HC Deb 22 October 1986 vol 102 cc1233-50

`(1) In this section the relevant enactments are the provisions of the Hours of Employment (Conventions) Act 1936, the Mines and Quarries Act 1954, the Baking Hours of Work Act 1954 and the Factories Act 1961 (which are mentioned in sections 7 and 8 below and in Part III of the Schedule to this Act, and any subordinate legislation made under or by reference to those provisions. (2) Subject to the conditions in subsection (3) below, the Secretary of State may by order made by statutory instrument amend any provision in the relevant enactments, or any part thereof, so as to guarantee equal conditions to women and men with such consequential or transitional amendments as seem to him appropriate. (3) The conditions are—

  1. (a) Before the coming into force of sections 7 and 8 of this Act, the Secretary of State shall, after consultation with the appropriate Trade Unions, the Equal Opportunities Commission and employers, issue codes of practice in relation to the relevant enactments with reference to—
    1. (i) full consultation with the workforce before any substantial change in hours of work are introduced;
    2. (ii) provision in relation to childcare;
    3. (iii) provision of a safe mode of transportation for persons required to travel to work at unsocial hours;
    4. (iv) provision wherever possible for flexible working hours or a choice of shifts, in order to minimise the disruption to employees' domestic obligations.
  2. (b) (i) Whenever the Secretary of State proposes to issue a code of practice under this section he shall prepare and publish a draft code, shall consider any representations made to him about the draft and may modify the draft accordingly;
  3. (ii) The Secretary of State shall lay before both Houses of Parliament a draft of any code of practice prepared by him under this section;
  4. (iii) No order under paragraph (b) shall have effect until approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament;
  5. (iv) An order bringing a code of practice into operation may contain such transitional provisions or savings as appear to the Secretary of State necessarily or expedient in connection with the code of practice thereby brought into operation;
  6. (v) The Secretary of State may from time to time revise the whole or part of the code of practice to which this section applies and issue that revised code; and the foregoing provisions of this section shall apply (with appropriate modifications) to such a revised code as they apply to the first issue of a code. —[Ms. Richardson.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

7.45 pm
Ms. Jo Richardson (Barking)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

With this it will be convenient to take the following: New clause 6—Provision of facilities for women 'In subsection 35(1) of the 1975 Act, after paragraph (c), there shall be inserted the following paragraph: (d) the provision of transport or other facilities or services for women are provided for the purpose of ensuring personal safety.".'. Amendment No. 8, in clause 8, page 7, line 40, at end insert 'on a date not less than two years after the day on which this Act is passed, until which date the Secretary of State shall continue to consult with the Equal Opportunities Commission and other interested bodies concerning the future of the Baking Industry (Hours of Work) Act 1954.'. Amendment No. 12, in clause 10, page 8, line 25, after `to' insert 'section (Equal conditions regulations) above and' Amendment No. 13, in page 8 line 28, after 'appoint', insert `which day shall not be less than 12 months after this Act comes into force,'.

Ms. Richardson

Following the Opposition's defeat on new clause 2, we move on in the hope that something will emerge from this group of clauses and amendments. I am pleased to welcome the Paymaster General to our debate, I understand that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will reply.

New clause 4 provides the House with an opportunity to limit the damage which the Government wrought upon the Bill in Committee by removing the amendments which were made in another place. Two of the amendments which so offended the Government sought, first, to provide an alternative to the blanket repeal of all-protective legislation, which would be the effect of the Bill as it stands. The amendment moved by Lord Wedderburn sought to establish a mechanism for equal protection orders governing hours of work and other working conditions in the manufacturing sector and the baking industry that are presently covered by the so-called discriminatory legislation. Secondly, the Government were offended by the amendment of Baroness Platt of Writtle, which sought to place a duty on employers to follow the code of practice governing changes in hours of work. It provided procedures for drawing up a code of practice which would provide guidance for employers seeking to make significant changes in the hours of work and working conditions of their women employees and safeguard the health, safety and well-being of the work force, especially the members of it with domestic and family responsibilities.

Both amendments received cross-party and cross-Bench support. Throughout the debate in another place, Baroness Plan, who occupies a place on the Government Benches and is the present chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission, stressed the importance of the amendment to bring the Bill into line with the EOC report entitled "Health and Safety Legislation: should we distinguish between men and women?" The document was published by the commission as far back as 1979. Baroness Plan was supported strongly by my noble Friend, Baroness Lockwood, the former chair of the commission and the person who was the chair at the time that the report was commissioned and published. There was support also from Baroness Turner, who is a commissioner.

The new clause seeks to implement some of the substance and spirit of the Lords amendments and the recommendations of the EOC report. In addition, it offers the House the opportunity to follow the example of countries such as Norway and Sweden, where sensible and healthy restrictions have been introduced to cover hours of work and unsocial hours of work for both men and women. Another example is West Germany, where proposals for outlawing permanent night work in the baking industry have received the support of the Chancellor.

When I asked the Minister in Committee for his comments on Chancellor Kohl's support for bakers, the Minister who at that time was in charge of the Bill was able only to say that examples from other countries with detailed controls could always be found. He did not try to meet the argument that other countries have shown some sense in their approach to these matters.

Subsections (1) and (2) of the new clause give the Secretary of State power to bring forward orders made by statutory instrument which amend the provisions of the Hours of Employment (Conventions) Act 1936, the Mines and Quarries Act 1954, the Baking Industry (Hours of Work) Act 1954 and the Factories Act 1961 and any subordinate legislation made under or by reference to such legislation for equal provisions for men and women.

The new clause will not obstruct the removal of any outmoded, outdated or unnecessarily restrictive legislation about which we heard so much tonight when the Minister referred to "Building Businesses…Not Barriers". New clause 4 will remove discriminatory legislation by levelling up and extending the legislation to cover men, rather than by levelling it down across the board, as will inevitably be the case if the Bill remains unamended. Subsection (3) of the new clause, upon which subsections (1) and (2) are conditional, provides a crucial safeguard for the workers whose conditions and hours of work will be affected by the amended legislation. With the defeat of new clauses 1 and 2, the matter assumes greater importance. Subsection (3) will be welcomed by all responsible employers, and also by the Equal Opportunities Commission and the TUC, because it makes provision for a code of practice providing guidance for employers and some protection for employees who may he forced to seek a tribunal ruling on unfair dismissal. Moreover, such a code of practice, encompassing factors not obviously or normally covered by the health and safety Executive and relevant legislation, will provide a welcome model for all employers in both the public and private sectors where unsocial hours are already the norm because they provide essential services, which the Minister frequently reminded us about in Committee. At present, although they are heavily dominated by women, there is no protection.

The new clause provides for full consultation with the work force, a practice which should always be encouraged, no matter what the circumstances. Some hon. Members may not be aware that the provision in the Bill to repeal section 97 of the Factories Act 1961 removes from the Secretary of State the power to ascertain the opinions of the work force if an application for double day shift working is made by an employer. It also repeals the power of the Health and Safety inspectorate to satisfy itself that the majority of the work force consents to substantial changes in hours of work; or that suitable transport and other facilities such as refreshments are available. My hon. Friends and I believe that the right to consultation and the consideration of such matters must be reinstated. I appeal to the Paymaster General to think carefully about the need to replace some of the protection removed from the Bill during its passage.

We should remind ourselves of the results of the EOC survey, which provided the basis for its 1979 report. The report is the only evidence that is available in this area and the Government have been unable to produce any substantiated evidence, other than that put forward in another place or in Committee, that there is any reason to believe that circumstances have changed sufficiently, except for the worse, to undermine the report's findings. The EOC survey was carried out among a representative sample of 600 women within the sectors that would be affected by the changes in legislation and repeals which the Bill seeks to make. It paid particular attention to double day shift working and night work. It is true that women were in favour of removing legislation discriminating between men and women with regard to double day shift working. The survey found that 60 per cent. of the women were in agreement with that but only 40 per cent. agreed to the removal of restrictions on night work. More importantly, two thirds of the women said that they would definitely never work double day shifts or do weekend work after Saturday lunchtime. Hon. Members will surely understand this. Four fifths of the women said that they would never consider night work. That is a very high proportion.

As the report says, "quite sensibly" women were unwilling to speculate or express an attitude of either general approval or disapproval of shift work and of unsocial working hours without knowing the circumstances of the women involved. Invariably that was expressed as concern over domestic and family responsibilities, the very issue that the Government seek to dismiss as the proper concern of either Government or employers when proposals for substantial changes in working hours and other employment conditions are made. As one might expect, child care was a major concern and was regarded as a prerequisite for any consideration of shift working for women.

The new clause seeks to do nothing more than provide a mechanism whereby the House, employers, the appropriate trade unions, the EOC and, by no means last in importance, the work force concerned, especially women, can draw up, together and by consultation. fair and equal working conditions for both women and men. In adopting that approach, we should be endorsing the recommendations of the EOC, which stated that where health, safety and welfare demanded it, legislation should be applied equally to women and men; that there should be a transitional protection for women already working, but who would have to resign if significant changes in their hours of work were introduced,; that there should be a code of practice covering working hours; that legislation on rest breaks, meal breaks and public holidays should be extended to men; and that women should be brought. within the legislation that at present governs only men in the baking industry. While women put their point of view in the survey, they did not do so in a totally selfish manner. The survey showed that women wanted protection to be extended to their male counterparts at work.

New clause 6 is very short and relates to the provision under the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 of transport or of other facilities or services for women to ensure their personal safety. Many references have been made to transport. I do not think that the Paymaster General was in the Chamber when hon. Members raised the issue of the provision of transport for women who might have to work late at night. There was an interesting exchange between my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Evans) and the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman) about whether since deregulation transport has been better or worse.

There is now considerable evidence that women are constrained by fears about their personal safety at night. The House of Commons is a male-dominated place. Most of the males in it have wives, daughters, mothers and cousins who are female—

Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Littleborough and Saddleworth)

We all have mothers.

Ms. Richardson

The hon. Gentleman is quite right. I meant mothers who experience that problem. If hon. Members went home and asked their wives, their mothers and sisters — they may already have discussed it with them—whether they would like to go out at night or use public transport on their own, they would probably say no. I dare say that Conservative Members' wives and female relatives do not always have access to a car, although there may be more access than among working class women. However, women depend much more on public transport than men because fewer of them hold driving licences and fewer have access to a car, yet there is growing evidence that women do not use public transport as much as they would like, especially at night, because of the fear of harassment and assault.

8 pm

That is not an imagined threat in the mind of weak women; it is the experience of many women who have to use transport, or who should be able to do so. Strangely enough, the available statistical evidence demonstrates that most violent attacks in public places are perpetrated by men against men. The British Crime Survey and other surveys have demonstrated, however, that women are substantially more fearful for their personal safety than men. That applies at all ages.

As many as 41 per cent. of women in inner city areas feel "very unsafe" walking alone at night in their neighbourhoods. A survey on women's transport needs carried out by the Greater London council before its abolition found that 63 per cent. of the women surveyed said that they avoided going out alone after dark. In the context of the Bill and new clause 6, which would make provision in the Sex Discrimination Act for women-only transport to ensure women's personal safety, it is worth while for the House to consider for a few minutes the findings of the GLC survey because, as far as I know, it is the only one that has been conducted into women's transport needs, getting women's reactions.

The GLC transport committee, at the request of the women's committee, surveyed a representative sample of 900 women—300 more than the EOC took as a sample, so it is a fair sample. The committee found that only 37 per cent. of women feel safe travelling at night by bus, only 17 per cent. feel safe at night on the Underground and only 16 per cent. feel safe at night on British Rail. Ten per cent. of the women had suffered serious personal attacks. Over 10 per cent. had suffered from threats and harassment and 30 per cent. knew of other women who had suffered such incidents. Half the incidents occurred in the streets, 20 per cent. on trains, 10 per cent. at stations and nearly 15 per. cent at bus stops or on buses, so nearly half the incidents occurred while women were using or waiting to use public transport.

An equally worrying pattern emerged with regard to women's reluctance to report incidents. Only 40 per cent. of all the attacks had been reported. None of the Asian or Afro-Caribbean women who had been attacked reported the incident, and only half the white women did so. There was a fear not only of the attack but of being regarded as stupid — goodness knows how one feels in those circumstances. Those women did not go to the police or a member of staff at the station to report the incident.

Twenty per cent. of the white and Afro-Caribbean women agreed strongly with the statement: I don't go out on my own after dark. That response rose to 40 per cent. for Asian women. Therefore, we must look carefully at the need of ethnic minority women living among us to involve themselves in the community and working life, and our obligation to provide safe transport and access for them.

Buses were estimated to be the safest mode of transport, but only if a bus conductor or conductress was on board. The whole question of one-person-operated buses is causing increasing concern for women and, indeed, elderly people, but here we are talking about working women. The Underground came lowest in the estimates of safety. I have a car and use it, but I use the Underground and buses as well from time to time. I am much more frightened to be on the Underground late at night, or to be alone on an Underground station late at night, than waiting for a bus. I do not know why. The long, dimly lit, empty corridors and platforms are daunting, perhaps to men as well as women.

A total of 82 per cent. of the women surveyed wanted alarm systems on all trains, which would provide direct contact with the guard without necessarily stopping the train. They all wanted guards on the trains. British Rail was heavily criticised for continuing to use the old single carriage trains, which were regarded as extremely hazardous. Some 72 per cent. of women thought that the removal of staff from lesser used stations and the trend towards replacing people with machines made the situation for women travelling on public transport worse. As I said, one-person-operated buses or trains, particularly the Underground, are very unpopular from the viewpoint of safety and convenience.

Recently the Government encouraged. and even forced, a fundamental shift in priorities in the public transport system and local government, which has exacerbated the difficulties and increased the dangers faced by women, especially when travelling at night. Public transport and local authorities have been forced to operate as businesses rather than essential services. Their priority is to be cost-effective, a cost-effectiveness that no longer includes consideration of user safety or assistance to passengers.

I know that the Paymaster General cannot answer this question as it is not his responsibility, but I should like to know whether in the past year or two during the preparation of the legislation that affected public transport any women passengers were consulted, or whether they were simply told afterwards what the position would be.

Therefore, it seems in the Government's mind that women's safety will remain one of the last on a long list of cost-effective measures, so we believe that the Government should take some action. It would begin to redress the balance if the Government accepted new clause 6 and wrote into the Bill a provision allowing for women-only transport. In recent years, there have been some women-only transport initiatives, which have been developed to meet precisely the problems to which I have referred. The repeal of the Baking Industry (Hours of Work) Act 1954, as contained in the Bill, and the steadily declining public transport system, together with the disappearance of routes as a result of the deregulation of buses, may lead some employers to consider providing women-only services. Such initiatives, particularly if backed and approved by the Government, would also encourage other employers, employees and trade unions operating in sectors where unsocial hours are already the norm to consider the desirability of women only transport.

New clause 6 provides the House with an opportunity to clarify the legal position with regard to such provision and to make explicit our commitment to all women whose freedom, mobility and access to all public and social activity, including paid employment, is limited and restricted by their real fear of harassment and assault in public places. We hope very much that new clause 6 will be supported by the Government and that it will be written into the Bill.

I now refer to the amendment grouped with the new clauses under consideration. I know that the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mrs. Shields) will speak to amendment No. 8, with which the official Opposition wholeheartedly agree. It is an excellent amendment and we shall support it. It refers to the Baking Industry (Hours of Work) Act. In Committee the Minister quoted a letter from the director of the Federation of Bakers, who said that no short-term effect would arise from the repeal of the baking legislation. We want to know what the long-term effects for bakers of repealing the legislation would be. The Department of Employment should do some more work on the effects of the legislation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) referred to the bakers' petition containing more than 2,000 signatures against the repeal of the legislation. It will be presented to the Minister in due course. Today the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union issued a press release protesting against the Government's action which stated that Sacrificing bakery workers' health, safety and social life for political dogma is no more than legalised thuggery by the Government. Those might be strong words but the bakers feel strongly about this issue. We share their grievance that bakers' health is being sacrificed for the production of bread.

I hope that the Minister will consider amendment No. 8 sympathetically. Amendment No. 12 is consequential on new clause 4. Amendment No. 13 seeks to ensure that the provisions come in only 12 months after the Act comes into force. At present there is no time scale. Much more time is needed to research the effects of the legislation on the work force and the effects of repealing and removing all the protective legislation.

An interesting matter came to my notice only recently. This morning I was invited to, but could not attend, a meeting of the Advisory Committee on Women's Employment at the Department of Employment, chaired by the Under-Secretary of State. On the agenda of that meeting two draft leaflets about the Sex Discrimination Bill were under consideration. The Minister was seeking the views of the advisory committee on them. I was interested and surprised to see that in the draft leaflets which will be produced later it is stated that the statutory restrictions on women's working hours will not come into force until 1988. We had not realised that. The United Kingdom's obligations under the European social charter provide the reason.

The British Government face a dilemma in that they wish to introduce legislation which will extend working hours for women as quickly as possible, but have discovered that they cannot introduce it until 1988, because as a signatory to the European social charter they must abide by its rules. It defeats me to envisage how the Government will extricate themselves from their obligations under the charter. I shall be interested to hear the Paymaster General's views on that matter.

The charter was signed in 1961 and came into force in 1965. Article 8 of the charter places an obligation on signatories to regulate the employment of women workers on night shifts in industrial employment, prohibits their employment in underground mining and as appropriate in all other work which is unsuitable for them by reason of its dangerous, unhealthy or arduous nature. That is a social goal or target and I should be interested to hear the Minister's comments on the Government's dilemma. Will the Minister withdraw this country from the charter? How will he reconcile the Government's proposals with the requirements of the charter?

8.15 pm

Our argument in amendment No. 13 is that, if that measure cannot be brought in until 1988, why not wait arid bring the whole thing in 12 months after the passage of the Act, which would he at approximately the same time? By that time there might have been a general election and a Labour Government. One of the Labour party's first measures would be to reinstitute proper protective legislation for men and women on a decent social basis. I invite my hon. Friends to support these two important new clauses 4 and 6 and the amendments which are linked with them.

Mrs. Elizabeth Shields (Ryedale)

The alliance will support the Labour party if there is a Division on new clause 4. It is an important proposal having regard to the risks faced by many women in town and country, such as the difficulties of finding transport to and from their places of employment at unsocial hours in urban and especially rural areas at a time when many bus services—certainly in my area — on non-profitable routes are being withdrawn. That makes it more essential to ensure that facilities are made available.

I support the views already expressed on the problems associated with this matter, especially in connection with shift work. I wholly agree with the comments on safety made by the hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson). Women need more protection, especially at night. I also agree with the words in subsection (3) of new clause 4 which relate to consultation with the work force. Discussions are necessary before any substantial change in hours is introduced because of the practical implications that they have on the lives of men and women in work and on their families. A change in working hours of any substance will involve making new domestic arrangements and special arrangements for children, including those of pre-school age, and those in primary and secondary education. All hon. Members are aware of the desirability of one parent being at home when children return from school. Alliance Members would not wish to encourage the destruction of family life in any way through this Bill.

The practical details contained in the proposal would be a considerable advantage in the implementation of the Act since they clearly delineate the relevant areas of anxiety for those affected by its terms. If the Government are unable to accept new clauses 4 and 6, our amendment No. 8 would at least allow further discussion with the relevant bodies. Amendment No. 8 seeks to delay the repeal of the Act for two years, at least as it affects the baking industry.

When the Committee discussed this aspect there were calls for further rounds of consultation between employers, the Equal Opportunities Commission and employees to establish whether a compromise could be reached. The Government argued that there had been sufficient time to reach a consensus. There is great strength of feeling in the baking industry and the amendment provides one further chance of consultation with the Equal Opportunities Commission and other interested bodies.

Mr. Weetch

I rise to speak briefly in support of my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Ms Richardson), who led for the Opposition. I shall confine my remarks to new clause 4, which raises the principle of the desirability of gradualness. Some of the Bill's provisions for deregulation will no doubt cause great damage. Consequently, new clause 4 is an exercise in damage limitation.

The Government have consulted, but have drawn partial conclusions from their consultations. They have adopted a laissez faire approach instead of regulation based on experience and social concern. The Government's deregulation amounts to the big bang for industrial protection. I believe that there should be a much more gradual and cautious approach. After all, we are talking about legislation that has been enacted over a long time and it is wrong to discard it almost overnight.

The Government have been partial. The Paymaster General has several times quoted the report of the Equal Opportunities Commission. That pointed towards deregulation, but on condition that it should be accompanied by a considered code of practice. The centrepiece of new clause 4 is the issuing codes of practice. A sudden jump into the dark would have unfortunate repercussions. It would be much better to have a series of safety valves. The new clause does not seek to proscribe the Minister's right to bring about change. We state merely that change should be brought about only after careful thought, and that every step should be taken to ensure that changes do not have any disadvantageous repercussions. The new clause seeks well thought out and tested legislative change rather than a doctrinaire leap.

Subsection (1) of new clause 4 talks about the "relevant enactments" and explains precisely what they are. However, the crux of the matter is contained in subsection (2), which mentions being subject to conditions. Those conditions relate to full consultation, childcare, mode of transporation, and so on. My hon. Friend the Member for Barking has already made most of the points that I intended to raise about transportation, but a man who travels late at night on public transport or who has to hang about on a railway platform does not face the same dangers as a woman.

Indeed, I was surprised to read that on Second Reading the Paymaster General said: No one has ever suggested in all the discussions that women, for some reason, are more susceptible than men to any adverse effects which might stem from night work or working long hours."—[Official Report, 22 May 1986; Vol. 98, c. 572.] I suggest that those whom the Paymaster General consulted could not have thought about the issue or examined the statistics for attacks on women late at night. Indeed, they obviously did not examine the casual attitude of some members of the judiciary when the perpetrators of such attacks are brought before them.

We are talking about serious and practical matters. The new clause tries to put some of them right by instituting a framework of conditions in order to regulate and control the pace of change. The new clause represents a reasonable proposition. Indeed, I am glad that the Paymaster General is in the Chamber to hear the debate. I hope that he will consider our serious points as I, for one, will support this worthwhile new clause in the Lobby.

The Paymaster General and Minister for Employment (Mr. Kenneth Clarke)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Weetch) for welcoming me to the debate and for echoing the words of the hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson). I always enjoy appearing opposite the hon. Member for Barking and often listen to her when she speaks as Opposition spokesman on women's matters. But on this subject I do not expect to be in frequent disagreement with the hon. Members for Barking or Ipswich or, from what I know of her speeches, with the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mrs. Shields).

There is obviously widespread agreement in the House and in the country that we should pursue greater equality of opportunity for women in employment, and an improvement in the role of women in the world of work. It is thus surprising that we should oppose each other on a Bill whose object is to remove discriminatory provisions between the sexes and that brings us into line with the judgment of the European Court and with quite a bit of current best practice.

The position of women in work in Britain is steadily improving, although there is a good deal further to go. Far more women work in this country than ever before. More women participate in our labour market than in other Western European countries. Perhaps surprisingly some Western European countries have been cited today. Of the total adult population of working age, 65 per cent. are in work in Britain. That figure is exceeded by Denmark with 68 per cent., but we have a much better record than other Western European countries.

There has been a particularly rapid increase in the number of women in employment in recent years. I accept that the bulk of them are in part-time work, but many of them want that. However, the number of women in full-time work has also been increasing and there has been a very satisfactory increase in the number of women who are self-employed. There has been a quite dramatic increase in the number of self-employed people and one in four of them are women. More than 200,000 of them are self-employed but employ other people. Therefore, the situation is satisfactory, with the number of women in work steadily increasing. Of course, we would like the status of women in work to improve along with the range of jobs that they do and the opportunities open to them.

Why do we disagree about new clauses 4 and 6 and the associated amendments? The hon. Member for Barking tried to head me off when it came to labouring this argument, but I believe that all the Opposition parties are defending obsolete legislation. I am reminded of our debates on the Wages Bill. I was continually astonished by the Labour party's determination to defend the old Truck Acts. The Labour party and the alliance are now defending legislative provisions, such as those contained in the Baking Industry (Hours of Work) Act, which are obsolete and which do not apply to the majority of those in work, or to the majority of those in the baking industry, because they seek exemption. Those great protections for women that are being defended by calls for a cautious repeal, codes of practice and the extension of the provisions to men as well as women. just do not apply to most women in work. Some 8 million are not covered by the restrictions on working hours and conditions. Only those working in factories, predominantly manufacturing, are covered. The restrictions do not cover office workers or nurses. I do not recall that anyone has previously sought to extend these outmoded restrictions to other areas of work. Therefore, I am surprised that suddenly, as we move in to repeal this after years of discussion, the issue has become a great banner and these discriminatory restrictions become a vital protection for women.

8.30 pm

I shall not bore the House by relating my experience of night work in the baking industry, which has prepared me for the hours of night work in the House of Commons. However, two thirds of those who work in the baking industry have sought exemption from the restrictions. The industry has been arranged by collective discussion and agreement. What is being defended tonight are the vestiges of near obsolete restrictions that affect women or people in the baking industry. We are repealing the restrictions, first, because they are discriminatory between the sexes, and, secondly, because the Government believe that obsolete regulations have an inhibiting effect on the employment of women and on the freedom of employers to manage their industries, such as in the baking industry. That has a tendency to reduce employment opportunities and the number of jobs available. That is the basis of our deregulatory approach.

I am fearful when I hear the hon. Member for Barking say that one of the priorities of a Labour Government will be to introduce a huge slab of legislation with new restrictions on hours and conditions, covering both men and women. I respect her intention. I know that, with her political opinions, she genuinely thinks that that is the sort of action that would improve working conditions and opportunities for women. She is mistaken. If a Labour Government were ever elected and sought to introduce complicated and burdensome legislation, it would reduce the amount of employment in the economy. If it is directed especially towards women, it would certainly adversely affect women's employment.

New clause 4 returns to an issue canvassed in another place. It seeks to resurrect parts of amendments that were first proposed in another place and removed in Committee. The new clause proposes the introduction of a code of practice and, over and above that, not to repeal the night work restrictions but to extend them to cover men and women rather than only a minority of women. As we said in Committee, the Government see no merit in either of those proposals.

We do not think that repeal requires further safeguards because it is based on 10 years of discussion, going back to the EOC report mentioned by the hon. Member for Ipswich. I remind the House that the EOC's overall conclusion, on which it based its recommendations in the 1979 report, was that there was no case for retaining discriminatory provisions and that the legislation should be removed, except that where health and safety so demanded it should be replaced to apply equally to men and women. However, the Health and Safety Commission, which was consulted, both at the time and subsequently, never advanced the view that health and safety considerations showed a need to retain either the restrictions on women's hours in factories or the Baking Industry (Hours of Work) Act 1954.

My general reply to all hon. Members who spoke about health and welfare being put at risk is that there is quite simply no conclusive evidence that long hours or night work have adverse effects on health for either men or women that would justify retaining rather than repealing the legislation. Indeed, the 1954 Act was not introduced for health and safety considerations.

I shall continue to oppose the requirement of the new clause that there should be codes of practice. The details outlined in the new clause to be included in codes of practice are matters that we think should be left as they are now. For the vast majority of employees, there is the usual process of discussion between what we hope are reasonable employers, employees and their representatives. These matters should be left to free collective arrangements. Indeed, suitable codes of practice already exist to cover matters where they might be thought necessary.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

Why is the Minister always convinced that legislation is framed for reasonable employers? Surely we are discussing the unreasonable employers. What absolute assurance is there that existing codes of practice are anywhere near realistic? Women are not covered, but do not object because they are frightened of losing their already low-paid jobs.

Mr. Clarke

In the small number of cases involving unreasonable employers, the status of the codes of practice and their effect on such employers is difficult to assess. It is the very nature of such codes that they are consulted by reasonable people and give guidance to those engaged in negotiations. I am not sure that the hon. Member for Barking explained what difference she thought new codes would make for the sort of cases referred to by the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody).

I remind the House that the Health and Safety Commission is empowered to issue codes of practice to provide practical guidance to employers on their general duties towards the health, welfare and safety of their employees. Throughout our debates we have been at pains to emphasise that the protections afforded by the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 will continue to apply to all those affected by the repeals. Indeed, under section 6 of the Employment Protection Act 1975 ACAS is empowered to issue codes of practice containing practical guidance for the purpose of promoting the improvement of industrial relations. The Secretary of State for Employment has similar power under section 3 of the Employment Act 1980.

Perhaps Opposition Members would look at paragraphs 51 to 70 of the 1972 industrial relations code of practice, which continues to be in force, which emphasise the need to make any changes in working arrangements in full consultation with the work force. Guidance on the provision of child care is given by the EOC's existing code of practice on the elimination of discrimination on the grounds of sex or marriage and the promotion of equality of opportunity in employment. That code also contains words of wisdom that employers can usefully bear in mind when considering such matters as the provision, wherever possible, of flexible working hours or a choice of shifts. Therefore, the new clause that the Opposition propose does not take the code any further forward than the present law, and is unnecessary.

New clause 6 deals with a serious matter — the particular problem of women using public transport—and seeks to amend the 1975 Act. The hon. Member for Ipswich supported the hon. Member for Barking in pressing for something to be done on this matter. The hon. Lady produced an interesting description and analysis of a survey on the problems that women undoubtedly face —especially in our larger cities when travelling at night, when they may face possible harassment or other difficulties.

New clause 6 aims at the possibility that, for example, the special provision—transport for women—is thought to be illegal. Until I read new clause 6, I thought that that was a novel idea. I am aware that various boroughs are experimenting with special transport for women. If this were a transport debate, no doubt I would argue about whether that was necessarily the right way to go in making transport safe for women. It is not necessarily the case that men should be barred from the vehicles in which they travel. Leaving that point on one side, I am not aware that anyone has tried to take up the question whether that is unlawful because it is sexually discriminatory.

As I understand it, new clause 6 is designed to ensure that, in constituencies such as that of my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moynihan), who tells me that such transport exists there, the risk of prosecution is avoided. That is best considered in another context, not in the context of this legislation. I am not satisfied that the provision is necessary.

The Equal Opportunities Commission is obliged under section 53 of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 to keep the working of the Act and the Equal Pay Act 1970 under review and to submit proposals for amending them to the Secretary of State. The Equal Opportunities Commission is reviewing the Acts and last week issued a consultative document inviting comments on a number of issues which it examines in the document. The EOC will take the comments into account when it prepares its proposals for submission to my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for the Home Department and for Employment. I trust that the EOC will pay attention to what has been said in this debate. A more suitable time to address that matter might be when we consider possibly better vehicles for reforming the 1975 Act, the results of the survey and consultation and the EOC's proposals.

Amendment No. 8 seeks to retain the Baking Industry (Hours of Work) Act 1954 for a minimum period of two years following Royal Assent. I cannot add a great deal to that. In my opening remarks I made it clear that the time had come for the legislation to go altogether. I cannot see what will emerge in the course of two years to change that proposition. The key point is that today some two thirds of the industry work hours are governed by collective agreements which gain exemption under the Act. The majority in the industry have voluntarily bailed out under this legislation. Baking, which has always provided a great deal of night work, will continue to do so. The baking industry is now ready to be put on a par with other industries in resolving matters for itself.

The same arguments apply to amendment No. 13 which proposes to delay the repeals of the hours of work controls for at least a year. I should like to explain a point raised by the hon. Member for Barking concerning how we will bring into operation the repeals of the hours of work controls. Clauses 7 and 8 and part III of the schedule will be brought into operation by a commencement order under clause 10(3). There is power to bring different provisions into force at different times.

As the hon. Member for Barking noted, our intention is to introduce the various repeals as soon as possible following Royal Assent, subject to the position under the European social charter. There will be some delays because, as usual, we are mindful of our legal obligations. Under article 8(4)(a) of the European social charter, the United Kingdom has undertaken to regulate the position of women on night work in industrial employment. But it is open to the United Kingdom to denounce article 8(4)(a), the next date for denunciation being February 1988, with notice required by 26 August 1987. Until such time as the article may be denounced the Government will adhere to the requirements of the European social charter by retaining the Hours of Employment (Conventions) Act 1936. That ensures compliance with the charter because it prohibits women from working at night in defiance of a period of 11 consecutive hours, including the hours between 10 pm and 5 am. There will be a deluge of paperwork seeking exemption from that Act until such time as it can finally be repealed.

We intend to withdraw from that part of the European social charter for the same reasons that we intend to carry the Bill and to repeal these two pieces of legislation. They are obsolete, out of date and have no relevance to modern working conditions. They do not apply to the majority of women or of baking workers. The time has come to bring the law up to date by carrying the Bill into effect as it stands.

8.45 pm
Ms. Richardson

I shall not keep the House more than a few minutes. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Thank you for nothing.

As the Paymaster General said, we have often faced each other, during his various jobs, across the Dispatch Box. I expected better of him. I am not being patronising in saying that. He painted a rosy picture of the lives that women lead. He talked about women doing much better, saying that they now have jobs, and so on. He said, in passing, that he wanted to improve the status of women. He failed to get down to the fact that the overwhelming majority of women are in low-paid, part-time, low-status jobs. There is an increasing number of such women as a result of the Government's actions in the past seven years. Of course more women are in part-time jobs— they need the money. The Labour party is in the business of ensuring that a proper range of decent jobs with decent conditions are available to them so that they can look upon their work life with dignity, not one that they have to lead simply because they need the money. Our approach is entirely different. I am sure that we cannot have a meeting of minds on it.

The Paymaster General said that the Government want to sweep away the protective legislation because it does not apply any more to many people. We believe that it still applies to those exploited by exploitive employers. There are many of them around. Of course there have been exemptions but they have usually been negotiated between the unions and decent employers. That is okay, but we want to look after the residual number of women who will be exploited if this protective legislation is swept away. We need this legislation.

I said that a Labour Government would reintroduce protective legislation. Of course we shall not introduce exactly the same legislation as we had before. We shall look, in the light of the mess that the Government have left us, at what measures must he introduced to protect women and men from rack employers who are making their lives a misery in many respects.

The Paymaster General said that the matters in new clause 6 were best discussed elsewhere. That was yet another example of the fact that problems that face women, such as transport difficulties, are being thrown to some other Department simply because they happen to concern transport. The safety of women is a serious matter. I am sorry that the Paymaster General did not take it more seriously and did not see our attempt to set the safety of women in the context of this legislation.

We want to call a Division on new clause 4. I hope that all hon. Members will join me. We believe that the Government are outdated in their approach to women. It is time that this country had a Government who understand what women really want.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 169, Noes 218.

Division No. 291] [8.48 pm
Abse, Leo Buchan, Norman
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Callaghan, Rt Hon J.
Alton, David Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)
Anderson, Donald Campbell, Ian
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Campbell-Savours, Dale
Ashdown, Paddy Clark, Dr David (S Shields)
Atkinson, N (Tottenham) Clay, Robert
Barnett, Guy Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Barron, Kevin Corbett, Robin
Beckett, Mrs Margaret Corbyn, Jeremy
Beith, A. J. Craigen, J. M.
Bell, Stuart Crowther, Stan
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Cunliffe, Lawrence
Bidwell, Sydney Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli)
Blair, Anthony Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly)
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)
Boyes, Roland Deakins, Eric
Bray, Dr Jeremy Dewar, Donald
Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E) Dobson, Frank
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Dormand, Jack
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E) Douglas, Dick
Brown, R. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne N) Dubs, Alfred
Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith) Duffy, A. E. P.
Bruce, Malcolm Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.
Eadie, Alex Mikardo, Ian
Eastham, Ken Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Evans, John (St. Helens N) Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
Ewing, Harry Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Fatchett, Derek Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Faulds, Andrew Nellist, David
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) O'Brien, William
Fields, T. (L 'pool Broad Gn) O'Neill, Martin
Flannery, Martin Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Park, George
Foster, Derek Parry, Robert
Fraser, J. (Norwood) Patchett, Terry
Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald Pavitt, Laurie
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Pendry, Tom
Godman, Dr Norman Pike, Peter
Golding, Mrs Llin Powell, Raymond (Ogrnore)
Gould, Bryan Prescott, John
Gourlay, Harry Radice, Giles
Hamilton, James (M'well N) Randall, Stuart
Harman, Ms Harriet Redmond, Martin
Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith Richardson, Ms Jo
Heffer, Eric S. Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth) Robertson, George
Home Robertson, John Rogers, Allan
Howells, Geraint Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)
Hoyle, Douglas Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Hughes, Dr Mark (Durham) Rowlands, Ted
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Sedgemore, Brian
Hughes, Roy (Newport East) Sheldon, Rt Hon R.
Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S) Shields, Mrs Elizabeth
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Janner, Hon Greville Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Jenkins, Rt Hon Roy (Hillh'd) Short, Mrs R.(W'hampt'n NE)
John, Brynmor Silkin, Rt Hon J.
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Skinner, Dennis
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Smith, C.(lsl'ton S & F'bury)
Kirkwood, Archy Soley, Clive
Lamond, James Spearing, Nigel
Leadbitter, Ted Steel, Rt Hon David
Leighton, Ronald Stott, Roger
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Strang, Gavin
Lewis, Terence (Worsley) Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Livsey, Richard Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)
Loyden, Edward Thorne, Stan (Preston)
McCartney, Hugh Tinn, James
McDonald, Dr Oonagh Torney, Tom
McKay, Allen (Penistone) Wainwright, R.
McKelvey, William Wallace, James
MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor Warden, Gareth (Gowerj
McNamara, Kevin Wareing, Robert
McTaggart, Robert Weetch, Ken
McWilliam, John Welsh, Michael
Madden, Max White, James
Marek, Dr John Wigley, Dafydd
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Williams, Rt Hon A.
Martin, Michael Winnick, David
Mason, Rt Hon Roy Young, David (Bolton SE)
Maxton, John
Maynard, Miss Joan Tellers for the Ayes:
Meacher, Michael Mr. Don Dixon and
Meadowcroft, Michael Mr. Mark Fisher.
Michie, William
Amess, David Brandon-Bravo, Martin
Ancram, Michael Bright, Graham
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble) Brown, M. (Brigg S Cl'thpos)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Browne, John
Batiste, Spencer Bruinvels, Peter
Bendall, Vivian Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A.
Bevan, David Gilroy Budgen, Nick
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Burt, Alistair
Blackburn, John Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Chope, Christopher
Body, Sir Richard Churchill, W. S.
Boscawen, Hon Robert Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Ftushclif'e)
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Clegg, Sir Walter
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Cockeram, Eric
Cope, John Lilley, Peter
Cranborne, Viscount Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)
Dickens, Geoffrey Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Dicks, Terry Lord, Michael
Dorrell, Stephen Lyell, Nicholas
Dunn, Robert McCrindle, Robert
Emery, Sir Peter McCurley, Mrs Anna
Favell, Anthony Macfarlane, Neil
Forman, Nigel MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Maclean, David John
Forth, Eric McLoughlin, Patrick
Fowler, Rt Hon Norman McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)
Fox, Sir Marcus McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st)
Franks, Cecil Madel, David
Fraser, Peter (Angus East) Major, John
Fry, Peter Malins, Humfrey
Gale, Roger Malone, Gerald
Galley, Roy Marland, Paul
Garel-Jones, Tristan Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian Mates, Michael
Gow, Ian Mather, Carol
Gower, Sir Raymond Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Grant, Sir Anthony Mayhew, Sir Patrick
Greenway, Harry Meyer, Sir Anthony
Gregory, Conal Miller, Hal (B'grove)
Griffiths, Sir Eldon Mills, lain (Meriden)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N) Moate, Roger
Grist, Ian Monro, Sir Hector
Ground, Patrick Moynihan, Hon C.
Grylls, Michael Neale, Gerrard
Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom) Needham, Richard
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Nelson, Anthony
Hampson, Dr Keith Neubert, Michael
Hannam, John Nicholls, Patrick
Hargreaves, Kenneth Norris, Steven
Harris, David Osborn, Sir John
Harvey, Robert Ottaway, Richard
Haselhurst, Alan Page, Sir John (Harrow W)
Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael Patten, Christopher (Bath)
Hayes, J. Pattie, Geoffrey
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Barney Pawsey, James
Hayward, Robert Pollock, Alexander
Heathcoat-Amory, David Porter, Barry
Heddle, John Portillo, Michael
Henderson, Barry Powell, William (Corby)
Hickmet, Richard Powley, John
Hicks, Robert Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Hind, Kenneth Price, Sir David
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm) Proctor, K. Harvey
Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling) Raffan, Keith
Hordern, Sir Peter Raison, Rt Hon Timothy
Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A) Rathbone, Tim
Howarth, Gerald (Cannock) Renton, Tim
Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldford) Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N) Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Hubbard-Miles, Peter Robinson, Mark (N'port W)
Irving, Charles Roe, Mrs Marion
Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick Rossi, Sir Hugh
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Rost, Peter
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Rowe, Andrew
Jones, Robert (Herts W) Ryder, Richard
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Sackville, Hon Thomas
Kershaw, Sir Anthony Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Key, Robert Sayeed, Jonathan
King, Rt Hon Tom Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Knight, Greg (Derby N) Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston) Shelton, William (Streatham)
Knowles, Michael Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Knox, David Shersby, Michael
Lamont, Rt Hon Norman Silvester, Fred
Lang, Ian Skeet, Sir Trevor
Latham, Michael Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Lawler, Geoffrey Soames, Hon Nicholas
Lawrence, Ivan Speed, Keith
Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel Speller, Tony
Lee, John (Pendle) Spencer, Derek
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh) Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Squire, Robin
Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd) Stanbrook, Ivor
Lightbown, David Stanley, Rt Hon John
Stern, Michael Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton) Waddington, David
Stewart, Allan (Eastwood) Waller, Gary
Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood) Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Stradling Thomas, Sir John Warren, Kenneth
Tapsell, Sir Peter Watson, John
Taylor, John (Solihull) Watts, John
Taylor, Teddy (S'end E) Wells, Bowen (Hertford)
Temple-Morris, Peter Whitney, Raymond
Thomas, Rt Hon Peter Wiggin, Jerry
Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N) Wolfson, Mark
Thurnham, Peter Woodcock, Michael
Townend, John (Bridlington) Yeo, Tim
Tracey, Richard
Trippier, David Tellers for the Noes:
Twinn, Dr Ian Mr. Tony Durant and
van Straubenzee, Sir W. Mr. Francis Maude.

Question accordingly negatived.

Forward to