Below is the text of the speech made by Rosie Winterton in the House of Commons on 31 January 2017.
I am rather nervous about following that extraordinary double-act.
The debate has shown once again how important it is for Parliament to scrutinise properly the Government’s approach and actions in respect of leaving the European Union. It has made the Government’s attempts to thwart that scrutiny through the Supreme Court look even more ludicrous.
I want to make four points. First, I shall support the Bill. I did not want us to leave the European Union, but the majority of those who voted in the referendum thought differently, including nearly 70% of people in Doncaster Central. It is important that we respect that decision, as was stated so eloquently by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) and the shadow Secretary of State.
Secondly, we must do all that we can to get the best deal for Britain from the negotiations. That deal must benefit all parts of the UK. The Government have focused on strategies for Scotland, Wales, London and Northern Ireland, but we need to make sure that all our regions have input and a proper analysis of the effects of leaving the European Union.
People in Yorkshire and Humber want to know what the effect will be on our businesses—small and large—universities, science and technology sectors, local authorities, trade unions, representatives of the third sector and others in our region. During proceedings on a recent statement, the Secretary of State said that the other nations would of course be involved in those discussions, adding that he would also be inviting representatives from the regions to a meeting in York. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us more detail about exactly how that will work. Who will represent the Yorkshire region? Will any analysis be done of the effect of Brexit on Yorkshire, what we will need to see from any deal, and how an ongoing dialogue will be maintained? Each nation and region will have an interest not only in trade deals, but in the Government’s so-called great repeal Bill.
My third point is about employees’ rights and conditions. The Government have said that they will guarantee that current employment rights will be incorporated into UK law once we have left the EU, but they need to go further by strengthening UK employment law if they are to deal with the issues of undercutting and exploitation. British manufacturing, the agricultural industry and our public services, especially the NHS, will need workers—skilled and unskilled—from European Union countries.
Concern about immigration was a key factor in many people’s minds during the referendum. A lot of that concern revolved around a feeling that workers’ wages and conditions were being undercut by migrants, especially those from eastern Europe. I know from my constituency that many of those workers are on zero-hours contracts, often being offered only about 10 hours’ work a week even though they want to work for longer, and at the minimum wage—sometimes even below it. The employers are not just about breaking even; they are big companies that often use agencies to supply their workers and effectively use the state—through housing benefit, for example—to subsidise cheap labour while seeing big profit margins.
Some call some of that a form of modern slavery. We need to use the opportunity before us to look again at how the labour market operates. If the Government are to address the concerns that I have set out, they will have to improve the whole way in which our labour market works. I believe that countries across Europe have concerns about this issue and we will be discussing it at the Labour party conference on Brexit in a few weeks’ time. It would help if we could talk to our European neighbours about the issue in respect of gaining as much access as we can to the single market.
My final point is that, as we saw yesterday, huge concern has been expressed in this country and throughout the world about the actions of President Trump. That has shown how essential it is that the UK does not withdraw from the world stage because of Brexit. I am a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Last week, I saw at the Assembly how valuable it was to show that the UK has not withdrawn into itself, and that we understand the importance of working with our European neighbours and advancing our common cause on human rights. I know that Government Members feel strongly about that issue as well.
I hope that the Minister will reassure the House, once and for all, that the Government will not be withdrawing from the European convention on human rights and the Council of Europe. We need to lead the debate on how we leave the European Union, and the Bill should be an opportunity to do that.