§ 10.12 p.m.
Mr. Thomas Torrey (Bradford, South)
I beg to move,That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Counter-Inflation (Restriction on Remuneration) Order 1973 (S.I. 1973, No. 148), dated 1st February 1973, a copy of which was laid before this House on 2nd February, be annulled.In rising to move the annulment of Statutory Instrument No. 148—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Would right hon. and hon. Members retire as quietly and as quickly as possible and stop their conversations.
In rising to move the annulment of Statutory Instrument No. 148, I am mindful of the great honour of being given this opportunity of speaking for the first time from the Opposition Front Bench. I am conscious of the frustration of waiting on the back benches hoping to catch Mr. Speaker's eye in debates that often have more speakers than time available. I know that many of my hon. Friends wish to contribute to this debate. Therefore, I propose to be as brief as possible.
The Counter-Inflation Order withholds increases in wages for large numbers of employees in the Co-operative movement. They are mainly members of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers. There are four agreements between that union and the employers involved in the order. Negotiations for these agreements took place in the early part of last year and culminated in May 1972. The agreements covered workers over a wide range of distribution in various occupations in shops, stores, warehouses, offices, restaurants and laundries.
I will now deal specifically and in some detail with the effects of the order upon the workers concerned. I must declare my interest inasmuch as I am sponsored to the House by the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers. The agreement referred to in the order as general distributive deals with a variety of people such as deputy managers, first assistants, specialised assistants, warehouse workers and porters. But that is not where the Government axe falls. 168 While no one can describe them as well paid or over paid, these people are nevertheless somewhat better off than the people on whom the order will fall.
This so-called counter-inflation order falls on the very lowest-paid workers covered by the agreement, the ordinary shop assistants, the packers and, strange as it may seem, the cashiers and checkout operators, who, as anyone who has been in a supermarket or large store will know, are responsible for large sums of cash but whose wages are very low.
The agreement operated in two stages. These unfortunate low-paid workers had the misfortune to have such low pay that they required so substantial an increase that, perhaps in order to persuade employers, to make it a little easier for them to pay the agreement, the wage increase concluded in May of last year was to paid in two stages, one in May and another in December. That in December of last year was for £1, and it is that that the order freezes.
A shop assistant receives the princely sum of £16.10 in the London area and £15.35 in the provinces at the age of 21. A cashier or check-out worker responsible for a lot of money and doing an important job gets little more than that, £16.65 in London and £15.90 in the provinces. Those are the kinds of rates that the Government are freezing by the order.
The clerical agreement is also frozen by the order. Additional increments going right through the age scale and agreed in May were to be paid at the end of last year. Service agreements of £1 to be paid after a worker had completed a year's or two years' service after the age of 21 are to be frozen. A highly-skilled clerk working in a Co-operative office attached to Co-operative stores and shops is still being paid less than £20 a week, and that is if the increase had been allowed to operate. A clerk aged 21 would have received the princely sum of £18 in London and £17.30 in the provinces, with a slight increase for one year's or two years' service after 21 but still below the £20 figure. This is with the increase which the Government will not allow.
The freeze has prevented the progress towards equal pay under this clerical agreement. The agreement embodied a phasing-up to achieve 100 per cent. equal 169 pay between men and women. I understand that the Minister has issued consent orders in the last day or so covering some of these agreements, which means that some workers will be allowed to receive their increase. It has to be remembered that these increases will be paid nine weeks late and that payment covering the nine weeks is lost for ever.
The important thing is that for the sales assistants and the packers, the worst hit by the freeze, no such consent order has been made. Why could not the Minister have allowed a consent order in their case? Perhaps he will tell us later. It is strange that although I tried everywhere in the House on Thursday to secure a copy of these consent orders I failed. Apparently Members of Parliament must obtain their information second-hand. Mine came from the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers. I search my mind for a reason why the Government chose to operate this sanction against shop and distributive workers.
The Minister must prove that £16.35 in the provinces and £17.10 in London—this includes the increase—is inflationary. These modest increases were agreed with the employers eight months earlier. In that period rising prices and the devalued pound have made the negotiations out of date. It is not possible to talk to a man taking home less than £15 a week in terms of inflation. How can it be said that to give him the £1 will wreck the Government's economic policy when the goods he packs and sells continue to rise in price? He has contributed nothing to the wages spiral but has suffered much in his struggle to exist and to keep a family on £15.
Further, there is little or no overtime to boost earnings in distribution and shop work. The actions of the Government in choosing the worst off in the community against whom to operate their repressive orders, their actions in confronting the unions, show a complete lack of understanding of what makes trade unions tick. The great mass of workers who joined trade unions are not challenging the Government. They are not holding the nation to ransom. I know from experience that those who join unions do so because they require fair and decent wage rates, proper fringe benefits, job security, protection against 170 accidents at work and recognition of the dignity of labour. Above all, they require justice. That is why workers combine. Government policies fail to give justice. Then workers become militant. We are confronted with today's chaos because of the complete lack of ability of the Government to understand workers and their problems.
The Government stand indicted by making repressive orders condemning the worst-off in our community to remain long in their poverty. The freeze is wrong because it is unjust. It is inflexible. It fails to control the price of essential foods. It fails to listen to reason. It fails to stop speculators in land, in homes and in the Stock Exchange.
§ Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I can see nothing about property speculation or the price of milk in this order.
§ Mr. Torney
The hon. Gentleman would not understand that the cost of things like rent must come out of the miserable wage of £15 a week which shop workers receive. That has some effect on the way in which they are able to keep their families.
We shall divide the House because, despite the events of recent days, and despite the excursions into dreamland by the mass media about the continued existence of our party, the Labour Party still represents the only effective opposition to the Government's disastrous policies. We shall divide the House because Labour still believes that succour must be given to the poorest in our land, and if this means taking from those most able to afford it to give to those most in need, it must be taken.
§ 10.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Wilfred Proudfoot (Brighouse and Spenborough)
I walked into the Chamber without having the slightest intention of making a speech.
I formally congratulate the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Torney) on his maiden speech from the Opposition Front Bench. I have a great advantage over him. He had prepared his speech, and it suffered from all the problems of preparing a speech. I am only disappointed that I have not a music stand to put my three notes on.
However, the hon. Gentleman identified the lowest-paid workers in the land. I 171 am fed up with hearing about the agricultural workers, the miners, or about this group or that. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) should listen because he does not know who the lowest-paid workers are. They are in distribution. I am one of the employers in that business. [Hon Members: "Shame."] Shame? At least I am honest.
§ Mr. Proudfoot
No. The hon. Gentleman has spent a lifetime of work in USDAW but he has just shown that he does not know the first thing about retailing. I should be delighted, as would every retailer, to give my workers higher wages. I shall tell the House why we cannot do so. We in retailing and distribution are in vigorous competition.
§ Mr. Torney
I spent about 15 years working behind a shop counter before I worked full-time for USDAW.
§ Mr. Proudfoot
I do not know offhand how long I have worked in retailing. I was in the Royal Air Force and in the political business. I was also a radio pirate.
The reality is that if, as an individual, I cut my prices to beat the competition I shall be likely to put myself out of business. Retailers and all people in distribution know about the market price. They do not have to listen to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell). They know about the market. He learned out of a textbook about it. I learned it in reality. The hon. Member for Bradford, South has not learned it in reality.
Let me put this to some of the trade unionists here who represent industrial workers. Have they ever seen the customers among the production workers on the factory floor? Can one imagine the workers at Ford having the customers amongst them on the factory floor? But this is a factor which the retailer faces every day. His customers are with him every day.
Here is an honest admission. People in retailing are some of the lowest-paid workers in this country. The hon. Member for Bradford, South was right when 172 he said we recently had a wage increase. It was last week. He was right, and we are moving towards equal pay. But the hon. Member did not tell the House that the biggest increase the retail employees have ever had was last week—in cash. He forgot to say that to the House, but it is the truth. The biggest increase happened last week. It was the biggest cash increase the retail shop assistants have ever had, and it occurred last week. The hon. Member for Bradford, South, a well-known member of USDAW, will surely know. Let us have the truth. It was the biggest cash increase the retail employees of this country have ever got.
The hon. Member said something about prices. He will see from the Green Paper that the retailers and the distributors are the most harshly dealt with. I am not grumbling about that at all; but it is no good the Opposition making noises about increased prices, because the retailers always make the same margin. If hon. Members opposite bother to look at the White Papers their own Government produced and what their Prices and Incomes Board produced they will find the truth documented for them; if they bother to look it up they will find that retailers are earning the same gross percentage margin. The present Green Paper says we should even limit our cash margins. The Green Paper treats harshest this section of our community. Hon. Members are asking for increased wages for people. I do not disagree that they are speaking for the lowest-paid section of the community and asking for more wages for them, but they should ask the question: how can there be increased wages out of smaller profit margins?
At the same time, this House makes silly noises about planning permissions for supermarkets or hypermarkets or whatever silly name is used now, and there are difficulties made about car parking outside shops or larger retail stores. How can this country or any other get increased productivity in retailing in such circumstances? I ask hon. Members opposite who are members of USDAW, if they know anything about retailing, to proclaim the truth of that. It really is a technical truth about retailing.
I agree completely with the hon. Member for Bradford, South, that wages are low, and these are the lowest-paid 173 people; but let us look at the whole situation. The whole thing is a price freeze. If the workers in distribution get £1 plus 4 per cent., that is bigger than the increase they got last week, and last week's was the biggest increase they have ever had. If they get £1 plus 4 per cent. before the end of stage 2, that will be the biggest increase they will ever have had in their lives. Let us get the fact of the case before making noises. Stage 3 is not far away. So I do not think that people in distribution will be that disturbed about this. The distributive workers hear more about prices and price increases than any politician in this House —and they have to carry the can for us.
§ Mr. Stanley Cohen (Leeds, South-East)
The hon. Member has said several times that the distributive workers have just received the largest increase they have ever had, but he has made no reference to their take-home pay. Perhaps he will enlighten me?
§ Mr. Proudfoot
I am not disagreeing with the hon. Member for Bradford, South. He is absolutely right about their take-home pay. I agree with him that they are the lowest-paid workers in the community. I am trying to demonstrate that the employers cannot increase the wages without putting themselves out of business.
§ Mr. Proudfoot
The hon. Gentleman says that they suffer. He is talking about the monopoly of power of the trade unions, the monopoly power of the miners, the people who make motor cars, the gas workers. He is saying that they are trying to apply their monopoly power.
§ Mr. Prescott
The whole theme of the argument has been that because of competition the employers are unable to pay their workers more. How often have we heard employers say that. How relevant is it? The hon. Gentleman says that the Ford workers and miners are able to exploit a monopoly position. How can that, under the free market system, be applied to the retail trades?
§ Mr. Proudfoot
There is a simple answer—lower the price of motor cars. That is the plain, unvarnished truth. If the hon. Gentleman watched television last night he will have heard William Buckley, Junior, the American Right-winger say so. The National Union of Seamen has priced its employers—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Miss Harvie Anderson)
Order. I hope all hon. Members will observe the conventions of the House.
§ Mr. Proudfoot
Has the hon. Gentleman ever known his union to negotiate for lower charter rates? That is what the market place is about. Since the war one union has actually asked for lower wages. That was the union which represented the chaps who knitted women's stockings with seams and that was when seamless stockings came in and the men found themselves out of trade. There were two unions—
§ Mr. Proudfoot
I beg your pardon, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I am being provoked.
I conclude by saying that I agree completely with the hon. Member for Bradford, South that the distributive workers are underpaid, but perhaps the same applies in every country. Competitive private enterprise is doing a good job of work. Competition is more apparent in distribution than at any other stage. If somebody gets on to a good thing in a private enterprise economy he is rapidly copied by imitators. I speak as an ex-radio pirate. The Labour Government had to hurry up and legislate because pirate radio operators were becoming too numerous, being on to a good thing. Hon. Members should look at the filling stations. They will see some of them empty. This is about competition.
I return to the subject of the debate. I am convinced that competition is the great protector of the consumer, and USDAW has not got a monopoly within its own work force. Other unions are involved. The hon. Member for Bradford, South recognises that fact. He would love to increase the membership of USDAW incredibly. I do not disagree 175 with him, for I think that the workers should have a voice. But the fact remains that the customers also have a voice and that members of USDAW really do meet them.
§ 10.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Walter Padley (Ogmore)
I follow the hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Proudfoot) once again. He speaks with the voice of the employers in the retail trades. We should never forget that when he rises to his feet. I declare my interest. I am associated with the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, and was its president for 16 years.
The order does not require the broad canvas that has been painted tonight. The plain fact is that as far back as May 1971—not May 1972, for the 1972 reference merely endorsed the 1971 agreement—my people in the distributive trades, those who check customers out in the supermarkets, the women shop assistants, some male porters and others, were receiving scandalously low rates of pay. In all sections of the retail trades, USDAW conducted negotiations—with the Co-operative movement, the supermarkets and the multiple stores. There were negotiations also on the statutory minimum rates payable under the wages boards, to which the hon. Gentleman referred.
The hon. Gentleman may pay the scandalously non-union rates laid down by statute of this House against his will and against the will of the other employers, but that is not true of the Co-operative movement or of the multiple stores. So saying that we have had the largest increase ever in the last week, that the wages council's order came into effect on 26th February, has nothing to do with the case, because these other workers still lag behind the agreement USDAW made with the Co-operative movement, the supermarkets and the multiple stores.
We are dealing with a very simple issue, one which cannot be muddled up with the wage freeze or anything else. I have never come to this House before to confess agreement with the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), but even he was right when he said that the Government were im- 176 posing a wage freeze for which they had no legal power. It was not until USDAW said that it would take the employers to the ordinary courts of the land that this miserable, mean, contemptible order was produced to the House. That is a fact which cannot be denied by the garrulous employer-chatter of the hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough or by the smoother words we shall hear from the Government.
As long ago as May 1971 this £1 a week increase for people then on £14 or £15 a week—now £15 or £16—was agreed by the employers and the unions. Subsequently there were other increases, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Torney) pointed out, they were part of the process of moving towards equal pay. Because of that, there was provision that the increases should be staggered over two years rather than over one year.
I ask the House to recognise that this order has been brought about only because the Government have broken the law to which the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West referred. We are asked to say that the economic burdens of Britain, before the Budget tomorrow, shall be carried on the backs of men and women earning £14, £15 and £16 a week.
Government supporters can say what they like. They can indulge in as much backchat as they like. I was elected president of my union in my day and I became a Member of this House to cry out against such scandals. I do that tonight. I accuse the Government of imposing an iniquitous and scandalous wage freeze at a time when prices are rising. They are breaking faith in overturning an agreement that was reached in May 1971.
Anyone who tries to defend the Government's action, with the Law Officers of the Crown behind him, may find the ordinary courts of the country taking a different view. That certainly is the view that I shall pursue in my union, of which I am proud to be a member. I condemn this Government not only for their wage freeze but for this iniquitous action against the people from whom I come.
§ 10.47 p.m.
§ Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)
I have listened with great interest to what 177 has been said about the order. What is more, I listened carefully to the speech of the right hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice) earlier. Listening to him, it seemed to me that it was the wish of the Labour Party to give the green light to every wage increase that was demanded. At the same time, however, we have the constant demand to hold down prices. It is not for me to say that the two are inconsistent, beyond reminding the House that it was the Leader of the Opposition who, just over three years ago when he was Prime Minister, said that one man's wage increase was another man's price increase.
If the Opposition continue to talk about holding down prices, they must come out openly and say how much in excess of the 8 per cent. wage increase which is allowed under stage 2 should be permitted without increasing prices.
The hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Torney) quoted the earnings of workers in the Co-operative movement. He said that it was a disgrace that they were taking home £16.35 in the provinces and £17.10 in London. I agree that those are very low wages—far too low. But I remind the Opposition that if wage increases that apparently they wish to see are brought about, there will be the most violent escalation in prices, with the result that anything those people get will still leave them in a deplorable position. I repeat that although their wages are still so low, only a week or so ago they had the biggest wage increases for a long time.
It is also stated that my hon. Friend the Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Proudfoot) was expressing the views of the employers in the retail trades. The benches opposite contain a number of hon. Members who speak for representatives and employers in the retail trades, because they are sponsored by the Co-operatives.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Rhodes (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East)
I am one of those sponsored Members. The difference between myself and the hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Proud-foot) is that I represent part of a movement of 13 million working-class people who want to pay this money anyway.
§ Mr. Burden
This is an extraordinary attitude. This sudden zeal, this sudden demand for these tremendous wage increases—[HON. MEMBERS: "Small."] All right, small wage increases. Hon. Gentlemen opposite say that they are small wage increases, but they have represented workers in the Co-operative movement for many years. Why did they not show the same zeal for them having big or even small wage increases to bring them into line with others in the distributive trades and in industry before the present Government came to power?
§ Mr. Proudfoot
Perhaps it will help my hon. Friend and the House to recognise that there are three different stages. There are the independents, the Co-operatives and the multiples. At three different times of the year there are three different wage rates. This is a most extraordinary fact of life.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I hope that the House will bear in mind how many hon. Members hope to speak in this limited debate.
§ Mr. Burden
I recognise that, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I must make this point. The hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Padley) stated that arrangements had been made way back in 1971 to increase the salaries of members of the Co-operatives. There was no wage freeze then. Why were they not implemented?
§ Mr. Padley
The answer is that there were increases in May 1971 and in May 1972. This further increase was part of a global policy, to which all hon. Members give lip service, of equal pay for equal work.
§ Mr. Burden
That makes my point and enables me to conclude my speech. It is clear that if they received increases in both 1971 and 1972, the Co-operative workers are much better off under a Conservative than under a Labour Government and it explains why sponsored Members of the Co-operative movement are not raising a murmur against the Government which imposed this low standard of living upon them.
§ 10.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Loughlin (Gloucestershire, West)
The hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) has an infinite capacity for talking about matters of which he knows 179 nothing, and consequently I do not propose to refer to anything that he said.
The hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Proudfoot) knows something about distribution, but I wish that tonight he had prepared his speech. The hon. Gentleman began by saying that it was unprepared, but he did not need to tell us that. The longer it went on, the more obvious it became that he had not even thought about his speech, and he was not even thinking about it when he was making it.
The hon. Gentleman said that because profit margins were low employers in the distribution trades would be only too willing to pay increases in wages. I very much doubt that. If, however, that is so, if the hon. Gentleman subscribes to that idea and if one section of distribution is prepared to pay irrespective of the low profit margins, the hon. Gentleman can demonstrate it by coming into the Division Lobby with us tonight, because the Co-operatives want to pay it. The Co-operative Union, which is the employers' association, is prepared to pay these increases, provided that the Government do not refuse to allow that to be done.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the massive wage increase being paid this week for the people in distribution. It is true that there are three sectors of distribution—the Co-operatives, the multiple trade and the private trade. The people covered by the wages council for the food sector are, by and large, employed in private distribution, not in the multiples or Co-operatives, where there are private agreements. The hon. Gentleman may be within the sector that we call the private trade, because he is not a multiple or an area multiple.
The so-called massive increase that came into effect on 26th February this year produces wages rates in the London area of £15.90 a week for shop assistants, stockmen and van salesmen aged 21 and over. That is the massive increase about which the hon. Gentleman is talking, but it does not apply to Co-operative workers or to the multiple trade. We are dealing with an order relating to the Co-operative movement.
I understand that during the last few days two eminent gentlemen have been appointed to look at the problems of 180 wages and prices. I understand, too, that they will oversee and either agree or disagree with wage increases for people who are earning £15.90. As soon as they assume office—
§ Mr. Loughlin
If the hon. Gentleman knew anything about the subject I should willingly give way to him. As soon as these gentlemen assume office they will automatically receive increases, one of £5 a week and the other of £150 a week. This is what life is about. The Government are tonight holding back an increase of £1 on the miserable rates to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Torney) referred, and were it not for the lack of time I should refer, to many more instances. The Government are holding back the payment of £1 which was negotiated way back in May 1971. It is not as though this was negotiated after the Government's policy was introduced. When it is paid, the gross pay—not the take-home pay—of a shop assistant in one of the larger provincial towns will be £16.35 at 21 and £17.10 in London.
I know that this measure is not about land speculators or house prices, but we should try to get into context the problems of people on a gross wage of this kind who then face deductions and even, in the case of single people or widows and widowers, have to pay income tax. They then have to pay rent or mortgage repayments, if they have been able to get a mortgage.
I can understand hon. Members on the Government side wanting to support their Government's policies. When I was on the other side of the House I supported the Government in a similar policy. But I see no reason why they should be so enthusiastic to deny increases to people who are in some cases living on take-home pay which is lower than the supplementary benefit for which they would qualify—
§ Mr. Loughlin
I am talking to hon. Members other than the hon. Member for Gillingham, who mutters so much. I am asking how they can get so enthusiastic—[Interruption.] The hon. Member was not in the House when his two hon. Friends spoke.
§ Mr. Proudfoot
What the hon. Member is saying is interesting. But the incredible thing is that to my knowledge the people to whom he is referring are supporters of the Government's attempt to stop inflation. It is the low-paid and the people on fixed incomes who are getting hurt by inflation. They have the sense to be on the side of the Government.
§ Mr. Loughlin
I wish that the hon. Gentleman would go into shops other than his own. His own employees may tell him that. I go into shops and meet shop workers, and I know how they view the Government's policy. We all want to defeat inflation. It is psychologically easy to defeat inflation if one refuses to give shop workers El a week while one gives f150 a week to the guy who is to supervise their increases in future.
In the circumstances of people on these wage rates, who, although they work all week, take home less than they could get on supplementary benefit, I cannot understand how the Government, bad though they are, can introduce an order of this kind. I hope that the House will vote unanimously against it.
§ 11.5 p.m.
§ Mr. J. R. Kinsey (Birmingham, Perry Barr)
It is true that the shop workers are poorly paid, but it should be pointed out that wages vary between the multiple Co-operatives and the small shop keepers. Indeed, they vary from trade to trade and from area to area, and in some areas they even vary according to turnover. It is a peculiarly difficult trade to understand. Regrettably, the shop workers have always been among the lower paid, but they have always been loyal workers who have given their all to the owners of the shops and to the spirit of competition that prevails in the industry.
It must be pointed out that shop workers were particularly low paid when the Labour Government were in office. The Opposition tonight are crying crocodile tears over a system which was in operation during their time in government.
§ Mr. Loughlin
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that under a Labour Government not a single increase for shop workers was stopped?
§ Mr. Kinsey
It might be true to say that not one was stopped, but in those days those workers did not have a chance to get very many increases. Therefore, the Opposition have nothing to brag about in terms of what they did for the shop workers. In fact, it is true to say that the shop workers distrust them.
§ Mr. Proudfoot
My hon. Friend may recall that when the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) was the Minister responsible for these matters, she sat on one of these wage increases for over nine months before she signed it.
§ Mr. Kinsey
That is an interesting fact of which, I must confess, I was not aware, but the House will be interested to hear that from my hon. Friend.
The shop workers are to some degree the victims of their own knowledge of the competitive system. They wholeheartedly support the competitive system. People who have knowledge of the industry know that when those workers see a lower-priced article in the shop across the road, they are the first to tell their employers to do something about the situation because they want to see the people coming into their shop. That is why they co-operate and want to attract the housewife by selling at the lowest possible price. They want to co-operate to keep the price ticket low. They are loyal to the boss and they support the Government wholeheartedly in beating inflation.
The shop workers will co-operate with the Government, far more than the TUC has tried to do today. Those shop workers are the last point of contact between the line of production and the customer. They are the ones who have to meet the customer's wrath when he or she comes into the shop. They suffer from inflation and they want to see it beaten. They know the dangers of inflation and they know that workers cannot strike their way out of an inflationary situation. They can only work their way out of it. And this is what they will be prepared to do.
§ 11.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Willesden, West)
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Kinsey) spoke eloquently as though he had some strange vision of 183 what he thought people should be thinking on the shop floor in terms of retail distribution. I assure him that he is miles away from any accurate vision of the present situation.
Of course the whole country wants to stop inflation, but the reason why my name is among those supporting the Prayer tonight, and the reason why I hope we shall have a good vote in the Division, is that I feel that this kind of Government action is grossly unjust and unfair in the attempt to stop inflation.
This is not the first time that we in this country have faced this kind of problem, but it seems to be part of the pattern that the people who take the brunt are always the lowest paid. I recall the time in 1961 when there was a freeze. It was the hospital workers who suffered. It was the nurses who were caught first. On this occasion, it is again the hospital ancillary workers—the ones who are striking this week—and the lowest-paid workers in retail distribution who are caught.
I declare my interest here. I am one of 1,200,000 members of the London Co-operative Society, and I am a Cooperative-sponsored Member of Parliament. I am not an USDAW man. I am a Co-op man, trying to represent the consumer.
The Government took illegal action, and by the order they are making it legal. Apart from the injustice to workers in retail distribution, what they have done cuts across something which I should have expected all hon. Members to wish to see prevail, namely, a system for securing agreement by rational and logical means between employer and employee.
The House knows that the order is directed against the Co-operative movement, which for almost the whole of this century has had a wages board system for negotiation—the Government have always said that that is what they want—whereby people get round the table to sort out the agreement that can be reached. As my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Padley) said, it is done in a rational way over a period of time. From 1971 onwards an agreement has been come to and, being gentlemen, the people concerned wanted to keep that agreement. The employers—in the Co-operative movement, that means the 184 ordinary members; anyone with a £ I share owns an interest in it—wanted to keep the agreement. We wanted to keep our agreement. Yet the order cuts right across the normal negotiating procedure and all the understandings which have been reached and maintained over the past half-century. By what they have done, the Government have prevented both sides from settling their disputes amicably.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Torney) on his full coverage of the matter from the Front Bench tonight. He reminded the House of the other question which applies here: what will wages buy? One does not have wages just for the heck of it; one has wages to keep one's wife and family. In my area the London Co-operative Society has a large milk depot. What will the basic wage of £17.10 buy? What about rent? We have some three-bedroom flats available, but they cost £16,000 to buy. What sort of mortgage is available to a man on £17.10? We recently completed a nice redevelopment scheme of council flats, and the economic rent there is £13.50 a week. How many retail distribution workers on £17.10 basic pay will be able to afford that?
My hon. Friend pointed to the differential between the large conurbations and the rural areas. What professional man would accept the London weighting as satisfactory? Hon. Members on the Government side who criticise our case think only of office workers and professional workers in jobs which offer increments without the need to ask for them. They are not bargained for. Annual increments and fringe benefits come along, according to the job. In the trade union movement, on the other hand, and in retail distribution every penny of increase has to be fought for and negotiated.
For the past 50 or 60 years a system has been developed and organised so that, instead of there being industrial disputes, agreements are reached in a logical way. But now the Government have stepped in with their order. The London society wanted to pay the increase to which it had agreed, and it was this commitment which led to the introduction of the order.
I hope that there is a sense of social justice in the House tonight. We have 185 had a lot of nonsense from the hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Proudfoot). I remember him talking similar stuff when he represented Cleveland. We had much the same sort of performance from the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden), who paints a broad canvas and tries to make a lot out of very little. If there is a sense of justice, there will be a lot of hon. Members to support us in the Lobby. It is not just a matter of getting justice for workers in the retail distributive trades; it is a matter of trying to make some sense out of the Government's economic policy which, by its inflexibility, is making nonsense out of what even they want.
§ 11.15 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Mr. R. Chichester-Clark)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Torney) upon his first appearance at the Opposition Dispatch Box. I hope he will often find himself there. I am sure he will, since he rose much less nervously than I do whenever I rise to speak from the Dispatch Box for the Government.
When, last November, the Government faced the need to impose a standstill, they decided to rely on co-operation backed by enabling powers to enforce compliance to be used only when necessary. As the House will recognise, that was how it was operated. The majority of people have complied voluntarily and in only a handful of cases has it been necessary to use the powers of enforcement provided by the Counter-Inflation (Temporary Provisions) Act. The order which we are debating is one of the very few which have had to be made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.
At the beginning of the standstill the Government issued a White Paper setting out the requirements of the standstill. One requirement was that increases due during the standstill under pre-standstill settlements should be deferred until the end of the standstill but could then be implemented. The order was made because at a relatively late stage the Cooperative Employers' Association said that it could no longer comply voluntarily. My right hon. Friend with great regret found it necessary to use his power.
186 The hon. Member for Bradford, South mentioned the effect of the Equal Pay Act 1970. I think that most hon. Members recognise, as far as equal pay is concerned, that it was necessary to stand everybody still, but during stage 2 there is special provision outside the pay limit to enable the differential between men's and women's rates to be reduced by up to one-third. That will still enable the target, to which the Government are committed, of full equality and equal pay to be reached by 1975.
Perhaps I might look at events, some of which have been rehearsed, since the imposition of the standstill. In the middle of January the Government published a second White Paper announcing that despite the extension of the standstill by up to a further 60 days all agreements reached before it and due to come into effect during the standstill could be allowed to take effect after 90 days' delay or at the end of the original unextended standstill—that is, on 28th February—whichever was the later.
I shall remind the House of the increases which have been stopped by the order against which the Opposition have elected to pray, some of which have been mentioned and on one of which the hon. Member for Bradford, South dwelt. The equal pay provisions which were agreed in January 1972 for clerical staff involve some 10,000 workers, giving between 2½ per cent. and 7½ per cent. of the male rate, to reach 92½ per cent. on 3rd December. That was, as the hon. Gentleman said, delayed for 90 days and was allowable with effect from 3rd March 1973, which was last Saturday. My right hon. Friend gave his written consent to that last week.
There was a similar increase for some 3,000 café and restaurant workers, which was also due on 3rd December. That has similarly been allowed and authorised by my right hon. Friend to be implemented with effect from 3rd March.
Then there was an increase of 12 per cent. in the rates for some 4,000 radio and television servicing engineers due on 4th December. This completed its 90-day standstill yesterday and my right hon. Friend has given his consent to its being paid with effect from 4th March. That leaves only three more increases held by the order.
187 One increase, for £1, was originally due on 31st December for 50,000 to 60,000 workers in retail distribution. This was the third and final stage of an agreement made as long ago as April 1971, as we were eloquently reminded by the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Padley). This agreement consisted largely of steps towards equal pay and therefore affects mainly women.
There was a similar increase for café and restaurant workers, some 3,000 of them, also due on 31st December, and an equal pay step for laundry workers due to be implemented on 1st January 1973. These last three increases will have been held up for 90 days by 31st of this month in the first two instances and on 1st April in the third. They will be paid at the end of the standstill, if that comes before 31st March. If, therefore, the Counter-Inflation Bill receives the Royal Assent before the end of this month, the three categories of those affected by the order will have undergone a shorter delay than the rest.
§ Mr. Torney
Would not the Minister agree that the increases that so far have been given consent orders are for the worst-off people? I am not suggesting that consent orders should not have been made for the others, who are obviously not well off, but the people who are still waiting and still suffering are deplorably paid and they urgently need money. For them there is no question of overtime or anything like it to help them, as there is in factories. Could not a consent order be made for them too?
§ Mr. Chichester-Clark
I am certainly not suggesting that these are well-paid people; far from it. As the hon. Member knows, I have considerable sympathy for them.
As I have listed the increases delayed by the standstill and legally enforced by the order, it would not be a bad thing if I mentioned one more that arises out of the same series of agreements affecting workers in the retail Co-operative societies. This was equally affected by the standstill but, oddly enough, no specific mention of it has been made tonight. This is the agreement concerning about 10,000 bakery workers whose agreement was made originally on 4th December and payable from yesterday.
188 Some of my hon. Friends and perhaps some hon. Members opposite may well wonder why this has not been mentioned. The reason why it is not included in the order is that both employers and representatives of the bakery workers showed themselves to be highly responsible. They are not highly-paid people, but they agreed to observe the standstill voluntarily. Many employers and employees throughout industry have recognised that the counter-inflationary measures, unpalatable as they must be, are a lesser evil than continued inflation. It is only an infinitely small minority that refuses to accept that sort of reasoning.
I pay tribute to all those far-sighted enough to put the good of the community before their own immediate needs, and in this connection deliberately mention particularly the bakers' union and the Co-operative bakery employers who held to this view when, as we have seen, those immediately around them expressed themselves unable to exercise the same sort of restraint. The Prayer seeks to support those who felt themselves unable to exercise this restraint.
Whatever sympathy one may feel, and there is sympathy for the lowly-paid in all parts of the House, let there be no doubt that in this context it is misguided to some extent, because in some instances, as I have shown, deferment is ended and the money may be paid, while in others the remaining period of deferment is now short. It is misguided because it is the people in these categories who are likely to benefit by the Government's stage 2 proposals. It was the preparation for these proposals which made the standstill unavoidable. As the hon. Member for Bradford, South said, these are some of the lowest paid people in the country. This was recognised by my hon. Friend the Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Proudfoot) and the hon. Member for Ogmore.
These people did not suddenly become low-paid workers last November, last December or even in January. They have unfortunately been in that situation for some long time. It is perhaps a criticism of us all, Members of Parliament, trade unionists and the public, at large, that this has been so for so long. Not 189 least it is a criticism of those who represent such people in Parliament, and, as we know, there are a number of those here tonight. Even if their case has been taken up somewhat late in the day, these people are genuinely low-paid. The proposals of the Government are specifically designed to help them and I believe that they will do so.
Even if I have riled one or two hon. Gentlemen opposite I hope I have shown that there is real sympathy for these people, a real desire to heip them and a real belief that the Government's proposals in stage 2 will help them. The case made by the Opposition tonight would have been a lot more convincing if we had not heard them making cases for virtually every wage claim put forward since 1970. The Opposition would be doing a great service if they compiled an index —and they are always talking about indices—of wage claims which have been put forward and are being put forward which they do not support. I wish that they would send us a list of those categories whom they do not automatically
§ classify as special cases. I submit that there is no case for annulling this order and I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to reject the motion.
§ 11.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Leslie Spriggs (St. Helens)
I have just heard one of the most complacent speeches to which I have ever had to listen during the last 14 or 15 years. If anyone believes that there is a case for withholding fair wages for distributive workers, mainly shop workers, it is nothing short of a national scandal. I was asked recently by a mother in my area what the wages of her daughters, who are shop assistants, ought to be. When she told me how much her daughters were taking home, it seemed to be one of the worst possible injustices. I appeal to my right hon. and hon. Friends to go into the Lobby in support of the motion. I ask hon. Members on the Government side to do the same if they are genuinely on the side of justice.
§ Question put:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 251, Noes 271.193
|Division No. 77.]
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)
|Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony
|Galpern, Sir Myer
|Archer, Peter (Rowley Regis)
|Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard
|Garrett, W. E.
|Cunningham, G. (Islington, S.W.)
|Ginsburg, David (Dewsbury)
|Cunningham, Dr. J. A. (Whitehaven)
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.
|Grant, George (Morpeth)
|Davies, Denzil (Llanelly)
|Grant, John D. (Islington, E.)
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)
|Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)
|Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside)
|Barnett, Joel (Heywood and Royton)
|Davies, Ifor (Gower)
|Griffiths, Will (Exchange)
|Davis, Clinton (Hackney, C.)
|Hamilton, James (Bothwell)
|Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood
|Davis, Terry (Bromsgrove)
|Hamilton, William (Fife, W.)
|Bennett, James(Glasgow, Bridgeton)
|de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey
|Hannan, William (G'gow, Maryhill)
|Bishop, E. S.
|Dell, Rt. Hn. Edmund
|Boardman, H. (Leigh)
|Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)
|Dormand, J. D.
|Hart, Rt. Hn. Judith
|Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur
|Douglas, Dick (Stirlingshire, E.)
|Healey, Rt. Hn. Denis
|Heffer, Eric S.
|Broughton, Sir Alfred
|Duffy, A. E. P.
|Brown, Robert C. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne,W.)
|Dunn, James A.
|Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas
|Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, provan)
|Brown, Ronald(Shoreditch & F'bury)
|Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey)
|Hughes, Mark (Durham)
|Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn)
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, N.)
|Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)
|Edwards, William (Merioneth)
|Hughes, Roy (Newport)
|Callaghan, Rt. Hn. James
|Campbell, I. (Dunbartonshire, W.)
|Irvine, Rt. Hn. Sir Arthur (Edge Hill)
|Cant, R. B.
|Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas
|Carter, Ray (Birmingh'm, Northfield)
|Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)
|Carter-Jones, Lewis (Eccles)
|Fernyhough, Rt. Hn. E.
|Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford)
|Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara
|Fisher, Mrs.Doris (B'ham,Ladywood)
|Clark, David (Colne Valley)
|Fitch, Alan (Wigan)
|Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)
|Cocks, Michael (Bristol, s.)
|Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)
|Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)
|Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)
|Johnson, Walter (Derby, S.)
|Concannon, J. D.
|Jones, Barry (Flint, E.)
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda
|Jones, Dan (Burnley)
|Cox, Thomas (Wandsworth, C.)
|Jones,Rt.Hn.Sir Elwyn (W.Ham,S.)
|Fraser, John (Norwood)
|Jones, Gwynoro (Carmarthen)
|Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, W.)
|Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)
|Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)
|Morris, Rt. Hn. John (Aberavon)
|Smith, John (Lanarkshire, N.)
|Mulley, Rt. Hn Frederick
|Murray, Ronald King
|Stallard, A. W.
|Stewart, Rt. Hn. Michael (Fulham)
|Stoddart, David (Swindon)
|Stonehouse, Rt. Hn. John
|Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.
|Lestor, Miss Joan
|Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley
|Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)
|Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
|Lyon, Alexander W. (York)
|Parker, John (Dagenham)
|Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)
|Parry, Robert (Liverpool, Exchange)
|Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson
|Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred
|Urwin, T. W.
|Varley, Eric G.
|Perry, Ernest G.
|Prentice, Rt. Hn. Reg.
|Walden, Brian (B'm'ham, All Saints)
|Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
|Mackintosh, John P.
|Reed, D. (Sedgefield)
|Rees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.)
|McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)
|McNamara, J. Kevin
|Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
|Mahon, Simon (Bootle)
|Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
|White, James (Glasgow, Pollok)
|Roberts, Rt.Hn.Goronwy (Caernarvon)
|Robertson, John (Paisley)
|Marshall, Dr. Edmund
|Roderick, Caerwyn E.(Brc'n&R'dnor)
|Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick
|Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy
|Rodgers, William (Stockton-on-Tees)
|Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
|Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)
|Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert
|Rose, Paul B.
|Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
|Ross, Rt. Hn. William (Kilmarnock)
|Wilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)
|Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)
|Miller, Dr. M. S.
|Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-under-Lyne)
|Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney)
|TELLERS FOR THE AYES
|Mitchell, R. C. (S'hampton, Itchen)
|Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)
|Mr. Ernest Armstrong and
|Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)
|Mr. Donald Coleman.
|Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)
|Foster, Sir John
|Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash)
|Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert
|Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead)
|Amery, Rt. Hn. Julian
|Chataway, Rt. Hn. Christopher
|Fraser,Rt.Hn.Hugh (St'fford & Stone)
|Archer, Jeffrey (Louth)
|Churchill, W. S.
|Galbraith, Hn. T. G. D.
|Clark, William (Surrey, E.)
|Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)
|Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone)
|Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.)
|Baker, W. H. K. (Banff)
|Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.)
|Glyn, Dr. Alan
|Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay)
|Cooper, A. E.
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport)
|Costain, A. P.
|Grant, Anthony (Harrow, C.)
|Crowder, F. P.
|Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S.W.)
|Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F.
|Digby, Simon Wingfield
|Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds)
|Boscawen, Hn. Robert
|Bossom, Sir Clive
|Dodds-Parker, Sir Douglas
|Gummer, J. Selwyn
|Drayson, G. B.
|Braine, Sir Bernard
|Hall, Miss Joan (Keighley)
|Eden, Rt. Hn. Sir John
|Hall, John (Wycombe)
|Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)
|Hall-Davis, A. G. F.
|Brinton, Sir Tatton
|Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)
|Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)
|Elliott, R. W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne,N.)
|Hannam, John (Exeter)
|Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)
|Harrison, Brian (Maldon)
|Bryan, Sir Paul
|Havers, Sir Michael
|Fenner, Mrs. Peggy
|Bullus, Sir Eric
|Fisher, Nigel (Surbiton)
|Burden, F. A.
|Higgins, Terence L.
|Butler, Adam (Bosworth)
|Fookes, Miss Janet
|Campbell, Rt. Hn. G. (Moray & Nairn)
|Hill, John E. B. (Norfolk, S.)
|Hill, S. James A.(Southampton, Test)
|Mitchell, Lt.-Col. C (Aberdeenshire,W)
|Skeet, T. H. H.
|Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)
|Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
|Holt, Miss Mary
|Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington)
|Monks, Mrs. Connie
|Howe, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey
|Howell, David (Guildford)
|Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N.)
|Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh)
|Iremonger, T. L.
|Stewart-Smith, Geoffrey (Belper)
|Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)
|Stodart, Anthony (Edinburgh, W.)
|Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M.
|Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford)
|Nabarro, Sir Gerald
|Jennings, J. C. (Burton)
|Stuttaford, Dr. Tom
|Nicholls, Sir Harmar
|Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead)
|Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael
|Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.)
|Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
|Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir Keith
|Kaberry, Sir Donald
|Oppenheim, Mrs. Sally
|Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)
|Kellett-Bowman, Mrs. Elaine
|Owen, Idris (Stockport, N.)
|Taylor, Robert (Croydon, N.W.)
|Page, Rt. Hn. Graham (Crosby)
|King, Tom (Bridgwater)
|Temple, John M.
|Kinsey, J. R.
|Peel, Sir John
|Thatcher, Rt. Hn. Mrs. Margaret
|Thomas, Rt. Hn. Peter (Hendon, S.)
|Pink, R. Bonner
|Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)
|Knight, Mrs. Jill
|Trafford, Dr. Anthony
|Price, David (Eastleigh)
|Prior, Rt. Hn. J. M. L.
|Turton, Rt. Hn. Sir Robin
|Pym, Rt. Hn. Francis
|Vaughan, Dr. Gerard
|Le Marchant, Spencer
|Vickers, Dame Joan
|Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone)
|Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James
|Longden, Sir Gilbert
|Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter
|Walder, David (Clitheroe)
|Luce, R. N.
|Reed, Laurance (Bolton, E.)
|Ward, Dame Irene
|Rees, Peter (Dover)
|McCrindle, R. A.
|Rees-Davies, W. R.
|Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
|Wells, John (Maidstone)
|Maclean, Sir Fitzroy
|Ridley, Hn. Nicholas
|White, Roger (Gravesend)
|Roberts, Michael (Cardiff, N.)
|McNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest)
|Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
|Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)
|Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
|Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard
|Maginnis, John E.
|Woodhouse, Hn. Christopher
|Marples, Rt. Hn. Ernest
|Russell, Sir Ronald
|Wylie, Rt. Hn. N. R.
|Younger, Hn. George
|Maudling, Rt. Hn. Reginald
|Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)
|TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
|Shelton, William (Clapham)
|Mr. Michael Jopling and
|Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.
|Mr. John Stradling Thomas.
|Mills, Peter (Torrington)
|Sinclair, Sir George
§ Question accordingly negatived.