HC Deb 18 March 1975 vol 888 cc1443-4
13. Mr. MacGregor

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what are the latest annual percentage increases in average earnings, for the public and private sectors, respectively.

The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Mr. Albert Booth)

I regret that the information is not available.

Mr. MacGregor

If, as seems likely, constraints on high wage settlements in the private sector are now beginning to apply and will increasingly apply over the coming months because of the economic situation, what action will the Department take to reinforce the Prime Minister's recent comment that the money is not available for excessive settlements in public industries? If those exhortations prove to be insufficient, what practical steps will the Department take to reinforce it?

Mr. Booth

Both the Government and the TUC would like to see a closer adherence to the social contract wage guidelines than there has been in some recent cases. Both sectors will be using the influence that is open to them to keep future settlements in that area. In both the private and public sectors economic and financial constraints are operating at the moment which will be borne in mind by negotiators on both sides when determining the level of wage increases. That would have to apply whether or not there were social contract guidelines.

Mr. Hardy

Even if, last year, the annual increase in the public sector were greater than in the private sector, does my hon. Friend agree that that increase is against the trend of experience in the past 10 years, during which time private sector earnings were generally very much higher than public sector wages?

Mr. Booth

It has been the case that public sector negotiators have represented to us that the general constraint over the past 10 years has been adverse to the public sector as compared with the private sector. I think that the position under the social contract guidelines has reversed that, particularly in the low pay area, where public sector manual workers have gained enormously from the TUC low pay target. To that extent we can find a large part of the explanation of some of the larger percentage increases that we find in the public sector over the past few months.

Sir Frederic Bennett

A few minutes ago the Minister of State said that he did not have the information to be able to give the House average earnings in the public sector. In a subsequent reply, almost immediately afterwards, he said that they were far too high. If he does not know what they are, how can he say what judgment he has made?

Mr. Booth

I did not say what the hon. Gentleman attributes to me. I said that in the public sector a number of the higher percentage increases were largely attributable to the fact that there were many low-paid people in the public sector —especially public sector manual workers —who have benefited particularly from the low pay guidelines. This can be determined by examining the published figures which are available to all hon. Members as regards settlements in the private sector and as to the number of manual workers in that area.