HC Deb 08 November 1989 vol 159 cc1093-113

Lords amendment: No. 1, in page 7, line 27, leave out subsection (1) and insert— (1) The Secretary of State may by order provide with respect to—

  1. (a) any specified arrangements made under section 2 of the Employment and Training Act 1973 (functions of the Secretary of State as respects employment and training), or
  2. (b) any specified class or description of training for employment provided otherwise than in pursuance of that section, or
  3. (c) any specified scheme set up under section 1 of the Employment Subsidies Act 1978 (schemes for financing employment),
that this section shall apply to such special treatment afforded to or in respect of lone parents in connection with their participation in those arrangements, or in that training or scheme, as is specified or referred to in the order.

10.35 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Patrick Nicholls)

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

With this it will be convenient to discuss Lords amendments Nos. 2 and 3.

Mr. Nicholls

The purpose of the amendments do not, which were introduced in Committee in another place, is to extend the scope of clause 8 to cover employment and enterprise programmes as well as training schemes. The clause, without the amendments, would have given the Secretary of State the power to exempt, by order, special treatment in favour of lone parents in training for employment from being unlawful discrimination against married persons under the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. However, the clause as it stood would not have allowed exemption of similar arrangements which it might in future he thought desirable to introduce in the Department's other programmes, perhaps in the field of employment and enterprise.

The clause was generally welcomed when it was introduced towards the end of proceedings in this House, as were the Government's amendments aimed at widening the scope of the clause when they were introduced in another place. The amendments are designed to cover the whole range of the Department's current and possible future employment and enterprise measures, including activities such as the enterprise allowance scheme, job clubs and job share. But they do not give the Government a blank cheque. The Secretary of State would have to make orders specifying the special treatment for lone parents and the particular arrangements or scheme to which the exemption would apply. The orders would be subject to the negative resolution procedure. The amendments do not represent a commitment by the Government to extend special help for lone parents to other areas of the Department's activities. We have no immediate plans to do so. We shall first need to see what happens in employment training.

However, the amendments provide the necessary flexibility to allow for future developments in provision for lone parents and for that reason I commend them to the House.

I want to say a word or two about the attitude that some Opposition Members may have to these provisions. I said that they were generally welcomed, but I am aware that there is a feeling that they perhaps should have been extended more widely and that instead of merely being targeted on lone parents they might have been extended to couples, on a means-tested basis. Inevitably money is always limited and the Government had to decide what they could do to help the most significantly disadvantaged group to come forward for employment training. There is no doubt that lone parents are significantly disadvantaged and they consist overwhelmingly, although not exclusively, of women. So the Government thought it right initially to introduce this scheme to help lone parents. However the debate may have proceeded since, at the time the proposals were welcomed.

Ms. Jo Richardson (Barking)

As the Minister said, amendments Nos. 1, 2 and 3 extend the application of clause 8 from training schemes alone to other employment and enterprise programmes. The new areas that he mentioned which would be affected by the amendments are the enterprise allowance scheme, job share and job clubs and the like.

We supported clause 8 in Committee and on Report, albeit with reservations about the non-application to married people. However, several developments have come to light since then and they have changed our welcome to dismay; indeed, they force us to divide the House over the amendments.

We are now in possession of the full facts—I am surprised that the Minister did not mention them—about the implications of the industrial tribunal decision to which the then Minister obliquely referred in Committee on May 17. We have spoken to the woman who took the case against the Government, and several times this week we have spoken to the Equal Opportunities Commission which represents the woman and supports her claim.

I apologise to the House for listing the fairly complicated scenario of that case, but the case is extremely important. The facts are that lone parents can have child care costs of up to £50 a week paid when they take up a place on employment training. As the Minister has said, married women did not have that entitlement. Kay Jackson, the woman in question, is married with three children under five. She had been offered a place on employment training but was unable to take up the offer because her allowance and her husband's salary would not have been sufficient for three lots of child care.

Much as she wanted to, Mrs. Jackson could not go on the training scheme. Therefore, on 5 January she took the Government to the tribunal on the ground that they had discriminated against married women. The tribunal upheld that claim on 19 January. The Government have just appealed to the Employment Appeals Tribunal, but the decision has not yet been made known. In any case, clause 8 and the three Lords amendments circumvent the decision. As the Minister has said, they allow the Secretary of State to make an order after Royal Assent that will make legal discrimination against married women in the provision of child care. That means that the Government are changing the law retroactively to cover what they would have to put in place if they lost their appeal.

The discrimination does not apply just to employment training because with the three Lords amendments the Government have extended the discrimination to the areas that I have mentioned—the enterprise allowance scheme, job share, job clubs and the like. Lord Strathclyde somehow managed to avoid all mention of the industrial tribunal when the matter was debated in another place. However, he said: An extension of such help to all parents training on the scheme would be hard to justify."—[Official Report, House of Lords,16 October 1989; Vol. 511, c. 676.] He estimated that 20 per cent. of employment training entrants taking up child care costs would add an extra £100 million to the cost of the scheme.

We now know that because of the low take-up of employment training there are sufficient funds to pay for that. In other words, the £100 million could be found without going outside the amount set aside. I understand that about £3 billion was allocated for an employment training programme with 600,000 people over a year. When the Government failed to reach the target they reduced it from 600,000 to 540,000. They are still 100,000 entrants short. Money has been allocated for that and could be used to cater for married women who wish to take up employment training or enter one of the other schemes and apply for child care.

Many women do not go in for employment training either because they cannot afford to do so or because they are not eligible. The Government cannot fill all the places. Quite by chance last Friday I visited a training agency in my constituency. I am pleased to say that it is managed largely by women and has a good equal opportunities policy. The people in the agency complained bitterly that married women could not take up the places in the agency because it could not give them money for child care.

Why do not the Government kill two birds with one stone? The solution is here for all to see, except for those who do not want to see it. In the past few months, even the Government have claimed to notice the importance of women to the labour market. We are constantly hearing, and I am glad to hear it, of notices from the ministerial committee on women's issues saying that women will be required in the workplace in the 1990s, but here we have the opportunity, and apparently the money, to extend these schemes to allow married women to take them up and to have child care, but the Government will not do it.

10.45 pm

In the White Paper of December 1988, the Government told employers, in paragraph 1.8, that they must recognise that women can no longer be treated as second-class workers. I echo that, and I hope that every hon. Member does. I am infinitely grateful for this change of heart. Many employers, aided and abetted by the Government, have treated women as second-class workers for the past decade and even longer. They have removed protection for part-time workers, the majority of whom are women, reduced the jurisdiction of wages councils for the lower paid, the majority of whom are women, and taxed workplace nurseries as a perk—a perk for whom? The majority of those affected in that case are also women. It sticks in my throat when the Government say that women should be treated like first-class citizens when they do no: take the legislative action that would enable them to be so.

Let us take the Government at their word and see what remedies they propose. The White Paper suggests broadening company training policies, flexibility of work and hours, and job sharing. This is specifically to facilitate the employment of women with families. In that case, why is there nothing about child care, possibly the single most important facility for women wanting to start work or return to work, and why does that not apply to married women?

I shall recap the argument briefly because I want it to be clear in my mind and the minds of my hon. Friends. When a decision of the European Court goes against the Government, they always say that they are bound by British law and do not want to take any notice of European law—at least, that is the general impression that they give. When British law does not suit them, as it apparently does not in this case, they change the law, as the amendments do.

The Government appear to be awaiting a decision on ET. Assuming that they lose their appeal, and Mrs. Jackson wins, will they honour that decision, or will they use the provisions in these amendments to overcome what Mrs. Jackson has so rightly won in her long case? What will happen to the other six or seven cases that are continuing?

I strongly disapprove of the Government introducing changes on the basis of a negative order. Such important changes should be subject to the affirmative vote of both Houses of Parliament. I should like an answer from the Minister, but I have a strong feeling that he will resist extending the provision to married women. Therefore, I shall invite my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote against the amendments.

Miss Emma Nicholson (Torridge and Devon, West)

The amendments raise certain issues which I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to reconsider. We talk about the family, and we all have a concept of the family. Many of us think of happy children being brought up in a household which gives them the support, love and care that they need all the time. Yet the reality is that many children are brought up by lone parents. They are the children of divorced parents, parents who have never married or widowed parents. Such children have a much tougher life, perhaps, than those who are brought up in the sort of family that I described initially.

The Government have been scorned for some time for supposedly failing to recognise that the pattern of the family has changed dramatically from the old-style paterfamilias family with a head of household who works, who is undoubtedly a man, with a non-working wife and with children at home growing up extremely nicely. The truth is that the Government have recognised that the pattern has changed. They are not behind in reading social trends. They have noticed that a significant classification of the new poor is the single parent bringing up young children.

The majority of single parents are female, and they are the women who have such immense difficulty in getting out of the so-called poverty trap—in other words, being able to find a job—because they may not have been very well trained. Many of the bed-and-breakfast cases with which I am aware, even in my constituency, consist of women who have failed to cope with life in that they have not taken advantage of their education and training opportunities. There are others who have had children at an early age. For example, one of my constituents who is 17 years of age has twins and is apart from the father of her children. She is living with her mother. These girls—by and large they are no more than girls—find it extremely tough to make a start and become self-reliant, and they end up in bed-and-breakfast accommodation of the sort that we are all well aware of and concerned about.

I cannot do other than welcome the Minister's departmental commitment to support for what we are calling lone parents. It is a most laudable thing to be doing. I am delighted to know that the Department is providing lone parents with a £50 child care allowance when they embark on training schemes. That is exceptionally good news. I am more pleased than I can say. These are the very people who are in the greatest need. Are we not committed as a nation and a Government to helping the poorest of the poor, whether that involves overseas aid or aid within the United Kingdom? It must be our objective to help those who are in the greatest need.

Here we have the horns of a dilemma. If we are to help those who are in the greatest need, we must first identify them. We have to make a judgment, and lone parents have been recognised generally as being an extremely needy group. The Child Poverty Action Group—a most eminent group—supports this stance. Once we have identified such a group we have enormous pangs of conscience because there is the rest of the world to consider. There are many others who have needs and they must be treated equally and given the same sort of treatment as we afford to those who are in the greatest need. That is the dilemma, and perhaps that is the illogicality on which the Opposition find themselves resting this evening.

Although I wish to help all members of my sex, I find a little difficulty in solidly identifying someone who is not a lone parent as necessarily a married woman. There must be others who are bringing up children. There must be married men who are doing so, for a start. There must be parted women who are not married. There must be parted men who are not married. In all these groups there must be some who have children. However, I wish always to help my own sex.

I recognise the great difficulty that some married women find in returning to the job market. In the information technology industry, for example, there are equal opportunities and equal pay. Why are married women supposedly seeking work not entering that industry? Clearly, carrots must be offered there. Again, we are making a judgment on a particular group and saying that they need some form of special treatment. Yet if we were supporting a women-in-technology campaign, we would not also be supporting a men-in-technology campaign because there would not be that need. Therefore, I am forced by logic to accept that, however difficult it is, we must identify some groups as more disadvantaged than others at any particular point in time and channel assistance to them.

I firmly support the Government in their child care concept for lone parents. I have great concern for lone parents and I have employed many of them during my time as an employer. However, I make the plea that my hon. Friend the Minister should not ignore the readily identifiable needs of married women wanting to return to the job market. I am not suggesting that because lone parents are being helped other sectors of human society must also be helped; I am simply identifying them as a group which also has special needs.

On the understanding that the amendments are good and must be accepted by the House, I ask my hon. Friend to give a commitment that he will listen again to the Equal Opportunities Commission, which has voiced its concerns to me, and consider whether there are further ways in which his Department can help another disadvantaged group—the married women at home who have not been earning because they have been bringing up their children and supporting whatever concept of the family we happen to fancy at any given moment. I hope that my hon. Friend will think of their needs and consider ways to help them back into the job market, because the job market certainly needs them.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

Many people would share the view of the hon. Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson), not only in stressing the importance of giving help to lone parents who wish to undertake training but in suggesting that there must also be ways of encouraging the many married women who want to re-enter the job market to do so, and not least those who have been out of work for family or other reasons and have not qualified for unemployment benefit.

One of the weaknesses of the employment training scheme is that insufficient attention has been given to encouraging women to return to work. That is to be regretted for a number of reasons, including a woman's right to choose whether she wishes to re-enter the job market and the fact that not only one parents but also many married parents suffer hardship and face the necessity of having to go to work to try to make ends meet. This matter is important to employers and to the community because job structures will change over the next decade and into the next century.

The Government recognise that it will be necessary to encourage more women to return to work. The Secretary of State said recently that a survey of 2,000 companies showed that only one in three was trying to adapt employment and training practices to try to tap alternative sources, and that very few were far down the road towards providing child care facilities.

I have been corresponding with the Minister about cases in my constituency. The fishermen are away from home for much of the week and their wives want to work, but they do not qualify for the £50 per week child care allowance because they are married. In most instances, that prevents them seeking the training that they undoubtedly want. There is a clear need to extend the allowance.

The House should be grateful to the hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) for highlighting the case of Mrs. Jackson. The question of resources is important, but from what the hon. Lady said it appears that there might be sufficient resources—a point with which the Minister must deal in his reply.

We are discussing ways in which to encourage women and lone parents, male and female, to come back into the job market through training. There is not much point in getting them trained, however, if they cannot take up jobs because of a lack of child care facilities as a result of the current tax regime affecting workplace nurseries. We must go much further than reforming that tax regime, however.

The problem is especially acute for women who want to take jobs where there are no workplace nurseries. We must expand the state nursery sector.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, on an interpretation of social security law, a woman could be told to take a job, having gone through a training scheme, not get any child care benefits, be on a low wage and therefore be unable to take the job because she cannot get anyone to look after her child—she would not be able to afford it—and end up out of work, having been trained?

Mr. Wallace

That sounds a plausible set of circumstances. There is a barrier to returning to work, and much more must be done about it.

It is regrettable that the Government have not responded more positively to the modest extension that the hon. Member for Barking has suggested. The Lords amendments are good as far as they go, but they do not go far enough.

11 pm

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

I believe that lack of child care is one of the main reasons why women do not enter the labour market, why they do not get on once they get a job and why they do not go on training courses. Lone parents struggle more than other people, but married women in low-income families experience great difficulty in taking up employment and training opportunities.

It seems that the Government accept that training is necessary but also ensure that it cannot be taken up. The Equal Opportunities Commission believes that the Government discriminate. If, as we sincerely hope, the appeal that has been mentioned is upheld, the Government will once again be seen to be going backwards when the rest of Europe is going forwards.

We need universally available child care. The Government should be just a little daring and accept our amendment. My hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) made some sensible and telling points.

Mr. Nicholls

With the leave of the House, I should like to reply to the debate.

Sometimes, when we have short debates, the quality of speeches shows that the debate could have gone on fruitfully for a good deal longer. With her usual perspicacity, the hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) anticipated that I cannot tonight give her everything that she wants. She was perhaps most worried that, if Mrs. Jackson wins her case, what is proposed here might retrospectively take away from her what she might obtain in the court. If Mrs. Jackson wins her case, she and anyone else who has a case in the pipeline will find that the judgment is honoured and that there is no question of retrospection.

The hon. Member for Barking, my hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson) and the hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) have all put their finger on the Government's dilemma. We are being accused not of not having done anything helpful, but of having come up with a good idea and not going far enough. The easy way to avoid laying oneself open to that criticism is to do nothing to help. The Government's detractors would say that that is no more than can be expected of the Government and that no great harm has been done.

The difficulty is that experience has shown that women who wanted to return to the labour market and used the community programme as a vehicle were at a distinct—if unintended—disadvantage: if they had not been unemployed for six months, they could not go on to the programme. When employment training was being devised, we were anxious to do all that we could to ensure that women did not suffer from that disadvantage, and drew up a number of measures to try to help. One was the provision that those who had not been available for work but had been on the order book for more than six months should be eligible to come back; still more significant was the proposal that those who had been out of the labour market for at least two years should be entitled to take part in employment training. All those steps were warmly welcomed, and there can be no doubt on either side of the House that the variations in the criteria for eligibility for ET have been of significant advantage to women. The problem is knowing where to draw the line when resources are inevitably limited. The line taken by the Government is that it is right to target the resources available for child care on lone parents, who—to an overwhelming degree —are at the greatest disadvantage. The hon. Member for Barking advanced the beguiling argument that if there was an underspend on the programme because fewer people were going on to it owing to the rate of decline in unemployment, there might be some spare cash around. Ultimately, however, that argument does not hold water: it is impossible to plan the principle of a programme by simply trying to cash in on a temporary or notional underspend.

There is no question of retrospective legislation. All that we are doing is restoring the balance to its previous state, which at the time was greatly welcomed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West is entirely right to remind us that the family has a wider context than that of the lone parent, and that married women also suffer disadvantages. We have tried to help them in the ways that I have suggested, but it would be going too far to say that, irrespective of whether a person is married or a sole parent, that person should automatically receive help.

In answer to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace), let me say that I entirely understand the argument that there is not much point in receiving help with child care during training if, once the training is over, people cannot obtain jobs because they cannot afford child care. The logical consequence of that understandable argument is that we should do nothing to help, but, given demographic pressures, it must be a good idea to provide quality training to help women back into the labour market.

Ms. Richardson

I am afraid that I cannot accept what the Minister has said. He sounds awfully pleasant all of a sudden—almost beguiling, as he said that I had been—but he tossed aside my suggestion that the Government have resources to spare within the scheme because of an underspend, and said that the Government could not spend those resources. I honestly do not know how the Government will cope with the demographic changes that the 1990s will bring unless much more is done to encourage and support the married women—and, in some instances, married men—who want to join the work force, or return to it.

It is all very well for the Government to say, "They will just have to manage. We will target only lone parents" —deserving though they may be. The fact is that employers will not be able to cope unless married women are allowed, encouraged and helped to return to work. The Government have a golden opportunity to spend money that they have not spent so far, but they will not take it. I cannot think what to call such behaviour, but there are all sorts of words for it: stupidity is one.

I intend to divide the House simply to show that Opposition Members believe that the Government are not going nearly far enough in their efforts to return women to work and to support training and retraining for them.

I welcome the support of the hon. Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson), my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) and the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace). It has been a useful debate.

The Minister suggested that I wanted a debate simply because I wished to be reassured that the Bill will not override whatever Mrs. Jackson may win. That was not the principal reason. However, I am distressed to find that the Government skated over that very important industrial tribunal case instead of welcoming it and applying the principle to other married women who have not had the opportunity to state their case.

Mrs. Mahon

Will my hon. Friend confirm that if Mrs. Jackson wins the ruling will apply only to her and that, as with equal pay, women will have to make individual applications? That is very unsatisfactory. It does not work like that in other countries.

Ms. Richardson

If Mrs. Jackson wins, I understand that she will win only for herself. What is called class action does not apply to all married women. I wish to goodness that it did. I think that six or seven other cases are in the pipeline. Married women who have not gone through the procedure will not be entitled to the award that Mrs. Jackson may win for herself in a very brave and dedicated way.

I invite my hon. Friends to vote against the Lords amendment. We are not opposed to lone parents receiving help, but we want it to be extended now to married women.

Question put, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment:—

The House divided: Ayes 120, Noes 55.

Divlsion No. 383] [11.11 pm
Alexander, Richard Burns, Simon
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Butcher, John
Amess, David Butler, Chris
Amos, Alan Carrington, Matthew
Arbuthnot, James Carttiss, Michael
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Chapman, Sydney
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Chope, Christopher
Ashby, David Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Batiste, Spencer Cran, James
Brazier, Julian Davis, David (Boothferry)
Bright, Graham Day, Stephen
Browne, John (Winchester) Devlin, Tim
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South) Dorrell, Stephen
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James McLoughlin, Patrick
Dover, Den Malins, Humfrey
Durant, Tony Mans, Keith
Dykes, Hugh Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Eggar, Tim Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas Meyer, Sir Anthony
Fallon, Michael Miller, Sir Hal
Favell, Tony Mills, Iain
Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Forman, Nigel Mitchell, Sir David
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Moss, Malcolm
Fowler, Rt Hon Norman Moynihan, Hon Colin
Franks, Cecil Neubert, Michael
Freeman, Roger Nicholls, Patrick
French, Douglas Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Gale, Roger Oppenheim, Phillip
Garel-Jones, Tristan Paice, James
Gill, Christopher Patten, Rt Hon Chris (Bath)
Glyn, Dr Alan Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Porter, David (Waveney)
Gow, Ian Portillo, Michael
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Redwood, John
Gregory, Conal Renton, Tim
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Sackville, Hon Tom
Hague, William Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr') Stevens, Lewis
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn) Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Harris, David Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Haselhurst, Alan Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Hawkins, Christopher Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Heathcoat-Amory, David Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE) Thornton, Malcolm
Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Thurnham, Peter
Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford) Townend, John (Bridlington)
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W) Trotter, Neville
Hunter, Andrew Twinn, Dr Ian
Irvine, Michael Waller, Gary
Jack, Michael Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Jackson, Robert Warren, Kenneth
Janman, Tim Wheeler, John
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Widdecombe, Ann
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Wilkinson, John
Jones, Robert B (Herts W) Winterton, Mrs Ann
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield) Wood, Timothy
Knapman, Roger
Lawrence, Ivan Tellers for the Ayes:
Lightbown, David Mr. Greg Knight and Mr. Irvine Patnick.
Lilley, Peter
Alton, David McNamara, Kevin
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Mahon, Mrs Alice
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich) Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Beith, A. J. Meale, Alan
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) Michael, Alun
Bermingham, Gerald Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Blair, Tony Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute}
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Patchett, Terry
Buckley, George J. Pike, Peter L.
Caborn, Richard Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Prescott, John
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley) Randall, Stuart
Canavan, Dennis Redmond, Martin
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g) Richardson, Jo
Cryer, Bob Ruddock, Joan
Cummings, John Short, Clare
Cunliffe, Lawrence Skinner, Dennis
Dixon, Don Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Doran, Frank Spearing, Nigel
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray) Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Foster, Derek Vaz, Keith
Fyfe, Maria Wallace, James
Golding, Mrs Llin Wareing, Robert N.
Gordon, Mildred Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Haynes, Frank Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
lllsley, Eric
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W) Tellers for the Noes:
Livsey, Richard Mr. Harry Barnes and Mr. Jeremy Corbyn.
Lofthouse, Geoffrey
McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)

Question accordingly agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 2 and 3 agreed to.

Lords amendment: No. 4, before clause 11, to insert the following new clause—Exemption of Sikhs from requirement to wear safety helmets on construction sites.—(1) Any requirement to wear a safety helmet which (apart from this section) would, by virtue of any statutory provision or rule of law, be imposed on a Sikh who is on a construction site shall not apply to him at any time when he is wearing a turban.

(2) Accordingly, where

  1. (a) a Sikh who is on a construction site is for the time being wearing a turban, and
  2. (b) (apart from this section) any associated requirement would, by virtue of any statutory provision or rule of law, be imposed—
    1. (i) on the Sikh, or
    2. (ii) on any other person,
in connection with the wearing by the Sikh of a safety helmet, that requirement shall not apply to the Sikh or (as the case may be) to that other person.

(3) In subsection (2) "associated requirement" means any requirement (other than one falling within subsection (I)) which is related to or connected with the wearing, provision or maintenance of safety helmets.

(4) It is hereby declared that, where a person does not comply with any requirement, being a requirement which for the time being does not apply to him by virtue of subsection(1) or (2)—

  1. (a) he shall not be liable in tort to any person in respect of any injury, loss or damage caused by his failure to comply with that requirement; and
  2. (b) in Scotland no action for reparation shall be brought against him by any person in respect of any such injury, loss or damage.

(5) If a Sikh who is on a construction site

  1. (a) does not comply with any requirement to wear a safety helmet, being a requirement which for the time being does not apply to him by virtue of subsection (1), and
  2. (b) in consequence of any act or omission of some other person sustains any injury, loss or damage which is to any extent attributable to the fact that he is not wearing a safety helmet in compliance with the requirement,
  3. that other person shall, if liable to the Sikh in tort (or, in Scotland, in an action for reparation), be so liable only to the extent that injury, loss or damage would have been sustained by the Sikh even if he had been wearing a safety helmet in compliance with the requirement.

(6) Where—

  1. (a) the act or omission referred to in subsection (5) causes the death of the Sikh, and
  2. (b) the Sikh would have sustained some injury (other than loss of life) in consequence of the act or omission even if he had been wearing a safety helmet in compliance with the requirement in question,
the amount of any damages which, by virtue of that subsection, are recoverable in tort (or, in Scotland, in an action for reparation) in respect of that injury shall not exceed the amount of any damages which would (apart from that subsection) be so recoverable in respect of the Sikh's death.

(7) In this section

(8) In this section—

  1. (a) any reference to a Sikh is a reference to a follower of the Sikh religion; and
  2. (b) any reference to a Sikh being on a construction site is a reference to his being there whether while at work or otherwise.

(9) This section shall have effect in relation to any relevant construction site within the territorial sea adjacent to Great Britain as it has effect in relation to any construction site within Great Britain.

(10) In subsection (9) "relevant construction site" means any construction site where there are being undertaken any building operations or works of engineering construction which are activities falling within Article 7(a) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (Application outside Great Britain) Order 1989."

The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Mr. Tim Eggar)

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this, it will be convenient to discuss Lords amendments Nos. 5, 11 and 13.

Mr. Eggar

I hope that it will assist the House if I explain the background to the amendments and the reasoning behind them.

The Health and Safety Commission has long been concerned about safety standards in the construction industry. As long ago as 1986, the commission issued a consultation document on proposals for regulations that would require all workers on construction sites to wear head protection where there was a risk of injury. These proposed regulations, which have the support of both sides of the industry, should significantly reduce the number of head injuries on construction sites. The Government are committed to laying the regulations before the House as soon as possible.

The Government have also had to consider the impact of the regulations on the Sikh community. For religious reasons, orthodox Sikhs are unable to wear anything on their heads in public except a turban. Most of the responses to the 1986 consultative document commented on that issue. Broadly speaking, employers and employer organisations in the industry argued against an exemption on health and safety and industrial relations grounds. The Sikh community, on the other hand, argued in favour because of the hardship that Sikhs would otherwise suffer. The Government have had to take a difficult decision. We had to balance strong feelings and views about the importance of health and safety on one side with strongly held religious views on the other.

It may help the House if I rehearse briefly some of the arguments. The dangers of head injury on construction sites are well known. They are undoubtedly greatly reduced by the wearing of helmets. We are confident that new regulations will considerably reduce the number of head injuries and result in an overall improvement in health and safety standards.

The House will not be surprised to learn that Sikhs also feel strongly about the issue. The tenets of his religion are more important for the turbaned Sikh than his own safety. There are more Sikhs employed in construction than in any other industry. It is estimated that the figure could be as high as 40,000. The practical consequences of a statutory requirement on Sikhs to wear helmets would be that many thousands of Sikhs would be faced with a straight choice between their religion and their job. That would cause real hardship and could also result in a loss of skilled labour to the construction industry.

It is rare for an issue fundamental to the faith of one particular religious group to come into conflict with public policy. But on other occasions it has been seen as right that the law should take account of deeply held religious beliefs. A precedent exists in the Motor-cycle Crash Helmets (Religious Exemption) Act 1976. Looking back further, there is the whole British Sikh military tradition. Sikhs were allowed to wear turbans instead of steel helmets when they fought for this country in the first and second world wars.

The Government believed that the balance of the argument lies in taking account of the deeply held views of the Sikh community. Making an exemption for Sikhs in this way will mean that the overall improvement in health and safety arising out of the new proposed regulations will be slightly less than it might otherwise have been. I have no hesitation in accepting that.

Having decided to make an exemption, it was essential for us to do all that we could to make it workable. That is why we introduced Lords amendment No. 5, which I know is a cause of concern to my hon. Friends the Members for Shipley (Sir M. Fox) and for Crosby (Mr. Thornton), among others, and which was debated at length in another place. I should say to my hon. Friends the Members for Shipley and for Crosby that the effect of their proposed amendments would be to render worthless a Sikh's right not to wear a helmet because an employer could justify a general requirement to wear a helmet on health and safety grounds. We believe that that would make our exemption unworkable.

You will appreciate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that this has not been an easy decision for the Government to make, but I am convinced that our approach is the correct one. I am confident that it will command widespread support in the House.

Mr. John Townend (Bridlington)

I strongly oppose Lords amendment No. 4, which will divide communities and discriminate against the indigenous population. The British people have accepted millions of immigrants from the new Commonwealth since the war. As a result we have, for better or worse, ceased to be a white, homogenous society and become a multi-racial society, with all the problems that that brings.

The British people were never consulted and all the polls show that if they had been consulted they would have consistently opposed mass immigration, which has fundamentally changed the country in which they live. Despite that, however, they have accepted the newcomers with a generosity and tolerance that few other countries have shown. The British people have accepted that they must integrate with the newcomers. They have accepted that everyone should be treated equally under the law and to ensure that there is no discrimination they have rightly been told that they must accept the Race Relations Act 1976.

Since the British people have so generously accepted the newcomers, it behoves the newcomers to integrate and to become English. Whether they are brown, black, yellow or white, they should become English in England and Scots in Scotland. They should accept our laws, our history, our traditions and our tolerance. Unfortunately, the great and the good in this country are not satisfied with having created a multi-racial society—they now want a multi-cultural society, which will prevent assimilation and Anglicisation and will result in Britain ceasing to be one nation and becoming several nations.

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The new clause is fundamental to that change of policy.

An ethnic minority, albeit for religious reasons, is to be treated differently under the law from the rest of the community. Separate laws for separate communities are divisive and unwise, particularly when they involve the safety of others. What will be the position if somebody drops a heavy object from the top of a scaffold and it lands on a Sikh? If the Sikh were wearing a safety helmet, the object might just bounce off and cause no damage. If he is wearing a turban, however, he may be severely injured and fall on top of somebody else or knock somebody off the scaffolding. Others will thus be put at risk by the new clause. The Government should also consider the position of a worker on the top of scaffolding who accidentally drops something. Again, if it hits someone wearing a safety hat it may cause no damage, but if it hits a Sikh wearing a turban, it may kill or severely injure him. What about the psychological effect of that on the person responsible for the accident?

In industry safety should be paramount and religious belief should take second place. I understand that the new clause is opposed by employers in the construction industry and by the trade unions and that when it was debated in the House of Lords nearly all the Opposition speakers opposed it, although they did not press it to a Division.

When immigrants from different countries and with different beliefs come to a Christian country they should be prepared to accept our laws and our way of life. If they do not wish to do so, they have a choice. They do not need to work in the construction industry because there are plenty of other jobs available. Alternatively, they could wear a metal helmet over their turban. There is no consistency in the law. People wear hard hats in power stations but I am told that the new clause does not include power stations. How will Sikhs deal with that?

The new clause discriminates against British workers who do not wish to wear hard hats for other reasons, which in some cases might be health reasons.

Mr. Corbyn

Has it occurred to the hon. Gentleman that many Sikh building workers and Sikh people living in Britain were born here, hold British passports and are therefore just as much British workers as any white worker?

Mr. Townend

I suggest that they should be prepared to accept the same laws as white British workers.

I was perturbed to read the remarks of the noble Lord Strathclyde when he moved the new clause in the other place. At column 738, he stated: We are firmly committed to improving safety standards in construction and we are convinced that the regulation will be a significant step forwards. However, the many representations that we received from the Sikh community convinced us that the regulations would cause real hardship for orthodox Sikhs… It was decided on balance that in this case the wider issues of religious freedom and—— these are the significant words—— relations with the Sikh community must take precedence". —[Official Report, House of Lords, 16 October 1989; Vol 511, c. 738.] It is the last sentence that worries me. Does this mean that in future legislation exemption will be made to maintain good relations with ethnic minorities? Such discrimination against the general population would be very much resented by the indigenous population, as other happenings have been in recent years.

My hon. Friend referred to crash helmets for motorcycle riders, an issue that caused considerable problems. I remember a sad case which occurred soon after I became a Member of the House. A gentleman said that he had his own reasons for not wearing a crash hat and asked why he should be treated differently from the Sikhs. He broke the law numerous times, was arrested many times by the police and was actually put in gaol.

We have also allowed the ritual killing of animals, which is abhorrent to many people in this country who regard it as cruel.

I beg the Government to go no further down this path as it is divisive and discriminatory. We must stop encouraging the development of a multi-cultural society. We must all be equal before the law whether we are brown, black or white. I sincerely ask the Government to think again and at this late stage not to press the new clause.

Mr. Robert G. Hughes (Harrow, West)

In response to what my hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend) has just said, I simply say, as a member of the Conservative party, that it is no part of the philosophy that I recognise in my party to trample on the religious practices or beliefs of anybody in this country or outside. As I understand it, part of the burden of my hon. Friend's objection to what is proposed in the new clause is that Sikhs not wearing hard hats on building sites take a risk. I am prepared to accept that they take a risk, but I ask my hon. Friend to consider how important observance of their religion must be to them if they are prepared to take such a risk.

As my hon. Friend the Minister said in his wide-ranging and thoughtful introduction to these proposals, for many people in the Sikh community, certainly in my constituency in west London, in Southall which is next door, in Hayes and Harlington and in a number of neighbouring constituencies, building work is a traditional trade. Many Sikh people work on building sites.

Mr. John Townend

Does my hon. Friend accept that in many cases employers already have a difficult enough time persuading employees to use safety equipment, and will it not make things much more difficult if a certain section of the work force is exempt from the regulations? Will he also deal with the point that I raised about the danger to other workers?

Mr. Hughes

I am about to come to building employers and problems of sites.

I do not know whether all hon. Members have received this letter, which is dated yesterday, from Mr. Robbie Browne-Clayton, director of economic and public affairs at the Building Employers Confederation, telling us how heinous it would be if we allowed the new clause to be inserted into the Bill. I must tell the confederation that the record of its voluntary code of practice to persuade its members to wear safety equipment, hard hats and so on does not stand up to close examination. It is a bit rich for that body now to complain about what the Government are doing. The final paragraph of the letter from the confederation complains about amendment No. 5 and states: It has also been suggested that to admit the possibility of a defence of justifiability would effectively negate the whole exemption. This we do not accept. The letter, however, does not go on to argue the confederation's case. The confederation must understand, as my hon. Friend the Minister explained, that without amendment No. 5 the rest of the amendments would not be worth the paper they are written on as people would be able to get round the changes.

Mr. Malcolm Thornton (Crosby)

What evidence does my hon. Friend have to support his remark that builders, in general have done little or nothing to improve safety on sites? Builders supported the recommendations to which the Minister referred earlier and which will be laid before the House in the future. It is three years since builders gave their support to those recommendations. It is only because the Government have been considering representations from the Sikh community that those recommendations are not already in force. Given the support that those recommendations have received from builders, what evidence does my hon. Friend have to support his remarks?

Mr. Hughes

It is significant that my hon. Friend's reinterpretation of my remarks strengthens my point. I said that the record of the confederation was patchy and not good, but my hon. Friend said that builders had done nothing. I did not say that; I said that the confederation's record does not stand up to examination. It claimed that a voluntary code would work, but it has not. The Bill is necessary because of the standards in general.

I want to pay tribute to the person who has done an enormous amount towards the introduction of the amendment, Michael Truman, who was the Conservative candidate for Southall at the previous election. I know that that is a party-political point, but I hope that Opposition Members will bear with me. He brought me into the campaign and I know that Ministers at the Department of Employment and at the Home Office will acknowledge that he lobbied vigorously for the amendment. He brought a number of Sikh representatives to the House and to the Departments and he deserves a great deal of credit from the House.

With a few exceptions, the majority of hon. Members are white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, or in some cases Catholics. It is therefore easy for us to assume that laws which suit us will suit everyone. Whether people want Britain to be, or think that it should be, a multi-racial society is beside the point. Britain is a multi-racial society and that will not change.

There are times—this is one of them—when we must consider modifying our laws. Surely the benchmark as to whether that change is reasonable is whether it is fair to the community concerned and whether it brings any disadvantage to the rest of the community, white, black or Asian. I believe that this change does not disadvantage anyone, but recognises the religious conviction of the Sikh community. I am proud that my Government have recognised that and introduced the amendments.

11.45 pm
Mr. Thornton

I listened with considerable interest to the opening remarks of my hon. Friend the Minister. I am pleased that at long last the regulations to which he referred will, I hope, shortly be coming before the House.

There is total agreement on the desirability of hard hats being the norm and the rule on construction sites for safety purposes. The Minister has conceded that this will add immeasurably to the overall safety on sites. He has also conceded that the Government's concession in amendment No. 4 will weaken this improvement in safety. I accept that it is difficult to quantify the extent to which it will do so and I do not seek to quantify it. I also accept that the Government had an extremely difficult choice to make. They have come down in favour of an exemption for the Sikh community.

It is fair to say that, although these moves have been generally and widely welcomed, the employers in the construction industry feel strongly that no exemption should be allowed. However, my motion to disagree does not relate to this general exemption but to the Lords amendment which was moved thereafter and to which the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes) referred: the amendment related to justifiability.

That amendment adds to, rather than clarifies, the problem. It adds to the difficulties that employers will face on building sites. It may be that, under normal circumstances, the exemption which amendment No. 5 grants to Sikhs will cause few, if any, problems. It may be possible for sensible and sensitive employers to allocate different work on that site. However, that is not always the case. We all know construction sites on which particular dangers and difficulties exist. The amendment is specifically directed at such sites.

If an employer has decided that, because of its specific circumstances, a site requires that all the work force should wear hard hats, he would be left with no defence against a claim that something was being done to the detriment of a Sikh who was required to leave his site or move to another part of the site where further detriment—perhaps by loss of earnings—would be caused to that worker. I do not believe that the Government wish to impose such an additional difficulty, or that this is, in any way, what the amendment seeks to do.

In answer to Lord McCarthy, in the other place, the Lord Strathclyde said: The Government feel that to refuse to employ Sikhs on such grounds —that their own health or the health and safety of other workers might be endangered— because they would not wear safety helmets is unjustifiable. The employer no doubt would argue that the condition is justifiable, as he is applying it to all his employees equally." —[Official Report, House of Lords, 30 October 1989; Vol. 512, c. 82.] It seems to me, and to the employers, that this is wholly unreasonable. The matter is already covered by existing legislation.

The Minister said that my amendment is a wrecking amendment that would negate the Lords amendment. Not so. There is adequate race relations legislation to cover the point. Employers have to justify to courts or tribunals that the decision taken was reasonable in the circumstances.

I recognise the Government's dilemma: they have spent three years considering representations made to them and have come to the conclusion that it is right and proper to grant Sikhs this exemption. I do not accept that my motion will negate the Lords amendment, which, if carried, will add enormously to the difficulties of site management and cause problems for employers and workers alike. Lords amendment No. 4 will give the Sikhs what they need—Government recognition of the risks that Sikhs are prepared to take, as my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West said, for their religious beliefs.

Whether this will affect other workers and how much they might have to suffer because of other people's beliefs are fine points. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to tell us why present legislation cannot guarantee the exemption that the Government are granting. I hope that he will be persuaded that such legislation is enough and that there Is no need to accept the Lords amendment.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

There has been a good debate on the first group of amendments, although we were unhappy with its outcome, and the issues were given serious consideration. This debate has been unfortunate in that the contribution by the hon. Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend) contained connotations which we found unacceptable and which lowered the tenor of the discussion.

The hon. Member for Bridlington said that Sikhs should accept our laws because they live in our country. That is a non-starter. The Lords amendments would allow Sikhs to wear turbans on construction sites. If we reject the measure, presumably employers will not take Sikhs on such sites, in line with the situation before the Lords amended it.

This is not an easy issue for me to discuss. For one thing, I do not have a Sikh community in my constituency. It is also difficult to adopt a clear position on this sensitive subject. We should probe the arguments on both sides better than we are doing in order to understand the legislation. First, there is a clear danger to Sikhs. The Minister has admitted that. I do not know the extent of the danger, but it is clearly a matter of some significance or there would be no reason to say that helmets should be worn on construction sites and no need for the other parts of safety law to operate.

The hon. Member for Bridlington spoke about danger to other workers. We can think of sites other than high buildings—tunnels, for example—where such danger could be caused. In such cases danger caused to Sikhs could give rise to all sorts of problems for people who go to their aid. Perhaps we do not fully understand the likelihood of that, but it may be that debates on earlier legislation when the wearing of helmets was discussed will give us knock-on information for this debate.

Discrimination in favour of Sikhs may, on balance, be justified but to some extent it could create problems of counter-discrimination to other people who would feel unhappy about that. We must question whether discrimination in favour of Sikhs exacerbates problems instead of trying to resolve them. Perhaps we should discuss the wearing of turbans and helmets in a wider context. They have been discussed in the application of legislation to motor cycles and now such legislation is to apply to the construction industry. Presumably industries other than construction could also be affected by this legislation.

We need to respond to deeply felt community views, but it does not follow that we should take such views into account in all circumstances. There may be some in which we should override them. It is like accepting the argument that Salman Rushdie should withdraw his book because of feelings in some communities.

We are also faced with the general argument about religious freedom. In the other place, Lord McCarthy said; We should allow religious groups in this country who feel as deeply as the Sikhs on this matter freedom to do what they want unless we can demonstrate that they are significantly damaging people other than themselves by their actions. To me the issue turns on whether other workers are being damaged, whether the employer is being put at risk and whether measurable damaging circumstances can be shown." —[Official Report, House of Lords, 16 October 1989; Vol. 511, c. 744.]

That is a fruitful position to take and we should discuss it while we have the opportunity before we move on from the amendment.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

I support the amendments because they are most important to the many orthodox Sikhs among the 40,000 or so Sikhs in the construction industry. They would be faced with an appalling dilemma by the new requirement.

A long-standing characteristic of British life has been our freedom of religion and our tolerance of the requirements of different faiths. The provisions are directly related to the religious requirements of the Sikh faith. That faith goes back for more than 500 years, and it requires of its adherents that they coil their hair and wear it beneath a turban. That requirement is one of the five Ks which are the articles of the Sikh faith. The safety helmet provision would have been incompatible with that religious practice.

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The British Sikh community therefore welcomed the amendments moved for the Government by Lord Strathclyde in the other place. In particular, they noted the opposition of Lord Stoddart of Swindon, speaking for the Labour party, who condemned what he called discrimination in favour of one particular religion, which he viewed, by some extraordinary way of reasoning, as somehow being discrimination against other sections of the community. It is right to respect the devotion of the Sikhs to their religion and to make these provisions. The Gravesend Sikh community has expressed its concern through its Gurdawara. I commend the Government for their sensitive response to the representations by hon. Members, particularly Conservative Members.

Mr. Eggar

We have had an interesting debate, and the contributions from my hon. Friends and the hon. Member for Derbyshire North-East (Mr. Barnes) have shown what a difficult issue this is, and how the Government have had carefully to balance conflicting and firmly held views.

I can say to my hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend) that exemption for Sikhs could, in theory, pose a risk to others who work on the site, but the chances of a third party on the site being injured as a result of a Sikh being injured because he was wearing a turban rather than a hard hat is fairly remote. Sikhs work on construction sites at the moment, wearing their turbans, and we are not aware of any injuries that have occured in the circumstances that he has outlined.

The hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East asked me to describe the scale of the problem. The last year in which there was a detailed examination was 1981–82, and in that period there were 2,000 accidents on construction sites involving head injuries. That is roughly the same number as occur now, although there might have been a slight decrease—we do not have any firm statistics. About one death a year has resulted from head injuries.

Unfortunately, because of the way that the statistics are collected, we cannot say how many of those injuries occurred to Sikhs. However, it is accepted by both sides in the construction industry that some strong legislative action has to be taken to improve safety on construction sites. There is no dispute about that, and it was recognised as a result of the 1986 consultation paper.

My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Thornton) is not noted for his lack of generosity to those of us grinding away on the Front Bench, so it was slightly unfair to say that the reason why the consultation period has taken so long is that Ministers have been considering the position of the Sikh community. It was only in February this year that the recommendation was made by the Health and Safety Commission, and it was only at that point that Ministers were able to make a judgment on the conflict between the requests of the HSC and the feeling of the Sikh community.

My hon. Friend has suggested that Lords amendment No. 5 is unnecessary because it would still be for the employer to demonstrate that a requirement to wear a safety helmet was justifiable because, if a person were not to wear one, he would be a danger to others and to himself. The arguments on this matter are evenly balanced, as it is on a number of points in this difficult subject.

Having once decided, however, that there should be an exemption for Sikhs, it must be for the Government to ensure that the exemption is a real one and is beyond doubt. The problem with the argument that my hon. Friend advances, and that of the building employers—I understand the concern that has been expressed—is that it would muddy the waters and introduce some uncertainty and lack of clarity where, above all, we must have certainty and clarity.

Mr. Thornton

Is my hon. Friend aware that section 1 of the Race Relations Act 1976 states that, if a "requirement or condition" can be shown to be justifiable irrespective of the colour, race nationality or ethnic or national origins of the person to whom it is applied", indirect racial discrimination will not have occurred? That is the legislation to which I referred earlier. If the amendment is agreed to, it will deem that the enforcement of the safety helmet policy on a Sikh who is not prepared to wear a helmet would not in any circumstances be justifiable. The point that I am making—with respect to my hon. Friend, I feel that he has not answered it—is that existing legislation is sufficient to guarantee what the Government are saying should happen, which is that the general exemption should apply. The burden of proof would be on an employer to show before a court or other tribunal that what he was suggesting was justifiable. It cannot be right that there should be no element of justifiability.

Mr. Eggar

There may be a minority of employers who, irrespective of the exemptions that I hope the House will grant this evening, would claim that the normal wearing of a safety helmet justifies their refusing to employ Sikhs, or moving their existing Sikhs to other work. That is the point that is made by the Building Employers Confederation. This requirement would amount to indirect racial discrimination under the 1976 Act, but under that Act the employer could argue as a defence that his action was justifiable as he was applying the condition of wearing a safety helmet purely on health and safety grounds. In other words, if we did not agree to amendment No. 5, an employer could override the exemption which the House is being asked to grant.

I return to my original answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby. If we accepted his argument, we would bring uncertainty where, above all, we want certainty and clarity. The argument of my hon. Friend on the burden of proof is not one which we would necessarily accept. There is a conflict between the legal advice that has been given to him and that which is available to me. It is a difficult area, because no clear decision has been made by an industrial tribunal. The law is not as straightforward as my hon. Friend has suggested.

We have had a useful and constructive debate on a difficult issue. I am grateful to my hon. Friends and to the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East for contributing to it. I ask the House to agree to the amendments.

Ms. Richardson

I apologise to the Minister for not rising to my feet as swiftly as I should have done before he replied to the debate.

We think that the Government have it about right. We accept that there are groups in our society who have certain deeply held beliefs that should be recognised and respected. If that means that such people—in this instance, the Sikhs—are prepared to endanger themselves by wearing a turban and not a hard hat, that is for them to decide. Their views should be respected.

I was very shocked by the speech of the hon. Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend). Indeed, I felt extremely uncomfortable about it. I am sure that I echo the feelings of my hon. Friends in saying that we want a multi-cultural society—not an integration of those who have come to live among us or, in many cases, were born here. We do not want them so assimilated that they disappear. We want to benefit from their cultures.

Mr. John Townend

Does the hon. Lady think that she is expressing the views of the vast majority of the British people? In my part of the country people think that there should be integration and assimilation and that we should become one people, the British people, regardless of colour.

Ms. Richardson

Those whom I meet in my constituency and elsewhere are much more tolerant than the hon. Gentleman gives them credit for. I do not know about the people of Bridlington. I do not know whether Sikhs live in Bridlington. I do not know whether those whose views the hon. Gentleman has apparently expressed have ever met Sikhs or discussed this matter with them. Perhaps they do not understand their deeply held beliefs.

I remind those hon. Members who can recall the event that some years ago the same arguments were rehearsed, from both sides of the House, about the wearing of crash helmets. I am proud and pleased that I voted for a measure that allowed people to wear turbans instead of crash helmets. There have not been any bad effects, although I do not pretend to know whether anyone has been killed. Nevertheless, it is proof of the pudding. We were tolerant then, for goodness sake let us be tolerant now.

Question put and agreed to.

Lords amendment No. 5 agreed to.

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