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Orders of the Day — Sex Discrimination Bill [Lords]

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:21 pm on 22nd May 1986.

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Photo of Mr Richard Holt Mr Richard Holt , Langbaurgh 7:21 pm, 22nd May 1986

The hon. Gentleman should not tempt me.

Restrictions on hours and starting and finishing times do not apply to 7·5 million working women in this country. Those women can drive buses, serve all night on their own and lonely in a hospital ward or they can spend all night entertaining people in strip shows. However, they cannot work on a Saturday or a Sunday in a factory legitimately producing manufactured goods so that we can sell those goods and improve job prospects. It is time that that arcane law was thrown out; the reform is long overdue. It is strange that the Labour party should want to oppose that. I was pleased to hear that the Liberal party will support the Bill in the Lobby this evening. That shows that the Labour party is out of touch with the realities of the workplace and the work force when it comes to creating job opportunities and removing this kind of petty restriction which has existed for far too long.

To revert to my personal experiences in the baking trade, I first met my wife shortly after her father had died leaving the family business to his widow. She was quite able to go into the bakery at all hours of the day and night as the proprietor, unprotected by unnecessary legislation, to work and make bread, to knead the dough. But she could not have employed another lady to share her labours instead of other men, because she would have been restricted by unnecessary and outmoded legislation. We should remember that it is not rare for a lady suddenly to find herself at the head of a business on the death of her husband.

However. the Labour party wants to perpetuate that legislation. Indeed, it wants to extend it so that the baking hours even now worked by men would be curtailed so that we would not have that lovely home-made fresh bread that comes only from the small baker, not the large multiples. If we stick with the family baker, we shall have our fresh bread, but we should help by voting for the Bill this evening. This is the sort of positive discrimination that we want — positive decisions to remove ridiculous old-fashioned out-dated legislation.

I shall not speak all night, despite the encouragement from the Government Front Bench and colleagues elsewhere. Like the hon. Member for Ryedale, I too represent a constituency in that part of the world. My constituency is 20 miles north of Ryedale in the north Yorkshire moors, and it is a beautiful part of the country. I look forward to seeing the hon. Member for Ryedale, here during the period that she graces us. That time will, I am sure, be like the life of a butterfly —short and beautiful.

However, one of the things that I can guarantee is that the hon. Lady will be in a different position from many of us. Whereas we shall labour for hours and hope to be called, she will shortly be a Front Bench spokesman for something because that is the way the portfolios go round in the Liberal party. If she is a Front Bench spokesman for the ladies, I hope that she will continue to support the Government in this type of legislation, making the ladies' lot in the world better.