HC Deb 30 April 1980 vol 983 cc1402-39 4.23 pm
Mr. John Grant (Islington, Central)

I beg to move amendment No. 76, in page 11, line 8 leave out " twenty-one" and insert " fourteen ".

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)

With this, we may take the following amendments:

No. 77, in page 11, line 14 leave out " twenty-one " and insert " fourteen ".

No. 79 in page 11, line 40 leave out " twenty-one " and insert " fourteen ".

Mr. Grant

We spent a long time in Committee arguing the technicalities of the clause and I shall try to avoid doing so again at length, but it is essential that the whole House should have an opportunity to express its view on some aspects of what I regard as one of the meanest and most petty-minded clauses in this thoroughly obnoxious Bill.

We have listened on Report to many speeches by Conservative Members on the theme of the alleged oppression by trade unions of individual workers' rights. I do not pretend that things do not go wrong, that mistakes are not made and that wrong decisions, of which sometimes no one can be proud, are not taken. However, the case in that respect is grossly, indeed wildly and mischievously, exaggerated, and the legislative way is not the best way of resolving such problems

Throughout our debates there has been scarcely a peep from Conservative Members about the most retrograde and reactionary aspect of the Bill, namely, the insidious attack on individual workers' rights that the Government are callously and determinedly inflicting on working people.

We see it in the proposed repeal of schedule 11 and the removal of the limited statutory protection that the schedule offered to low-paid workers, a large proportion of whom are women. One Conservative Member had the courage to speak out against the Government on that matter and, although he did not vote with us, it is to his credit that he did not appear in the Government Lobby either.

We also had an argument about the unfair dismissal proposals. Once again, the proposed changes will hit especially hard at low-paid workers, which again means many women. One might ask where the Tory voices were then in defence of individual workers' rights. Not one of the pin-striped Tory lawyers, who had been so vocal in other debates on workers freedom, could find his tongue to denounce the situation in which the freedom to exploit is being underwritten by the Government.

Clauses 10 and 11 hang together as part of an overall package that the Secretary of State should be ashamed to put forward as we enter the 1980s. Taken one by one, the changes to individual rights that are contained in the Bill could be camouflaged as having no great significance. But together they reveal an inescapable affront to working people and clause 10 is a prime example of the disastrous course that the Government—the first in this country to be led by a woman—are following on equal rights generally and women's rights in particular.

It is important that I should sketch in our overall approach to the clause, so that I can illustrate why we feel that the amendments are necessary and why I charge the Government with being as sexist as they are racist in their policymaking processes.

I listened to the Prime Minister on the Jimmy Young show this morning. She was asked about the Employment Bill and she talked about the closed shop and picketing but made no mention of the maternity rights clauses or the proposals in the Bill that affect individual workers' rights.

No doubt the Prime Minister feels that she has made it without recourse to statutory protection or assistance and has done it by, to use the old phrase, standing on her own two feet. That is back in fashion as a Tory catch-phrase. It is worth reminding the House that the phrase was last made fashionable by the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath)—and we all know what happened to him. This morning's broadcast illustrated again that the Prime Minister has an " I am all right, Jill " attitude to these matters.

The right hon. Lady and her Government show scant concern for the women who need protection and help in our still unequal society. The clause illustrates the Government thinking that a woman's place is in the home. That was perhaps best expressed by the Secretary of State for Social Services with that splendid quote: If the good Lord had intended us to have equal rights and to go out to work and to behave equally, he really would not have created man and woman.

Dr. Oonagh McDonald (Thurrock)

In what century was that said?

Mr. Grant

I leave that to the House to judge. Of course, that attitude may be convenient for the Government. Their deliberate actions are forcing up the level of unemployment and they can argue that with more women at home there will be more jobs for men. That line is peddled irrespective of what women want or believe is best for them or, more important, what are their needs. It ignores rocketing inflation, soaring bills and family needs. It subscribes to the outdated view that most women go out to work for pin money, when we know that most women work to balance the family budget and that that is becoming an increasing necessity because of Government policies.

4.30 pm

I do not know why the Secretary of State should join in an attack on women. Perhaps he was overridden in Cabinet and had to go along with the majority. Perhaps events in recent months in the Cabinet have soured him towards women and turned him chauvinistic. I should not be surprised if that were so. That would be understandable, if not pardonable. Hard cases do not make good law and he has been dealing with a hard case.

I do not understand how the Secretary of State can pretend that he seeks to protect job opportunities for women when the Government's public expenditure cuts slash savagely child minding facilities, play groups, nursery education and training courses for women. I do not understand how the Secretary of State can pretend that job opportunities are being protected or created.

An International Labour Organisation conference is planned for June to discuss measures to ensure equal opportunities and treatment for workers with family responsibilities. That will affect men but it will affect women to a greater degree. I hope that a British Minister attends that conference. I wonder what line the Government will take. Such a conference must be a huge embarrassment to the Government who will be able to offer little more than an apology or, more likely, a false prospectus.

The changes in the clause are in line with the Government's dismal approach to equal opportunity. They pay lip service to that concept while indulging in wrecking tactics. Ample research is available. Research from the Department of Health and Social Security and the Royal Commission on the Distribution of Income and Wealth, which the Government stupidly abandoned, show that working wives' wages have prevented a massive number of families from sliding into poverty.

The Government's case is that many employers are put off employing women because they believe that the provisions giving rights to working women who become mothers are too burdensome and lead to uncertainty. One must ask on what evidence the Government base their approach, which was outlined originally in the consultative document. In Committee the Under-Secretary of State gave us his supporting sources. He picked on aspects of the report from the Low Pay Unit. He was shot to pieces on that because the unit's overall evidence was adamantly against the Bill's proposals. That was a piece of ill-advised selectivity which I doubt that he will wish to repeat.

The Under-Secretary of State was selective when he referred to one aspect of the clause in relation to the Equal Opportunities Commission. The Commission firmly opposes this part of the Bill. The Under-Secretary also referred to his constituency postbag. He could produce nothing from it, not even on a non-attributable basis. However, he produced a curious letter from a headmaster. It is best to draw a veil over that letter because it did not stand up to examination.

The Under-Secretary referred to the Association of British Chambers of Commerce in support of his case. However, on examination we discovered that the association produced not a scrap of evidence. It expressed pure opinion. With great difficulty the Under-Secretary of State scraped up a few facts which he did his best to distort in a vain effort to boost his case.

Not only have the Government no evidence to explain why they seek the changes in the Bill, but even the flimsy support upon which they fall back in their desperate attempt to justify their case emerged well after the presentation of the so-called consultative document which proved that their minds were already made up. Consultation was a sham.

There is evidence aplenty the other way. We produced it in Committee and I do not intend to go over it in detail today. There is evidence from the Opinion Research Centre study, commissioned by the Government and the Equal Opportunities Commission. A more recent survey based on questions to 261 organisations in the public and private sectors, showed that 83 per cent. of employers found that the maternity provisions worked well in practice. The few who thought otherwise had not experienced the provisions.

The clause will cause major complications for the woman who seeks to take maternity leave. In particular, the cumbersome notification procedures are bound to cause confusion and uncertainty, not only for employees but for employers. More and more women will safeguard their position when they understand the law. They will write to their employer and say that they are returning to work even when they know that they are not likely to return. Ultimately, employers will have little to thank the Government for in that respect. A consequence will be more form filling, more letter writing, more bureaucracy and more red tape for employers and employees.

Women represent well over 40 per cent. of the work force. For many women, especially for the ethnic minorities with language problems, there will be major difficulties in understanding the law. Many such people could lose their rights by default. The Government have given no indication of the steps that they will take to deal with the problem. We have heard nothing from the Government except the pathetic suggestion, or pious hope, that the changes will somehow help employment opportunities.

One could use that argument to sweep away all protective legislation. We could use it to abolish health and safety laws and to get rid of the wages councils. Perhaps the Government are edging us along that path and this is the first step. One hears disquieting rumours about the future of wages councils, the wages inspectorate and the fair wages resolutions. We have questioned the Government in our debates on the Bill, but we have received no answers. They have maintained a studied silence.

Amendments Nos. 76 and 77 are an atttempt to tilt the balance back a little towards the woman employee. Perhaps the Under-Secretary of State will argue that 14 days' notice is unnecessary because of the phrase: or,... as soon as reasonably practicable ". I understand the argument, but it leaves the door open to further controversy. It would be preferable to formalise the extra week.

The Bill changes the final notification period before return to work from seven to 21 days. The Under-Secretary of State made a great meal of the EOC's arguments on this aspect, perhaps because he did not have much else to get his teeth into. The Commission's initial view was that the first notification before absence should not be tied to a loss of rights and that, as the final notification might be the only one, 28 days would be appropriate. That was the earlier proposition of the EOC.

The Bill now demands two mandatory notifications and another optional one. In view of that, I do not see the grounds for increasing the length of time before final notification. Nor does the Equal Opportunities Commission. That being so, the Under-Secretary cannot cite the EOC in his own behalf any longer.

I think that seven days is quite enough for the employer who may now have two affirmations of a woman's intention to return to work. In Committee I argued for the retention of the seven-day period and the Under-Secretary of State said that it was a matter of judgment as to what was reasonable notice. He rejected my view. I asked him to reflect and perhaps he has done so. If he is prepared to revert to seven days that will be fine. However, on the basis that it is unlikely that he will agree to that that the suggestion of 14 days is a compromise which the Government might be prepared to accept. However, I have to recognise that the Government are in no mood to make concessions even at the margins and I do not have much hope of them.

This clause, and the next one, will have a decidedly adverse effect on many working women. The Government have blatantly ignored all the available evidence and the views of those who represent working women. They are saying to those people " We know what is good for you ".

In many respects we are still behind other European countries in this context. I know that one can argue that there is room for controversy and doubt about international comparisons. However, one thing is certain; if these changes go through we will lag well behind other countries.

I return to my original question—why are the Government proposing these changes? Of course, maternity benefits cost the Exchequer about £30 million a year. It may be, I suppose, that in the present penny-pinching atmosphere the Chancellor of the Exchequer has been scratching around in order to save a few million pounds. Perhaps he has been in touch with his right hon. Friend with whom he has such a cosy relationship. Perhaps it is also as well that the wife of the Chancellor of the Exchequer is no longer the deputy chairman of the Equal Opportunities Commission. One could say that she got out just in time to avoid embarrassment or, perhaps, she saw the writing on the wall.

For all that, I find it difficult to believe that public expenditure is the real reason for the proposed changes. I think we come back to the point about helping the employer at the expense of the employee. I do not believe that there is much in it for the employer, but this all fits into the Government package aimed at kidding the small employers as to where their political friends are while at the same time hitting them as hard as possible in every other way. It is a con trick, but it is in line with the Government's dogmatic anti-worker approach which runs through this Bill.

This is part of the Government's deliberate attempt to weaken the position of workers, working women and women generally. We have seen the Government's approach in the context of immigration rights, nursery education and other areas of education. We have seen it expressed in the form of cuts in benefits to the wives and families of strikers and in the inadequate level of child benefit.

Nothing in the Tory manifesto suggested that the Government would whittle away maternity benefit rights. Of course not. The Tories were very conscious of the women's vote. I suggest that it was blatantly dishonest of the Tories to hide their intentions and—the Under-Secretary made this claim in Committee—to claim a mandate for what they are now doing.

I remember, as I am sure do my right hon. and hon. Friends—the splendid Saatchi and Saatchi slogan Cheer up, the Conservatives are coming. Don't just hope for a better life—vote for one. I think that the Secretary of State for Employment has a copy of the Tory manifesto in his hands at this moment and I feel sure that he is closely following what I am saying. We recall the advertisements with their phoney dole queues which have now turned into real dole queues with a vengance.

We did not hear slogans from Saatchi and Saatchi in that context. We might have had one imposed, perhaps, on a picture of the Prime Minister saying: " A woman's place is in the home ". We did not see that, nor were there posters on the hoardings saying: " Choose with the Tories—your baby or your job." That would have been an honest indication to women voters that their rights were to be undermined.

The Government have no mandate for these changes, whatever they may say about their mandate in other respects in relation to the Bill. There was nothing in the Tory manifesto to suggest that this woman-led Government would go in for a whole range of anti-woman, sexist legislation into which this despicable clause fits very neatly.

The fact that we have tabled these amendments does not alter our real aim which is to get rid of the whole clause lock, stock and barrel along with the rest of this Bill. We shall certainly do that when we form the next Government.

Mr. Don Dixon (Jarrow)

Does my hon. Friend accept that we would expect those Conservative Members who supported the Abortion (Amendment) Bill—which they said was to protect the unborn child—to come into the Lobby with us tonight to protect the mothers of those unborn children?

Mr. Grant

My hon. Friend is right, I hope that we shall see that. But going on past form there is very little chance of that happening. However, one never knows. We might get a Conservative Member or two—perhaps an hon. Lady—who is prepared to support our approach—but I doubt it.

4.45 pm
Miss Jo Richardson (Barking)

The amendment to which we are speaking deals with a narrow point. I accept that. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, Central (Mr. Grant) for presenting so cogently the difficulties which will face women generally as a result of the maternity and other provisions in the Bill that affect women. He highlighted the general attack on women which is being perpetrated by the Government.

There may be only 19 women Members of Parliament out of a total of 635 hon. Members and we may be in a minority. However, I remind the House that we are not in a minority in the country. We are a majority in the country because over 50 per cent. of the population are women. I am sick to death of being eternally referred to as being part of a minority group in the country. We are not and while I have no desire that we should take a stand or an attitude as a majority I wish that women were not lumped together in that way.

My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, Central has already said that women represent over 42 per cent. of the nation's work force. That is true, but it is an unfortunate fact—despite the rights we gained under the Labour Government—that many of those women in the work force are in low-paid or part-time jobs.

I had hoped that, if there had been a Labour Government following the general election, we might have taken further steps towards providing better job opportunities and better job training for women. That would have made it easier for women to play their proper role. I am sure that I echo the feelings of my female colleagues in opposition when I say that I am grateful to our Conservative women colleagues who so stoutly opposed the attack on women's rights contained in this Bill during the Committee stage. I confess that I am always a little surprised that, when a Bill affects some aspects of women's rights, a woman Member is seldom put on to the Committee. It seems that when it does happen that it is an accident that a woman is on such a Committee.

One would have thought that the Committee of Selection would have thought it appropriate—since there was a fair amount of fuss about the maternity rights provisions of the Bill—to have put a woman on the Standing Committee considering it. I am not saying that I wanted to be that woman.

Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

The Committee of Selection placed women on the Committee considering the legal rights legislation and put a number of women on the Abortion Bill Committee. Those women eventually took themselves off that particular Committee.

Miss Richardson

I do not follow the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman).

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

I was talking about selection for Committees.

Miss Richardson

Indeed, I understand that. I am not suggesting that there have not been women on Committees considering Bills which affect women. I well remember, going back to 1974–75, and the Sex Discrimination Bill, that a number of women were on the Committee considering that measure. It is remarkable that, when Bills closely affecting women are to go through the House, the Committee of Selection does not always think that it should appoint women Members to serve on them. There was one Bill, the exact title of which I have forgotten, but it concerned nurses and midwives—an area which involves a large number of women workers—and no woman Member served on the Committee. However, I digress from the amendment.

The maternity provisions and other provisions in this Bill militate against and bear heavily on women not only in the work force, but in general. They severely limit the position and the protection of individual women workers. As we are in a vulnerable position in the work force, both as employees and trade unionists, the provisions in clauses 10 and 11 and in other parts of the Bill—notably schedule 11—are discriminatory.

I agree that this Government were not brought in on a mandate to force women back into the home. The Bill shows a definite policy trend and intention to do just that. Coupled with other actions of the Government over the past 12 months, including a number of policy speeches by Government Front Bench spokesmen—which have resulted in a number of women being forced back into the home—it begins to come through loud and clear to women that the Government believe that the woman's place is in the home, not in the workplace, whether she is in the workplace for economic reasons—and many women are—or because she wishes to pursue a career and life of her own.

I do not know whether the Government are aware of the fury not only of the EOC and of other organisations which specifically watch this kind of thing, but of the anger of a large number of women's groups about this attack on their rights. That fury is real.

The existing provisions regarding maternity pay and the right to return to work are very limited. In 1974–75, when the Employment Protection Bill was on Report—again, I did not serve on the Committee considering that Bill—I remember sitting on the Government side with some of my then hon. Friends—hon. female sisters I shall call them—notably Mrs. Hayman and Mrs. Wise, who, both, regrettably, lost their seats, and the late Mrs. Millie Miller. We tried desperately to get our own Government to make the maternity provisions in the Employment Protection Bill, as it then was, more generous than they were. For example, we tried to get them brought more into line with the maternity provisions which prevailed in European countries.

I am sure that the figures that I am about to give are familiar to those who served on the Committee, because they must have been quoted time and again, France grants 16 weeks' leave with 90 per cent. basic wage. Italy has 20 weeks' leave with 80 per cent. basic pay. Neither has any qualifying period. In Hungary, women are entitled to five months' leave on full pay and a further three years with monthly cash allowances, followed by reinstatement wihout loss of seniority or penson rights. The Employment Gazette, from which I got these figures—there are many others—shows that no other EEC country treats small firms differently.

I see the hon. Member for Lancaster scribbling furiously. As she is an elected member of the European Parliament, we shall be glad to hear what she finds in her sojourns in Europe as regards the rights of women in those countries in this respect compared with the rights that we enjoy here.

Large numbers of women are excluded from the maternity provisions by the requirements of continuous service for two years with a 16-hour week or between 18 and 16 hours if continuously employed for five years. In 1975, 9 per cent. of women worked fewer than 16 hours a week. I am still talking about what we had before this Bill was introduced.

The present legislation makes no provision for paternity leave. There is a growing demand—it will be even greater in future—for paternity as well as maternity leave. Some firms already grant paternity leave. I understand that some of the smaller firms, perhaps with a more personal touch, tend to think about paternity as well as maternity rights.

The general provisions under the Employment Protection Act are quite small. For this Government to make them as mean as they are proposing is rotten. I re-read some of the debates at that time. I remember my own Front Bench—we were then in government—telling us that if in the following five or 10 years matters improved, they hoped that it would be possible to make the provisions more generous. I do not think that any Labour Member ever envisaged, whatever the economic situation, that those small maternity provisions in the Employment Protection Act would be decreased in the way that is now proposed. The amendment relates to the mechanics of taking maternity leave. They are already cumbersome. One has to read carefully the small print regarding the date to make application and so on. It seems that the mechanics will be made more cumbersome and restricted. As I read the Bill, a women has to advise her employer in writing 21 days before she intends to be absent due to pregnancy. If she wants to return to work, she has to inform him three weeks before that she intends to do so. So she has two letters to write. She has to reply within 14 days to a letter written at any time 49 days after the birth asking whether she intends to return to work and then write three weeks before her expected return giving the date of her return and so on.

I can imagine a woman approaching her confinement, with all the other things that she has to do, trying to remember that, not later than 21 days before her expected absence from work, she has to write a letter to her employer. It may be that she wants to work an extra week. That is why we are trying to make these provisions less tough than they are. Why should the woman be tied so tightly in the way that the Government now intend?

When the woman has had her baby and has begun to settle down and to think about when and whether she wants to return to work, she has to think about all these various statutory periods within which she has to make application, to write to her employer, and so on. Such provisions underline the obvious fact that no man has gone through the trauma of having a child and the difficulties facing a mother after the birth of her child. I can imagine the difficulty in most households, with notes being pinned up on the kitchen wall reminding the woman not to forget to write to the managing director or personnel manager, or whoever, so many days after this or that, and at the same time coping with nappies, and so on.

It must also be borne in mind that before and after a birth a woman is often in a tense and emotional state, and she should not have to be put to the trouble at that time of making a decision within such a short time about whether she wishes to return to work.

5 pm

Mr. Richard Needham (Chippenham)

Does not the hon. Lady also accept that the employer has to make certain arrangements with the temporary staff that he may have taken on during the time the pregnant lady has taken off to have her baby? Is there not some obligation on the employer to make sure that he looks after the temporary staff? An employer in a small company may find it difficult to find temporary staff. Is it not right that he should know when the pregnant lady will return to work—if she returns to work—so that the temporary employee can make appropriate arrangements? There must be a balance.

Miss Richardson

The hon. Gentleman is making a mountain out of a molehill. The statistics show—obviously the hon. Gentleman has not looked at them—that the take-up of the existing provisions is very low. There has not been any hassle in small firms, as he suggests. Between April and September 1979 55,139 women were eligible to take maternity leave. Only 1.9 per cent. of women who take maternity leave receive maternity pay. Only 3 per cent. return to work. A recent Department of Employment survey showed that of 300 small firms, only 4 per cent. had granted maternity leave, and that none of those firms had found it troublesome. A decent employer who carries out the provisions of the law properly will be able to obtain temporary—I stress temporary—assistance during the time that the pregnant woman is away. Surely we do not have to stick to 49 days before or 21 days after in the tough way that the Government propose.

There is no justification for treating small firms differently, and for making women's rights dependent on something as arbitrary as the size of the firm. Why a work force of five? Why not a work force of 10, or one? It is purely arbitrary. It creates two classes of women workers—those who work for small firms and those who work for large firms. There is enough discrimination without that. Some women will have maternity rights, and some women will have no maternity rights, depending on the size of the firm in which they are working. No other European country operates in that way.

The maternity fund was set up to ensure that all employers share equally the cost of a woman's right to take maternity leave and to make sure that the burden does not fall on small employers or firms that employ mainly women. Apart from the additional harassment of women under the provisions of clause 10, the notification procedure will undoubtedly make it more confusing, and administratively difficult and cumbersome for the employer, particularly in a small firm where there are few people doing many jobs. These new provisions, with their tight timetables, will make it more difficult for small firms to obey the law properly. Surely that is the opposite of the Government's intentions.

I have been reading some of the reports of the debates on maternity provisions during the Report stage of the Employment Protection Act. I noted that the present Secretary of State for Employment showed a good deal of sympathy for treating women equally and without discrimination. I hope that that is his present attitude. I hope that he will not want to be seen to be discriminating against women. He showed a distinct thread of sympathy at that time.

As my hon. Friend for Islington, Central said, it is a bitter irony that the first woman Prime Minister of this country should be the first Prime Minister to snatch back so quickly and greedily those rights which women have won so hard. I remember a line in the woman's page of The Guardian which has stuck in my mind, and which I have quoted often. It said: Mrs. T. may be a woman, but that does not make her a sister. That may be right. She has shown no sympathy for the rest of her sisters.

I would have expected the right hon. Lady, as a woman Prime Minister—or for that matter, any woman who is Prime Minister—to have paid particular attention to the fact that women are so underprivileged in this country and so much in need of a helping hand to get them to a basis of equality with men. Tory Members do not seem to understand that once we achieve genuine equal opportunity and genuine equality of job opportunities, we shall hear no more about women's rights over men's rights. Only while women are so much the underprivileged half of the community will there be constant uprisings of women's groups demanding their basic rights as human beings and women. Until Governments recognise that, and make considerable strides towards genuine equality, there will always be bitterness and frustration in at least half of the community. I hope that the Secretary of State will reconsider clauses 10 and 11 and show again his thread of sympathy—the small amount of sympathy which I think he showed recently—and not be overridden by the Prime Minister.

Dr. McDonald

I rise to speak in support of amendments Nos. 76, 77 and 79. My hon. Friends have already referred to their suspicions about the reasons for the reduction in the maternity leave rights for women. Their suspicions are justified. Reference has been made to the speeches by Ministers in which it has been said that a women's place is in the home and that there is a need for the women to return to the home. Perhaps that should be tied up with the Chancellor's prediction to a Select Committee this week that there will be 2 million unemployed in the near future.

It would be extremely convenient for the Government if women were encouraged to return to the home, since they are aware that many women do not register and claim unemployment benefit, and, therefore, do not appear in the statistics showing the numbers of people unemployed. It would save the Government considerable embarrassment during their period of administration if women could be encouraged to remain at home and not to swell the ranks of the unemployed.

We know the kind of encouragement to women to return home that is made in the speeches of Conservative Members, and this is strengthened by legislative action of one sort or another. The Bill is an example of this. We can only believe that their actions result from fear and prejudice when we note the lack of evidence in favour of changes of this sort in the maternity leave provisions of the Employment Protection Act passed by the previous Labour Government. Neither the Department of Employment's own survey nor other surveys which have been carried out provide a single shred of evidence to justify these changes in the legislation. When the Department of Employment commissioned the Opinion Research Centre to carry out a survey in reply to the first general question about which pieces of Government legislation impeded the progress of small businesses, only one out of the 300 or so firms questioned referred specifically to the maternity leave provisions of the Employment Protection Act.

There is no evidence, therefore, for changes of the sort which are embodied in the Bill. We can only, therefore, refer to fear and prejudice as the Government's reasons to justify the changes that they are seeking to introduce.

We have heard already from my hon. Friends how few women avail themselves of the maternity leave provisions. Between July 1978 and July 1979, out of over 10 million working women, only 11,600 took maternity leave—about three women out of every 1,000. There is other evidence, in the surveys carried out by the Equal Opportunities Commission and by other institutions, suggesting that very small numbers of women take up the maternity leave provisions. I do not think that this is a good thing, and the reasons for it are not hard to find.

They are to be found in two areas, the first of which is the lack of provision for paternity leave. In passing, I emphasise the need for paternity leave, because the birth of a child into a family should be regarded not simply as the responsibility of the mother; the care of the child is a matter for both parents. It is important for both parents to be closely involved in the birth and in the first few weeks of the child's life. The lack of paternity leave and the lack of child care facilities make it impractical for many women to return to work after the birth of a child, however much they want and need to do so.

Reference has been made to the fact that working women provide wages which lift large numbers of low-paid families out of poverty. The survey of the DHSS indicates that the wives of low-paid husbands are generally more likely to contribute between 36 per cent. and 60 per cent. to the joint income than are the wives of higher-paid husbands.

I remind the House that we continually hear from Government spokesmen of the need to provide incentives for people to remain in work. The Government, by the Bill, are putting another obstacle in the way of those who may wish to return to work. They are hitting particularly hard at the low-paid family and forcing that low-paid family to fall back on State benefits in the form of family income supplement and rent and rate rebates. Had the wife been able to return to work after the birth of her child with greater ease and security than the provsions allow, her wages could have lifted the family's income above the need for recourse to the family income supplement or to rent and rate rebates.

Once again we find that the Government's words about the need to provide incentives for work are a lot of hot air. The Government's aim is, to hit at the most vulnerable in society, in order to protect those whose interests they feel the need to protect, namely, the employers—and particularly, as they claim, the interests of the smaller business man.

5.15 pm

As the Government are seeking particularly to protect small firms and to encourage small firms to take on more employees, it would be interesting to know from the Government how many women of child-bearing age are employed in small firms of five or fewer than five people. Can the Minister provide us with the figures? Can he assure us—since, no doubt, these provisions will go through unchanged tonight—that his Department will set up a monitoring unit which will be able to tell us, say, this time next year that the numbers of women of child-bearing age employed by the small firms, as defined in this part of the Bill, have increased, and that therefore the changes have been successful? Or is this merely another piece of prejudice on the part of the Government, with the Government being unwilling to provide the information for which I have asked, or to carry out any monitoring system to find whether their claims about small firms being discouraged, by the maternity leave provisions, from taking on female employees are correct?

It would be interesting to have some hard information from the Minister on these points. I doubt whether he can provide the numbers for which I have asked, and I doubt whether he will provide us with any assurance that his Department will carry out the kind of monitoring that would serve as some kind of fig-leaf justification for the changes to be introduced by this legislation.

My hon. Friends have, quite rightly, referred to the legislation as attacking the rights of women. They have expressed their surprise that a Government headed by a woman are determined to attack and to reduce the rights of women, for which some of my hon. Friends fought so hard during the latter stage of the previous Government. Yet ever since the Prime Minister's party came to power, everything that she has said and done has indicated her total lack of concern—indeed, her contempt—for women who have to use these statutory provisions in order to protect their rights.

I remember that, shortly after the Prime Minister's party was returned on 3 May, during Prime Minister's Question Time in the House she told us with great glee that she had had no need of the work of the Equal Opportunities Commission, and that she had managed to make her own way without the support of any organisation of that kind. Indeed, she turned then on other women who require the protection of the EOC and the protection of legislation of this kind, seeking to override that protection in every possible way.

The legislation will achieve two things. It will worsen the position of British women as compared with women throughout virtually the whole of the Community. Only West Germany requires, as a qualifying condition for reinstatement, that a woman must advise her employer at least four weeks before maternity leave begins of her intention to continue working. Even there the requirement is only to inform her employer of that intention on one occasion. None of the other member countries of the EEC has any such requirement. Indeed, they provide for return to work, and, in general, the maternity pay is better while the woman is away from work.

To raise our standards to those in the rest of the Community and to protect women from the activities of this Government we shall have to fall back on the provisions of the EEC directive adopted in 1978. Article 2 states: For the purposes of the following provisions, the principle of equal treatment shall mean that there shall be no discrimination whatsoever on grounds of sex either directly or indirectly by references in particular to marital or family status.

In the context of rights at work, a woman's right to return to work after maternity leave should perhaps be compared with an illness. To ensure that a woman has those rights in a small firm, as defined in clause 11, and that she is not discriminated against through lack of knowledge of the provisions of clause 10 as they stand, the best that we can do is encourage women, through the Equal Opportunities Commission, to take their case to the European Court of Justice at Luxembourg. As with discrimination against immigrants, women will not be able to look to their Government to protect their rights but will have to appeal beyond that Government to the European Court of Justice. Once a case is judged in their favour in regard to that directive, the judgment will overrule the provisions of the Employment Bill and ensure that women have the required employment protection at law. I am consistently opposed to our membership of the Common Market, and I regret to say that women will have to turn to the European Court for the necessary protection. However, there is no point in looking to this Government for their rights, even though it is headed by a Prime Minister whom at first they might have regarded as a sister.

Miss Joan Lestor (Eton and Slough)

I have listened to my hon. Friends and to the eloquent silence on the Conservative Benches, and I shall be brief.

In the progress of reactionary regimes in the past three important points have been highlighted—attacks on ethnic minorities, the trade union movement and women, and women working. I do not suggest that the Government are treading the path of pre-war reactionary Right-wing parties. It is for others to draw their own conclusion. However, they are following a path that is discriminatory in every sense of the word.

The Government should explain the demand that they say comes from small firms. In my constituency there are probably more small firms, factories and employers than in most others. I have endeavoured to find out whether these small firms are in difficulties because the small number of women of childbearing age whom they employ take advantage of the provisions that are to be eliminated. No one has complained. I believe that what my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Dr. McDonald) says is about the size of it. It is an attempt to discourage women from working. Although the provisions for maternity leave and return to work are isolated, their removal must be seen in the context of the Government's general policies. It is part of a campaign to remove from women the confidence that they have been gaining over the years that they can be the mothers and also work—and many of them have to—and still their children and homes will not suffer. It also gives the Government the opportunity to reduce the unemployment figures by making it more difficult for women to return to work and even actively discouraging them from working.

The Bill is more about that than protecting the interests of small firms. My hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) has already given us the statistics for women returning to work and taking advantage of the benefits. If there were more women Members of this House, particularly women of child-bearing age, the Government could not get away with this. I am not in any sense anti-man. I almost took exception when my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, Central (Mr. Grant) said that possibly the Minister was so disillusioned with a woman in power that he had become anti-woman. Many of us have seen men in power and it has not made us anti-men, in spite of our views on the way that the Government have conducted our affairs. However, the men in this House who have wives and children and whose wives pursue careers are failing in their duty and being less than honest if they endorse the removal of these provisions.

Viewed in conjunction with the closure of day nurseries and the failure to expand nursery schools, which have been a basic provision so that women could go out to work, this can be seen as an attack on women's rights. There is no demand from the small employer to abolish the provisions. It is also a further insidious attempt to cloak the unemployment figures, which we know will soar in the next few months.

Mr. Arthur Davidson (Accrington)

There were no women in the Committee which considered this Bill. We drew attention to the absurd fact that those most affected by the maternity provisions were not able to object. That balance has been more than rectified today by the three excellent speeches of my hon. Friends. I am a man, and I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor) does not dislike me. It would be wrong for me not to add one or two words. For no good reason the Government are making it more difficult for women to benefit from the maternity leave provisions, which were included, after a long and hard-fought battle, in the previous Employment Protection Act.

These provisions will add to the bureaucracy and the difficulties that women face when they wish to return to work after taking maternity leave. They face considerable difficulties. Why should a woman have to write three times to her employer? Why should an extra burden be placed on her? This suggestion comes from a Government who are supposed to be against form-filling and bureaucracy.

5.30 pm

This tatty and unworthy measure will make matters more difficult for the woman who has a family and who wants to work, or is forced to work, for a small, local firm. The more skilled woman worker, who can work for a larger firm, will have greater rights. She will have, perhaps, the protection of employment legislation introduced by Labour Governments. The woman who has to work for a small firm locally will have fewer rights. Her disadvantages will be twofold. She will find that the Bill, when enacted, will be discriminatory against her. It will mean that the small firm that wants to recruit more skilled labour, especially more skilled female labour, will be unable to do so because women will be unwilling to work for such a firm if there is a possibility of working for a larger firm, even if that means travelling a greater distance.

For all these reasons I believe that the Government have unworthy motives. They wish to suggest that they are doing something to help small employers when in reality they are not doing so. They are introducing a measure that will add to the disadvantages that women face. The Government should be honest and with- draw the clause. They should acknowledge that it should never have been in the Bill. It is tatty, unworthy and of no value to employers who, according to the Government, will benefit from it.

Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East)

It is remarkable that not one Conservative Member has chosen to defend this attack on women's rights. It is especially remarkable that Conservative lady Members who were present have left the Chamber. No doubt they are ashamed of the clause and are not willing to defend it.

Surely the House should adopt the bipartisan view that we are here to protect the weaker sections of the community. I can think of no more vulnerable section than women having babies. Surely it should be a section that has cross-party support. I find it repugnant that a Parliament composed primarily of middle-class, middle-aged men chooses to reduce the rights of women in childbirth.

As my hon. Friends have said, it is necessary for a woman in childbirth to write three letters. If her employer writes 49 days after the birth of her child and if she fails to reply within 14 days, she will lose her rights. There will be no equality for women in industry unless they have these rights. Surely six weeks after confinement is far too early for a woman to make such a decision.

For example, the woman might have had a difficult confinement. If so, she will have other things on her mind. It may be that she is overwhelmed by the new life which has come into the family. Although as men we do not experience childbirth, we experience the wonderful event of the new child coming into the family. It may be that the woman is completely overwhelmed, especially if it is her first child. The new life will take precedence over everything else. In such circumstances, it is surely reasonable to accept that the woman may be uncertain at such an early stage about whether she wants to return to work.

There are many practical problems. For instance, will she be able to get a child-minder? Will it be possible to make suitable arrangements? It is intolerable to foist such a decision on a woman within six weeks of childbirth. We like to call ourselves honourable men, and I do not think that what I have described is an honourable or gentlemanly thing to do. It is difficult for a woman to make a rational decision within six weeks of childbirth, especially if it is her first child.

Mr. David Madel (Bedfordshire, South)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Leighton

Certainly. The hon. Gentleman is a great expert on these matters.

Mr. Madel

I am not. The hon. Gentleman is talking about clause 10(2). He is expressing anxiety about the practicality of 49 days. If he reads the bottom line of subsection (2), he will note the provision as soon as reasonably practicable ". Therefore, the Government have met the argument that he is advancing. Indeed, it was met by the previous Labour Government when they introduced the original legislation.

Mr. Leighton

I am referring to the exact number of days. If the hon. Gentleman agrees that the reference to 49 days should be omitted and that the subsection should merely refer to as soon as reasonably practicable ", I shall be in agreement. However, the subsection provides for 49 days. That is unnecessary. It is petty, mean, unworthy and a disgrace for a Government led by a woman.

The Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Patrick Mayhew)

We have had a debate upon a clause that makes the most modest of adjustments to the rights of women to resume their work after they have had a baby. It has been spoilt by the extravagance of the language that has been used not only by the hon. Member for Islington, Central (Mr. Grant)—rather uncharacteristically—who spoke from the Opposition Front Bench, but by the hon. Members for Barking (Miss Richardson), Thurrock (Dr. McDonald) and Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor).

I remind the House of the nature of the protection that is given to women in these circumstances. If they have met the qualifying period of two years' employment—I take this from the Act introduced by a previous Labour Government—and if they wish to return to their work after they have had a baby, they must give notice not less than three weeks before they commence their absence, and again give notice not less than one week before they wish to return to work, which may be up to 29 weeks after the date of confinement.

If they meet those conditions and the employer does not take them back into the original job, they will have a claim for compensation for unfair dismissal. That is the structure of the protection given by the current Act. It is against that background that we must consider the effect of clause 10.

Does the clause take away anything significant? Does it diminish in any significant particular the right of women to return to work? It does not. It merely states that we have to take account of the concerns of the employer and those of the replacement worker, permanent or temporary, when the employer may have taken on to fill the gap left by his female employee when she goes off to have her baby. That is the Government's sole purpose in introducing the clause.

I wondered whether it was in some spirit of burlesque that Labour Members spoke of a sexist attack upon women and a deliberate attempt to strike at those who are most vulnerable.

I remind the House of two things, one of which the Government have done and the other of which the Government have taken power to do in the Bill. Those two things are directly relevant to the debate. The Bill introduces a new right for women. [Interruption.] It is one thing for Opposition spokesmen to propose, when they have no ability to dispose. They did nothing about this provision when they were in power. It is another thing for the Government to make proposals. The Government have proposed that women should have time off from work, with pay, for as long as may be reasonable so that they may then go to a pre-natal clinic, where that is medically advised. How can that be said to be consistent with a sexist attack on women at their weakest?

I invite hon. Ladies on the Labour Benches to address themselves to reality. I admit that it is possible to put up some quite good arguments against the two clauses. However, any speech is disfigured that attacks the clauses—despite the evidence—in such extravagant language. We have already increased the maximum amounts of compensation for unfair dismissal. We have increased not only the component which must be reviewed annually, but the component upon which there is no statutory obligation to do so. They have been increased by about 10 per cent. this year.

Mr. Harold Walker (Doncaster)

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman accept that, although it is true that the limits have been increased, they have not been sufficiently increased to offset the effects of inflation?

Mr. Mayhew

The previous Labour Government did not make the annual review of compensation awards a statutory requirement. However, they were reviewed last year and again this year. I do not wish to take a long time answering a point which answers itself. However, I do not wish it to be supposed that I am passing over the type of language that has been used in the debate. It is deeply offensive to the Government. That will not worry Opposition Members, but it is offensive to the Government and to those who have regard for the truth. I therefore ask the House to look at the effects of clause 10.

The present Act requires that the first notice should be given not less than three weeks before the woman begins maternity absence. The Bill makes a profoundly important change and states that that notice must be given in writing. If Opposition Members believe that that represents an attack on a fundamental human right, they have been leading pretty sheltered existences.

The clause states that the notice, which under present law has to be given not less than a week before the woman intends to come back, must now be given in writing. It must now be given in writing not less than three weeks before she intends to return. Does that represent a desperate attack on women at their weakest? The purpose of the clause is to bridge an enormous gap. A woman may take maternity leave 11 weeks before her confinement and she must give notice three weeks before that absence commences. It is then not until 28 weeks after confinement that confirmation of return is needed.

We must have regard to the interests of those who are taken on as replacements. We must also consider those who need to plan their businesses, and who need to know how they can fill a post. We are not concerned simply about employers as employers. We have always made clear that we are concerned that we want employers to be able to take on more staff, including more female staff. Where possible, we wish to create more jobs and to encourage the establishment of new businesses.

5.45 pm

In our manifesto we said that we would review those parts of the Employment Protection Act that endanger the viability of businesses, particularly small businesses. I remind Opposition Members that a Minister in the previous Labour Government, the present Lord Lever, issued a warning a couple of years ago against allowing the Employment Protection Act to become an employment destruction Act. He gave that warning for just that reason.

Mr. Leighton

Does not the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that the poll, officially commissioned by the Department of Employment, showed that out of 300 small firms only 4 per cent. had granted maternity leave and none of them had found it troublesome?

Mr. Mayhew

That figure, along with many others, appears in the ORC report. We cannot ignore the fact that 20 per cent. of those 300 firms expected to experience difficulty in holding a job open for up to 40 weeks. Although that is not at the head and forefront of the anxieties of small businesses, it cannot be overlooked. We must mitigate those anxieties, as far as is compatible, with the protection that we support.

Mrs. Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)

Has my hon. and learned Friend also considered the undoubted fact that this regulation has militated against the employment of women? In many cases, particularly in the West Midlands, employers have deliberately avoided bringing such trouble on themselves and have taken on young men instead of young women. My hon. Friends and I do not wish to spoil the employment opportunities that are open to women.

Mr. Mayhew

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her remarks.

Mr. Harold Walker


Mr. Mayhew

It is nonsense to denounce an opinion as " rubbish ", just because it conflicts with one's own point of view. As the House knows, my hon. Friend is a very conscientious and experienced Member of Parliament. Her remarks accord with a great deal of the opinion that we have received. One does not have to be hanged to hold the opinion that hanging is a disagreeable experience. It is not easy to conduct a survey of those who have not begun new businesses. One cannot go to a " Non Companies House " and look at the statistics.

Mr. Walker

Opinions have been expressed that have rightly caused anxiety. Those opinions became the subject of careful, independent research. However, there is no evidence to substantiate those opinions. The hon. and learned Gentleman should point out that the Department of Employment commissioned independent research. It produced not a scrap of evidence to support the opinion expressed by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight).

Mr. Mayhew

I have already mentioned that the ORC report indicates that 20 per cent. of the 301 companies polled considered that difficulties would arise from the obligation to grant up to 40 weeks' absence before reinstatement. This is not at the head and forefront of anxieties that affect small businesses. However, we cannot disregard it.

Our views have been borne out by the overwhelming support that we have received in our consultations. The measure has not been put forward without consultation. Indeed, I doubt whether any Bill in modern times has been the result of more consultation. There were working papers in July, September and February. If any hon. Member is interested, I shall gladly write to him, giving him an analysis of the response and support that we have had for this proposal.

The third and last thing that this clause does is to provide that if an employer so wishes, he has not less than seven weeks after the confinement in which to write to the employee and ask for confirmation of her intention to return to work. Then, within a fortnight, the employee must write back and say " Yes " or " No ". If she does not reply, she loses the right to reinstatement.

I acknowledge that a helpful suggestion was made by a number of Labour Members during Committee stage, when it was pointed out that there was a danger that that could constitute a trap unless the written request from the employer gave an explanation of what would happen if the employee did not reply—that she would be put on notice that her rights would be lost. We accepted that, and we are putting that matter right in our next amendment. That is all the clause does. It does not remove a woman's right to return to work; it simply gives the employer a more reliable guide as to whether the right to return will be exercised. Unless that kind of assistance is given, it is our firm belief that fewer jobs will be available to women in these circumstances.

It has been said that while this provision does not actually take us back to the dark ages, it puts us in a position that is far worse than that to be found anywhere else in Europe. That is not true. With the possible exception of West Germany, we have by far the best record for the duration of maternity leave. In most European countries, and certainly within the EEC, female workers are expected to go back to work about the same time after confinement that we confer on an employer the right to send a letter asking whether the right to return will be exercised—about seven weeks. Also, in many European countries, there is a requirement for notification in one form or another—mostly in the form of a certification of confinement or pregnancy. Therefore, it is with some sadness that I note the extravagant language that has been used to condemn what is really a useful and moderate adjustment.

I was asked what sort of numbers were likely to be affected. If we assume that the proportion of women leaving to have a baby and qualifying for the right to return, which is about 1.33 per cent., is the same in very small firms of five or fewer employees as in the economy as a whole, then about 5,000 women in such firms will be affected each year. These matters are subject to considerable speculation and uncertainty.

I hope that I have said enough to indicate why these amendments, which interfere in a most marginal way with the provisions of the clause, should be rejected.

Mr. John Grant

I am sorry to disappoint the hon. and learned Gentleman, but I do not intend to say more on this matter. He talks about the modesty of the changes that the Government propose. He reminds me of the story of the wife who caught her husband in bed with the au pair girl. The wife complained that the husband made it all sound so darned reasonable. That has been the Minister's approach all along. He soft-soaped us all through the Committee, and he did so pretty effectively. He tries to make out that this clause is innocuous. But this is just part of a package, and that is our primary objection. The Minister even tries to persuade us that the clause is good for working women, and that it will create more jobs. That is patently dishonest. He also argued that it was good for employers, and to that extent there is an arguable case.

Mr. Cyril Smith (Rochdale)

The hon. Member has just said that there is an arguable case from the employers' point of view. The more I listen to this Government, the more I am convinced that they know little about running small businesses. If a woman has time off from a small business to have a baby, the employer will not be communicating formally with her by letter. He will be in touch with her every week about income tax rebates and so on. He will want to know how the baby is, and he will probably want to help her during her pregnancy. She will probably pop into work to see her colleagues and tell them about the baby's progress. People running small businesses do not need these formal procedures or the exchange of letters. The Government have got it all wrong.

Mr. Grant

I agree with the hon. Member, but at least there is a more arguable case for the help given to the employer than that for the help given to working women. Until tonight I thought that there was only one woman—the Prime Minister—who was in favour of this clause. Now we find that there is another. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) intervened briefly to express her approval. But her intervention was based on hearsay and opinion, not hard evidence. Throughout the Standing Committee we received no evidence and no actual facts. I do not know why the hon. Lady did not make a speech and give us some evidence. We do not want to hear any more opinions and hearsay about small employers being adversely affected in this way.

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor). I have had exactly the same experience in my constituency of small firms which have had no complaints at all about the operation of the maternity arrangements. If this clause is good for working women, why is every organisation representing working women against it? I am surprised that the Minister has not conjured up an association of Conservative women trade unionists to support his case. If he did, he would have to hire the proverbial Liberal Party taxi in which they could hold their meeting. The Minister has not provided us with any worthwhile evidence. He said tonight that he would provide an analysis of evidence based on the consultative document. Why did he not do that before? We should have had that sort of analysis during our Standing Committee debates. The Minister knows that there is no detailed evidence.

Mr. Barry Porter (Bebington and Ellesmere Port)

Perhaps I could give the hon. Member some evidence as an employer of female labour. I agree with the point put forward by the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith) about the friendliness in small businesses. However, I like to have records, and all the clause does is to require notice in writing. That is very sensible, and it matters only if the employer and the employee fall out. It is not much good if an employee goes to a tribunal and says that when she went into the office to collect a woolly hat for her baby, she said that she hoped to come back.

6 pm

Of course, it helps the employer. To assist my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight), certainly it is the case in my practice that we are pretty reluctant to take on girls to be typists or secretaries who are likely to have babies in the near future. It is sad but true. It may be thought that I am terribly cruel, but if I lose one-twelfth of my labour force, which is one secretary, for 40 weeks or more I cannot cover that; I cannot get the experience or the continuing knowledge that a girl acquires. If I do that I suggest that there are thousands of others who do it as well.

Mr. John Grant

I take the hon. Gentleman's point, but what he has not done is to provide us with any evidence or indeed confirm that he has actually experienced difficulty. That is the point I was trying to make. We have not, in fact, had any evidence of difficulties experienced by employers as a consequence of existing legislation.

The small employer argument is little more than a con trick. I accept what my hon. Friend said—indeed it is what I said earlier—that this is very much a method of helping to cloak the unemployment figures by trying to keep more working women at home. It is part of a discriminatory approach—part of an approach which we on the Labour Benches deplore and oppose. I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to divide the House at the appropriate moment when we reach amendment No. 79.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. Mayhew

I beg to move amendment No. 12, in page 11, line 18, leave out ' and '.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take Government amendment No. 13.

Mr. Mayhew

This is a matter of drafting. I beg to move formally.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 13, in page 11, line 21, leave out ' so informs him ' and insert ' (iii) '.—[Mr. Mayhew.]

Mr. Mayhew

I beg to move amendment No. 14, in page 11, line 28, leave out ' in writing ' and insert ' in accordance with subsection (3B) '.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 78, in page 11, line 33, at end insert ' provided that the employer's written request contained a declaration that such entitlement would be lost if the confirmation was not given ' and Government amendment No. 15.

Mr. Mayhew

The effect of this amendment, taken with amendment No. 15, is to ensure that when an employer requests an employee, in writing, to confirm her intention to return he must at the same time warn her that she will not be entitled to the right to return unless she replies to his request within the stipulated time limit. I mentioned the thinking behind this a few moments ago, though I was no doubt out of order. It arises out of a point made by the Opposition in Standing Committee. We considered it at some length at that stage. I do not believe that it is necessary for me to say more, though I am prepared to do so, and I hope that the wording and intent of the clause are acceptable to the House.

Mr. John Grant

Although I would have preferred the wording in our own amendment—No. 78—because I think it spells out the obligation more clearly, the hon. and learned Gentleman has responded, as he says, to our representations in Committee, and we are content with what he is proposing.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 15, in page 11, line 33, at end insert— ' (3B) A request under subsection (3A) shall be made in writing and shall be accompanied by a written statement of the effect of that subsection.'.—[Mr. Mayhew.]

Amendment proposed: No. 79, in page 11, line 40, leave out ' twenty-one ' and insert ' fourteen '.—[Mr. John Grant.]

Question put, that the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 257, Noes 309.

Division No. 272] AYES [6.05 pm
Abse, Leo Atkinson, Norman (H'gey, Tott'ham) Booth, Rt Hon Albert
Adams, Allen Bagier, Gordon A. T. Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur (M'brough)
Allaun, Frank Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Bradley, Tom
Anderson, Donald Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood) Bray, Dr Jeremy
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Beith, A. J. Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ernest Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Brown, Ronald W. (Hackney S)
Ashton, Joe Bidwell, Sydney Buchan, Norman
Callaghan, Rt Hon J. (Cardiff SE) Healey, Rt Hon Denis Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) Heffer, Eric S. Prescott, John
Campbell, Ian Hogg, Norman (E Dunbartonshire) Price, Christopher (Lewisham West)
Campbell-Savours, Dale Holland, Stuart (L'beth, Vauxhall) Race, Reg
Canavan, Dennis Home Robertson, John Radice, Giles
Cant, R. B. Homewood, William Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds South)
Carmichael, Neil Hooley, Frank Richardson, Jo
Carter-Jones, Lewis Horam, John Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Cartwright, John Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H) Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Clark, Dr David (South Shields) Howells, Geraint Roberts, Ernest (Hackney North)
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S) Huckfield, Les Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
Cohen, Stanley Hudson Davies, Gwilym Ednyfed Robertson, George
Coleman, Donald Hughes, Mark (Durham) Robinson, Geoffrey (Coventry NW)
Concannon, Rt Hon J. D. Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen North) Rodgers, Rt Hon William
Conlan, Bernard Hughes, Roy (Newport) Rooker, J. W.
Cook, Robin F. Janner, Hon Greville Ross, Ernest (Dundee West)
Cowans, Harry Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Craigen, J. M. (Glasgow, Maryhill) John, Brynmor Rowlands, Ted
Crowther, J. S. Johnson, James (Hull West) Ryman, John
Cryer, Bob Johnson, Walter (Derby South) Sandelson, Neville
Cunliffe, Lawrence Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Sever, John
Cunningham, George (Islington S) Jones, Rt Hon Alec (Rhondda) Sheerman, Barry
Cunningham, Dr John (Whitehaven) Jones, Barry (East Flint) Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert (A'ton-u-L)
Dalyell, Tam Jones, Dan (Burnley) Shore, Rt Hon Peter (Step and Pop)
Davidson, Arthur Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Short, Mrs Renée
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Kerr, Russell Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)
Davis, Clinton (Hackney Central) Kilroy-Silk, Robert Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
Davis, Terry (B'rm'ham, Stechford) Kinnock, Neil Silverman, Julius
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Lamborn, Harry Skinner, Dennis
Dempsey, James Lamond, James Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Dewar, Donald Leighton, Ronald Smith, Rt Hon J. (North Lanarkshire)
Dixon, Donald Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough) Snape, Peter
Dobson, Frank Lewis, Arthur (Newham North West) Soley, Clive
Douglas-Mann, Bruce Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Spearing, Nigel
Dubs, Alfred Litherland, Robert Spriggs, Leslie
Duffy, A. E. P. Lofthouse, Geoffrey Stallard, A. W.
Dunn, James A. (Liverpool, Kirkdale) Lyon, Alexander (York) Steel, Rt Hon David
Dunnett, Jack Lyons, Edward (Bradford West) Stewart, Rt Hon Donald (W Isles)
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth McCartney, Hugh Stoddart, David
Eadie, Alex McDonald, Dr Oonagh Stott, Roger
Eastham, Ken McElhone, Frank Strang, Gavin
Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE) McGuire, Michael (Ince) Straw, Jack
Ellis, Raymond (NE Derbyshire) McKay, Allen (Penistone) Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Ellis, Tom (Wrexham) McKelvey, William Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton West)
English, Michael MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Ennals, Rt Hon David McNally, Thomas Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Evans, loan (Aberdare) McWilliam, John Thomas, Mike (Newcastle East)
Evans, John (Newton) Marks, Kenneth Thomas, Dr Roger (Carmarthen)
Ewing, Harry Marshall, David (Gl'sgow, Shettles'n) Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Faulds, Andrew Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Tilley, John
Field, Frank Martin, Michael (Gl'gow, Springb'rn) Torney, Tom
Fitch, Alan Mason, Rt Hon Roy Urwin, Rt Hon Tom
Flannery, Martin Maxton, John Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Maynard, Miss Joan Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Meacher, Michael Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)
Ford, Ben Mellish, Rt Hon Robert Walker, Rt Hon Harold (Doncaster)
Forrester, John Mikardo, Ian Watkins, David
Foster, Derek Millan, Rt Hon Bruce Weetch, Ken
Foulkes, George Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby) Wellbeloved, James
Fraser, John (Lambeth, Norwood) Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen) Welsh, Michael
Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald Molyneux, James White, Frank R. (Bury & Radcliffe)
Freud, Clement Morris, Rt Hon Alfred (Wythenshawe) White, James (Glasgow, Pollock)
Garrett, John (Norwich S) Morris, Rt Hon Charles (Openshaw) Whitehead, Phillip
Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend) Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon) Wigley, Dafydd
George, Bruce Morton, George Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Moyle, Rt Hon Roland Williams, Sir Thomas (Warrington)
Ginsburg, David Newens, Stanley Wilson, Gordon (Dundee East)
Golding, John Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Wilson, Rt Hon Sir Harold (Huyton)
Gourlay, Harry Ogden, Eric Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Graham, Ted O'Halloran, Michael Winnick, David
Grant, George (Morpeth) O'Neill, Martin Woodall, Alec
Grant, John (Islington C) Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Woolmer, Kenneth
Grimond, Rt Hon J. Owen, Rt Hon Dr David Wrigglesworth, Ian
Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Palmer, Arthur Wright, Sheila
Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Parker, John Young, David (Bolton East)
Hardy, Peter Parry, Robert
Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith Pavitt, Laurie TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Penhallgon, David Mr. James Tinn and
Haynes, Frank Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch (S Down) Mr. Waiter Harrison.
Adley, Robert Ancram, Michael Atkins, Robert (Preston North)
Aitken, Jonathan Arnold, Tom Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone;
Alexander, Richard Aspinwall, Jack Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset)
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Banks, Robert
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Galbraith, Hon T. G. D. Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Bell, Sir Ronald Gardiner, George (Reigate) Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Bendall, Vivian Gardner, Edward (South Fylde) Mayhew, Patrick
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torbay) Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian Mellor, David
Benyon, W. (Buckingham) Glyn, Dr Alan Meyer, Sir Anthony
Best, Keith Goodlad, Alastair Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove & Redditch)
Bevan, David Gilroy Gorst, John Mills, lain (Meriden)
Biffen, Rt Hon John Gow, Ian Miscampbell, Norman
Biggs-Davison, John Gower, Sir Raymond Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)
Blackburn, John Grant, Anthony (Harrow C) Moate, Roger
Body, Richard Gray, Hamish Monro, Hector
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Greenway, Harry Montgomery, Fergus
Boscawen, Hon Robert Grieve, Percy Moore, John
Bottomley, Peter (Woolwich West) Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St Edmunds) Morgan, Geraint
Bowden, Andrew Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Morris, Michael (Northampton, Sth)
Boyson, Dr Rhodes Grist, Ian Morrison, Hon Charles (Devizes)
Braine, Sir Bernard Grylls, Michael Morrison, Hon Peter (City of Chester)
Bright, Graham Gummer, John Selwyn Mudd, David
Brinton, Tim Hamilton, Hon Archie (Eps'm&Ew'll) Murphy, Christopher
Brittan, Leon Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Myles, David
Brooke, Hon Peter Hampson, Dr Keith Neale, Gerrard
Brotherton, Michael Hannam, John Needham, Richard
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Sc'thorpe) Haselhurst, Alan Nelson, Anthony
Browne, John (Winchester) Hastings, Stephen Neubert, Michael
Bruce-Gardyne, John Hawksley, Warren Newton, Tony
Bryan, Sir Paul Hayhoe, Barney Normanton, Tom
Buchanan-Smith, Hon Alick Heddle, John Nott, Rt Hon John
Buck, Antony Henderson, Barry Onslow, Cranley
Budgen, Nick Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs Sally
Bulmer, Esmond Hicks, Robert Osborn, John
Burden, F. A. Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Page, John (Harrow, West)
Butcher, John Hill, James Page, Richard (SW Hertfordshire)
Butler, Hon Adam Hogg, Hon Douglas (Grantham) Parris, Matthew
Cadbury, Jocelyn Holland, Philip (Carlton) Patten, Christopher (Bath)
Carlisle, John (Luton West) Hooson, Tom Patten, John (Oxford)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Hordern, Peter Pattie, Geoffrey
Carlisle, Rt Hon Mark (Runcorn) Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Pawsey, James
Chalker, Mrs. Lynda Howell, Rt Hon David (Guildford) Percival, Sir Ian
Channon, Paul Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Peyton, Rt Hon John
Chapman, Sydney Hunt, David (Wirral) Pink, Rt Bonner
Churchill, W. S. Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Pollock, Alexander
Clark, Hon Alan (Plymouth, Sutton) Hurd Hon Douglas Porter, George
Clark, Sir William (Croydon South) Irving, Charles (Cheltenham) Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick Price, David (Eastleigh)
Clegg, Sir Walter Jessel, Toby Prior, Rt Hon James
Cockeram, Eric Johnson Smith, Geoffrey Proctor, K. Harvey
Colvin, Michael Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Pym, Rt Hon Francis
Cope, John Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith Raison, Timothy
Cormack, Patrick Kaberry, Sir Donald Rathbone, Tim
Corrie, John Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Rees, Peter (Dover and Deal)
Costain, A. P. Kimball, Marcus Rees-Davies, W. R.
Cranborne, Viscount King, Rt Hon Tom Renton, Tim
Critchley, Julian Kilson, Sir Timothy Rhodes James, Robert
Crouch, David Knight, Mrs Jill Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Dean, Paul (North Somerset) Knox, David Ridsdale, Julian
Dickens, Geoffrey Lamont, Norman Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Dorrell, Stephen Lang, Ian Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Langford-Holt, Sir John Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Dover, Denshore Latham, Michael Rossi, Hugh
du Cann, Rt Hon Edward Lawrence, Ivan Rost, Peter
Dunn, Robert (Dartford) Lawson, Nigel Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Durant, Tony Lee, John St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon Norman
Dykes, Hugh Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Scott, Nicholas
Eden, Rt Hon Sir John Lester, Jim (Beeston) Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)
Edwards, Rt Hon N. (Pembroke) Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Shelton, William (Streatham)
Eggar, Timothy Lloyd, Ian (Havant & Waterloo) Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Elliott, Sir William Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge-Br'bills)
Emery, Peter Loveridge, John Shersby, Michael
Eyre, Reginald McCrindle, Robert Silvester, Fred
Fairbairn, Nicholas Macfarlane, Neil Sims, Roger
Fairgrieve, Russell MacGregor, John Skeet, T. H. H.
Faith, Mrs Sheila MacKay, John (Argyll) Smith, Dudley (War. and Leam'ton)
Farr, John Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham) Speed, Keith
Fell, Anthony McNair-Wilson, Michael (Newbury) Speller, Tony
Fenner, Mrs Peggy McNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest) Spence, John
Finsberg, Geoffrey McQuarrie, Albert Spicer, Jim (West Dorset)
Fisher, Sir Nigel Madel, David Spicer, Michael (S Worcestershire)
Fletcher, Alexander (Edinburgh N) Major, John Sproat, lain
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Marland, Paul Squire, Robin
Fookes, Miss Janet Marlow, Tony Stainton, Keith
Forman, Nigel Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Stanbrook, Ivor
Fowler, Rt Hon Norman Marten, Nell (Banbury) Stanley, John
Fox, Marcus Mates, Michael Steen, Anthony
Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St) Mather, Carol Stevens, Martin
Fraser, Peter (South Angus) Maude, Rt Hon Angus Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Fry, Peter Mawby, Ray Stewart, John (East Renfrewshire)
Stradling Thomas, J. Vaughan, Dr Gerard Wheeler, John
Tapsell, Peter Viggers, Peter Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
Taylor, Robert (Croydon NW) Waddington, David Whitney, Raymond
Taylor, Teddy (Southend East) Wakeham, John Wickenden, Keith
Tebbit, Norman Waldegrave, Hon William Wiggin, Jerry
Temple-Morris, Peter Walker, Rt Hon Peter (Worcester) Wilkinson, John
Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Walker, Bill (Perth & E Perthshire) Williams, Delwyn (Montgomery)
Thomas, Rt Hon Peter (Hendon S) Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek Winterton, Nicholas
Thompson, Donald Wall, Patrick Wolfson, Mark
Thornton, Malcolm Waller, Gary Young, Sir George (Acton)
Townend, John (Bridlington) Walters, Dennis
Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexleyheath) Ward, John TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Trippier, David Watson, John Mr. Spencer Le Marchant and
Trotter, Neville Wells, Bowen (Hert'rd & Stev'nage) Mr. Anthony Berry.
van Straubenzee, W. R.

Question accordingly negatived.

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