“My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Bray, and my noble friend Lady O’Grady on their excellent maiden speeches.
As a member of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, I of course agree with its report on the Bill and that of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. Both reports reflect the statement of principles in their 2021 reports, Democracy Denied? and Government by Diktat.
I want to focus on one aspect of the Bill: the sunset clause which facilitates the removal of our employment rights without parliamentary scrutiny, as there will be no draft legislation to scrutinise. Twice in recent weeks, my noble friend Lord Woodley has asked whether the Minister will retain the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations. The Minister declined to say. If he sits tight and does nothing, that important suite of rights will evaporate on New Year’s Day and the noble Lord, Lord Woodley, will not be able to oppose, amend or even debate it.
The Minster claimed on 23 January that:
“UK employment rights do not depend on EU law.”—[Official Report, 23/1/23; col. 3.]
He repeated the claim on 1 February. The truth is that some do not but most do. My noble friends Lady O’Grady, Lady Crawley and Lord Monks have mentioned some. I will mention some others. The right to a safe place of work, system of work, safe equipment and competent colleagues is a homegrown common law right originating in 1837 and articulated in the case of Wilsons & Clyde Coal v English in 1938.
The Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations were made under our domestic Health and Safety at Work etc. Act. Their provenance was one of the recommendations of the Piper Alpha disaster inquiry. However, the Health and Safety (Consultation with Employees) Regulations, which make similar provisions about safety representatives and safety committees where no union is recognised were made under the European Communities Act to implement EU law. In fact, most employment rights and health and safety are EU law.
I will give some examples to illustrate the scale of this. We are talking about regulations on: management of health and safety, workplace health and safety, work equipment, PPE, manual handling, display screen equipment, carcinogens, biological agents, construction, safety signs, pregnant women, drilling, mining, chemical agents, dangerous substances, explosive atmospheres, fishing vessels, ionising radiation, lifts, machinery, biocidal products, major hazards, transport, working time, work at height, temporary and mobile worksites, explosive atmospheres, young persons, physical agents, noise, vibration, and offshore installation safety cases.
Clause 1(4)(a) of this Bill will sweep away regulations made under the European Communities Act. But the regulations I have mentioned will survive because they are made under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act. The fate of regulations made under both Acts such as the Control of Asbestos Regulations is not clear. The answer, however, is academic. All these statutory instruments will be caught by Clause 1(4)(b) since they were made to implement EU law, whatever their statutory foundation.”
Consequently, all the Minister has to do is to sit on his hands and all these vital protections hitherto enjoyed by our 30 million workers will disappear in a puff of smoke without parliamentary scrutiny. That is unacceptable and also appears to be a flouting of the obligations we undertook to maintain and implement health and safety laws under Articles 386 to 388 and 399 of the trade and co-operation agreement.”