HC Deb 07 March 1988 vol 129 cc129-55 10.29 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Viggers)

I beg to move, That the draft Wages (Northern Ireland) Order 1988, which was laid before this House on 10th December, be approved. The Order, which was laid under the Northern Ireland Act 1974, sweeps away a mass of complex and outdated legislation and replaces it with modern provisions. If I may borrow a simile that the late Lord Diplock used in a different context, the present law is a maze, not a motorway. It emanates from the days when the terms "master" and "servant" were commonly used, and when horse and cart or hansom cab were the means of transport. Now that we are in the age of the motorway, it is surely time that our legislation was correspondingly modernised.

The order contains provisions analogous to those enacted in Great Britain by the Wages Act 1986, except that it does not deal with changes to redundancy rebates, where equivalent Northern Ireland legislation is already in place. The central purpose of the Wages Act and the order is to reduce burdens on business and to help to promote employment, especially for young people. The order will not only help employment prospects and encourage industrial efficiency, but will give all workers rights to ensure that they receive the wages due to them. It will also help to break down lingering barriers of status and conditions between manual and non-manual workers, and will contribute to a reduction in opportunities for crime.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

The Minister has just said that one of the prime aims of the order is to increase employment among young people. Does he recall the answer that he gave me two weeks ago, on 25 February, when I asked him what estimate he had made of the effect of the order on employment levels in the north? He told me that he was not aware of any studies which quantify the number of jobs which will arise from the specific reforms which are proposed".—[Official Report, 25 February 1988; Vol. 128, c. 321.] How can the Minister say tonight that there will be more jobs for young people if the under-21 rate is abolished, with the wages councils going, when two weeks ago in a written answer he said that he had no evidence for making that assertion?

Mr. Viggers

In Northern Ireland we took the view taken in Great Britain, which was that it would not be sensible or productive to carry out extensive studies of the promotion of job opportunities among younger people because of the abolition of the wages councils. Clearly, however, if young people under the age of 21 are restricted to a minimum requiring them to be paid the same as adults, removing that restriction and enabling them to be employed at lower rates can only improve their job prospects.

Northern Ireland has its own separate legislative and administrative framework for the regulation of wages, but in general we have followed closely the law of Great Britain. Currently, the legislation falls under two heads: the Truck Acts (Northern Ireland) 1831 to 1940, and the Wages Councils (Northern Ireland) Order 1982.

The main Truck Acts, those of 1831 and 1896, date back to the last century, but their antecedents are more ancient. The Truck Act 1831 was a general Act that repealed and replaced some 18 earlier Truck Acts dating back to 1465, relating to specific trades.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)

As so many Acts are being repealed by the order, and as it contains 27 articles and six schedules, can the Minister explain why not one sentence in it can be changed? Why was it riot presented in the form of a Bill, so that we could discuss and amend it, and obtain opinions before reaching this stage?

Mr. Viggers

The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the legislative procedures for Northern Ireland allow for orders to be placed before the House and debated For one and a half hours. The Government are scrupulous in ensuring that proper consultations take place before this stage is reached. The hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that if Bills were placed before the House to replicate every order placed before it, that would impose an intolerable burden on the House. These matters have been — and frequently are — discussed whenever orders relating to Northern Ireland are placed before the House. The hon. Gentleman knows the answer as well as I do.

It is amazing that we still have in place legislation designed to deal with abuses that were prevalent not just in 1831, but four centuries earlier. Those abuses no longer exist, but the Truck Acts are still a barrier to the use of modern non-cash methods of payment.

Of course, there is the security aspect. In large factories there is the needless expense of arranging for a security vehicle to bring cash to the site. In smaller establishments the money has to be collected from the bank by someone from the wages office at some personal risk. Workers on their way home with large pay packets also run a risk. Exceptions to the 1831 Act consist of certain benefits for which deductions can be made by the employer. However, the 1831 Act did not forbid deductions from wages by way of fines or misconduct and bad workmanship. With the aim, therefore, of bringing order into the operation of deductions, the Act of 1896 was passed.

It is surely right, and many would say long overdue, that the order which we are considering should repeal he old provisions in the Truck Acts relating to deductions and introduce modern controls. The Truck Acts apply only to manual workers, apart from section 1 of the 1896 Act, which also applies to shop assistants. In contrast, the new provisions relating to deductions would apply to all employees and give special protection to those in retail employment such as supermarket till operators, petrol station forecourt attendants and others of that kind.

The order will also bring reforms to the wages council system. The Wages Councils (Northern Ireland) Order 1982, which was a consolidation of previous wages council legislation, provided for minimum wages, holidays and holiday pay in certain industries to be fixed by wages councils and enforced by a wages inspectorate. Again, until the reforms introduced in Great Britain by the Wages Act 1986, there were no significant differences between wages councils legislation in Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

However, the wages council legislation was also introduced in, and designed for, another era. For its origins I have to refer the House back to before the first world war, indeed to the House of Lords Select Committee of 1888–90. It reported on the "sweating system" and enumerated three outstanding features of the so-called "sweated trades"—unduly low rates of wages, excessive hours of labour and the insanitary state of the workplace.

However, it was not until trade boards, subsequently termed wages councils, were established by the Trade Boards Act 1909 that statutory relief was provided. The boards were empowered to fix minimum rates of wages, in selected trades, which became enforceable when ratified by the Minister. Separate boards were established for Ireland, but, following the Government of Ireland Act 1920, the legislation applied to and was administered from Northern Ireland. Thus, while Northern Ireland has its own separate body of legislation, it has followed closely Great Britain law in this transferred area of legislation.

Against that common background, it is not altogether surprising that the present draft order reflects the same consideration which informed the Wages Act and consequently has similar provisions. As is customary, and as I told the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Helfer), we fully consulted interested parties in Northern Ireland.

Consultations in respect of truck legislation and its possible replacement by more modern provisions produced no local peculiarities warranting special consideration. The majority of those consulted welcomed the proposals, although the trade union movement expressed opposition to change. There was separate consultation on wages councils when the options of abolition or reform, in terms of a simplification of wages orders and the removal of young people from the scope of wages councils, were canvassed. The majority of respondents favoured retention, albeit with various suggestions for reform.

Having considered the views expressed, the Government are satisfied that parity in wages regulation should be preserved. Accordingly, part II of the draft order deals with the abrogation of the Truck Acts 1831 to 1940, and associated legislation, and its replacement by modern provisions for the protection of workers in relation to the payment of wages. Part III effects considerable reforms to the wages councils system and removes young people under 21 from the scope of their operation.

Part II will replace Truck Acts legislation, which requires manual workers to be paid in cash, with new provisions applying to all employees. It is the Government's belief that with a very limited exception the Truck Acts are archaic and obsolete. The exception is the control of deductions by employers from employees' wages. As I have mentioned, those Acts, which date back to 1831, were passed to protect manual workers from abuses which no longer exist and are unlikely to reappear. The legislation is not only outdated but a positive obstacle to desirable change towards cashless pay and runs counter to the well-established principle that terms and conditions of employment, including the mode of payment of wages, are essentially matters to be determined contractually rather than by legislation.

Cashless methods of paying wages, such as automated credit transfer and cheques, bring important benefits to employers, employees and the community as a whole. Employers gain directly from reduced costs and hence improved competitiveness, which in turn improves job prospects. Employees benefit through the reduced risk of theft or loss of the cash in pay packets, while the community benefits by a reduction in the scope for robbery and theft, which can often involve arms and other forms of violence.

In Northern Ireland this is an important dimension, given the risk of armed robbery by paramilitary organisations. A move towards greater use of wage systems based on non-cash payments would make an important contribution to reducing this risk. It is important, however, to emphasise here that this part of the order does not take away any existing contractual right to payment in cash; nor does it force an employer to change to non-cash payment systems if he does not wish to do so.

The Truck Acts also include statutory control of deductions from wages. The Government have concluded that this aspect should be brought up to date. The new system set out in the order contains three basic elements: first, deductions are unlawful unless provided for by statute, by the employment contract or by written agreement of the worker; secondly, there are special controls on deductions related to cash shortages and stock deficiencies; and, thirdly, a worker can appeal to an industrial tribunal if he or she thinks that an unlawful deduction has been made.

Consultations on the proposals revealed little evidence in Northern Ireland that deductions from wages are a cause of general difficulty. However, the order introduces a special provision to meet a particular problem—that is, where deductions are related to cash shortages and stock deficiencies experienced by certain workers in retail employment, such as petrol station forecourt attendants, where deductions must not exceed 10 per cent. of their wages.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

What protection exists for a worker who is safeguarded against unauthorised deductions only by his employment contract? An employee usually does not receive an employment contract until several weeks after he starts work. The employer may make deductions —statutory deductions being one of the three alternatives mentioned by the Minister—but they are not authorised in the contract. The worker may find out about that only when he gets the contract two or three months later. What can he do about it?

Mr. Viggers

I think it would be dangerous for a Minister standing at the Dispatch Box to speculate on the exact legal circumstances that apply in an individual case. I suspect that if the worker had reason to know the terms on which his contract would be awarded, if it were the same for other workers in exactly the same circumstances, the conditions applying generally in that firm would apply. However, the hon. Gentleman raises a specific point and I shall seek to get him a specific answer during the debate.

Part III effects reforms to the wages council system. Northern Ireland has less distance to go to limit the bureaucratic impact of wages councils than had Great Britain prior to the enactment of the Wages Act 1986. The number of wages councils in Northern Ireland is more restricted, with only nine wages councils, compared to 26 in Great Britain. Their coverage extends to only 7 per cent. of the labour force, compared to the 11 per cent. then applying in Great Britain. The reforms which will be effected by part III are aimed at simplifying the requirements that wages councils impose on industry and are consistent with the Government's policy of deregulation which we think will be of benefit to the industry as a whole and to jobs.

Part III will exclude young people under 21 from the scope of the wages councils; here I come to the point raised by the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist).

Mr. James Kilfedder (North Down)

What industrialised countries in the Western world have removed the legal minimum wages for persons under 21?

Mr. Viggers

Again, 1 would rather give the hon. Gentleman a detailed reply, which I shall certainly do.

Mr. Nellist


Mr. Kilfedder


Mr. Viggers

I give way to the hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder).

Mr. Kilfedder

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way again. I and my colleagues are in an extremely difficult position. We have a very limited amount of time in which to debate the order and expect the Minister to give answers. He must have arrived at his decision on the basis of arguments before he produced the order. If he does not know the answer to that important question, I ask him to take the order away and let us debate it on another occasion.

Mr. Nellist


Mr. Viggers

The hon. Gentleman knows that there were wide consultations before this order and before the Bill which became the Wages Act were placed before the House of Commons.

Mr. Nellist


Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent)


Mr. Viggers

I give way to the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Foot

The answers that the Minister has given illustrate that this is a hopeless way in which to put through an order of this kind. This is an elaborate piece of legislation and it is unfair of the Minister to say that he had consultations with particular bodies and that that is a substitute for a proper examination of a major piece of legislation.

Surely the fact that the hon. Gentleman, perhaps through no fault of his own, is incapable of answering any questions means that the only way to deal with the order is for him to take it away and for the Government to consider how they should properly bring major legislation on Northern Ireland before the House, so that all Members of the House can debate and discuss the way in which it will operate in Northern Ireland and how it will affect this country.

Mr. Viggers

The right hon. Gentleman is known to all hon. Members as a great parliamentarian, a man to whom one is delighted to listen, but the tune that he sings when sitting on the Government Benches is different from the tune he sings when sitting on the Opposition Benches. After all, the right hon. Gentleman is the great parliamentarian who although when in opposition opposes guillotine measures, came to the House of Commons and put five guillotine motions before the House in one day—

Mr. Nellist


Mr. Foot


Mr. Viggers

If I may complete my point, I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that he and other right hon. and hon. Members know that for many years the way in which Northern Ireland business has been carried through the House has been by way of order. One takes care to consult in advance of the order, and the manner in which the orders are carried through is well known to the right hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members.

Mr. Nellist


Mr. Foot


Mr. Viggers

I give way to the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Foot

I thank the Minister for giving way again, I should like to illustrate the point that I put to him. I am fully aware of the way in which Northern Ireland legislation and business is dealt with, but I also know that hon. Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies complain about it all the time, saying that it should be dealt with in a different way.

I defy the hon. Gentleman to produce any measure of such an elaborate character as this being put through as one order, because it is a major piece of legislation, affecting a whole range of people in Northern Ireland. It is an order to which it is necessary to table amendments. The hon. Gentleman cannot produce any precedent for trying to push through a measure of this elaborate nature that will affect so many people in Northern Ireland. If he could produce such a precedent, he might have an excuse, but he cannot do so.

Mr. Viggers

As to the enormous number of individuals who are affected, I am totally unrepentant about the Truck Acts, because I believe that we are sweeping away archaic legislation that well deserved to be put into the knackers' yard of parliamentary archives.

With regard to the wages councils—we were talking specifically about the wages councils when the right hon. Gentleman intervened—we are talking about 7 per cent. of workers in Northern Ireland, comprising about 37,000 workers, and one fifth of those would be a comparatively small number. I do not believe that this is sweeping legislation that would justify a Bill.

Mr. Nellist


Mr. Viggers

With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I have given way to him already, and to all other hon. Members who have sought to intervene, and it might be more appropriate if the hon. Gentleman seeks to make his point later in the debate.

Mr. Nellist

Of 94 countries, none, except the United Kingdom, have withdrawn from ILO convention 26.

Mr. Viggers

The hon. Gentleman chooses to ignore parliamentary convention and make his contribution from a sedentary position.

Mr. Nellist

I have tried to make it from a standing position, but the hon. Gentleman will not give way.

Mr. Viggers

I am advised that a number of countries are contemplating such a measure, and that would, indeed, be consistent with the way in which legislation and proposals for privatisation in the United Kingdom have been taken as a model throughout the world as the way in which to develop industry.

Part III will exclude young people under the age of 21 from the scope of wages councils. The high minimum rates set by councils for young people in relation to often more experienced adult workers prejudice their employment prospects. This reform will assist young people in getting their first foothold in employment. This is important, in that it will enable employers to offer employment at rates that they can afford. Employers should not be expected to offer employment at wages unrelated to the economic value that the young worker can contribute to the business.

This part of the order also reforms and simplifies the wages council system, requires wages councils to take into account the employment consequences of decisions they take, and streamlines the procedures for abolishing a council or for varying its scope. This will provide a more flexible system capable of adapting more readily to changes in the industries affected, as the need arises.

The reforms introduced by this order are a further step in this Government's well-established policy of deregulation and the stimulation of enterprise and employment. It is our intention to help young people find their first employment, thus enabling them to gain the experience and skills required to become productive and valued members of the workplace. This order will help to realise this objective. It will also reduce rigidities and red tape in the labour market and thus help to promote employment for people of all ages. It provides new protections against deductions from pay where there is known abuse, to ensure that workers receive what is rightly due to them without a large proportion of their pay packets disappearing in deductions.

The order affords an excellent vehicle for employers to agree with their workers a system of wage payments that suits everyone. This is good legislation for employment, especially for young people seeking work. It is particularly good for small businesses, which are so vital to the Northern Ireland economy.

10.51 pm
Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)

The proposals in the order are not new. They have been the subject of some, and in our view inadequate, consultation by the Government and they follow similar legislation dealt with in the House in relation to this island. They are not new in what they reveal about the Government and their philosophy: to screw out of the desperately poor greater wealth for the already rich.

We opposed the Wages Act 1986 in the strongest terms. Having seen the Act in operation, we feel justified in that opposition and we can only oppose, equally strongly, the proposed legislation before us tonight.

The draft order has two main objectives: the repeal of the Northern Ireland Truck Acts, which have governed the payment of wages since 1831, and the restriction of the operation of wages councils in Northern Ireland. The measures expose—again not for the first time—the hypocrisy that has characterised Conservative rule since 1979. The Government claim to support the family and call for a return to Victorian values. The legislation will force young people in Northern Ireland back into sweated labour, poverty wages and unsafe and unhealthy working conditions.

The Opposition refuse to recognise the dream world of the Victorian era as set out by the Government. However, we recognise that one of the great achievements of the Victorians was to begin to control the unbridled capitalism of their time—a capitalism that regarded workers as commodities, as beasts of burden, out of which life, energy and health were squeezed before being tossed aside on to the industrial scrap heap.

Tonight the Government seek to take another piece out of the framework of our laws, so carefully constructed by the Victorians to protect working people and, in the end, capitalists too, from the results of unbridled exploitation. This Government of Victorian values want to take one more step towards toppling one of the most valuable of all the edifices that we inherited from our Victorian forebears.

The Government would have us believe that they care about equality of opportunity and are opposed to the unequal treatment of and discrimination against women. However, after young working people, it is working women who will suffer most if the draft order becomes law. Some 62 per cent. of workers currently protected by wages councils in Northern Ireland are women. Women in Northern Ireland are already more likely to be found in the lowest paid, least organised and most stressful sectors of employment. Quite how reducing incomes, increasing stress and worsening conditions for women workers in Northern Ireland will help the family is beyond us.

The restriction of wages councils is the most controversial part of the draft order, but the abolition of the Truck Acts will contribute to the further impoverishment and reduced protection from ruthless employers of the most vulnerable workers in Northern Ireland. Under the guise of removing supposedly unnecessary restrictions on capital and building a free market, the Government are shifting the expense and dangers associated with pay day on to workers instead of employers. Workers will now pay bank charges instead of employers paying them, and none of this has been done as a result of any great outcry by employers. My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) will deal with those matters in more detail later, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if he catches your eye. Our general proposition is that we deplore what is happening.

The Government have used the weapon of deflation to squeeze unprecedented numbers of people out of jobs. Now, under the guise of recreating some of the jobs that they destroyed, they propose to use unemployment to force down the already inadequate incomes of those at the bottom of the incomes league. That is the purpose of part III of the draft order.

Before I deal with that, I wish to make some general points about the way in which the Government have introduced this legislation. They have done no more than go through the forms of consultation. It is wrong for the Minister to say that they have consulted in any meaningful way in Northern Ireland. Consultation on the two substantive parts of the order was carried out separately, and the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions was highly critical, in both cases, of the half-hearted way in which the Department of Economic Development carried out the process.

I shall quote what the Northern Ireland committee had to say about the so-called consultation on the wages system: The Department of Economic Development have circulated for comment a copy of the consultative paper on Wages Councils prepared by the Department of Employment in Britain, together with a brief covering note. The latter note fails to provide the relevant detailed information in respect of Northern Ireland which is available in the Department of Employment document as regards the situation in Britain. A few examples will serve to illustrate the point. The Northern Ireland document does not give a breakdown between full-time and part-time employees, whereas the Department of Employment document indicates that two-thirds of the Wages Councils' labour force are part-time workers compared with one fifth of the economy generally. The appendix to the GB document lists the number of establishments and the number of workers covered by each of the Wages Councils, whereas this information is not given for Northern Ireland. The arrangements for monitoring and enforcement are spelt out for Britain, whereas the DED's paper merely summarises this information in a mere couple of sentences. Even where the information is provided, which shows that there arc significant differences between the situation in Northern Ireland and that in Britain, no comment is made nor any explanation offered. So much for consultation.

The committee went on: In Britain, the Trades Union Congress are critical of the Department of Employment's paper. It is their view, and that of the Northern Ireland Committee, that the Department's main intention is to go through the motions of consultation so that it will then be procedurally in order to denounce ILO Convention No. 26. That was the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist). The fact the DED have not made any serious attempt in their paper to analyse the situation in Northern Ireland strongly reinforces the view of the consultative paper. So much for consultation by the Minister and his Department.

Some months ago, I questioned the commitment of the Department of Economic Development in Northern Ireland to religious equality of opportunity. I was roundly told off by the Secretary of State and the Minister concerned, who stood by their civil servants, as they should. I said that I looked forward to be proven wrong. I still do so. But, as that quotation shows, I am not alone in having queried the bona fides of the Department of Economic Development.

It is time that Ministers responsible for the Department began working to persuade people that when they ask for views on legislative plans they genuinely want them and will genuinely take them into account instead of going through a charade. The solution to Northern Ireland's problems requires greater confidence in Government, not greater cynicism about it. The latter is what has happened in the trade union movement in Northern Ireland in relation to the Government and these proposals.

I shall now discuss some of the specific measures contained in part III of the draft order. Article 13, after repealing the Wages Council (Northern Ireland) Order 1982, provides that henceforth the functions of wages councils shall not be exercised in relation to workers under 21 years of age. The consultative paper termed this pricing young people into jobs. The paper admitted that even among employers a substantial number believed that deregulation could be harmful. How right they were. For small employers especially, wages councils have provided forums for wage negotiations, hut, above all, they have provided protection against competitors seeking to undercut them by paying even lower wages.

It is clear that the wage levels that the Government seek to reduce to price young people into jobs are already at poverty level. In 1984, in the sectors covered by the nine wages councils in Northern Ireland, the minima set ranged from £62 a week for laundry workers to £85.81 a week for road haulage workers. Those are hardly princely sums.

Both the Northern Ireland committee of ICTU, and the Irish region of my union, the Amalgamated Transport and General Workers Union, challenged the Government's argument that lower wages would lead to more jobs in their response to the consultation document. As the submission of the Amalgamated Transport and General Workers Union observed, male and female manual rates in Northern Ireland were respectively 7 per cent. and 3 per cent. below prevailing rates in the next worse region on the mainland of the United Kingdom. Unemployment was the highest of any region in the United Kingdom. If there were any validity in the contention that lower wages automatically lead to more jobs, as the Northern Ireland committee of the ICTU said, Northern Ireland should have the lowest level of unemployment, not the highest.

For unemployment to increase in the non-export sectors covered by wages councils, there would have to be an increase in domestic demand. Would shoes need replacing sooner because there was a marginal decrease in the cost of cobbling? The likelihood is that there would be a slightly lower increase.

In 1985 the Financial Times reported that Department of Employment research showed that where wages councils had already been abolished there was no evidence of any increase in the total number of jobs in industry. At the same time, there was significant evidence of an extension of low pay. The studies of the independent Low Pay Unit as long ago as 1983 convincingly refuted the correction between low pay and an increase in unemployment. A more specific study cited in my union's response found that the relative earnings of young people had little to do with variations in young unemployment.

Between 1979 and 1984, when wages for the under-18s decreased from 39.7 per cent. to 34.9 per cent. of adult wages for men, and from 56 per cent. to 48.3 per cent. for women, we saw the most dramatic rise ever in youth unemployment in Northern Ireland. According to the Government's arguments, we should have seen increases in employment, not in unemployment.

Article 14 of the draft order gives the Department of Economic Development the power to abolish or vary the scope of wages councils. Article 24 provides for this to be done by negative resolution, except where a wages council is abolished and none of the workers previously within its scope is transferred to another council, in which case an affirmative resolution is required in both Houses. We do not think that this is adequate. We regard as highly contentious the present proposal to remove workers under 21 years of age from the provisions of the legislation, and would regard as equally contentious any further restrictions on wages councils.

Only where a wages council is abolished altogether are the Government prepared to have the affirmative order procedure. Wages councils in Northern Ireland cover nine sectors and 31,000 workers—7 per cent. of the work force — compared with 26 sectors and 2.75 million workers in Britain. Trade unions in Northern Ireland have been calling for the extension rather than the curtailment of the wages council system to cover further low-wage sectors. They want to see more councils, as do many employers, such as hairdressers.

It is interesting that the most recent edition of Industrial Relations Review and Report states that where wages councils have been abolished in the United Kingdom, the unions and employers have come together to replace them. They recognise the necessity of them.

Among the Government's original proposals for Northern Ireland was one for the complete abolition of wages councils. We are pleased that, in the face of strong opposition, it was not pursued directly. However, we believe that there will be creeping abolition.

We are suspicious of the powers contained in articles 14 and 24 for the further curtailment of wages councils. Article 14 provides for abolition and the restriction or variation of the scope of existing councils. It does not confer powers for the extension of the wages council system as called for by the trade unions. We are suspicious that, having concluded that it would be too contentious merely to sweep away the councils in one piece of legislation, the Government intend a process of creeping abolition through a series of negative orders which they hope will either not be noticed or not be sufficiently broad in scope to attract great opposition.

I have drawn the attention of right hon. and hon. Members to the likely effect of this draft order on workers generally, and on young workers in particular. But there are other groups on whom it would have a disproportionate impact. Women constitute 62 per cent. of the 31,000 workers covered by wages orders in Northern Ireland and are already. as I have said, over-represented in the worst jobs. In some industries covered by wages councils, almost all employees are female; 93.6 per cent. of shirt makers, for instance, are women.

What is the point of having equal opportunities legislation if what the Government give with one hand they take away with the other? The proposed Sex Discrimination (Northern Ireland) Order 1988 would seriously undermine the position of many women workers, removing a range of statutory protections. If, in addition to that, the Government weaken the wages councils, that will constitute a double blow to the position of the most vulnerable women in the worst-paid jobs.

In the light of the likely impact of the draft order on women, the Equal Opportunities Commission (Northern Ireland) has made known its views on what would be most in the interests of women in Northern Ireland. They are remarkably close to those of the trade unions. It calls for the extension of the numbers and scope of wages councils, rather than their restriction, to protect women. It rejects the exclusion of the under-21s, particularly to protect women. It calls for increased protection for the largely non-unionised home workers and for most part-time workers—again, mostly women. It expresses a particular concern about article 15(6)(a) and (b), which it fears could he interpreted in such a way that women employees end up being paid less than men. That would, of course, be in conflict with the Equal Pay Act 1970.

Exclusion of under-21s from the wages set by wages orders, in so far as that had any impact on youth unemployment, would do so at the cost of increased adult unemployment. The Department of Employment calculated that in Britain eight out of 10 new jobs created for young people were at the expense of older workers.

Finally, the Government have argued that wages councils are unnecessary because there is extensive legislation to protect the rights of individual employees. That is incorrect and misleading. Eighty per cent. of employers covered by wages orders in Northern Ireland run small enterprises to which such employment protection legislation does not apply. Four thousand establishments, for instance, have fewer than 10 employees, the cut-off point proposed for the Government's new measures on religious equality of opportunity in employment.

Both NIC-ICTU and the ATGWU have accused the Government of seeking to denounce ILO convention 26, and have pointed out that by doing so they are moving against the trend in Europe and the world. It was interesting that, when challenged, the Minister could not mention one Government proposing to follow the same route as ours. The vast majority of Western Governments are among the 95 which had ratified the convention by 1985. Eight member states of the European Community had done so. The Government cannot argue that they need to renege on the convention because their competitors have done so. There is no excuse for their attempts to remove protections which have been enjoyed by workers for generations.

Instead of this punitive order, designed to penalise young people, women and, in the end, all of the most vulnerable workers in Northern Ireland, the Government should heed the calls for the extension of the wages council system in Northern Ireland and for the establishment of minimum wage legislation. As NIC-ICTU has argued, existing councils should be retained to protect those low-paid workers, including the under-21s, who are currently covered. New councils should be created to cover those low-wage sectors that are currently excluded in Northern Ireland. The powers and scope should be increased to bring them in line with best practices outside Northern Ireland. The available resources and staffing for the wages inspectorate should be increased. There should be vigorous enforcement of the law, and stiffer penalties for employers who break it.

On Second Reading of the 1986 Wages Bill, my hon. Friend, and neighbour, the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), on behalf of her Majesty's Opposition, said: We will oppose this Bill without hesitation. It is a piece of Tory legislation which talks about the rhetoric of rights and the increase of jobs. It is concerned with reducing those rights and reducing employment opportunities … The Bill will reduce the rights of employees and tilt the balance in favour of the employer."—[Official Report, 11 February 1986; Vol. 91, c. 807.] The operation of the Wages Act 1986, as we have seen it, has upheld the assessment made by my hon. Friend two years ago. It is argued that the order will produce a moonlighting, risk-taking, health-damaging and poverty-enhancing economy. Those who suffer will be the most poorly paid and the most vulnerable in Northern Ireland society. The profit margins of the very small employer will be further reduced and overall demand curtailed.

The Draft Wages (Northern Ireland) Order 1988 will lead to worse conditions for all workers in Northern Ireland. It will damage particularly the interests of young people and of women. It will lead to lower wages and will not create a significant number of new jobs. It will penalise people in Northern Ireland simply to gratify the appetite of the Government for further deregulation. It is an iniquitous piece of legislation to which we are utterly opposed. That is why we have applied a three-line Whip.

11.10 pm
Mr. Harold McCusker (Upper Bann)

There is now much less than an hour for hon. Members to comment on the order. That is itself is a serious commentary on the way in which Northern Ireland is governed. This is a lengthy and complex order. The two Front-Bench spokesmen will sum up and other hon. Members will have 30 or 40 minutes to comment on the order. Therefore, I shall not take too long.

My time for participating in this charade is over. In a few days it will be 16 years since this House accepted the responsibility for governing Northern Ireland. Under the Northern Ireland Act 1974 the House consolidated this procedure for governing Northern Ireland. For many of the years since then, my colleagues and I have done our best to improve the system. We have discussed orders such as this for two and half hours in Committee and then discussed them in the House for an hour and a half. We have convinced the Government to produce a step before the draft order—proposals for a draft order. We have discussed the proposals and then discussed the order for an hour and a half on the Floor of the House.

In all that time, we seldom changed one dot or comma in the orders, let alone any of the intentions. All we did was pull the wool over the eyes of the people and somehow convince them that was a democratic way to deal with their affairs in the House. Therefore, we are guilty of perpetuating this fraud on our supporters. It would not be so bad if the Minister or his colleagues had sought a mandate from the people of Northern Ireland for governing in this fashion or for introducing legislation such as this. However, I cannot make too much of that, because an Englishman is now governing Wales. At least his party sought a mandate there to govern the Welsh people in the way that the Government are doing. The Conservatives did not seek a mandate in Northern Ireland for what they are doing.

Let no one accuse me of being an integrationist or someone who wants to cast his lot totally with this House. I have learnt enough in the past 14 years to know that the only place that I or the people that I represent will get a fair deal is in a Parliament of our own in Northern Ireland. I am in favour of having a Parliament back in Northern Ireland, but until that day comes I am in favour of a democratic process for dealing with Northern Ireland affairs.

So successful have we been in working this system that when the Minister is challenged on the essentially undemocratic nature of the order and the procedure in Council, he says that that is the way that it has always been done—as if the way in which it has always been done somehow or other justifies it. Of course, he might have used the other excuse, that we must maintain the integrity of the Northern Ireland statute book. It contains statutes from before 1920, statutes that were passed in the Northern Ireland Parliament between 1920 and 1972 and statutes passed in this Parliament between 1920 and 1972. It contains orders, Orders in Council and Acts passed in the House since 1972.

I notice that the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) is not totally opposed to Bills for dealing with Northern Ireland business, because when we dealt with the new fair employment legislation, I think that the hon. Gentleman went on record as demanding a Bill to deal with that very important legislation. If he were consistent, he would demand Bills to deal with all the legislation of this type.

As I have said, my days of perpetuating this fraud are finished. When the Minister began, he said that the order swept away legislation that came from an age when "master" and "servant" were terms in daily use. There is a part of this kingdom where those terms are still in daily use. The Minister and his Front Bench colleagues are the "masters" and my colleagues and I and the people whom we represent are still the "servants". The Minister was most offensive when he chastised the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist). He accused the hon. Gentleman of abusing parliamentary convention. How in the name of heaven could anyone defend the order as being parliamentary convention?

We are here to con and fool the people of Northern Ireland. The Minister's press statement has already been issued to the Northern Ireland media. There will be telling reports in the press tomorrow morning and afternoon about what happened in the Chamber. The Minister's actions will be publicised as if they are right. That is no longer right for me; it is no longer right for my colleagues, and I hope that it is no longer right for the people of Northern Ireland.

11.15 pm
Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)

I offer the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. McCusker) the opportunity of not having to endure the kind of humiliation to which he referred. He rightly gave vent to his anger. I want to offer him the opportunity to shake the dust of this place off his feet and ours. After the events of the past month and of today, I find it difficult to restrain my frustration and anger. I look forward to the day when the traditional enemies, those hon. Members who occupy the Official Unionist Bench in the House, and myself will be able to show the confidence and courage to walk out of this place and build a new future for ourselves.

I agree with the hon. Member for Upper Bann that there is no future for the North of Ireland on the Floor of the House of Commons. We will remain optional extras, no matter which party is in government, and whatever the political complexion of the House. Listening to the hon. Member for Upper Bann, I felt for the first time the stirrings within Unionism for the kind of wish that is deeply held by my constituents and the people my party represents — to take ourselves with dignity from this place and rule and organise our lives in such a way that we can make our own mistakes and go through the teething pains. At least Unionists and Nationalists would not have to live with the humiliating circumstances that the British connection gives us on a constant, almost daily, basis.

It is impossible to discuss this order unless it is placed in the Northern Ireland context. We have the highest level of unemployment in Great Britain, if not within Europe. We certainly have the lowest wages in Great Britain. Without a doubt we have the highest cost of living; we pay more for food, coal and electricity, and we have no gas left. We have the highest social security dependence of arty region in Great Britain and, significantly in terms of the order, we have the highest number of young people in Europe. We must consider the enormity of this terrible piece of legislation.

This is part of a twin-track approach. The order should be considered only in conjunction with the Social Security Bill. The twin-track approach involves a terribly flawed premise—that if we can force people into work by reducing social security benefits and then reduce wages to such an extent that more jobs are created, somehow or other the employment position will be improved.

That is brutal nonsense. As the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) pointed out, we have disproved that theory. We have had low social security payments and the lowest spending power imaginable and we have the lowest wages. Has that done anything to ease unemployment? Of course not. Once created by artificial means, such as this, unemployment will simply snowball, and the order will not have the desired effect.

I shall not call this a policy, because it is not a policy. It is not even a strategy. It is a cynical and brutal attempt to recycle poverty—to take people out of one poverty trap and put them into another. It will take away the lowest social security benefit and give people instead the lowest form of employment with the lowest wages.

The order is an attempt at job creation by social oppression. As I said, the Northern Ireland experience has proved conclusively that such tactics do not work. We have experienced low benefits, low spending power and low wages, and we still have the highest unemployment in Great Britain.

The effects of the order will be felt deeply. As has been clearly pointed out, it will affect mainly young people and married women, who are often the only breadwinners in their families — I should amend that to crust-winners, which is what they will be if the order is passed. Those are the people that the order will hurt — the most vulnerable, those least able to help themselves. Look at the scandal of the wages that are already being paid to young people in the catering industry and in the retail industry. The situation has already been abused. Look at the way in which young people in part-time and full-time employment are treated. Look at how vulnerable the married woman—the part-time worker—becomes when legislation such as this prevents any protection of her wage structure.

Can the House imagine what will happen in areas where the area boards are being told by the Government to cut social services and education? Where will the boards start? It will not be with higher, middle or lower management but with part-time school cleaners and the ladies working in the school kitchens. That is where the Government's policy will hurt. The order represents a flawed tactic based on a flawed philosophy.

Inherent in the order, too, is a cruel paradox. There is a complete contradiction in the Government's approach. Incentive after incentive—in taxes and in grants — is provided for wealth creation, but no such incentives are to be provided for poorly paid workers. By contrast they are offered low benefits, low wages and a low quality of life.

Surely the Government will eventually understand that their position is contradictory and realise that, especially in the Northern Irish context, the order cannot be considered an experiment; it is something for which the people of Northern Ireland will pay dearly. We have already watched the cruel paradox working in Great Britain. During the last Session of Parliament we had a debate on the divided nation. I remarked then that it was not a divided but an ill-divided nation. That is just as appropriate to this legislation, which will affect a Northern Ireland already affected by depression.

What will this legislation do to young people and women in part-time jobs? It will force them into the new poverty trap of the lace-curtain poor, even though they may be in employment. It may artificially create a few more jobs, which I doubt. Once they get into that trap, they will not benefit from social security or from the wages they are paid, because the legislation opens the door to a low-wage structure.

The legislation is an attempt to divide the spoils. Instead of one poor person, there will be two poor people. In my constituency, £21 million was allocated under the social fund for an area where, in 1986, £38 million was required even to get by. In Newry, in 1988–89, we shall have 58 per cent. of what was required in 1986. In Armagh, we shall have 54 per cent. Strabane, with the highest unemployment in the whole of Europe, will have 38 per cent. of what was required to keep bread on the table in 1986.

This tactic, when allied to the new social security arrangements, is a blueprint for emigration, because young people will not stay under these circumstances. It is a blueprint for exploitation, because young people and the vulnerable will be exploited. It is a blueprint for the cynical recycling of poverty, for the creation of poorly paid jobs by social and economic depression at a time, during the latter part of this century, when one would have hoped that there was some hope and visionary thinking, rather than going back to the practices of the past. I regret this legislation. The Government, and those who support them, will come to regret it too.

11.27 pm
Mr. James Kilfedder (North Down)

I do not intend to take very long, because I know that the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist), who has a special grasp of this subject, wishes to speak, and I am anxious that he should have a say.

The Minister said that there had been consultation in this matter, but it has been limited consultation, as was pointed out by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara). I do not accept the Minister's suggestion that that limited consultation was in any way an alternative to full and close examination of the order by Parliament.

We live in a parliamentary democracy, but what democracy is being offered to the people of Northern Ireland? This is complex legislation, and it would probably take an hour and a half to read it. Yet we are limited to one and a half hour's debate. The right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) has been described by the Minister, and is accepted by everyone, as a distinguished parliamentarian. As he said, Parliament cannot amend the order. That is an affront to democracy. It is no use the Minister saying that this is the way that we have been doing these things for years. On that basis, the Truck Acts would be maintained. We do not accept the present system. We want a full and proper parliamentary system for all legislation that affects Northern Ireland.

When I intervened during the Minister's speech, I asked him to take away the order to enable us to have a further debate and close and proper examination of the legislation. I repeat that request to him. This order is being introduced against the background in Northern Ireland of ever-increasing unemployment among school leavers and other young persons. That creates great frustration among the young. Wherever there is frustration there is always the danger that young people will go astray in one way or another.

If the Minister is right, the order may create more jobs, but at what cost to the young persons involved? It may provide more part-time jobs, or jobs at wage levels that create great difficulties for young employees. When the Minister replies to the debate, I should like him to tell the House how rates of pay for young people in Northern Ireland compare with those of young people in other countries in the Western world.

This order will have an adverse effect on many women workers who may be further exploited by their employers. I am worried about the effect that the order will have on those who work in the catering industry and in the licensed and hotel trades. It may put greater pressure on workers, with lower rates of pay and worse conditions for young workers. That would run counter to the need to improve living and working standards in Northern Ireland and throughout the United Kingdom as a whole.

The order will limit the activities of those wages councils that survive to the setting of a single minimum hourly rate in respect of basic hours and a single overtime rate. That simplistic approach is extraordinary at a time of complexity in wage negotiations.

I fear that the order, which the House has had no opportunity to digest, will drive down wages for women and young people. The wages of school leavers have dropped in real terms over the past few years while youth unemployment in the Province has increased. The order will result in more young people being forced to leave Northern Ireland to seek work and a life elsewhere, perhaps in the United Kingdom or abroad. The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) said that Unionists should shun London, but more than half the young unemployed from the Irish Republic, where conditions are terrible, have sought sanctuary in London.

I fear that the order will have an adverse effect on the living standards of the poorest workers in Northern Ireland. I cannot support it, and I intend to vote against it.

11.33 pm
Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

Other hon. Members have mentioned that for the Government to allocate one and half hours to this order, which will have such a great impact on young workers in Northern Ireland, shows their contempt for democratic values and democratic discussion.

I was a member of the Standing Committee that considered the Wages Bill in 1986. That Bill covered England, Scotland and Wales. We could not discuss Northern Ireland because the Bill did not extend to Northern Ireland. For the last three months I have been a member of the Standing Committee discussing the Social Security Bill, which does not extend to Northern Ireland. Clause 17 precludes any discussion of Northern Ireland. However, in the weeks and months ahead, the Minister will no doubt bring before the House orders under what will become the the Social Security Act that can be discussed for only one and a half hours, in just the same way as he has moved this order.

I have no time to deal with parts I, II or IV, except to say that the Minister has been extremely glib in passing off the impact of the abolition of the Truck Acts and the deduction from workers' wages. Nor have I time to deal with the effect of part III on adult workers, although it extends beyond the single hourly rate that will be left after the order is passed and abolishes all rights to minimum holidays, shift pay, weekend pay, premium rates and so on. Time allows me to comment only on how it will affect young workers.

The principle of the legislation has nothing to do with the Minister's arguments about increasing jobs, helping young people into work and the rest of the claptrap that he came out with half an hour ago. It is about cutting the wages of 6,000 young people so that the benchmark drops in Northern Ireland and forces down the wages of other young workers in sectors not now covered by wages council orders.

I asked the Minister in an intervention for the evidence that new jobs would come. He had no answer. There are two possibilities: either he does not know, or he does not care. A third possibility is a combination of the first two. When I asked him a parliamentary question two weeks ago, he admitted that there was no evidence, and that, of course, is the case.

We have heard a good deal about the matter in the past three years. The present Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, when he was Secretary of State for Employment in 1985, spoke of 50,000 to 100,000 jobs being created in Britain and Ireland by measures such as this. Three years before that, in 1982, he said — it was quoted in the Lords — that the abolition of wages council rates for young people would only result in a very marginal increase in jobs … largely at the expense of full-time adult jobs."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 6 June 1986; Vol. 475, c. 1212.] That is where the change will come. It will not be in the increase in net new jobs for young people. Even the Department of Employment's own research paper No. 42, by Mr. Wells, admitted that, according to the Department's research, eight out of every 10 jobs that stand a chance of being affected by the legislation will be substitutions — older workers losing their jobs, and younger people coming in because they are cheaper labour.

Even if 300 new jobs are created in Northern Ireland and even if every statistic produced by the Treasury and the Department of Employment comes true—there is no evidence that that has happened in Britain so far—it will be at the expense of workers. Workers of 55 and older will be told, "The age spectrum for unemployment is being shifted. To buy a bit of social peace among the youth, we are chucking out some of the older workers." That will be the effect of the order, if it has any effect on the number of jobs in Northern Ireland.

According to the Minister, youth wages in the wages councils sector are too high—£55 for a 16-year-old, and £62 for a 17-year-old. If the order goes through, there will still be a legal minimum wage in Northern Ireland— £28.50, under the youth training programme. By freezing that allowance and not properly increasing it in nine years, the Government have prevented it reaching the level that it would have reached if the Labour Government's introductory rate of 1978 had kept pace with earnings or inflation. It should be over £50 today. The Government are robbing youngsters in Northern Ireland of £21.50 a week. Of course, this is the same Government who intend to cut the top rate of tax for the top 5 per cent., probably from 60 to 40 per cent.

I shall make a prediction. In a week's time the Minister will see a response from the youth of Northern Ireland, as in the streets of this country, against these plans and the cuts in supplementary benefit to all 16 to 17-year-olds in Britain. My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) mentioned a recruiting ground for sectarianism and paramilitaries in the North. This will emerge from the twin tracks of repression and the poverty that is exacerbated by the present Government.

What will also be seen in the weeks ahead, particularly around Monday 14 March, is a recognition by young people in this country and Northern Ireland that what really divides working people in a capitalist society under a Tory Government is not so much race or religion, as poverty and wealth. A Government who have created 17,000 new millionaires since 1979 are telling youngsters on £50 and £60 a week that they are pricing themselves out of work.

We should expect that from a Minister who is Commodore of the House of Commons yacht club. He knows a lot about living on fifty quid a week. This is a man who cannot live on one job: he has had about 12 in the past five years. He is an underwriter at Lloyd's. People need £60 a week for the fees to get into Lloyd's, and £100,000 liquid assests in the bank before they can be let through the door. Obviously, the Minister is an expert on what it is like on £50 or £60 a week as a youngster, or £80 or £90 a week as an adult worker.

The DHSS admits that the single most common cause of poverty among non-pensioner households in this country is low pay. That is doubly true in Northern Ireland. The order exacerbates those conditions of poverty. To answer the Minister, no country but Britain pulled out of International Labour Organisation convention 26, which was signed by 95 countries. That is how extreme the Tory Government are. They talk about extremism in Northern Ireland, but when it comes to economic measures, poverty and repression, many lessone can be learnt from the extremism of the Tory Government.

The order cannot be taken in isolation. Young people in Northern Ireland already have to undergo two years on youth training programmes. If the order is passed there will be a further three years, with no legal minimum wage. A conveyor belt of young people in the north are being given no future by the Government. There will be no net new jobs for the youth of the north as a result of the order. There will be an increase in the exploitation of the young by unscrupulous employers the day after the order is passed. We have seen it in Britain in pubs, clubs, bars, restaurants and in clothing and catering establishments where, after the Wages Act 1986, employer after employer told workers that their £2 an hour was no longer a legal requirement and put their wages down to £1.50 or £1.25 an hour. That is what will happen in Northern Ireland.

The Minister and his Government will reap the harvest of the seeds that they are sowing tonight among the young. It will not be only the paramilitaries who will go to the disaffected young and try to argue their poison case about taking a certain form of action. The labour and trade union movement will do what Winston Churchill feared in the pre-war days when the wages councils were set up in this country. He said that unless we had wages councils the unions would argue for national minimum wages and the unions would organise workers.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions in Northern Ireland has a great task on its hands. When the order is passed, 37,000 workers will no longer have the full legal protection of wages councils. There should be a major recruitment campaign, aimed particularly at the young. Instead of letting the paramilitaries get hold of the young, the labour and trade union movement should get hold of what will undoubtedly be a new generation of class fighters in Northern Ireland when they see the extremes to which the Tory Government are prepared to go.

11.42 pm
Mr. Eddie McCrady (South Down)

I rise to add my voice in protest against the manner in which such complex legislation is put before us. The time of day and the limited amount of time for speeches does not allow one to make any real in-depth comment on such a complex Order in Council.

Part II of the order is entitled "Protection of Workers", but that is a misnomer. In fact, it is an employers' charter in whatever sector one cares to look. It speaks of employees' rights when shortages have been deducted in either cash or kind. How many employees in Northern Ireland will ever know of those rights? Every employer will be fully aware of what is in the legislation, and it will be a non-starter in terms of the protection of workers.

On the matter of wages for young people, I do not think that anyone here really knows what happens in Northern Ireland among our young people or about the abuses that already exist on many Government-sponsored schemes. For young people the wages are well below an average living wage. Young people are being exploited, even when training under Government sponsorship. We should consider how great that exploitation will be when the employers are not under any control. This is a policy for creating a low wage structure in Northern Ireland and that policy is starting from a point of low wages anyway.

There is the "magnanimous" section dealing with the fact that an employer may not deduct more than 10 per cent. from an employee's wages to cover cash or stock shortages. A 10 per cent. deduction would mean a difference between being able to live and not being able to live. There is no chapter asking the employer to prove that the employee is responsible for cash or stock shortages. This is a charter for employers. It in no way protects Northern Ireland's young employees, as has been mentioned by many more prominent and eloquent speakers than me, or women and others in low-paid jobs. It is they who will suffer.

The timing of the legislation is significant. It must be on the Northern Ireland statute book before 1 April, before the new Social Security Bill comes into operation. If it is not, the actions of the right hand will make nonsense of the actions of the left hand. Between the social security depression and the low-wage depression which will occur if this legislation is passed, people will be living well below poverty level. The conditions in Northern Ireland will deteriorate further. Young people will not be able to emigrate, because there will be nowhere for them to go, They will be unemployed or, if they are lucky enough to be employed, they will bring home a derisory wage. They will be at the mercy of the various paramilitaries, who can put an extra tax-free tenner or £30 in their hands at the end of the week for doing a deed that is illegal and that will bring them into conflict with the criminal law. This is the legislation that will put more of our young people into the already bursting gaols of Northern Ireland.

11.46 pm
Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South)

Although this has been only a one-and-a-half-hour debate, no one can deny that, given its constraints, it has been wide-ranging. The unanimity on both sides of the House on the uselessness of the order for the Northern Ireland economy has been significant. The hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) summed up the order correctly by referring to it as an employer's charter which shows the desire to have even lower wages in the Province. That point was made also by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist).

There is a danger for youngsters on both sides of the divide in the Province. As my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-East pointed out, the order offers no hope to young people. It diminishes their hope by the pursuit of some miracle concept of economics called Thatcherism—a concept which has patently not worked in curing the problem of low pay in Great Britain and is obviously doomed to failure in the north of Ireland.

The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) painted a picture of the background in Northern Ireland — the highest unemployment, the greatest poverty and the lowest wages in the United Kingdom. The Government's only answer to the declining economy is to seek to drive wages even lower in the pursuit of further employment. The Opposition believe that that is a recipe for further economic decline in the north of Ireland and further disappointment and lack of hope among all people seeking a job.

The hon. Members for Upper Bann (Mr. McCusker), who is no longer present, for South Down and for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) referred to the lack of time in which to debate these complex pieces of legislation. We share that concern, but remind them that the remedy lies in their own hands. If they were prepared to accept a consensus over a devolved assembly in the north of Ireland, sufficient and adequate time could be found in the Province to discuss such legislation. That is the course of action that we would urge on the hon. Members for North Down, for South Down and for Upper Bann.

Mr. Mallon


Mr. Marshall

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that, as I have only two or three more minutes left, and both he and his hon. Friend the Member for South Down have had a decent innings this evening, I should continue.

I should like to refer briefly to the Minister's opening remarks. I found it patronising when he referred to replacing complex and outdated legislation, which he says needs to be updated. It is patronising because he is talking about a euphemism for removing existing workers' rights in the north of Ireland. He referred in passing to the Truck Acts. However, what he forgot to mention is that 40 per cent. of the work force in the north of Ireland is still paid in cash.

The order seeks to impose on that work force a unilateral decision, made by management, to replace the present cash payment system with a cashless system. In a society in which there is a trend towards more bank accounts and where, inevitably, with the passage of time, more and more people will accept a cashless payment, such changes should be brought about by negotiation, not by the unilateral action of managers of industry.

The Minister also referred to the wages councils. However, he failed to mention that low pay is endemic in the north of Ireland, and the order is likely to make that situation worse.

We shall vote against the order because, in our view, the Government have failed to advance any convincing arguments for the need for this draft order. It is a continuation of the Government's policy of undermining the existing rights of workers. Part III, which deals with wages councils, is an attempt to cut further the wages of the poorest workers in the north of Ireland, who also happen to be the poorest workers in the United Kingdom. It will not create more jobs; it will simply create more poverty. It is a mean-minded measure that is based on dogma. For those reasons, and for the reasons outlined by all my hon. Friends, we shall oppose the order in the Lobby this evening.

11.52 pm
Mr. Viggers

With your leave, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall seek to deal with as many as possible of the points that have been raised during the debate. This is the kind of debate in which there is a clear philosophical divide and on which the House will not agree. On the one hand, there have been several speeches— o doubt deeply felt—urging controls which hon. Members feel will assist workers. On the other hand, the Government are urging deregulation, flexibility and competition leading to growth, prosperity and, we believe, more jobs.

One constitutional point with which I should like to deal has been raised by several hon. Members, notably by the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. McCusker). Of course we recognise the concerns expressed in the debate from hon. Members of different parties, that legislation for Northern Ireland by Order in Council is unsatisfactory.

We do not pretend that that method of legislation is perfect, and it is for that reason that our existing procedures provide for extensive consultation in Northern Ireland, which has taken place on this occasion. We appreciate the difficulties posed by unamendable Orders in Council. I totally agree with the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) that the problem may best be addressed in the context of discussions about the future government of Northern Ireland. We are willing to talk about the issues to all interested parties, and to consider constructive suggestions.

The hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) raised a particular point about a worker who joins a company but fails to receive a contract of employment. The answer to his question is that, when such a worker learns of the deductions from his pay, he can appeal to an industrial tribunal. It is obviously important for workers to know their conditions. The right that is now introduced is a new right for employees, in that all workers, not just manual workers, can now appeal to an industrial tribunal, instead of having to take civil action in tort.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) asked about the protection of female workers. We refute any suggestion that the proposed reform of wages councils could indirectly discriminate against women, who constitute the majority of wages council workers. If wages council protection currently favours women in preference to men, any reduction in that inequality of protection cannot possibly be discrimination. There will also be separate legislation dealing with sex discrimination. The Equal Opportunities Commission in Northern Ireland is funded proportionately higher than that in Britain.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about consultation on the order. There were preliminary consultations, which were followed by publication of a proposal for a draft order that set out the Government's plans in detail. The consultative document was fully considered and reported by the then Northern Ireland Assembly. The hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) asked about consultations. I am sure that he will remember that the consultations took place under his Speakership of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

There is clear evidence from studies in the United Kingdom and internationally that there is a link between pay and jobs, especially for the young. Several studies of the employment effect of the wages council system contain evidence that those councils inhibit employment.

The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) raised a number of points about social security legislation. The House must realise that the proposals in the wages order apply only to 7 per cent. of workers in employment and are quite distinct from the social security implications. Some 5,000 young workers will be taken out of the scope of the wages councils, compared with 40,000 employees under the age of 21 who are not subject to a statutory minimum wage and therefore will not be affected.

The hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) asked about the recent studies. I refer him to a question that he asked in the debate in February 1986 when my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster pointed out that the effect of wages councils was to set a 16-year-old's wage rate at 65 per cent. or more of the adult rate and that that compared with about half of 16-year-olds who received in excess of the 60 per cent. of the adult rate where wages councils did not apply. That clearly suggested that wages councils set wages that tend to increase the wages of younger people, and that is why we believe that it is important that such a restriction should be removed.

Mr. Nellist

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Viggers

The hon. Gentleman has made more than one intervention, and I have two minutes in which to answer a number of other points. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, but I must continue.

The answer to the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) is that there is not the slightest evidence that employers have seized on the reforms as a method of indulging in mass exploitation.

The order brings the law up to date. It recognises that we are now in the computer age and light years away from the tommy-shop and other abuses that necessitated the passing of the Truck Acts in the Victorian era to ensure that manual workers were paid in cash.

We need to accommodate the modern, electronic age and to encourage workers to receive their wages in cashless forms. We need to encourage the use of automated credit transfers and other methods of pay that are quite commonplace elsewhere in the United Kingdom and, indeed, on the continent. The hon. Member for Leicester, South was correct to point out that a high proportion of workers in Northern Ireland receive their pay in cash, and it is important that we do what we can to encourage them to move to cashless pay.

The legislation deals with the wages councils and the Truck Acts. It is a matter of great pride to me that, on 16 February 1983, I introduced a ten-minute Bill entitled the Truck Acts (Abolition) Bill. That Bill pointed out that the Acts were archaic and anachronistic and needed to be replaced.

Mr. Nellist


Mr. Viggers

It is a source of great pride that I can now stand at the Dispatch Box and urge the House to do exactly that in Northern Ireland.

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 258, Noes 195.

Division No. 205] [11.59 pm
Adley, Robert Carttiss, Michael
Aitken, Jonathan Cash, William
Alexander, Richard Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Channon, Rt Hon Paul
Allason, Rupert Chapman, Sydney
Amess, David Chope, Christopher
Amos, Alan Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n)
Arbuthnot, James Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)
Ashby, David Colvin, Michael
Aspinwall, Jack Conway, Derek
Atkins, Robert Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Baldry, Tony Cope, John
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Couchman, James
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Cran, James
Bellingham, Henry Currie, Mrs Edwina
Bendall, Vivian Davis, David (Boothferry)
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Day, Stephen
Benyon, W. Devlin, Tim
Biffen, Rt Hon John Dickens, Geoffrey
Blackburn, Dr John G. Dorrell, Stephen
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Dover, Den
Boscawen, Hon Robert Dunn, Bob
Boswell, Tim Durant, Tony
Bottomley, Peter Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Evennett, David
Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n) Fairbairn, Nicholas
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Fallon, Michael
Bowis, John Farr, Sir John
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes Favell, Tony
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Fenner, Dame Peggy
Brazier, Julian Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Bright, Graham Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey
Brittan, Rt Hon Leon Fookes, Miss Janet
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Forman, Nigel
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South) Forth, Eric
Buck, Sir Antony Fox, Sir Marcus
Budgen, Nicholas Franks, Cecil
Burns, Simon Freeman, Roger
Burt, Alistair French, Douglas
Butcher, John Gale, Roger
Butler, Chris Gardiner, George
Butterfill, John Garel-Jones, Tristan
Carlisle, John, (Luton N) Gill, Christopher
Carrington, Matthew Goodhart, Sir Philip
Goodlad, Alastair Patmck, Irvine
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Patten, Chris (Bath)
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Patten, John (Oxford W)
Gow, Ian Pawsey, James
Gower, Sir Raymond Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Porter, David (Waveney)
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Portillo, Michael
Gregory, Conal Price, Sir David
Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E') Raffan, Keith
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Raison, Rt Hon Timothy
Grist, Ian Redwood, John
Ground, Patrick Renton, Tim
Grylls, Michael Rhodes James, Robert
Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom) Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Riddick, Graham
Hanley, Jeremy Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Hannam, John Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr') Roe, Mrs Marion
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn) Rossi, Sir Hugh
Harris, David Rowe, Andrew
Hayes, Jerry Sackville, Hon Tom
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney Sainsbury, Hon Tim
Hayward, Robert Sayeed, Jonathan
Heathcoat-Amory, David Scott, Nicholas
Heddle, John Shaw, David (Dover)
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE) Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE) Shelton, William (Streatham)
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Hill, James Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Holt, Richard Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Hordern, Sir Peter Shersby, Michael
Howard, Michael Sims, Roger
Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A) Skeet, Sir Trevor
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd) Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Soames, Hon Nicholas
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W) Speed, Keith
Hunt, David (Wirral W) Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Hunter, Andrew Stanbrook, Ivor
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Steen, Anthony
Irvine, Michael Stern, Michael
Jack, Michael Stevens, Lewis
Jackson, Robert Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Janman, Tim Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Jessel, Toby Stewart, Ian (Hertfordshire N)
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Stokes, John
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Sumberg, David
Jones, Robert B (Herts W) Summerson, Hugo
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Tapsell, Sir Peter
Key, Robert Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Knight, Greg (Derby North) Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston) Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Knox, David Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Lamont, Rt Hon Norman Thorne, Neil
Latham, Michael Thurnham, Peter
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Townend, John (Bridlington)
Lightbown, David Tracey, Richard
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Tredinnick, David
Lord, Michael Trippier, David
Maclean, David Vaughan, Sir Gerard
McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury) Viggers, Peter
McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest) Waddington, Rt Hon David
Major, Rt Hon John Waldegrave, Hon William
Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Mates, Michael Waller, Gary
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick Ward, John
Miscampbell, Norman Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Morris, M (N'hampton S) Wells, Bowen
Neale, Gerrard Wheeler, John
Neubert, Michael Whitney, Ray
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Widdecombe, Ann
Nicholls, Patrick Wiggin, Jerry
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Wilshire, David
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West) Winterton, Mrs Ann
Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley Winterton, Nicholas
Oppenheim, Phillip Wolfson, Mark
Page, Richard Wood, Timothy
Paice, James Woodcock, Mike
Yeo, Tim Tellers for the Ayes:
Young, Sir George (Acton) Mr. Richard Ryder and
Mr. Kenneth Carlisle.
Abbott, Ms Diane Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Allen, Graham Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Anderson, Donald Grocott, Bruce
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Hardy, Peter
Armstrong, Hilary Harman, Ms Harriet
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Haynes, Frank
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Healey, Rt Hon Denis
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Heffer, Eric S.
Battle, John Henderson, Doug
Beckett, Margaret Hinchliffe, David
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) Holland, Stuart
Bermingham, Gerald Home Robertson, John
Bidwell, Sydney Hood, Jimmy
Blunkett, David Howarth, George (Knowsley Nj
Boateng, Paul Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)
Boyes, Roland Hughes, John (Coventry NE)
Bradley, Keith Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Bray, Dr Jeremy Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E) Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Illsley, Eric
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith) Ingram, Adam
Buchan, Norman Janner, Greville
Buckley, George J. John, Brynmor
Caborn, Richard Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley) Kilfedder, James
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Lamond, James
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Leadbitter, Ted
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Leighton, Ron
Clay, Bob Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Clelland, David Lewis, Terry
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Litherland, Robert
Cohen, Harry Livingstone, Ken
Coleman, Donald Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Loyden, Eddie
Corbett, Robin McAllion, John
Corbyn, Jeremy McAvoy, Thomas
Cousins, Jim McCartney, Ian
Cox, Tom McCusker, Harold
Cryer, Bob Macdonald, Calum A.
Cummings, John McFall, John
Cunningham, Dr John McGrady, Eddie
Darling, Alistair McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) McKelvey, William
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) McLeish, Henry
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l) McNamara, Kevin
Dewar, Donald McTaggart, Bob
Doran, Frank McWilliam, John
Duffy, A. E. P. Madden, Max
Dunnachie, Jimmy Mahon, Mrs Alice
Eadie, Alexander Mallon, Seamus
Eastham, Ken Marek, Dr John
Evans, John (St Helens N) Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E) Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Fatchett, Derek Martlew, Eric
Faulds, Andrew Maxton, John
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Meacher, Michael
Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n) Michael, Alun
Fisher, Mark Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Flannery, Martin Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Flynn, Paul Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Moonie, Dr Lewis
Foster, Derek Morgan, Rhodri
Foulkes, George Morley, Elliott
Fyfe, Maria Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Galbraith, Sam Mowlam, Marjorie
Galloway, George Mullin, Chris
Garrett, John (Norwich South) Murphy, Paul
Garrett, Ted (Wallsend) Nellist, Dave
George, Bruce Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Godman, Dr Norman A. O'Brien, William
Golding, Mrs Llin Parry, Robert
Gordon, Mildred Patchett, Terry
Graham, Thomas Pendry, Tom
Pike, Peter L. Snape, Peter
Powell, Ray (Ogmore) Spearing, Nigel
Prescott, John Steinberg, Gerry
Quin, Ms Joyce Stott, Roger
Radice, Giles Strang, Gavin
Randall, Stuart Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Redmond, Martin Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn Turner, Dennis
Reid, Dr John Wall, Pat
Richardson, Jo Walley, Joan
Roberts, Allan (Bootle) Warden, Gareth (Gower)
Robertson, George Wareing, Robert N.
Robinson, Geoffrey Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Rogers, Allan Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Ross, William (Londonderry E) Wilson, Brian
Ruddock, Joan Wise, Mrs Audrey
Salmond, Alex Worthington, Tony
Sedgemore, Brian Wray, Jimmy
Sheerman, Barry Young, David (Bolton SE)
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Short, Clare Tellers for the Noes:
Skinner, Dennis Mr. Don Dixon and
Smith, Andrew (Oxford E) Mr. Allen Adams.
Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That the draft Wages (Northern Ireland) Order 1988, which was laid before this House on 10th December, be approved.