2017 09 – Parliamentary Notes

Parliament Notes

by Dick Barry

49 Labour MPs defy Labour’s policy on the Single Market and Customs Union

Debate on the Address. 29 June 2017.

Mr Speaker We come next to amendment (g).

Amendment proposed: at the end of the Question to add:

“but respectfully regret that the Gracious Speech does not rule out withdrawal from the EU without a deal, guarantee a Parliamentary vote on any final outcome to negotiations, set out transitional arrangements to maintain jobs, trade and certainty for business, set out proposals to remain within the Customs Union and Single Market, set out clear measures to respect the competencies of the devolved administrations, and include clear protections for EU nationals living in the UK now, including retaining their right to remain in the UK, and reciprocal rights for UK citizens.”—(Mr Umunna.)

Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 33), That the amendment be made.

The amendment was lost by 101 votes to 322.

Labour’s official position was to abstain on the amendment in the name of Chuka Umunna.

The manifesto on which all Labour candidates fought the election said “Labour accepts the referendum result…” It goes on to say “We will scrap the Conservative’s Brexit White Paper and replace it with fresh negotiating priorities that have a strong emphasis on retaining the benefits of the Single Market and Customs Union.” The manifesto does not say that the UK should remain within the Single Market and Customs Union.

Of the 101 MPS who voted for the amendment, 49 were Labour, 34 SNP, 12 Liberal Democrat, 4 Plaid Cymru, 1 Green and 1 Independent Unionist.

The 49 Labour MPs were: Rushanara Ali (Bethnal Green & Bow), Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich West), Luciana Berger (Liverpool Wavertree), Ben Bradshaw (Exeter), Chris Bryant (Rhondda), Karen Buck (Westminster North), Ruth Cadbury (Brentford & Isleworth)(sacked from shadow cabinet), Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley), Ann Coffey (Stockport), Neil Coyle (Bermondsey & Old Southwark), Stella Creasy (Walthamstow), Emma Dent Coad (Kensington), Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South & Penarth), Maria Eagle (Liverpool Garston & Halewood), Louise Ellman (Liverpool Riverside), Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under- Lyme), Mike Gapes (Ilford South), Kate Green (Stretford & Urmston), John Grogan (Keighley), Helen Hayes (Dulwich & West Norwood), Meg Hillier (Hackney South & Shoreditch), Margaret Hodge (Barking), Rupa Huq (Ealing Central & Acton), Darren Jones (Bristol North West), Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South), Peter Kyle (Hove),  David Lammy (Tottenham), Chris Leslie (Nottingham East), Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East), Alison McGovern (Wirral South), Catherine McKinnell (Newcastle upon Tyne North), Madeleine Moon (Bridgend), Ian Murray (Edinburgh South), Albert Owen (Ynys Mon), Jess Phillips (Birmingham Yardley), Virendra Sharma (Ealing & Southall), Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield), Gavin Chuker (Luton South), Tulip Siddiq (Hampstead & Kilburn), Andy Slaughter, (Hammersmith)(sacked from shadow cabinet), Jo Stevens (Cardiff Central), Wes Streeton (Ilford North), Gareth Thomas (Harrow West), Stephen Timms (East Ham), Chuka Umunna (Streatham), Keith Val (Leicester East), Catherine West (Hornsey & Wood Green)(sacked from shadow cabinet), John Woodcock (Barrow & Furness), Daniel Zeichner (Cambridge)(resigned from shadow cabinet).


Taylor Review: Working Practices  11 July 2017

The statement below was followed by Labour’s response and a large number of MPs questions. Many of these, mostly from Tories, have been omitted for reasons of space.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Margot James) With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the independent review of modern working practices which was led by Matthew Taylor and published earlier today.

The review sets out that British business is successful at creating jobs, enhancing earning power, and improving life chances across the UK. Employment rates are the highest since records began. Unemployment and economic inactivity are at record lows. More people are in work than ever before, and minimum wage rates have never been higher. This is a story of success that this Government will seek to sustain.

The UK economy’s continued success is built on the flexibility of our labour market, which benefits both workers and business. Businesses can create jobs and individuals can find work because our labour market regulation balances the demands of both. Minimum standards set a baseline beyond which there is flexibility to set arrangements to suit all parties. Our dynamic approach responds well to fluctuations in the economic cycle, without the structural weaknesses present in some other countries. It is important that we preserve this success but also enhance it further. While the majority of people employed in the UK are in full-time, permanent employment, globalisation, demographics and especially technology are changing the way in which we work. We need to make sure the British labour market stays strong and everyone in the UK benefits from it.

That is why last year the Prime Minister asked Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the Royal Society of Arts, to lead an independent review into employment practices in the modern economy. That review has now been published, and I am delighted to lay a copy in the House Library today. It is a thorough and detailed piece of work for which I am very grateful, not only to Matthew and his panel members but to the numerous businesses, trade unions, organisations and individuals who have provided their views on this very important topic.

The review has a strong, overarching ambition that all work in the UK should be fair and decent, with realistic scope for fulfilment and progression. Matthew has outlined seven principles to meeting that ambition. I urge hon. Members to examine those principles and the rest of the report in detail, since it is an important contribution to a crucial subject.

In summary, those principles are that our national strategy for work should be explicitly directed towards the goal of good work for all; that platform-based working offers welcome opportunities for genuine flexibility, but there should be greater distinction between workers—or, as the review suggests renaming them, “dependent contractors”—and those who are fully self-employed; that there should be additional protections for that group and stronger incentives for firms to treat them fairly; that the best way to achieve better work is through good corporate governance, good management and strong employment relations; that it is vital that individuals have realistically attainable ways to strengthen their future work prospects; that there should be a more ​proactive approach to workplace health; and that the national living wage is a powerful tool to raise the financial baseline of low-paid workers, but it needs to be accompanied by sectoral strategies, engaging employers, employees and stakeholders to raise prospects further.

This is an independent review addressed to Government. Although we may not ultimately accept every recommendation in full, I am determined that we consider the report very carefully and we will respond fully by the end of the year.

Matthew Taylor has been clear: the UK labour market is a success—the “British way” works. He has also said, however, that there are instances where it is not working fairly for everyone. For example, he highlights where our legislation needs updating or where flexibility seems to work only one way, to the benefit of the employer. We recognise the points made. We accept that as a country we now need to focus as much on the quality of the working experience, especially for those in lower-paid roles, as on the number of jobs we create, vital though that is.

This Government have made a commitment to upholding workers’ rights. The Prime Minister has said repeatedly, in this House and elsewhere, that as we leave the EU there will be no roll-back of employment protections. The Queen’s Speech also set out that this Government will go further than that and seek to enhance rights and protections in the modern workplace. Today’s publication of the “Good Work” review, and the public consideration of Matthew’s recommendations that will follow, will help to inform the development of our industrial strategy this autumn. I commend this statement to the House.

Rebecca Long Bailey (Salford and Eccles) (Lab) When the Prime Minister took office last year, she stood on the steps of Downing Street stating that she was on the side of working people. Despite that rhetoric, the Conservatives have been in government for seven years and in that time have done very little for working people. They have presided over a lost decade of productivity growth. They have implemented the pernicious Trade Union Act 2016, which is, frankly, an ideological attack on the trade union movement, curbing its ability to fight for and represent workers’ interests. They have inflicted hardship on public sector workers with a pay cap that was confirmed for yet another year by the Department for Education yesterday. They promised workers on boards, but rowed back scared when powerful interests said that they were not particularly keen on the idea. And they have introduced employment tribunal fees, which have made it much harder for workers to enforce their rights.

Today’s publication of the Taylor review was a real opportunity to overhaul the existing employment system in a way that would protect workers in a rapidly changing world of work. But, in the words of the general secretary of Unite, the biggest union in the UK: “Instead of the serious programme the country urgently needs to ensure that once again work pays in this country…we got a depressing sense that insecurity is the inevitable new norm.”

Indeed, the Minister confirmed that she might not even accept all the proposals in the Taylor report, in any event. Although the report is positive in sentiment in many areas, it misses many opportunities to clamp down on exploitation in the workplace. I do not have time to cover them all today, but I have specific concerns that the report may allow the Government to interpret references to the so-called dependent contractor in such a way as to allow them to row back on recent court victories for workers such as Uber drivers and those who work for Pimlico Plumbers.

Recent case law has suggested that a worker on a platform should be entitled to the minimum wage as long as the app is switched on and they are ready and willing to accept trips. However, the review suggests that the platform may insist on payment by piece rate, such that only an average driver, working averagely hard, will earn 1.2 times the minimum wage. That raises issues of enforcement and regulation—what constitutes a reasonable piece rate across platforms?—and it is something of a retreat from the common law position. Will the Minister confirm that the Government will not undermine workers’ rights on the minimum wage in that way? Founder of Pimlico Plumbers and Conservative donor Charlie Mullins said this morning that the report holds Pimlico Plumbers up as an example of “best practice in the gig economy.” This is a company that our judicial system has found to be an example of worst practice.

The report does very little to strengthen the enforcement of workers’ existing rights. Although Taylor agrees with Labour’s position on shifting the burden of proof to employers in determining self-employed status, the report does little else in that area, and it needs much more work. There is, for example, no movement at all on employment tribunal fees, which are a barrier to justice for many workers.

If the Prime Minister wanted ideas on strengthening workers’ rights, she could just have come to us. Just four of our manifesto commitments would go a long way to ending the scourge of exploitation in the gig economy: giving all workers equal rights from day one; strengthening the enforcement of those rights by beefing up and better resourcing Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, rather than imposing pernicious cuts, and by allowing trade unions access to every workplace; abolishing employment tribunal fees; and fining employers who breach labour market rights and regulations.

In the spirit of the so-called collaboration that the Prime Minister is so desperately seeking, will the Minister commit today to implementing those four simple measures, as a start? If not, will she accept that the Conservative party is not, and never will be, on the side of working people?

Margot James I am glad that the hon. Lady found some positive aspects in the report on which to compliment Matthew Taylor. I appreciate that she will not have had time to read it all yet, but I urge her to do so. It contains many recommendations that will be of benefit to workers and are worthy of the greater consideration that the Government will give them.

I will not comment on each of the recommendations that the hon. Lady raised, because they are Matthew Taylor’s suggestions and, as I have said, they will be given due consideration. She criticised the Government’s record, so I would like to remind her that this Government ​have introduced the national living wage and presided over the minimum wage reaching its highest rate, in real terms, since its introduction. The wage increases in the last year have been highest among the lowest paid, thanks to the national living wage. We have nearly doubled the budget for the enforcement of the national living wage. We have doubled fines for companies that underpay their employees. We have banned the use of exclusivity clauses in zero-hours contracts. We have done all that against the backdrop of protecting the growth in employment, which is, at almost 75%, at its highest level since records began.

Our record is one of achievement. The hon. Lady criticises us for enacting the Trade Union Act 2016, but most reasonable people would not criticise the idea that workers who are members of trade unions should have a proper say when their union decides to take strike action. That is the primary purpose of the legislation.

It is not all a garden of roses, otherwise the Prime Minister would not have requested Matthew Taylor to undertake the report. The Prime Minister said, when she announced Matthew Taylor’s investigation, that flexibility and innovation are vital parts of what make our economy strong, but it is essential that those virtues are combined with the right support and protections for workers. The Taylor review came to understand that flexibility does work for many people, and it is clear that an agile labour market is good for protecting employment.

Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con) Does my hon. Friend agree that productivity is at the heart of boosting wages for lower-paid workers? There are some really good examples of employers, working with the Living Wage Foundation and others, who have managed to boost the pay of lower-skilled workers by focusing on productivity, and that should be at the heart of this issue.

Margot James I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend. Productivity is central to our industrial strategy. We have established a £23 billion fund to promote quality jobs, better skills and the higher pay that is, as he says, so important.

Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP) I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests and my trade union activity over the 20 years before my election.

Today’s response to the Taylor review from the Government tells us everything we need to know about their frailty and approach to workers’ rights—a weak set of proposals that probably will not be implemented and a set of talking points that leaves the balance of power with employers and big business. It was interesting that neither the Prime Minister nor the Minister mentioned or commended the role of the trade unions in securing fair rights at work. Does the Minister agree that a “right to request” is different to a fundamental right enshrined in law? If a request is refused, what enforcement action will the Government take to force employers to do better?

Does the Minister accept that the report makes no distinction between a flexible workforce and the exploitation of that workforce? Does she also agree that while the Taylor report tries to propose new rights, some of those rights have been secured by trade unions taking employers to court, as the shadow Minister suggested? Can the ​Minister tell us what action the Government will take to enforce minimum wage payments when 200,000 workers in the UK are not paid the minimum wage? Will the Government advertise rights at work services, such as the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and does the Minister agree that it is time for a fair rights at work Act to guarantee fundamental rights at work?

Margot James

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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his critique. The “right to request” has been useful and valuable when it comes to requesting flexible employment. In any case, it is a recommendation that Matthew made, but it certainly warrants careful consideration. The hon. Gentleman mentions enforcement, and we are committed to making sure that workers on zero-hours contracts or the minimum wage get paid what they are legally entitled to be paid. That is why we have doubled the resources available to HMRC in the last two years to ensure enforcement of those important laws.

such discrimination.

Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Lab) As someone who lobbied the Prime Minister with reports on the gig economy to establish such an inquiry, may I thank the Minister for her statement today? May I tease from her a little more about the Government’s position on the trade-off between minimum standards at the vulnerable end of the labour market and flexibility? If the news reports are right, Matthew Taylor goes for flexibility rather than always implementing the national minimum wage. May we have an undertaking from the Government that they will always abide by the national minimum wage, even if that means a loss in flexibility?

Margot James I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on all the work he did on these matters in chairing the Work and Pensions Committee in the last Parliament. I can assure him that minimum wages rates are sacrosanct. There will be no trade-off when it comes to ensuring that everybody is paid at least the minimum wage. When he reads the report, he will be more encouraged. Many of the people who attended the Taylor review’s evidence sessions said that they liked the flexibility of working atypically and that we should not lose that, but that flexibility should not be a one-way street with ​individuals absorbing all the risk. Although we will consider the recommendations further, I assure the right hon. Gentleman that I very much agree with those sentiments.

Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD)

I declare an interest having done some work with the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development during my time outwith the House.

I welcome the Prime Minister saying that there will be no roll-back of workers’ rights, but let me just say that those words are rather a departure from my experience of the Conservative position when I was Liberal Democrat Minister for employment relations in the coalition. I know that the Minister is genuine on this important issue, and it is a thoughtful report of more than 150 pages. As she prepares the Government’s response to the report, will she commit to consulting widely across the House through debates and speaking to the Select Committees on Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, on Work and Pensions, and on Women and Equalities, to get the right response?

Margot James I thank the hon. Lady for her comments and commend her on her role in the coalition Government. I am glad that she acknowledges that the Government have moved forward in their appreciation of the difficulties faced by certain workers in the areas on which Matthew Taylor has focused. I can give her every assurance that we will indeed consult widely not only with industry, trade unions and members of the public, but across the House.

Rachel Reeves (Leeds West) (Lab) Matthew Taylor said today that he wants employers to pay national insurance for people with whom they have a controlling and supervisory relationship. Do the Government plan to implement that aspect of the Taylor review, and can ​the Minister reassure workers that the Government do not plan to U-turn on their U-turn and increase national insurance for the genuinely self-employed?

Margot James I can assure the hon. Lady that, as the First Secretary of State said earlier this week, Parliament has spoken on the issue of national insurance class 4 contributions. That matter is now settled, and will not be revisited. I agree with her that we should pay close attention to ensure that people who are genuinely contracted to provide an ongoing service are given the protections that workers enjoy, and are not falsely labelled as self-employed.

Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op) It is not just my constituents who are part of the gig economy who do not have security. Many of my constituents have jobs in which they work 15 hours a week. They are pleased and proud to be working, but when they want full-time employment, they instead see more people in the same organisations being given part-time hours. When will the Government get to grips with that element of the economy, and ensure that all those workers have a fair deal and the chance to work the full-time hours that they want so much?

Margot James The whole basis of the report is good work and the aspiration of good work for all, including, I believe, the constituents to whom the hon. Lady refers, but let me reassure her. Two years ago, the Office for National Statistics labour force survey found that nearly 70% of people on zero-hours contracts were content with the hours that they were working. However, that does mean that a third want more hours, which is a finding that we must embrace in the context of some of the changes that Matthew Taylor is recommending to help to achieve the good work and the working hours that the hon. Lady’s constituents want.

Ruth George (High Peak) (Lab) I welcome the Minister’s commitment to the Government’s upholding of workers’ rights, but I wonder whether, as part of the Government’s response to the report, she will consider enabling workers to uphold their own rights. Will she look again at the fees for employment tribunals, which have led to a 70% reduction in cases brought by single claimants, such as those working in the gig economy, against their employers?

Margot James The hon. Lady makes an important point, but it is really a matter for the Ministry of Justice. Matthew Taylor has not actually recommended that we get rid of fees for employment tribunals, and I think we should recognise the positive aspect: the upsurge in the number of employment disputes that have been settled through mediation. However, I will continue to look at the issue that the hon. Lady has raised.

Liam Byrne (Birmingham, Hodge Hill) (Lab) The gig economy brings insecure work. Insecure work demands new rights, but those rights will be worthless unless the Government are prepared to put more resources into enforcement, regulation and inspection. Will the Minister commit herself to providing those additional resources when implementing the Taylor review?

Margot James I very much agree with the right hon. Gentleman that enforcement is crucial. As I said, we have doubled the resources available to HMRC for enforcing the minimum wage and they will continue to rise throughout this Parliament. We have also strengthened the powers of the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, and the recently appointed director of labour market enforcement has been tasked with bringing the work of the three major enforcement bodies together to understand the extent of the abuse and to recommend ways of giving those agencies the resources that will enable them to deal with it. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be pleased with the outcome, in due course.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab) Vital protection for all workers is provided by trade union membership and also by trade union recognition. Since my time at the TUC more than 40 years ago, trade union membership in Britain has halved, while workers’ and trade union rights have been undermined by Tory legislation. When will the Government reverse that legislation?

Margot James The Government cannot mandate people to join trade unions. Trade unions are still an important force for the protection of workers’ rights among the sectors of the economy in which they are still dominant, and I commend them for their work.

Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck (South Shields) (Lab) Over 1 million workers are being exploited by sham umbrella companies and bogus self-employment. Changes to tax policy are what is needed to tackle that, but the Government prohibited Matthew Taylor from making any firm recommendations on changing tax policy, so how seriously can we take the Minister’s comments today, and when on earth are the Government going to eventually address these tax anomalies?

Margot James I assure the hon. Lady that no bar was put in front of Matthew Taylor; he was able to investigate as freely and as fairly as he saw fit. It is up to the Treasury to assess the tax situation and any potential loss of revenue, which of course arises due to bogus self-employment.

Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op) I am pleased to hear the Minister promoting this Marxist revolution that we are now living through, as the means of production are increasingly in the hands of the workers. Further to what she has just said, does she agree that the answer to some of the challenges is not just better regulations, but helping people to organise? If so, will she meet me, the Community trade union, the co-op movement and Indycube to discuss our work helping the self-employed to organise and unionise?

Margot James I am aware of the independent union of self-employed workers; it has been a force and has contributed to the inquiry. However, I will be only too pleased to meet the hon. Lady and her Community organisers as part of my consultation.

Note: Parliament rose on 20 July and, except for a few days in September, will not meet again until 9 October.