HC Deb 15 November 1977 vol 939 cc273-5
10. Mr. Rooker

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on his policy regarding the low-paid.

Mr. John Grant

As promised in the White Paper, "The Attack on Inflation" after 31st July 1977, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has introduced a number of measures designed to give special help to the low-paid and to families with children. In addition, I am taking a number of measures to improve compliance with the statutory minimum rates set by wages councils.

Mr. Rooker

Can my hon. Friend confirm that most of the low-paid work is in the wages council sector, and can he tell us how he can square calling in a wages council award of 11 per cent. on a basic rate of £26 per week with not doing anything about another wages council award when it allowed a 16-month gap between settlements? Will my hon. Friend place in the Library a considered document outlining the Government's total strategy regarding the low-paid?

Mr. Grant

The two cases to which my hon. Friend refers do not bear comparison, because one was in clear breach of the Government's guidelines. In the second case—I have already replied to my hon. Friend about this in a Written Answer—there was no way in which intervention could have been made; the legislation would not permit it. On the general question, it is very unpleasant to have to seek to limit these low-wage industries, and I confirm what my hon. Friend said—there are some 3 million workers in wages council industries, most of whom are very low paid. It is very unpleasant to have to request them to limit their increases when pay rates are so low, but I believe that it is essential that the Government do their utmost to try to uphold the 10 per cent. guideline. I believe that it is in the interests of low-paid workers and pensioners—people of the sort who are lobbying the House this afternoon—that we try to keep down inflation, because these are the people who are hardest hit when unfettered free collective bargaining is allowed to take precedence.

Mr. Sproat

Does the Minister agree that it is not just the low-paid who are badly treated? Is there not something desperately wrong with the whole wages taxes-benefits situation when the average man in work, with the average family commitments, receives, after the Chancellor's cuts, £57.74 net spending power a week but his neighbour in exactly the same position who is out of work from yesterday onwards can receive, in cash and kind, £55.94 per week? In other words, the man in work is getting out of bed in the morning for a difference of only 36p a day, and, what is more, if his neighbour happens to have three children, that neighbour is, right from the start, better off not working than working.

Mr. Grant

I am sure that the House will want to study the hon. Gentleman's statistics very carefully, because we have had some experience of his facts and figures in the past. Beyond that, I certainly believe that there is a more rational way of ordering our affairs, and I hope that that can be found in the future. However, I very much doubt whether the Tory Party will support it.

Mr. Ashley

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Low Pay Unit has performed a valuable service by producing a series of outstanding reports but that the inevitable conclusion from those reports is that the vast and complex problems of low-paid workers cannot be solved piecemeal? Is it not time, therefore, for one Minister to devote his full attention to their problems? Will my hon. Friend discuss that with the Secretary of State?

Mr. Grant

The Low Pay Unit has performed some very valuable work, although we do not always agree with all its findings. On the question of a Minister being particularly responsible for the low-paid, I have already discussed the matter with my hon. Friend, and that is what I am now doing.

Mr. Prior

If the hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends think that the wages are so lousy, why does he think that they support him in trying to control them to 10 per cent.?

Mr. Grant

I think that I have already answered that question by referring to the overall need.