HC Deb 01 November 1988 vol 139 cc607-9W
Mr. Riddick

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment whether decisions have been made regarding the legislation covered by his Department's consultative document entitled "Restrictions on Employment of Young People and the Removal of Sex Discrimination in Legislation"; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Fowler

After giving careful consideration to the responses to the consultative document received by my Department the Government have decided to introduce legislation as soon as parliamentary time permits to effect the following measures.

Measures will be taken to reduce sex discrimination in employment. We have examined existing legislation to identify unnecessary requirements which involve discrimination. These will be removed. They include the outdated restrictions on women working underground in mines and on cleaning machinery in factories. Section 51 of the Sex Discrimination Act will be amended and section 7(2)(f) of the Act will be repealed to remove the protection they provide for discriminatory acts required by earlier legislation in the area of employment and vocational training.

In future the Sex Discrimination Act would override discriminatory requirements unless they are positively justified, for instance, to protect women in connection with pregnancy and maternity. We shall ensure that requirements will continue in force where we are satisfied, particularly on the advice of the Health and Safety Commission, that there are sound health and safety reasons for their retention. These include the regulations on women working with processes involving lead or ionising radiation, which might be damaging to an unborn child. As proposed in the consultative document, we shall also provide for certain single sex educational appointments to continue. These include the appointment of academic staff at the women's colleges at Oxford and Cambridge, in view of the continuing under-representation of female academic staff.

All the restrictions on young people's hours of work and related conditions of employment, including the associated record-keeping burdens on employers, will be lifted because they are outdated. The restrictions presently dictate maximum working hours; earliest starting and latest finishing times; minimum meal and rest breaks and holidays; and put limits on what weekend work, shift work and night work young people may do.

Regarding other restrictions on the kind of work young people may undertake, the Health and Safety Commission's recommendations were published on 18 March and the Government will be acting on that advice. This will result in a number of detailed adjustments which will include treating young persons over school-leaving age but under 16 in the same way as other young persons and the removal of some restrictions particular to certain industries. Restrictions on young persons working with dangerous machinery will be retained.

These measures will encourage flexibility in industry; extend employment opportunities for women and young people; simplify the legislation, and reduce the burdens on business. It is important that whilst retaining necessary health and safety protection, legislation on young people's employment and sex discrimination should not place restrictions on British industry's ability to compete in domestic and world markets; and that young people and women should be able to participate fully in Britain's growing economic success.

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