Brooks Newmark welcomes consultation on abuse of zero hours contracts

Brooks Newmark highlights the flexibility in the labour market that zero-hours contracts provide but welcomes the Government consultation on the abuse of the system.

Mr Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) and I have a feeling we are in danger of violently agreeing with one another—I do not think there is any Government Member who does not agree that we should be stamping out abuses, and as we heard, the Government are beginning a consultation to look into that issue. However, as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman), it is the responsibility of the Government to turn things around—particularly given the mess we inherited in 2010—and to create growth and jobs. As we heard from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister during Prime Minister’s questions, we have created more than 1.5 million new private sector jobs, including 1 million net new jobs. Last week the IMF turned around its criticism of the UK from a month earlier, and said that compared with the rest of the world, the UK is doing pretty well. Growth is returning, which is good news, and jobs are being created.

I do not think any Labour Member said that they completely oppose zero-hours contracts, which is because an economy needs flexibility on both sides. As we heard from the Secretary of State, the elderly want flexibility in employment, for example, as do young students or young mothers who have child care and do not necessarily have natural fixed hours. Zero-hours contracts can suit a number of people in our economy. I listened carefully to what Opposition Members said, and it is important to have robust employment protections. As we heard from the Secretary of State, and as we will no doubt soon hear from the Minister, the Government are beginning a consultation to look into the practices raised by Labour Members. I oppose such practices as strongly as they do.

The previous Government did nothing to investigate how zero-hours contracts were used when they were in power. Is any Member aware of an investigation into that issue during Labour’s 13 years in power? In fact, according to the Office for National Statistics, in 2000 there were 225,000 people on zero-hours contracts.

Charlie Elphicke: Has my hon. Friend also noticed that the Opposition raised the issue of blacklisting, about which they also did nothing whatsoever when in government?

Mr Newmark: My hon. Friend is right, and I point the finger at several Labour-run councils in London that use zero-hours contracts: Tower Hamlets, Ealing, Merton, Hounslow and Newham. Those councils do not provide guaranteed hours or any such thing. Are Labour councils stopping the use of zero-hours contracts? Not a bit of it. The Government, however, have helped the low paid by taking more than 2 million people out of tax altogether, and cutting taxation for another 25 million people. That is what the Government should be doing—encouraging jobs and protecting those on low pay.

As we have heard, the Government have been doing a good job trying to create jobs in the private sector, but we must protect people against the abuses to which Opposition Members referred. We heard wonderful statistics from my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Norfolk, who mentioned the number of jobs created in the private sector. I repeat: 1 million net jobs have been created, even though, as we heard in Prime Minister’s questions, Labour Members predicted 1 million job losses. The Government have been doing a good job.

As someone who is a champion of women, and the founder of Women2Win, I note there are now more women in work today than ever before in our history, which is good. As the hon. Member for Wigan said, however, we must also protect those women who need flexible hours from abuses. I believe and am confident that the Government will look into the abuses to which she referred, which we do not approve of or support.

There are, I think, about half a million job vacancies, some of which are on zero-hours contracts. That is a good thing and gives people the opportunity to get on the employment ladder. Overall, I believe the Government are doing a good job. Statistics are coming out, and in the past week alone, British manufacturers have said that they have seen the strongest growth on record, breaking the figure for every quarter since 1989. That proves that the Chancellor has been rebalancing the economy. That is the challenge we inherited from the previous Government. We over-relied on the financial services sector, and the Chancellor is rebalancing the economy.

Caroline Dinenage: I congratulate my hon. Friend on a fantastic and dynamic speech. Does he agree that manufacturers need a dynamic and flexible workplace to flourish? I speak as someone who owns a manufacturing company. Those who may not have previously been in employment also need a dynamic, flexible workplace so as to consider getting into the working world.

Mr Newmark: My hon. Friend is right, particularly about small manufacturers who cannot necessarily take on fixed costs. I was in business for 20 years and know it is tough out there. It is still tough for many manufacturers who are working with low margins. They cannot take on fixed costs, so zero-hours contracts are a good thing that suits them and people in that environment who are looking for flexible hours. The services sector, too, has had its strongest growth in 16 years.

Overall, zero-hours contracts have a role in society. I have not heard a single Opposition Member condemn absolutely zero-hours contracts, although they all mentioned the abuses. The Government are doing their bit to ensure that we remain ever vigilant against the abuse of zero-hours contracts, and I applaud their initiative to take forward that consultation to tackle those abuses as soon as possible.

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Earlier interventions in the same debate

Mr Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): The hon. Lady is making some excellent points, but will she at least acknowledge that there are groups in society who do appreciate the flexibility that zero-hours contracts provide, such as young students and some single mums?

Mrs Riordan: We have had these debates about students before, and I have a stepson who is a student and has a zero-hours contract, and that is all very fine, but there is no reason why the employer’s manager cannot get together with my stepson and arrange the hours for the following week. It happens all the time.

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Mr Newmark: I have been listening to the hon. Lady carefully but am still not clear where she is coming from. Is she objecting to the use of zero-hours contracts or simply to the abuse that can occur when they are used?

Alison McGovern: As I said earlier, there will be examples of employment—student employment is the classic example—where there is no power imbalance and where we can look at the practice in an industry and say, “This could be okay.” I have said that from the outset and all the way through this debate. However, if the hon. Gentleman would like to read the report that my colleagues and I put together, he will see quotes from people who spoke with us about their experience. If he is not concerned about the experience of those workers, I think he should be.

Mr Newmark rose—

Alison McGovern: I hope that the hon. Gentleman is rising to tell me that he is concerned.

Mr Newmark: I totally agree with the hon. Lady that we should be stamping out abuse, but I have listened carefully to all Opposition Members who have spoken and it seems that their direction of travel is to cut zero-hours contracts completely. The Government want to stamp out the abuses, but does the hon. Lady—I will ask her once again—want to abolish zero-hours contracts completely?

Alison McGovern: I will end this here, because other Members wish to speak. That is not what I have said, and it is not what other Members have said.

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