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Orders of the Day — Sex Discrimination Bill [Lords]

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:35 pm on 22nd May 1986.

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Photo of Ms Jo Richardson Ms Jo Richardson , Barking 6:35 pm, 22nd May 1986

My hon. Friend is right. They are levelling down all the way.

The existing legislation guarantees some semblance of decency that ought to be extended to men. Instead of levelling everybody down arid saying that their conditions of work should be rotten, the decent conditions that have been brought about by these restrictions should be extended to men. I would not oppose taking a rational look at the protective legislation. Valuable protection is provided against exploitation by unscrupulous employers, but it is dismissed by the Government and certain Conservative Members as outmoded and discriminatory.

The Opposition ask for whom these regulations have become outmoded. Why should workers no longer have the right, by law, to refuse to be pressurised into doing double-day shifts and night work? They will have no right to refuse starting times before 7 o'clock in the morning or finishing times later than 9 o'clock at night, or to refuse spells of work lasting more than 4½ hours without a break, or overtime in excess of 54 hours a week.

The Paymaster General referred to some of the points that I have just made, but he did so in what I thought was a slightly caustic and derisive manner, as though we should not really have to bother about them. Obviously he does not want there to be protection of this kind. However, any Government should try to build upon the experience of the working of this legislation and try to improve it so that it covers everybody.

Clause 4 will affect all the firms that were covered by the previous legislation. They include organisations that do not provide the facilities that hon. Members expect to be provided for them when they are working unsocial hours. At certain times of the year we work very unsocial hours and we grumble about them. Although we may think that they are inadequate, some facilities are provided for us. I have been told that there are 30 catering points in this building. They are designed to serve the needs not only of Members of Parliament but of the staff who have to service Members of Parliament. We grumble and think that our conditions should be improved, yet we are denying even that right to women outside Parliament.