HC Deb 22 April 1980 vol 983 cc194-6
2. Mr. Race

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will introduce legislation to establish a statutory national minimum wage.

The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. James Prior)

No, Sir. The Government believe that pay is in general a matter best left for negotiation between employers and employees. Arrangements exist through the wages council machinery to set minimum rates of pay in industries where adequate arrangements for collective bargaining do not exist.

Mr. Race

Following the publication of the latest earnings survey, which shows that 9 per cent. of male full-time manual workers earn less than £60 a week and that 66 per cent. of women full-time manual workers earn less than that figure, is it not clear that collective bargaining has failed to abolish the differential that exists between the earnings of men and women? Is it not scandalous that the Government are abolishing schedule 11 to the Employment Protection Act, and that they propose to make no progress towards introducing the only legislation that could help us, namely, provisions for a statutory minimum wage?

Mr. Prior

No. I think that the collective bargaining procedures cover most of the country. They are better developed here than in any other country, and in cases where they have not provided the right answers, wages councils have been a great help.

Sir Anthony Meyer

Would not a statutory minimum wage enormously increase unemployment among less qualified and poorer sections of the working population? If that is what the Opposition want why do they not stand up and say so?

Mr. Prior

It is certainly the case that the forecasts show that a statutory minimum wage of two-thirds the average wage could have the effect of increasing unemployment by up to 50,000.

Dr. David Clark

Does the Secretary of State realise that much of the low pay in this country is in the public service? If he does not intend to introduce legislation for a national minimum wage, will he keep an open mind on this matter? In order to avoid a situation similar to that of the winter before last will he set up a working party to examine this?

Mr. Prior

I do not wish to set up any more working parties. We would be better off making up our own minds about these matters. I do not agree that there are many low-paid workers in the public sector. In fact, the public sector has done extremely well in the last few years, perhaps too well.

Mr. Budgen

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that a national minimum wage would have the effect of pricing out of work the weakest sections of the community, particularly the unemployed young black people in my constituency?

Mr. Prior

My hon. Friend will be almost disappointed to hear that, very largely, I agree with what he says.

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