HC Deb 23 March 1967 vol 743 cc1898-9
21. Mr. Ridley

asked the First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Economic Affairs if, in view of the difference of opinion between the Drapery Wages Council and the National Board for Prices and Incomes on pay, he intends to make an Order restraining the drapery employers from paying more wages.

Mr. Frederick Lee

The question of use of Part IV of the Prices and Incomes Act does not arise at present. The employers concerned are not under any statutory obligation to pay more. The Wages Council's proposals are under consideration by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour.

Mr. Ridley

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we have here a statutory council whose duty it is to protect low wage earners in conflict with a non-statutory board's report? In order to make any sense of this situation, he will have to reform the rôle of wages councils if he intends to persevere with his incomes policy in this form. What does he intend to do about it?

Mr. Lee

I do not dispute that there is a point in what the hon. Gentleman says, but the question of this Report by the National Board for Prices and Incomes has been discussed with the employers and unions concerned by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour.

Mr. Winnick

Is my hon. Friend aware of the deep concern which many people in the labour and trade union movement have about the Board's Report on drapery workers? Would he consider that it is right and just that people who earn just over £13 a week should have no increase? Would members of the Board like to live on that sort of wage?

Mr. Lee

In its Report the Board gives the reasons for its decision. It is a matter of opinion as to whether the decision was right or not, but we should not seek on every report to prejudge whether the criterion that they are using is correct.

Mr. McNamara

Would not my hon. Friend agree that the Board's Report in this case underlines one of the main weaknesses of the White Paper, namely the failure of the Department or of the Board to try to define with more precision what a lower-paid worker is? Until we get this definition we cannot have a successful basis upon which we can build a pyramid of negotiations.

Mr. Lee

I agree that this is a great problem. The complexities of the wage structures are such that we could have people with ostensibly pretty high rates but who, in fact, are lower paid than those whose basic rates are lower than theirs. The Board in two or three of the reports that it has issued, for instance on agriculture and on retail drapery, has given us some lead on what constitutes "lowest paid", but as yet, I agree, we have not got a complete definition.