complaints about funding for organisations such as Show Racism the Red Card—I declare that I chair the showing racism the red card all-party parliamentary group—and Hope not Hate.

Of course, we might have other organisations, such as that friend of the Conservative party, the TaxPayers Alliance, making vexatious complaints. It is somewhat ironic that the biggest cost to the taxpayer has been vexatious freedom of information requests, on occasion, from the TaxPayers Alliance, which could make vexatious and malicious complaints against trade unions.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I think the hon. Gentleman has slightly misnamed that organisation. Given that it will not reveal the sources of its income and that there are credible reports that many of them live abroad, should it not be the “TaxAvoiders Alliance”?

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens
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I stand corrected. The right hon. Member is absolutely correct: it should indeed be the TaxAvoiders Alliance. I can assure him that if we continue to refer to that organisation in this debate, I will use the appropriate term.

There are real issues with who should be allowed to make a complaint. My view has always been that I do not have a problem with a trade union member going to the certification officer with their concerns, but I will have a real concern if members of the public are allowed to do so.

We keep being told the cost to the taxpayer, but it is not a lot of money—£500,000 or £700,000. I have in front of me the transcript of the debate on the certification officer in the Trade Union Bill Committee. It is a good eight pages of reading, and it is very enlightening as to the arguments against fees and against increasing the powers of the certification officer, and the Government’s excuses about that. However, I have real concerns that what is at the heart of this legislation is an attempt to curb the work of trade unions in this country by imposing a financial cost on them.

Mark Garnier Portrait Mark Garnier
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens
- Hansard - -

I will just finish this point and then I will give way.

The trade unions have worked to ensure that people are not on exploitative zero-hours contracts, and they have fought against short-term shift change notices. By the way, all those things are covered by my Workers (Rights and Definition) Bill, which the Government could pick up at any time.

Mark Garnier Portrait Mark Garnier
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I ask this question out of curiosity rather than to try to make a political point. We hear that the certification officer is costing around £750,000 a year, which could increase. What would that be as a proportion of the total revenue generated by the trade unions through membership fees? I am afraid that I just do not know the total collective income of the unions. It would be helpful if we knew what proportion that £750,000 is of total union revenue across the United Kingdom.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens
- Hansard - -

I do not know what the trade union revenue is in the whole of the United Kingdom, but I can tell the hon. Member that I was the treasurer of the Glasgow City branch of Unison and its revenue certainly was not anywhere near £700,000. If he wants to see the accounts of that organisation, I am sure I can provide him with a copy.

Imran Hussain Portrait Imran Hussain
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman is making an excellent speech. The issue here is not the revenue that trade unions generate; it is that any money taken away from the trade unions is money taken away from helping working people—helping to improve their terms and conditions and fighting for their rights.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens
- Hansard - -

I agree with the shadow Minister. He will recall, because he referred to it, the attempt to impose fees at employment tribunals, which the Government ended up losing. That was also costing trade unions money, because they were having to pay to defend their members at employment tribunals.

Returning to the legislation at hand, I have a real concern that it curbs the basic work of trade unions in fighting for dignity in the workplace. Over the last two years, during the pandemic, we have seen a real exploitation of workers. That shows why we need an employment Bill, which we have been promised for the last four years. That is why the priorities are all wrong.

In addition, the Government have international obligations here, and they are not following them by taking this route. Thompsons Solicitors is clear that the International Labour Organisation conventions and article 6 are being breached. Extending the certification officer’s investigatory powers and imposing a levy would effectively make the certification officer the complainant, the investigator, the prosecutor and the judge. That is in contravention of article 6 of the European convention on human rights and in breach of International Labour Organisation standards. That is a very real concern. Once again, the Government find themselves outliers when it comes to international labour standards.

The Minister will try to present the regulations as standard practice, but I believe that they are ideological, they are an attack on the trade union movement and they are in breach of international obligations. Once again, the Government find themselves with their priorities all wrong. Will the Minister indicate whether he will accept my Workers (Rights and Definition) Bill, which would go a long way towards ensuring fairness in the workplace, or can he tell us when the Government will finally introduce their employment Bill to deal with so many issues affecting workers in this country?

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John Spellar Portrait John Spellar
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Of course, it is symbolic for the Tory party, but it is also part of a pattern. The union learning fund, which was mentioned previously; industrial tribunal fees; access to industrial tribunals—it is all part of a drip, drip, drip, wearing away at the ability of trade unions to represent their members.

I am slightly surprised that the Minister prays in aid a time of austerity. Did he not see what happened yesterday in the House of Lords, when his noble Friend Lord Agnew resigned from the Government, saying that they have paid out nearly a billion pounds to banks claiming the state guarantee, and that they estimate that about 20% of that was fraud? Lord Agnew went on to say:

“Total fraud loss across government is estimated at £29 billion”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 24 January 2022; Vol. 818, c. 21.]

Rather than address that, they want to have another go at the trade unions.

In the same way, the Home Office was found in court to have broken the law by charging excessive amounts—grossly overcharging—to register children as British citizens, yet the Government still have not responded to that by introducing legislation. Again, we ask why not.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens
- Hansard - -

The right hon. Gentleman is making an excellent contribution. Does he see the irony in these regulations coming from a Government who preach deregulation in almost all sectors of the economy except for trade unions, which are subjected to massive regulation? It goes from laissez-faire to Stalinism with nothing whatsoever in between, does it not?

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Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will not give way, because unfortunately I now have so little time to respond that I need to plough on.

In terms of vexatious complaints by third parties, third parties will not have a right to make a formal complaint or have them investigated, but clearly the certification officer may consider their representations in deciding whether to launch an investigation. The certification officer, unlike with a complaint from a union member, will not be required to take action in response to a third party’s concern. She will have the decision to do so. And the certification officer can conclude that she will take no action. That is why I do not believe that the arguments about the far right are relevant in this case.

In terms of the net budget that we have heard about, the £700,000, and where that money is coming from, that is the net budget, as I said. That is the money given by ACAS after accommodation, IT and a lot of the other fixed costs. It does equate currently to about £1 million; £1.15 million—that is the estimate according to our figures—is given to the certification officer, based on those current accounts. The certification officer can only charge for expenses incurred over a three-year period. Clearly, there are tests that are required, as it is a public authority, to ensure that she has sight of them at a reasonable level.

The right hon. Member for Warley talked about how the levy is calculated and who will be paying. The total levy, which is clearly needed to pay the expenses for the financial year, will be worked out by the certification officer. Approximately 50% of her time and functions relate to all organisations. That is covered in the basic levy. Small organisations will be exempt when the basic levy exceeds 2.5% of their annual income. The remaining 50% of the certification officer’s time is taken up by regulations that apply to non-federated trade unions. That will be divided out in the additional levy. The total shortfall in the amount collected by the basic and additional levies due to organisations that are exempt from paying will be divided equally among all higher-income organisations. That will support the enhanced levy. There are 21 employer associations and 40 non-federated trade unions that will be totally exempt from the levy, and 59 non-federated unions will be at that top level of the basic, categorised additional and enhanced levy.

We have talked about whether this is compliant with the European convention on human rights. Trade unions, as I have said, play an important role in our workplace and society. It is perfectly reasonable for the Government to legislate to ensure that they act democratically, transparently and within the rule of law. We are satisfied that regulation by the state, as set out in the Trade Union Act 2016, is entirely consistent with the ILO conventions and the European convention on human rights. This is not an attack on trade unions. This is not politicisation. No aspect of the decisions of the certification officer is subject to any pressure from a Minister of the Crown, and that will not change at all. This measure is simply modernising it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest asked what happens to the fines. They go into the Treasury’s consolidated fund. They do not subsidise the certification officer, and neither will she be able to profit from them. That will keep things on a level playing field and she will fine people based only on what is in front of her. This provides no temptation, albeit as a public authority she should clearly not be going down that road anyway.

It has been said that a higher evidential standard should be applied to the higher fines. Clearly, the burden of proof standards are lower than those applied in criminal investigations, but this is a civil action, so they equate and are comparable to other civil payments.

Accusations have been made comparing the £1.15 million to the fraud that was talked about in the other place yesterday. No fraudulent claims for bounce back loans have been written off. In fact, nearly £2.2 billion-worth of potentially fraudulent claims for bounce back loans were stopped and recovered just last year.

We have also talked about valuing workers organising. Clearly, we on the Government side value workers organising. Indeed, we valued that in December 2019, especially when workers in Stoke organised to vote in droves for two fine Conservative Members.

Employment and Trade Union Rights (Dismissal and Re-engagement) Bill

Chris Stephens Excerpts
Friday 22nd October 2021

(7 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Gavin Newlands Portrait Gavin Newlands
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I fundamentally disagree—[Interruption.] It would be useful if the hon. Lady would allow me to finish my response to her intervention.

In fairness, most of the speech made by the hon. Member for Newbury was not setting out that view; that is certainly not how it came across at the time. I appreciate that that is the conclusion that the hon. Member for Newbury reached, but she could have worked with the hon. Member for Brent North and others across the House to help with legislation that would appease all of us, and the workers of this country.

Ministers, however, have done what they have done every time fire and rehire has been raised with them: they have clucked sympathetically, wrung their hands at how horribly ungentlemanly these companies are being, and said how much they sympathise with the workers who are being blackmailed, and have then proceeded to do absolutely nothing to address this in legislation. Every Minister from the Prime Minister down seems to have forgotten that it is the Government who speak from the Dispatch Box, and that they have the power to act to protect workers rather than murmuring sympathy for the benefit of Hansard and no one else.

The Government should understand that this issue is not going to go away. It will certainly not go away as a result of guidelines. My Bills failed to make progress; the hon. Member for Brent North is having another crack. Until and unless the law is changed to protect workers, this issue will come back to haunt the Government time and again.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

Was my hon. Friend as surprised as I was that the Government did not propose an employment Bill in the Queen’s Speech, telling the media that it was not a priority at that time?

Gavin Newlands Portrait Gavin Newlands
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The short answer to my hon. Friend is no, I was not surprised that the Government failed to propose such a Bill. That was to be expected from the Conservatives.

Unless and until the Government act to close this loophole and ensure that workers are protected from the likes of Tesco, British Gas and British Airways and their bully-boy tactics, the need to change the law will continue to be raised, at least from these Benches. The case of British Airways is a perfect demonstration of how UK workers’ rights are light years behind those in much of Europe. Its parent company, IAG, also owns Aer Lingus and Iberia. While BA was telling its UK staff to take cuts in pay and conditions last year, workers in Ireland and Spain were protected from the same tactics because their Governments over the years have ensured that employees are entitled to a level of protection in law from their bosses. Willie Walsh—who has already been mentioned today—and the IAG management knew that they could hit workers in the UK hardest and fastest, because this Government allow them to do so.

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Richard Fuller Portrait Richard Fuller (North East Bedfordshire) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands), who, through his commitment to his own Bill and through the amity he has shown to his colleague the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner), who is bringing forward similar legislation today, demonstrates that he has a keen commitment to dealing with this problem. Although, as I will outline, I have a different approach to how we should tackle it, I believe the principle is shared across the House.

It is a shame that the hon. Member for Brent North chose the time I stood up to walk out of the Chamber—I shall not take it personally, whether or not it is personal. I wanted to commend him for the way in which he presented his argument and case today. He has undoubtedly done a tremendous amount of research and gained tremendous understanding about this issue, and in taking so many interventions from Members on both sides of the House he demonstrated that he was prepared to debate, understand and move forward. I will return towards the end of my contribution to how we might continue the progress of this amity between the hon. Members for Paisley and Renfrewshire North and for Brent North and my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Laura Farris), who outlined a substantial alternative approach and a better one to achieve the goals that are shared across the House.

It was a shame, and perhaps a disappointment to the hon. Member for Brent North, that what was the oratory of Cicero from him descended into the mosh pit of Westminster debate with the contribution from the shadow spokesperson, the hon. Member for Bradford East (Imran Hussain). It was a metaphorical head in the hands moment for the hon. Member for Brent North, but he did endear himself to many on the Government side of the House with his contribution. He was at one moment in danger of talking out his own Bill. Ironically, the fact that, unusually, there was a statement today gave him some latitude to come to a close.

I wish to pick up on two points the hon. Gentleman made. First, he said that his Bill would make the UK the best place to work, but the UK is already the best place to work, in large part due to measures that this Government have undertaken, particularly in their commitment to the living wage and in continuing the progress on reducing the gender pay gap by ensuring that there is enhanced reporting by boards about the treatment of employees. This Government are continuing to make the UK the best place to work, not least—I say this as much of this debate relates to actions that took place during the covid period—with the exceptional response of the Chancellor to support businesses through the furlough programme and other UK Treasury measures. So I gently make that point to the hon. Gentleman.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens
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The hon. Gentleman and I share a passion for American football, but may I ask him why, if he believes the UK is the best place to work, the Government have not yet responded, formally, with legislation, to the Taylor report of four years ago on unscrupulous working practices in the UK?

Richard Fuller Portrait Richard Fuller
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

That is an interesting point. Unfortunately, I am not a member of the Government. The hon. Gentleman probably wants to direct that question to those on the Front Bench. I am familiar with Matthew Taylor, who, apparently, is back in the news this week with a different hat on telling the Government what they should or should not do, and I am not sure whether I agree with him in that particular case.

The hon. Member for Brent North also said that the Bill was about better regulation, and that perhaps gets to the nub of the difference of approach between those on the Labour Benches and those on the Government side of the House. Our approach is not about making better regulation, but about making better business. We understand that in doing that, Government and others can take a variety of tactics and approaches to achieve a shared objective.

Let me point Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, because I want to refer to a couple of pertinent examples from last year. This debate largely relates to an exceptional time and an exceptional practice, both of which remain exceptionally rare. For those who have quoted many statistics, let me just add a comment from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. It said that the

“use of ‘fire and rehire’ remains low”

despite the “upheaval of Covid.” It was covid that created those exceptional issues for people. The part that was exceptional and that differentiated companies’ response from the one during a different time of distress, the 2007-08 financial crisis, was that the Government themselves had stopped commerce. This was not just a matter of overcoming financial considerations—the shortage of access to capital to support a business or a downturn in demand in the economy—but a direct intervention of the state, both in this country and in Europe and across the world, which said, “No, you cannot do business”. When we frame legislation, it is important to understand that, if the context for that legislation is primarily driven by such an exceptional event, we are wise to be very cautious indeed about what we put on the statute book for fear that it will have uses in less exceptional times that perhaps we cannot foresee today. That is one of the primary reasons why I will not be supporting the Bill in a vote later today.

Let me reflect on what was on the minds of companies at that time. My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) talked a little bit about his broad experience, but I want to talk specifically about what was going on this time last year. Before coming to Parliament, my career was substantially in venture businesses. The businesses to which I still have relations would be covered by the provisions of this Bill. They are largely in the categories of businesses larger than microbusinesses, but they are all businesses for which the availability of cash and the support of capital, both shareholder capital and of loans, are always treated very seriously and quite tightly to achieve growth.

Growth is those companies’ main objective. They do not have a cushion of resources to fall back on, so when the exceptional events of covid and the closedown of the economy occurred, the amount of pressure on their boards and senior executives was beyond exceptional. There was the responsibility to understand where on earth money was going to come from to support ongoing operations. There was their duty of responsibility to make sure that they were not trading fraudulently because of insolvency concerns about the business. There was a desperate search for loans, and an approach to shareholders to gain additional liquidity through additional investment. Many senior executives voluntarily cut—and in at least one instance eliminated—their pay during that period. There was a tremendous focus on employees, and primarily on employee safety.

Let us all remember that the experience of covid was not a shared common experience for everyone in the country. There are those of us in the country, such as Members of Parliament, who were facilitated to continue to take 100% of our pay, to have 100% certainty of employment, and to have the opportunity to work from the safety of our own home, but there were many others who were facing: cuts in their pay, a 100% certainty of the loss of their business and the requirement that, if they wanted to stay in employment, they had to go to work. For any Member to say that senior executives and company boards were not intently focused on ensuring the safety and security of their employees does a gross disservice to what companies were going through.

Boards and senior executives were substantially challenged to make changes. In the process of looking at all the alternatives that could maintain the survival of the company, they would have due regard to the law at the time. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury stated, one of the issues with the existing legislation is that companies will defer putting all their cards on the table, including the option of fire and rehire if that is one of their considerations. Perhaps we can make some change in that regard that would be helpful for companies and employees.

Companies would also have due regard to maintaining the solvency of their business. To do that, consideration has to be given to what a company will do to manage its costs in the year ahead. If it is looking to access capital, loans or additional equity, questions will be asked by the banks, creditors and shareholders about what it is doing to manage their future costs. It would be a deterrent to gaining the investment and support needed to maintain the business if it was unable to outline what angles and opportunities it was investigating to reduce costs.

For many of the executives in business with which I have worked, consideration of employees is front and centre in their mind. It is exceptionally difficult for them to balance in their own heads the idea that, “I know I need this additional capital,” with, “I want to make sure I can protect the employees and the skills that I have within my workforce.” In my experience, most people involved in business who are entrusted with authority would undertake measures covered by the Bill only as a last resort, if ever.

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Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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The hon. Member talks about being unambiguous and says that we are refusing to legislate. As we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller), legislation that comes from the fact that we are coming to the end of a pandemic is not the right way to reflect the concerns about the long-term issue of workers’ rights. We need to make sure that we can address the situation. We will legislate if we need to, but as a last resort, not a first resort. A fundamental difference between Government and Opposition Members is that Opposition Members immediately look for primary legislation rather than other ways of incentivising employers to do the right thing, with the carrot of incentivisation and the stick of making sure that there are financial penalties and clear downsides for businesses that do the wrong thing.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens
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The Minister says that the Government’s position is that they will legislate when they need to. We waited four years for the Taylor report, and there is still no legislation. When do the Government intend to introduce any kind of employment Bill to deal with unfair practices in the workplace?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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We published the “Good work plan”, in which we accepted many of Matthew Taylor’s reviews, but we did not have to wait for an employment Bill to begin progress on this. We have closed the loophole which saw agency workers employed on cheaper rates than permanent workers, we have quadrupled the maximum fine for employers who treat their workers badly, and we have given all workers the right to receive a statement of their rights from day one. We do not have to always reach for primary legislation first when we can be doing other things to make sure that we can stand up for workers across the UK.

Oral Answers to Questions

Chris Stephens Excerpts
Tuesday 23rd March 2021

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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As I said in response to an earlier question, we are going to introduce an employment Bill not in this Session but when parliamentary time allows. We are also of course considering the effects of this extremely important Supreme Court ruling and we are considering options to improve clarity around employment status.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
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What recent discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on increasing support to businesses affected by the covid-19 outbreak.

Amanda Solloway Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Amanda Solloway)
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My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has extended our support measures in the most recent Budget to provide an additional £65 billion. With the new restart grant scheme, the Government will have allocated a total of £25 billion in business grants. Our restart grants will provide up to £6,000 for non-essential retail businesses and up to £18,000 for hospitality, personal care and gyms. This year and next year, we are spending £407 billion to support people and businesses throughout the pandemic.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens [V]
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We know that when big business is set to fail former Prime Minister David Cameron uses his hotline to the Chancellor. With 3 million still excluded and the £20 universal credit uplift, furlough and self-employed support ending in September, can the Minister tell us whether any former Tory leaders have contacted the Department on their behalf, or is it sink or swim for the ordinary folk?

Amanda Solloway Portrait Amanda Solloway
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As I have indicated before, this Government have done unprecedented work and one of the things we do all the time is speak to stakeholders and all the people we need to. Think about the money we have invested: £407 billion to support people and businesses throughout the pandemic.

Budget Resolutions and Economic Situation

Chris Stephens Excerpts
Tuesday 9th March 2021

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP) [V]
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The key challenge the Government have is to use public money to help rebuild the economy. I want to use my time to discuss public sector pay, and in particular pay for civil servants.

The civil service has risen to the challenge, whether that is employees in Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs who have processed furlough payments to ensure that money goes into workers’ pockets, or those in the Department for Work and Pensions who have processed millions of universal credit claims to ensure that the vulnerable and those who need help the most get it. It is frankly baffling, therefore, that the Chancellor intends a pay freeze in this Budget. This means that the Cabinet Office advice is for a 0% pay remit that will contain for the first time ever no additional funding to support the lowest paid. The House should be aware that 19 MPs from six political parties, representing constituencies across the whole United Kingdom, wrote to the Chancellor twice asking him to reconsider. It beggars belief that he has not responded to either of those letters.

Yesterday was International Women’s Day—a chance to highlight the lack of pay coherence across the civil service, which creates huge inequality. The average pay for women in the civil service in 2020 was £28,650, whereas for men it was £30,880. That gap increases with part-time work, with women working part time at higher rates in all age bands. Delegated bargaining has been a disaster. It is wholly unacceptable that workers doing the same job at broadly the same grade suffer huge disparities in pay. The delegated system is costly, time-consuming and inefficient. It is simply unacceptable that there are 200 separate pay negotiations across UK Government Departments; that is a ludicrous situation.

There is a clear economic illiteracy to a public sector pay freeze. Public sector workers and civil servants spend their wages in the private sector economy. They do not hide their wages in a shoebox under the bed. They spend that money in the retail sector, the hospitality sector and the like. Civil servants should be given a proper reward, and we should end the pay disparities and reduce the number of pay negotiations. Public sector workers deserve better than this Budget from this Chancellor.

Rolls-Royce (Redundancies)

Chris Stephens Excerpts
Wednesday 10th June 2020

(1 year, 11 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Gavin Newlands Portrait Gavin Newlands
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those words; I am sure the Minister will address them in his speech.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
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I thank my hon. Friend and constituency neighbour the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) for his tenacity, and not just on Rolls-Royce. With Glasgow airport in his constituency, he has his work cut out for him, but he has certainly risen to the occasion. He will be aware that constituents of mine are also employed in Rolls-Royce in Inchinnan. One of the key concerns I hear from them is that the Rolls-Royce facility is part of the planned National Manufacturing Institute Scotland, which is to develop skills and engineering in the west of Scotland. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important that the UK Government step in so that we can continue to use the Rolls-Royce facility to develop highly skilled engineering jobs in the west of Scotland?

Gavin Newlands Portrait Gavin Newlands
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Yes, I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. I will touch on NMIS later in my speech, so I do not want to give too much away now.

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Gavin Newlands Portrait Gavin Newlands
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The hon. Gentleman makes a very strong point about the misuse, almost, of the furlough scheme. I know that this has drawn some criticism from Ministers, but if only they had listened at the start, because when they introduced the scheme, we all said that there are no protections in it for redundancies. Other countries have put in protections to stop this sort of behaviour, but the UK Government did not listen, and here we are with regard to British Airways.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens
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I was pleased to co-sponsor my hon. Friend’s Bill yesterday. There is a wider point about redundancy, particularly as it relates to Rolls-Royce. We are seeing, far too many times, firms choosing to lay off UK workers because it is easier to lay off a worker, in terms of redundancy, in the UK than in other countries. For example, Germany has 120 days’ notice and there has to be a far tougher process. As we come out of lockdown, should not the UK Government be looking at and discussing the whole issue of redundancy when it comes to their legislation going forward?

Gavin Newlands Portrait Gavin Newlands
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I concur with my hon. Friend. In fact, executives formally allude to the fact that there are different rules and regulations in other countries, and the UK workforce will bear the brunt.

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Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, and I hope that, as I make some headway, he will see some of the action that we have already taken to help the industry. I have held several meetings with groups of senior industrialists from the sector during this period. I am pleased that aerospace companies have been able to draw on the Government’s extensive financial support package, which includes £330 billion of loans and guarantees, the tax deferrals and the furlough scheme for workers. Rolls-Royce has benefited from £300 million of support from the Bank of England’s Covid Corporate Financing Facility. My Department is working with an industry-led UK aerospace supply chain taskforce, set up by the ADS Group, the national aerospace trade association, in consultation with Airbus. The taskforce, led by Tom Williams, the former chief operating officer of Airbus, is looking at supply chain vulnerabilities within the industry and at potential remedies, including around financing. That will ensure that ongoing covid-19 Government support is co-ordinated with the actions of business to support supply chains and employment.

We are continuing to back the sector strongly. Our Aerospace Technology Institute, the ATI programme, is providing £1.95 billion of Government funding for aerospace R&D by 2026, which will be matched by industry. The programme has been a game-changer for the UK aerospace industry since 2013, providing real long-term certainty about the availability and the level of public funding, giving industry the confidence it needs to invest. From Broughton in north Wales, to Derby in the east midlands and Inchinnan in the constituency of the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North, we are at the cutting edge of global aerospace innovation. We manufacture the most advanced parts of an aircraft here in the UK, and we want to maintain our position for many years to come. Indeed, creating this positive business environment helped to give Rolls-Royce the confidence to build its new large engine testbed in Derby, the largest indoor facility of its type in the world.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens
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Will the Minister give way?

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
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If the hon. Gentleman will give me a couple more minutes, I will come back to him.

The facility is capable of testing large engines and, crucially, the next generation of UltraFan engines. Looking to the future, we recently opened the £300 million feature flight challenge, which will award £125 million of grants to small and medium-sized companies investing in future aviation systems and vehicle technologies, which will enable new classes of electric or autonomous air vehicles. We are supporting SMEs through innovation and productivity programmes, and we are looking at what scope there is to refocus some of these to assist with the short-term needs of businesses. That is what we are doing currently with those SMEs. We are making sure that Rolls-Royce and others can sustain investment in cutting-edge technology so that they are competitive when the markets actually recover. Our joint research projects funded through our ATI programme, which I referred to earlier, are supporting the development of the next generation of cleaner and quieter aero engines.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens
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I thank the Minister for his generosity in giving way. He rightly talks about the support the Government have given to industry and the aviation industry, but with that we expect some corporate social responsibility. Will he outline what that means? Does it mean the Government are going to have to and will review redundancy legislation so that companies that are not engaging in CSR and are getting taxpayers’ money are told by the Government, “Sorry, you can’t make people redundant.”?

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
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I hope to address the hon. Gentleman’s point in my concluding remarks. Suffice it to say that the most valuable resource in any organisation—I have spent more years being in business than I have as a Member of Parliament and a Minister—is the human resource and that any leader, and chief executive, would be minded to think long and hard before behaving in a way that makes their people, the family who make up their business, feel as though their leadership are not listening to them.

In addition, we are supporting investments in new green aviation technologies, which will not only help us to deliver on our net zero commitments, but keep the UK at the forefront of the aerospace sector globally. We continue to back Rolls-Royce’s export campaigns, including, where needed, through UK Export Finance. The recovery of the aerospace sector is, of course, dependent on the wider aviation sector, as has been mentioned in this debate, and on getting aircraft flying again. The Government are committed to getting this crucial sector restarted. Led by my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary, we are in active discussions with industry through an expert steering group, as part of an international aviation taskforce. The group has been instrumental in the development of the health measures guidance for passengers and operators, which my Department for Transport colleagues will be publishing as soon as possible. The border health measures that we spoke about earlier will be subject to review—currently this will be every three weeks—to ensure that they are in line with the latest scientific evidence, and remain effective and necessary. We are examining the possibility of alternatives to the international passenger self-isolation rules, including air bridges, where countries have managed the virus and we are confident in their measures for departing passengers—I spoke about that earlier. We will continue to work with industry on this concept and, ultimately, we will be guided by the science. I am sure the House will appreciate that the health of the public will always come first.

Leaving the EU: Workers’ Rights

Chris Stephens Excerpts
Tuesday 29th October 2019

(2 years, 6 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Andrea Leadsom Portrait Andrea Leadsom
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My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is in his place and will have heard the hon. Lady’s comments. The parties in Northern Ireland have had ample opportunity to come together, and the Prime Minister, like his predecessor, has sought at every turn to find an accommodation so that all parties in Northern Ireland can restore the Assembly. It is a top priority for this Parliament, but so too is delivering on the will of the people in the 2016 referendum. It is not acceptable that we have yet to deliver on the decision by the United Kingdom to leave the EU. We must do so.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
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A speech the Secretary of State gave in 2012 contains this passage about small business:

“I envisage there being absolutely no regulation whatsoever—no minimum wage, no maternity or paternity rights, no unfair dismissal rights, no pension rights”—[Official Report, 10 May 2012; Vol. 545, c. 209.]

It is no wonder we are suspicious on these Benches. If the European Commission provides protections on zero-hours contracts, childcare provision and leave that are stronger than those in the Taylor report, will the UK Government match them or deviate?

Andrea Leadsom Portrait Andrea Leadsom
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In each of the areas the hon. Gentleman has mentioned, the UK already provides enhanced rights to workers. The Government are proud of their record on improving workers’ rights and will seek to continue that record as we leave the EU.

Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme

Chris Stephens Excerpts
Monday 10th June 2019

(2 years, 11 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
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The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful speech. He has given some alarming figures. Does he agree that this is not just about security in retirement, but about dignity, and that the Government are not giving dignity to pensioners in the mining industry and their widows?

Grahame Morris Portrait Grahame Morris
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Absolutely. We owe a debt to the miners, and the Government have an obligation to them— a moral obligation. They obviously have the financial resources to discharge that debt, and to give retired miners and their widows and dependants some dignity.