Will you sign EDM 1263 to protect the rights of migrant workers?
As a rule, I do not sign Early Day Motions as they never have any impact on policy but do incur great cost to the taxpayer. However, this is an issue I am keeping a close eye on.
Those who arrive in the UK to establish their family life must do so on a basis that prevents burdens on the state and the wider taxpayer. It is a key principle that those who benefit from the state should contribute towards it.
As I understand it, those who have leave to remain in the UK on human rights grounds can apply to have their no recourse to public funds (NRPF) condition removed if they would otherwise be destitute. Local authorities can also provide a safety net for those in a genuine need for care that does not solely arise from destitution. These include cases where there are community care needs, migrants with serious health issues or family cases.
You may be reassured to hear that these measures have been developed over many years and by successive Governments. I also welcome the fact that they are consistent with legislation in comparable countries and our position was approved by Parliament in primary legislation
I am assured that the Government will always prioritise the principle of fairness in the workplace, whether it is in the job application process, ensuring equal pay for equal work, or people’s working conditions. Action has been taken to ban exclusivity clauses in zero hours contracts while a number of recommendations from the Taylor Review have been taken forward to ensure all workers’ rights are not only protected but upgraded.
Furthermore, I understand that the Government will now build on existing employment law with measures that protect those in low paid work and the gig economy. For example, it will create a single enforcement body and crack down on any employer abusing employment law, whether by taking workers’ tips or refusing them sick pay. It will also ensure that workers have the right to request a more predictable contract and other reasonable protections.
Supertrawlers on British Waters
I share your concern about the protection and health of British waters and I am fully aware of the impact that super trawlers have on marine life. Our waters are a precious natural resource and they must be managed carefully. The future of the communities that earn their livelihoods from the sea and the biodiversity of the ocean depends on a balanced and considered approach to fisheries management.
The UK has 357 Marine Protected Areas covering a quarter of the country’s waters but the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy has restricted our ability to impose more stringent protections on our seas. I am pleased that now our future relationship with the EU has been agreed, the UK will be able to introduce stronger measures so that we can manage our waters as we see fit. This means that all boats must now abide by our rules around sustainability and protection of our Marine Protected Areas. I know that last year, the Government commissioned a review of how we protect these areas and Ministers are now carefully considering whether there is a case for increased protections.
The Fisheries Act will help to protect our marine resources and develop plans to restore our fish stock back to more sustainable levels. This builds on a manifesto commitment which promised to introduce a legal commitment to fish sustainably as we become an independent coastal state once again.
I understand that the access of super trawlers to UK waters is of significant concern to local fishing communities and to those working to protect our seas. I am pleased that the Fisheries Act has provided the Government with powers to licence foreign vessels in UK waters. This means that any vessel granted access to our waters will also be required to abide by UK rules, including on sustainability, and I fully support this approach. I am pleased that we are once again in control of how we protect our waters.
Deportation of Doctors After Brexit
When people voted to leave the EU, they did so in the knowledge that the free movement system imposed by the EU would end. The Home Secretary has been clear that she had a particular responsibility to take back control and end free movement. I welcome the Government’s commitment to build a fairer single, global immigration system which considers people based on their skills, rather than their nationality. The Coronavirus pandemic has proven beyond all doubt the need for an immigration system that will not just allow but actively welcome a range of healthcare professionals to the United Kingdom. I welcome the fact that the Government has ensured that this will be the case. The new Health and Care Visa creates a new fast-track visa route for eligible health and care professionals.
I am particularly pleased that the Government has taken action to ensure the immigration system does not unduly infringe the ability of the NHS to respond to the Coronavirus outbreak. It is good news that thousands of health professionals and their family dependants will have their visas extended for a year, free of all fees and charges. This comes after a previous announcement offering free visa extensions for health professionals whose visas were due to expire between 31 March 2020 and 1 October 2020. This further action taken by the Government will now extend that offer from 1 October 2020 until 31 March 2021.
I hope this reassures you that the Government will not be deporting any healthcare workers; they have been vital during this crisis. Thank you for taking the time to write to me on this pertinent issue.
Working Time Restrictions & Worker's Rights After Brexit
I have been assured that Government is committed to maintaining and enhancing workers’ rights following the UK’s departure from the EU. The Working Time Directive has been transposed into UK law through the Working Time Regulations 1998, and under the EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018 these and other Regulations have been retained.
The regulations provide that, subject to certain exceptions where the nature of the work makes it impractical, employees cannot work more than 48 hours a week averaged, normally, over a period of 17 weeks. It is possible for employees to opt out of this provision voluntarily and in writing, either indefinitely or for a specified period. Employers can request that an employee opts out but cannot terminate their employment or treat them unfairly if they decline.
The Working Time Regulations 1998 remain in force during the Covid-19 pandemic. They include flexibilities in the regulations to vary or exclude some of the restrictions in special circumstances and done so by collective or workforce agreement. The Working Time (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 allows carry-over of leave and payment in lieu on termination if leave cannot be taken during the outbreak. This enables staff to carry over up to 20 days (pro-rated for part-time staff) of annual leave in the following two leave years. Employers should monitor staff annual leave to maintain their physical and mental wellbeing and staff should make sure they are able to rest and recuperate.
I am aware that there have been reports in the press that there were forthcoming plans to lower the standards of workers' rights. I am pleased that the Secretary of State for Business has made clear that the Government has absolutely no intention of doing this. On the contrary, he expressed a desire to protect and enhance workers' rights going forward.
I note that you mention the Opposition Day Debate on employment rights in the UK which took place on 25 January 2021. Now that we have left the EU and taken back full control of our laws, the Government has been clear that there will be no reduction in workers’ rights. Ultimately, the UK has one of the best records on workers’ rights in the world, going further than the EU in many areas, and I am determined to build on this progress.
Strengthening the Trade Bill
The Trade Bill is an important piece of legislation which has a number of practical functions. The UK has been working to reach continuity agreements with countries who we currently trade with through EU trade deals. The Trade Bill will enable these continuity agreements to be embedded into UK law so that the agreements can be fully implemented.
The UK has acceded to the World Trade Organisation’s Agreement on Government Procurement in its own right. The Bill’s provisions will make sure the UK can implement procurement obligations under the Agreement, ensuring continued access to £1.3 trillion per year of global procurement opportunities for UK businesses.
The Bill will also facilitate the creation of a new Trade Remedies Authority, to deliver a new UK trade remedies framework, which among other things will include protections for UK businesses from unfair trade practices or unforeseen import surges.
It is important to make clear that the Trade Bill is a continuity Bill, and its functions are largely distinct from the Government’s future trade agreements programme. Indeed, the Bill cannot be used to implement new free trade agreements with countries such as the US. The Bill simply enables the free trade agreements that the EU had signed with third countries before the UK exited to be transitioned.
Separate work on the future trade agreements programme is of course also pressing ahead, with negotiations already underway with the US, Australia and New Zealand.
Pet Travel After Brexit
I understand concerns over the issue of pet travel and pet passports. As you will be aware, under the EU Pet Travel Scheme, owners were able to obtain a UK pet passport that allowed them to travel with their animals to and from certain other countries, provided they meet the requirements for the scheme which include appropriate vaccination and microchipping. Now that the Transition Period has ended, you will need an animal health certificate signed by a vet, a microchip and a valid rabies vaccination, including assistance dogs. You will also need tapeworm treatment for dogs if you are travelling directly to Finland, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Norway or Malta.
You can find more information about what is required here: https://www.gov.uk/taking-your-pet-abroad/travelling-to-an-eu-country-o….
I am pleased that Ministers continue to continue to press the EU Commission on securing Part listed status for the UK under the EU Pet Travel Scheme as it is clear that the UK meets all the requirements for this, with one of the most rigorous pet checking regimes in Europe to protect biosecurity. This would enable UK issued pet passports to continue to be used.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
The NHS & The Trade Bill
Like you, I cherish our National Health Service and its guiding principles: that it is universal and free at the point of need. The Government has been repeatedly clear that our NHS will never be on the table in any trade agreements, a position I fully support.
Free trade is a driver of economic growth which can raise incomes, create jobs, and lift people out of poverty, which is why I am glad that outside of the EU the UK will be able to strike new trade agreements with countries across the globe. But more trade should not come at the expense of the high levels of quality and protection enjoyed in our country.
The UK will continue to ensure that the NHS is protected in all trade agreements it is party to, whether transitioned from an EU context or as a result of new negotiations. Indeed, outside of the EU, rigorous protections for our NHS will be maintained and included in any future trade agreement to which our country is party.
I want to be clear that the NHS will be protected in any future trade agreement with the US. The price the NHS pays for drugs will not be on the table, and nor will the services the NHS provides.
I hope this reassures you that all future trade agreements will continue to protect our vital NHS.
Food Standards & The Trade Bill
The manifesto I stood on was clear that in all our trade negotiations, we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards. Ministers remain firmly committed to upholding these standards outside of the EU and I know that the EU Withdrawal Act will transfer all existing EU food safety provisions, including existing import requirements, onto the UK statute book. The UK needs the freedom to negotiate deals on a case-by-case basis and imposing an outright blanket ban on imports that do not meet UK production standards is not the right way to support our farmers. This would be unprecedented in global trading.
It is welcome that the Government has extended the Trade and Agriculture Commission and will place it on a full statutory footing in the Trade Bill, giving farmers a stronger voice in UK trade policy. The Commission will produce a report to be laid in Parliament on the impact on animal welfare and agriculture of each new free trade deal signed after the end of the transition period. This will allow Parliamentarians access to independent and expert advice when reviewing the impact of each trade deal.
I agree that Parliament plays an important role in scrutinising our trade policy. I am therefore pleased that a Government amendment to the Agriculture Act was passed which will bolster parliamentary scrutiny of free trade agreements. This amendment will place a duty on the Government to report to Parliament on whether, or to what extent, commitments in new free trade deals relating to agricultural goods are consistent with maintaining UK levels of statutory protection in relation to human, animal and plant life and health; animal welfare; and environmental protection.
Finally, the UK’s food standards, for both domestic production and imports, are overseen the by the Food Standards Agency and Food Standards Scotland. They will continue to provide advice to the UK and Scottish governments in order to ensure that all food imports comply with the UK’s high safety standards.
The 'Anti-Genocide' Clause
I fully understand your support for the amendment, and I share your concern over human rights abuses in countries around the world including in China. The crimes perpetrated against the Uyghur people and the Chinese population more widely are well-documented. I condemn them absolutely.
As a signatory to the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, the UK has a role in bringing perpetrators of the crime to justice. The UK has long promoted human rights and Ministers have been clear that increased trade does not have to come at the expense of human rights. Trade agreements also often contain suspensive clauses in the event of human rights abuses.
While I strongly support the ultimate aim of the amendment of not doing trade deals with countries committing genocide, I do not really see why it should be for the Courts to decide this rather than the Government. The mechanism it proposed would have had significant legal consequences, altering the UK constitutional system by allowing courts to over-rule trade agreements agreed by the Government and ratified by Parliament. The amendment would also have established a profound shift in the separation of powers between the judiciary and the executive. The Trade Bill itself also only focuses on continuity agreements – ie rolling over the trade deals we had via the EU - rather than new trade agreements and the amendment was defeated by 319 to 308 votes. None of our continuity trade deals are with countries facing allegations of genocide, so this amendment was also rather misplaced.
Strong economic relations with countries around the world gives the UK the opportunity to have frank discussions on difficult issues. While China is an important economic partner to the UK, there are no plans to negotiate a free trade agreement with the country. The Government’s priorities are instead focused on countries with economies more similar to the UK’s, such as the United States, Australia and New Zealand.
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