HC Deb 09 February 1967 vol 740 cc1813-5
15 and 16. Mr. Ashley

asked the First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Economic Affairs (1) what immediate steps he is taking to improve the standards of the lowest-paid workers;

(2) if he will undertake a survey of the full distribution of earnings in order to locate and give long-term assistance to low-paid workers.

22. Mr. St. John-Stevas

asked the First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Economic Affairs what concrete steps the Government propose to take to raise the standard of living of low wage earners.

Mr. Frederick Lee

As my right hon. Friend the First Secretary of State explained in the debate on 22nd November, 1966, it must be accepted that the problem of removing poverty amongst the worst off cannot be dealt with by looking at wages alone. The Government are, therefore, looking at measures designed to meet family needs. It has also been thought right to include in the Severe Restraint White Paper, Cmnd. 3150, a criterion justifying exceptional treatment for the lowest-paid workers. The application of this criterion is in the first place a matter for the parties to wage negotiations, taking into account their particular circumstances and the need to ensure that the benefits are genuinely confined to the lowest-paid workers.

Mr. Ashley

I thank my right hon. Friend for that helpful Reply. Is he aware that, although successful implementation of the productivity, prices and incomes policy will assist lower-paid workers, there is an urgent need for short-term assistance to them at once?

Mr. Lee

My hon. Friend will know that even now many of these wage applications are being met. But, as I said in my original Answer, one cannot completely meet the problem of the lower-paid worker by wage increases alone. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Social Security has instituted the family expenditure survey which gives regular information about the distribution of earnings and incomes, and a full-scale survey of distribution of earnings was carried out in 1960 by a Member of the party opposite, which also is helpful in this respect.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Would not one of the most effective ways to help these workers, who constitute the new poor, be a substantial increase in family allowances linked to a simple incomes test?

Mr. Lee

This is the kind of possibility one has in mind. Obviously, one cannot meet the problem by mere increases in the earnings of lower-paid workers, and the kind of thing the hon. Gentleman has in mind I have in mind, too.

Mr. Will Griffiths

Does my right hon. Friend recall that it used to be the policy of the party to which he and I belong that it is desirable to create greater egalitarianism, a greater equality in our society? Have he and his colleagues in the Government abandoned that object now?

Mr. Lee

Not in the least, Sir. I think that over the past seven months, because of the comparative stability which we have brought into the economy, lower-paid workers have gained far more than those with higher wages.

Mr. David Howell

Will the right hon. Gentleman give a definite assurance that there is no question of raising family allowances and at the same time penalising taxpayers through reductions in child allowances?

Mr. Lee

The hon. Gentleman should address that question to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Social Security.

Mr. Roy Hughes

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that incomes legislation, as outlined on numerous occasions in the House by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley), is proving in practice of little benefit to lower-paid workers?

Mr. Lee

One cannot generalise on this. I am pretty sure that one could show that lower-paid workers have, in fact, gained more by the stability in the economy to which I have referred.

Sir H. Harrison

Will the right hon. Gentleman keep in mind particularly the agricultural workers and make representations to the Minister of Agriculture, during the present Price Review, to increase farmers' returns sufficiently to enable them to pay a higher reward to agricultural workers for their good work?

Mr. Lee

The National Board for Prices and Incomes has considered the pay of agricultural workers and its Report is now available. It is now preparing a report on the retail drapery trade, and this also will be of value.

Mr. John Hynd

Did I understand my right hon. Friend to commit the Government to an incomes test in relation to family allowances? Will he correct or confirm that?

Mr. Lee

I did not commit the Government to anything of the sort. I said that this was the kind of issue which could not be resolved merely by increasing the wages of lower-paid workers.