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Column 864We waited for the oracle to speak again and give us the solutions to all our woes, and now we have them. First, the Bill allows women to work down the pits--that is, those pits that the right hon. Gentleman's fellow Ministers have not seen fit to close. What a decisive contribution that will make to opening up the labour market of the 1990s. Secondly, it seeks to get what young people there are to work longer hours.
Mr. Fowler rose --
The second object of the Bill is to get what young people there are to work longer hours--54 hours a week--and to allow 16-year-olds to work nights. Mr. Gradgrind would turn in his grave. The Bill seeks to make it easier to give someone the sack and harder for them to find out why they have been sacked or to take their case to a tribunal. What is astonishing about this blinkered, one-sided attack on employees' rights is that this little Bill displays breathtaking inadequacy in the face of the fundamental changes in the labour market.
The right hon. Gentleman presents us with a picture of a demographic time bomb--a 23 per cent. drop in the number of 16 to 19-year-old school leavers in the next six years. He is quite right that we need to plan for that gap now. Basically, there are only three options. The first is to bring more unemployed people back into work. There is not a word about the unemployed in the Bill. The second option is to retrain more older workers. There is not a word in the Bill about older workers. The third option is to help more married women to return to work. What does the Secretary of State do to encourage them? He legislates to enable them to go down the mines. That is his answer to discrimination at work and to restrictions in the labour market. If it were not written in black and white in a Government Bill, one might think that he had pinched it from a "Carry On" film.
In November the Secretary of State made a speech in which he said that discrimination by employers against women or blacks in the new demographic climate would mean cutting off a source of skilled labour that they could ill afford to ignore. That must mean that women must have the same career opportunities as men. The Secretary of State has now given an example of what he means by that, because the Bill will allow women to go underground in mines and quarries. The other major initiative is that it will remove the prohibition on women cleaning moving machinery in factories.
In his speech, the Secretary of State urged employers to give women a better deal, but the Government are major employers and what example do they set? This Government provide the least publicly funded child care in western Europe. They are the only Government who do not give maternity leave to all mothers as a right. This Government have abolished the maternity grant that was available to all, making us the only country in Europe in
Column 865that position. Can we really believe that the Government are looking to women to fill gaps in the labour market when they have given women no incentive to play a fuller role?
Women have been hit hardest by many of the changes that the Government have made. The Secretary of State has taken away the rights of low-paid workers, and it is women who have suffered most. The Government have twice frozen child benefit--the only benefit that goes directly to mothers. They have made repeated cuts in the welfare state, and groups such as single mothers are forced to struggle to make ends meet. When the Government under-fund the National Health Service and the social services, it is women who end up caring for dependent relatives, whether they like it or not. No one is taken in by the Bill. What job opportunities matter to women? It is not the right to dig coal but the availability of proper child care and flexible hours of work.
Mr. Meacher : That is a silly comment, in view of the present row about the Government's unwillingness to meet the proper clinical regrading needs and the continuing unrest among nurses. When, under Labour, the Clegg award was made to the NHS, the 500,000 nurses working in the NHS were far better rewarded during those four years than they are now. There is continual unrest because the nurses are unwilling to accept the way in which they are not being properly graded. If the Secretary of State does not know that, he should visit many of our hospitals. It is a disgrace that, with a £15 billion surplus--according to the Chancellor of the Exchequer--nurses are still not paid properly despite their devotion.
Mr. Fowler rose--
If one wants to hear the authentic voice of Thatcherism, one needs only to look at the Prime Minister's sacked "Egg Minister," who said a few months ago :
"Our view is that it is for the parents who go out to work to decide how best to care for their children. If they want or need help in their task, they should make the appropriate arrangements and meet the cost."
That is a fine view for female Ministers who can afford boarding schools and nannies, but it is not so good for working mothers on £70 a week, especially when in another niggardly piece of legislation the Government have chosen to tax workplace creches on the same basis as company cars, as though they were a perk.
Employers in this country have a poor record in their treatment of women, but they do not need lectures from the Secretary of State about giving women a better deal when his own Government have systematically cut the rights of women workers, especially part-timers, to claim unfair dismissal and to receive proper maternity pay. They do not need lectures from the Secretary of State when his Government now provide for only 1 per cent. of under-fives in local authority day nurseries and even those places are not available for the children of those who are in work.
Column 866They do not need lectures from him when in his previous incarnation, at the Department of Health and Social Security, the right hon. Gemtleman was responsible last April for the abolition of child care costs up to £40 a week in the disregard for single mothers on income support, thus trapping them in dependency and preventing them from going back to work. He may shake his head--perhaps he is not aware that he did that. He then has the gall to talk this afternoon about equal opportunities for women. Above all, employers do not need lectures from him about improving career opportunities for women when the Government have removed the right to return to work after pregnancy for women who work in small companies--as most do. How does the Secretary of State explain all those actions?
The Opposition believe that proper child care provision is a long-term investment in the social skills of children and the employment prospects of mothers as well as in the labour force of an economy that is threatened by staff shortages in the 1990s. The complete absence of such measures in the Bill is evidence of the Government's real aim, so for the Secretary of State to preach to us today about others giving equal opportunities to women is sheer hypocrisy.
Another detail in the Bill that caught my eye was a double-take about sex discrimination. The Bill selects certain academic appointments at Oxford and Cambridge, which are currently restricted to women, to be allowed to continue because of the
under-representation of women in senior posts. Once again, the sense of priorities and proportion shown by the Secretary of State is mind-blowing. He is, apparently, happy about the number of women on the board of BP and the number who are Law Lords, permanent secretaries or even England cricket selectors, but when it comes to ensuring women's rights to be theology dons at Oxford, that really calls for Government action.
The second main concern in the Bill is young people. There will be 1.25 million fewer young people available to enter the labour market in the mid- 1990s, so one would have thought that the maximum number would need to be trained to meet the growing skill shortages. One might have expected that the Bill would do something to remedy the collapse of apprenticeships in the past decade, during which the number of apprenticeships in engineering has fallen to one sixth of the 1979 level.
One might have expected also--assuming that the Secretary of State is a little more willing than the Chancellor of the Exchequer to admit mistakes- -that the Bill would remedy the patent failures of the youth training scheme, not least in securing jobs for young people. Obviously, that was too much to hope for. One scours the Bill in vain for any such positive ideas. But for the first time in almost a century--here we are not back to the 1930s, as with the Social Security Bill, but back to the 1880s-- teenagers will be exposed to working at night, more than 11 hours a day and more than 54 hours a week. The Bill is concerned not with ending discrimination but with increasing exploitation.
The Secretary of State has made great play of his claim that the main purpose of the Bill is to bring United Kingdom laws into line with European legislation which outlaws sex discrimination. He has not done his homework. How does he explain a recent survey which showed that the majority of European Community
Column 867countries have legal limits on the hours of work for both female and male adult workers and even stronger restrictions on the hours worked by young people?
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will give me his attention. How does he explain article 7 of the European social charter which says :
"Persons under 18 years of age shall not be employed in nightwork."
How can that be reconciled with the proposals? I note that the Secretary of State does not leap to the Dispatch Box to give an answer.
The Government's view is apparently that youngsters should be treated as adults but should not be paid an adult wage. The 16 to 18-year-old lacks the maturity to appreciate fully the dangers from machinery, and is generally more prone to accidents because of limited experience. That is precisely why the fatal and serious accident rate for young people in work or on YTS has more than doubled, from 64 to 136 per 100,000 workers, this decade, according to the latest figures. The adult rate in shipbuilding is now 122 per 100,000 workers, so young people are already more at risk from fatal and serious accidents than adults who work in some of Britain's most dangerous industries.
All of this is before longer shifts and excessive hours are imposed on young people as a result of the Bill. The Secretary of State is gambling with young people's lives. If and when the fatal and serious accident rate among young people spirals upwards, on his head be it. Young people aged 16 to 18 are not adults. That is why they are not deemed responsible enough to vote, to marry without permission, to drink alcohol, to enter legal agreements, to borrow money, to gamble or to own property. If the Government think that they should be treated as adults, why are they not lifting any of those restrictions?
It is inconsistent for the Secretary of State to protect young people on moral grounds by preventing them from purchasing alcoholic drinks or placing bets on horses, while permitting them to work longer hours in a factory. That is sheer hypocrisy and lays bare the real motive behind the Bill--the desire to provide a source of cheap, exploited labour.
We are often told that the Prime Minister's values are Victorian. The truth is apparent in the Bill. They are not so much Victorian as Dickensian.
Mr. Fowler : The hon. Gentleman is suffering under a complete misapprehension of what is set out in the Bill. As I tried to explain earlier, we are preserving the safeguards that are necessary for health and safety. We are preserving regulations such as those concerned with working with dangerous machinery. The hon. Gentleman is saying that those safeguards are not being preserved, but he is wrong.
Mr. Meacher : The right hon. Gentleman's weasel words will not protect him. The fatal and serious accident rate among young people has already more than doubled. Is the right hon. Gentleman telling the House that he is satisfied with that rate and that he believes that it will go down if the Bill is enacted? Will he answer that question? Does he believe that the rate is already too high? Does he believe that it will not get worse as a result of the Bill?
Column 868about that. He is often quite deliberately misleading, however, when he says that there is some special problem with 16 to 18-year-olds, especially in respect of YTS. What he says in that context is out of proportion to what is happening elsewhere. On that, too, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely wrong.
Mr. Meacher : The fatal and serious accident rate among adults has increased by 40 per cent. during the past five years. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman is suggesting that young people should be assimilated in that rate. He seems to be saying that they should be treated as adults and liable to the same incidence of accidents. The fatal and serious accident rate for adults and young people is going up, and the Bill will make it worse. That is the key point.
Mr. Haynes : My hon. Friend must agree that there is another reason for so many accidents of this type. Since 1979, under the Conservative Government, the number of factory inspectors has been reduced drastically. We have constantly reminded the Government of that fact, but they have done nothing about it.
Mr. Meacher : My hon. Friend is right. There has been a major cut in the number of factory inspectors--their number has been reduced by about 30 per cent. It is no accident--that is not a deliberate pun--that the result has been a huge increase among adults and young people of fatal and serious accidents. The Government are directly responsible in that respect.
Ms. Short : The Secretary of State suggested that there was no connection between the Bill and likely accident rates among young people. Is it not a proven fact that people who work long hours and are tired are more likely to have accidents? The Secretary of State is arranging for young people to work longer hours, so it is inevitable that the accident rate will increase. He must know that.
Since last April, the Government have denied 16 to 17-year-olds any entitlement to income support. If they are unable to support themselves, they are expected to rely on their parents. In other words, when it comes to social security and the Government being required to pay out benefit, young people are treated as children. When it comes to employment and young people being treated as cheap labour, however, the Government are only too glad to treat them as adults--except when it comes to pay. The Secretary of State was the architect of the original and notorious Fowler Social Security Bill. Now we have this Employment Bill. How can we be expected to have any faith in the integrity of this man?
The Bill is not about extending job opportunities to young people, as the Secretary of State likes to make out--it is about exploiting them. The right hon. Gentleman will as usual dismiss that statement with a grunt, as he dismissed as a Left-wing cavil the statement that as a result of the Bill
"young people could be obliged to work excessive and unsocial hours by unscrupulous employers"
That statement was made not by the Labour party or the Trades Union Congress but by the Confederation of British Industry, no less, in its response last March to the Government's consultative document on the Bill. I do not think that the CBI is well known for Left-wing cavilling.
Column 869If the Bill is really about improving job opportunities, we must wonder why the Secretary of State neglected to tell us why it removes the right to a statement of reasons for dismissal and the right to be told about disciplinary procedures or why it is being made much harder to take a case to an industrial tribunal. We have to ask why the Government are intent on making life so much more unpleasant for employees in ways that employers' organisations neither want nor support.
Denying people the right to a statement of the reasons for their dismissal means that, however arbitrary or intemperate the action of an employer, the employee has no protection. We must ask why the right hon. Gentleman insists on pushing through such a grossly one-sided and unjust provision when his own Department's research paper entitled "Unfair Dismissal Law and Employment Practice in the 1980s" found
"very little sign that employment protection legislation was inhibiting industrial recovery or contributing to the high level of unemployment by discouraging employers from taking on new people". Perhaps the Secretary of State has not even read that document. What is more, we must ask why the Small Business Research Trust, so beloved of the Conservative party, conducting surveys of small businesses throughout Britain, consistently found that lack of finance, high interest rates and skill shortages were the main constraints on expansion, not fear of unfair dismissal claims. That is no surprise to us. Two out of three of those problems have been caused by the Government, who have done nothing to remedy the situation. When it comes to something which does not bother small businesses, however, in spite of the fact that businesses are not complaining, the Government insist upon attacking it.
The same is true in regard to denying workers in small companies details of grievance and disciplinary procedures. Even the Institute of Personnel Management opposes that move because it has been shown that there is a higher risk of unfair dismissal in small companies, which is where the change will apply, than in large ones. The same is true for the £150 deposit at the discretion of industrial tribunal chairmen. The proposal is rejected by the British Institute of Management because it would be much more of an obstacle for an employee than for an employer and, it says--I have no doubt that it is correct--employers might automatically apply for an order to deter applicants. It is also rejected by the Engineering Employers Federation, for the good reason that it would deter non-unionised employees who might have a genuine case.
If the whole phalanx of employers is against all the Bill's proposals, why does the Secretary of State insist on pressing them? This is the man who won his spurs at the Department of Health and Social Security by bashing the poor with swingeing housing benefit cuts and the infamous social fund. Clearly, he is trying to earn his keep at the Department of Employment by crippling workers' rights. There is nothing like mindless union-bashing and hammering workers for building up credits in the Cabinet stakes, and the right hon. Gentleman needs them. There are no limits to the contortions that he will undergo in that cause.
Column 870This is the man who, in the name of democracy, insisted that there must be ballots on industrial action, and then said that the minority did not have to obey them if the vote was in favour. Now, he has gone one better in his draft code of conduct on industrial relations ballots, by saying that the results do not count unless they are at least 70 per cent. in favour. He just makes up the rules as he goes along. Every day he becomes more like the creature in "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" who, when reproved by Alice for misusing a word, retorted :
"Words don't mean anything except what I say they mean." That is the Secretary of State.
The Secretary of State is fiddling the rules again. When the Government want to make it almost impossible for people to exercise their rights--for example, by having a closed shop--they require at least 85 per cent. of the vote to be in favour. When the Government cannot get a majority of votes to run the country, they insist that 42 per cent. is enough to disregard the majority who disagree with them. When they wish people to exercise their rights--for example, when they are selling off council estates to private landlords--we suddenly find that a mere 15 per cent. in favour, as in Torbay, is enough to carry the day because they count those who abstain as being in favour.
The only question left is whether the right hon. Gentleman manages to fiddle the unemployment figures down to zero before he contrives to present a nil vote in favour of his reforms as their being carried with acclaim. I know that Papa Doc was satisfied with 99 per cent. for his presidential election, but I wonder whether even that would satisfy the Secretary of State.
Another aspect of the Bill that is subjected to a strong dose of doublespeak is the winding up of the Training Commission and the new arrangements for ET. If there is one unmistakable sign that the scheme is in deep trouble, it is the fact that the right hon. Gentleman launched it with a big fanfare on 5 September and then, on 30 December, less than four months later, had to relaunch it. With that record of failure, he will no doubt be making taxpayers pay for a third facelift for his pet scheme in the course of the next year. Rather than splashing out £4 million on his glitzy advertising campaign to sell a down-market scheme, the Secretary of State would do better to pay trainees a decent allowance so that they do not have to be tricked into the scheme by clever commercials.
The truth is that companies have given ET the thumbs down in a big way.
Only 18 of the 146 placements that IBM is offering have been filled. Only 22 of Wimpey's 666 placements have been filled. Only 35 of ICI's 121 places have been taken. That means that, in three of our largest companies, only 8 per cent. of the places allotted for ET have been taken up. One would not have thought that the right hon. Gentleman could achieve an even bigger failure than the job training scheme, but he has managed to do so.
Mr. Fowler : The hon. Gentleman is chancing his luck. He must stop misrepresenting the facts. He has talked about truth, but he is misrepresenting the position, which is that no fewer than 106,000 people are under training on ET. The hon. Gentleman has just made a comparison with
Column 871JTS. At it height, new JTS had 30,000. In less than four months, employment training has achieved an occupancy of 106,000. Advertising is meant to show that there are places available with some of our leading companies for employing and training unemployed people. It is about time that the hon. Gentleman had the guts to support a programme for training unemployed people.
Mr. Meacher : The right hon. Gentleman gives the whole game away. Of course the advertisements are being made for places with large companies. The problem is that they are not being taken up. The figures that I have quoted are taken directly from evidence that large companies have given.
As to the 106,000, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman has put his foot in it. He is saying that two thirds of the way through the first six-month period for ET, only one third of the 300,000 places have been filled. The problem with his lousy scheme is that it is one third to one half underfilled. Many large companies have refused to take part. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will have the grace to accept that.
Mr. Meacher : I shall not give way, as I want to get on. ET does not measure up to the requirements of many large companies. Many know of the contact that McAlpine has with the Tory party. It has pulled out because it does not believe that trainees will come forward to work for the derisory allowance that is to be paid, and it is right to pull out. I hesitate to say, "I told you so," but we have said this all along, although the Secretary of State would not listen. Of those who have joined ET, a good half are only transfers from the old community programme and it is estimated that about 40, 000 of those have dropped out altogether rather than transfer and, in the case of single persons, take a 50 per cent. cut in allowances to less than £40 a week.
There are four fundamental flaws in the Government's training programme, but the Bill is concerned only with settling political scores. We had the same rigmarole again from the Secretary of State. First, making the new training and enterprise councils
employer-dominated and giving employers a 10:1 majority on the new national training task force shows that the right hon. Gentleman has about as much sense of balance as Eddie Edwards. Perversely, that puts into the driving seat the group that has presided over the biggest rundown in training since the war.
Secondly, there is a crying need for a national skills audit, because only when the gaps and deficiencies in current skill training are systematically exposed can any coherent framework of planning be put in place to remedy them. As a result of these proposals, the Secretary of State is moving in exactly the opposite
direction--towards localised fragmentation.
Thirdly, ET is flawed by gross under-funding, as we have always said, and the policy of paring back allowances is now coming home to roost in the miserably low take-up rate. The signs of underhand compulsion to force people on to the scheme are everywhere apparent, whether in restart interview intimidation of which we keep hearing so much, or in the harsher 1940s "actively seeking work" formula in yesterday's Social Security Bill.
Fourthly, under this Secretary of State the whole training structure is built on the fundamental error of
Column 872splitting jobcentres from training. The only sensible way to plan training is by linking the collection of information on skill requirements with the provision of training leading to a job. The Secretary of State is now foolishly widening the split by setting up the private sector TECs and by the latest moves to privatise the employment service.
On the latter point, this is supposed to be a Government Employment Bill, but it does not mention that this year the Department of Employment is to undergo a transformation more fundamental than any since its creation, and one which will fatally erode its capacity to provide efficient and comprehensive employment services. A year from now, the present Department will no longer exist ; there will just be a collection of privatised, hived -off agency organisations. On 1 April the 41,000 staff of the employment services will be hived off as part of a semi-independent agency under a chief executive not accountable to Parliament. Following the privatisation of training through the training and enterprise councils announced last month, the Department of Employment is effectively removed from public control. It is no coincidence that, at the same time, major cuts will be imposed on staffing, staff grading and services. In the last public expenditure round, the right hon. Gentleman settled for a lower budget for his Department than that recommended by his officials. There can be few precedents for a rat trying to sink a ship before he jumps off it.
What is not in the Bill is more important than what is. What is not in the Bill is the right hon. Gentleman's proposal to close 43 local benefit offices, without the normal consultation procedures. What is not in the Bill is his proposal to relocate job centres and unemployment benefit offices away from the high street to minor, secondary sites. The policy of integration will mark the end of the public employment service that we have known.
What is not in the Bill is the sale of the professional and executive register, which was sold to Maxwell six months ago and is about to close up to 12 of its 50-plus offices. At the time, the right hon. Gentleman hailed that sale as leading to a bright and efficient future, but privatisation has turned out to be the first step towards closure. In common with JTS and ET, whatever he touches simply crumbles in his hands.
What is not in the Bill are the right hon. Gentleman's proposal that the other half of the job clubs that are not privatised should be handed over to the private sector in the spring. That decision is despite a recent internal departmental survey, which showed that public sector job clubs are consistently more efficient at finding work or training for their clients than private sector ones. That has not stopped the right hon. Gentleman laying down a policy that agency job clubs, however badly run, are not to close unless another one opens in the same area. Public sector job clubs, however good they are, may not be increased because of rigid staff ceilings. What is not in the Bill are the major staffing cuts now being made at senior grade level throughout the enterprise allowance scheme. The number of higher executive officer managers is being halved, from 66 to 35.
Mr. Graham Riddick (Colne Valley) rose --
This is supposed to be an employment Bill, but the right hon. Gentleman is covetly engaged in the dissolution of public employment services in this country. All his plans
Column 873are based on the arrogant assumption that unemployment is no longer a problem. Even his own massaged statistics, however, still show unemployment at 2.1 million, which is 60 per cent. above the pre-1979 record high. Independent and reputable estimates, however, put unemployment at more than 2.8 million--nearly two and a half times the previous record high.
At a time when unemployment is still a major political and economic scourge, when training has been criminally neglected by the Government for the past 10 years, when the economy faces a huge struggle ahead with the coming of the single market in 1992, the right hon. Gentleman, instead of strengthening and consolidating his Department to meet the growing challenge, is to run it down, parcel it up and sell it off. Neither the Bill nor the Secretary of State has remotely shown the vision to face the future, and both should be rejected in the Lobby tonight.
Mr. Jim Lester (Broxtowe) : I listened with care to the speech of the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher). He mentioned "Alice in Wonderland" and those of us who have listened to him on more than one occasion often feel that he is nearer to the Mad Hatter than any other character in that book. Often his flamboyant language does a disservice to his argument. Frequently, when listening to Opposition spokesmen, one gets the impression that we are not talking about the same measure, the same Minister or, indeed, the same country. The hon. Gentleman's speech was short on any constructive suggestions about the Opposition's intentions or about whether they agree with parts of the Bill.
I am conscious of the importance of ET and I supported restart. I am also aware however, that the Opposition have sought to undermine those measures. We have seen a former Opposition Front Bench spokesman launch a deliberate campaign throughout the country to destroy ET. There have been all sorts of ramifications, and even today the hon. Member for Oldham, West referred to it as a "lousy scheme". His right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, however, went to the TUC conference to persuade it to accept ET. He made a brave and excellent speech in the interests of the long-term unemployed, only to find that he was undermined by Ron Todd and the Transport and the General Workers Union. I admit that lack of training has been a persistent problem, but the Opposition have very little to offer as a solution.
As my right hon. Friend has said, the Bill contains a wide range of amendments to existing legislation. I greatly welcome the fact that the Bill brings us into line with the European equal treatment directive. The demographic changes and falling school rolls present opposite problems from those faced by the Labour Government in 1978. Indeed the future problems are different from those faced between 1979 and 1988. More open employment practices and the trend to employ more women on an equal basis are important.
I have some sympathy with the hon. Member for Oldham, West regarding combining Government policy on employing women. There should be co- ordination between the Departments of Health, Social Security, Employment and the Treasury on the philosophy for properly employing women.
Column 874In fairness to my right hon. Friend, he has set the pattern, because, under the ET regulations, a lady going into training can claim up to £50 for child care costs so that she can gain the qualifications that will get her a job. If she gets a job, however, and carries on paying the same amount for child care, a problem arises. That cost is a heavy premium that is not allowed for when obtaining work as a result of the training and the far-sighted allocations given in my right hon. Friend's scheme. We need to review the total package of support which enables a woman to return to work.
Mr. Leighton : The hon. Gentleman has made an extremely valuable point. Is he aware that, if that woman went to work for a progressive firm that had a creche, she would have to pay tax on that service because it would be regarded as a perk? Surely that is crazy.
Mr. Lester : It is a perk in the sense that she is being given something that another women working in a similar job would have to pay for. For that reason, it is important to have co-ordination so that there is equal treatment. There is a common desire to assist women back into work, and that desire must be considered objectively.
I do not share the fear expressed by the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes). I do not believe that there will be a rush of lady miners into the industry. I suspect, however, that lady mining engineers will now have a chance. In the oil industry, for example, many young women with high qualifications are employed. It is much to the delight of the men on site when they find that the attractive young woman whom they want to wolf- whistle is a highly qualified engineer who knows all about the oil industry and who can make a great contribution to it.
Mr. Cryer : Is the hon. Gentleman aware that if women were employed in the mines there would have to be accompanying regulations--the Minister gave no indication that such regulations would be introduced--to ensure, for example, that toilets were provided? There are no women's toilets down the mines. The travelling time between the coal face and the bottom of the pit shaft is often an hour, which precludes moving from the coal face to toilet accommodation at the head of the mine. For the Minister blandly to abandon the restrictions on women working in the mines without recognising the additional provision that would have to be made is foolish.
Mr. Lester : I do not foresee many women wanting to work down the mines, but professionally qualified people, including women, will be involved in the mining industry. I had the honour to accompany the Prime Minister down her first coal mine. That was in my constituency, although I am afraid to say that it is closed. She not only travelled the road down to the coal face but, when at the coal face, signed autographs for half an hour. Clearly, ladies can go down mines successfully. We need to ensure that women can play their proper role in the range of technological developments that lie ahead, and I strongly support the remarks that my right hon. Friend made in that context.
Equally, one must be balanced in one's attitude towards changes affecting young people. The anachronisms and complications of the existing law need to be examined and, where necessary, swept away. Equally, we must be careful to move quickly if we see that freedom being misused unscrupulously. I am sure that
Column 875there is common ground in the House that youngsters of 16 to 18 should be in the YTS or higher education. That is the important thrust of Government policy. It follows that, as fewer young people come into the world of work, the more precious they are and the more important it is to ensure--as we have tried to ensure with the development of YTS--that they have the highest base from which to develop their lives, careers, earning capability and success in society.
It is a tragedy that, for reasons which we have been unable to overcome, the figures for 16 to 18-year-olds in higher education and training in Japan and America show that we have a long way to go. The hon. Member for Oldham, West can rest assured that it would not be in anyone's interest to look upon 16 to 18-year-olds as a source of relatively cheap unskilled labour.
I will not comment in detail on the removal of employment protection measures, but I must remark on one measure relating to trade unions and the restriction on the activities of trade union members. We on the Government side of the House must be careful to ensure that, in freeing up the economy and deregulating in the way that has been suggested, we do not become over- bureaucratic in reverse from the point of view of the trade union movement. We must not hedge about with too many restrictions the range of duties for which, for example, trade union officials can officially be paid. Those with experience of industry know that industries--this applies to all working concerns--are human places where people interface and work together. It is sometimes impossible to put into legislation the various human reactions which are inevitable if a company is to be successful.
During the Christmas recess, I visited various employers in my constituency. I discovered that in many instances there is a shortage of high skills. Part of the way to solve that high skill requirement is, with the good will of the work force, to relax many of the old restrictive practices--to multi-skill people who already have skills and to de-skill some jobs where technology can take over, for example where computer- controlled lathes can do the job.
That can happen in any concern only with the good will of the work force and co-operation of trade union leaders. It is important in all we do to work with the grain, taking the work force with us, so that working practices may be changed. I am not a supporter of macho management reinforced by over-detailed rules and regulations in trying to run any human enterprise. The least one can expect in such a situation is less than full-hearted co-operation, and hon. Members who visit industrial concerns will accept that as valid and important.
As for redundancy payments, I welcome the move to ensure that employees do not suffer when firms become insolvent and that rapid moves will be made to ensure that they will be paid. Does my right hon. Friend believe that the removal of rebates will make some employers more cautious before declaring redundancies? One has sensed in the past that there has sometimes been a rush to declare redundancies in what one suspected was a short-term regulator aimed at trying to bring down wage costs quickly, and that subsequently that has been regretted. So, in terms of the thought behind the Bill to improve training and training practice, will the Minister explain how, following this change, he sees the pattern of redundancies?