Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill

Lord Woodley Excerpts
Lord Woodley Portrait Lord Woodley (Lab)
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My Lords, the arguments against this undemocratic Bill are well understood by both Houses and, indeed, beyond. Unfortunately, there is not enough time today for me to do justice to these arguments, so I will attempt to highlight only my gravest concerns with the Bill—as many others have, in fairness.

Most of the most important employment rights, such as the protection of pregnant workers, maternity and parental leave, guaranteed rest breaks, equal treatment for part-time works, and especially TUPE protections, are derived from EU law, as the Minister knows. All these rights are now under serious threat, despite the Tory manifesto promising to

“legislate to ensure high standards of workers’ rights”.

I have asked the Minister twice, as the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, said earlier, to confirm that no existing employment rights would be weakened or scrapped, but he point-blank refused to answer. When I asked him specifically whether he would allow TUPE protections to fall off the statute books, the Minister would only say that he

“will look at that and see whether it is appropriate for the UK economy”.—[Official Report, 1/2/23; col. 658.]

I find this answer totally unacceptable. How on earth can there be any debate about whether these vital protections are appropriate for our economy? What kind of economy do this Government want? One where workers see their pay and conditions slashed after takeovers; a race to the bottom? That is what we are left with without these protections. It is a far cry from the high standards we were promised.

Last week, my noble friend Lord Watts made the excellent point that Ministers were well fond of rolling over trade deals, and he asked why we could not roll over the protections that workers have now, to stop them worrying about their futures. Unfortunately—but, once again, not surprisingly—the Minister did not answer. Perhaps he might like to address this point today.

As parliamentarians, it is our duty to stand up for our constitutional role of holding the Government to account. It was highlighted by various committees of this House, including the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee and the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, that this Bill would lead to a “significant shift of power”—not to Parliament, but to Ministers. This Bill, therefore, runs counter to the principles of parliamentary democracy and is a blank cheque placed in the hands of Ministers, according to these committees. Is that what the Government really meant by “taking back control”? It certainly looks like it to me. Is it really what people voted for in 2019? I do not think so: they did not vote for that.

In its report, the delegated powers committee said:

“The Bill is sufficiently lacking in substance not even to be described as ‘skeletal’.”

It is outrageous; it is an abuse of the democratic process.

This Bill, and the Minister’s refusal to rule out a bonfire of employment rights, is completely the opposite of what the Government promised voters. It is therefore nothing less than the duty of this House to defeat it or, at the very least, to delay it until the next election, when the voters can decide for themselves whether workers’ rights are worth defending after all. I think I know what the voters will say.