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Orders of the Day — Sex Discrimination Bill [Lords]

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:48 pm on 22nd May 1986.

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Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Paymaster General (HM Treasury), Secretary of State for Employment 5:48 pm, 22nd May 1986

I repeat that we will listen to the arguments. I do not think that we can establish a general principle that every time this House considers modest amendments to employment legislation it is necessary to enshrine in statutory form a rigid protection of the existing position for all existing employees. Indeed, it is not only protection for employees — clause 7 proposes a rigid statutory straitjacket, tighter than that which currently exists, on working conditions in industries.

Those clauses will have to be seriously considered in Committee. Obviously, we have been considering them since they were first introduced in another place. To be fair, I am telling the House today that our reaction to clauses 3 and 7 is unfavourable. To complete the hon. Gentleman's distress, I can tell him that our attitude is much the same to clause 8 on changing hours of work. That clause imposes on all employers proposing significant changes in hours a new statutory duty for the health, safety, welfare and interests of employees, especially those with domestic and family responsibilities. It also allows the Health and Safety Commission to issue a code of practice containing practical guidance on the entirety of that duty.

As I said a few moments ago, the pattern of work that is emerging in today's more modern economy calls for ever-increasing flexibility in working arrangements. This country must not stick to a rigid nine-to-five, five-day week pattern of working in manufacturing or service industries. It is in the interests of both employers and employees to move to more flexible arrangements. There is tremendous growth in the amount of self-employment, part-time employment, short-term working, flexi-hours, varied shift systems and so on.

When we consider in Committee the arguments about clause 8 we will have to address ourselves to the problem that, on the face of it, it appears to impose on any employer wanting to make a change in the hours of work a detailed statutory duty to inquire into the personal interests and circumstances of each and every employee before making those changes. I understand the motives that lay behind clause 8, but I am not satisfied that it is in the interests of women, men or British industry to introduce such a clause.