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The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Norman Fowler) : I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

This Bill is about the widening of employment opportunities for women and young people and the removal of unnecessary burdens on employers. It is introduced against the background of a major reduction in unemployment in this country that is in excess of anything achieved elsewhere in the European Community. Since the general election in June 1987, unemployment has fallen by about 750, 000 ; long-term unemployment has reduced by 350,000--a fall of nearly 30 per cent. ; unemployment of young people between 18 and 24 has reduced by 250,000 ; and the rate of unemployment stands at 7.5 per cent., compared with 10 per cent. in July 1987, with the biggest reductions being in some areas where the problem has previously been greatest--the west midlands, Wales and the north-west.

There are still areas of the country where further improvements are needed, and I recognise that. At this point, the whole House will welcome to the debate the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher). [ Several hon. Members :-- "Hear, hear."] We assumed that the Bill's proposals are so uncontentious that the hon. Gentleman did not intend opposing them. However, we shall wait to hear one of his usual genial speeches.

I shall bring the hon. Member for Oldham, West, up to date. I was seeking to set out the reduction in unemployment in this country.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (Derbyshire, West) : Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Labour party do not consider that the Bill is controversial, as they do not even seem to have an amendment on the Order Paper?

Mr. Fowler : We do not want to work them up. I shall keep to what I was going to say and seek to convince any doubters there may be--including the hon. Member for Oldham, West, who is now settling down.

I recognise that there are still areas of the country where further improvements are needed. It should equally be recognised that it would be folly to put all those achievements at risk by unjustified pay increases. The one sure effect of excessive pay increases is fewer jobs, and that must be recognised by unions and employers alike.

By any measure, this country's employment position has dramatically improved in the past 18 months, and there is no reason why that should not continue. Our latest estimate shows that there are more than 700,000 unfilled job vacancies throughout the country. There are new opportunities for unemployed people, but there are also opportunities more generally. The Bill is about extending

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opportunities for women and young people in the labour market and taking further action to bring down the barriers standing in the way of developing employment.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East) : Given the Secretary of State's strictures against what he calls "excessive pay increase", will he tell the House how he voted on the 1988-89 wage increases for Members of Parliament of more than 25 per cent. or £110 per week?

Mr. Fowler : I would have voted in favour of the proposed increase. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to bandy figures about the salaries of Members of Parliament, I may tell him that Ministers such as myself are taking a 3 per cent. increase in the current year, which I believe is substantially less in percentage terms than the increase that the hon. Gentleman is taking.

In the labour market of the 1990s, there will certainly be new openings for women, and it is vital that they are taken. Women already play a vital part in many of our industries and professions, but their role in the economy will need to increase. The labour market is already changing dramatically, and it will change more. In particular, the number of young school leavers will substantially reduce. The number of 16 to 19-year-olds has already begun to drop, and by 1995 it will fall by more than 500,000--a drop of nearly 25 per cent.

Employers will not be able to rely on a steady stream of young people to meet their recruitment needs. They will have to develop their existing work forces' full potential through training, and take full advantage of other potential sources of recruitment. Clearly, women are among the most important of those.

The Bill then tackles some of the issues of sex discrimination in circumstances where discrimination is not only unfair to its victims but damaging to the economy. It does it on the basis that a nation that fails to use fully the skills and talents of more than half of its population will be competing with one hand tied behind its back. The Bill sweeps away a number of archaic restrictions on women's employment. It introduces a general rule that equal opportunity takes precedence over restrictions on women's employment. Restrictions are retained only where they can be strictly justified. The Bill also gives women the right to statutory redundancy payments up to the same age as men--a further step towards equality.

Let me emphasise just how many women are working outside the home in this country. Over 10 million women are working. Women now make up about 43 per cent. of the total labour force, and 60 per cent. of women under 65 are employed or seeking employment. That is a higher proportion than in any other European Community country, with the exception of Denmark.

The increase in women working has been evident in all areas. There are certainly more women working in service industries such as retailing. But at the same time the proportion of women in the total entry to the professions--medicine, law, accountancy--has increased dramatically over the past 10 years. The proportion of young women taking courses of further and higher education is now greater than that of young men.

Ms. Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood) : Will the Secretary of State confirm that the overwhelming majority of working women work in low-paid employment, and that their position is getting worse? Will he tell us whether

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he has any proposals to improve that position, if he wants to invite more women into the labour market? Why is he suggesting that wage councils might be abolished, when that would make the position of those women worse?

Mr. Fowler : We have set out the position on wage councils in the consultation document, and I shall obviously want to make a statement about it in due course.

The position is changing. Women will want not only jobs but careers. They will expect not just equal rights but equal promotion opportunities. The wise employer and the forward-looking professions will recognise that.

We must take away restrictions which can stand in the way of women finding jobs or pursuing careers, and it is from the same standpoint that we have reviewed the position of young people. The philosophy of the Bill is that they too are entitled to every job opportunity compatible with a proper concern for their health and safety. They should not be denied access to jobs for arbitrary or irrelevant reasons, least of all restrictions based on the labour market of the last century.

Let me make it clear who is affected. All the restrictions on the employment of children--that is, people under the minimum school leaving age--will be retained. The people about whom the Bill is concerned are those between school leaving age and 18 : broadly speaking, the 16 to 18- year-old group. Here too we are preserving restrictions on employment that are demonstrably necessary. For example, we are preserving all the safeguards necessary for health and safety, and regulations such as those on working with dangerous machinery and the sale of alcohol. What we are taking away are the complex restrictions on the hours of work of young people. We are doing that partly because there is no evidence that hours of work affect those between 16 and 18 differently from those over 18. It is an arbitrary distinction, but above all we are doing it because such restrictions can have a detrimental effect on young people's employment opportunities.

Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby) : The right hon. Gentleman has talked about removing restrictions on women's employment. Some of us are doubtful about how far that will be achieved by this measure. But as it is an Employment Bill giving an opportunity for the lifting of restrictions, why does it contain no mention of discrimination against disabled people--or, indeed, of the fact that well over three quarters of firms in this country still do not apply the quota?

Mr. Fowler : As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are at present reviewing the position of disabled people at work, and when the review is complete I shall want to make an announcement. I share the hon. Gentleman's concern ; as it happens, I think that the position has improved substantially over the past few years, but I should like it to be improved further.

Mr. Bill Michie (Sheffield, Heeley) : My point concerns the abolition of the protection governing young people's hours of work that has rightly applied for many years. Just as they did last year, the Government are tying in the Employment Bill with social security legislation. They say that young people are being given better opportunities for employment ; but what will happen is that young people will have to accept jobs whether they like it or not.

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Under the Bill, some small firms with 20 or fewer employees will not have to provide conditions for their employment. A young person therefore may not like a job, and may leave it. He will then be affected by the new social security regulations. This is clearly a plot to ensure that young people no longer have the right to the employment of their choice, or the right to work a short week and not be exploited by employers.

Mr. Fowler : It is not a plot at all. We are trying to take away restrictions and regulations that, in some cases, stand in the way of employment opportunities for precisely the group about whom the hon. Gentleman professess concern.

Many of the present rules governing young people's hours are absurdly complex and cannot be justified. For example, one of the provisions in the Factories Act 1961 is that in any factory employing young people between 16 and 18 the law requires them all to start work, take their breaks and finish work at exactly the same time. Section 112 excepts young persons aged 16 or over from the hours of work provisions in the Act where they are employed in preserving, canning or curing fish, preparing fish for sale or preserving or canning fruit or vegetables from June to September. That is subject to restrictions on hours laid down in the Fruit and Vegetable Preserving (Hours of Women and Young Persons) Regulations 1939. Section 113 excepts young persons aged 16 or over from the hours of work provisions in part VI of the Act where they are employed in the manufacture of dairy products. Their hours of work must not, however, exceed 54 hours a week, except where they are employed in the manufacture of cheese at certain times of the year, where they may be increased to 60. That is included in the Milk and Cheese Factories (Hours of Women and Young Persons) Regulations 1949. The Railway Employment Exemption Regulations 1962 exempt males aged 16 or over employed as engine cleaners, firemen or signal box lads.

There is a whole series of such regulations. Section 109 of the Factories Act allows young persons who are Jewish, where they work in a factory where the occupier is Jewish, to be employed on Sunday, provided that the factory is not open for business on that day and is closed on Saturday. Where an occupier uses this exception, those provisions of the Act regarding Sunday should be read as referring to Saturday, and those provisions regarding Saturday should be read as referring to Friday or Sunday.

With respect, I think that even the hon. Member for Oldham, West, when he has caught up with what the Bill is about, will concede that some parts of the legislation are indefensible. But it is restrictions like that that the Labour party, which is now nosing its way into the 1950s is fighting to preserve. Indeed, it is worse than that. The hon. Member for Oldham, West is the John Betjeman of the statute book : show him a Victorian statute and he will fight to preserve it.

The present law is full of such anomalies. The great majority of these restrictions serve no useful purpose and there is no evidence that there is any difference between areas of work where hours have been regulated, such as factories and shops, and areas where there have been no restrictions on hours, such as offices.

The only sure thing is that the complexity of the present legislation deters employers from taking young people into employment. The Bill continues the drive that my

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Department is making to deregulate the labour market. As a result, this Bill sweeps away two whole Acts, 55 sections and subsections of six other Acts and 22 statutory instruments which, between them, contain over 100 provisions regulating young people's hours of work.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke) : Under the arrangement of clauses, Nos. 7 and 8 are headed "Removal of restrictions on employment." While I abhor the restrictions that my right hon. Friend is abolishing, when do the Government intend to abolish the restrictions on employment in the docks, under the dock labour scheme, that the trade unions have enforced, which would allow those who wish to work in the docks to do so without restriction?

Mr. Fowler : The issue has been raised before, but the Bill does not cover my hon. Friend's point.

In addition to the provisions to which I have referred, the Bill seeks to remove unnecessary burdens on business. It formally abolishes the Training Commission, previously the Manpower Services Commission. I shall deal later with both of those matters. Turning to the detail of the Bill, the first six clauses amend the existing law defining the relationship between the legislation on sex discrimination--principally, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975--and other legislation.

It has always been the policy of this Government that discrimination between the sexes should be avoided unless there are special circumstances which positively require it, such as the protection of pregnant women. We also have an obligation under the European Communities equal treatment directive to remove any legislation that is contrary to the principle of equal treatment of the sexes and we fully accept that obligation.

Britain's obligations under the directive were largely implemented by the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. The 1975 Act did not in itself take any steps to remove existing legislation that conflicted with the principle of equal treatment. The approach followed by successive Governments has been that any such legislation could be reviewed and repealed or amended on a case-by -case basis as the need arose. The 1975 Act itself did no more than preserve the status quo. Under section 51 of the Act, any earlier legislation, which requires people to discriminate between the sexes, overrides the prohibition of discrimination in the 1975 Act.

The 1975 Act is then open to the criticism that this automatic precedence given to discriminatory requirements is in conflict with the equal treatment directive. The Government have considered the matter carefully and have concluded that on balance there is a conflict with the directive. Therefore, the Bill puts that right. It reverses the priority given to existing discriminatory legislation. In future, the prohibition of discrimination will take precedence. In December 1987 we issued a consultation document proposing how this should be done. The Bill broadly seeks to implement the proposals in that document. There may be cases where the requirements in the earlier legislation, though discriminatory, are still objectively justified. For instance, there may be strong health and safety reasons for retaining them. In such cases the directive allows

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exceptions to be made. So the new approach we are taking is this. We have conducted a thorough review of legislation enacted before the 1975 Act to identify requirements that discriminate between the sexes. The results of this review are set out in the consultation document.

Where such requirements are, in our view, still justified and consistent with the directive, the Bill will allow them to continue in force. For example, we are retaining protection for women in areas--such as working with lead or radiation--where there could be danger to an unborn child. We are also retaining an exemption for different treatment of the sexes in a few special cases in education. Where, on the other hand, discriminatory provisions are not justified, the Bill will repeal them or amend them to remove the unjustified discrimination.

Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East) : The Secretary of State says that women will not have to work with radiation. Will he explain why anybody should have to work with radiation?

Mr. Fowler : We are seeking in this Bill to recognise the particular problems that face women under the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. They include the danger to the unborn child from lead or radiation. That is why we have made that exception.

Taken together, the first six clauses of the Bill contain a new and coherent approach to the problem of conflicting legislation. They will ensure that we meet our Community obligations, but beyond that they are an indication of the priority that we attach to equality of opportunity.

Clause 7 takes this a step further. It repeals a number of archaic restrictions on the employment of women. The most important of these is the prohibition on women working for any length of time underground in mines and quarries. This prohibition goes back in part to the 1840s.

We have a straight choice here. Because of the action we are taking on section 51, we must seek either to re-enact this prohibition or to lift it. The difficulty with the present blanket prohibition is that it not only prevents women working at the coal face but, much more to the point, it prevents women from developing careers as mining engineers, mining surveyors and managers. We believe that that is an unjustified restraint. It is for that reason that we are removing it.

The present restrictions are an obstacle to women working not only as face workers but as managers, engineers, or in any other professional function underground. Nor is that a theoretical point. Let me quote from a letter sent by two women students at the Sheffield city polytechnic to The Independent on 28 November. They said :

"With regard to the reforming of the employment laws relating to women working underground, we would like to express our delight that at last equal opportunities will triumph over this antiquated piece of legislation.

As students in mine surveying, we can now look forward to a greater choice in our job prospects, to options previously closed to us due to the fact that we are female.

This proposal should be seen as a move forward for the extractive industry and not a return to Victorian values, as Norman Willis believes. Only too often, we have come across this chauvinistic attitude--that mines are no places for women to work. We would remind Mr. Willis that there is more to mining than the pick and shovel', as any mine engineer (male or female) will tell him."

Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield) : The Secretary of State has not yet learnt his lesson. Why does he not take note of

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many recent comments about women working underground in the pits? The regulations were introduced for a particular reason. The Secretary of State has not yet been underground to have a look for himself, and I am prepared to bet that he would not dare to take a look underground. Many hon. Members know what coal mining is all about.

Why does the Secretary of State not take seriously the points that have been made so that he gets the full picture as to why women should not be allowed to work underground? I shall end with this point--[ Hon. Members :-- "Too long."] No, it is not too long. The two so-called young ladies at the Sheffield city polytechnic to whom the Secretary of State referred had had a sex change.

Mr. Fowler : I shall leave it to The Independent to check up on the hon. Gentleman's last allegation. However, I shall try to answer in detail his lengthy intervention. I understand, although I am subject to correction on this point, that when he last spoke on the matter the Opposition Front Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for Oldham, West--who even now is being briefed on the subject--said that he did not oppose the proposal. We look forward to hearing his views later in the debate.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Fowler : No. I should prefer to finish my answer to the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes), although I know that the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) always expects to be given precedence.

Ms. Short : The Secretary of State should stop being so rude.

Mr. Fowler : As for going underground, I make the hon. Member for Ashfield a fair offer. I am certainly prepared to go down a mine, as long as the hon. Gentleman is prepared to come down with me and show me the way.

Mr. Haynes : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Secretary of State knows that I worked in a pit for 35 years and it would be nothing for me to make another visit. I am talking about the Secretary of State who has never been down a pit.

Mr. Fowler : I am asking for the hon. Gentleman's help and advice. I recognise his experience and importance in this matter. In their letter to The Independent the two ladies--who can reply to his allegations themselves --said :

"When will these so-called intelligent men realise that women are as competent and efficient as themselves and that we will be treated as equals?"

That is the genuine response to the point made by the hon. Member for Ashfield.

Mr. Cryer : Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Fowler : No. I have given way several times.

Clause 8 deals with restrictions on young people's employment. The consultation document contains the results of a review of a mass of legislation in that area.

The review revealed a jumble of restrictions on young people's hours of work with no rhyme and very little reason to them. Different rules applied to factories, mines and shops, while other sectors, such as offices, farms and hospitals, had never been regulated at all. In many cases, the legislation had its roots in the 19th century and had been amended and consolidated in a piecemeal way at

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intervals ever since. In the regulated sectors, there were generally some restrictions on maximum hours of work and working at night, but there was little consistency between different industries.

The position has changed radically since Victorian or even pre-war days, and the progressive raising of the school-leaving age means that the age range covered by the regulations on young people's employment now covers only 16 to 18-year-olds, not younger children, as was often the case when the restrictions were introduced. We also now have a comprehensive framework of protection under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, which imposes general duties on employers not to expose employees to conditions, including hours of work, which would endanger their health and safety. That also applies to 16 to 18-year-olds.

Circumstances have changed so much that there should be no presumption that special protection is needed. In our review of the legislation, we have concluded that many of the restrictions are now unnecessary and the Bill will remove them. However, I stress that we are keeping all the safeguards that the Health and Safety Commission advises us are desirable for health and safety reasons--for instance, on working with dangerous machinery and chemicals. We are also keeping restrictions on the sale of alcohol, and in betting and gaming, where young people's welfare must be taken into account. We recognise that these are special cases. I must also emphasise that nothing in the Bill will affect the employment of children below the minimum school leaving age. All the safeguards in that area are left untouched.

Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh) : Perhaps my right hon. Friend will tell me why, in this spirit of getting rid of all these regulations, it is perfectly lawful for a bookmaker to employ someone to work in the back office of a betting shop and take bets on a telephone but not over the counter? If the moral argument is that people under 18 should not be associated with gambling in any employment context, surely the law should make that absolutely clear and not allow the current anomaly, which is perpetuating a myth.

Mr. Fowler : My hon. Friend has made a fair point about what is clearly an anomaly. The Government have not extended to the front counter the freedom which my hon. Friend says exists in the back office. Doubtless that is something we shall discuss in Committee. The Bill will greatly simplify the rules governing the employment of young people. It will widen their opportunities and remove disincentives to employers. The simplification of this law is long overdue.

The Bill provides for a number of amendments to be made to other legislation, to ease the burden of regulation on employers. These stem from proposals contained in the White Paper, which we published in May 1986. My right hon. Friend, the Minister of State, with his special responsibility for small businesses, will deal with those clauses in detail. We are seeking to strike a balance between safeguarding employees' rights and enabling employers to improve their competitiveness and create new job opportunities.

For example, clause 9 exempts employers with fewer than 20 employees from the requirement to provide their employees with particulars of any disciplinary procedures which apply to them.--[ Hon. Members :-- "Why?"] The

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reason is that now such statements set out who deals with the matter at each level of the organisation. Clearly, small firms have limited administrative resources and are, by definition, smaller. Often, the employer will deal personally with staff grievances. All employers will still have to give employees the name of the person to whom they can go if they have a grievance.

Clause 10 restricts the duties for which paid time off can be allowed.

Clause 11 increases from six months to two years the qualifying period of employment after which employees are entitled to be given on request a written statement of the reasons for their dismissal. That brings the qualifying period into line with that for unfair dismissal complaints.

Another important provision is intended to deter ill-founded applications to industrial tribunals. Clause 16 enables me to provide that the chairman of an industrial tribunal can hold a pre-hearing review of a tribunal case and, where he considers a case has no reasonable prospect of success, or appears to be frivolous, vexatious or unreasonable, to require the person to make a deposit of up to £150 as a condition of taking the case further.

Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) : Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Fowler : I have given way many times already and I should like to move on.

That does not mean that all applicants will have to make a deposit. I would expect only a small minority of cases to be affected. Also, £150 is not a set amount : it is the maximum. It seems entirely reasonable that someone who has a weak case should be made to think carefully before putting all concerned to the trouble and expense of a full hearing.

Mr. Vaz rose --

Mr. Allen McKay (Barnsley, West and Penistone) rose

Mr. Fowler : I will not give way. It is not in the hon. Gentlemens' own interest to press ahead with a hopeless case.

Clause 12 provides for women to receive statutory redundancy payments up to the same age as men--up to 65 or to the same normal retirement age if that is lower in a particular firm. I believe that that will be generally welcomed.

Clause 13 is a further amendment to the redundancy provisions of the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act 1978, dealing with redundancy rebates.

In clauses 14 and 15 the Bill also makes some technical amendments to the insolvency provisions of the 1978 Act. Those are intended to expedite payments out of the redundancy fund to employees of insolvent businesses, and to make it easier for my Department to recover such payments from liquidators or receivers.

Clause 17, provides for the abolition of the requirement under the Celluloid and Cinematograph Film Act 1922 whereby firms wishing to store celluloid film on their premises must register with the local authority and pay an annual £2 fee. The reason for that is to remove the requirement to abolish the registration fee and the need to register with the local authority, given that most people are now using acetate instead of celluloid.

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Clause 18 is an important clause and formally dissolves the Training Commission. The history of the abolition of the commission is well known. Formerly we had a commission which was in effect nominated by different parties--three commissioners were nominated by the Confederation of British Industry and three by the Trades Union Congress and there were three others representing different interests such as education and local authorities. Basically that system broke down because of the TUC's action in relation to its own commissioners' proposals. In 1987 the TUC commissioners agreed a programme called the new job training scheme but when it went to the TUC General Council it voted to boycott the programme--which it did, to the damage of that programme and the interests of unemployed people.

We had a repeat performance when it came to employment training for long- term unemployed people. Again, the programme was agreed by the TUC commissioners, including at that time Mr. Ron Todd the General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union. Mr. Todd first withdrew his support and then campaigned against the programme of which he had been co- author. Partly because of that, partly because of a failure of leadership of the hon. Member for Oldham, West and in spite of a last-minute appeal by the Leader of the Opposition, the TUC decided to boycott employment training. Fortunately, that has had little effect on employment training and there are now more than 100, 000 people on the programme.

We were left with a position where three of the commissioners were committed to a policy of opposition to the biggest programme being run by the Training Commission. That was an unacceptable and untenable position, which inevitably led to the Government's announcement that the commission would be abolished.

The hon. Member for Oldham, West and the Opposition bear a heavy responsibility for presiding over that policy. The TUC and the Opposition quite deliberately turned their backs on long-term unemployed people in this country. Frankly, we are not prepared to take lectures from the hon. Gentleman on training policy in Britain, either in the House or in the many newspaper articles that he writes.

In place of the old system there is a framework for training with a number of features which I draw to the attention of the House. Instead of the Training Commission we shall have a new Training Agency directly accountable to me as Secretary of State, but with substantial management independence and with the benefit of the commission staff who have had very great success in delivering training programmes in this country.

Rather than nine commissioners I am appointing a national training task force--which is employer-led, including the heads of IBM, NFC, Tarmac, Grand Metropolitan and the Scottish Development Agency. Its members also include people with experience of trade unions, local authorities, chambers of commerce and voluntary organisations. By any standards it is the best team on training that has ever been put together in this country.

The team's first job will be to set up the first training and enterprise councils which will not only take over from the old area manpower boards but will also have important new powers and responsibilities. We envisage that eventually there will be a network of about 100 councils--which again are industry-led--and they will be

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responsible for assessing the training needs of the local area, managing training programmes for the unemployed such as employment training, and, crucially, for promoting training for employers in the local area.

Those changes add up to a very substantial revolution in training, and rightly so. In my view nothing is more important than that we improve the training standards in this country. It is a structure which gives employers the opportunity to plan for the future not on the basis of some remote national plan but on the basis of the needs in the local labour market. It will be their responsibility to ensure that their staff are trained to international standards. It will also be their responsibility to ensure that the people without jobs are trained to fill the jobs without people. It is only by improving training that we will ensure our competitiveness in the future. One of the reasons why employment in this country is improving faster than that of the other European Community countries is that we have taken down some of the barriers that have stood in the way of jobs. We have tackled, for example, the problem of bad industrial relations which in the 1960s and 1970s succeeded in exporting British job after British job overseas. We have lifted the burden of regulations and restrictions which hindered the growth of businesses and jobs in the 1970s and previous decades. We have taken a number of steps to increase the flexibility of the labour market, and we have now set in hand the biggest revolution in training arrangements there has ever been in this country--a revolution which is designed to ensure the supply of skilled labour that our industries and services will need to sustain economic growth into the 1990s and beyond. The Bill continues that process. It removes obstacles that stand in the way of some women taking jobs and it at long last reforms the position of young people. It is another step in the process of lifting restrictions and encouraging employment. The Department of Employment stands for policies of deregulation, because such policies will create new jobs and lead to the further reduction of unemployment in Britain.

4.55 pm

Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West) : The Secretary of State claimed that the Bill is designed to meet the demographic gap in the labour market that will be produced by the shortage of school leavers in the next seven years. If that is its aim, it is remarkably badly targeted. But of course it is nothing of the sort ; it is yet another Bill from the Government's ideological stables. As the Secretary of State said, it is a deregulatory measure. It will enhance the power of employers to hire and fire at will but will do nothing to provide the increased work force that the economy needs for the 1990s. It is a Bill not about increasing employment but about diminishing employment rights.

The right hon. Gentleman has recently taken on something of the role of a soothsayer. Tearing his hair, he laments in the columns of the press that a great demographic change is upon us--repent all ye employers of little training and no creches or ye shall surely perish in a famine of skill shortages and school leaver shortages.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : He will when she sacks him.

Mr. Meacher : I shall come to that later.

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