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Protection of Existing Conditions

Part of Orders of the Day — Sex Discrimination Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 6:30 pm on 22nd October 1986.

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Photo of Mr Doug Hoyle Mr Doug Hoyle , Warrington North 6:30 pm, 22nd October 1986

Although a reasonable case has been put before the Minister, I am afraid that he has disappointed us. His mind seems to work in the same way as that of previous Ministers, and it resulted in a number of abstentions. The Government were nearly defeated because of the weakness of the Minister's reply and because of his lack of flexibility. I am always prepared to forgive sinners and there may be a chance for the Minister to think again.

This is a reasonable clause. It should be illegal for any worker to be dismissed for refusing to work during any of the periods when he does not need to work because of the protection afforded to him by the previous legislation. Women should not be dismissed because they refuse to work more than 48 hours a week. Indeed, nobody should have to work for more than 48 hours a week, or for more than nine hours a day. Where are we coming to if we ask anybody to work for more than nine hours a day?

However, women will have to work for 48 hours a week if this protection is removed from them. Furthermore, they will have to work before 7 am and after 8 pm, and they will also have to work for more than four and a half hours without a break. I am sure that the Minister would not want to have to work for more than four and a half hours without a break. Indeed, accountants have never been known to work for more than four and a half hours, although accountancy is a very lucrative profession. The protection that is afforded is very bad indeed, and it has to be coupled with low pay.

The Government should not worsen the working conditions of the low paid. They must be protected by legislation against unfair dismissal if they refuse to accept any worsening of their working conditions.

We do not want to hear the argument that has been advanced in previous debates that this would lead to two-tier employment and bureaucracy and that it would be very difficult to enforce. The Minister is nodding his head. His notes have been prepared for him, unfortunately, by the same civil servant who prepared the notes for his predecessor. The Minister is known to be a man of originality and to have original thoughts. I ask him not to accept the brief that was given to his predecessor by his civil servant. I ask him to look again at this question and to try to be flexible. Why should the conditions of these people be made any worse?

My hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Evans) said that when the Shops Bill was discussed the Government would have been quite pleased to introduce two-tier conditions of employment for those already in employment, whose conditions would have been made worse by having to work on Sundays, and for those who were new entrants to the industry.

Some of the worst-paid people in the country already work long hours. They need to be protected against working 48 hours a week or nine hours a day. Such protection is reasonable. I hope that the Minister will think again about this.

I hope that the Minister does not say that there is bureaucratic pressure and that the legislation would be difficult to administer. We have already given the parallel with the Shops Bill so that that overcomes that argument. I also hope that he does not argue about the cost to employers and about the fact that it would mean people going to industrial tribunals. I heard him use such arguments before he became a Member of the House, but they did not ring true then and they do not ring true today. I want the Minister to look at the other side of the coin —the protection of the employee. I know that the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman) has a great interest in women's affairs and I am sure that she would not want to see women's hours and conditions worsen. I hope that she will join us in the Lobby.