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We support this amendment, which is basically in line with the Labour Party's amendment No. 11, which was unfortunately not selected. Clause 6 takes a significant step by repealing section 3 of the Equal Pay Act 1970. This means that without the amendment there will be no provision for any formal enforcement machinery. My hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) referred to this in Committee and said that, although we did not table amendments in Committee, we would raise the matter on Report, as we are now doing.
The Government's argument is that the provisions of clause 6 void discriminatory terms in collective agreements, and thus render the Central Arbitration Committee unnecessary because it cannot amend a term that is void. However, the Government have left no mechanism to enforce such agreements. Therefore, there is no authority to which an agreement that may be thought to contain a discriminatory term may be referred, and which can duly declare it void. It may also prove necessary to amend rather than to void an agreement to avoid uncertainty and confusion for both management and employees.
The CAC is a specialised body with considerable expertise and it assists in the task of arbitration and law enforcement. It would therefore be more appropriate to extend its powers so that it could amend directly and indirectly discriminatory agreements and pay structures rather than to curtail those powers as this clause seeks to do.
Part of the amendment deals with industrial tribunals. A minimum programme of reform should be introduced to set up specialist tribunals to deal with sex and race discrimination only. Specialised training should be available for members of tribunals and that training should show them how to apply the legislation and how to administer the proceedings so that they can be as clear and informal as they are intended to be. Tribunals should also have powers to recommend the reinstatement of those who have lost their jobs and power to recommend compensation which markedly reflects the real financial losses of the claimant. They should also have powers to recommend a comprehensive course of action to eliminate the problems which led to the case.
The only proposal by the Government is to recommend the imposition of a £25 deposit on all applicants. Many of my hon. Friends spoke about that earlier. My hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) spoke about the loss of earnings by a person who has to appear before a tribunal and also about applicants who have to pay transport charges. A tribunal does not always hear a case in the area where a person lives or works and such a person has to find a certain amount of money for travel.
The Minister has not accepted that it is a traumatic experience for a person to appear before a tribunal. Perhaps many hon. Members do not fully understand that such people are ordinary low-paid workers. To them an appearance at a tribunal is like standing before a court. It has a traumatic effect on them. The amendments should be accepted. Tribunals should be overhauled and our recommendations should be accepted by the Minister. We support the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mrs. Shields) and propose to vote in favour of it.
I shall address myself briefly to a point that was made by the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mrs Shields) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) — the operation and the competence of industrial tribunals. Over the years I have attended a good many tribunals, sometimes in cases involving members of my union and sometimes in cases involving constituents. Not surprisingly, tribunals vary a good deal in quality. Some of them are good but some of them seem to be lacking in competence and in an understanding of what they are doing.
One of the problems addressed by the hon. Member for Ryedale and by my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow is that the chairmen of tribunals receive no training about what they are supposed to do. They are especially lacking in a consciousness of sex discrimination problems and, as we have heard, the problems confronting industrial tribunals are now much more the problems of women than they have been in the past.
The criteria by which members of tribunals are selected seem to be absolutely wrong. As far as I know, the last examination of the operation of tribunals and of their chairmen was made in 1983 by a group of lawyers. The first thing they looked at was the form which had to be filled up by an aspirant chairman of a tribunal. In that form a person who sought to become a chairman had to give his qualifications. I do not know whether the form is still in use, three years later. Perhaps it has been changed. The Minister may tell us.
If it has not been changed, it is a very strange form. It does not ask the applicant to say whether he has any knowledge of industrial relations, or any experience in industrial relations. It does not ask him to say whether he has any knowledge of industrial law, or any experience in industrial law. It does not ask him to list his professional qualifications. However, it asks him to give a list of the military medals and honours he has received. If, therefore, one wants to be the chairman of an industrial tribunal, the principal criterion is that one should get oneself a row of gongs. Then it does not matter if one does not know about other matters.
This group of lawyers said that they had found that many chairmen have no experience of or even an interest in industrial relations. They quoted two newly appointed industrial tribunal chairmen, one of whom confessed that he had spent 30 years in divorce and property law and that he knew nothing about industrial relations law. He said, "I shall have to bone up on it." The other freely admitted and, indeed, seemed to be proud of the fact that in his whole life he had never met a trade union official.
We have referred to the problems faced by women who appear before industrial tribunals. The hon. Member for Ryedale mentioned sensitivity to sex discrimination matters in industrial tribunals. Only 7 per cent. of the chairmen of industrial tribunals are women. We are dealing with a sex discrimination Bill. One cannot have more sex discrimination than that. Is the Minister able to tell me that there are 13 men who are qualified to chair industrial tribunals for every woman who is qualified to chair an industrial tribunal? I am sure that he will not tell me that. If he did, nobody would believe him.
There is much weight in what has been said by the hon. Member for Ryedale and by my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow. The Government should bone up on the qualifications that are required properly to run industrial tribunals and they should examine the ways in which their operations ought to be improved, because they are susceptible to a great deal of improvement.
I know that during earlier stages of this Bill there have been many interesting discussions about the need for the CAC to have responsibility for settling disputes which might arise where agreements are unlawfully discriminatory. Opposition Members, both in proposing and supporting this amendment, have repeated some of the arguments previously advanced.
The amendment we are considering of course goes further. It would apparently give power to consider agreements—I almost said to "police" agreements—not only to the CAC but also to industrial tribunals and the Employment Appeal Tribunal.
The proposed amendment is so wide-ranging that it is imprecise— I must say defective. It does not say who can, or cannot, refer a dispute for a decision. It does not set any time limit on such referral and it does not say how it will he known which body is "appropriate", nor who will decide appeals against such decisions. It does not say what will happen if one party refers a dispute to the CAC while the other, simultaneously, has referred it to the EAT— all this of course at possibly the same time as an individual employee has applied to a tribunal for a decision on her or his individual position. I do not, however, want to labour the technical defects in the amendment, since I consider there are major reasons why it should he rejected.
The procedure which the amendment seeks to introduce is unnecessary. I do not want to weary hon. Members by repeating arguments already well argued at earlier stages, but I fear I must do so in some measure.
Opposition Members are concerned about cases where one side or the other refuses to renegotiate an agreement. They have, as on earlier occasions, painted a sorry picture of industrial relations in this country, where rights of individuals are ignored and legislation blatantly disregarded. It is surely more likely that such a sad state of affairs should arise through ignorance or accident rather than by design, and I shall later describe the avenues through which help and advice can be obtained. But in what seems to me the unlikely event of either or both parties to an agreement refusing to change a term they know to be discriminatory, they will he faced, as my hon. Friend the Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Lang) emphasised during ealier discussions, with the right of individuals to complain to a tribunal if they feel they are suffering discrimination.
Opposition Members have raised objections to this line of defence, but do they really wish to denigrate this fundamental principle of employment law, the right of individuals to seek personal redress and financial compensation where they have suffered because of a breach of legislation? People have had this right under sex discrimination legislation since 1975 and we do not therefore envisage a great increase in industrial tribunal complaints as a result of clause 6. But the fact remains that an intransigent employer is likely to be faced with complaints leading to compensation and almost certainly to costs being awarded against the firm for its cynical disregard of the law. An intransigent trades union could also be faced with tribunal proceedings for knowingly aiding an unlawful act.
The hon. Member for Ryedale (Mrs. Shields), the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) and expecially the hon. Member for Bow and Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) referred to the training of tribunal chairmen. I will study the points that have been made, especially the knowledgeable contribution from the hon. Member for Bow and Poplar. All industrial tribunal chairmen have legal qualifications and, in addition, it is planned that special seminars should take place on discrimination cases. Nevertheless, I will consider whether we are going as far as is appropriate in the circumstances, given the comments that have been made.
It seems to me that it would be a very unusual employer who would accept such costs and not insist on renegotiation of the discriminatory terms. Moreover, I am sure that the Equal Opportunities Commission would want to use its powers of persuasion or, failing that, its powers to conduct formal investigations to ensure that the situation was remedied.
Opposition Members have emphasised the difficulties parties will face in arriving at non-discriminatory terms. I think that they under-estimate the abilities and practical expertise of both employers and trade unions. However, if help is needed it is freely available from the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service and the Equal Opportunities Commission. If the employer and the union still cannot agree on the change, they can ask ACAS to appoint an independent arbitrator or, by mutual agreement, refer the matter to the Central Arbitration Committee. Nothing in this Bill prevents the CAC from continuing to provide its services where both parties are content for the agreement to be referred to it.
I hope that I have finally persuaded Opposition Members that the powers their many amendnents have sought to revive are unnecessary, unwieldy and undesirable. I hope, too, that they will agree to withdraw the amendment; otherwise, I must ask hon. Members to reject it.
I am glad to know that there will be some sort of training for the chairmen of industrial tribunals and that the tribunals will be looked at even though learned members sit on them. The main aspect of the amendment is that it enshrines an important principle—the right of individuals who feel that they have been discriminated against to receive effective arbitration.
As I am not happy with the Government's response to the amendment, I intend to press it to a vote.
|Division No. 292]||[9.28 pm|
|Abse, Leo||Douglas, Dick|
|Adams, Allen (Paisley N)||Dubs, Alfred|
|Alton, David||Duffy, A E P|
|Anderson, Donald||Eadie, Alex|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Eastham, Ken|
|Ashdown, Paddy||Evans, John (St Helens N)|
|Atkinson, N (Tottenham)||Ewing, Harry|
|Barnett, Guy||Fatchett, Derek|
|Barron, Kevin||Faulds, Andrew|
|Beckett, Mrs Margaret||Field, Frank (Btrkenhead)|
|Beith, A J||Fields, T (L'pool Broad Gn)|
|Bell, Stuart||Fisher, Mark|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony||Flannery, Martin|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Foot, Rt Hon Michael|
|Blair, Anthony||Foster, Derek|
|Boothroyd, Miss Betty||Fraser, J. (Norwood)|
|Boyes, Roland||Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John|
|Brown, Gordon (D'f'mlme E)||Godman, Dr Norman|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Golding, Mrs Llin|
|Brown, N. (N c'tle-u-Tyne E)||Gould, Bryan|
|Brown, R. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne N)||Gourlay, Harry|
|Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith)||Hamilton, James (M'well N)|
|Bruce, Malcolm||Harman, Ms Harriet|
|Buchan, Norman||Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith|
|Callaghan, Rt Hon J||Heffer, Eric S|
|Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)||Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)|
|Campbell, Ian||Home Robertson, John|
|Campbell-Savours, Dale||Howells, Geraint|
|Clark, Dr David (S Shields)||Hoyle, Douglas|
|Clay, Robert||Hughes, Dr Mark (Durham)|
|Clwyd, Mrs Ann||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)|
|Cook, Robin F (Livingston)||Hughes, Roy (Newport East)|
|Corbett, Robin||Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Hughes, Simon (Southwark)|
|Craigen, J M.||Janner, Hon Greville|
|Crowther, Stan||Jenkins, Rt Hon Roy (Hillh'd)|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||John, Brynmor|
|Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli)||Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)|
|Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly)||Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald|
|Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)||Kirkwood, Archy|
|Deakms, Eric||Lamond, James|
|Dewar, Donald||Leadbitter, Ted|
|Dixon, Donald||Leighton, Ronald|
|Dobson, Frank||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)|
|Dormand, Jack||Lewis, Terence (Worsley)|
|Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)||Robertson, George|
|Loyden, Edward||Rogers, Allan|
|McCartney, Hugh||Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)|
|McGuire, Michael||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|McKay, Allen (Penistone)||Rowlands, Ted|
|McKelvey, William||Sheldon, Rt Hon R|
|MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor||Shields, Mrs Elizabeth|
|McNamara, Kevin||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|McTaggart, Robert||Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)|
|McWilliam, John||Short, Mrs R (Whampt'n NE)|
|Madden, Max||Silkin, Rt Hon J|
|Marek, Dr John||Skinner, Dennis|
|Marshall, David (Shettleston)||Smith, C (Isl'ton S & F'bury)|
|Martin, Michael||Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'ds E)|
|Mason, Rt Hon Roy||Soley, Clive|
|Maxton, John||Spearing, Nigel|
|Maynard, Miss Joan||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|Meacher, Michael||Stott, Roger|
|Michie, William||Strang, Gavin|
|Mikardo, Ian||Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)|
|Millan, Rt Hon Bruce||Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)|
|Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbrtde)||Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)|
|Morris, Rt Hon A (W'shawe)||Thorne, Stan (Preston)|
|Morris, Rt Hon J (Aberavon)||Tinn, James|
|Nellist, David||Torney, Tom|
|O'Brien, William||Wainwnght, R|
|O'Neill, Martin||Warden, Gareth (Gower)|
|Park, George||Wareing, Robert|
|Parry, Robert||White, James|
|Patchett, Terry||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Pavitt, Laurie||Williams, Rt Hon A|
|Pendry, Tom||Winnick, David|
|Pike, Peter||Young, David (Bolton SE)|
|Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)|
|Prescott, John||Tellers for the Ayes|
|Randall, Stuart||Mr Richard Livsey and|
|Richardson, Ms Jo||Mr James Wallace|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Forth, Eric|
|Amess, David||Fowler, Rt Hon Norman|
|Ancram, Michael||Fox, Sir Marcus|
|Atkins, Robert (South Ribble)||Franks, Cecil|
|Batiste, Spencer||Fraser, Peter (Angus East)|
|Bendall, Vivian||Fry, Peter|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Galley, Roy|
|Biggs-Davison, Sir John||Garel-Jones, Tristan|
|Blackburn, John||Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian|
|Blaker Rt Hon Sir Peter||Gow, Ian|
|Body, Sir Richard||Gower, Sir Raymond|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Grant, Sir Anthony|
|Bottomley, Mrs Virginia||Gregory, Conal|
|Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)||Griffiths, Sir Eldon|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)|
|Bright, Graham||Grist, Ian|
|Brittan, Rt Hon Leon||Ground, Patrick|
|Brown, M. (Bngg & Cl'thpes)||Grylls, Michael|
|Browne, John||Hamilton, Hon A (Epsom)|
|Bruinvels, Peter||Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)|
|Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A||Hampson, Dr Keith|
|Budgen, Nick||Hannam, John|
|Burt, Alistair||Hargreaves, Kenneth|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Harris, David|
|Cash, William||Harvey, Robert|
|Chope, Christopher||Haselhurst, Alan|
|Churchill, W S||Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael|
|Clark, Sir W (Croydon S)||Hawksley, Warren|
|Clarke Rt Hon K (Rushcliffe)||Hayes, J.|
|Clegg, Sir Walter||Hayhoe, Rt Hon Barney|
|Cockeram, Eric||Hayward, Robert|
|Cope, John||Heathcoat-Amory, David|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Heddle, John|
|Dicks, Terry||Henderson, Barry|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Hickmet, Richard|
|Dunn, Robert||Hicks, Robert|
|Durant, Tony||Hind, Kenneth|
|Emery, Sir Peter||Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)|
|Favell, Anthony||Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)|
|Forman, Nigel||Hordern, Sir Peter|
|Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)||Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)|
|Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)||Pollock, Alexander|
|Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldford)||Porter, Barry|
|Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N)||Portillo, Michael|
|Hubbard-Miles, Peter||Powell, William (Corby)|
|Irving, Charles||Powley, John|
|Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick||Prentice, Rt Hon Reg|
|Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey||Price, Sir David|
|Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)||Proctor, K. Harvey|
|Jones, Robert (Herts W)||Raffan, Keith|
|Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine||Raison, Rt Hon Timothy|
|Kershaw, Sir Anthony||Rathbone, Tim|
|Key, Robert||Renton, Tim|
|King, Rt Hon Tom||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Knight, Greg (Derby N)||Robinson, Mark (N'port W)|
|Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)||Roe, Mrs Marion|
|Knowles, Michael||Rossi, Sir Hugh|
|Knox, David||Rost, Peter|
|Lamont, Rt Hon Norman||Rowe, Andrew|
|Lang, Ian||Ryder, Richard|
|Latham, Michael||Sackville, Hon Thomas|
|Lawler, Geoffrey||Sayeed, Jonathan|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb1)|
|Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel||Shelton, William (Streatham)|
|Lee, John (Pendle)||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)||Shersby, Michael|
|Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd)||Silvester, Fred|
|Lightbown, David||Skeet, Sir Trevor|
|Lilley, Peter||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)||Soames, Hon Nicholas|
|Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)||Speed, Keith|
|Lord, Michael||Speller, Tony|
|Lyell, Nicholas||Spencer, Derek|
|McCrindle, Robert||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|McCurley, Mrs Anna||Squire, Robin|
|Macfarlane, Neil||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)||Stanley, Rt Hon John|
|Maclean, David John||Stern, Michael|
|McLoughlin, Patrick||Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)|
|McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)||Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)|
|McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st)||Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)|
|Madel, David||Tapsell, Sir Peter|
|Major, John||Taylor, John (Solihull)|
|Malins, Hurnfrey||Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)|
|Malone, Gerald||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Marland, Paul||Thomas, Rt Hon Peter|
|Marshall, Michael (Arundel)||Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)|
|Mather, Carol||Thurnham, Peter|
|Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Mayhew, Sir Patrick||Tracey, Richard|
|Meyer, Sir Anthony||Trippier, David|
|Miller, Hal (B'grove)||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Mills, Iain (Meriden)||van Straubenzee, Sir W.|
|Moate, Roger||Vaughan, Sir Gerard|
|Monro, Sir Hector||Waddington, David|
|Moynihan, Hon C.||Wardle, C. (Bexhill)|
|Neale, Gerrard||Warren, Kenneth|
|Needham, Richard||Watson, John|
|Nelson, Anthony||Watts, John|
|Neubert, Michael||Wells, Bowen (Hertford)|
|Nicholls, Patrick||Whitney, Raymond|
|Norris, Steven||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Osborn, Sir John||Wolfson, Mark|
|Ottaway, Richard||Woodcock, Michael|
|Page, Sir John (Harrow W)||Yeo, Tim|
|Page, Richard (Herts SW)|
|Patten, Christopher (Bath)||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Pattie, Geoffrey||Mr. Francis Maude and|
|Pawsey, James||Mr. Mark Lennox-Boyd.|
The amendments exclude the repeal of the sections of the Mines and Quarries Act 1954 and the Factories Act 1961, which specify that women shall not be employed for more than four and a half hours without an interval of at least half an hour for a meal or a rest. I cannot believe that the Government intend to persist with their petty and mean proposals. I cannot believe that any reasonable person would consider it unreasonable for someone to have a break of half an hour at the end of four and a half hours of work.
I have observed Conservative Members who have been in the Chamber this evening and only a few of them have managed to stay in their places for more than one hour without leaving for a break. I would hardly say that sitting on the Government Benches has meant very much effort for them. The people that I am talking about, however, put a great deal of effort into their work and reasonably expect to have a break after working for such a period.
My hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Evans) talked earlier this evening about research carried out by Labour Research into 92 firms, from which it was found that a substantial number of firms did not have any organised break for their workers. If the sections of the Mines and Quarries Act 1954 and the Factories Act 1961 to which the amendments relate are repealed, I suspect that many more unscrupulous employers will expect their employees to continue to work unreasonable periods without a proper rest.
We have had gratuitous advice from Ministers on eating healthily. Surely it is important from the point of view of someone's health and welfare that he should have reasonable time allotted to him to take a rest break or a meal break at the end of a period of work. I cannot believe that the Minister will not agree that the amendments should be supported.
I had direct experience of an unscrupulous employer when I worked during a school holiday. Ministers are fond of talking about occasions when they worked in the baking industry, and perhaps they would like to hear about the time when I worked during a school holiday at Chester zoo. I was employed in a buttery, scraping butter extremely thinly on pieces of bread. I was also engaged in interminably cutting slices of ice cream because the school holiday was in the middle of a heat wave. After a week of working without a break from 9 o'clock until 5 o'clock in the afternoon, I asked the manageress of the department when we could expect a break. She said, "If you don't like it, leave."
That was quite a long time ago, but obviously because of the present economic circumstances millions of people, for fear of losing their job, will not protest about poor working conditions. It is well documented that the health of those in the lower economic earning groups is worse than that of people in other economic earning groups. Surely it is important, for the health and welfare of those people, perhaps more than others because they are less able to protect themselves, that we in the House of Commons should ensure that there is protection for them. Civilised terms and conditions of employment should be laid down for all employees—not only women but men.
It is hypocritical for the Government to suggest that to carry out their commitment — I put a question mark over the word "commitment" — to promote equal opportunities in employment between men and women and to remove unnecessary and outdated legislation, none of which has been proved tonight to be outdated or unnecessary, the removal of burdens on employers and of restrictions in respect of work, rest and meal breaks is essential. What utter nonsense. The Government are trying to give some unscrupulous employers a licence to exploit their employees. Apparently, there will be no consultation with the people on the shop floor. Their protection rights are being thrown away. Employers will persuade workers on changes, and we know all about employers and their methods of persuasion.
Surely Parliament's job is to protect hours and conditions of work, or is this yet another example of the Government eroding rights that have been fiercely fought for by trade unions for over a century? I found it particularly ironic to listen to the Minister suggesting that the Baking Industry (Hours of Work) Act was trivial legislation. Workers fought for over 100 years to get it on the statute book. It was a previous more enlightened Conservative Government who eventually supported it, yet the present Government are expecting us to believe that there is no longer any point in that protection.
Compared with those in every other Western industrialised country, workers in this country are still having to fight fiercely for their welfare and rights. Tonight the Government are putting yet another nail in the coffin of the efforts that have been made over the years by people who have fought for those workers and their rights. We should be ashamed that it took more than 100 years to get the legislation on the statute book when in other countries such as Finland, Norway, Denmark and West Germany such legislation existed early in this century.
The Government say that things will be made more favourable for employers. They occasionally toss in a comment about how nice it will be for the workers. They are not even pretending that tonight because women will not be able to avoid the exploitation that will be enabled if the legislation is passed unamended. Their collective bargaining strengths are likely to be weak, when families are dependent on their income. Too little consideration has been given to the knock-on effect of the repeals on families.
It is unclear what effect the removal of restrictions on women's hours will have on arrangements for the whole work force in respect of meals, rest breaks and rest days. Arguably men as well as women have benefited from the so-called restrictive legislation in the past, in that employers who have been obliged to accept statutory restrictions for women have found it simplest to allow them for men too, although men have no statutory right to meal breaks or rest days.
We should like this legislation to be extended to men. If the Government do not support our amendments, it will be a step back into the dark ages and will show Britain to be far behind other European countries in welfare rights and the protection of workers.
I say with tongue in cheek that I am pleased that the Opposition have accepted, albeit reluctantly, that it is no longer necessary to retain statutory restrictions on the total hours women may work either each day or during a week. That will enable women to participate in overtime working if they wish and to be generally more flexible on overtime if that is what they and their employers want.
I am genuinely puzzled as to why the Opposition do not extend the same logic to the restrictions governing spells of work and rest intervals. The Government are not saying that women ought to be forced to work much longer spells against their wills. In very few circumstances would it be sensible for the employer to ask them to work longer spells and for the women to agree to that. I mention the example of Chester zoo used by the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd).
Why should women not be capable of arranging their rest breaks and their total hours without the clumsy intervention of the law? The reasoning seems especially strange given that many women do not rely on statutory intervention to regulate meal and rest intervals in other sectors of the economy apart from mines, quarries and factories.
When Lord Wedderburn introduced similar amendments in the other place, he asked what was wrong with legislation in relation to spells of work. The answer is that we simply do not believe it to be necessary. Such matters are more effectively organised by individual or collective agreement when the circumstances and needs of the employees and employer can be taken into account. There is no justification for such restrictions remaining only for women working in mines, quarries and factories. Such restrictions are discriminatory and, where women must take compulsory meal breaks for which they are not paid, they can be disadvantageous.
The available evidence on health and safety is inconclusive. Dr. Harrington said in a summary of his review that fatigue has an objective concept, and was of dubious long-term significance to health. He also said that fatigue leading to increased errors and diminished performance could be offset by improved motivation and the appropriate use of work breaks. That is not to say that the breaks need to he inflexibly laid down by statute. Operational demands often require more adaptable arrangements than the existing legal provisions allow for. Furthermore, the better conditions prevail in our factories compared to the era when the legislation was first introduced, and that may, as the Equal Opportunities Commission noted in paragraph 381 of its 1979 report, obviate the need for formal meal breaks. Operatives may be content to stay at or near their work stations for longer periods if this meets the needs of the process.
The argument has been put that just because statutory rest intervals are not appropriate elsewhere it does not mean that they are inappropriate for mines, quarries and factories. But equally no convincing argument has been made as to why mines, quarries and factories should be a special case. Why should discriminatory restrictions remain only for women in those sectors? We are convinced that it is totally anachronistic and anomalous for these narrow restrictions to remain. Accordingly, I strongly urge that the amendment should be withdrawn.
The Minister's response does not surprise me. He mentioned Dr. Harrington and was selective in the quotes that he took from Dr. Harrington's report. He did not mention that Dr. Harrington recognised evidence linking gastric and duodenal ulcers with shift work. He
believed that digestive disorders were one and a half to two times more severe in shift workers, and that their ulcer rate was twice that of day workers. He said:
There is reason to believe that nightshift work may well affect the digestive system.
The programme outlined by the Minister, which does not even allow for a statutory break, will no doubt lead to even more digestive problems. How can he expect us to believe that he is serious about health when he makes such ludicrous suggestions?
The Minister mentioned the Health and Safety Executive. Despite all the protestations of Conservative Members about the role that the executive will play, the truth is that under this Government the Health and Safety Executive has had its powers reduced every year since 1979. The Health and Safety inspectorate has also been reduced under this Government. Nowadays, some factories are not even visited once in 10 years. How can the Minister expect us to take his protestations seriously?
It is ludicrous to suggest that women will have some sort of collective bargaining power, because many of them are not in trade unions and have no bargaining muscle. In 1986, I would have expected the House to recognise the need to protect both male and female workers. Instead, the legislation is being repealed, and that will take us back 15 years.