HC Deb 09 July 1991 vol 194 cc784-834
Mr. Speaker

I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister. In view of the late start to the debate, I ask hon. Members to make brief speeches.

3.49 pm
Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West)

I beg to move, That this House deplores the huge rise in income inequality; and calls on the Government to combat poverty and its effects on health, diet, educational achievement and individual opportunity.

We are debating the growth of poverty and low incomes in our society. There could be no clearer sign of how rattled the Government are on those matters than that the Secretary of State with chief responsibility for the issue has been removed from delivering the main reply and been confined to a mere 10-minute winding-up speech. That speaks volumes for the Government's defensive attitude on the matter. Given their record, they are absolutely right to be defensive.

The Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Tony Newton)

It is no more remarkable that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Employment and I should have chosen to conduct this debate together than it was for the hon. Gentleman yesterday, as the Opposition's social security spokesman, to make his main speech on the minimum wage, which is precisely what brings my right hon. and learned Friend to this debate. Any attempt to debate the problem of low incomes while ignoring the issue of the national minimum wage shows how rattled the hon. Gentleman is.

Mr. Meacher

The right hon. Gentleman should get his facts right. I did not make a speech yesterday on the national minimum wage. I commented on the effects of the national minimum wage in terms of social security cost to the taxpayer. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman picked it up, because I shall return to that. The right hon. Gentleman knows a thing or two about low pay. He has spent his time in office doing his best to spread it in every way possible. Low pay is a very small part of the wider issue of low incomes, which is the real issue of the debate. The inescapable conclusion is that the Government are so ashamed of their record that they are doing everything possible to avoid talking about it.

The only aspect of a now almost totally discredited economic record, from which the Government still try to rescue some credit, is that living standards, they claim, have risen for all, including those on the lowest incomes. That is certainly not the impression of anyone who sees beggars for the first time in living memory on the London underground and on the streets of our major cities. It is not the impression of those who work in the voluntary organisations dealing with the homeless or of social workers or those who work in benefit offices and come into contact with the casualties of Government policy. It is certainly not the impression of those on the lowest incomes, but the Government continue to chant it.

The Government say that everybody has gained, that trickle-down is working and that poverty either does not exist or cannot be measured, and that, even if it could, it is not a serious problem. As I shall show, each of those claims is false. In support of their claim that everyone has become better off under them, the Government's favourite fact is that, between 1979 and 1987, the bottom tenth of the population had an income increase in real terms of 0.1 per cent. That is a figure taken from a Government document entitled "Households Below Average Incomes", and it is repeated in an answer which I received a week ago.

Never mind that that figure and others associated with it are four years old and that, if they included last year or this year, they would present a very different picture: let that pass. The Secretary of State is only too happy to accept that the figure to which I have referred shows an increase, and I would not wish to disabuse him of his self-satisfaction. For the rest of us, however, what do the figures mean?

The increase works out at a prince's ransom of an extra 3p per person per week. In other words, after eight years of Tory government, the poorest tenth of our population are, I suppose, an Oxo cube or a book of matches better off. I wonder how many Oxo cubes or books of matches Iain Vallance could buy after his recent pay increase of over £3,100 a week, or Tiny Rowland with his extra £4,100 a week.

I submit that the mark of a civilised society is that it looks after its weakest members and that there is something obscene about a Government who encourage such huge differentials. Unfortunately for the Government, the evidence in their document does not bear out the case that everyone has gained. Indeed, it reveals the opposite.

If the median or middle member of the poorest tenth made only a minuscule gain of 3p a week, that shows that the half of the group poorer than him—that is nearly 3 million people—overwhelmingly made losses. Their standard of living declined, in some instances by substantial amounts. That is borne out by the first report of the Select Committee on Social Security entitled "Low Income Statistics: Households Below Average Income Tables 1988" which was published a couple of months ago. It shows that a fifth of the unemployed were 7 per cent. worse off in real terms, a fifth of younger single adults and couples were 6 per cent. worse off and a fifth of those in rented households were also worse off.

That is confirmed by another piece of conclusive evidence in the Select Committee's report that the Government have tried to play down. On page LXXV of the report, it is stated that the average income, as opposed to the median income, of the poorest tenth of the Torydpopulation, fell under the Government between 1979 and 1988 by 6.2 per cent. I am perfectly well aware that the Select Committee, which is Tory-dominated, states that the arithmetic mean could prove a misleading indicator…because a small number of extreme and unrepresentative values could bias the average figure for the whole group. I have news for both the Secretaries of State for Employment and for Social Security, who I suspect will rely on that statement. Means and averages always work as the Select Committee describes, and they are invariably accepted as accurate indicators of trends—except, apparently, when a Tory-dominated Select Committee finds that the facts are unpalatable.

If the evidence shows—it clearly does—major falls in living standards for the 2 million or more on the lowest incomes, why should that be written off as extreme or unrepresentative rather than the truth? To suggest otherwise is surely to fly in the fact of common sense, when everywhere around us we can see evidence of the new poverty.

We see people sleeping in cardboard boxes. There are people begging in the streets. There is a huge increase in bed-and-breakfast homelessness. There are lone parents with young children who are short of food. There is the growth of low-paid, low-skilled and insecure jobs. There are youngsters who never obtained a proper job. There are middle-aged or older men with obsolete skills whose factories or pits have been closed down.

Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton)

I appreciate the opportunity to advise my hon. Friend of further figures that have been released recently. In the Yorkshire water authority, cut-offs have more than doubled during the past year since privatisation, because people on low incomes cannot afford to pay the massive charges imposed by that authority. At the same time, the chairman of the Yorkshire water authority has had a salary increase of 250 per cent.

Mr. Meacher

My hon. Friend makes a good point. That is another clear indicator of the growth of poverty. We must consider not only the rise in water charges of the newly privatised utilities, but the growth in low pay and the inability to pay the charges. I repeat that that is obscene when compared with the increases sometimes doubling the pay of those who are now the chief executives and chairmen of the water companies.

Mr. Simon Burns (Chelmsford)

If I may take the hon. Gentleman back to his earlier remarks about low pay, does he accept that family credit is a great help in topping up the earnings of those who receive it? Would the hon. Gentleman care to tell the House today his view of the future of family credit? Does he agree with his hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) who, in, I think, September 1989, said that he believed that family credit should wither on the vine?

Mr. Meacher

The hon. Gentleman makes a pretty ill-advised point. First, family credit goes to only about one-third of a million, and the number of low-paid in our society is certainly well over 10 times that level; secondly, it has only a 50 per cent. take-up; and thirdly, it just exacerbates the poverty trap. Therefore, it is not sensible to promulgate family credit.

Ms. Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood)

Does my hon. Friend agree that family credit amounts to a subsidy of the worst employers in the land and that we are handing out a state subsidy to employers who cannot pay a wage on which people can live? Is it not much better to have a national minimum wage so that such industries could be more efficient?

Mr. Meacher

As we well know, the Tories believe in low pay. That is why they refuse to prosecute those who underpay their workers. Family credit, about which they make so much, is little more than a bandage on the wound, and one that does not staunch it, either.

Mr. Burns


Mr. Meacher

I shall not give way again. I want to make some progress.

What has been the Government's response to the evidence? One reaction was to declare that poverty did not exist any more. Regrettably, the survival of poverty turned out to be rather more firmly based than the survival of the previous Secretary of State for Health who espoused that view. The Government then promoted the idea that market forces would soon solve the problem, because wealth would soon trickle down from the top. In fact, it has been the unleashing of market forces in the Thatcherite decade which, so far from resolving the problem, has created it.

If I may return to the parliamentary answer that I was given a week ago, while the poorest tenth in the population had a rise—if we can elevate it to that title—using the Government's preferred formula of median income, of 0.1 per cent., the richest tenth had a rise of 40.3 per cent.—that is 400 times more. There is not much sign of trickle-down there.

Even leaving aside the poorest and the richest, the growth in inequality has still been enormous. According to the same parliamentary answer, the bottom third of the nation had an average rise in income between 1979 and 1987 of less than 2 per cent., while the top half of the nation had an average rise of 24 per cent.

The Government would like to argue—no doubt we shall hear it said today—that that is the result of merit or effort. If only it were. In fact, the pattern right across the spectrum has been consistent during the past decade that the weakest in society get least and the strongest get most. It is obvious to all but the most myopic observers that power and class are the determinants, not merit and effort.

Another parliamentary answer that I was given recently revealed that, in the 10 years from 1979, the lowest-paid tenth of manual workers received a 4 per cent. increase in real earnings, while the highest paid received a 17 per cent. increase. The lowest-paid section of non-manual employees also received 17 per cent., while the highest-paid received 46 per cent.

Far from there being a trickle down from the rich man's table, the nearer that the crumbs get to the floor, the thinner and fewer they become. According to the trickle-down theory, the more wealth there is at the top, the more reaches the bottom. Under the present Government, there seems to be a gummed-up filter; nothing is getting through.

Mr. Tim Smith (Beaconsfield)

Surely the comparison that most people will want to make is between this Government's performance and that of the last Labour Government. Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that, in the past 12 years, the take-home pay of a married man with two children, on half average earnings, has risen by 30 per cent., whereas, under the last Labour Government, it did not rise at all? Will he also confirm that today's social security budget is larger in real terms than ever before?

Mr. Meacher

The reason why the social security budget is so much higher today than under the last Labour Government is that the level of unemployment is now more than twice as high as it was then.

Mr. James Paice (Cambridgeshire, South-East)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Meacher

No; I want to make a little progress.

What makes the enrichment of the already rich so deplorable is the fact that the Government have created that enrichment at the expense of those who are on or near the poverty line. The cascade of tax reliefs showered on the better-off during the past decade was made possible by the savings—they now amount to more than £30 billion—from cumulative cuts in benefit. Breaking the link between pensions and earnings has saved more than £25 billion; the child benefit freeze saved a further £1 billion; and, each year, further cuts in benefits for the unemployed have saved another £1 billion. Lest there be any doubt among Conservative Members, let me emphasise that those figures are taken directly from a parliamentary answer.

That must rank as the biggest redistribution of income from the deprived to the affluent that we have seen this century.

Mr. John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West)

Are not those figures—which compare the low-paid with other groups—essentially selective? I note that the hon. Gentleman did not cite any post-1987 figures; for example, he did not quote from the report of the Social Security Committee. Is that because he knows that the more recent figures would provide a much better comparison from the Government's point of view, and would not aid his case at all?

Mr. Meacher

The hon. Gentleman really has put his foot in it. Our complaint is that the Government have deliberately concealed the most recent figures. Under the last Labour Government, we were given the figures relating to incomes—including the lowest incomes—within a year. Under the present Government, that became first two and then three years; now, the figures are four years out of date. Let me tell the hon. Gentleman that, if we had the most recent figures, they would show that those on low incomes are considerably worse off than before.

The reason why all that matters is that it exposes the Prime Minister's rhetoric at last week's Tory women's conference—his talk of a Britain with opportunities open wide to all—as the meaningless bombast it was. I see that the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill) is leaving the Chamber. He has obviously gone to look for some better figures, but I do not think that he will be able to find any.

Can the Secretary of State for Employment tell us what opportunities are open to the 2.5 million unemployed when the Government, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman in particular, have made drastic cuts in the training and enterprise council's training funds, even though we have the worst trained work force in Europe? What are the opportunities for the 150,000 families designated as homeless last year when the Government pressurise those on low incomes into home ownership that they cannot afford and then pull the plug on them with crippling mortgage rates? What opportunities are there for the 15 million people who live on local authority housing estates, the condition of which the Prime Minister recently described as "an absolute disgrace", when his Government's policies have produced that disgrace by cutting the housing budget by a crashing 85 per cent.?

Mr. John Bowis (Battersea)


Mr. Meacher

I must make progress if other hon. Members are to have the opportunity to participate in the debate.

Low incomes matter because several research reports have recently demonstrated that they severely undermine the quality of life. Last month, a survey was published by the National Children's Home which found that one child in 10 had gone without food in the previous month because there was not enough money to buy that food. It revealed that one in five parents had gone hungry because they did not have enough money to buy food and that one in three had gone short of food to ensure that other members of the family had enough.

I hope that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security is listening carefully, because that detailed nutritional survey found that no parent or child was eating a healthy diet. Contrary to the offensive and ignorant remarks that the Minister made—she seems to be following in the "Edwina Currie" tradition of blaming the poor—they had such a diet not because they did not know what constituted a healthy diet, but simply because they could not afford one.

Mr. Graham Riddick (Colne Valley)


Mr. Meacher

I shall not give way again.

Poverty is the cause not just of an inadequate diet, but ill health. Even the Secretary of State for Health now admits that, but he immediately made it clear that he would do absolutely nothing about it. He said that the divisions were so fundamental and long lasting and the issues so complex that they were not a suitable subject for a Government target. After the ravages of a decade of Tory Government, surely there could not be clearer evidence that the Tories had given up on poverty altogether than that contained in the quote.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

In view of what my hon. Friend said about the junior Minister, does he agree that it is extremely obnoxious for a would-be Tory Member of Parliament to try to trivialise poverty by living on income support for a week? The real issue is the hundreds of thousands, indeed millions, of our fellow citizens who must live on income support for months and, in some cases, through no fault of their own, for years. Those people have no opportunity to go back to their two homes and substantial income after just a week.

Mr. Meacher

Lady Olga Maitland is well known as a Tory with a closed mind. She is proving nothing by living on income support for one week when, as my hon. Friend correctly says, people have to live on it for months and years without hope and in despair. I wonder how many right hon. and hon. Members on the Conservative Benches known the level of income support on which Lady Olga and others seek to live. I know that some Conservative Members have learnt the answer since I raised it before, but I wonder how many Tory Members realise that income support means living on £39 a week for a single person and £62 for a married couple. That is just about the amount that many Tories would spend on a modest meal in their clubs.

Mr. Riddick


Mr. Meacher

No, I shall not give way.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I have already asked hon. Members to bear in mind that this is a half-day debate and that a great many hon. Members want to participate. We must get on.

Mr. Meacher

I will not detain the House, but I want to draw attention to some other relevant information.

The recent research of Richard Wilkinson showed that, the greater the gap between rich and poor, the worse the overall standard of health and the lower society's life expectancy. That is not surprising, but it needs to be said. Other research by Mike Lake, Buckinghamshire's senior educational psychologist, showed a clear link between poverty and poor educational achievement.

That is why poverty matters, and why our indictment, using the EC's definition of the poverty line as 50 per cent. of average national income, is that the Government's policies have more than doubled the number of people who are forced to subsist on a standard of living that the EC regards as poverty. That is why poverty and low incomes are firmly back on the political agenda.

Mr. Butterfill

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Meacher

One dog, one bite.

It is clear that the Government have no strategy, no intention and no desire to tackle the issue. In contrast, we will do so. We will raise pensions by £5 a week for a single pensioner and by £8 a week for a married couple, including for those on income support. We will restore the real value of child benefit to its 1987 level, after three years of Tory freeze. We will pay £9.55p a week, at today's values, for each child, including to recipients of income support. We will introduce a minimum wage to combat poverty, at a rate of—

Mr. Riddick


Mr. Speaker

Order. The House should get on. Many hon. Members wish to participate in the debate.

Mr. Meacher

We have made it clear that we will introduce—

Mr. Butterfill

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Gentleman accused me of giving wrong information to the House. He should explain that he did not use the table in the Select Committee's report, which shows a figure of 9.5 per cent.

Mr. Speaker

If the hon. Gentleman feels that he has been misunderstood, he should seek to raise that matter when he is called to speak later in the debate.

Mr. Meacher

We have made it clear that we will introduce a minimum wage to combat poverty pay, which is widespread, at a rate of about £3.40 an hour, which will benefit more than 4 million workers.

No wonder the Tories are so hostile to the idea, when, of 100,000 firms that have been caught underpaying their employees in the past decade, only 67 were prosecuted. That is why I say that the Tories believe in low pay. No wonder the Government are so hostile to the idea of fair wages, when the Secretary of State has assisted in cutting the numbers of the wages inspectorate to a mere 71. Each inspector is now supposed to inspect more than 5,500 workplaces, which is ridiculous.

No wonder the Tories are so partial to exploitative employers, when we see advertisements in the newspapers that say: Job would suit a person on family credit. Social security payments and lost tax from low pay cost British taxpayers more than £1 billion a year. A recent EC report said that poverty is particularly high in the poorer countries of the EC—Portugal, Greece, Spain, Ireland and the UK. What an indictment. The Government have certainly done their best to align our low pay to the lowest pay there, and I suppose that that is what the Tories mean by convergence.

But low pay is not only socially unjust. It is also socially and economically damaging. As another recently published EC report stated: Europe cannot hope to occupy a leading position at world level if it bases its competitiveness on low wages. That is exactly the Government's strategy. Their record on low pay—on poverty pay—is one of complacency and complicity. Only a change of Government will restore the combination of economic competence and social justice that Britain desperately needs.

4.20 pm
The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Michael Howard)

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to end of the Question and to add instead thereof: congratulates Her Majesty's Government on its policies which have made possible real increases in expenditure on vital public services including social security, education and health; welcomes the recent recognition by the Social Security Select Committee that real incomes rose across the income scale between 1979 and 1988; and deplores the commitment of Her Majesty's Opposition to a National Minimum Wage which would destroy jobs, thereby reducing opportunities and living standards for up to two million people. The speech of the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) explained clearly why every member of the Cabinet is envious of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security having the hon. Gentleman as his shadow. I do not propose to follow the hon. Gentleman down the statistical byways along which he led the House; my right hon. Friend has exposed the fallacies in the hon. Gentleman's approach time and again and will do so yet again tonight.

I wish to pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman. He is a man who believes in being loyal to his friends. For years he has been sponsored by the Confederation of Health Service Employees and his policies have always faithfully reflected that close relationship. As the Labour party's employment spokesman, he went round trade union conferences promising everything they wanted. As a result, he committed one blunder after another, leaving his successor in the soup. He told the Transport and General Workers Union that he would fight with it to stop the abolition of the national dock labour scheme—a step now universally recognised as a boon for the ports industry—and he hinted that Labour would restore the scheme. The hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) has kept very quiet about that. The hon. Member for Oldham, West told the trade unions in November 1988: workers approve of the closed shop. Less than a year later, his successor admitted that Labour would no longer openly oppose the abolition of the closed shop.

Worst of all, the hon. Gentleman bowed to the demands of the National Union of Public Employees and COHSE, and signed his party up to its commitment to a national statutory minimum wage. He was the employment spokesman in May 1989 when the commitment to a national statutory minimum wage was written into "Meet the Challenge, Make the Change," Labour's key policy document. He was the man who stuck that albatross around the necks of the occupants of the Opposition Front Bench, and I doubt whether they will ever forgive him for it.

Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North)

If this is old lags' corner, I am sure that I have seen the Secretary of State somewhere before. Indeed, I recall seeing a lot of him. I remember him as the Minister who was supportive in propagating every dot and comma of the poll tax legislation—[Interruption.]—and he did that more assiduously and with more devotion than any other Minister round him. Can a Minister who was so responsible in that respect and who thereby was intimately involved in wasting billions of pounds of taxpayers' money on that folly, now tell the great British public that we cannot afford to pay people £140 a week?

Mr. Howard

It was obvious from the moment the hon. Gentleman got to his feet that he would go to any lengths to divert discussion from the national minimum wage issue—[Interruption.]—but he will not succeed in that enterprise. We shall keep to the subject during the debate.

I return to the exquisite relationship between the hon. Members for Oldham, West and for Sedgefield. They are the Laurel and Hardy of the Labour party. Their conversations, which are increasingly frequent, always end with the refrain of the hon. Member for Sedgefield, "This is another fine mess you've got me into."

Last week the hon. Member for Oldham, West made an extraordinary speech in which he said that Labour would dismantle the links within the Employment Service between those who help people to find jobs and those who ensure that they receive the correct benefit. The implications of that are startling and far reaching. Does the hon. Gentleman mean to abolish the integrated offices which enable unemployed people to receive their benefit and search for work at the same place? Would he stop the new system, which I introduced, which ensures that unemployed people are seen by the same person whenever they come into one of the Employment Service's offices? Or does he intend merely to make it much easier for false claimants to rip off the taxpayer?

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has been very clear in its advice. It said in its 1990 report, "Progress on Structural Reform", that future reforms should continue to include social transfer programmes which continue to tighten links between income support and participation in education and employment programmes and called for promoting and reorienting specific income transfer programmes towards linking eligibility increasingly to job search, education and retraining". The hon. Gentleman's suggested changes would defy international advice, undermine the progress towards better quality and value for money in our services towards the unemployed, and benefit only the benefit fraudsters.

Ms. Short

The Secretary of State may not be aware that the Government have progressively used the income support system to force people who are unemployed into lower and lower-paid jobs. That is what we are against.

Mr. Howard

The hon. Lady is entirely wrong. This Government have made available a wider range of services to help unemployed people than any other Government have ever done.

The hon. Member for Oldham, West referred several times to unemployment. That is understandable. However, for some unaccountable reason he failed to mention that unemployment is also rising in France, the newly united Germany, Denmark, Greece, Ireland, the European Community as a whole, Sweden, Switzerland, the United States, Canada, Australia and even in Japan. The hon. Gentleman has a touching faith in the powers available to a British Government, but surely even he cannot believe that unemployment is rising in all those countries because of our actions.

Of course, with the benefit of hindsight, it is now feasible to see that the fear of a slump on the scale of the 1930s led interest rates to be cut too far after the stock market crash of 1987. What was the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer saying at the time? It is not difficult for him to remember. It is not as if he has a wide repertory of comments on such matters. The right hon. and learned Gentleman calls for an immediate reduction in interest rates more often than the average parrot says "pieces of eight", and that was exactly what he was calling for in the autumn of 1987. It is clear beyond argument that, if the Opposition had been in office at that time inflation would have got higher, the measures needed to overcome it would have been more painful and the difficulties that we face today would be very much greater. That is a fact.

The hon. Gentleman also unaccountably failed to point out that every Labour Government since 1929 have doubled unemployment. That is a track record which Labour is still determined to match. It is still the case that Labour policies would sharply worsen unemployment, as I shall show in a moment.

Mr. Riddick


Mr. Howard

Given the refusal of the hon. Member for Oldham, West to give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick), it is clear that I must give way.

Mr. Riddick

I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for allowing me to make the point that I had hoped to make to the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher). Did my right hon. and learned Friend see the latest survey of pay trends by the Reward group, as reported last week in The Times? That group pointed out that a policy of a minimum national wage would force up costs more in the Midlands and the North and that that was likely to create further job losses in areas with the highest unemployment rates. Did not the hon. Member for Oldham, West refuse to give way to me because he did not want me to point out that fact?

Mr. Howard

My hon. Friend is right. The hon. Member for Oldham, West did not want to give way to him because the hon. Gentleman knows that my hon. Friend is the true spokesman for the north of England on these matters. My hon. Friend speaks for his constituents in the north of England and knows what devastating effect Labour party policies would have on that area.

The hon. Member for Oldham, West wholly fails to acknowledge that the link between low pay and low income is tenuous. According to the family expenditure survey for 1987—the latest year for which figures are available—only 8 per cent. of those in the bottom tenth of the earnings distribution are in the poorest tenth of the population. More than 50 per cent. are in the richer half and, indeed, 5 per cent. are in the richest tenth.

Unemployment is much more likely than a low-paid job to lead to low income. Only 15 per cent. of the poorest tenth of the population are in households headed by a full-time worker whereas more than twice as many are in households headed by someone who is unemployed. The conclusion is obvious: the way to help those on low incomes is to help them get and keep a job, not to destroy hundreds of thousands of jobs by introducing a national statutory minimum wage. One does not help people on low pay by giving them no pay.

I accept that people on low pay, particularly those with family responsibilities, may need help, and we provide that help on a more generous and extensive scale than ever before. In just the past three years, the Government have tripled spending in cash terms on family credit. Since 1979, spending on benefits for families dependent on low-paid work has increased by 10 times in real terms. Today the average family credit payment is more than £30 a week.

The hon. Member for Oldham, West is usually keen to promise increases in every benefit under the sun, but he has been more than usually coy about the one benefit that is specifically targeted to help families whose main breadwinner is in a low-paid job—family credit. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take this opportunity to enlighten the House. Does he plan, as the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) said, to let family credit wither on the vine? Will the hon. Member for Oldham, West now answer a straight question? Would a Labour Government continue to pay family credit? I am prepared to give way to him so that he can answer.

Mr. Meacher

The right hon. and learned Gentleman makes a fantasy point. Of course we will continue with family credit—we have never said that we will not—but it is far better to have a minimum wage to increase the take-home incomes of those in work. The right hon. and learned Gentleman accuses us in relation to benefits. Will he apologise to the House for the £30 billion cuts in benefit that the Government have made during the past 10 years?

Hon. Members


Mr. Howard

I shall answer the question. At last, the hon. Member for Oldham, West has made clear his party's policies on family credit. I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's figure of £30 billion. Perhaps he will enlighten me. I was not aware that he had obtained the sanction of the shadow Chief Secretary to use the figure of £30 billion in relation to benefits that the Labour party would restore. Unless and until the hon. Gentleman gets the sanction of the shadow Chief Secretary to talk about such figures, his best course is to show a discriminating silence on these matters, rather than to toss figures about.

The Labour party is fond of praying in aid the OECD. However, even the hon. Gentleman must be aware that the OECD's latest annual report on France expressly says: in general it would be preferable for equity issues to be clearly separated from the functioning of the labour market and handled directly through the tax-transfer system". That is precisely what we are doing. Indeed, we have taken the OECD's advice not only by introducing and increasing family credit, but by sharply raising the income tax thresholds by 27 per cent. faster than inflation, taking 2 million low-paid people entirely out of direct tax.

We know from the Leader of the Opposition that the Labour party has no intention of reducing the tax burden and has no interest in taking people out of tax. Will the hon. Member for Oldham, West now confirm, therefore, that when the Leader of the Opposition stressed that the Labour party would put all the fruits of economic growth—if there are any—into public spending and none into tax cuts, he was committing the Labour party to a refusal to raise tax thresholds at any level faster than inflation? Will he admit that that means calling a halt to the process of taking millions of low-paid people out of income tax liability altogether?

Ms. Short

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Howard

I have already given way to the hon. Lady once and it was not an enlightening experience for the House, so I am not inclined to do so again.

The Labour party's vendetta against the low paid does not stop there. Labour is wholly committed to the social charter and the social action programme. In its latest policy document it promises to accept and implement the whole lot the moment it gets into office. That would include the draft directive on part-time and temporary work. The hon. Member for Sedgefield nods enthusiastically—he has supported that draft directive time and again. Under the provisions of that directive—it is important that everyone understands this—liability to pay national insurance contributions would be triggered not as now, when someone's earnings exceed £52 a week, but as soon as someone worked for more than eight hours a week.

The result of that Labour party commitment is that 1,750,000 of the lowest-paid people—all earning less than £52 a week but working more than eight hours a week—would instantly and automatically become liable to pay national insurance. How does the hon. Member for Sedgefield expect that proposal to help the low-paid? Has he thought about it? Does he care? Perhaps he has at last got his own back and dropped the hon. Member for Oldham, West in it for a change.

The Labour party claims that its national statutory minimum wage would "benefit" over 4 million low-paid people. It would do nothing of the sort. Rather, it would wreck our economy, smash job prospects and, as always with the Labour party, the lowest paid would be the first to suffer.

My Department has estimated that the second stage of the Labour party's minimum wage policy could destroy up to 2 million jobs. The hon. Member for Sedgefield does not like it when I mention that figure, as well he might not.

Miss Joan Lestor (Eccles)

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that those of us who represent constituencies where unemployment has been relentlessly rising in the past few months feel insulted by what he is saying? Will he now deal with the problem of unemployment rising in Eccles, where there is no minimum wage? Will he explain to the House why it is rising? What does he intend to do about the 3 million children who are now living on or below the poverty line?

Mr. Howard

Does the hon. Lady seriously think that a word that she has uttered justifies the introduction of a policy that could destroy up to 2 million jobs? Does she expect the House to take that contention seriously? She should reflect on what she has said before blindly supporting a policy that would have such drastic consequences.

I have published the assumptions from which the figures of up to 2 million jobs has been calculated. I have invited the hon. Gentleman to publish his own figure of how many jobs would be destroyed by his policy, and the assumptions behind that. I have offered to have his estimates checked by my officials so that we can apply the same methodology to both. I am waiting for the hon. Gentleman to take advantage of that offer.

The hon. Gentleman claims that his policy would cost no jobs, but in a letter to The Independent he wrote: I have not accepted that the minimum wage would cost jobs…I have simply accepted that econometric models indicate a potential jobs impact".

Mr. Tony Blair (Sedgefield)

Would the Secretary of State complete that quote to the end of the paragraph, please?

Mr. Howard

I am happy for the hon. Gentleman to read to the end of the paragraph if he wishes. I have given the House the essence of the quote. If he wishes to read the whole of the paragraph, including the weasel words that I have just uttered, I am happy to give way to him.

Mr. Blair

It just so happens that I have the rest of the paragraph with me. I go on to say: Although nothing remotely bears out Mr. Howard's claims, I rest my case on the empirical evidence of the impact of what has happened elsewhere, the balance of which is overwhelmingly positive. That is what the Secretary of State missed out.

Mr. Howard

How the hon. Gentleman thinks that what he has said detracts in any way from the weasel words that I quoted earlier, which he could not bear to utter when I invited him to quote the whole paragraph, is absolutely beyond belief.

Mr. Burns

If the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) is reluctant to take up the kind offer of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State that Department of Employment statisticians could look into the matter, perhaps my right hon. and learned Friend should suggest to the hon. Gentleman that he should have a word with Mr. Bill Jordan, Mr. Eric Hammond and Mr. Bill Morris to find out exactly what figures they put on the number of job losses from the national minimum wage.

Mr. Howard

My hon. Friend is entirely right, and I shall have a word to say about that aspect of the matter in a moment or two.

I remind the hon. Member for Sedgefield of what independent experts say about the consequences of the policy. Only last week, two new independent reports were added to the chorus of condemnation which the minimum wage meets everywhere. UBS Philips and Drew reported that the first stage of Labour's minimum wage would add 400,000 to the unemployment figures and a full point to inflation. It said that the second stage would increase unemployment by 1.25 million and push up inflation by 2.4 percentage points.

The Reward group, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) referred, when speaking on behalf of his constituents in the north of England, stressed that the minimum wage would have a devastating effect on the regions, and singled out the west midlands as a district that would be desperately hard hit. That comes on top of the many other estimates of job losses that the minimum wage would cause. They range from those of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, which reckons that 166,000 jobs would be destroyed by stage one, to the university of Liverpool, which believes that 1.4 million jobs would be wiped out by stage two.

The Liverpool study also estimates that the second stage of the minimum wage would lower Britain's gross domestic product by 6.8 per cent. What is the hon. Gentleman's answer to that? What flights of rhetoric would he reserve to denounce that size of a downturn in our economy? How on earth does he think that that would help the low-paid?

Mr. Winnick

The Secretary of State referred to the west midlands and tried to justify his argument against a minimum wage by the loss of jobs. How can he pursue that argument when tens of thousands of jobs have already been lost in the west midlands and, unfortunately, are still being lost as a direct result of the Government's economic policies? The west midlands needs no lecture from the Secretary of State on the loss of jobs.

Mr. Howard

We can debate economic policies whenever the hon. Gentleman wishes to do so, but the question that he cannot escape is how his views on the Government's economic policy—whatever those views may be—justify the introduction by the Labour party, if it ever came to office, of a policy that would add up to 2 million people to the ranks of the unemployed. That is the question that the hon. Gentleman must face. He cannot shut his eyes to it and escape it.

Yesterday, the hon. Member for Oldham, West published his extraordinary calculations about the effects of the introduction of a national statutory minimum wage. He claimed that such a policy would save the taxpayer £1.3 billion a year. If he really believes those figures, why is he being so modest? If the minimum wage will be such a boon, why limit it to a half and then to two thirds of average earnings? Why not set it at 75 per cent., 100 per cent. or 150 per cent. of average earnings and let the money roll in? The fact is that the hon. Gentleman's figures are entirely bogus and he knows it. I hope that he will make clear the basis of his calculations.

Mr. Butterfill

While my right hon. and learned Friend is referring to bogus figures, may I take him back to the statement made by the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) on real income increases during the past 10 years? Is it not curious that the figure that he chose came from table D.2 of the Select Committee report, which is the figure after allowing for housing costs, rather than from table A.2, which is the figure before housing costs—9.5 per cent.—which the Select Committee states in the preface to its report is a much better measure of living standards?

Mr. Howard

My hon. Friend is entirely right to make that important point, which I know will be taken up by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security, who is the master of such issues, when he replies to the debate.

Will the hon. Member for Oldham, West confirm that his remarks yesterday referred, at best, to gross savings to the taxpayer, not to net savings? Will he confirm that he has taken no account of lower profits which lead to lower corporation tax or of the £1.5 billion cost of applying the minimum wage to the public sector? Is he aware that even that estimate of the cost of the minimum wage to the public sector is simply the cost of applying it to full-time workers over the age of 20, and includes no figure for restoring the differentials of public sector workers?

Even on the assumptions of the hon. Member for Oldham, West, the minimum wage would not save a penny, but would cost the taxpayer at least £200 million a year to implement. Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that his figures assume that the introduction of the minimum wage would produce no increase in unemployment, which is contrary to the view of every independent expert who has considered the matter?

If, for the purposes of argument, we take the figure which the Labour party always uses as the cost to the taxpayer of every unemployed person, £8,000 a year, and apply it to UBS Philips and Drew's independent estimate that Labour's national statutory minimum wage would increase unemployment by 1.25 million, we find that, far from making a huge saving, Labour's policy could result in the taxpayer facing an extra bill of up to £10 billion a year. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman has cleared that spending pledge with the shadow Chief Secretary? It is an unsustainable burden, the product of economic illiteracy and a testament to the fact that the Labour party is totally unfit to govern this country. It is for that reason that the head of the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies has said of the minimum wage: If the point is to avoid people being poor, this is an extraordinarily stupid way of doing it". However, embracing extraordinarily stupid policies has become the stock in trade of the hon. Member for Sedgefield.

The last Minister in a Labour Government to have responsibility for low-pay policy, Mr. John Grant, reckons that, at a "modest estimate", the minimum wage would add £40 billion to the national wage bill. Of course, he is no longer a member of the Labour party, but there are plenty of people who are still socialists and have comprehensively denounced the minimum wage. Joe Haines of the Daily Mirror has written: the minimum wage proposals won't work and if they do, won't help". The socialist Fabian Society has published a pamphlet which, despite all the wriggling of the hon. Member for Sedgefield and its author in recent days, is quite unequivocal in its denunciation of stage two of Labour's policy. The hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), who I am delighted to see in his seat, has also expressed his doubts. The hon. Member for Sedgefield always gets terribly excited when I quote the hon. Member for Birkenhead, but he cannot deny that the hon. Member wrote, in an article in The Times in 1984: I calculate that the higher minimum wage target"— that is, stage two of Labour's policy— could result in a loss of more than 400,000 women's jobs, a 4.4 per cent. rise in the total wage bill, together with a 2 to 2.5 per cent. rise in prices".

Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead)

I am grateful to be able, for the first time, to lean over the Dispatch Box and repudiate what the Secretary of State has said.

Mr. Robert G. Hughes (Harrow, West)

The hon. Gentleman was misquoted.

Mr. Field

I was quoted accurately. As the quotation was accurate, does the Secretary of State agree with the first part of my argument: that we should move towards a lower target, with all the safeguards?

Mr. Howard

Of course I do not. The fact is that the hon. Gentleman has totally failed to persuade his party to remove even the second part of the target from its policy—it remains in all the policy documents. I have always acknowledged that the strictures of the hon. Member for Birkenhead applied to the second stage of the policy, yet that is still the second stage of the policy to which the Labour party remains wholly committed.[Interruption.] That is the fact of the matter, and I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman must find it frustrating indeed.

Mr. Blair

The right hon. and learned Gentleman takes the biscuit. He assumes that the two-thirds calculation will apply immediately—not over time. Will he confirm that that is the assumption on which his estimate of 2 million is based, together with the assumption that everyone in the work force, including the Governor of the Bank of England, will get a 25 per cent. pay increase as a result of the minimum wage policy? Are not those assumptions absurd?

As the Secretary of State has just quoted from the Fabian Society pamphlet, let me tell him that, like everyone whom he quotes in his support, the author of that pamphlet had something to say about that. In common refrain of those whom the Secretary of State quotes, a couple of days ago the author said: Michael Howard persists in misrepresenting my Fabian pamphlet. All three of his quotations from it are used to support the opposite of their plain meaning in the pamphlet.

Mr. Howard

Naturally, the hon. Gentleman has gone to extraordinary lengths to try to persuade his friends to wriggle off the hook on which they are firmly impaled. The passages that I have quoted from the Fabian Society document are accurate —

Mr. Frank Field


Mr. Howard

I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman when I have finished what I am saying about the Fabian Society.

The Fabian Society document quoted an estimate that up to 880,000 jobs would be lost as a result of the minimum wage policy pursued by the hon. Member for Sedgefield and his party. It is true that the Fabian Society says that it is in favour of a minimum wage, but it means a different kind of minimum wage. It does not favour the policy clearly and unequivocally set out in Labour party policy documents.

Mr. Field


Mr. Howard

I shall give way in a moment, but I must first deal with the red herring introduced by the hon. Member for Sedgefield. He has raised it several times before and he is entirely mistaken.

The hon. Gentleman has repeatedly said—he has said it now across the Dispatch Box and he says it in letters to The Independent and elsewhere—that my estimates of job losses are based on the immediate introduction of Labour's national statutory minimum wage at the rate of two thirds of the median wage. That is absolutely untrue. Whether the minimum wage is introduced immediately or not has nothing to do with the calculations. The hon. Gentleman's objection would be relevant had I said that 2 million jobs would be lost immediately, but I have never said that. I have said that, whenever the policy were introduced, it would lead to the destruction of up to 2 million jobs.

If the hon. Member for Sedgefield is seriously saying that it will be of some comfort to the people of this country to be told that 2 million people will not lose their jobs immediately but may have to wait six months, a year, 18 months or even two years before losing them, he is living in even more of a fantasy world than I had assumed.

Mr. Blair

Everyone who has heard the Secretary of State talk about the minimum wage has been under the impression that he is saying that 2 million will be lost. If that is based on an immediate adoption of the two-thirds calculation and everyone getting a 25 per cent. wage increase, that is what I would call wriggling of a high order.

Let me tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman what my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) will no doubt tell him in a moment. I have not put pressure on my hon. Friend to write the letter to the Financial Times; he wrote it of his own accord. In a letter to The Independent a few weeks ago, the right hon. and learned Gentleman said that Labour Members of Parliament—in the plural—had condemned Labour's policy, but the only hon. Member whom he has ever cited is my hon Friend the Member for Birkenhead, who has denied it. If there are any others, will the Secretary of State let us know now?

Mr. Howard

The whole House will have seen the speed with which the hon. Member for Sedgefield abandoned the argument about the loss of 2 million jobs in relation to the timing of Labour's pledge. If the minimum wage were introduced at a rate of two thirds of the median wage, whether immediately or subsequently, it would cost up to 2 million jobs. The hon. Gentleman cannot criticise those calculations.

Mr. Field

The Secretary of State said earlier that my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) had leant on his friends so that they wriggled on the hook of their commitment or non-commitment to the minimum wage. I can answer only for myself. Will the Secretary of State now withdraw that accusation in so far as it applied to me? Will he accept that my hon. Friend did not communicate with me, nor did he ask anyone else to communicate with me? I wrote and then sent my hon. Friend a copy of the letter.

Mr. Howard

Naturally, if the hon. Member for Birkenhead says that, I unreservedly accept it. I did not refer specifically to the hon. Gentleman—[Interruption.]

Let us get to the guts of the argument—[Interruption.] The Opposition do not want to get to the guts of the argument. They do not want to hear about the people who support my strictures on their disastrous policy. Let me remind the Labour party of what was said by Gavin Laird of the Amalgamated Engineering Union and Eric Hammond of the Electrical, Electronic, Telecommunications and Plumbing Union. The hon. Member for Sedgefield issued a press release last week in which he claimed: the AEU is in favour of a minimum wage. Both Mr. Jordan and Mr. Laird are concerned to ensure that it is not used as a means of introducing wage restraint, a different matter altogether". Mr. Laird was speaking specifically about the minimum wage when he said of any plans to introduce it in the private sector: there's no logic for it, it doesn't work in any other country and it certainly will not work in Great Britain". If those are the words of a man supporting a policy, it is hardly necessary for me or my hon. Friends to oppose it. Even the hon. Member for Sedgefield would not dream of claiming that the EEPTU is anything other than totally opposed to the introduction of a national statutory minimum wage. No policy so strikingly illustrates the economic illiteracy of the Labour party, its determination to put its public sector pay masters before the national interest and its total unfitness to govern.

I suppose that Labour Front-Bench spokesmen may have believed that the tide of condemnation of this policy was at last turning when earlier this week an article appeared in a national newspaper defending the minimum wage. At least, they may have thought that, until they saw the article was by Mr. Ron Todd and that it appeared in the Morning Star

Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You know that this is a short, half-day debate. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is abusing the system. He is going on and on. It is time you got him to sit down.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

The Secretary of State has given way a good many times and I get the strong impression that he is approaching the end of his speech.

Mr. Howard

Of course the Labour party does not like hearing any of this or being reminded of the idiocy of its policy.

Mr. Ron Todd defended the policy, as I say, in the Morning Star. He is a doughty defender of lost causes, but I agreed with one point in his article. He said that the minimum wage was exactly the opposite of everything the Tories have imposed on our country over the last 12 years". He was right. It is the exact opposite of everything that has occurred since 1979—the exact opposite of policies that have created 1.3 million jobs since then and 3 million jobs since 1983. It is the exact opposite of polices that took Britain to the top of the European growth league tables in the 1980s and of the policies which have given the British people record living standards, record prosperity and a record number of opportunities. The Labour party stands for the exact opposite of the achievements of this country since 1979. That is why the Opposition have lost, lost and lost again in the past 12 years, and it is why they will lose yet again when the people of this country next have their say.

5.1 pm

Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead)

I want to make one observation about what I think has been happening to Britain under this Government and, if I can, to introduce a note of urgency on behalf of our low-paid constituents. My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) has given us many important figures from the Select Committee report and I shall repeat none of them, but I want to use that information to describe how I and others see Britain today.

There have always been important income differences in Britain. Some say that they are class differences; others believe that that is not a meaningful term. An analogy is perhaps useful. Until 1979, Britain was like a railway journey. There were first-class, second-class, third-class and fourth-class compartments and differences depending on which compartment a person occupied. Despite that, all were part of a single train journey. Since 1979, however, the end carriage containing the poorest people has been de-linked. We want to introduce urgency to the debate so as to hold out some hope to people in the fourth compartment.

My second point is intended to introduce a sense of urgency on behalf of the constituents of hon. Members on both sides of the House, and to explain why we should debate this issue. One of the greatest thrusts of Government policy has been to sell the idea of the market economy. There is not much difference between our parties on that now, and I am pleased about that. But if we have a market economy in which everything can be bought and sold and everything has a price, that price is important, particularly if the only thing that a person has to sell is his labour, and the price for it is miserably low. On behalf of those of our constituents who are single wage earners and who earn appallingly poor wages, I must point out that they look to this place for some redress. This is a doubly difficult task, the more so if these earners are responsible for families.

In our surgeries and as we move about our constituencies, we come across constituents who put to us very simply what it means to them to be low paid. They share the Government's idea that it is important to be in work. They strive to be in work, but they feel humiliated by the level of wages that they are paid. The Government have tried to turn this debate into a debate on Labour's policy, which is designed to hold out some hope to people who are continually humiliated by what the market pays them for what they can do best.

The Government and the Secretary of State have the cheek to talk about our ideas destroying jobs. I want to tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman what it means to have a job destroyed by privatisation. Imagine a man who thought it important to get up early in the morning before the buses and trains start running to travel through the wintry weather on his moped for miles to the local hospital, only to be told that his job and his mates' jobs have been privatised—that in future he can have a job but no longer a full-time job; that he will not be able to keep his family on the wages or even be able to claim family credit, given the hours that he will be able to work. So what he thought was sure has been torn up in his face.

What is more, that man has been paying for an occupational pension, responding to Government urgings not to rely on the state. But the firm that came in and tore up the full-time jobs and the dignity that went with them also destroyed the man's pension rights.

This debate has been about holding out hope to those who are in the fourth class carriage, which has been de-hooked from the rest of Britain and from the increases in income which—thank goodness—many have enjoyed under this Government as they have under others.

When we come to introduce a statutory minimum wage, we shall bear in mind what people say. I rejoice at the sight of the Secretary of State wriggling on his hook —about stages 1 and 2. He put across the message more clearly than we could have. He gave a clear statement to those who expect hope from the Labour party as we approach a general election. The minimum wage will be introduced at a modest level and it will be linked to our other policies on training and investment. Ours will be a policy not only of dealing with individuals who earn low pay, important though they are to us, but of eradicating low-paid jobs.

Mr. Howard

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that nothing that he has said absolves him or anyone else from the need to make a careful examination of what the consequences of that policy would be? If a consequence of that analysis and of the analysis made by many independent experts is that a minimum wage would destroy so many jobs, does not it behove us all to take these points seriously and to put them across vigorously?

Mr. Field

Of course it does. That is why early in my time in Parliament I took a year to write a book calling for the distinction between stages 1 and 2 to which the Secretary of State has drawn attention. Indeed, he has had more success in drawing attention to it than I have had in my book and subsequent articles, and I am grateful to him for that.

Let no one try to detract from the urgency that binds us together in the Labour party in seeking ways to eradicate low pay, not to punish low-paid workers still further. We are mindful, of course, of the fact that tax policy, education, training and investment have important parts to play, too. In a way it is a tribute to the Government that, in their market-led economy, in which everything has its price, and in an age in which people can be pushed into work to bring home a wage packet, however small, we should press for a minimum wage in an attempt to bring some dignity to those people who are ashamed when they open their wage packets each week.

That is bad enough if one is a single person in Birkenhead earning low pay. I also bring to the attention of the House what is said by parents who bring home such a wage packet and who are still eligible for family credit. They say that the most humiliating part is the look in their children's eyes which says, "You've failed again." Our desire is to bring hope to those people, so that there will be a limit to the humiliation that the low-paid have to endure.

5.10 pm
Mr. Lewis Stevens (Nuneaton)

I listened carefully to the points that the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) made so well. He made a case with which many of us have become familiar over the years. Although I agree with much that he said in respect of the feelings of those who have low incomes, we must acknowledge that some will remain low-paid whatever we do. In the early 1960s, I worked in the car industry, which was then one of the most prosperous in the country. A large proportion of unskilled workers in that industry received high wages by national standards, but still felt inferior and unable to cope in comparison with skilled workers who earned much more.

The hon. Member for Birkenhead is right to stress the urgency and importance of reviewing how the problems of the low-paid should be tackled by central Government. The present Government can take considerable credit for doing just that. One of the factors that makes it difficult for people to move from a low to a high income is the extent of the skills they possess and their relevance to the areas in which they want to live and work.

The present Government, uniquely in our history, have pursued a training policy that benefits those of 16 years of age and older. Previously, a large amount of training was not Government-inspired, but was provided by industry to the extent that it felt was necessary—and even then, it was not particularly well supported by the Government, except in terms of general education.

Today, Labour shares more than it did the belief that training is a major element in the development of an individual's skills and of his income. We should congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State and the Government on their approach to the breadth of training now available. I refer to such innovations as the training credit system and to the provision by training and enterprise council-type institutions of a broader curriculum, which embraces not only those who have already displayed considerable abilities but others who have been frustrated by the limited facilities available to them at school. Today, the means to achieve higher qualifications are open to a much wider group, and, under Government policies, there availability will increase still further in future.

I remember sitting on a number of Committees on which the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) was opposed in his arguments by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler), when he was Secretary of State for Employment. The hon. Member for Oldham, West usually acquitted himself well in those debates, but I had forgotten the extent to which that hon. Gentleman sticks to many old Labour party views.

Labour says that it will give extra money to one group, such as pensioners, and to another and another—but pays little regard to the source of that money and to whether it can ever be found. The hon. Gentleman made the same promise this afternoon. Labour is essentially saying, "We will give extra money to those on social security, and also introduce other measures such as a minimum wage." Where would that money come from?

My right hon. and learned Friend costed some of Labour's proposals at more than £30 billion. Even if Labour were ever in a position to try to implement its promises, it would be unable, within the constraints of a responsible economic policy, to do so at the speed that Labour suggests. If it did, it would create the inflation that we saw under the last Labour Government, with their high-spending approach to various sectors of society.

People in low-income groups have considerable problems, but how can they best be helped? The present Government have taken a realistic approach. After considering those most in need, the Government established a structure that makes it possible to distribute assistance in a better way. The Social Security Act 1988 provided considerably more help to many groups than they received before. Labour likes to knock the family credit system, arguing that it is impracticable and inappropriate, but it extends assistance to many low-income families.

Mrs. Sylvia Heal (Mid-Staffordshire)

Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that the 1988 Act took away entitlement to any form of benefit to young people between the ages of 16 and 18? By cutting their training programmes, the Government also denied those young people the opportunity to achieve better qualifications and thus make themselves more eligible to obtain employment.

Mr. Stevens

A training place is available to all 16 to 18-year-olds, and the 1986 Act enabled more to be done also for the disabled, who traditionally suffered from low incomes. The Government's general principles have shown a better way forward.

The Opposition attack what they call the quality of life today, but we have seen a tremendous increase in health service investment. The hon. Member for Birkenhead pointed out that a low income can affect diet, education, and many other aspects of a person's well-being. The Government's investment in education and in the health service has provided so much more to the advantage of the low-paid. The Government have also provided better access to education and training, with the result that opportunities have spread through to the lower income groups.

One must also put poverty into perspective. We have had reference to the EC recommendation of half average wages. That may be a fair measure, but any suggestion that poverty today bears any resemblance to that which had such a dramatic effect on health and mortality rates in the past is misleading. It is true that difficult circumstances affect health. However, thank goodness, very few people here live below such a poverty level even if it is below the level suggested in the EC measure.

The minimum wage is a policy that the Labour party will live to regret. It is not a practical proposition. It has been criticised by trade unionists and many others outside. I think that it was the hon. Member for Oldham, West—I apologise if it was not—who accused us of being the party of low wages. That is not true. The Tory party has been trying to create a situation in which wages can increase and there can be growth in real wages and the economy.

The Labour party used to be the party of low differentials in industry, and that was a cross that industry could not bear beyond the 1960s. As the effects of that approach took hold, many companies became unable to compete in both the wider European market and further afield. If there was anything that discouraged people from training for better jobs, it was the lack of differentials between skills. A school leaver given the choice of a comparatively unskilled job at a wage nearly as good as that for a skilled job after training would be likely to reject training.

The Opposition still have a great bias towards cutting differentials—and I am not saying that to justify the high wage increases of which we have heard recently. That bias is not only a detriment to training, but discourages people who should be flexible in their skills, rather than going into employment at the earliest opportunity, and it is a great disservice to the industry and commerce of the future.

Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill)

The hon. Gentleman is surely aware that some three quarters of those who are on low pay are women, many of whom are looking for work that enables them to maintain their family responsibilities as near to home as possible. At that stage in their lives, many of them do not want to undertake training. Why should they be paid hourly sums of less than £3.40—in some cases much less? Why should they have to sell their labour at such a ridiculously low level that their families are living in poverty?

Mr. Stevens

I take the hon. Lady's point, but, since 1978–79, the real take-home pay of single people and married women on half average male earnings has increased by 38.6 per cent. There may still be cases such as those that the hon. Lady quotes, but there are many fewer of them.

The concern of all of us must be to support those on low incomes and to provide opportunities for those who, in some cases by no fault of their own, are in difficult situations. We have provided many facilities to enable development away from low incomes for many people.

I have another concern. Some people are still doing their A-levels when they are 19, perhaps because they started later, perhaps because they have to do a third year before starting further education, or perhaps because they are doing a different course. When they reach 19, child benefit for them ceases.

In such cases—for example, a one-parent family in which the mother is unable to work and so is on income support—there is no automatic right for child benefit to continue and there is no other benefit for that child in full-time education. This affects only a comparatively small number of families, but there is a case for continuing child benefit in such circumstances, until the end of the academic year in which the child is 19. It would be helpful to some families if that anomaly were sorted out.

In general, the Government are to be congratulated on the approach that they have taken to help all people to raise their incomes and standards of living.

5.25 pm
Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

My original intention was to congratulate the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) on tabling the motion. Perfectly properly and rightly, it expands on some of the debates that we have been having on income equality to embrace some other important issues such as combating poverty and improving health, diet, educational achievement and individual opportunity. It is sensible to have a broad-based discussion on this topic. Therefore, I was disappointed when the Government hijacked the debate by tabling their amendment, which enabled the Secretary of State for Employment to make the speech that he did.

Mr. Newton

Why should he not?

Mr. Kirkwood

Because, while I usually find social security debates fairly depressing, it is a long time since I have heard such cynical low-grade abuse being shovelled across the Dispatch Box from a Minister of such seniority. I agree with the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) that we are trying to give people opportunities, but nobody who listens to the debate or reads it in Hansard will understand that the Government have anything like the appreciation of the problems that they need to make progress. I do not say this lightly, but the Secretary of State for Employment did himself no good by adopting that approach to this important debate.

My party does not agree with the Labour position on a national minimum wage, although I appreciate the problems from which the idea is philosophically generated. I agree with the analysis of the hon. Member for Oldham, West, although I do not think that a national minimum wage will help. Our idea, to move more in the direction of a partial basic income, is a different approach to the problem.

I was disappointed by the tone adopted by the Secretary of State for Employment and I hope that, in future, he will be kept out of social security debates. At least when the Secretary of State for Social Security insults people, he does it with some flash and style. He is entertaining, if nothing else.

People get frightened by the detail of social security policy. There is an essential difference between the two sides of the House. The Conservative Government have always done everything they could to maximise individual opportunity. However, certain consequences flow from that. That policy was encapsulated by the previous Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) when she talked about there being no such thing as society. She thinks that there is no responsibility or duty on the Government to provide collectively, beyond maximising the opportunities for the individual.

That stance is perfectly reasonable and understandable, but neither I nor my colleagues or the official Opposition take that view. There is a case for collective provision, but one has to be careful about setting priorities for action. In the general election campaign, we shall argue that education and training should have priority for new resources. In addition, we shall have to try to find extra resources to address some of the social security problems.

I shall now consider the directions in which we should move. I welcome the increase in child benefit in October, but it should be paid now. It should be increased immediately to £9.25 for the first child and to £8.25 for other children. Initially, the benefit should be linked to prices, but over three or four years the difference in benefit between the first and second child should be phased out.

The Government should consider the possibility of ending the clawback for child benefit, especially after recent increases and the troubles that were caused by the reduction in child dependency allowances. Clawback should be removed, even if it means changing the rates for child premiums, so that the poorest families can be targeted. A net increase of £2 a week for the poorest families could be obtained by ending clawback and adjusting some child premiums. That would help to target resources, and it would not be too expensive.

Maternity grants should be increased to solve the problem of the additional cost of a first child. It should be about £200 a week for the first child and £75 to £100 for the second child. The changes to low-income benefits, apart from child benefits, could embrace immediately increasing the family premium for income support and family credit. The lower rate of income support for those under 25 should be abolished and we would redress the balance for 18-year-olds. There is a case for abolishing the 20 per cent. contribution to the poll tax, which is causing dire hardship.

A substantial reform of the social fund is required to introduce clear criteria of eligibility. That fund is failing in its role as a safety net of last resort for people on the lowest incomes. The Secretary of State for Social Security may wonder where the money for those proposals is to come from. Our policy document "Common Benefit" sets out a comprehensive scheme which would, over time, integrate the tax and benefit system so as to release benefits and resources.

Mr. Newton

I do not intend to launch a verbal assault on the hon. Gentleman, because he is delivering a thoughtful speech—more thoughtful than one that we heard earlier—but I am puzzled by his suggestions on child benefit. He appears to say that he would not knock it off income support in the traditional way, which is to set supplementary benefit and now income support against child allowances paid for by income-related benefits. The hon. Gentleman suggests what can only be an income-related form of child benefit. I do not understand the logic of that.

Mr. Kirkwood

We are advised that it is possible to end clawback of child benefit from families claiming income support, while at the same time adjusting child premiums to target the benefit more specifically. That is what we were told, although whether people are in favour of it is a different question.

Pension increases are necessary and our document suggests financing those increases by the long-term abolition of SERPS. Obviously, existing contracts and benefits would be retained for people on SERPS. We suggest recycling resources to give immediate help. That would enable us immediately to increase the state pension from £52 to £57.50 per week for single people and from £83.25 to £90 per week for a married couple. We could also afford an extra £2.50 a week for people over the age of 75 and £5 per week for those who are over the age of 80. That would obviously take time to phase in, because the benefits from abolishing SERPS would not appear for some time. We think that we could increase pensions dramatically.

The Government should turn their attention to carers. Invalid care allowance could be converted to some sort of carers' benefit and indexed to earnings. The restriction that the invalid care allowance is not paid to those who are above pensionable age should be phased out. It is quite wrong that such carers do not have access to that benefit. Such a change would be expensive and would have to phased in.

Many imaginative changes could be made at no cost, and that is the basis on which we have tried to approach some of poverty's difficult problems. The scourge of unemployment must be tackled more robustly than the Government seem to be set on doing. We have produced a package of measures which could quickly combat a rise in unemployment. They include energy conservation programmes, funding for more places in higher quality training programmes, and measures to release some of the capital receipts held by local authorities to enable them to decide, if they wish, to invest in such matters as housing repairs and school repairs. That would also have the benefit of insulating houses and reducing fuel bills. A cycle of improvements would reduce the problem of poverty and deal with other difficulties.

As I have said, in the long term, the tax and benefit systems should be integrated. The first step on that road would be to abolish the contributory principle. That argument has been around for a long time, but it is important for it to be advanced as an alternative, viable option to what the Government and the Opposition propose. It would take some time to integrate national insurance contributions and income tax. Tax and benefits could be integrated in a way that would ensure 100 per cent. take-up of benefits, and it would enable them to be targeted to the sections of our society that need them most.

A more towards partial basic income would benefit the system of delivery. A partial basic income or a citizen's income could effectively support needy families. We have calculated that, at 1991 prices, we could start with a partial basic income of £12 a week. That is in addition to child benefits and other basic benefits. Those who would gain most would be people such as non-working spouses and caring parents who, in addition to child benefit, would receive their own income as individuals. The main losers would be those on the top rate of tax, who effectively would have their national tax allowances restricted to the basic rate of tax.

These are other ways of approaching the problem. I accept that they are fairly radical and that they would take a long time to introduce in full, but we must make a start and embark on some of the routes that I have set out if we are to make any real progress. The ideas that I have canvassed have been costed, and I believe that they bear examination. I look forward to the debates that will ensue when the general election is called, because they will provide an opportunity to argue relative merits.

Whatever may be said about the mechanics of my party's scheme or those of the scheme proposed by the official Opposition, I think that the public recognise now that the balance of advantage in favour of the rich has gone too far. They understand now that public investment is necessary in our infrastructure and education and that the Government's policy of maximising opportunities for individuals and doing just about nothing else is a policy that has run its course and has run out of time.

I urge the Secretary of State to consider all the options and to examine ways of delivering help that is needed urgently by the constituents of every Member of this place who are on low incomes. If he does that, he will be able to produce better solutions than the Government have arrived at to date.

5.41 pm
Mr. Simon Burns (Chelmsford)

I have attended many social security debates over the past four years, and my maiden speech was directed to social security. It is always a pleasure and a privilege to listen to the speeches of the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), and his speech this afternoon was no exception to the rule.

I listened with care to the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher). Rightly or wrongly, I gained the impression that he felt that everything was the fault of the Government and that poverty began on 3 May 1979. I believe that that is a genuinely unfair characterisation of what has happened over the past 12 years, or what has happened in our country's history over the past century or more. As I have said before, I believe that no one in this place wants poverty. Sadly, it is a fact of life, however, that there are less well-off people and less fortunate people than others in our community. I believe also that the aim of the Government, whether it be Conservative, Labour, Liberal or whatever, is to try to improve the position of those who are genuinely less well-off in our society.

I suspect that the divisions between the Government and the Opposition are based not so much on attaining the end of a policy that is designed to improve the position of the less well-off, as on how to arrive at the right policy. There can be some fairly fundamental differences of opinion when it comes to determining the right policy, and at least I have the reasonableness and decency to accept that there are differences of opinion rather than to try to blame everything that goes wrong on the Opposition, whether that is related to social security policy, foreign policy, defence policy or whatever.

I have open-mindedness to examine and accept the point of view of others at a time when I do not believe that there is that much openness in the views of Opposition Members. I do not want to go through a host of statistics to compare 1974–79 with the current Conservative Government, but I shall refer to five figures to present the other side of the coin following the selective figures that were used by the hon. Member for Oldham, West. If anyone casts his mind back to the 1970s, he will accept that it takes some nerve to gloss over that period in our history and to try to portray that Government in the light that is presented by Opposition Members. I have in mind the humiliation of the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), who had to leave an aeroplane before it flew out of Heathrow to take its passengers to an International Monetary Fund meeting. There then followed many genuine cuts in public spending.

I remind the hon. Member for Oldham, West that during 1974–79 pensioners' total incomes increased less than a fifth as fast as they have under this Conservative Government. I remind him that spending on benefits for the family during the same period was cut by nearly 8 per cent. and that the average annual increase in benefits for the disabled was only £325 million compared with £555 million since 1979. I remind him also that single people and married women on half average earnings suffered a 1 per cent. drop in incomes during 1974–79 compared with a 39 per cent. rise under this Government.

Married men on half average earnings enjoyed, if that is the right word—I somehow doubt it—a 2.4 per cent. rise in incomes under the Labour Government compared with a 34 per cent. increase since 1979. Finally, a married couple with one earner on half average earnings with two children had a 4.2 per cent. rise under the Labour Government compared with a 29 per cent. rise under this Government.

Ms. Short

We can all quote partial figures about the Labour Government. The entire House must accept, however, that since 1979 Britain has become more unequal than it has been for a long time. Inequality has increased and therefore there is more poverty. That is what the Government have produced.

Mr. Burns

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman—

Ms. Short

Hon. Gentleman?

Mr. Burns

I apologise profusely. I of all people should not have made that mistake.

I do not accept the hon. Lady's proposition. Under this Government the economy has developed and wealth has been generated so that we are now spending a record amount on the social security budget. We are spending over £50 billion a year, over £1 billion a week.

Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North)

Unemployment is increasing.

Mr. Burns

Before the hon. Gentleman continues to harangue me from a sedentary position, he should accept that Conservative Members appreciate that part of that spending is the result of unemployment. That was true also when the Labour Government faced high and increasing levels of unemployment.

Over and above that, however, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services has fought his corner in Cabinet and has secured an extremely good deal for the less well-off in our society. He has ensured that the disabled, pensioners, the ill and the unemployed have all received increases, in many instances well above the rate of inflation. It is a pity that the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) does not just once in a while strengthen his case by paying a little tribute to some of the achievements of Conservative Ministers. It does no one any good to suggest that everything that the other party does is wrong. The hon. Gentleman would enhance his own street cred in Nottingham if he had a little more graciousness in accepting that.

Apparently there is a new policy that will be the answer to all the problems of poverty in Britain, and that is the national minimum wage. Do you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the answer to this question: what have Bill Morris of the Transport and General Workers Union, Gavin Laird of the Amalgamated Engineering Union, Eric Hammond of the Electrical, Electronic, Telecommunication and Plumbing Union and Joe Haines of the Daily Mirror in common? The answer is that they are all opposed to a national minimum wage.

Mrs. Fyfe

The hon. Gentleman is mistaken about Bill Morris, who has shown enormous support for our efforts to introduce a national minimum wage and for a range of measures designed specifically to assist the low-paid.

Mr. Burns

I shall accept that correction if that is the fact. I understood that the TGWU had this week come out categorically against a national minimum wage. If it has not, I stand corrected. I still stand by my proposition that Gavin Laird, Eric Hammond and Joe Haines are all utterly opposed to a national minimum wage. They are opposed to it because of the impact that it will have on jobs.

The hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), on a more coy note in The Independent to which he referred and which he desperately tried to disown earlier in an intervention on my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Employment—I quote it again because it is just as relevant now as it was an hour and a half ago when he was wriggling so unsuccessfully—wrote: I have not accepted that the minimum wage will cost jobs … I have simply accepted that econometric models indicate a potential jobs impact. What does that mean? I suspect that it will mean some job losses, but the hon. Gentleman is not prepared to say so to his colleagues and his trade union friends. I suspect that the public relations boys at Walworth road worked long into the night to obtain an acceptable draft to send to The Independent to save the hon. Gentleman's face.

The truth of the matter, which the hon. Gentleman fears so much, is that up to 2 million jobs could be lost with a national minimum wage, but I advise the House not just to take that figure from me. A number of respected independent analysts have predicted for stage 1 only job losses of between 64,000 and 1 million, depending on which independent survey one chooses to accept. For stage 2, the university of Liverpool has predicted that up to 1.4 million jobs could be lost. The Institute of Fiscal Studies —to whom pronouncements Opposition Members often pay lip service when it suits their arguments—condemned the proposal in the most scathing of terms: If the point is to avoid people being poor, this is an extraordinarily stupid way of doing it. Many hon. Members will agree with that sentiment. I understand that even the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) has been more forthright than the hon. Member for Sedgefield. In what must be one of the greatest understatements of the year, he has admitted that a minimum wage policy would mean that One of two might lose their jobs. That suggests that the Labour party has done some work trying to calculate the impact of a minimum wage policy on Britain's economy. It would be in everyone's interests if the Labour party were prepared to publish the work that has gone into producing the right hon. and learned Gentleman's predictions so that we, too, can analyse the figures and see what he has come up with. Given the controversy and the number of different organisations that are predicting significant job losses, why is it so reluctant to publish any research on that important point? If it has not done any research, not only is that negligent—surely one must inspect the impact of the policies that one hopes to put to the country at the next general election—but how on earth can the right hon. and learned Gentleman predict that "one or two might lose their jobs"?

Ms. Short

I have been near the centre of the development of the minimum wage policy and I can tell the hon. Gentleman that there is no unpublished Labour party research. What we have done is look at all the academic literature in detail and thoroughly and we do not misrepresent it in the way that the Tory party does.

Mr. Burns

If that is so and some policy study group has examined the matter and, if I understood the hon. Lady correctly, all the different studies that have come out, and if the predicted range of job losses for stage 1 has been between 64,000 and 1 million, why did the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East say that "one or two" might lose their jobs? If he was being candid, he would have said that more than one or two might lose their jobs.

I cannot explain it, but I suppose that I am not expected to fathom the right hon. and learned Gentleman's mind. It is odd that he is mentioning such a minimal figure if the Labour party has studied all the surveys that have been published. I trust that between now and the general election the Labour party will be a little more forthcoming about how it views all those studies and let the country know precisely what, in its opinion, the impact of a national minimum wage would be.

I should be grateful if, when he replies, the hon. Member for Sedgefield—he is not in his place, but I am sure that the hon. Member for Oldham, West will pass on the message to him—would answer three questions which should be answered. First, what is the Labour party's estimate of how many jobs a national minimum wage would destroy? Secondly, how can the Labour party justify advocating a policy which, by its own admission, would destroy jobs? Thirdly, if the Labour party cannot persuade its trade union backers to accept a national minimum wage, how on earth does it expect anyone else to accept the policy?

Mr. Allen

The trade unions accept it.

Mr. Burns

In that case, I return to my original point. Gavin Laird does not accept it. Eric Hammond does not accept it.

Ms. Short

One or two individuals.

Mr. Burns

Opposition Members must not forget that the trade unions are the Labour party's paymasters. When the trade unions click their fingers, the Labour party usually jumps. I am not convinced that when the general election is called a national minimum wage in its current form will be official Labour party policy. There are up to 10 or 11 months in which the trade unions can get their claws into the parliamentary Labour party and ensure that it toes the line. It will be fascinating to watch that process.

Mr. David Evans (Welwyn Hatfield)

Is my hon. Friend aware that 155 Opposition Members are sponsored by unions? Is not the loss of 2 million jobs only the tip of the iceberg? Does not the Labour party's disastrous economic policy mean that the figure will be nearer 4 million?

Mr. Burns

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his typically robust intervention. I was aware that more than 150 Opposition Members are sponsored by trade unions. I suspect that in the coming months there will be a great deal of tension, particularly among those hon. Members sponsored by the AEU or, if the EETPU sponsors Members of Parliament, perhaps among them, too. I see the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) smiling. I wonder whether he will still be smiling when the general election is called. If so, will his trade union still be smiling if it is so diametrically opposed to the official Labour party policy of a national minimum wage?

No doubt, over the coming months, the matter will be argued hard and fast throughout Britain. Now is not the time to continue highlighting the Labour party's embarrassment on the issue. I shall watch with fascination to see the trade unions and those who are so opposed to a national minimum wage make sure that the Labour party toes the line in time for polling day, whenever that may be.

5.58 pm
Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth)

It is a great honour to be called in a debate in which my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) has made such a superb contribution. I am one of a generation of social security students who served an apprenticeship under him without him knowing it. I owe him a great debt for all that he has taught me over many years in his work on poverty and social security.

It is sad that we continue to debate poverty in Britain in the 1990s. The Government have been in power since 1979. I agree with the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) that poverty did not start in May 1979, but it became part of the vocabulary which was abolished from Government statements in 1979. That was the beginning of a period in which the abolition of poverty ceased to be one of the Government's objectives.

Since then, we have experienced three phases in the debate about poverty. The early 1980s saw a massive increase in the amount of poverty, which was caused by unemployment. The mid-1980s saw the punishing of the poor, through legislation such as the Social Security Act 1988. That Act abolished benefits for those aged under 18, and reduced them for those under 25. Now, we are seeing the results on the streets of London—destitution among young people, which should not be tolerated by a society that claims to be civilised. The results of the 1988 Act were compounded by those of the deregulation in employment, and the abandoning of local authority housing as an affordable form of accommodation for those on low incomes.

Finally, in the late 1980s, a further growth in unemployment led to a deepening of poverty. People who, only two or three years ago, believed that they were sharing in the benefits of an economic miracle have been forced into redundancy; they are losing their businesses and, at the same time, being hit by the punitive social security policies that the Government introduced in the mid-1980s.

Throughout that period, Ministers officially denied that poverty existed. In Wales—to which I shall address most of my remarks—there has been an additional denial: no one must mention poverty, lest it tarnish the country's image for potential overseas investors.

Low-income family statistics have been suspended, and then abandoned. Although we are debating a problem that affects probably 30 per cent. of people who are in or on the margins of poverty, we cannot see a regional breakdown for Wales; we cannot see official statistics telling us how many people are suffering poverty in a country with a population of 3 million.

Organisations such as the Welsh Development Agency have tried to pretend that poverty is part of the historical legacy of Wales. It is no longer a subject for debate, because to discuss it now would tarnish that image. I am sorry that no Welsh Conservative Members are present this evening, although I am aware that nowadays there are only six in the House.

The evidence of poverty in Wales can be found in a number of important reports, which deserve to be studied. There is the report by Jeanetta McAllister, of University college, north Wales, which examined rural poverty in Arfon, Gwynedd; there is, indeed, the Welsh economic review carried out by the Cardiff business school, and published by it under the title "Why are wages so low in Wales?" We have not seen much evidence from the Welsh Office, but, in 1986, the Welsh inter-censual survey showed that 43 per cent. of Welsh households were living on less than £80 a week—and that was at the height of Wales's so-called economic miracle. In the light of the increase in unemployment since 1986 and the sheer extent of poverty in Wales now, I urge the Welsh Office to conduct further studies.

The Low Pay Unit has also carried out some work, to which I must confess to having contributed. That contribution led me to want to enter the House, and I am very happy to have done so following the recent Monmouth by-election. According to the Low Pay Unit, one in four men in Wales earns less than the Council of Europe decency threshold, while 70,000 women work full-time for less than £130 a week, and one in five work for less than £120 a week. Do not those simple figures present an overwhelming case for a statutory minimum wage?

As I said in my maiden speech, there is no work ethic like that of the low-paid: people who work full-time for incomes that—after tax, national insurance and travelling expenses—are barely, if at all, above their social security entitlements. Six out of 10 women in Wales earn less than the Council of Europe decency threshold; one in four in Clwyd and Dyfed work full-time for less than £120 a week. In my own county, Gwent, one in four men and 60 per cent. of women are earning less than the Council of Europe decency threshold. Those figures surely provide overwhelming evidence of the need for a statutory minimum wage.

Nevill Hall hospital has become quite well known in recent weeks. Anyone who talks to the porters and ancillary workers, who have just had their pay increased to £114 a week, will see the case for a minimum wage. All that we are suggesting is an initial minimum wage of £130 a week—£3.40 an hour. That is hardly over-generous; those who say that they cannot support it will condemn thousands to total poverty.

According to the Welsh inter-censual survey, my constituency contains the most affluent local authority district in Wales. Beautiful areas, however, often mask serious problems of poverty and social deprivation. Monmouth, both urban and rural, is a prime example of the way in which an area of outstanding natural beauty, which appears to support comfortable life styles, can conceal such problems. Poverty exists in Monmouth, just as it exists in other places.

We need only visit the jobcentres at Chepstow, Abergavenny and Monmouth to see how appallingly low are the wages for the jobs that they advertise. I wish that the Department of Employment could ensure that those who place the advertisements paid as much heed to the legal wage council rates as they are forced to pay to the sex discrimination and race relations laws. At every jobcentre, no end of jobs are advertised that pay illegally low wages.

In the five weeks in which I have been a Member of Parliament, I have found the most disturbing aspect of representing the people of Monmouth to be meeting the growing number who are either homeless or threatened with homelessness. The problem is growing rapidly. On current figures, the number of people applying to be considered homeless by Monmouth borough council will be twice as large this year as last. That is an appalling indictment of the Government's housing policy: they have effectively abandoned local authority housing, in favour —or so they claim—of housing association provision. Even the housing associations would be the first to admit that they are incapable of replacing local authorities as providers of enough housing to prevent the present degree of homelessness.

Monmouth borough council is the only Conservative district authority left in Wales. Its housing strategy statement states that the market can never respond to housing needs. From that it is obvious that homelessness can never be dealt with under the council's present provisions. Despite the claims of the Conservative authority, it is clear that people have a right to rent from local authorities—they deserve that right. The problem of homelessness in Monmouth is becoming greater, and it is causing embarrassment to many Conservative members of the borough council.

What is the quality of life for those who bought their council houses in the heyday of the right-to-buy campaign and whose houses are now being repossessed as a result of rising unemployment? What is the quality of life for those people who face little choice, but to go into tardy bed-and-breakfast accommodation because the local authority has no housing provision, as well as a five-year waiting list, which is not moving?

The evidence of the effects of poverty on people's quality of life is now becoming overwhelming. An important report was recently completed by Professor Johnathan Bradshaw, which was sponsored by UNICEF. He stated: There is no evidence that improvements in the living standards of the better off have 'trickled down' to low income families with children. A recent report by the National Children's Home showed that one in five parents have gone hungry in the past month because they did not have enough money to buy their family sufficient food of decent nutritional value.

Mr. Allen

That is one reason why the differential between the top 20 per cent. of earners and the bottom 20 per cent. is higher now than it has been for more than 100 years. Does my hon. Friend agree that that looks very much like a return to Victorian values?

Mr. Edwards

We are not only witnessing a return to Victorian values, but a Government policy to return us to Victorian conditions. The figures behind my hon. Friend's statement were set out in yesterday's edition of the Financial Times.

The approach to the poor adopted by the three present Welsh Office Ministers demonstrates that there is a chasm between their thinking on the subject and that of others. The Secretary of State for Wales claimed in a recent speech that there was a need to start looking at poverty seriously. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett), is a co-author of a No Turning Back Group policy document, "Choice and Responsibility". That document states: As in third party car insurance, most citizens would be required to insure themselves for their old age, sickness, ill-health and unemployment. If that is not opting out, what is?

The people need to know the status attached to that policy document. They must know the extent to which it will be incorporated into Conservative party policy should it form the next Government—I am sure that it will not. The people must know to what extent the policy of privatising unemployment benefit and old-age pensions has been accepted by Ministers.

6.13 pm
Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher)

The title of the debate, "Low Income and the Quality of Life", should have led to a stimulating debate had the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) undertaken a proper analysis of the subject. Sadly, that was not the case. He did not address the second part of his motion, which relates to the effects of poverty on health, diet, educational achievement and individual opportunity. The problem for the Labour party is they opposed the sensible Conservative measures introduced in the past 11 years which have addressed the problems indentified in the motion. They have opposed many of the recent reforms in the health service, for example, which will increase access to health care and will reduce waiting lists.

Look at the way in which the Government are targeting deprivation payments to general practitioners in inner-city areas. They are specifically designed to help people most in need. Improvements in educational standards in inner-city areas has meant that those who traditionally did not have access to education no longer face that problem. The Government, by extending choice through the use of city technology colleges, have introduced new horizons for those who previously did not have education opportunities. Surely that is what is meant by "individual opportunity"? We have provided the opportunity not only for those who can afford to seize it, but for others. That has been the result of the improvement in public services that has taken place under the Government and that policy will be a plank of the next election manifesto.

The hon. Member for Oldham, West did not recognise the massive increase in public expenditure in the social services sector, especially in respect of families. Those increases are an important part of any analysis of the quality of life of people. Expenditure on benefits for the family has increased by 29 per cent. above inflation under the Government. The October increases will mean that £500 million extra has gone to less well-off families since 1988. Family credit helps more than 340,000 families on low earnings and the average amount given is more than £30 a week.

Those important contributions could be provided only by a Government who are understanding enough to realise that, unless one gives people who are capable of creating wealth the incentive to do so, insufficient funds can be distributed to those most in need. That recognition is the signal achievement of the Government. The policy of taking some people out of tax altogether is one of many other significant achievements of the Government in the past 11 years.

Other issues, often controversial, must be analysed. The motion refers to diet, but the coronary prevention group of the Guild of Food Writers has clearly stated: If you want to spend less money buying healthy food all year round, this is now not hard to do. It is important to appreciate that it is possible to maintain a decent quality of life and a reasonable diet by means other than massive Government intervention or one's wealth. There are all sorts of possibilities open to people, but I accept that that requires better education and information. However, the opportunities are available to people if they want to take them.

Another matter of concern is the failure of the Labour party to analyse the effect of the minimum wage not just on the absolute number of jobs, but on whether it assists the reduction of poverty, which is another important criterion to analyse. It is interesting that the Financial Times of 25 June stated: Minimum wages have rarely achieved their intended effect". It called them the poor cousin of poverty fighters. That article referred specifically to the OECD report on France, to which my right hon. and learned Friend referred earlier. It said that France's relatively high 9 per cent. unemployment rate and the rising proportion of long-term jobless, particularly among the more vulnerable, is attributable in part to that country's minimum wage proposals. The absolute number of people affected is important, but so is the categories who are most disadvantaged. The Financial Times report referred to them as the young, older workers and the unskilled. It is extremely worrying if that is the effect of introducing a minimum wage. The hon. Member for Oldham, West displayed a smug cynicism in his attempt to claim that the minimum wage would assist people. That assertion must be put in context with the statistical evidence to the contrary provided by much independent research. I hope that Labour will be more honest when it analyses its policies.

The introduction to a report published by the OECD in spring 1991 says: A minimum wage, if it is to be effective in reducing poverty, must be fixed above the market-clearing wage. But the corollary of this is that it is likely to cause employment losses. This latter effect may be particularly important in youth labour markets since young people tend to be over-represented amongst the lower paid. If Labour's policy is to increase the risk of exposure to poverty and hardship, that should be of much concern to the categories that are most exposed to that policy. It is a particular form of cynicism that the Labour party should be trying to introduce a minimum wage.

The OECD's latest survey goes into more detail. I do not have time to deal with it, but I draw Labour Members' attention to it because if they read it they would understand why their Labour-influenced newspaper The People said: Labour's plan for a national minimum wage is not the answer. It would only cause more unemployment and deny jobs to those who most need them. That is at the heart of the worries about Labour's minimum wage proposals, which are more likely to exacerbate hardship among people who are most in need, whom the Government have tried to assist. Labour's proposals would not necessarily address the problems of people who are already low-paid.

Many of the social problems of low income and poverty and of the difficulties of the most disadvantaged in our community will not be solved by Government action alone. The problem of increasing social tensions, which has arisen over decades and not only under this Government, is caused perhaps by the breakdown in community spirit. Part of that breakdown has been caused by the increase in the dependency culture and over-reliance on Government handouts. We must try to re-establish the importance of understanding how a community can help itself and how it can assist deprived members of the community. Many academics, including Charles Murray, have said that it is not only poverty that is important; it is the attitude of the people who are in that category.

Such people will be helped not by Government action alone but by other people who live in their community. The Government have done much to encourage charitable giving so that the people who are closest to the difficulty can assist those who are most in need. The combination of Government assistance through the social security system —our record is admirable—assistance to charities and encouragement of the community spirit, which enables people to help each other, is the right way to assist our people and the right way to approach this debate, rather than offering bogus theories of a minimum wage which would leave many people much worse off, particularly those who are least able to protect themselves.

6.22 pm
Ms. Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood)

I should like to associate myself with the remarks of the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) and with his criticisms of the Secretary of State's speech.

The Secretary of State's performance was a caricature of a cynical politician. It was what most people in the country think of politicians—long-winded and arrogant, and showing no concern for fellow citizens who work hard but run out of money at the end of the week. The right hon. and learned Gentleman gave a misleading account of the academic evidence on the likely job impact of a national minimum wage. He gave a deplorable performance, which showed that he has no concern for people.

We are reaching the end of a failed economic experiment that has done much damage to many people. Before it began, J. K. Galbraith said that Britain was about to make a great contribution to world civilisation by offering to test to destruction the theories of monetarism. We have done that, and many people have been hurt. It has failed economically and politically.

The Conservative party ditched the previous Prime Minister because the effects of Thatcherism had become horrendously unpopular. It got rid of her so that it could get a new image in time for the next election.

The Government's economic record is clear. Since the second world war, no Government have achieved a lower rate of economic growth—1.75 per cent. They ditched the last Prime Minister because her unpopularity meant that she could not win again, but the centrepiece of Thatcherism was that greater inequality would lead to greater economic efficiency—that, by cutting public spending, people would buy services and greed would make the economy more efficient. Our country has become much more unequal, but that was the centrepiece of Thatcherism.

The figures on the changes in the tax and benefit system are shocking,. Figures from John Hills show that, up to 1989, £6.5 billion was taken from the bottom 40 per cent. of the population and that most of it was given to the top 10 per cent. in tax handouts. The Government took money from people who had the least and gave it to very rich people.

That was a deliberate policy. Another strand of that policy was a series of measures to encourage low-paid employment. The Government removed protection that prevented competition by wage cutting, such as the fair wages resolution, and removed young people from the protection of the wages councils. They introduced the young worker scheme, which offered employers subsidies provided that they paid employees £40 a week or less. A whole raft of measures positively encouraged low pay. They were enormously successful. There has been much growth in low pay under the Government.

Low pay is bad for families and for the individuals who receive it. It is hard if someone works hard but ends up with so little that he or she cannot live and pay for the necessities of life.

Low pay is also bad for the economy and it always goes with low investment, poor training and high labour turnover. The Government have encouraged low pay and such employment conditions in large parts of our economy. It is bad for economic performance, which is partly why economic growth under the Government has been so appalling.

The Government boast about family credit, but if they encourage employers to pay less than a living wage, they must do something about it to bring people's money up to survival level. They boast about and encourage family credit, yet they are subsidising inefficient, hopeless employers who cannot pay a living wage. That is a ridiculous way to subsidise industry. It is a subsidy for inefficiency, for rotten employment conditions, for no training and for no investment. Our policy is not to gel rid of family credit—we will keep it as long as it is needed—but we shall raise the bottom level so that most people do not need it, which will lead to a saving in public expenditure.

The Government's misrepresentation of the academic evidence on the national minimum wage is unprecedented. Their claim that unemployment would increase by 2 million is disgraceful. It is false, it is lies and it is deceit. If we are to have a serious argument about low pay and a national minimum wage, let us get all the academic evidence. The briefing that the Government give their Back Benchers, who mouth the same, silly ill-informed nonsense, is unworthy of the House and brings it into disrepute.

The overwhelming bulk of low-paid workers in Britain are women. I think of that every time the Prime Minister sneers about the undesirability of a national minimum wage. But, of course, he is the Prime Minister without a woman in his Cabinet, who does not care about women's work being undervalued. Home helps and a whole range of people with important skills are low-paid. Much women's work is undervalued and underpaid. That is unjust and wrong. Women want a national minimum wage and will be the major beneficiaries, which is an important reason for the Tories to despise the proposition.

I am a sponsored member of the National Union of Public Employees. I am pround of it because that union represents many low-paid, overwhelmingly women, workers. I get no personal benefit of any sort as a result of being sponsored by NUPE. My local Labour party receives £650 a year to help with political campaigning and something towards the cost of my election expenses.

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)


Ms. Short

I hope that the hon. Gentleman and Conservative Members will listen carefully to what I am saying, because I mention the matter in all seriousness. It means that I am hooked organisationally into a union that represents low-paid workers. I meet those people regularly. I attend various events and I have close links with NUPE in the west midlands—all of which means that I never forget that there are many low-paid women workers. They passionately want a national minimum wage. I am proud to discuss the whole matter with them, and I seek in the House to represent the interests of many low-paid women workers.

Do Conservative Members consider that there is something wrong with that? It represents a democratic link with a large number of people in society. I am speaking of a large group of people who need a voice. I am proud to represent that voice here—[Interruption.]—and I cannot imagine why Conservative Members sneer at that.

Mr. Ian Taylor

Nobody is sneering.

Ms. Short

I heard Tory Members sneering at our trade union links. I have explained my trade union link. I am proud of it and it is good for democracy. There is certainly nothing cynical about it.

Mr. Burns

I said that, if a union such as the AEU was passionately against a national minimum wage, I suspected that it would do what it could to persuade Opposition Members who were sponsored by that union to understand the position and, one hopes, accept the union's point of view.

Ms. Short

I respect the hon. Gentleman, but on this occasion he is talking out of his ill-informed brief. The AEU supports the TUC, and its policy is in favour of a national minimum wage.

Mr. Barnes

What about Gavin Laird?

Ms. Short

Gavin Laird, speaking as an individual, has been critical of it. He is only one individual. But the union, which represents many thousands of people, takes a different view. Gavin Laird may not agree with his union's policy and he is entitled to express his view. Conservative Members are so ignorant about the way in which our unions work and how democracy operates that they think that the remarks of one individual mean that the whole union is opposed to the introduction of a national minimum wage.

The TUC supports the policy. The EETPU is outside the TUC and seems to be hostile to it, but that is not the view of the entire trade union movement. Some of the higher-paid, skilled unions did not like the idea at first, but after an intense debate in the movement—it has been going on for many years and has involved a great deal of academic research—many of them have been persuaded of the rightness of the policy.

Conservative Members should reflect that the whole of the rest of western Europe and the United States has a national minimum wage. If it has been such a disaster, how have those countries managed? I think I see the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Secretary of State shaking his head in dissent. He is wrong. He should not just shake his head in that way and mislead the House, as he did earlier.

The Prime Minister tried to create a new image after the disaster of Thatcherism. Thatcher had to be ditched and the new Prime Minister said he wanted a classless society. That can never be achieved in a deeply unequal society. If we are to have fairness and justice, allowing people the capacity to move about and use their talents, society must be fairly equal.

The Conservatives have made Britain much more unequal and have destroyed many people's lives. Labour will bring in a much fairer system, with a national minimum wage, a fair tax system and a fair benefits system. The country will be a better, more attractive and more enjoyable place in which to live, and we shall have a more economically efficient society.

6.35 pm
Mr. Patrick Ground (Feltham and Heston)

All the speeches and interventions of Opposition Members have been based on the idea that poverty must be defined in relation to average incomes or wages. I accept that there is considerable academic and international support for that concept, but we have not heard much about the relative quality of life at various stages.

It has been said—the European definition has been relied on—that half average wages is poverty. The hon. Members for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) and for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short), in her speech and intervention, relied heavily on the concept of relative poverty, but nothing has been said by Opposition Members about what has happened to the level of average earnings in the 11 years while we have been in office. Surely, if we are concerned with relative poverty and the fate of those whose position is defined in relation to average incomes, we should be very concerned indeed about the overall level of average earnings.

Average household incomes increased between 1979 and 1987 by about 32 per cent. in real terms—an important fact for those living on the lowest incomes. It seems unsatisfactory to define poverty solely by reference to average incomes because if that were the true position, Labour Members could eliminate poverty completely—if they were able to do so—by expropriating all incomes of, say, 50 per cent. of average incomes or above. That would make for a tremendous reduction in poverty, according to the definition of Opposition Members, but nobody would be any happier or better off. It might please those with egalitarian passions, but it would not add anything to the good of the country.

Because the whole debate if based so firmly on the concept of relative poverty, that concept is being related to assumptions which should not be used to monopolise the subject. I see the attraction of those definitions for Opposition Members, because they make matters awkward for a party which is not committed to equality of incomes, to very high taxation and to attempting to equalise incomes. However, it is possible to believe that it is important to seek to eradicate poverty without being committed to the doctrinaire equalitarian ideas of equalising incomes at all levels.

Most people living in some degree of relative poverty are less concerned with their relationship to average incomes than with their previous and present standard of living. They are more contented if they have improved their standard of living and are giving a better standard to their children than they enjoyed. Those matters are far more important to most of our constituents.

An examination of the way in which the material things of life have been enjoyed since 1979—whatever indices are taken from social trends and censuses and so on—makes it clear that even families on low incomes are enjoying more of the better things in life than was the case in 1979. Far fewer families live in overcrowded accommodation; there are far fewer families without bathrooms and with outside lavatories; there is much less overcrowding than in 1979; more people have refrigerators, cars and foreign holidays even among the lowest income groups; and there is better access to advanced medicine for all groups within society. Life expectancy has increased substantially since 1979. Although there has been some criticism about wage levels in the million extra jobs that have been created since 1979, those jobs have contributed enormously to household incomes.

I am sorry that more emphasis has not been placed in this debate on the relative quality of life for all citizens and for the poorest citizens by comparing what people enjoyed in 1979 with what they enjoy now. That consideration is at least as important as comparisons between low and average wages.

6.40 pm
Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill)

There are three ways to improve spending power—charity, state handouts and better wages. I invite Conservative Members to say which they would prefer to improve their standard of living.

Will the Secretary of State for Employment explain why, during the weeks of Tory attacks on Labour's plans to make employers stump up and pay at least £3.40 an hour—which is not a fortune by anyone's standards—the Government have not uttered one word of concern about the plight of people on low pay? The Government have not recognised the facts, but we know their attitude because of what they have done to the wages councils. They failed to recognise that so many people on low wages were involved in those councils.

It has been mentioned today that the Secretary of State has just had his 50th birthday. I am amazed that someone who has spent half a century on this earth remains so ignorant of the circumstances of many of our fellow British citizens. I suggest that he takes a walk round Maryhill when I shall show him the standard of living of people on low wages in such an area. I am not interested in how he spends his birthday—I am interested in the birthdays of the kids of people who cannot afford to provide decent birthdays for their children and who get into debt trying to do so.

I shall say a few words about trade unions, although I have only a few minutes. My own union, the Transport and General Workers Union, supports the minimum wage. Although the Electrical, Electronic, Telecommunications and Plumbing Union is outside the Trades Union Congress, as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) said, its members gave the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer a standing ovation when he took the battle right into its camp and attacked Eric Hammond's refusal to accept the minimum wage proposal. Members of the Amalgamated Engineering Union have never made a wage claim based on the pay of assistants in dry cleaning shops or of waitresses in cafeterias. However, many male car workers have a wife, mother or daughter who earns low wages in jobs that have no trade union organisation and for which there are no wage councils, and they are not in the least averse to their wives, mothers, daughters, friends and neighbours receiving decent pay.

The TUC supports the minimum wage. Norman Willis has had letters supporting the minimum wage published in the national press, so let us have no nonsense or pretence that the trade union movement is against a minimum wage. A few leading individuals are against the proposal, but they are not the voice of the trade union movement as a whole. Let us stop the attempt to deceive the House and the British public about the stance of the trade union movement.

6.43 pm
Mr. Tony Blair (Sedgefield)

If ever a ploy backfired, it was the attempt to hijack this debate. The Secretary of State for Employment is faced with the fastest-rising level of unemployment anywhere in the western world. According to the report published last week by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development job creation in this country will be lower this year than anywhere in the western world. Next year, this will be the only country in Europe in which the number of jobs created will fall. We have the lowest growth and the lowest investment. We are the only country to suffer low growth four years in a row. Faced with that, what does the Secretary of State tell us today? Absolutely nothing.

The same OECD report states that skill shortages and inadequate training are responsible for high unemployment. Who but the Secretary of State is responsible for those skill shortages? Thousands of people are waiting for training places. We know from documents leaked from his Department that the relationship between the training and enterprise councils and the Government is not sustainable. We know that Britain has the worst skills deficit of any country in Europe, but what has the Secretary of State told us about that today? Nothing. When he had the chance to debate poverty seriously—an issue that matters to millions —what did he do? He elbowed the Secretary of State for Social Security out of the way and attacked Labour's minimum wage proposal.

There can be no more pertinent example of what the Government have become than the fact that faced with the fastest-rising unemployment and the worst skills shortage, the Department of Employment devotes its entire energy and resources to attacking the Labour party. The Conservative party has ceased to be a party of Government and has become a party of Opposition. The Prime Minister must be the first British political leader in history to have gone into opposition while still residing in Downing street.

What have the Government tried to tell us today? The Secretary of State tried to tell us that the Fabian Society condemned the minimum wage. I quote what the author of the pamphlet involved, Mr. Fred Baylis, said to The Independent. After complaining about persistent misrepresentation by the Secretary of State, he concluded: Despite what Mr. Howard twists my words to suggest, I did not condemn Labour's proposal for a legal minimum wage. I strongly support it. That is from the man whom the Secretary of State said condemned the minimum wage.

The Secretary of State also said that Labour Members of Parliament condemned the mininimum wage. We asked which Labour Members of Parliament, and he cited my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), who then told him that he supported the proposal. We are still waiting for the answer to the question which Labour Members of Parliament are supposed to condemn the minimum wage.

I shall mention one or two items in the Secretary of State's document because I think that some Tory Back Benchers may be interested. It states: Norman Willis of the TUC has said 'the level of two thirds male median earnings is an extreme level' (Financial Times, 3rd July 1991). I have read the Financial Times of 3 July 1991, but those words do not appear. In fact, Mr. Willis said: the claim by Mr. … Howard … that Labour's policy would destroy 2m jobs assumed that the wage would be set at some 'extreme level overnight"'. The Secretary of State also cited in support the National Institute for Economic and Social Research. A few days ago The Guardian cited comments from Mr. Paul Gregg, the author of a pamphlet. What he said is highly significant and we should have an explanation. Mr. Gregg said: I have had officials from the Department of Employment ringing me up quite often. Every time I say what I am saying [on the issue] it's not what comes out at the end. It is about time that the Government stopped misrepresenting what people say and started telling the truth. On the Government's claim that it will cost 2 million jobs, the independent Income Data Services said the other day not only that the Government's assumptions were entirely unrealistic, but that the Government's claim were not borne out by the facts. When Income Data Services examined the 120 wage claims, it could find no discernible effects of the type claimed by the Government.

Mr. Howard

The hon. Gentleman knows that the Income Data Services study was not based in any sense on the introduction of a national statutory minimum wage. If the hon. Gentleman does not accept my estimate or the estimates of any of the independent experts who have said how many jobs that it would cost, when will he give us his estimate?

Mr. Blair

The right hon. and learned Gentleman's claims not borne out by the experience in other countries. Many of them, with lower unemployment rates than this country, have a minimum wage. The right hon. and learned Gentleman persists in telling us that a minimum wage will cause job losses.

Of course, the Income Data Services report was not an analysis of a minimum wage, because we do not have one; it was an analysis of where wage levels had been raised far higher proportionately for the lowest-paid than for the higher-paid, with no discernable employment impact and no impact on differentials.

It is not just a matter of the Government opposing Labour's proposals—they now want to abolish even the minimum wage protection, through wages councils, that we have. Not content with opposing minimum wage legislation for some of the lowest paid in our society, they now want to deprive even the people who have the benefit of that protection. Almost 90 years ago, Winston Churchill said in the House that it was necessary to set up the wages councils to prevent the good employer from being undercut by the bad. Those arguments are as valid today as when they were advanced.

The rest of Europe and the United States not only have a minimum wage but are uprating it by more than inflation. They realise what this Government do not—low wages are not the key to economic success. Training, skills and technology are the keys to success in a modern economy.

Let us consider some of the people whom the Government say should not be protected in the way that we believe they should be. The security guard on £1.50 an hour, the hairdresser's assistant on £1 an hour and other people sometimes working for a pittance are the people whom the Government do not want to support and whom they want to keep on low pay.

When the Government attack the minimum wage and our protection for the low paid, we hear little from them about Mr. John Baker, the chief executive of National Power, and his 60 per cent. pay rise or about Mr. Robert Evans of British Gas and Mr. Iain Valiance of British Telecom. Is there not something peculiarly disgusting about those who decry the notion of protection for the lowest paid, yet sit on their hands and do nothing while those in the privatised companies get huge pay rises? [Interruption.]

Conservative Members will listen. Have not the Government always opposed every piece of social legislation that has ever been put through the House? Do not they still oppose the European social charter? This is the only country to oppose it. Are not the arguments that we hear about the minimum wage the same arguments the Government used to oppose equal pay legislation in the 1970s? The Conservative party turned its back on the unemployed, and it now turns its back on the low-paid.

Of course the minimum wage must be implemented carefully and of course we cannot set it at too excessive a level, but we will start the process of having a minimum wage. We shall take care, but we shall introduce it, because it is fair and right and because a society that treats its most vulnerable badly is a society not worthy of the name. Labour will create that society, and that is one reason why we shall have a Labour Government.

6.53 pm
The Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Tony Newton)

I should have found all the rhetoric of the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) more convincing if, among the many other quotations, it had contained a reference to the OECD report, which was published less than a fortnight ago, about the effects of a minimum wage in France. That report states that it is likely that France's minimum wage has reduced employment levels, especially for youths and the unskilled, and notes that unemployment is particularly prevalent among workers earning at or near the minimum wage.

Mr. Blair

I do not blame the right hon. Gentleman, because he has been badly briefed by the Secretary of State for Employment. That OECD report refers to an earlier report by Mr. Bazen and Mr. Martin which found, first, that there was no adult employment effect and, secondly, that there was no discernible youth unemployment effect in France.

Mr. Newton

The OECD report does not appear to bear the interpretation that the hon. Gentleman places on it. What is more, the OECD specifically suggested that the right way to tackle the problems about which the whole House is concerned is exactly the way in which the Government have been tackling them—by reducing imposts on the low-paid, such as national insurance contributions, as we have done, and by introducing and improving family credit.

The notion that a minimum wage policy of the kind outlined by the hon. Member for Sedgefield will overtake and allow to wither on the vine the benefit known as family credit—a huge improvement on its predecessor, family income supplement—is far-fetched, given that family credit is now worth the equivalent of £2,000 a year to the average person who receives it. If we are told that a minimum wage will raise wages to that sort of amount, by heavens we have probably underestimated the unemployment that will be created.

I have only a few minutes left to speak. I do not particularly complain about that, except to say that I cannot be expected in the time available to respond to all the points made in the debate. At the end of April—the latest date for which figures are available—family credit, already taking well over twice as much money to at least half as many families again as under family income supplement, went to about 340,000 families, the highest ever number. There are further signs that the numbers helped by that benefit will continue to increase.

Whether one bases one's views on the OECD report or on any other sensible analysis, there can be no doubt that family credit, together with the tax and national insurance policies which have pursued to create employment, is being and will be infinitely more effective in tackling those problems than the Labour party's policies would be.

I have not attempted to go into all the statistical minutiae offered by the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), but we heard a lot about training and statistics in Europe. Let me give the hon. Gentleman four facts for him to ponder. If we adopted the approach to pensions which is general in Europe, 2 million women would have no pension. Nowhere but in Britain do married women with no contribution record qualify for a pension in their own right based on their husband's contributions. If we adopted the German approach in caring for the elderly, there would be no special income support regime providing up to £300 a week for more than 200,000 people in residential and nursing care. In Germany, that is held to be the responsibility of relatives.

If we adopted the French approach to child benefit—the hon. Member for Sedgefield is fond of referring to France—2,750,000 families, or 40 per cent. of all families, would get no such benefit. In France, the one-child family does not qualify.

May I tell the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mrs. Heal) that, if we followed the French on income support for young people, single able-bodied under-25s would receive no benefit at all. So the next time that the hon. Member for Sedgefield wants to imply that the system works better elsewhere, he should say which system he has in mind and whether he proposes to copy it.

No matter how much statistical smoke is emitted, it is ridiculous for Labour Members to pretend to be bothered about poverty, and preach about a minimum wage that will mean fewer jobs and more unemployment.

Mr. Don Dixon (Jarrow)

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

Question put accordingly, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 217, Noes 281.

Division No. 199] [7 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Boyes, Roland
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley, N.) Bradley, Keith
Allen, Graham Bray, Dr Jeremy
Anderson, Donald Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)
Armstrong, Hilary Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith)
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Ashton, Joe Caborn, Richard
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Callaghan, Jim
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich) Campbell-Savours, D. N.
Barron, Kevin Canavan, Dennis
Beith, A. J. Carr, Michael
Bellotti, David Clark, Dr David (S Shields)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) Clelland, David
Benton, Joseph Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Bermingham, Gerald Cohen, Harry
Blair, Tony Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Boateng, Paul Cook, Robin (Livingston)
Corbett, Robin Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Corbyn, Jeremy Lewis, Terry
Cousins, Jim Litherland, Robert
Cox, Tom Livingstone, Ken
Crowther, Stan Livsey, Richard
Cryer, Bob Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Cunliffe, Lawrence Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Cunningham, Dr John McAllion, John
Darling, Alistair McCartney, Ian
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Macdonald, Calum A.
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'I) McKelvey, William
Dewar, Donald McLeish, Henry
Dixon, Don McMaster, Gordon
Dobson, Frank McWilliam, John
Doran, Frank Madden, Max
Douglas, Dick Mahon, Mrs Alice
Duffy, Sir A. E. P. Marek, Dr John
Dunnachie, Jimmy Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Eastham, Ken Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Edwards, Huw Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Evans, John (St Helens N) Martlew, Eric
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E) Maxton, John
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray) Meacher, Michael
Fatchett, Derek Meale, Alan
Faulds, Andrew Michael, Alun
Fearn, Ronald Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)
Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n) Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Flannery, Martin Moonie, Dr Lewis
Flynn, Paul Morgan, Rhodri
Foster, Derek Morley, Elliot
Foulkes, George Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Fyfe, Maria Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Galbraith, Sam Mowlam, Marjorie
Galloway, George Mullin, Chris
Garrett, Ted (Wallsend) Murphy, Paul
George, Bruce Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John O'Brien, William
Godman, Dr Norman A. O'Hara, Edward
Golding, Mrs Llin O'Neill, Martin
Gordon, Mildred Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Gould, Bryan Patchett, Terry
Graham, Thomas Pendry, Tom
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham) Pike, Peter L.
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Prescott, John
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Primarolo, Dawn
Grocott, Bruce Quin, Ms Joyce
Hain, Peter Radice, Giles
Hardy, Peter Randall, Stuart
Harman, Ms Harriet Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn
Haynes, Frank Reid, Dr John
Heal, Mrs Sylvia Richardson, Jo
Healey, Rt Hon Denis Robertson, George
Henderson, Doug Robinson, Geoffrey
Hinchliffe, David Rogers, Allan
Hoey, Ms Kate (Vauxhall) Rooker, Jeff
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth) Rooney, Terence
Home Robertson, John Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Rowlands, Ted
Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath) Ruddock, Joan
Howells, Geraint Salmond, Alex
Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd) Sedgemore, Brian
Hoyle, Doug Sheerman, Barry
Hughes, John (Coventry NE) Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Hughes, Roy (Newport E) Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Short, Clare
Ingram, Adam Skinner, Dennis
Janner, Greville Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Jones, leuan (Ynys Môn) Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W) Smith, J. P. (Vale of Glam)
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Snape, Peter
Kilfoyle, Peter Soley, Clive
Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil Spearing, Nigel
Kirkwood, Archy Steinberg, Gerry
Lambie, David Stott, Roger
Lamond, James Strang, Gavin
Leadbitter, Ted Straw, Jack
Leighton, Ron Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Taylor, Matthew (Truro) Wilson, Brian
Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck) Winnick, David
Turner, Dennis Wise, Mrs Audrey
Wallace, James Worthington, Tony
Walley, Joan Wray, Jimmy
Wareing, Robert N. Young, David (Bolton SE)
Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C)
Welsh, Andrew (Angus E) Tellers for the Ayes:
Wigley, Dafydd Mr. Eric Illsley and
Williams, Rt Hon Alan Mr. Thomas McAvoy.
Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Adley, Robert Devlin, Tim
Aitken, Jonathan Dicks, Terry
Alexander, Richard Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Dover, Den
Allason, Rupert Durant, Sir Anthony
Amess, David Dykes, Hugh
Amos, Alan Eggar, Tim
Arbuthnot, James Emery, Sir Peter
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)
Arnold, Sir Thomas Evennett, David
Ashby, David Fallon, Michael
Aspinwall, Jack Farr, Sir John
Atkins, Robert Fenner, Dame Peggy
Atkinson, David Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Fookes, Dame Janet
Baldry, Tony Forman, Nigel
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Batiste, Spencer Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Fox, Sir Marcus
Beggs, Roy Franks, Cecil
Bellingham, Henry Freeman, Roger
Bendall, Vivian French, Douglas
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Fry, Peter
Benyon, W. Gale, Roger
Bevan, David Gilroy Gardiner, Sir George
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Gill, Christopher
Body, Sir Richard Glyn, Dr Sir Alan
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Goodhart, Sir Philip
Boscawen, Hon Robert Goodlad, Alastair
Boswell, Tim Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Bottomley, Peter Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Bowis, John Gregory, Conal
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Grist, Ian
Brazier, Julian Ground, Patrick
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Browne, John (Winchester) Hague, William
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South) Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Buck, Sir Antony Hampson, Dr Keith
Budgen, Nicholas Hannam, John
Burns, Simon Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')
Burt, Alistair Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Butler, Chris Harris, David
Butterfill, John Haselhurst, Alan
Carlisle, John, (Luton N) Hawkins, Christopher
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Hayes, Jerry
Carrington, Matthew Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney
Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda Hayward, Robert
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Heathcoat-Amory, David
Chapman, Sydney Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Chope, Christopher Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)
Churchill, Mr Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Clark, Rt Hon Sir William Hill, James
Colvin, Michael Hind, Kenneth
Conway, Derek Hordern, Sir Peter
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Cormack, Patrick Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Couchman, James Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Cran, James Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Currie, Mrs Edwina Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Curry, David Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)
Day, Stephen Hunter, Andrew
Irving, Sir Charles Portillo, Michael
Jack, Michael Powell, William (Corby)
Jackson, Robert Price, Sir David
Janman, Tim Raffan, Keith
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Rathbone, Tim
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Redwood, John
Jones, Robert B (Herts W) Renton, Rt Hon Tim
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Rhodes James, Sir Robert
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Riddick, Graham
Kilfedder, James Ross, William (Londonderry E)
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield) Rossi, Sir Hugh
Knapman, Roger Rost, Peter
Knight, Greg (Derby North) Ryder, Rt Hon Richard
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston) Sackville, Hon Tom
Knowles, Michael Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas
Knox, David Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Latham, Michael Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Lawrence, Ivan Skeet, Sir Trevor
Lee, John (Pendle) Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh) Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Speller, Tony
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe) Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Lightbown, David Squire, Robin
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Steen, Anthony
Lord, Michael Stern, Michael
Luce, Rt Hon Sir Richard Stevens, Lewis
McCrindle, Sir Robert Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire) Stewart, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Maclean, David Sumberg, David
McLoughlin, Patrick Tapsell, Sir Peter
McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael Taylor, Ian (Esher)
McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick Taylor, Rt Hon J. D. (S'ford)
Madel, David Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Mans, Keith Taylor, Sir Teddy
Maples, John Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Marland, Paul Temple-Morris, Peter
Marlow, Tony Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel) Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Thorne, Neil
Mates, Michael Thurnham, Peter
Maude, Hon Francis Townend, John (Bridlington)
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Tracey, Richard
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Tredinnick, David
Meyer, Sir Anthony Trippier, David
Miller, Sir Hal Trotter, Neville
Mills, Iain Twinn, Dr Ian
Miscampbell, Norman Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Viggers, Peter
Mitchell, Sir David Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Moate, Roger Walden, George
Molyneaux, Rt Hon James Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Monro, Sir Hector Waller, Gary
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Walters, Sir Dennis
Morris, M (N'hampton S) Ward, John
Morrison, Sir Charles Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Morrison, Rt Hon Sir Peter Watts, John
Moss, Malcolm Wheeler, Sir John
Moynihan, Hon Colin Whitney, Ray
Mudd, David Widdecombe, Ann
Neale, Sir Gerrard Wiggin, Jerry
Nelson, Anthony Wilkinson, John
Neubert, Sir Michael Wilshire, David
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Winterton, Mrs Ann
Nicholls, Patrick Winterton, Nicholas
Norris, Steve Wolfson, Mark
Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley Wood, Timothy
Oppenheim, Phillip Yeo, Tim
Page, Richard Young, Sir George (Acton)
Paice, James Younger, Rt Hon George
Patnick, Irvine
Patten, Rt Hon John Tellers for the Noes:
Pawsey, James Mr. Timothy Kirkbope and
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Mr. David Davis.
Porter, David (Waveney)

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 30 (Questions on amendments):

The House divided: Ayes 252, Noes 217.

Division No. 200] [7.14 pm
Aitken, Jonathan Fallon, Michael
Alexander, Richard Farr, Sir John
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Fenner, Dame Peggy
Allason, Rupert Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Amess, David Fookes, Dame Janet
Amos, Alan Forman, Nigel
Arbuthnot, James Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Arnold, Sir Thomas Fox, Sir Marcus
Ashby, David Franks, Cecil
Aspinwall, Jack Freeman, Roger
Atkins, Robert French, Douglas
Atkinson, David Fry, Peter
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Gale, Roger
Baldry, Tony Gardiner, Sir George
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Gill, Christopher
Batiste, Spencer Glyn, Dr Sir Alan
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Goodhart, Sir Philip
Bendall, Vivian Goodlad, Alastair
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)
Benyon, W. Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Bevan, David Gilroy Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Gregory, Conal
Body, Sir Richard Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Grist, Ian
Boscawen, Hon Robert Ground, Patrick
Boswell, Tim Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Bottomley, Peter Hague, William
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')
Bowis, John Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes Harris, David
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Haselhurst, Alan
Brazier, Julian Hawkins, Christopher
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Hayes, Jerry
Browne, John (Winchester) Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South) Hayward, Robert
Buck, Sir Antony Heathcoat-Amory, David
Budgen, Nicholas Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Burns, Simon Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)
Burt, Alistair Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)
Butler, Chris Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Butterfill, John Hind, Kenneth
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Carrington, Matthew Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Chapman, Sydney Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)
Chope, Christopher Hunter, Andrew
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Irving, Sir Charles
Clark, Rt Hon Sir William Jack, Michael
Colvin, Michael Jackson, Robert
Conway, Derek Janman, Tim
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John Jones, Robert B (Herts W)
Cormack, Patrick Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Couchman, James Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Cran, James Kilfedder, James
Currie, Mrs Edwina King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Curry, David Kirkhope, Timothy
Davis, David (Boothferry) Knapman, Roger
Day, Stephen Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Devlin, Tim Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Knowles, Michael
Dover, Den Knox, David
Durant, Sir Anthony Latham, Michael
Dykes, Hugh Lee, John (Pendle)
Eggar, Tim Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Emery, Sir Peter Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Evennett, David Lightbown, David
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Ryder, Rt Hon Richard
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Sackville, Hon Tom
Lord, Michael Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Luce, Rt Hon Sir Richard Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
McCrindle, Sir Robert Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Speller, Tony
MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire) Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
McLoughlin, Patrick Squire, Robin
McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Madel, David Steen, Anthony
Mans, Keith Stern, Michael
Maples, John Stevens, Lewis
Marland, Paul Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Marlow, Tony Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel) Stewart, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Sumberg, David
Mates, Michael Tapsell, Sir Peter
Maude, Hon Francis Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Taylor, Rt Hon J. D. (S'ford)
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Meyer, Sir Anthony Taylor, Sir Teddy
Miller, Sir Hal Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Mills, Iain Temple-Morris, Peter
Miscampbell, Norman Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Mitchell, Sir David Thorne, Neil
Moate, Roger Thurnham, Peter
Monro, Sir Hector Townend, John (Bridlington)
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Tracey, Richard
Morris, M (N'hampton S) Trippier, David
Morrison, Sir Charles Trotter, Neville
Morrison, Rt Hon Sir Peter Twinn, Dr Ian
Moss, Malcolm Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Moynihan, Hon Colin Viggers, Peter
Nelson, Anthony Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Neubert, Sir Michael Walden, George
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Nicholls, Patrick Waller, Gary
Norris, Steve Ward, John
Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Oppenheim, Phillip Watts, John
Page, Richard Wheeler, Sir John
Paice, James Whitney, Ray
Patten, Rt Hon John Widdecombe, Ann
Pawsey, James Wiggin, Jerry
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Wilkinson, John
Porter, David (Waveney) Wilshire, David
Portillo, Michael Winterton, Mrs Ann
Powell, William (Corby) Winterton, Nicholas
Price, Sir David Wolfson, Mark
Raffan, Keith Yeo, Tim
Rathbone, Tim Young, Sir George (Acton)
Redwood, John Younger, Rt Hon George
Rhodes James, Sir Robert
Riddick, Graham Tellers for the Ayes:
Rossi, Sir Hugh Mr. Irvine Patrick and
Rost, Peter Mr. Timothy Wood.
Abbott, Ms Diane Bradley, Keith
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley, N.) Bray, Dr Jeremy
Allen, Graham Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)
Anderson, Donald Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith)
Armstrong, Hilary Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Caborn, Richard
Ashton, Joe Callaghan, Jim
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Campbell-Savours, D. N.
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich) Canavan, Dennis
Barron, Kevin Carr, Michael
Beith, A. J. Clark, Dr David (S Shields)
Bellotti, David Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Clelland, David
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Benton, Joseph Cohen, Harry
Bermingham, Gerald Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Blair, Tony Cook, Robin (Livingston)
Boateng, Paul Corbett, Robin
Boyes, Roland Corbyn, Jeremy
Cousins, Jim Hinchliffe, David
Cox, Tom Hoey, Ms Kate (Vauxhall)
Crowther, Stan Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyih)
Cryer, Bob Home Robertson, John
Cunliffe, Lawrence Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Cunningham, Dr John Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)
Darling, Alistair Howells, Geraint
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Hoyle, Doug
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'I) Hughes, John (Coventry NE)
Dewar, Donald Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Dixon, Don Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Dobson, Frank Ingram, Adam
Doran, Frank Janner, Greville
Douglas, Dick Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Duffy, Sir A. E. P. Jones, leuan (Ynys Môn)
Dunnachie, Jimmy Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)
Eastham, Ken Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Edwards, Huw Kennedy, Charles
Evans, John (St Helens N) Kilfoyle, Peter
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E) Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray} Kirkwood, Archy
Fatchett, Derek Lambie, David
Fearn, Ronald Lamond, James
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Leadbitter, Ted
Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n) Leighton, Ron
Flannery, Martin Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Flynn, Paul Lewis, Terry
Foster, Derek Litherland, Robert
Foulkes, George Livingstone, Ken
Fyfe, Maria Livsey, Richard
Galbraith, Sam Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Galloway, George Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Garrett, Ted (Wallsend) McAllion, John
George, Bruce McCartney, Ian
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Macdonald, Calum A.
Godman, Dr Norman A. McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Golding, Mrs Llin McKelvey, William
Gordon, Mildred McLeish, Henry
Gould, Bryan McMaster, Gordon
Graham, Thomas McWilliam, John
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham) Madden, Max
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Mahon, Mrs Alice
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Marek, Dr John
Grocott, Bruce Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Hain, Peter Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Hardy, Peter Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Harman, Ms Harriet Martlew, Eric
Haynes, Frank Maxton, John
Heal, Mrs Sylvia Meacher, Michael
Healey, Rt Hon Denis Meale, Alan
Henderson, Doug Michael, Alun
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Michie. Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute) Short, Clare
Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby) Skinner, Dennis
Moonie, Dr Lewis Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Morgan, Rhodri Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Morley, Elliot Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe) Smith, J. P. (Vale of Glam)
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Snape, Peter
Mowlam, Marjorie Soley, Clive
Mullin, Chris Spearing, Nigel
Murphy, Paul Steinberg, Gerry
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Stott, Roger
O'Brien, William Strang, Gavin
O'Hara, Edward Straw, Jack
O'Neill, Martin Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Patchett, Terry Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Pendry, Tom Turner, Dennis
Pike, Peter L. Vaz, Keith
Prescott, John Wallace, James
Primarolo, Dawn Walley, Joan
Quin, Ms Joyce Wareing, Robert N.
Radice, Giles Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C)
Randall, Stuart Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn Wigley. Dafydd
Reid, Dr John Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Richardson, Jo Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Robertson, George Wilson, Brian
Robinson, Geoffrey Winnick, David
Rogers, Allan Wise, Mrs Audrey
Rooker, Jeff Worthington, Tony
Rooney, Terence Wray, Jimmy
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Young, David (Bolton SE)
Rowlands, Ted
Ruddock, Joan Tellers for the Noes:
Salmond, Alex Mr. Thomas McAvoy and
Sedgemore, Brian Mr. Eric Illsley.
Sheerman, Barry

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That this House congratulates Her Majesty's Government on its policies which have made possible real increases in expenditure on vital public services including social security, education and health; welcomes the recent recognition by the Social Security Select Committee that real incomes rose across the income scale between 1979 and 1988; and deplores the commitment of Her Majesty's Opposition to a National Minimum Wage which would destroy jobs, thereby reducing opportunities and living standards for up to two million people.