HC Deb 01 July 1971 vol 820 cc555-6
3. Mr. Moyle

asked the Secretary of State for Employment in view of the rise in the wage index announced for May, what action he proposes to take in regard to wages policy.

The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Robert Carr)

The annual rates of increase in wage rates and earnings show a significant reduction from the beginning of the year. We shall continue our policy to secure a progressive reduction in wage inflation.

Mr. Moyle

If the figures for May show a sharper upward trend, does the Minister not consider that this is an indication that his policy of being beastly to the public sector has totally failed to control either wages or prices, and is not this the collapse of the Government's policy? What is he going to do about it?

Mr. Carr

No. Certainly Government policy has not collapsed. The figure for this May is about comparable with that of last May. It is unfortunately slightly higher than in April, but if we look at the figures month by month over a period we see that the rate of increase having reached a peak about the end of last year and the beginning of this year, the trend is now undoubtedly downwards.

Mr. James Hamilton

Is the Minister aware that figures given in reply to a Question by me recently show that 41 per cent. of the male population in Scotland over the age of 21 are receiving less than £24 a week gross in wages? If people in this sort of category asked for an increase of 15 per cent. which would be justified, what would be his reaction? Would he treat them in the way he treated the doctors?

Mr. Carr

The distribution of wages as between areas and as between one industry and another arises not only or even mainly from Government policy but very largely from the policy and strategy of the trade unions, and the extent to which they press for smaller or larger claims for lower-paid workers, compared with higher-paid workers. So far, unfortunately, the trade unions having got higher increases for lower-paid workers, have proceeded to ask for at least equivalent increases for higher-paid workers.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis

Would my hon. Friend seek to arrive at some voluntary agreement with the trade unions—as from the N.E.D.C. meeting, perhaps, on 9th July—and see whether agreement can be reached on some form of voluntary policy which would be in their interests as well as the country's?

Mr. Carr

My right hon. Friend and I both made clear in the debate on Monday that we certainly did not rule out such a development and we hope to see it come.

Mr. Rose

In view of the Minister's comments on the trade unions, what is his comment on the £10,000 increase in the directors' fees by Reed International, and also on the comments in the statement by Globe Investment Trust that labour is making excessive demands when, two pages later in that document, it mentions an increase in directors' salaries of 50 per cent.? Does the hon. Gentleman endorse this or is this something which he condemns?

Mr. Carr

I certainly hope that employers at all levels will exercise restraint. We do not believe in the possibility of controlling these matters by statutory control, and even the right hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) and her Government did not exercise control over them.