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Orders of the Day — Sex Discrimination Bill [Lords]

– in the House of Commons at 5:34 pm on 23rd October 1986.

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Order for Third Reading read.

Photo of Mr John Lee Mr John Lee , Pendle 5:39 pm, 23rd October 1986

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

The Bill has two aims: to extend equal opportunities and to remove unnecessary bureaucracy. I know from the reports of the Committee stage and from our debates on Report yesterday that there are still differences of opinion about some of the detail of the Bill. Some Opposition Members seem strangely fond of bureaucracy and reluctant to agree to any proposals aimed at its reduction. But I know that all sides are united in supporting the Bill's primary aim of extending equal opportunities.

Our nation needs the talent of all its people if it is to become more efficient and therefore more competitive and prosperous. Only in that way can we hope to provide more real job opportunities for both men and women. We will not achieve this if either men or women are denied opportunities because of unreasonable, restrictive sex discrimination. The Bill is a further step towards the removal of such discrimination.

Hon. Members will not want me to review the details of the Bill's provisions, but I will touch on its highlights. With the new clauses inserted in Committee it now has three parts. The first, clauses 1 and 6, amends our legislation to conform with the judgment of the European Court of Justice. It said that our legislation was deficient on three counts: the blanket exemptions for small households, firms with five or fewer employees and the way that it dealt with non-legally binding collective agreements. Following a suggestion in another place this part of the Bill also brings partnerships of five or fewer within the scope of the Sex Discrimination Act — a fitting acknowledgement of the increase in the number of women entering business on their own account and of the Government's commitment to self-employment. One in four of those who are self-employed and also one in four of those who are enterprise allowance scheme participants are women.

We have had extensive discussions on the wording of the provision concerning private households. It is a most important provision since it could directly affect the homes of everyone in the country at some point in their lives. I know some hon. Members feel that the wording is still not sufficiently precise, but in my view it nicely balances two principles: the elimination of unreasonable sex discrimination and respect for private life.

The second part of the Bill consists of the new clauses added in Committee, clauses 2 to 5.

Clauses 2 and 3 provide for equal treatment in retirement age, and we introduced them in Committee as a result of the European Court's judgment in February in the case of Miss Marshall v. South-West Hampshire area health authority. Clause 2 makes it unlawful for an employer compulsorily to treat a woman differently from a comparable male employee solely on grounds of age. For example, it makes it unlawful compulsorily to retire her at 60 while allowing a man in a comparable situation to go on working until 65, or to refuse her promotion or training because she is nearing 60 while allowing such rights to a man. Clause 3 gives a woman who is dismissed by her employer the right to claim unfair dismissal up to age 65, unless of course the undertaking where she works has a different normal retirement age which applies to both men and women.

Photo of Mr John Evans Mr John Evans , St Helens North

Will the Minister take this last opportunity to explain why the Government have not ended some discrimination against women who are still not entitled to redundancy payments if they are between the ages of 60 and 65? Surely that point should have been tackled when we were dealing with pensions and unfair dismissal. However, the Government did not deal with it, so will they tell us why?

Photo of Mr John Lee Mr John Lee , Pendle

If I have time, I shall endeavour to answer that point later. However, as the hon. Gentleman knows, we are pressed for time. Clauses 2 and 3 represent a major step along the road to full equality, which has been welcomed on all sides. No longer can it be assumed that a woman has finished her working life before a man, and many employers are having to reconsider their policies which rest on this assumption. Although we have provided for employers to have up to a year to comply with these new provisions, not all will need so long to rearrange their procedures and adjust their manpower planning, and I hope that employers will make these necessary and welcome changes as quickly as they can.

Clause 4 removes the administrative hurdle which previously faced organisations wishing to provide training for people of one sex in occupations where they are seriously under-represented or for people in special need of training because they have been out of the labour market discharging domestic or family responsibilities. Experience has shown that this check is no longer necessary, and I believe that its removal will give further encouragement to the aim of bringing more women into occupations associated with science or new technology in which their numbers are still too few.

Clause 5 closes a small loophole in sex discrimination laws by preventing local authorities from using public entertainment licensing powers in a sex discriminatory way. I know of no authorities which currently discriminate, but the deficiency in our law was brought to our attention by the European Commission and we are now remedying it.

I turn to the third and final objective of the Bill—the repeal of restrictions on hours of work. Clause 7 removes outdated and discriminatory restrictions on the hours women may work in industrial undertakings, and clause 8 repeals the Baking Industry (Hours of Work) Act 1954, which restricts night baking by male bakery workers.

The repeal of restrictions on women's hours are quite simply aimed at removing discriminatory legislation that has outlived its original purpose. The restrictions originated as long ago as the mid-19th century when industrial conditions, the position of women, and society in general were very different from today. It is high time that the 1·5 million women in the manufacturing sector should shed the somewhat second-class status that these restrictions imply. They should be permitted to determine their own hours of work with their employers without the law's intervention. It is illogical that women in this one sector should be held back in this way. The repeals will merely put these women on a par not only with men in manufacturing but with the 8 million women in jobs where there are no legislative restrictions on hours of work.

The repeals will also remove a bureaucratic burden from employers. At present, employers may request the Health and Safety Executive to issue special exemption orders, renewable annually where they argue that it is necessary for increased efficiency. The House has not refused a request in recent years, and during the year 1984–85 more than 4,000 special exemption orders were granted covering more than 200,000 of the 1·5 million women in manufacturing. Almost half of those exemptions allowed some night working by women.

The flexibility provided by this exemption procedure strengthens the case for repeal rather than diminishing it. It implies that the restrictions on hours have little practical relevance in today's world. But I must stress that we would not repeal the restrictions if it involved any risks in our view to health and safety.

In this context, we should not forget the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. This comprehensive Act takes the modern approach to health, safety and welfare at work, leaving older legislation to play a subsidiary role. It imposes on all employers a general duty to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all employees. Employers must still consider the effects of changes in hours on their employees.

As I have said, the Baking Industry (Hours of Work) Act 1954 regulates the hours which men may work in the baking industry, specifically excluding women from its provisions. The repeal of restrictions on women's hours would produce a ridiculous situation whereby the hours of men working in bakeries would continue to be regulated but women's hours would not. The options are to repeal the Act as we have chosen to do, or to extend it to women as the Opposition would prefer.

I do not want to rehearse previous arguments raised in Committee and on Report. Let me just make two points: first, the Act empowers the Secretary of State to issue exemptions suspending the statutory restrictions on hours if a collective agreement exists. Six such exemptions have been granted over the years, exempting from the Act some two thirds of employees in baking who settle their hours by collective agreement. The weaknesses that existed in the bargaining machinery of the industry are therefore no longer apparent.

Secondly, the Federation of Bakers has assured us that there is no prospect of job losses on the scale that the union fears. Although we understand the very natural anxieties that women may feel about the repeals, these fears must be kept in perspective. Millions of women—the vast majority—work in jobs where hours are not regulated by law and they organise their lives without apparent difficulty. Their experience suggests that women in manufacturing will be just as capable of doing that and will benefit from the increased opportunities that greater flexibility and removal of discrimination will bring. The repeals will also lift an unjustifiable burden from employers and will help to promote enterprise and ultimately employment, which is the Government's fundamental aim.

To sum up, this Bill will promote equal opportunities and flexibility in employment and will remove some unnecessary bureaucracy. It is another step along the path to equality, and as such I am proud to be identified with it. I commend it to the House.

Photo of Ms Jo Richardson Ms Jo Richardson , Barking 5:49 pm, 23rd October 1986

The Minister was blindly complacent about women's rights, If the Bill is an example of the Government's attitude to those rights I am glad that we shall have an election within the next 12 months or so and get a different Government.

It is a sad coincidence that we should be discussing this particularly bad Bill this year, because 1986 marks the publication of the Equal Opportunities Commission's 10th annual report. Considering what the EOC has said about the Bill and the rearguard action that the present chairperson had to mount in another place, the report has an ironic subtitle: So much to build on". Needless to say, it went to press full of optimism that its advice to the Government on the provisions dealing with protective legislation would be heeded. The commission must now he feeling decidedly pessimistic.

As the full implications of this ragbag of a Bill have gradually unfolded, its true purpose has emerged ever more strongly. It is clear that it has nothing to do with real equality for women. After a decade of sex equality legislation —introduced by a Labour Government—the Government have thrown away a golden opportunity to review and amend the legislation positively and constructively.

Labour Members recognised that such unique legislation — as it was at the time — would have its imperfections. Indeed, I was a member of the Standing Committee that considered the original Sex Discrimination Bill and I recall that, as a Government Back Bencher, I pointed out some of the imperfections in it. I know that if we had a Labour Government today those imperfections would be put right.

Equally important, we knew that the legislation would need constant review and amendment in the wake of case law and changing expectations. The Equal Opportunities Commission, which was established simultaneously with the enactment of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the amendments to the Equal Pay Act 1970, was enjoined to keep both Acts under review and, where necessary, to report to Parliament with recommendations for change.

In addition, throughout the past decade individual women, women in the labour movement and women's organisations have drawn attention to the deficiencies and weaknesses which have been found, through practice and experience, to exist in the original legislation.

There has also been a growing awareness of the need for positive action—I shall repeat that for the benefit of Conservative Members who do not know the difference between positive action and positive discrimination; it is displeasing to see the empty Government Benches following our previous riveting debate. There has been a growing awareness of the positive action that must be taken to ensure that equality for women means real equality rather than a paper commitment to an abstract concept.

Positive action means, for example, the provision of creches in Manpower Service Commission skillcentres, which the Government have consistently obstructed; it means removing the punitive tax that the Government introduced on workplace nursery places; it means encouraging affordable, reliable, safe and accountable public transport, which the Government are attempting to destroy; it means extending employment rights and benefits to part-time workers — almost exclusively women — whose rights are being systematically wiped out by the Government; it means implementing the EEC directive on parental and family leave, restoring maternity rights and benefits, which the Government have ruthlessly plundered, and allowing local authorities to raise their rates to provide the real care in the community which women need to be able to exercise their right to work.

Positive action also means adopting equal opportunities policies throughout the public sector, promoted by contract compliance to educate and bring in line the private sector. It also means eradicating the discrimination that riddles our tax and security system —a task which the Government's Green Paper on taxation reform and their Social Security Act 1986 have singularly failed to perform.

I am conscious of the shortage of time for the debate because of the intrusion of the previous debate. My list could go on and on, yet what is the Government's reply? They have introduced a ragbag of grudging, partial provision with only minimum compliance with changes that have been forced upon them, and they have repealed protective legislation to level down protection for women and men, which has been pressed for by no one.

I emphasise that not one organisation with expertise in anti-discrimination and health and safety laws has requested or advocated the total repeal of that protective legislation. It is the epitome of negative action and the Conservative Members in Standing Committee seemed to have no trouble understanding that concept.

The Government have ignored all advice and have blocked every attempt to provide measures to level up, equalise and improve the conditions of all workers employed in the sectors covered by the Bill. I shall await with great interest a statement from the new Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security with special responsibility for women's health on her views on the implications for women's health when women in the manufacturing sector and the baking industry are forced to work double day shifts, weekends and bank holidays, includng Christmas day, with no code of practice governing the introduction of such enforced changes and no right of appeal for unfair dismissal. I hope that the new Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie), who served on the Standing Committee on the Bill before her elevation, will keep the matter under close scrutiny, because the Government have failed in their duty to women by forcing through this legislation.

We are advised that clause 1 is unnecessarily wide and may lead to costly litigation and conflicting rulings. Clauses 2 and 3 introduce provisions which will lead to discrimination against men over 60, perpetuate discrimination against women in redundancy rights and create even more anomalies and uncertainty over retirement-related fringe benefits.

Clause 4 will need careful monitoring to ensure that it is not abused. Clause 5 merely closes one small gap in the yawning chasm which section 51 of the Sex Discrimination Act has become and which, together with the Marshall ruling, is a prime example of where further positive action must be taken.

We are advised that the outcome of clause 6 will be random and uncertain, as it fails to provide any mechanism to deal properly with its provisions. Clauses 7 and 8 effectively wipe out any claims that the Government may have wanted to make for themselves as responsive or caring.

The Government's obstinate refusal, against the advice of the EOC and all the trade unions involved, to equalise protection upwards exposes their complete lack of understanding of real equality—equality which improves the quality of life in the workplace, in the home and in the community.

The attitude that has been displayed and some of the views that have been expressed during our debates in Committee and in the Chamber by some Conservative Members, one of whom stated that he would be happy to see the Sex Discrimination Act and the Equal Pay Act scrapped—a mind-boggling prospect—do not augur well for the review of the Acts which the EOC has recently announced that it intends to conduct. The task of the EOC will be made all the more difficult by the passing of this shoddy Bill, and the Government's refusal to accept the EOC's recommendations on so many aspects of the Bill must fill the Commission with trepidation about future reviews.

I am pleased to say that we in the Opposition have already taken on board all the issues that the EOC has outlined in its review and much more as a priority for the legislative programme that will be brought forward by our Ministry for women. That Ministry will be established when we get a Labour Government and such a Ministry cannot come soon enough for the women of Britain. The next EOC report after this Government have gone may have to be subtitled "Building from the Ruins". A Labour Government will be prepared to undertake that task. We oppose this Bill and will vote against it. We eagerly await the day when we can start rebuilding and giving women the opportunities and the back-up that they need.

6 pm

Photo of Mr Michael Meadowcroft Mr Michael Meadowcroft , Leeds West

In recognition of the reduced amount of time for this debate, and in deference to hon. Members who have spent much more time on this Bill than I have, and for some of whom I deputise today, I shall make just one or two comments on this measure.

The Bill is a small measure in relation to one of the biggest issues of our day—the institutional discrimination against women which deprives our community, our employers and this House of a contribution that we can ill afford to miss. The Bill misses many opportunities to redress imbalances. Like the hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson), I regret that the Government's way of achieving equality in the baking industry is to reduce protection rather than to increase it. It is not in accord with the present realities facing trade unions to suggest that simply by removing their protection women will be able to negotiate better conditions in the baking industry. That is not the case, and it is not something of which the unions are particularly proud. To put anyone in that position by legislation is reprehensible.

Many other measures are required to enable equality to be a reality for women, as opposed to simply trying to abolish discrimination. The existing legislation fails to address any of the problems. Some small points in the Bill are worthy of support, and for that reason the Bill is just about worthy of support, but only just.

Photo of Mr Ian Mikardo Mr Ian Mikardo , Bow and Poplar 6:02 pm, 23rd October 1986

The one good thing about the Bill is its title. It has been the habit of the Government to misdescribe most of the Bills that they have introduced. They introduced a trade union-bashing Bill and called it an employment Bill. It had nothing to do with employment, because not only did it not create a single job, but it actually reduced the number of jobs. They introduced an erosion of civil liberties Bill and called it the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill. They introduced an emasculation of wages councils Bill and called it a Wages Bill. At least this Bill has an honest title, because in the same way as a Finance Bill is for finance, and the Consolidated Fund Bill deals with the Consolidated Fund, so this sex discrimination Bill is for sex discrimination. Its long title ought to begin, "A Bill for the purposes of creating or, where it already exists, of enhancing sex discrimination."

Contrary views have been expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House about the purpose of and motivation for the Bill. The Government's argument is that it will sweep away old-time legislation and, in certain circumstances, equalise the conditions of women and men. That was the line taken last night by the right hon. and learned Gentleman — I have forgotten his title — [AN HON. MEMBER: "The Paymaster General."] — Yes, the Paymaster General. I ought not to have forgotten his title, because he lives much in my consciousness. He has a smooth oleaginous line of patter which reminds me of a chap from my boyhood days who used to sell gold watches for half a crown at mock auctions, or run out markets as we used to call them. The Paymaster General reminds me of that sort of sale.

The equality argument is put forward by the Government, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) said, we know what this Bill is about. It will tip the employer-employee relationship even further in the interests of the employer and weaken the already weak bargaining power of workers who are already weak because there are 4 million people unemployed. It will weaken especially the bargaining power of women workers.

There are two interpretations of what will be the effect of the Bill. How would an impartial person judge its effect? What evidence is there on the basis of which an impartial person could judge between the two interpretations? I suggest that there is one piece of evidence, because the Government gave the game away when they refused to accept new clause 1. That clause, which we put forward, would have left it to women workers to decide whether they wanted to be equal in status and equal in opportunity to earn more money by way of overtime or weekend work at the cost of leisure and safety, and at the cost of worsening their environmental conditions and of having to queue at bus stops at midnight on their way home from double day shifts.

If the motivation for the Bill is what the Government say it is, matters should be left for women to decide. After all, the Government are much in favour of secret ballots and in favour of a woman worker having the right to express an opinion on such a major question as who is to represent her on the executive of her trade union. They are in favour of a woman worker having the right to express an opinion about whether her shop shall be a pre-entry closed shop, a post-entry closed shop or a non-closed shop — matters which many women probably do not understand at all. On such marginal things as how long she has to work each day, on how many hours she will be required to work without a break, whether she can be required to work at weekends or on Christmas day, and whether she will be required to work in unfavourable and unsafe environmental conditions she has no say at all.

If the Government were really seeking to improve women's conditions, they would have said yes to a ballot. They are talking about liberalising women. There is one great piece of liberalisation that anybody can confer, and it is the right for people to have a say in decisions that affect their lives and welfare and the lives and welfare of their families. The Government have denied that right, and that throws into question all their bona fides and the smooth talk of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Paymaster General and the ostensible reasons—which are not the real reasons — that the Government put forward for the Bill.

I shall make two more points about the Government's case. A quick look at each of them shows that they do not hold water. The Government ask us why we worry, because if anybody is done by unfairly she can always go to an industrial tribunal. I shall not go over the ground that we covered yesterday about industrial tribunals, because we demonstrated beyond peradventure that they are difficult and expensive of access and will probably be made more difficult and more expensive. Even when one reaches a tribunal one finds that it does not run very well, because in many cases the people who run tribunals are not very well qualified to deal with the problems that come before them and are scarcely qualified at all in any understanding of sex discrimination.

A right of appeal has been taken away from women workers. Even under the stress of war in 1940, when we were facing what most people thought was the imminent danger of defeat and being overrun, we still allowed an appeal from the chap who said that his creed did not permit him to fight. We allowed him to appeal even in that terrible, critical and dangerous situation.

The Minister could not answer me yesterday when I raised a question on that point, so I shall now answer it myself. A lady of deep, devout Christian conviction, who, as a result of the Bill, was for the first time required to work on a Sunday and refused to do so and was then sacked—as she could be under the Bill—would have no right of appeal. She would not have the same right of appeal on the grounds of conscience and faith as young men had in 1940 against conscription. That is absolutely disgraceful.

The Government ask why we bother about these matters and why we do not leave them to be settled, not by law, but by negotiation between trades unions and employers. There are a number of sweat shops in my constituency. A large number of women work in the needle trades, many of them part-time in small establishments or at home, and they have no protection. They are virtually ununionised, partly because they work in small establishments, which makes a union difficult to organise, partly because there is a rapid turnover of personnel, which also makes a union difficult to organise, and partly because many of them are immigrants whose knowledge of the language is not good. For those reasons and others, there is little trade union organisation.

How does some poor girl on her own face an employer and negotiate with him? The hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Meadowcroft) was right to say that it is nonsense in present-day circumstances to talk about the negotiating process as one of negotiation between equals. The 4 million people unemployed have completely destroyed that. The queue of people at the factory gates cuts off the negotiating limbs of those inside the factory.

All the grounds that the Government have put forward in favour of the Bill, all the grounds that they have put forward to fend off our criticisms, are nothing but pretence. It is a pretence that the purpose of the Bill is anything other than to worsen the conditions of women workers; it is a pretence that any injustice is covered by the protection of industrial tribunals; and it is a pretence that we can leave these matters to free and equal negotiation. Under any sort of examination, the Government's case falls apart.

Photo of Mrs Llin Golding Mrs Llin Golding , Newcastle-under-Lyme 6:13 pm, 23rd October 1986

I shall speak briefly on the clauses that affect women bakery workers and their families. The bulk of women who work in the baking industry in my constituency wish to put their families first. They are good wives and good mothers and they work because they have to—they need the money. The effects of this Bill on their family lives should not be ignored. It is no use the Government deploring the breakup of families and juvenile delinquency with one breath, while with the other they force mothers to work nights.

Night working for women brings particular problems in trying to manage both the home and the family. Children need their mothers, and husbands — at least most of them—need their wives. Child care provision is difficult enough for mothers to obtain during the day—during the night it is virtually impossible, if not nonexistent. They face the problem of caring for the family and trying to snatch a few hours' sleep during the day in houses that are not insulated against noise, and that puts an added strain on them.

In my constituency the problem of sleeping during the day is very real and is made very much worse by the opencast wagons running around the roads in ever-increasing numbers. The lack of money available to councils to insulate council houses against such noise is an issue that we must consider when discussing night working, especially for women. The bulk of women in my constituency do not like night working, either for themselves or for their husbands. They do not want their social and family life to be diminished—yet that will be the effect of the Bill.

I hope that the Minister will realise that tired women are an added health risk in factories. It is not too late for him to change his mind, and I hope that he does so.

Photo of Mr John Evans Mr John Evans , St Helens North 6:16 pm, 23rd October 1986

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding) on raising an important point about people who work shifts and at night facing the problem of establishing normal sleeping patterns during the day. That applies especially to women, many of whom have to contend with young children. I am sure that my hon. Friend's comments reflect the views of many women who will be affected by the Bill.

In what is, for obvious reasons, a rather short Third Reading debate it is germane for me to make it clear immediately that the Opposition will divide the House and vote against the Bill. We shall do so, not because we disagree with everything contained in the Bill — we concur with certain parts of it — but because the Government have used it to introduce deregulation. Throughout the Committee and Report stages we argued that such deregulation should not be enacted, and we continue to oppose that on Third Reading.

The Opposition welcome parts of clauses 2 and 3 as a proper response to the European Court's decision in the Helen Marshall case. It is right once again to put on record the congratulations of the House to Miss Marshall on her determination in taking her case all the way to the European Court and winning it, thereby materially altering the lives of many women.

We are still, however, concerned about some aspects of the clauses. The first is the timing of the implementation of the changes. Clause 10 provides that those clauses will not be implemented within 12 months of the passing of the Act. That means that the inequalities and inequities that the clauses are meant to remove will legally be in force for the next 12 months, thus providing an opportunity for women to continue to be discriminated against. The Government could enact the clauses much more quickly than they propose. We have never had a proper explanation of why we have to wait 12 months.

Another matter of concern is the inequality in the eligibility for state pensions. The Equal Opportunities Commission said that it remains very concerned at the failure to tackle the anomalies and differences in treatment between men and women which result from the unequal state pension age. For example, a woman between the ages of 60 and 64 will have the option of deferring retirement beyond the state pension age. She will be required no longer to pay the national insurance contributions and her eventual state pension entitlement will be enhanced for each year of employment over the age of 60. In contrast, a man will gain no such option. It was accepted by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Ian Lang) during the Committee stage of the Bill (column 192) that 'we all agree that discrimination in retirement will not be eliminated until there are equal state pension ages for men and women'. Of course, the Government have ignored that aspect completely. I suspect that we could have further representations in the courts on this issue.

On the issue of redundancy payments, the EOC argued: Women will continue to be discriminated against on the the grounds of sex in that they will cease to be eligible for a redundancy payment at age 60 … The Government regards the provision of redundancy payments as a matter falling under the EEC Social Security Directive and not under the Equal Treatment Directive. The Commission doubts whether this is a proper interpretation of the position under European Community law and notes that the European Court of Justice has recently reiterated the fundamental importance of the principle of equality of treatment between men and women. The Court has given strict interpretation to clauses in the Equal Treatment Directive which derogate from that principle, in particular Article 1(2) which purports to remove issues of Social Security from that Directive. That was from the EOC newsletter of October 1986.

Finally, in relation to other associated benefits, the EOC states: A second defect of these clauses is the omission from paragraphs (a) to (c) of Clause 2(1) of words which appear in the comparable paragraphs of s.6(1) and (2) of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 dealing with access to benefits, facilities or services and subjecting a person to any other detriment. The Government intends that sex discrimination shall continue to be lawful to the extent that these issues are related to death or retirement. I submit to the House that the Government should have tackled these issues during the passage of a Bill which purports to deal with sex discrimination.

Clause 7 deals with the removal of restrictions on working hours and conditions of women. That lies at the heart of the Bill. We have reiterated all the arguments in Committee and on Report, and we have made it clear that what the Government are doing, which will worsen the conditions of work for men, and especially for women, is entirely unacceptable, and we will certainly oppose the Bill.

Clause 8 deals with the repeal of the Baking Industry (Hours of Work) Act 1954. The repeal of that Act is doubly injudicious. Not only do the arguments about worsening the conditions of workers apply here, but there was not, and never has been, any demand for the repeal of the Act from workers or employers. Any anomolies in the Act could have been righted, in most cases, simply by applying its provisions equally to men and women, rather than by removing the Act entirely and reducing the conditions of work of male and female employees to the lowest common denominator.

Although the Government maintain that the Act is outdated and no longer necessary for the well-being of the industry and the workers within the industry, it is clear that the real reason behind its removal is that the alternative—extending the Act to cover women—would go against the Government's avowed intention to remove so-called bureaucracy and barriers to efficiency in business. It is in keeping with the general tenet of the Bill — if in doubt, scrap it. The Government argue that repealing the Act will have no effect on the conditions and hours of the work force in the baking industry. If that is the case, why are they trying to scrap it? In reality, they know that it will have a fundamental and negative effect on the work force. It plays into the hands of unscrupulous employers, who will use the opportunity to exploit the work force even more than at present.

A survey conducted by the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers' Union found that the weekly average working hours in the industry amounted to 64 hours for dayshift and 63 hours for nightshift. In two large bakeries, they found 72 hours to be the average. The Government's own figures show that at least 30 per cent. of the work force in the industry are still covered directly by the terms of the 1954 Act. The other 70 per cent. may very well work under separate, negotiated agreements, but these agreements are based on the 1954 Act, and its removal, coupled with fierce competition within the industry, will lead very quickly to employers enforcing new agreements which will be less advantageous to workers in terms of their working conditions, but very much more advantageous to the Government's friends, the employers, in terms of their renewed ability to increase profits.

Yesterday, a petition signed by over 2,000 workers in the baking industry was presented to Parliament. It expressed the view, very clearly, that the repeal of the Act was not desired by, nor is felt to be in the interest of, the work force affected. The Act was the result of 10 years of pressure from workers in the industry expressing the same sentiments. It also followed four inquiries into the effects of abolishing bakery nightwork. In less than one year, and without any substantial body of opinion to that effect, the Government are planning in this Bill to abolish the Act and thereby make bakers' lives more hazardous. For that reason, and the other reasons that I have outlined, the Opposition will vote against the Bill.

Photo of Mr John Lee Mr John Lee , Pendle 6:26 pm, 23rd October 1986

The Bill makes a number of changes which will help to improve the position of women in employment and secure for them the effective equal opportunities which we all wish to see. Although the European Community has played a part in this development, I see it as essentially a continuation of the movement towards the removal of unfair sex discrimination and the promotion of equal opportunities between men and women which has been supported by both sides of the House and to which this Government have been firmly committed.

Perhaps, I could mention just one change to which I attach great importance and which will I believe significantly improve the position of women at work both in the short and the long-term. That is the removal of discrimination in retirement ages following the Marshall judgment on which the Government acted with commendable speed. As I explained in my opening remarks, we consider it necessary to provide for a short period of 12 months after the Royal Assent for employers to make the changes in their retirement arrangements which will be needed. I should like to repeat my view that it will be in the interests both of employers and all their employees to remove, as soon as possible this long outdated anomaly of requiring a woman who wishes to continue working to retire in circumstances where a man can stay on. I am therefore heartened to hear of firms including Securicor, Mecca and the Prudential which are already taking steps to equalise their retirement ages and hope that many more will follow their example during the next few months without waiting until the last moment before the requirement comes into operation.

That does not contradict in any way the Government's aim of improving the competitiveness and efficiency of the economy. On the contrary, it must serve the ends of sound business practice as well as of justice between the sexes to ensure that the best use is made of all available skills and talents. I am therefore pleased to note the support which has been given to the general aims of the Bill, despite differences on individual provisions. The Bill is sensible and progressive, adds to labour market flexibility and should be warmly welcomed. I commend it to the House.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:—

The House divided: Ayes 194, Noes 105.

Division No. 293]6.28 pm
AYES
Adley, RobertBeith, A. J.
Alexander, RichardBenyon, William
Ancram, MichaelBevan, David Gilroy
Arnold, TomBiffen, Rt Hon John
Ashby, DavidBiggs-Davison, Sir John
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble)Blackburn, John
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)Bonsor, Sir Nicholas
Baldry, TonyBoscawen, Hon Robert
Batiste, SpencerBowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n)
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)Lilley, Peter
Bright, GrahamLivsey, Richard
Brinton, TimLloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)
Brittan, Rt Hon LeonLord, Michael
Brooke, Hon PeterMcCurley, Mrs Anna
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)
Browne, JohnMacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)
Bruce, MalcolmMaclean, David John
Budgen, NickMcNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)
Butterfill, JohnMadel, David
Carttiss, MichaelMajor, John
Cash, WilliamMarshall, Michael (Arundel)
Chapman, SydneyMather, Carol
Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n)Maude, Hon Francis
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)Mayhew, Sir Patrick
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)Meadowcroft, Michael
Clegg, Sir WalterMellor, David
Cockeram, EricMerchant, Piers
Coombs, SimonMeyer, Sir Anthony
Cope, JohnMiller, Hal (B'grove)
Cormack, PatrickMills, Iain (Meriden)
Cranborne, ViscountMitchell, David (Hants NW)
Dickens, GeoffreyMoate, Roger
Dorrell, StephenMonro, Sir Hector
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)
Dover, DenMoynihan, Hon C.
Durant, TonyMudd, David
Dykes, HughNeale, Gerrard
Eggar, TimNeedham, Richard
Evennett, DavidNeubert, Michael
Eyre, Sir ReginaldNicholls, Patrick
Favell, AnthonyNorris, Steven
Finsberg, Sir GeoffreyOnslow, Cranley
Forth, EricOppenheim, Phillip
Fowler, Rt Hon NormanOsborn, Sir John
Fox, Sir MarcusOttaway, Richard
Garel-Jones, TristanPage, Sir John (Harrow W)
Greenway, HarryPage, Richard (Herts SW)
Ground, PatrickPatten, Christopher (Bath)
Gummer, Rt Hon John SPawsey, James
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Hargreaves, KennethPollock, Alexander
Harris, DavidPortillo, Michael
Haselhurst, AlanPowell, William (Corby)
Havers, Rt Hon Sir MichaelPowley, John
Hayes, J.Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Hayhoe, Rt Hon BarneyRaffan, Keith
Hayward, RobertRenton, Tim
Heathcoat-Amory, DavidRhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Heddle, JohnRobinson, Mark (N'port W)
Hickmet, RichardRoe, Mrs Marion
Hill, JamesRowe, Andrew
Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)Sackville, Hon Thomas
Hordern, Sir PeterSainsbury, Hon Timothy
Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)Sayeed, Jonathan
Howells, GeraintShaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Hughes, Simon (Southwark)Shelton, William (Streatham)
Irving, CharlesShepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Jenkin, Rt Hon PatrickShersby, Michael
Jessel, TobyShields, Mrs Elizabeth
Johnston, Sir RussellSilvester, Fred
Jones, Robert (Herts W)Sims, Roger
Kennedy, CharlesSkeet, Sir Trevor
Key, RobertSmith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
King, Roger (B'ham N'field)Soames, Hon Nicholas
King, Rt Hon TomSpeed, Keith
Kirkwood, ArchySpeller, Tony
Knight, Greg (Derby N)Spencer, Derek
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)Spicer, Jim (Dorset W)
Knox, DavidSpicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Lang, IanSquire, Robin
Latham, MichaelStanbrook, Ivor
Lawler, GeoffreySteel, Rt Hon David
Lawrence, IvanStern, Michael
Lee, John (Pendle)Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Lennox-Boyd, Hon MarkTemple-Morris, Peter
Lester, JimTerlezki, Stefan
Lightbown, DavidThompson, Donald (Calder V)
Townend, John (Bridlington)Wells, Bowen (Hertford)
Tracey, RichardWolfson, Mark
Twinn, Dr IanWoodcock, Michael
van Straubenzee, Sir W.Yeo, Tim
Waddington, DavidYoung, Sir George (Acton)
Waller, Gary
Wardle, C. (Bexhill)Tellers for the Ayes:
Watson, JohnMr. Peter Lloyd and
Watts, JohnMr. Gerald Malone.
NOES
Adams, Allen (Paisley N)Hughes, Roy (Newport East)
Anderson, DonaldJones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Archer, Rt Hon PeterKinnock, Rt Hon Neil
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham)Leighton, Ronald
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)Loyden, Edward
Barnett, GuyMcDonald, Dr Oonagh
Barron, KevinMcKelvey, William
Beckett, Mrs MargaretMacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor
Bell, StuartMcTaggart, Robert
Benn, Rt Hon TonyMcWilliam, John
Bidwell, SydneyMadden, Max
Blair, AnthonyMarek, Dr John
Boothroyd, Miss BettyMaynard, Miss Joan
Bray, Dr JeremyMichie, William
Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E)Mikardo, Ian
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E)Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Callaghan, Rt Hon J.Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Campbell-Savours, DaleMorris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Canavan, DennisNellist, David
Clay, RobertO'Neill, Martin
Clwyd, Mrs AnnPark, George
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S)Parry, Robert
Coleman, DonaldPatchett, Terry
Corbett, RobinPavitt, Laurie
Corbyn, JeremyPendry, Tom
Craigen, J. M.Pike, Peter
Dalyell, TarnPowell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'Ili)Prescott, John
Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly)Radice, Giles
Deakins, EricRandall, Stuart
Dixon, DonaldRichardson, Ms Jo
Dobson, FrankRobertson, George
Dormand, JackRoss, Ernest (Dundee W)
Dubs, AlfredRowlands, Ted
Duffy, A. E. P.Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Evans, John (St. Helens N)Silkin, Rt Hon J.
Faulds, AndrewSkinner, Dennis
Field, Frank (Birkenhead)Smith, C.(Isl'ton S & F'bury)
Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'ds E)
Foot, Rt Hon MichaelSpearing, Nigel
Foster, DerekStrang, Gavin
Foulkes, GeorgeThomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
Freeson, Rt Hon ReginaldThompson, J. (Wansbeck)
Garrett, W. E.Thorne, Stan (Preston)
Golding, Mrs LlinTinn, James
Gould, BryanWardell, Gareth (Gower)
Hamilton, James (M'well N)Wareing, Robert
Hamilton, W. W. (File Central)Weetch, Ken
Hardy, PeterWelsh, Michael
Harrison, Rt Hon WalterWinnick, David
Heffer, Eric S.
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)Tellers for the Noes:
Home Robertson, JohnMr. Allen McKay and
Hoyle, DouglasMr. Mark Fisher.
Hughes, Dr Mark (Durham)

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read the Third time and passed, with amendments.