HC Deb 03 November 1992 vol 213 cc129-30
Mr. Wallace

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what representations she has received in the last six months on the future of wages councils.

The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Mr. Michael Forsyth)

I have received a number of representations from employers and others.

Mr. Wallace

Although the Secretary of State for Employment has said that wages councils should have no permanent place in the labour market, should those of us who fundamentally disagree take heart that she has not said what the position will be with regard to the employment Bill. Can she confirm that she has received representations from shopping hours deregularisation organisations, among others, and that some backstage deal has been stitched up between her Department and those who want total deregulation of Sunday trading to put wages council reform on the back burner?

Mr. Forsyth

My right hon. Friend would never get involved in any backstage deal. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that in the Department of Employment we are concerned to have the maximum number of jobs in this country. As wage fixing destroys jobs, wage councils will have no permanent place in the labour market.

Mr. John Marshall

Does my hon. Friend agree that wages councils destroy jobs in the same way as the introduction of a national minimum wage would destroy jobs? It is scandalous that the Labour party wants to become the party of higher unemployment.

Mr. Forsyth

I agree with my hon. Friend. The Labour party fought the general election committed to a minimum wage, which would have destroyed 2 million jobs. At a time of high unemployment, it is amazing that the Opposition adhere to that job-destroying dogma.

Ms. Eagle

Given his views on wages councils, will the Minister tell the House how low he thinks it reasonable for wages to fall?

Mr. Forsyth

The hon. Lady ought to be aware that about two thirds of the people covered by wages councils are paid above the minimum wage level set by those councils. Wages should be determined according to an employer's ability to pay and to local wage conditions; if that does not pertain, people lose their jobs. It is better to have low pay than no pay.

Dr. Liam Fox

Does my hon. Friend agree that the problem with wages councils is that they take no account of performance and profitability, and have no place in a proper market economy?

Mr. Forsyth

I agree with my hon. Friend's observations about some of the limitations of wages councils. It is important to recognise that those who are subject to wages councils—we are talking about only 10 per cent. of employees—cannot have remuneration systems that take into account productivity or commitment to training. In a flexible labour market, that cannot be right.

Mr. Galbraith

Why did the Secretary of State, in a letter to the Equal Opportunities Commission, maintain that most women covered by wages councils work only for pin money? What is the evidence for that? Is the Minister aware that, in a recent parliamentary reply, his Department was unable to produce one shred of evidence to support that claim? Will the Minister ask the Secretary of State to withdraw that remark, to recognise the number of women who are the principal source of family income, and to try to base his future policy on facts and not on fiction and prejudice?

Mr. Forsyth

If anyone should withdraw anything, it is the hon. Gentleman. My right hon. Friend made no assertion that people were working for pin money in any letter, as the hon. Gentleman well knows. Of the people who are subject to low pay, 80 per cent. are in households where there is another source of income. The hon. Gentleman ought to recognise that.[Interruption.] I shall be happy to write to him to set out the position. The hon. Gentleman should recognise that my right hon. Friend is committed to encouraging employment opportunities in this country for women. Wage fixing would destroy opportunity.