Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Mims Davies and Seema Malhotra
Monday 8th March 2021

(7 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Work and Pensions
Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I can absolutely assure the hon. Gentleman that we work with the local recovery plans and that we have a plan for jobs in Cambridge and beyond, so there is positive news in his constituency. We are doing our sector-based work academy programmes in construction, warehousing and care. We are working with our new job finding support service with the Papworth Trust. We are engaging with local companies on kickstart—indeed, we are working with Addenbrooke’s and a bunch of other local companies—and we have recruited 50 new work coaches for the Cambridge jobcentre since March, with 18 more to come, making an extra 68 to help in his constituency with that local recovery plan.

Seema Malhotra Portrait Seema Malhotra (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op)
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In June, the Prime Minister promised an opportunity guarantee for every young person. With 800,000 young people now not in education, employment or training, and only 4,000 kickstart placements to date, the Minister recently told the Work and Pensions Committee, “Watch this space”, and that details on the guarantee would land at the Budget. If the Prime Minister announced it and she supports it, did the Chancellor not get the memo or has the Treasury once again blocked support where it is needed? Can the Government not get their act together on a jobs promise such as the one Labour has proposed so that young people out of work or training at six months get the opportunities that they need?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I know the hon. Lady is committed to opportunities for young people, as am I, and our plan for jobs has multiple interventions: the £2 billion kickstart scheme, job finding support, JETS—job entry targeted support—the 13,500 new work coaches, our £150 million boost to the flexible support fund, and restart coming this summer. I assure her that our focus on youth continues. In her constituency, 17 employers are engaging with kickstart for young people, with 77 vacancies available and 11 starts. Of course, 140,000 opportunities are coming through the system now and I continue to have this focus on youth employment, as she rightly points out that we should, and I will continue to work across Government to highlight that.

Draft Chemicals (Health and Safety) and Genetically Modified Organisms (Contained Use) (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020

Debate between Mims Davies and Seema Malhotra
Wednesday 9th December 2020

(10 months, 1 week ago)

General Committees

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Department for Work and Pensions
Mims Davies Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mims Davies)
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I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the draft Chemicals (Health and Safety) and Genetically Modified Organisms (Contained Use) (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie.

This draft statutory instrument was laid before Parliament on 15 October. Through this instrument, we are making the necessary arrangements to implement the terms of the withdrawal agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol in law for chemicals regulations. It will ensure that those regulations function effectively from the end of the transition period, and that the existing high standard of protection for human health and the environment will be maintained.

In preparation for our exit from the European Union, a statutory instrument was made last year to ensure that the regulatory framework for chemicals remains functional after exit and to provide certainty for businesses and the public. It achieved that by making technical amendments to the retained EU law, such as changing EU-specific references and transferring functions and powers currently held by the European Commission to the appropriate authorities in each of the UK’s constituent nations. Since the 2019 regulations were made, the withdrawal agreement, including the Northern Ireland protocol, has been agreed. The protocol requires that EU legislation will continue to apply in Northern Ireland after the end of the transition period. The existing EU exit legislation therefore needs to be amended to reflect the fact that retained EU law will be substantively applicable in Great Britain only. If approved, the draft regulations will make the necessary arrangements to three retained EU regulations, as well as EU-derived domestic legislation.

I appreciate that the technical and composite nature of the regulations makes this particularly complex, and therefore the decision to present the proposals as a single instrument was for the benefit of the House, to reduce pressure on parliamentary time and to ensure we are able to deliver an orderly transition. As this is such a technical instrument, I shall provide a concise summary of the regulations and the changes we are making for the members of the Committee.

On the three retained EU regulations to be amended, the first is the biocidal products regulation that governs the placing on the market and use of products that contain chemicals which protect humans, animals and materials or articles from harmful organisms such as pests or bacteria. This market covers a wide range of products such as wood preservatives, insecticides such as wasp spray or anti-fouling paints to remove barnacles from boats. Secondly, the classification, labelling and packaging of substances and mixtures regulation ensures that hazardous intrinsic properties of chemicals are properly identified and effectively communicated to those throughout the supply chain, including to the point of use. The current classification laws are sophisticated and incorporate a detailed technical system of classification criteria. The classification is partly done through standardised hazard pictograms and symbols and warning phrases associated with specific hazards such as explosivity, acute toxicity or carcinogenicity. Lastly, the export and import of hazardous chemicals regulations require the export of listed chemicals to be notified to the importing country. For some chemicals, the consent of the importing country must be obtained before export can proceed.

The instrument is making three main changes, which I shall summarise. First, we are updating some transitional provisions in the 2019 regulations so that they apply from the end of the transition period, when the retained law comes into force, rather than from exit day. It should be noted that although the instrument’s title references genetically modified organisms, the only amendments to the relevant legislation are to update two references to “exit day”.

Secondly, the instrument removes Northern Ireland from the scope of the 2019 regulations by omitting references to Northern Ireland and changing UK-specific references to “Great Britain”. The instrument also revokes changes made to domestic legislation in Northern Ireland in the 2019 regulations, which are no longer required due to the protocol.

Finally, the instrument legislates for the Government’s commitment on unfettered access for these chemical regulations as well as the need to ensure that the UK authorities have the appropriate information and regulatory safeguards in respect of chemicals placed on the market in Great Britain.

The Health and Safety Executive currently acts as a UK competent authority within the EU regimes for chemicals regulations. Under this instrument, it will become the GB regulatory authority. The Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland will be the regulatory authority with responsibility for Northern Ireland. We are working closely with Northern Irish colleagues to prepare for the end of the transition period and support them afterwards. Both organisations have demonstrated their resilience throughout the pandemic, and I am confident that they have the capacity to undertake any new responsibilities brought by EU exit.

This instrument was not subject to consultation as it does not alter existing policy. Published guidance has been followed, and in line with it a full impact assessment has not been concluded for the instrument as it does not meet the de minimis threshold. However, I assure Committee members that the changes brought by the instrument have been communicated through a series of stakeholder events throughout the autumn and guidance published on the HSE website in October.

Devolved Administrations have also been fully engaged in the development of the instrument and have provided consent for the elements that relate to them. We are also in the process of agreeing a provisional common framework for chemicals that aims to maintain existing standards and promote common approaches to chemicals policy in the future.

In conclusion, this instrument will provide important continuity and clarity to the chemical industry, ensuring that the legal requirements that apply in relation to chemicals regulations are clear, following the end of the transition period. I hope that colleagues of all parties will join me in supporting the draft regulations, and I commend them to the Committee.

Seema Malhotra Portrait Seema Malhotra (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Hosie.

I thank the Minister for her opening remarks. The regulations are needed to address deficiencies in retained EU law on chemicals and GMOs legislation arising from the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. The Minister has outlined the regulations, but I will cover them briefly in my remarks.

EU law has played a vital role in ensuring that the framework that regulates chemicals and GMOs operates coherently and effectively. That framework includes regulations such as the biocidal products regulation that the Minister mentioned; the classification, including of hazards, labelling and packaging, or CLP, regulations; the regulations concerning the export and import of hazardous chemicals; and the GMO regulations, which lay down measures for the contained use of genetically modified micro-organisms with a view to protecting human health and the environment. We support this instrument, which ensures that retained EU law relating to chemicals and GMOs continues to operate coherently at the end of transition.

The Minister also outlined, as does the explanatory memorandum, why, if the changes were not made, several chemicals regimes in the scope of the instrument would not be consistent with the withdrawal agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol when the transition period ends. The reasons for the instrument are clear, but I want to focus on several concerns about its effective implementation and the transfer of functions to the HSE.

The first concern relates to HSE duties as it becomes the GB regulatory authority. Leaving the EU and the European Chemicals Agency means that the HSE will take on new responsibilities. From 1 January, businesses that wish to apply for an active substance to be approved, or for a biocidal product to be authorised in Great Britain, will need to apply to the HSE instead of the European Chemicals Agency. As the Minister said, the territorial extent of this instrument is Great Britain except for certain provisions. The HSE will take on the functions that the ECHA performs where these are still relevant in Great Britain. For example, it will co-ordinate the active substance evaluation process for Great Britain. It will also introduce its own processes and systems for receiving and processing applications.

The Minister said that she has confidence in the HSE’s capacity, but she will appreciate why I am asking questions about it. The new demands pose concerning questions about whether the HSE is adequately funded, staffed and resourced to deliver its new responsibilities, particularly on top of the additional work it has undertaken due to covid. Since 2009-10, funding for the HSE has been cut by £144 million in real terms: by more than half since Labour was last in Government. Although in May the Government announced £14 million more funding for it, that still leaves a substantial cut.

We know from a response to a parliamentary question that the Government have recruited only 37 full-time equivalent inspectors since March. What review has the Department for Work and Pensions undertaken with the HSE about its resources, systems and processes, and how it will effectively carry out its extra duties, such as confirming the hazard classification and labelling of chemical substances after the end of the transition period?

Is the Minister confident that the HSE will be able to cope with that increase in responsibilities? What assessment has she made of any new specialist skills that may be required? Could there be an economic impact on the chemicals, pharmaceuticals or plastics industries if there are any delays in required work being carried out by the HSE? Has that risk assessment been done as part of any review that the Department has undertaken? There may be a need for further recruitment, and difficulties have been experienced in the past year in finding necessary specialists. Can the Minister therefore guarantee that any extra staff will be in place by the first week of January, ready for EU exit?

With the HSE potentially having to navigate and regulate stand-alone GB schemes and parts of the EU chemicals schemes simultaneously, there will be additional pressure on it. At the same time, staff will be making new regulatory decisions for UK’s entire food and chemicals markets, with limited access to EU data. Not having adequate resources and systems will also put the incredibly hard-working HSE staff under enormous pressure, which is why we and the Government must not ignore this.

None of us wants questions about the HSE’s capacity to deliver an effective chemicals regulation regime into 2021 and beyond. Indeed, this issue has been raised before, and in February this year the Government said that they

“are making sure that the HSE…have the resources and evidence they need to ensure the safe management of chemicals and to protect public health and the environment.”—[Official Report, 26 February 2020; Vol. 672, c. 159WH.]

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Seema Malhotra Portrait Seema Malhotra
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I thank my hon. Friend for his contribution, which I am sure the Minister noted. It relates very much to the next point that I was about to make.

In February 2019, Mary Creagh, the then Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, also raised concerns about how the new functions would be taken on within the UK and the budget in relation European Chemicals Agency funding. That is not to say there should be direct comparison of EU-wide budgets and what the UK needs, but the HSE and other agencies involved need to be sufficiently equipped in order for our scientists to deliver safe and effective products on to the UK market. For the new work now required of the HSE, other agencies within Northern Ireland and others across industry that will be involved in a proportion of the new work that will be now taken on, what assessment has been made of the level and type of additional resources required?

My second question before I conclude relates to the Northern Ireland protocol. I thank my colleagues in the other shadow departmental teams for their input on this. The Northern Ireland protocol will mean that a number of areas of law in Northern Ireland will remain aligned with the EU after the end of the transition period, as the Minister commented. Changes to the standard policy approach for unfettered access are needed for highly regulated goods, such as chemicals. This will require a strong focus on transparency requirements to ensure that UK regulators are provided with the requisite information, in parallel to that provided to the EU. With regards to unfettered access and the forms required for highly regulated goods, what estimate has the Minister made of costs to business of the additional transparency requirements, and how many exports does she expect will be covered by them?

In conclusion, the amendments to the 2019 regulations relating to the withdrawal agreement, including the Northern Ireland protocol, are necessary to ensure that retained EU law relating to chemicals and GMOs continues effectively from January. However, I would welcome reassurance about the planning and resourcing for the new functions that the HSE, particularly, and other agencies will take on.

This is one of around 20 statutory instruments that will need to be tabled before the House rises for recess. Will the Minister update us on the timetabling for the remaining SIs relating to the Northern Ireland protocol? With only two weeks until Christmas, she will understand concerns that there may not be enough time for all these to pass through the House before the end of the year with the necessary scrutiny. If she is unable to update us today, perhaps she will be able to forward that information to me after.

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I thank the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston for her comments and the questions she raised. On the final point, I believe that we are at the end of the road of what we need to do in regard to the HSE, but I am happy to take away her query. I thank all Members who have been part of this debate, and I am happy to address some of the hon. Lady’s comments.

The HSE works very closely with the Environment Agency, under the remit of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I am happy to take away the point of the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown and ask the HSE to respond to him.

As to whether the HSE has the administrative capacity and resource to deal with the additional burdens, it currently acts, as I said in my opening remarks, as the competent authority for the EU chemicals regulations and therefore already has capability and capacity, which can be built on, to take on full GB regulatory authority responsibility.

Since the announcement of the referendum and our leaving the EU, the HSE has been preparing for all different scenarios for future UK-EU relationships and has always had a focus on readiness for a stand-alone regulatory system. It will be ready on day one: roles, processes, skills and recruitment and training have all been scoped out and mapped, as part of the wider HSE transition programme, which covers chemicals regulation as a whole. We have looked at what workload there might be on day one, in terms of the operating model and how we develop the scope of chemicals regulation as a whole, carrying out discovery work with stakeholders on the work that will be needed with regard to future operating capacity.

As for HSE finances for the 2020-21 financial year, an additional £6.1 million was made available by the DWP, and £4.5 million was made available from DEFRA, to prepare for the new chemicals framework. That represented a 60% increase on the 2019-20 financial year, and appropriate bids have also been made under the spending review for 2021-22. We wait to understand the details on that.

Seema Malhotra Portrait Seema Malhotra
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I thank the Minister for her responses, but I would be grateful if she will clarify one point. She talked about how the HSE’s existing capabilities could be built on, and said there had been some scoping and mapping. As we are so close to the end of transition, can she say whether any risks and concerns have been raised either by DWP or the HSE to her directly about readiness for 1 January, and whether any resources might still be required?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I am happy to respond to the hon. Lady. In fact, I must point out that owing to more demand in relation to covid the HSE budget in 2019-20 was £129 million, and there will be an extra £1.6 million for the functions in question.

On recruitment and readiness, the HSE has identified a total of 147 posts to be filled by the end of the financial year. It reports good progress on filling those posts, with 108, or 73%, filled. It is confident that that means it will be ready in relation to the transition period. Of the 73% of posts filled to date, the vast majority will start in January, with the remainder commencing in post before April.

Several campaigns are ongoing and due for completion in 2021. We are concluding the recruitment of the outstanding posts and recruiting 117 brand new posts in the chemicals regulation division, relating specifically to EU exit. That represents a 45% increase from the baseline staffing, since January 2020, and I hope that the hon. Lady will see that it demonstrates a significant commitment to taking on the new functions that are required. I believe, in fact, that we had about 900 applications when the recruitment opened.

I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to those at the HSE who have done a remarkable job through the pandemic and covid this year. The HSE has called in or visited 78,000 businesses as part of its work on spot checks. It has a significant compliance rate and staged spot checks in more than 41,000 businesses in relation to covid issues.

As to taking on the new functions and being ready to work with industry, there has been significant engagement with industry on the next stage, including 22 comms events just this month with the chemicals industry. Since January we have engaged with more than 6,000 attendees from across the chemicals section. There is significant information on the HSE website, the chemicals section of which gets over 50,000 views a month, and over 226,000 e-bulletins go out to subscribers. There have been extensive conversations and communications with the sector, and I have joined with Ministers from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and from DEFRA to engage with that sector and with stakeholders.

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Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I am happy to reassure the hon. Gentleman that the REACH regulation is not included in this SI. DEFRA has the policy responsibility for REACH regulation and is bringing separate legislation forward on this. I hope that satisfies the hon. Gentleman.

Seema Malhotra Portrait Seema Malhotra
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I thank the Minister for her responses to my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown, and I understand that some of the REACH regulations are covered by other SIs. However, these are very important points, so could I just probe her on one thing, which relates to the reduction in animal testing that the BPR has promoted? She has given some assurance that this will remain part of UK policy, but could she also give an assurance that if there is any change to that policy at any time, that change will come before the House? I do think people across the country will want to see us keep that commitment into the future.

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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On divergence, I reiterate that GB will be free to make decisions on key issues. However, that does not mean that we will disregard evidence, discussions and decisions made at an EU level or elsewhere, and we will absolutely be engaging with stakeholders.

Regarding scrutiny—I think that was where the hon. Lady was going—decisions taken by the Secretary of State on chemicals regulations will be subject to the same processes of informal and formal consultation, enabling Ministers to be held to account as they are for any of their other decisions. In addition, for several decisions, the consent of devolved Administrations will be required as well. I maintain that the HSE has an excellent reputation for engaging with stakeholders and ensuring that we develop the appropriate health and safety regulations. I hope that I am reassuring hon. Members this morning.

In regard to unfettered access, the Government’s approach to the Northern Ireland protocol was set out in the May Command Paper and subsequent business guidance. This outlines that there will be some specific requirements for movements between NI and GB in respect of items categorised as highly regulated goods, and chemicals are highly regulated goods because they can pose a significant risk to human health and the environment. Northern Irish businesses will have the right to place a product on the market in Great Britain where they already have an authorisation to place that product on the market in Northern Ireland, provided that they notify the HSE with the information that they would submit previously to the EU. If the HSE has any serious concerns that any product poses a risk to public health or the environment, it has the ability to take safeguarding measures. The HSE has the ability to act and it will continue to. Costs, of course, are recoverable from industry. The return of costs is agreed, and they come back to the HSE—I must point that out to Members.

As many Members will attest, our chemicals sector is world leading, and, as we have heard today, it is vital for other key industries, such as the pharmaceuticals, automotive and aerospace industries. We want to ensure that that continues and that those sectors continue to succeed. We also need to provide certainty, as we have heard, for businesses in Northern Ireland and across GB that the statute book will be fully functioning for the end of the year and that NI businesses will have unfettered access to the market in Great Britain. This statutory instrument seeks to ensure that and to meet our obligations under the protocol.

I am sure that Members are all with me on the need to provide continuity and clarity to our chemicals industry following the end of the transition period. I want to ensure that the legal requirements that apply in relation to chemical regulations are clear and provide certainty to all. We must maintain our high standard of protection in the workplace and otherwise, and this instrument will uphold that. I commend the regulations to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That the Committee has considered the draft Chemicals (Health and Safety) and Genetically Modified Organisms (Contained Use) (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020.

The Future of Work

Debate between Mims Davies and Seema Malhotra
Thursday 19th November 2020

(11 months ago)

Westminster Hall

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Department for Work and Pensions
Seema Malhotra Portrait Seema Malhotra (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op)
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19 Nov 2020, 4:04 p.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Hollobone. I join colleagues in congratulating the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald) on securing this debate on the future of work, and on her speech. The range of contributions that we have heard from hon. Members, and the thought that has gone into each, show that the issue should, increasingly, be on the parliamentary radar.

The hon. Member for East Renfrewshire was right: the status quo is not good enough, and we cannot go back to the past. Many issues have been raised. The hon. Member for Devizes (Danny Kruger) talked about the importance of effective employment programmes. My hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham and Rainham (Jon Cruddas) rightly said that technology is not destiny and that the future is far from certain. My hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame Morris) talked about how building back better cannot be left to the market, talking about a role for Government, communities and the unions. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon)—it is always a pleasure to speak in a debate with him—talked about worrying times for the nation. He is absolutely right. This is an issue that we must all face together, with the concerns of our constituents very much at the forefront of our minds. My hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) talked effectively about dignity, identity, self-worth, and the need to reshape our economy and to look at sector councils.

I want to build on some of those themes. The issue has many dimensions. Technological change is creating the future. To some extent, it might replace work but in truth it might also not replace work—it might create those new jobs. How we embrace and shape the technology and changes of the future is down to the choices that we make. Past mistakes cannot be allowed to continue. We should not come out of this period with greater division than we saw not just going into the crisis but before, and with a deeper digital divide creating those who are in and those who are out of prosperity in future.

The imperative that a decent society does not leave people behind must be our priority. Employment will be one of the key themes of 2021. What has to be critical is not just how we create good work and jobs for the future, but access to those jobs and fair and decent pay to go with them. Why is that? Because more than 1 million jobs have been lost during the crisis. Vacancies remain 30% below pre-crisis levels, and forecasts suggest that unemployment will remain substantially above its pre-pandemic level well into 2022.

Too many entered the pandemic in an already precarious position. More than 12 million households began the year with less than £1,500 in savings. They have been hit hard as jobs and income have been reduced. Jobs are becoming less resilient, not more. The latest ONS figures show that more than 1 million people are on zero-hours contracts, almost double the number in 2013. Ethnic minorities, young people, single mothers and the lowest paid have seen their employment hit the hardest, with a double hit on BAME communities disproportionately affected by the health crisis. As has been said, they are the least likely to be able to work at home and those who will struggle for access to the new jobs of the future.

Yesterday, the Government announced an additional £8 billion for green funding for the future. That is welcome, but it does not remotely meet the scale of what is needed to tackle the climate emergency and is far smaller than the €27 billion pledged by France or the €38 billion by Germany. That is why Labour has launched its own jobs-rich green recovery action plan, which includes action to recover jobs, and investment and co-ordination to secure up to 400,000 good, green additional jobs; to retrain workers by equipping them with the skills needed; to deploy the green technologies of the future; and to rebuild business with a stronger social contract between Government and businesses to tackle the climate crisis and ecological deterioration, while promoting prosperity and employment.

I will also make mention of co-operative strategies, raised by my hon. Friend the Member for York Central. A co-operative strategy for recovery that builds from the bottom up, looking at community resilience in our recovery, is an important part of our future. Indeed, those are themes to be discussed at the West London Business conference tomorrow on the future of aviation and communities.

The future of work must mean fair work, and a social security system fit for purpose. Too many workers have had inadequate employment rights and precious little bargaining power. The pandemic has highlighted that the social security system that should underpin those workers’ autonomy in the labour market is woefully inadequate.

It is also important for the Government urgently to conduct and publish an assessment of the financial barriers to self-isolation, including the level of statutory sick pay. If such gaps are not filled, a cohort of people will continue into the next period having to make an impossible choice between self-isolating and putting food on the table. We need to support people back into work, so I hope that the Minister will reconsider the punitive culture behind benefit sanctions, brought back by the Government in July.

The future of work—a resilient, inclusive future, with good work for all—is critical as we think about how we build back better. The theme is now international, reflected in recent reports on the future of work published by the World Economic Forum, the International Labour Organisation, the OECD, the RSA and, of course, the Institute for the Future of Work, which I thank for its work supporting the APPG and its briefing in advance of this debate. Many of these debates look at the acceleration of changes in workforce practices, including the advent of automation and AI.

As change comes, however, we must lead rather than lag. There is a need to review concerns around workers’ rights and protections as labour market structures change, and issues around the future of good work and of workplaces post-covid must be matters for debate and policy. It is not a new area: 30 November marks the fourth anniversary of the launch of the Taylor review, which looked at insecure and exploitative work, the quality of work, and modern workplace values. It is time to refresh that: the Government have only passed legislation on seven of the 53 recommendations to date, despite accepting much of that report. Furthermore, in an answer to a parliamentary question today Ministers were still not able to define when the Employment Bill will be coming to Parliament.

Many employers have sought to do the right thing by employees in the uncertain period in which we live, and unions have been working closely with many of them. Other employers have sought to take advantage of the pandemic to erode workers’ pay and terms and conditions, as discussed in the “fire and rehire” debates in the House. That has exposed the need to strengthen our offer to workers and to enhance the protection afforded them. It also raises how vital it is that we listen to workers and include their views in how we shape the future of work.

According to research by the Fabian Society, some 58% of workers say that they are given no opportunity to influence how technology is used in their workplace. Emerging technological change in workplace practices must look at improved transparency, accountability and involvement: that should be at the centre of any Government plan. That plan could include how the Government will work shoulder to shoulder with trade unions to stand up for working people, as well as tackling insecure work and low pay, and transforming the training opportunities available to people at every stage of their lives, with schools, further education and higher education all part of that.

That is why it is so important to reconsider and rethink the proposed cuts to the union learning fund, which is so effective and vital to adult education. It is also important to take tough action to raise standards and root out exploitation in lower paid under-regulated sectors. An ambitious vision for how technology can be used to open up and improve opportunities for all workers should be core and part of a commitment to ensuring that the future of work is resilient and inclusive. Alongside that, we should also be looking to explore and review rights such as the right to disconnect, giving remote and electronically connected workers the tools to disconnect to ensure that their mental health and work-life balance are protected and respected. That issue was highlighted effectively by the union Prospect.

We must look at effective employment support. People must have access to work for the future. Opportunities for access must come through effective Government schemes; the latest figures show that the Government’s Kickstart scheme has so far created opportunities for around 3% of the 600,000 unemployed young people.

We also need to make sure that these are high-quality placements with built-in training opportunities for young people that provide a transition into longer-lasting employment, so that around the country opportunities for young people are sustained into a long-term future. That is important because effective support in work and out of work—including an effective social security system that supports workers—is vital. People will be looking to switch jobs following changes in the labour market perhaps 11 times, on average, in their lifetime. That is very different from the world in which past generations grew up.

In conclusion, future generations will judge us by the choices we make today to support livelihoods and businesses, tackle the unemployment crisis, and face up to the realities of the climate emergency. An economic plan needs a jobs plan, and a jobs plan needs a skills plan. A credible green recovery with sustainable jobs—something that people across the world are looking to—requires co-ordinated action across Government, harnessing investment and regulation, working alongside local government and the private and voluntary sectors to deliver system-wide change right across our country. We cannot let the failure to address pre-covid inequalities, laid bare by this crisis, now be an injustice that we allow to be passported into the future.

Mims Davies Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mims Davies)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, and to respond to the debate. I look forward to further debates on this issue. I greatly thank the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald) for securing this important debate on a critical topic for the UK. It has been interesting and thoughtful, and the introductory speech was exactly that—as were those from Front-Bench colleagues. I particularly welcome the new APPG on the future of work, which will look at work going forward and the role the Government take. I will try to pick up on some of the points hon. Members have made.

Reflecting on what Members have said, we recognise that the labour market is fluid. We will have to continue to adapt to the forthcoming challenges, emerging technologies and the changing nature of available employment, and the skill sets that are required to remain agile enough for this change in the world in work. My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Danny Kruger) reflected on the jobs miracle, the barriers and impacts of where we are now compared to where we were, and the inequality challenge. I absolutely recognise the points that my hon. Friend made.

We also heard from the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) who has the art of being in two places at once—brilliantly done today. I failed at that earlier, and I apologise. The hon. Gentleman pointed out, rightly, that for many families this is an incredibly worrying time. The Department for Work and Pensions has stepped up in this pandemic so that we are supporting as widely as possible, but I fully recognise the impact on SMEs and our local independents.

We heard from the hon. Member for East Lothian (Kenny MacAskill) who highlighted the social care challenge—it is absolutely important. We have had a care academy in Scotland through the DWP that has been brilliant, and has highlighted the variety of roles, and impacts, that can be made by those who are part of that amazing world making a daily difference to people’s lives. It is important that we sell and point out that opportunity in the world of work.

I want to pick up briefly on UBI. I believe, fundamentally, it is the wrong approach for the UK. As we heard from my hon. friend the Member for Devizes, it does not incentivise work. More importantly— and the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire mentioned disability—it does not target people with additional costs and needs when it comes to the challenges that they face, whether it is disability or childcare responsibilities. We should be careful how we approach that.

We recognise at the DWP that we need to be looking strongly and widely at the labour market. We have an excellent team, which I work with closely, who give me a daily understanding of the labour market so that we can try to take advantage of the opportunities of automation—this emerging technology—and what it may bring. We heard already about the green jobs taskforce which met for the first time last week, which will bring together the views of businesses and employers, as we heard today, and key stakeholders including the skills sector. The taskforce will focus on the immediate and longer term challenges of delivering workers with the right skills for the UK’s transition to net zero, including dealing with the issue of building back greener, as we heard this afternoon, and developing a long-term plan that charts out those key skills. It will also focus on the good-quality jobs that we need, a diverse workforce and supporting workers in high-carbon areas transitioning into sectors such as green technologies.

We heard about the 10-point plan this week from the Prime Minister and his blue-print to focus on jobs and opportunities in the areas where the UK’s industrial heartlands need that support—be they in Yorkshire, the north-east, the Humber, the west midlands, Scotland or Wales. It is important that we drive through a green industrial revolution to support the industries of the future.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Mims Davies and Seema Malhotra
Monday 19th October 2020

(12 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Work and Pensions
Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I hope the hon. Gentleman and his constituents will acknowledge that, despite the reintroduction of conditionality and sanctions, we fully recognise that these are difficult times. New jobs are being created in the digital, green and logistical sectors that can be carried out safely in line with social distancing and public health rules. There is a recognition that in some sectors there will be challenges, while in others there are opportunities, but we will always make sure that jobcentres respond suitably to local alert levels and always set that conditionality in line with individuals, helping them to progress and always listening to them; if they have a good reason and cannot adhere, we will support them and take that individual approach.

Seema Malhotra Portrait Seema Malhotra (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op)
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In July, the Government chose to reinstate benefit sanctions and conditionality, against the advice of experts. We are now in the covid second wave, with businesses closing, unemployment rising and vacancies halved since March, but last week the Government said that the clinically extremely vulnerable and those they live with could have their benefits cut if they refuse a job that puts them at risk from the virus. Is that really the Government’s policy? Is it not time to end the threats and re-suspend benefit sanctions, or are we no longer in this together?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I understand the hon. Lady’s point, but if someone cannot work and must stay at home, there are ways of getting additional support, and I would urge anybody concerned to use the benefits calculator on gov.uk. I again remind the House that work coaches will always work to ensure that requirements are reasonable, always taking into account the claimant’s circumstances and the situation in the local labour market, and continuing to adhere to public health advice. Claimants who fail to meet the conditionality requirements without good reason may be sanctioned, but as I say, the rates are extraordinarily low—in fact, they have never been lower—and we are determined to help people back into work with the right individual support, based on their individual circumstances.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Mims Davies and Seema Malhotra
Monday 11th May 2020

(1 year, 5 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Work and Pensions
Seema Malhotra Portrait Seema Malhotra (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op)
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Our economic recovery will depend much on public confidence, yet polling this morning found that almost half the population believe that the Prime Minister has gone too far. Many have deep concerns that they could put themselves and family members at risk if they cannot properly social distance when they return to work, and it is clear that the workforce and management must agree safe arrangements that people will trust. Will the Government adopt the TUC’s proposals for employers to publish covid-secure risk assessments and urgently increase funding for the Health and Safety Executive, which the Minister knows has been cut by a third since 2010, to enforce these measures?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I thank the hon. Lady and welcome her to her place. I am very interested to hear her policy priorities, ideas, thoughts and views, and I am keen to meet to discuss what the Department for Work and Pensions is doing. It is absolutely right that, as people look to return to work, we have published our plan—a cautious road map—this afternoon. We recognise that this is not a short-term crisis. I can tell her that our Secretary of State has been engaged in broader support for the HSE, which has done a magnificent job—