HC Deb 16 February 1993 vol 219 cc178-222

  1. '.—(1) The Secretary of State shall present annually to both Houses of Parliament a report on the pay and working conditions of employees in industries formerly covered by wages councils and in the security and private residential care industries, after having consulted the Trades Union Congress, the Confederation of British Industry, the representatives of employers and employees in the industries concerned and such bodies concerned with low pay and equal opportunities as he shall think fit.
  2. (2) The first such report shall be presented within 12 months of the day on which Royal Assent to this Act is given.'.—[Mr. Dobson.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take new clause 12—Protection for workers in former wages council industries

'—. Should the abolition of wages councils lead to wage increases in former wages council industries falling behind the pay increases recorded in the Index of Average Earnings published with the monthly unemployment figures for two successive years, it shall be the duty of the Secretary of State to present a report to Parliament giving details of the relevant wage rates and what action he proposes to take to secure the restoration of the value of pay settlements in former wages council industries.'.

Mr. Dobson

The Bill proposes the abolition of wages councils, which set minimum wages for 2,700,000 of the worst paid people in Britain. They are employed mainly in the hotel, catering, retail and hairdressing industries, and about 2 million of them are women. Apparently, they have got to make sacrifices to save the British economy. The Government propose no action on City fraudsters, no action on currency speculators, and no action on property speculators, but the country is in a bad way so the lowest paid are to be paid even less than they are being paid now. It was not people serving in shops or hotels and it was not young women doing hairdressing who were selling the pound short last September or who are selling it short this week. They are the victims of Tory policies and they are being made to suffer.

It is worth pointing out that the highest wages council hourly rate is the somewhat unprincely sum of £3.10. It is our view that the abolition of wages councils will reduce wages. The wages councils set minimum pay, and if that minimum pay floor is taken away people will fall through. The people employed in the industries involved fear that, the Government advocate it, the supporters of the abolition of wages councils say that that is why they want it, and there is no reason to believe that anything else will happen but that people's minimum wages will fall.

It will not be just minimum wages that fall either, because the big hotel groups have said that they do not mind paying people £2.98 an hour—which is very generous of them—but the problem is that they have to pay their supervisors so much more. So we can bet that supervisors' pay will go down when the minimum wage goes down for other people.

As was shown by the Greater Manchester Low Pay Unit's study of what happened to pay for young people in Greater Manchester, when wages council coverage of under-21s was withdrawn their relative pay went down.

In London now, for reasons that I do not understand, chemist shops are not covered as other shops are by the retailing minimum wage set by the wages councils. That wage is about £3, but jobs for chemist shop assistants are being advertised in London at £2.50. So we can see where retailing pay is going in London.

Mr. Dennis Turner (Wolverhampton, South-East)

On the question of retail pay in London, would my hon. Friend care to reflect on the hypocrisy of top directors working in the retail industries? At Allied-Lyons, for instance, the top director's salary is £369,000; at Forte it is £249,000. That is the sort of sums these people are taking out of the retail industry. Will my hon. Friend reflect on those figures when he is talking about minimum wages, and would he like to comment on the morality and fairness of talking to the Government about introducing a maximum wage to take some of this money from those people who are taking too much out of society?

Mr. Dobson

The rules of order which limit what we are allowed to say rather curtail the expression of my real views concerning some of the people who line their pockets by paying themselves half a million pounds a year and then write letters to the Secretary of State for Employment saying that it caused difficulties for their companies' hotels when wages went up by 4 per cent. to less than £3 an hour. Cant and hypocrisy go nowhere near describing them.

The other problem with the abolition of wages councils is that it will be particularly damaging to women's pay. The great advantage of the wages councils from their inception was that they were unisex and awarded the same hourly rate to people working full time and people working part time. As a consequence, the gap between the average pay of men and the average pay of women is much lower in wages councils trades than it is in other trades.

It is shocking to me that the Secretary of State for Employment, who has been given the task, so we are told, of trying to promote equal opportunities in this country, is not concerned by the likelihood of what will happen to wages in wages councils industries and the way that women are likely to suffer. This is what the Equal Opportunities Commission has to say: If wages councils are abolished without alternative measures such as strengthening the Equal Pay Act, the pay gap, already wider than in most other EC countries, will increase, making it even more difficult for women to achieve economic independence and to provide for their future in old age. That is the Equal Opportunities Commission's view, and I am sure that it is right. I believe that the Secretary of State, who is responsible for the Equal Opportunities Commission, should have taken a bit more notice of that and a bit less notice of the ideologues in the Tory party who have been driving this through.

Then there are wages which prevail in other industries not covered by wages councils but which are notorious low payers. There is the well-known security industry, as my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth) pointed out in Committee. He cited an advertisement in Coventry for somebody to work as a security guard at £1.80 an hour and to "provide your own dog". That is the sort of wage that these people are talking of providing.

There are also private residential homes where a lot of very vulnerable people are supposed to be properly looked after. Following the excellent "Cutting Edge" programme on TV last night, which exposed the situation in north Lancashire with regard to underpayment, the Low Pay Unit has received approaches from many people throughout the country. It received a telephone call today from a nursing home care assistant who is being paid £1.25 an hour. That is a disgrace. It is a disgrace that employment Ministers are prepared to countenance such things, that social security Ministers are willing to provide finance to such places and that health Ministers are prepared to countenance people being paid such rates for providing vital care for old and vulnerable people. I do not believe that proper standards of care are likely to be provided by people who are so desperate that they have to accept a rate of £1.25 an hour.

6.30 pm
Mr. Michael Forsyth

I saw the programme and I have asked the wages inspectorate to look into the two cases which were identified. Does not the hon. Gentleman think it odd that in three months the journalist, the researcher and the production team managed to find only three cases of underpayment, one of which was resolved immediately? Does he not also think it odd that the programme makers did not ask the wages inspectorate to examine the two unresolved cases of underpayment shown in the programme?

Mr. Dobson

I find that extraordinary. Whether or not I disagree with the Minister, I usually have some time for his intelligence, but that is one of the daftest interventions he must have made in his life. How could the young women have fitted in more underpayments except by working and discovering that the jobs were underpaid or, in one case, that she did not get paid at all unless she went loping along to the owner of the cleaning company at his grand residence in Liverpool? The Minister may recall that she had to spend quite some time going to the nursing home owner's vast ranch next to the golf course in Blackburn. When she tried to get the money that he owed her, she was told that she could not see him because he was on holiday in the Caribbean and she could see him when he got back three weeks later. So it took three weeks.

Is the Minister suggesting that anyone should depend on the wages inspectorate to do anything to help people in those industries? Will the Minister guarantee that the employers who are underpaying will be prosecuted?

Mr. Forsyth

The hon. Gentleman has to address the point I was making. If the programme makers were concerned about low-paid people, and if their argument was that the existing system with the wages inspectorate should be retained in order to provide protection, does he not find it odd that none of the cases identified by the programme makers was reported to the wages inspectorate so that they could be investigated?

As to the hon. Gentleman's specific point, I will happily say that the matter will be properly investigated, and if the wages inspectorate finds that there has been a breach of the law it will make the appropriate recommendations. However, the wages inspectorate informs me that the vast majority of employers meet their obligations and, of course, the vast majority of people are paid well above the minimum level.

The hon. Gentleman must address my point, which he has sidelined. Why does he think that programme makers who are supposedly committed to the cause of maintaining the wages inspectorate and wages councils did not even bother to report the cases for proper investigation by the system that they are arguing to retain?

Mr. Dobson

The programme makers were making a programme; they were not running an operation to suit the Minister and did not want to be diverted by going along to the wages inspectorate. They made an effective programme which had a great impact, and I am glad that it had.

The Minister makes it sound as if the wages inspectorate goes around vigorously looking into things and prosecuting all the cases of wrongdoing that it finds. However, only one in 1,000 cases gets to court. Is that not the figure?

Mr. Forsyth

Last year, a record number of cases were brought to court, far more than were ever brought under the last Labour Government. Employers are often unaware of their obligations and, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the wages inspectorate operates by means of persuasion and without redress to legal measures, and when it finds clear examples of abuse it prosecutes. If the hon. Gentleman is criticising the level of prosecutions, in 1991 we had a record level, considerably higher than anything under the last Labour Government. The Labour Government's record of prosecutions was considerably less than the current level, and it also abolished wages councils, so the hon. Gentleman is trying to make bricks without straw.

Mr. Dobson

I return to the point that the wages council system is not working as well as it should. I am not its greatest supporter. I believe that the system needs to be strengthened and extended. We made that point in Committee.

Ms. Eagle

Will my hon. Friend comment on the fact that the wages council inspectorate's decisions for the north-west in 1991 revealed that 1,083 establishments were underpaying and that there was only one prosecution that year? Will he also comment on the fact that our legislation providing protection against unfair dismissal is now so weak and inadequate, thanks to the Government's dismantling of that protection, that many people currently in low-paid jobs are simply too frightened to report underpayment?

Mr. Dobson

I agree with my hon. Friend. I was quoting the figures for the north-west when I said that there was one prosecution in 1,000 cases.

The Minister said that the employers apparently did not know what their legal obligations were; but employers should know their legal obligations. The Minister is always ranting on about trade unions knowing their legal obligations, so if paid officials of unions are supposed to know, why not people running companies? If they do not, whose fault is it? It is the fault either of the employers or of the Department of Employment and the wages inspectorate for not getting the information through to them. They must take the blame and it is no good the Minister trying to slough it off on other people. Ignorance is no defence. That is a basic principle in English law, and I think in Scottish law as well.

No one can live on the appalling wages that are being paid. I shall quote a very limited number of examples of low pay that the Low Pay Unit has received by telephone today as the result of last night's excellent programme. They include a hairdresser getting £2.39 an hour and being underpaid by £30 a week; a shop worker being paid £2.32 an hour and being underpaid by £31 a week; a 17-year-old working in a butcher's shop for £1.37p an hour and a 19-year-old hairdresser getting £1.50 an hour. That is the demi-paradise in which the Tories have got Britain at the moment. That is their beau ideal. That is how we will compete with the world—by paying people pathetic poverty wages which are demeaning to them and should be demeaning to any Minister of the Crown with any responsibility for it. If the Minister was not ashamed when he watched the film last night, he has lost all sense of shame.

Most of the people who work for those wages are extremely poor and have to fall back on the taxpayer as people on low pay are sometimes entitled to benefit. If their wages are cut, they will be entitled to more benefit, so two groups of people are picking up the price of lining the pockets of Tory supporters who want the abolition of wages councils—the people who will be impoverished by low wages, and the taxpayer who will have to dip into his pocket or her handbag to make up for some of the money that has been taken away.

Who favours abolition? Certainly some free-market freaks, some friends of the Tory party and some people who fall into both categories. There are some notorious contributors to Tory party funds who are strong supporters of the abolition of wages councils. It is a kick-back for putting money into the Tory election fund. It is at the expense of the badly off and the taxpayer.

My hon. Friend referred to the examples of Forte, Allied-Lyons, Whitbread and Scottish and Newcastle Breweries. They paid more than £250,000 to Tory party funds in the most recent year for which the information is available. The lowest paid of the top directors in those companies took home £271,000 in a year, and they all think that £3.10 an hour threatens the future of their companies. They need some attention from some people. They have a lot of explaining to do, especially those in the hotel chains. I ask the directors in the hotel chains or the Minister to give me an explanation.

Why are British hotels more expensive than French hotels, although the wages for French hotel workers are higher than those for British hotel workers? What is wrong? Why are we not competing with the French in hotel prices? If there is any logic in the Minister's case, we should be providing hotel spaces at cheaper prices than the French do, but we do not. We end up charging people more because the bosses pay themselves much more and property speculators still make enormous profits out of most hotel developments. That is where much of the money is going.

Apparently, the Tories believe that there should be no such thing as a minimum wage. They want to leave it to a bargain between the employer and the employee. When wages councils were introduced, Winston Churchill—then a Liberal but with the support of the Conservatives because there was not a vote against the introduction of wages councils—said: Where…you have a powerful organisation on both sides…you have a healthy bargaining which increases the competitive power of industry and then forces a progressive standard of life. But where…you have no organisation, no parity of bargaining, the good employer is undercut by the bad and the bad employer is undercut by the worst. That was true then and it is true today.

In Standing Committee, what did we get from the Minister when he was provoked by my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms. Eagle)? My hon. Friend said: I still await an answer to my question about how low the Conservative party thinks it is reasonable for wages to fall. The response from the Minister ended with the magic words: The hon. Lady cannot stand the idea that people should be free to choose for themselves their terms and conditions."—[Official Report, Standing Committee F, 28 January 1993; c. 605.] Winston Churchill talked about a powerful organisation on both sides and "parity of bargaining". Let the Minister consider what parity of bargaining there is in my constituency when somebody who has slept in a cardboard box all night, because the Government's policies have not found him or her anywhere to live, goes to one of the hotels owned by Grand Metropolitan or Forte—multi-million pound organisations with multi-million pound profits every year—and bargains for a job in the kitchen in London where 60 people chase every job. Is that a powerful organisation on both sides"? Are those people who scrape out of their cardboard boxes and look for work powerful? I suggest that they are not; but the people whom they are trying to get jobs from are powerful.

The "Cutting Edge" programme last night revealed that this does not apply simply in London. That young woman, admittedly working for a television programme, was basically forced to beg, bow and scrape to get any job at all and scarcely got enough money to pay the rent even when she did secure one. What a collection of lawbreakers we had on that programme last night.

The Tories say that wages councils lose jobs. There is no possible justification for that statement. If the minimum rates of wages councils lead to the loss of jobs, why has the number of people working in wages council industries in the past three years increased by 90,000 while at the same time the total number of people employed in other industries has decreased by no fewer than 1,364,000? If there is any logic, sense or merit in the Minister's argument, the fall in the number of people employed in wages council industries would have been greater than the fall in other industries. But it has increased in wages council industries while it has fallen in all those industries in which there is no minimum wage.

The other argument of the Tories is that one needs to pay low pay to secure prosperity. That is typical Tory gibberish. If one looks around the world, two things go in parallel: high pay goes with prosperity and low pay goes with poverty. That has always been the case and it always will be the case. Paying poverty-level wages is no way out of Britain's problems.

Apparently, that is the new Tory approach. The Tories have decided that we must compete with the third world and that the way to do that is to have a sort of DIY third world. We are introducing third world pay, work practices, hours and working conditions in Britain. That is shameful.

6.45 pm

The Labour party believes that everyone who wants a job should have one, and that when they have that job they should be able to earn their keep. They should not have to struggle in poverty or depend on benefits when they have been to work. If people have worked a full-time working week, they should be able to maintain themselves and bring up themselves and their family without being dependent on benefits or anything else from anyone. That is what all of us have wanted to do, and most of us have managed to achieve it. We are glad to do it, and we believe that it should apply to everybody else. Everyone should be able to pay his way and look after himself.

I am not the only one who says that. This is a quotation from someone who is well favoured amongst some Conservative Members. In "The Wealth of Nations" in 1776, Adam Smith said: It is but equity…that they who feed, clothe and lodge the whole body of the people should have such a share of the produce of their own labour as to be themselves tolerably well-fed, clothed and lodged. He was the great revolutionary thinker who has been sort of colonised by the right wing of the Tory party who do not read much of what he said. What he said at that time was true and it remains true today.

We do not believe that wages councils should be abolished. If they are abolished, the Government should be required to carry out the proposals in our new clauses. It would provide some element of protection for those whom we believe will be exposed to the harshest economic and social winds unless we do something to offer them some protection.

It boils down to this. On one side of the argument we have a few free-market freaks and Tory vested interests getting their pay-off for putting money into the Tory party. On the other side, we have Adam Smith, Winston Churchill, the Equal Opportunities Commission, the Fawcett Society, the citizens advice bureaux and a legion of other people who have demonstrated over decades that they are interested in the welfare of ordinary people and in promoting equal opportunities for women. I know where we stand tonight. I think that the Minister stands in a shameful position.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

I think that the hon. Gentleman was proposing that the Government should be required to bring in a report on what will happen as a consequence of the abolition of the wages council system.

I oppose the abolition of the wages council system. Occasionally, the Minister has asked me whether I appreciate, and did I not say in 1985, that the abolition of the wages council system would cost jobs. In 1985, I was willing to accept that the abolition would cost some jobs. So does health and safety at work and the sort of formal and informal cartels which help lawyers to be paid a certain amount of money. So, for that matter, does the level of pay of Members of Parliament. If we were paid half as much, we could have twice as many Members of Parliament for the same wage bill. All those things are self-evident. The question is at what level is it worth taking away protection from the vulnerable where it is not possible for them to have any equality in negotiating their pay.

I do not wish to exaggerate the effect of wages councils or the effect of abolishing them. However, if the wage levels set by wages council orders were wrong, it was open to the Government to propose, either in the Conservative election manifesto or subsequently, that they should have the power to reduce wages council orders by, say, 10 per cent., 15 per cent., or even 25 per cent.

The House is justified in being suspicious about a proposal to abolish wages councils based on consultation in 1988 when we had a general election in 1992 at which the issue could have been included in the manifesto and debated between the parties. It could have been a determinant in how people decided to vote. I do not believe that it would have affected many votes because the issue is more a private one. Given the number of people who move in and out of wages council sectors and sectors equivalent to wages council sectors, the issue would not necessarily have been the most important one.

However, the issue is important to more than 2 million people and to people in industries akin to wages council industries. We may hear from my hon. Friend the Minister about anomalies between raw meat and cooked meat shops. But in the high street most shops that are not covered directly by the retail orders pay wages equivalent to shops that are covered. We should ask whether abolition of the wages councils should have been declared policy at the last election.

My recollection of the consultation in 1988 is that there was not a strong view that wages councils should be abolished. Employers did not make strong representations that wages councils had a significant effect on employment or profits. My hon. Friend the Minister has been known to say—I do not want to traduce him completely, although I do not mind in part—that it does not matter very much if wages fall because jobs covered by wages councils are mainly part time and done by women and, in any case, 80 per cent. are paid more than the basic minimum rate.

Mr. Michael Forsyth

I have said no such thing. I have pointed out that most people who are covered by wages councils live in households in which there is a second source of income. Therefore, the emotive arguments made by Opposition Members do not apply.

Mr. Bottomley

As someone who is paid way above wages council rates but who produces a subsidiary income in a household, I take that as a friendly remark.

If wages councils orders have a highly inhibiting effect on employment, one would expect to find that most people covered by them were on the minimum rate. But most people are not. I could go through the economics if my hon. Friend the Minister was interested, but I might bore the House. That fact that most people are not on the minimum rate suggests that wages councils do not have a great employment effect.

I have tabled various parliamentary questions asking the Government to estimate the employment effect of abolishing the wages councils. They have ducked those questions because the research reports do not indicate strongly one way or the other that there will be a significant employment effect. But we can guarantee that abolition of wages councils will have a significant effect on the pay of some individuals.

I asked the Department of Employment to analyse the levels of underpayment. The Department has consistently answered that it would cost too much to obtain that information. I would have been entertained, if this was not such a serious issue, by the exchanges between my hon. Friend the Minister and the shadow spokeman on employment. Perhaps a television programme could find only one or two people who were significantly underpaid, but the Department's wage inspectors find so many cases that it is not possible to give a full and useful answer to a Member of Parliament who asks how many cases of underpayment occur.

My hon. Friend the Minister talked about the significant increase in the number of employers who are prosecuted. I suspect that, even at the current high level, one would not get through one's fingers and toes in arriving at the annual total. If I am wrong and there have been more than 20 cases in the past year, perhaps my hon. Friend will interrupt my speech and tell me. There may have been a significant increase from seven to 15 prosecutions—more than double the number—but that is insignificant in relation to the amount of deliberate, let alone inadvertent, underpayment which inspectors find.

Mr. Michael Forsyth

I am surprised that my hon. Friend of all people should share the views of Opposition Members. In cases where people are paid wages below the legal level, does he want the matter to be put right, people to be paid according to the rate set down and any back-payment to be made, or does he want an increase in the number of prosecutions? If my hon. Friend is worried about low pay, surely the way in which the inspectorate chooses to carry out its task in the interests of those who are paid below the legal rate is a matter for it.

Mr. Bottomley

It would be inelegant for someone who previously held the post of my hon. Friend the Minister, but at a lower ministerial rank, to provide a running commentary. When my hon. Friend the Minister spoke about the increase in the number of prosecutions, I observed that he did not give the number. When I suggested that the increased number was below 20, he did not confirm it directly, but one can presume from his intervention that the figure is below 20. If my hon. Friend wants me to do so, I will say openly and aloud that I approve of the way in which wages inspectors have pay put right and required back-payment. Employers have been required to pay back-pay amounting to hundreds of thousands of pounds. I approve of that. However, I emphasise that the Department is fully aware of the level of underpayment, some of which is deliberate.

I should like my hon. Friend the Minister to give some estimate—I support the idea of a report—of what has happened in the sectors for which wages councils were abolished. He helpfully reminded the House that various wages councils were abolished by the previous Labour Government. One of them was the council for the motor trades. The trade unions, through both organisation and the influence of their negotiations, increased the levels of pay. The wages councils legislation provides that the Secretary of State can lay an order to abolish a wages council where there is an alternative effective means of determining pay. I support that.

On the last Sunday of the 1979 election campaign I went to the Wembley rally as president of the Conservative trade unions. We demonstrated to trade union members and their families that they could cheerfully vote Conservative because the Conservative party understood the interests of working people and their families. Not many of them believe that we have changed much. Not many of them believe that we have changed since 1985, when I expressed to the House the views of the Government on the operation of wages councils. We struck out many of their complications. We proposed that they should not apply to people under the age of 21 because having the chance to start work is far more important than the level of pay at that age. The chance to start work becomes less important to people aged over 21.

I agree with hon. Members on both sides of the House that we should invest more capital so that wages costs become less significant in the cost of production. When I was a Minister in the Department of Employment there was an investment of a quarter of a million pounds for each person employed in glassmaking. Increasingly in offices and retail more money is invested in the system of distribution. The level of pay is not that important. In hotels and other service organisations, investment in cleaning, catering or other equipment can be increased so that the level of pay becomes less important. Yet my hon. Friend the Minister pretends to the House that wages councils have a significant effect on employment.

The challenge to the Government is, first, to explain why they did not make it plain before the last election that abolition of all the wages councils was on the agenda and, secondly, to make plain what they believe will be the employment effect of abolishing the wages council for those at present on or below the minimum rates. I do not want to hear about a statutory minimum wage for everyone. I do not advocate that. I want to hear what will be the effect of abolishing what we have now.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

I, too, watched the "Cutting Edge" programme last night. It was about the experience of a young reporter who went underground and worked for low and, indeed, illegal pay. Her experience mirrored that of many of our constituents, particularly my constituents in Halifax and the Calder valley, which is well known as an area of low pay.

The young woman's experience was identical to that of someone who wandered into one of my surgeries who earned £12 a day. A young man to whom I spoke a few weeks ago earned the same. That works out at £1.50 an hour, which is less than half the legal wage for that job. As my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) said, the legal wage is hardly a princely sum at £3.08 per hour. The employer of the boy who came to my surgery knew that he was breaking the law. This is something of which the Minister should take notice. His Government are supposed to be the Government of law and order, but they are very selective in their policy on prosecution. It is all very well for the Secretary of State for Social Security to burst into Gilbert and Sullivan at party conferences, where he sings songs about prosecuting the poor and about the evil of the "something for nothing" society. It is quite wrong that people should claim benefits to which they are not entitled, but Ministers take a myopic view when they condone huge-scale law-breaking such as was depicted in the television programme to which I have just referred.

Mr. David Hanson (Delyn)

My hon. Friend talks about law-breaking. Does she know that she could go into any job centre in the United Kingdom and find advertisements for jobs which, despite their being in wages council sectors, pay rates below the minima set by the councils for which the Minister has direct responsibility?

7 pm

Mrs. Mahon

That is a very relevant point, which the Minister should address in his reply.

In 1991 in Yorkshire and Humberside, 34,996 establishments were registered with the wages inspectorate. A total of 1,639 workers in the region were found to be being illegally underpaid, with arrears assessed at £174,189—an average underpayment of about £106 per worker. I realise that the proportion of recovered arrears is quite high, but of the 1,777 establishments visited, 44.6 per cent. were found to be illegally underpaying. We know that the wages inspectors visit only a tiny proportion of registered work forces–5.1 per cent., I think. They tend to concentrate on the areas in which they feel that underpayment is most likely to occur.

The Minister is very reluctant to give figures, but I can say that, nationally, 5,971 establishments were found to be illegally underpaying. There were just 15 prosecutions—fewer than the 20 to which we have heard reference. In Yorkshire and Humberside there were only seven prosecutions for illegal underpayment. That should be compared with the number of people prosecuted for claiming benefits illegally. Such a comparison shows where the Government's priorities lie.

Mr. Michael Forsyth

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Mahon

No. The Minister has intervened about four times. He is taking up the time of everybody else. Any point that he wants to make may be made in his reply.

In Yorkshire and Humberside, inspectors found 934 establishments that were failing to display wages council notices, 259 that were failing to keep adequate records of wages paid and 825 that were failing to keep adequate records of hours worked. I wonder why. Is this a major reason for the Government's negotiating us out of the social chapter in the Maastricht treaty? It is obvious that they are now into law-breaking on a massive scale. Perhaps they think that British workers would have access to European law if they had the same rights as European workers. We have a set of seedy, shabby, unprincipled Ministers presiding over this situation. They know that the law is being broken, but they do not care. Often there is no protection whatsoever for the people least able to protect themselves.

Last night's television programme showed how a reporter obtained a job in a private nursing home. The owner of the home—Mr. Majieson, a very wealthy man —employed the reporter as a laundry worker at £2.40 an hour, which is well below the legal wage. There are other implications for this floating work force. Their pay is so low that they move on, constantly hoping for something better. Alternatively, they descend into a state of despair. The reporter was given no screening for any type of disease, despite the fact that she was working in a nursing home; she was given no instruction on health and safety; she even had to request rubber gloves, despite the fact that she was handling foul, soiled linen. On a number of occasions she was warned only after the event that she had been handling the soiled linen of a patient who had scabies.

This is not a marginal problem. If the wages council were overseen properly, if the inspectorate were doing its job properly, and if we had a Government who cared about the law, the councils could play an important part in looking after the growing number of people who are working in the private sector of the care industry. In 1982, there were 18,200 residents in private nursing homes and 44,000 in private residential care homes. The numbers have escalated. We are not talking about a marginal problem. We now have 109,000 people working in private nursing homes and 155,000 in private residential homes. We know where these homes are. Every local authority and every health authority has powers of inspection. It would be relatively easy to check on the wages being paid to employees, but the Government make no attempt whatsoever to do so. I am sure that if they were to take such a step they would find hundreds, if not thousands, of people being paid illegal rates.

The situation will undoubtedly get much worse when the wages councils are abolished. I am sure that there are many wealthy Mr. Majiesons who are breaking the law with impunity. The Minister must tell us why he and his colleagues preside over a Department that allows such a situation to continue.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

The hon. Member will have noted that, now that the Secretary of State for Employment has joined her colleagues on the Front Bench, there are more Front-Bench Conservatives than Back-Bench Conservatives in the Chamber—and it is clear that the Back-Bencher who has just made such a fine speech was not invited by his Front Bench. Does the hon. Lady agree that there must be many guilty consciences around the various fine restaurants and bars in the Palace of Westminster this evening?

Mrs. Mahon

Indeed I do. The hon. Gentleman has made a very relevant point. Many of those hon. Members may have a vested interest and may want to stay out of the way because they themselves are private contractors who have done these things to people.

Wages councils are relevant to the protection of 2.5 million, if not 3 million, workers. If we go back to a system in which employers can pay whatever they want, we shall have a new form of slave labour. The Minister has his roots in the 19th, if not the 18th, century. The abolition of wages councils will not result in the creation of any more jobs. Cuts in the pay of already low-paid workers will reduce their spending power at a time of recession and will increase their dependence on state benefits. If the Government, having listened to the arguments in Committee and in the Chamber, still make the case that low pay is necessary to a successful economy, how do they explain the success of the German economy as compared with that of a country like Bangladesh? I do not think that there is much chance of our winning this vote tonight, but I hope that the Government will reply to some of the points that I have raised.

Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery)

It is interesting to see such a dearth—indeed, a total absence—of Conservative Back-Benchers wishing to take part in this debate in support of their Front Bench. We may finish the debate having heard only one Conservative Back-Bench speech —that of the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley), who spoke most eloquently against the Government's view. What an ironic situation.

It seems to me that one searches Ministers' speeches in vain for one of the three cases that they might make for the abolition of wages councils. One looks for a moral case, an economic case or a political case, but one finds none. Indeed, in the 1909 speech of Winston Churchill to which reference has been made the moral case not against but for wages councils was made out very eloquently: We believe that decent conditions make for industrial efficiency and increase, rather than decrease, competitive power. That remains true today. The Government have failed to produce any evidence, let alone any cogent evidence, to the effect that competitive power and industrial efficiency will be increased by the abolition of the wages councils. Although wages councils no longer apply to workers aged under 21, there is evidence that the difference between the wages of workers aged under and over 21 in the same industry increased after abolition.

The Government seem to be claiming that 80 per cent. of people who work in wages council industries are in households in which another wage is coming in. I think that I heard the Minister express that view in one of his many interventions. What is the Minister really after? Is he after the sort of low-wage, many-job economy that those who visited central and eastern Europe before the political changes were used to seeing?

I recall getting into a taxi in Budapest a few years ago and being told by the driver that he was a professor of philosophy in a Budapest university, but to make ends meet he needed at least one other job. It was common to find people with two or three other jobs, working every hour possible to eke out a living. The Government seem by their policies to be aiming for that sort of economy.

A TUC survey suggested that four out of every five people involved in a wages council industry were female. Those statistics are undoubtedly right. It is ridiculous for the Government to suggest that all those women are secondary income earners. A 1990 labour force survey showed that 20.3 per cent. of wages council workers were single parents, compared with 13.8 per cent. of the general population. So it is self-evident that a single parent with no other source of income is 50 per cent. more likely to be employed in a wages council industry. The wages council for those single parents, female or male, is well worth having.

It is inevitable that overall wages will decrease following the abolition of wages councils. The effect will be to increase poverty and that will most strikingly affect single parents. The Government do not put forward a moral case, but an immoral, even an amoral, case. Their case is tainted by an acceptance that poverty is an acceptable element of a supposedly civilised economy.

Is there an economic case? In its defence—I emphasise "defence"—of wages councils, the Institute of Management says that any good employer who attempts to maximise profits will automatically and sensibly set wage rates at a level at which the productivity and calibre of workers is reasonable. The institute accepts that wages councils give a valuable guide towards realistic wages levels. An efficient industry is surely one in which the workers are at least reasonably content and are prepared to work longer hours for their wages because they are worth having.

I recall visiting Poland and talking to a privatised industry's chairman just after the political changes there. He described how difficult it was for him to find new workers for his factory, even though he had work for them. The reason was that wages had gone so low under the old communist regime that women in particular thought it was no longer worth working. Wages were set at such an impoverished level that it was not worth doing anything other than rely on the state. There is a danger of that happening if wages councils are abolished.

One is left with the conclusion—if there is no moral or economic case for their abolition—that the Government are relying on a political case. But such a case has yet to be explained to us. As the hon. Member for Eltham pointed out in his powerful speech, if there was such a good political case to be made, that case and the evidence supporting it would have appeared in Doctor Major's casebook, the Tory election manifesto on which the Conservatives, by a squeak, won the election again last April. There was nothing to support that case in the Tory manifesto. We have before us a proposal that has not at any stage been supported by any cogent argument. I hope that the House will vote against abolition tonight.

7.15 pm
Mr. Hanson

It was a pleasure to hear the contribution by the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley). I had the privilege, with many of my hon. Friends here tonight, of discussing the Bill for weeks and months in Committee, during which not a Conservative Member showed an iota of concern for those who will be affected by the abolition of wages councils, the people whom we are seeking to help.

The abolition of wages councils is a squalid part of the Bill, which we shall take pleasure in opposing in the Lobby. While we shall no doubt lose the vote, though not the argument, I trust that the Government will at least listen to the concerns that my hon. Friends and I are expressing as we debate the various clauses and amendments.

We are debating a squalid piece of legislation. Like many of my hon. Friends, I support the establishment of a minimum wage. Indeed, many of us fought the last election on that basis. Some former Conservative Members lost their seats because they opposed the concept. We must have a base line below which people are not allowed to fall, especially in environments which my hon. Friends have described, in which unions are not in place and in which workers are isolated. In some circumstances, workers face tremendous odds in making their voices heard.

Mrs. Audrey Wise (Preston)

Does my hon. Friend accept that wages councils are necessary even in some industries where trade unions are in place, such as in retailing, because of the nature of the trade? It is an irony that the Bill will make it harder for workers to organise into trade unions, which means that we are faced with a terrible Siamese twins-type Bill because it makes it harder to achieve powerful trade unions and at the same time makes it more essential for there to be powerful trade unions, as every other form of protection is stripped from workers.

Mr. Hanson

Having worked in the retail sector at the beginning of my career, I am well aware of the low wages, long hours and poor conditions that many in that sector must endure. I have been staggered during the debates on this issue by the way in which Conservative Members do not accept that Britain remains a low-paid, low-income society. The Bill, rather than strengthening people's rights and developing better pay and conditions, will continue to reduce the conditions and standard of living of many people.

There are still 6 million women earning below the Council of Europe's decency threshold. We still have 12 million people on income support, with 2.5 to 2.6 million workers covered by the wages councils that the Government want to abolish. Wales, my region, has the lowest levels of pay in the United Kingdom, currently 87 per cent. of the national average. If the Government press their proposals, the 147,000 people who work in clothing manufacturing and who now earn the princely minimum wage of £102.86 per week, or the 492,000 licensed residential workers who earn £113, will undoubtedly find their wages reduced.

There is overwhelming evidence that the abolition of wages councils will reduce wage rates in those industries, will have an impact on increasing family poverty, will force more people into state subsidy through benefit, will riot lead to net job creation and will remove much valuable legal protection. The Labour party has opposed the legislation from the beginning. In Committee we cited strongly the views of the Equal Opportunities Commission, a Government-sponsored body. We also cited the views of the Fawcett Society and the citizens advice bureaux. My citizens advice bureau in Flint lobbied me and put forward suggestions for widening the scope for wages councils to include private nursing homes and the security trade. The Trades Union Congress, the Low Pay Unit, the Institute of Management Consultants and many employers wrote to hon. Members during the Committee stage, saying that the abolition of wages councils was wrong, would not achieve the objectives sought by the Government and would hit hard those who were already suffering

In Committee, with all that weight of evidence in front of him, what did the Minister produce? He produced one solitary letter from Forte, contributors to the Conservative party, who did not even have the courtesy to send the letter to every hon. Member serving on the Standing Committee. Like many of my hon. Friends, I received not one letter nor one piece of evidence to support the abolition of wages councils.

The proposal has no logic. My region in Wales is the lowest-paid region in the United Kingdom. The abolition of wages councils will affect 109,500 workers in Wales; that is one in ten of the work force.

Underpayment has already been mentioned. The reports of wages councils inspectors show that in different parts of Wales 32 per cent. to 41 per cent. of establishments were underpaying their employees. Those underpayments are being made even when it is a criminal offence and there is a check by inspectors. Unscrupulous employers, those who were said by Winston Churchill to undercut good employers, continue to underpay when there are legal checks.

I would welcome the Minister's comments on what will happen when wages councils inspectors have been removed, when underpayment goes underground, and when companies can get away with it because it is no longer a criminal offence. What will happen to the people who need support from the state to get a basic wage? We are not talking about vast burdens on employers but basic wages, low, poverty pay for people who need a strict mechanism to defend them from unscrupulous employers.

In Wales, if wages fell by only 10p per week £394,500 or £20 million a year would be lost to the local economy; one in ten households would be affected.

Mr. Oliver Heald (Hertfordshire, North)

Will the hon. Member give way?

Mr. Hanson

Absolutely; I am glad that we have at last provoked a Conservative Member to say something.

Mr. Heald

When the hon. Gentleman says that the local economy would lose that amount of money, is not that only if no new jobs were created? Is it not the contention of the Government that new jobs would be created? Is not that a laudable and moral aim?

Mr. Hanson

The hon. Gentleman sat in Committee with me for many hours. If wages are reduced, no new jobs will be created. Workers will work harder for poorer pay and people who control the industries will take bigger profits. There will be no increase in jobs.

Mr. Graham

My hon. Friend will realise that the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, North (Mr. Heald) expects people to work for 10p an hour. The Minister expects people to work for nothing; he said that in Committee.

Mr. Hanson

My hon. Friend makes an apt observation.

As to the impact on the local economy in my region, my borough council, which is not Labour controlled, has written to me about its concern in regard to the loss of wages. If there is a knock-on effect, there will be greater unemployment. The people on wages councils rates do not go out and buy Alfa Romeos; they do not holiday in Barbados, nor do they buy Italian imports or fine suits of clothes. They go to the local shops to buy local food, they use local transport and they pay for things locally, boosting the local economy. If the money is taken out of the local economy, there will be a knock-on effect, particularly in areas like mine which relies highly on tourism.

Mr. Jimmy Boyce (Rotherham)

We have heard much about spiteful policies. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Bill is not the result of a spiteful Government policy, but rather the result of a philosophical policy? If a more caring Government tried to operate the capitalist system and the philosophy of capitalism that the Government purport to operate, it would have the same effect, with decimation of conditions for working people. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government are not capable of implementing a policy that is fair to working people?

Mr. Hanson

My hon. Friend makes a valid point. The Government want to force down the wages of those in the low-paid sector.

The National Institute of Economic and Social Research has estimated that 25,000 jobs will be lost through the knock-on effect of spending cuts because of wage reductions. That will have a major effect on many industries.

I want to give a constituency example in support of the new clause. Just after I was elected, the husband of a constituent came to my surgery because the constituent was too frightened to come. The husband said that, because the powers of the wages council for the hotel trade were being reduced, the workers were not being paid overtime. They were being forced to work overtime on Saturdays and Sundays; if they did not agree, they were told to go because there were plenty of others to take their jobs.

I complained to the wages council inspector, who visited the hotel. He enforced the legislation and made the hotel chain pay the workers a decent overtime rate. The workers had a choice about doing overtime, because people who work in hotels have families too.

If the Government do not accept the amendment and do not undertake to consider the social implications of the abolition of wages councils, and if they proceed to abolish wages councils, what redress will there be for my constituent who is not a member of a trade union and who is only an individual employee in a massive hotel chain? My constituent will have no redress. She will be a cork, bobbing on the waters of a large company, to be washed up anywhere the company chooses to send her. That is not right.

We are are talking about basic rights. What is the objection to monitoring the working conditions and wages of lower-paid workers, and having a report back to Parliament? What is the objection to monitoring the effects of this vicious legislation? There should be no objections. That is why I hope the Minister will support the new clause.

Mr. Jim Lester (Broxstowe)

I wish to speak in support of my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley). Way back in history, when I was in the Department of Employment, I was responsible for wages councils. I always supported the principle of wages councils, although I also supported the move to improve their operation by taking away many of their peripheral responsibilities which tended to cloud the issue. Certainly I supported them in looking after sectoral interests and low-paid people.

I am well aware of the argument that the majority of people covered by wages councils earn more than the minimum level, but that does not justify their abolition because it is Parliament's responsibility—and I have always believed it was the responsibility of the Conservative party—to look after those who are least able to defend themselves, and not to stand back and allow those most able to defend themselves to roar away.

We have had many battles with the various think tanks, which purported to support my party but which, in many ways, have led it from the origins and the true traditions of Toryism. The think tanks argued that social security is the level of the basic minimum wage. That statement is offensive, and I find it impossible to support it.

7.30 pm

I am chairman of the Family Budget Unit, which is made up of academics and people with great expertise on living costs. We have done a great deal of work on what the family budget should be if a family is to have a minimum standard of living. I am sure that many hon. Members have seen the results as they have been published and many people are asking for them. Hon. Members should examine our report section by section. For example, we say that the food bill for a family of four will be £40 or £50. I often tell my wife, "Darling, this is what the Family Budget Unit says that you should be feeding our family of four on." She gives me a short, sharp reply and shows me the bill from Sainsbury's, which is almost always double or treble the amount that the unit thought necessary for a decent standard of living.

I am constantly amazed that anyone can cope or have a reasonable standard of living on social security. I recognise that even those people on a marginally higher wage find it enormously difficult to sustain a family.

To the Government's credit, they introduced family credit as a way to ensure state assistance for those people identified as living most in poverty—families with children. It seems odd for the Government to say that they want to support families through that scheme when, by abolishing wage councils, this Bill will increase the budget required to pay for it. In other words, we shall use Government money to subsidise low pay, especially for families, which seems a tremendous anomaly. Our thinking about the basic levels of social security and salaries required for people to live on ought to be much clearer, and we should think about protection for people who are least able to protect themselves.

Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East)

Does the hon. Member agree that every worker who is responsible for a family deserves the dignity of being able to earn sufficient to provide for his family, irrespective of family credit?

Mr. Lester

Yes, I do; but I also recognise that society has changed considerably. From working with friends in the United States and other parts of the world, I recognise that traditional forms of employment in which a man—nowadays with his wife's assistance—can earn a reasonable income are tending to change. The idea of working for the same firm for 40 years has long since gone. People have to get their salaries as and where they can.

From his experience in Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) will know that the old basic industries no longer exist. We must look to a different pattern of employment, which forces me to conclude that a basic income system, which does not retract if people earn more money, is the only way forward. That, however, is another argument and I shall not develop it today.

My third reason for not supporting the withdrawal of the wages councils is that I have had experience of running a company for 25 years, and I made a profit in every year except one. I recognise that there are considerable variations in the terms and conditions of employment within industry. The great value of wages councils is that they took into account the conditions for a sector 'when considering the basic wage. For instance, in some sectors employees receive tips, but in others they do not; and housing may come with some jobs. One cannot directly compare one job with another, and the wages councils acknowledge that.

Wages councils have been reviewed twice since they were formed and tended to include a majority of employers. I cannot conceive why, if employers were in the majority, they could not work within the wages council framework to set satisfactory minimum salaries for their industry—fair levels at which everyone could work.

I have listened to the arguments of some Opposition Members about job creation and also to my hon. Friends. The truth is that if people depress wages to produce goods at lower prices to sell them, it is more likely to reduce jobs than to increase them, because such employers would undercut those offering decent wages and standards. That is not a job-creation formula.

My last reason for not supporting the abolition of wages councils is political. At the next election it would give the Labour party a far stronger argument for introducing a minimum wage as the argument would be more powerful if there were no protection for people at the bottom of the scale. For the reasons that I have stated, I disagree with the arguments on the minimum wage. The wage would not take into account variations in terms of employment in different sectors of industry and would be too high for some industries, which would cause unemployment, or so low that it had no effect and was therefore not worth the legislation that it was written on. The minimum wage is an alternative to the wages councils, but I support the principle of sectoral minimum wages rather than a national minimum wage. The political reason is that the abolition of the wages councils would give the Opposition a strong case to introduce minimum wage legislation at the next election. I do not agree with such legislation but it has wide appeal. From a study of the opinion polls during the last election, one can learn how popular that suggestion was with the general public. The Bill is one way to make it even more popular at the next election.

An ancillary argument is that people in this country, who have a sense of their own dignity, will not be pushed around or allow their wages to be reduced artificially arid wrongly if they feel that that is an injustice. They will do something about it. What can they do? They can join a relevant trade union, or possibly a sectoral trade union, which might well form. Abolition of the wages councils would be a recruiting sergeant for the trade union movement, which was established to protect people whose employment was without protection. That is another reason why those of my colleagues who do not think as highly of trade unions as I do should think twice before supporting the abolition of wages councils. The suggestion that people will sit back and accept such treatment is contrary to my experience of what people feel when they think that they are being unjustly treated.

For all those reasons, I am glad to have been able to contribute to the debate. I signed the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham. I hope that the Government will think seriously about proceeding on their course. As the clause suggests, we ought to be careful to monitor the results of the abolition of the wages councils. For the reasons that I have expressed, their abolition will not do employment or the protection of the work force any good.

Mr. Graham

If anything has made me angry about the Government, it is their commitment to abolish wages councils. I come from Strathclyde, where the Government have inflicted a poverty that we thought unimaginable in a modern, high-technology country such as Britain. The levels of poverty would make anyone cry.

Our people are unemployed in their thousands and our young people are desperate for work, yet the Government have come up with this solution. The Government are going to abolish the wages councils and they imagine that doing so will create jobs. To devise something like that to replace jobs is the product of a sick mind.

Every single hon. Member makes a minimum of £31,000 a year. Yet people in this place have the audacity to suggest that wages from £2.59 to £3.10 an hour are too high—it is mind-boggling to say the least. In Committee, I told the Minister that I had a constituent who was expected to bring his family up on £1.85 an hour. At that time, the Minister agreed that some wages were so low as to be evil. Surely £3.10 an hour is evil pay in a modern society.

After 14 years of the Government totally mismanaging the economy, with unemployment raging at 3 million and bankruptcies hitting our companies every single day, the Government come up with the grand policy of abolishing wages councils. They want to abolish the wages councils that have protected 2.5 million people. The wages councils may not have done as well as we would have liked, but the Government have ensured that they could not be more effective and they have reduced their power.

In 1986, the Government started to reduce some of the wages councils' controls. The Minister knows very well what I am talking about; there has been a systematic and sinister move by the Government to reduce the wages councils' powers over the years. We have now reached the stage where they wish to abolish them. It is amazing that the Tory Government seem to want to ensure only that the rich get richer and the poor poorer. They never think about increasing the quality of life of the folk who live on social security benefit, but just talk about cuts, cuts, cuts.

I wonder why no Conservative Member has tonight been prepared to defend the abolition of wages councils? I was absolutely delighted to hear the two Conservative Members speak in support of wages councils. They are quite correct; there is no way that the abolition of the wages councils and low wages will create new jobs. Anyone who tries to lower already low wages must be the most evil member of society. From 1906 to 1909 there was a sweated trades exhibition, but in those days they had the vision to create the wages councils. We should have learnt from that, but the Minister does not seem to have realised that there are many people who live on low wages and have to have their wages topped up. Those people are means-tested.

Surely in a civilised society people should be entitled to decent wages to pay for rent, clothes, heating and food —why not? Surely all men and women deserve that dignity. Surely it is the right of every man and woman in this country who works to receive decent pay to allow them to afford to buy the necessities of life. However, the Government do not care and have come up with a measure to abolish wages councils. They have not given the House one example of the way in which that measure will create jobs.

Earlier statements have suggested that value added tax might be imposed on food, which could mean familie spaying £8 or £9 a week extra on food. Let us consider the position. We abolish the wages councils and some unscrupulous employers get together and lower wages. What will happen to the poor families? They will have to pay VAT and pay extra for their food. We will be going back to the bad old days that my mother and father have told me about, when parents went to work hungry and worked hard to ensure that their kids would be fed.

This country has not been brought up to its present standard only to have it lowered so that impoverished mothers and fathers have to work in bad health and, ultimately, cannot work to feed their children. What have we come to? I wonder about the Government's logic.

7.45 pm

Earlier, I spoke about a young man who was getting £1 an hour and was expected to work seven days a week. When he asked for time off work to go to a wedding, his boss sacked him. That seems unbelievable, but it is true. I also told the Minister about the man who earned £1.85 an hour.

I shall tell the House another important, true story. A security guard worked with his dog and got about L1.70 an hour. After he had done 17 hours work with his dog, his partner failed to turn up, so the man worked another 17 hours at £1.70 an hour. A complaint was made about the dog and why it did not get a rest. An animal welfare group said that it would take the case to court if the dog was not given a rest. The man had to give his dog a rest, but the man himself got no rest. We have laws for dogs, but no decent laws for men and women in this country.

The Minister cannot honestly expect to create jobs out of the low paid. If the Government do not have the ability to ensure that this country re-establishes its manufacturing base and if they do not invest in young people, education and the quality of life of our people, they should give up. If the measure is the Government's only means of reducing unemployment—now at 3 million —the Minister should give up.

The Government should give our people a break. Our people need the wages councils, which must be improved and developed. The Government should forget their sick suggestion and get people back to meaningful, fruitful work. They should give my constituent an opportunity to work for a decent wage. He deserves a decent, fair pay for a fair day's work. If the Government give him that, people like him will make Britain great once again.

Mr. Salmond

I was struck by the contributions of the two Conservative Members, who were both against the Minister and the Government's attitude to the wages councils. The hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) made a graceful speech, obviously based on his experience and study of the issue. However, I was particularly struck by the remark of the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester), who said that he thought that the measure was an example of the fact that think tanks now have an over-mighty influence on the Conservative party. He was right—think tanks have taken over the asylum and the personification of that process is sitting on the Treasury Bench.

I studied economics at the same university as the Minister of State. I studied it for somewhat longer than he did and I have a theory that he has since been engaged in a process of trying to devalue not only my degree, but the reputation and standing of one of Scotland's greatest moral philosophers, Adam Smith.

The hon. Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith) expressed surprise that someone like Adam Smith should have railed against the concept of low wages. He should have expressed no such surprise: Adam Smith was opposed to low wages for the same reason as he opposed poll taxes. Both were indications of primitive, under-developed economies. That is what the Minister now stands for.

The economic effects of the abolition of wages councils will probably be marginal, because a fairly small number of workers is involved and relatively few of those workers are now earning only wages council rates. It could be argued that there will be an employment effect, but there will certainly be an effect on income and demand which will depress employment. Much more important than the macro-economic effect of abolition is the micro-economic effect on individual workers. Low wages unquestionably lead to the demoralisation of the work force and to a lack of efficiency.

The Minister should not find it particularly surprising that someone reduced to poverty-line wages, struggling to keep body, soul and family together on an income that does not sustain that effort, will feel less than comfortable about his working environment. Such a person may not put everything into being as efficient as possible. I suspect that the Minister greatly underrates the effect on individual companies of driving wages and conditions further down; I am sure that the leaders of such companies do. Many of the industries concerned already provide the worst wages and conditions in the economy.

More revealing in an economic sense, however, is what the Government's attitude to wages councils betrays about their overall approach to the economy. Today's papers quote the Secretary of State for Scotland as saying, in an aside to his speech at Edinburgh university, that people in Scotland must price themselves back into jobs. The Minister probably wrote that speech: he is nodding vigorously in agreement.

According to the Government, a low-wage economy provides the way to be competitive in the modern world. All the evidence suggests, however, that high- age, high productivity, high-efficiency economies are the most successful in the international environment. That is suggested not just by current evidence, but by historical evidence from Scotland. A hundred years ago, Scotland was the most prosperous country in the world per head of population and also paid the highest industrial wages in the world. Those wages were the result of a highly skilled, highly educated work force, relative to other countries at that time.

Given that historical experience, and given all the current international experience suggesting that high-wage, high-skill economies provide the route to economic success, why should the Minister suddenly find an economic formula suggesting that low wages and low productivity present the magic solution to economic difficulties?

Mr. Michael Forsyth

I agree with the hon. Gentleman's analysis of the desirability of a high-wage, high-skill economy and with his analysis of the Scottish economy 100 years ago. Perhaps he will now tell us how Scotland managed to pay high wages before wages councils existed.

Mr. Salmond

Is the Minister now arguing that wages councils are necessary to maintain high wages? If not, why on earth is he pursuing that line?

Wages councils were introduced in the early years of the century to try to introduce some decency to the wage-bargaining process. The argument about wages councils is not an economic one, as the Minister would know if he had followed my speech more carefully. It concerns morality and decency and whether Members of Parliament can legislate, not to protect the poor against the strong, but to reinforce the power of the strong over the weak. It is about whether, instead of further reducing the standards for some of the most powerless and vulnerable sections of society, we should accept responsibility for enacting legislation designed to reinforce whatever power we can give such people.

Yesterday, the Secretary of State for Scotland argued —with the Minister's agreement—that people should price themselves back into jobs. That typifies the Government's overall economic approach. Why cannot people educate themselves into jobs? Why can we not train them into jobs? Why can we not replicate the success of the economies that are currently most successful internationally and the success of Scotland 100 years ago?

Let me end my speech as I began it, with a reference to Adam Smith. It is no great surprise that a moral philosopher like Adam Smith did not consider it appropriate for wages to be driven down—no surprise, that is, to anyone but the Minister, who has abused Adam Smith's theory and writing throughout his political career. The essential question for the House tonight, however, is one of decency. Are we going to pass legislation that will drive down further the wages and conditions of a group of people who may not have much effect on the macro-economy in numerical terms, but whose lives, interests and families are entitled to far more respect than the Minister is prepared to give them?

Ms. Eagle

It is interesting to note that so far every Conservative Member has supported the new clause—which I, too, support—and opposed the Government's move to abolish wages councils. Unfortunately, we were not much enlightened in Committee: after some six hours of argument against abolition, the Minister dismissed what had been said in one and a half sentences. I hope that we shall now hear some explanation for the Minister's belief that the move is reasonable and will create employment—and, perhaps, some evidence for his view.

I do not believe that any such evidence exists, and many of the speeches that we have heard so far have powerfully reinforced my view. I believe that the Government's decision was born out of purely ideological dogma—and they are one of the most dogmatic Governments of the century. The measure is being imposed without consultation, and with hardly any attempt to justify it by means of genuine argument about the effects of abolition.

The proposal is an example of the Government's obsession with what I described in Committee as neo-classical 19th-century liberalism with a dash of Benthamite utilitarianism. I stand by that analysis. Let me add that that mixture of policy and philosophy is much older than Winston Churchill's observations in 1909—which were derided by some Conservative Back Benchers as old fashioned—and much more out of date.

I pointed out in Committee that the mixture of policy and philosophy to which I have referred led to the creation of the poor laws and the workhouse. In the neo-classical economic model, wages are driven down to whatever level the market dictates—which may be lower than people need in order to live, let alone enjoy life. There is no reason why wages cannot be driven down to zero or below. The Government continue to cling, however, to their outmoded dogma, despite all the evidence to the contrary —that their blessed belief in market forces leads to impoverishment. When the labour market is, as the Government would say, freed up, it fails to provide the work force with wages that can sustain body and soul. If wages councils are abolished, that is what will happen to the 2.7 million workers who now enjoy the protection of wages councils.

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Simply because of the way that the market operates, the abolition of wages councils will also lead to impoverishment slightly higher up the wages scale. If already low wages are pushed even lower, the wages of people in the more casualised sector of employment will also be pushed lower, which will take even more money and spending power out of the economy and create even more impoverishment. Clause 28 is an attempt to deregulate the labour market even further and to reduce wages costs, the spurious idea being that that, somehow, will create employment.

The Government regard any kind of cost of employing anybody as a burden on business. That is the phrase that they have used. They talk about people being priced back into jobs but we have heard already in the debate that wages council rates are woefully inadequate now. Many examples have been quoted of the wage rates being paid in non-wages council areas. I do not intend to give other examples, although I could do so. I have examples of wage rates as low as £1.80 an hour and others that are as low as £1 an hour.

We are being asked to agree to taxpayers having to subsidise bad employers, who pay poverty, exploitative wages to their work force, with their taxes, simply because people who are paid wages of £1 an hour can scarcely feed themselves on such wages, let alone try to feed and clothe their families. It is insulting that taxpayers should be asked to subsidise bad employers and that wages should then be ratcheted down so far that many other employers, who would prefer to pay higher wages, find that either they have to pay lower wages, because of the competitive pressures, or sack their workers.

That is the way that the market mechanism works. It drives out the good and the responsible employers and replaces them with the bad, irresponsible and exploitative employers. It has happened many times in the last century and a half. If wages councils go, it will happen again and the ratcheting down of wages will accelerate.

One of the Government's policy objectives has been to achieve a widening of the gap between the rich and the poor. They have certainly achieved their objective during their period in office. There is massive poverty now, all of which helps to make it harder for the labour market to have any power. With unemployment standing at 3 million or 4 million—one can argue about the figure, but I say that the figure is closer to 4 million than to 3 million—there is a massive pool of people who are able to replace those who make a fuss about being paid low wages. That immediately leads to another drag on the levels of wages that can be paid.

In addition, there has been a deliberate strategy by the Government and their predecessors since 1979 to strip away, bit by bit, the employment protection measures that were on the statute book when the Conservatives first came to power in 1979. We have now reached the stage where employment protection under the law is at its absolute minimum. One has to work for two years before one qualifies for any kind of protection against unfair dismissal. Even the protection that one gains after two years in full-time employment and five years in part-time employment does not stretch as far as reinstatement. All this intimidates people and prevents them from managing to achieve even the few employment rights that they have under the law to adequate wage levels and adequate terms and conditions of employment.

There has been a deliberate attempt to create a low-tech, no-skill and cheap economy. The result of the deregulation of the labour market—combined, on the macro-economic level, with the Government's incompetence, due to another of their obsessions that is not relevant to the Bill but which I mention only in passing, monetarism—is mass unemployment. That has led to the creation of a one third, two thirds society. The people who are in the bottom third cannot hope to do anything other than casualised, unprotected jobs for wages that, frankly, would have been a scandal at the turn of the century and that are a scandal today.

We, as a legislature, have a responsibility to put a stop to that. The last thing that we should be doing today is dismantling the last vestiges of minimum wage protection for already poor and vulnerable groups.

Mrs. Wise

Has my hon. Friend overlooked the excuse that is given by the Treasury Bench—that most of these people are women, anyway, whose income is therefore subsidiary? Is my hon. Friend waiting with bated breath, as I am, for the Secretary of State for Employment and all her female colleagues to declare themselves as mere subsidiaries and that they are queuing up to take a cut in their salaries on the same grounds?

Ms. Eagle

I agree with the sentiments expressed by my hon. Friend. The abolition of wages councils will affect women more than any other group of workers, because 80 per cent., or thereabouts, of wages council workers are women. The labour market is so segmented at the moment that women generally tend to find themselves in the lower echelons of job grades and, therefore, on lower pay.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) said in his speech, wages councils lead to a unisex wage. The so-called gender gap—the gap between the average earnings of men and women in particular jobs—is consistently narrower in every wages council industry than it is in the non-regulated sector. As the Equal Opportunities Commission points out in its comments on the Government's attempts to abolish the wages councils, their abolition will have another effect. Apart from the effect on relative levels of poverty, when already low wages decline even further there will be a widening of the gender gap between men and women workers in the non-regulated sector.

The abolition of the wages councils will put us in grave danger of being in breach of the equal rights directive. I hope that the Minister will deal with that matter when he replies to the debate. It will run against the spirit of the equal pay legislation that has been on the statute book for 20 years. I shall be interested in what the Minister has to say about the Government's plans to ensure that the gender gap between women's pay and men's pay in this sector, as in all others, is narrowed rather than widened.

The workers in the more exploitable areas tend to be women. They also tend to be members of the ethnic minorities. One in four of the ethnic minorities who are lucky enough to have a job find that they are confined to wages sector industries. We can also expect the gap between their pay and the average rate to widen if 'wages councils are abolished.

As for the effect that abolition of the wages councils will have in my region, the north-west, in so far as we have been able to find out, 345,000 people are working in wages council industries. It is, however, a reasonable estimate and amounts to one in 10 households.

If we assume that the abolition of wages councils leads to a 20p fall in wages—it is a very generous assumption given that some of the wage rates that I mentioned earlier are currently being paid in the north-west—and if we also assume an 18-hour week because of the part-time nature of some of the employment that we are discussing, the abolition of wages councils will lead to a withdrawal of £52 million from the economy of the north-west and £10–2 million from my own region of Merseyside. Clearly, that will have an effect on employment.

What are the Department's estimates of the employment effect of withdrawing that spending power from not only the north-west but from the country as a whole if, as I believe will happen, wage rates go down in the aftermath of the abolition of wages councils? The new clause would require statistics to be kept not only on the level of wage rates within wages council industries and the areas that were covered by them but on other aspects. We should certainly appreciate some statistics that we can trust so that we can make a proper assessment of the economic effect of abolition. Neoclassical economic theory accurately predicts what will happen.

Having listened to what the Government have said in their justifications—thin as they have so far been—for including abolition in the Bill, it is clear to me that they want wages to fall. Surely that is what "pricing yourself into a job" means in Tory-speak. I do not know how one can price oneself into a job at £1–80 an hour. I wonder whether we want such jobs. Should we be aiming for jobs that pay £1.80 an hour and which offer people absolutely no rights or dignity? Do we want such jobs in an advanced, highly technological society which purports to want to compete with some of the most advanced societies in the western world?

I suspect that the result of the Government's obsession with their own little neoclassical dogmas and the demand and supply curve in the labour market, of their continuing obsession with deregulation and of their seeming indifference to the human effect of the ratcheting down of wages in the one third of the country that has been impoverished by their actions, will be to turn us from the workshop of the world, which we have now ceased to be thanks to the Government's wonderful industrial strategies, into the sweatshop of the world. For that reason, I support new clause 12 and oppose the abolition of the wages councils.

Mr. Burden

I support the new clause because it is important that we have evidence of the impact of the abolition of wages councils. That impact will be not only on statistics but on people, some of the worst-paid employees in the country.

In Committee there was a good deal of double-speak from the Government about why they want to abolish wages councils and what they think the impact of abolition will be. They argue that wages councils are unnecessary because 80 per cent. of employees covered by them are paid more than the legal minimum. That argument does not stand up to too close an examination, but, for the moment, let us accept it.

How does that argument square with the other argument, uttered in the next breath by the same people, that wages councils are apparently a barrier to employment? The Government point to pay increases in wages council industries, allege that they are higher than the general level—although they are not—and imply that the level of wages in wages councils industries and services stop people being employed. The Government cannot have it both ways. They cannot say that wages councils are irrelevant and, in the same breath, say that they are a barrier to employment.

If wages councils are abolished, there will be a cut in pay for some of the lowest-paid employees in the country. The Government will be giving vent to some of their worst and most grotesque ideological prejudices. They are throwing a bone to their right wing, saying, "Don't worry about Maastricht. When all is said and done, we can produce a Bill that will have a go at low-paid workers and the unions." That is what the Bill is all about.

8.15 pm

We have got used to the Government saying that inequality and poverty must be tolerated. We do not accept that, but we have got used to them saying it. We do not and will never accept that inequality and poverty must be deepened and increased, which is the basis of the Bill.

It is time that Conservative Members showed some honesty about how low they are prepared to watch wages fall. We have yet to receive an answer to the question whether they think that £2–78 is too high a wage for a hairdresser. Is it? We have yet to receive an answer to the question whether £2.92 is too high a wage for someone working in a restaurant. We have yet to have some honesty from the Government about the responses that they have received to the proposal, about the fact that the majority of responses opposed the abolition.

We have yet to have some honesty from the Government about what the employment effects will be and the fact that even some of their own studies offer no clear evidence of employment increasing if wages councils are abolished. As my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) made clear, if wages councils were such a barrier to employment, how is it that employment in wages council industries and services has increased in recent years?

We need the Government to show some honesty about the disproportionate effect that the abolition of wages councils will have on women. Eighty per cent. of employees covered by wages councils are women, and the only answer we have had from the Government is, "Don't worry about that because in the main they contribute a second income." The Government then have the gall to get upset when we accuse them, rightly, of advancing the argument about pin money.

The Government should be aware that there are challenges in Europe to the proposed abolition of wages councils and its relationship to the treaty of Rome. I have no doubt that, in a few weeks, we shall hear of another miraculous legal opinion which proves that it does not matter.

In the west midlands, 270,000 employees will be affected if wages councils are abolished. As in other parts of the country, that means about one in every 10 households. If only 20p an hour were taken off the pay in wages council industries, £50 million would be lost to the west midlands alone. That is not about boosting the economy or increasing prosperity; it is about cutting pay. There is no suggestion among my constituents that it is the low-paid workers who cause unemployment. They know that it is Government policies and the recession that they have created and deepened.

In my city of Birmingham, a 33-year-old cafe assistant works 25 hours a week at the rate of £2 an hour. Her legal entitlement is £73 but she received £50. That is an illegal underpayment. I wonder why the Government do not put the emphasis that they put on the Bill into tackling that sort of problem, because the Bill will make such underpayment legal. In Committee, Conservative Members said that they did not condone illegal underpayment, but the Bill will legalise underpayment.

What will be the position of that cafe worker in the brave new world of voluntary bargaining? If she goes to her employer after wages councils have been abolished and exercises the free will, which Conservative Members impress on us that she has, to bargain with her employer for an increase in pay, her employer can sack her on the spot. When he does so, she will have no legal redress. A few years ago she would have had some legal redress, but, under present Government rules, because she has worked for only 10 months she has none.

Why have the Government, who want to abolish wages councils, a ratio of wages inspectors to workers covered by wages councils of 1:40,950? Compare that with the Government's cause celebre, alleged social security fraud. Even on a–1 apologise for using the word—conservative estimate of the number of staff in social security offices who are engaged in tracking down alleged social security fraud, the ratio is 1:14,000.

We have had a lot of flannel from the Government Benches, but I wonder who will be seen to have won the argument when the report of tonight's debate and our proceedings in Committee are read. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have said that the Government are wrong to scrap wages councils. The Government have not even managed to summon one Conservative Member to defend them today. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms. Eagle) said, in Committee we heard one and a half sentences from the Minister in answer to six hours of debate.

I have no doubt about the will of the House tonight and who has won the argument, but I suspect that, irrespective of the argument, when it comes to the vote Conservative Members who have not been prepared to back up the Government's argument will troop through the Lobby in their support.

I urge hon. Members to support the new clause and to reject what has been put forward by the Government. We are in the era of citizens charters, but there seems to be no citizens charter for the low paid—quite the opposite. What we have here is a charter for poverty pay put forward by "Citizen Michael" and "Citizen Gillian" which we should reject.

Mr. Hutton

This has been a significant debate for two principal reasons. First, if I am right and we lose the vote tonight, we will be marking the end of a consensus that has united both sides of the House for more than 80 years. That consensus is a matter in which the House can take pride. For that length of time, during two world wars and Governments of intense ideological commitment, both sides of the House have remained committed to the idea that it is appropriate and right for the House to set minimum rates of pay for the lowest-paid workers; those workers who do not have the benefit of collective organisation through the trade unions and who look to us in the House to guarantee them some basic decency and minimum rights in terms of their workplace.

In Committee we heard arguments from the Government about the rationale behind their proposals, but their case was pathetically shallow and superficial. They presented no economic case for the abolition of the wages council and, as many of my hon. Friends have pointed out tonight, there is no economic case for abolishing the wages councils. If we were to abolish them, the same or a declining number of people would simply work for less wages. There would be no stimulus or boost to the employment prospects of tens of thousands of people in our country who are currently out of work. The abolition of the wages councils would simply depress wages for the most vulnerable and exposed section of the work force. That is a contemptible and sad thing for even this Government to be attempting at this moment. When the recession shows no sign of ending and unemployment shows every sign of increasing, the Government's response is to abolish the wages councils, and that is contemptible.

The consensus to which I have drawn attention is worth spelling out and looking at. It represents a philosophical approach, the guaranteeing of statutory employment rights, which is commendable. As part of my preparation for tonight's debate I made an effort to look at speeches made by the then Secretary of State, now the noble Lord Prior, when he spoke for the Government during the debate on the Loyal Address in May 1979. He made an observation which still commands much respect in the House. He said: The law should always give full recognition to the inherent weakness of the individual worker vis-a-vis his employer".—[Official Report, 21 May 1979; Vol. 967, c. 824.] That is a perfectly credible and coherent philosophical approach for hon. Members to embrace again tonight. Ultimately, we are discussing not just the issue of low wages, which is significant and should command attention, but a broader vision of the role of the House in establishing minimum employment rights. It is significant that, for example, when we consider other transactions, other contracts, there is no reluctance on the part of the Government or the Opposition to intervene in the marketplace and establish minimum terms and conditions on which parties can contract.

I think, in particular, of the law relating to consumer protection which has dominated much Government thinking for the past 20 years. Consumerism has become an important issue and Governments of both parties legislated extensively throughout the 1970s to intervene directly to protect consumers. That is perfectly credible because it recognises the fact that, in a normal marketplace transaction, the consumer is often in a weak position. He is unable to negotiate on a one-to-one basis with the supplier of goods and services, and Parliament, through a number of different devices, has intervened to protect consumers.

When it comes to employment protection rights and to protecting the rights of workers, I am afraid that we see a completely different approach from the Conservative Benches. They embrace the notion of the market and express the idea that workers, uniquely, are in a position to negotiate on a one-to-one, head-to-head basis with employers from a position of equal bargaining strength. Opposition Members know that that is simply not the case; it is not a description of the real world. That was recognised in 1909 when the House first established the wages councils. Until this Bill was presented to the House, that was the position embraced by hon. Members on both sides of the House.

The other significant thing about tonight's debate is that those Conservative Members who have spoken—we have heard two excellent speeches from Conservative Members tonight, both ex-Ministers in the Department of Employment—have spoken out against the Government's proposals. The Government have not been able to find one hon. Member to make the case in favour of the abolition of the wages councils. The Minister shakes his head, but I have been in the Chamber throughout the debate and I have not heard one speech from a Conservative Member in support of the Government on this matter. [Interruption.] The Government have not found one Conservative Member to speak in favour of their case.

We have heard much waffle from Ministers during the past few weeks about the inherent logic of their decision to abolish the wages councils. For example, the Minister says that they are no longer necessary in the labour market of the 1990s. He has produced not a shred of evidence to support the case that the wages councils are not necessary. The Conservative election manifesto, upon which he and his right hon. and hon. Friends were elected, significantly make no reference to the Government's ambition to abolish the wages councils.

As we are debating a number of issues relating to the clause and the ethos of employment protection, it is worth pointing out that the oblique reference to the Government's philosophical commitment is to be found on page 20 of the manifesto which says: The workers' rights we believe in are those which enhance the individual's status and opportunities. The abolition of wages councils will do none of those things. It will not enhance the rights of workers or their status, and it will expose them to what I can only describe as the real prospect of significant exploitation by a group of cowboy employers who are rubbing their hands at the prospect of being liberated from the constraints of the wages councils. That, for many millions of British people, will be a grim and horrifying prospect.

It is also worth pointing out that the Government are unique in their isolation among civilised nations in their ambition to remove from British employment law any minimum employment protection in terms of low wages. It is significant that the International Labour Organisation convention No. 26 has 100 nation state signatories, but only this country signed the convention and then deratified it. That shows that the Conservative Government are effectively isolated in the broad sweep of international opinion. No other country is going down this road.

8.30 pm

My hon. Friends and some Conservative hon. Members have drawn attention, rightly, to the remorseless drive to deregulate the labour market and have said that it will not produce the high-wage, prosperous economy that Conservative hon. Members, particularly the Government, pretend to have brought into existence after 14 years in power. We are a long way from that econony, from having that kind of society. I am sure that it is the view of all my hon. Friends that there is no doubt that abolishing the wages councils will accelerate the move towards a low-wage, low-prospect, poor-training, no-prospect labour market with increased exploitation and the prospect of many people working for wages which are disgracefully low.

As I said in Committee, it is an appropriate exercise of our power to make rules and to intervene on behalf of those people who, if they are left to the sheer force of the labour market, will find themselves working for unacceptable wages which we as civilised law-makers should not countenance. That is not a healthy development for this Parliament.

I hope that I speak for all my hon. Friends when I say that it is perfectly legitimate, in pursuit of a broad public policy objective, for this House to continue to express its support for wages councils in the full knowledge that if we do that tonight we shall not be adding to the burdens of employers nor adding to unemployment but doing something positive and constructive. I suspect that that is why most Conservative Members will not support us in the lobbies tonight, because they have a pathological aversion to doing anything that might improve the employment rights of British working people.

It is important that we consider the abolition of wages councils against that background. They are an important part of the broad statutory employment framework that we have developed over many decades which has commanded until now a broad consensus of opinion on both sides.

We can describe the Government's intentions as, at best, wishful thinking in that they hope that the abolition of wages councils will increase employment and improve prospects in the labour market. It will not do that. That is wishful thinking; it is a false hope. There is no evidence for it. It is a sad reflection of the Government's economic agenda that they present that case to the House tonight.

At worst, it is an example of cynical exploitation, exposing workers who deserve and look to this House for protection to the prospect of exploitation by employers who show complete contempt for the laws on minimum wages and wages councils and who will clearly take the opportunity offered to them by this Bill to lower wages even further for people who are already in the poverty trap. That is disgraceful and a pathetic reflection of this Government's ambition and their agenda, of their lack of imagination, in that this is all that they can come up with. I hope that hon. Members on both sides will have the courage and conviction to do the right thing and will reject the Government's shameful proposal.

Mr. Mike Watson (Glasgow, Central)

This has been one of the most stimulating debates in which I have participated during my years in the House. It has been particularly interesting to note the contributions from hon. Members not just in my party, which were excellent, but from the hon. Members for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) and for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester) who not only made excellent speeches but have stayed to listen to most of the debate. I hope they will be in the Lobby with us.

As to the rest of Conservative hon. Members who are here or who should be here—there are empty Conservative Benches—they should find no reason to oppose the two amendments that we are discussing; nor should the Minister. We say in those amendments that if the wages councils are abolished, as the arithmetic of the House tells us they will in the course of time, and if it has the impact which we say it will, then the Minister should come here and tell us what he will do about it. Is that a frightening prospect? If he tells us that there will be no serious effect from this legislation, what is he afraid of and why is he opposing the new clauses? As so many speakers have pointed out this evening, the abolition of wages councils fits somehow into the Government's economic policy and clause 28 of the Bill has to be seen as part of the Government's intention to drive down wages, to bring about a low-skill, low-wage security and a no-hope work force that cannot stop cowering out of fear of being out of a job, desperate to take anything.

If ever there were an example of that, and the Minister seemed to dismiss it earlier, it was provided by that impressive and moving television programme last night, "Cutting Edge". The Minister demeaned it by making some rather trivial points about it. The programme gave a graphic description of the situation facing millions of low-paid workers. We saw a young woman desperately chasing round the country looking for work and we saw the way that she was treated. That seems inevitably to be the way in which such people will be treated, and even more so if abolition of the wages councils goes through. That surely will be the only result.

We have heard many arguments this evening but it is about the fact that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Hutton) argued, the key word is poverty. People are living in poverty, being paid poverty wages even if they can find work. This Government should be showing them the way out of poverty, and giving some hope but in fact they are doing the opposite and saying, "If you have not got a job we will give you a job at £1–50 an hour." I can give countless examples from my constituency of people, in the centre of a major city, working for less than £2 an hour. I am not just talking about security guards. People in a hopeless position will of course grab at any lifeline. Does that mean we should be driving them further into the mire? Should we be saying to them—and let us get the figures right—"We think that if you are being paid between £2.59 and £3.10 an hour it will dissuade employers from taking you on"? That is what the Government are saying. If there were any doubt about that, my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), opening the debate, surely sank it decisively by showing that 90,000 new jobs had been created in wages councils areas at a time when unemployment was rising out of control.

I understand that the Minister failed to answer a similar debate in Committee, although I was not on the Committee. If he failed to do so, then he must answer it tonight and come up with a convincing reason, if he can find one, for saying that wages councils prevented employment being created and that they prevent employers taking on people they would be itching to take on if only they did not have to pay them £2.59 an hour.

We have heard many arguments about abolition of the councils, but we have to consider the effect on women because it has been said that 80 per cent. of the 2,500,000 people who come within the remit of wages councils are women. It has to be stressed that most women still work in what are traditionally regarded as women's jobs, usually low-paid and often undervalued.

We had a ministerial answer today showing that male workers' earnings are at present about £221 a week while women, mainly those working as hairdressers, are being paid only £110 a week on average while in the hotel and catering industry, which is also covered by wages councils, they are earning £126 a week. How can anyone say that that dissuades employers from taking people on? If the Government have an economic strategy to raise the country out of its present dire situation with unemployment about to go over the 3 million mark, even on the Government's own figures, how will they arrest that decline by this kind of measure? There are 4,500,000 part-time workers and 83 per cent. of that part-time work force have limited career prospects and involve the sort of women we saw on television last night. Despite the role they play in manufacturing and service industries, the Government give no credence or value to that area of work. I hope that the Minister will answer the points made about the typical role of women in society and in the work force.

The Secretary of State does a great disservice to her gender by suggesting that women have no economic role and no contribution to make to production or to the economy of the country. Surely the time is long overdue for the value of women in the work force to be recognised and for the Minister and his right hon. and hon. Friends to give some thought to the effect that the abolition of wages councils would have not just on women but on their families, and increasingly on those women who are, despite what the Minister has said, the breadwinners in many cases.

Many hon. Members have mentioned the situation in their own areas and I would like to say a few words about the situation in Scotland. Underpayments within Scotland in the period 1987–91 increased by 128 per cent. That is a higher figure—I take no pride in this—than in Wales or any of the English regions. In this connection, I would like the House to consider an aspect that has not been raised in this debate: the enforcement of the decisions of the wages councils and the rates that they have set for the past 80 years.

In 1991, in Scotland, only 7.5 per cent. of employers were visited by wages council inspectors, and 28.6 per cent.—that is, about 750—were found to be underpaying. The wages council inspectors get round far too few employers because of the shortage of staff, but, of those 737 who were underpaying, only two were prosecuted for paying below the set rate. So nearly one third of the employers were found to be paying below the rate—breaking the law, it should be stated again. They should be thrown out of the party which claims to be the party of law and order. But only two were prosecuted, and the rest were let off scot free.

The Government consistently rail against what they call social security scroungers. They ought to turn their attention to the Scrooges who, apparently without any shame, return home every evening and sleep soundly, despite the fact that they are making their money out of paying people less than £2 an hour. What service do they perform for society? What assistance do they give to the development of the economy?

The Government would have us believe that they are doing everybody a favour. There are no restrictions on the levels of wage that they are allowed to pay or on how they can treat people. They can hire and fire at will, and they regularly do, within the excessively long two-year period through which people have to qualify for what are normal, generally acceptable rights at work in other countries. Rather than doing the country a favour, they are doing only themselves a favour. The Government are aware of that, but those are their friends; they are the people in the companies that make contributions to the Conservative party. If there is any logic in this clause in the Bill, it is that the Government are repaying the debts which they contracted during the general election campaign. That may be some form of twisted logic, but it is not a justification.

The situation is that evasion in terms of enforcement of the legislation triumphs over provision, sneer triumphs over fear—again a reference to the television programme last night—and greed triumphs over need. We in the Opposition at least are prepared to say that those in need are those to whom we will give tirst consideration, and that we will attempt to develop policies which will assist them in raising their standard of living and getting a decent job and a decent wage which will allow them and their families to live with some dignity.

To some extent, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Burden) touched on an interesting statistic—the number of wages inspectors which is currently 61. We have to contrast that figure with the number of inspectors dealing with benefit fraud. About 2.5 million people are covered by wages councils, with 61 wages inspectors to enforce the law on their behalf. There are some 3 million unemployed, at least, yet 780 inspectors are involved in enforcing the law on benefits. That is hardly a balanced approach.

We would not necessarily expect a balanced approach, but the prejudice which the Government show against the poor in society, the powerless and the helpless never ceases to amaze me, yet never seems to cause any kind of shame or embarrassment to Conservative Members. It is a situation which I and my hon. Friends will continue to expose at every opportunity. The Government cannot be serious about their attempts to regenerate the economy, for green shoots to begin to grow, if the only way that they act is to force people to earn less.

I refer, as the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) did earlier in the debate, to the comments by the Secretary of State for Scotland yesterday, speaking at Edinburgh university, about people pricing themselves into jobs. The Minister of State, who nodded vigorously when that point was made, should tell us what is meant by people pricing themselves into jobs. Why is it that the people at the bottom have to reduce their salaries to make themselves employable, yet directors of the public utilities now privatised, or in industry, can only price themselves into jobs by going as high as possible, by going into figures like telephone numbers for salaries? Perhaps the Minister, in winding up, will tell us why there should be such a difference between the top and the bottom of the scale, and why, when push comes to shove, his efforts and his friends' efforts will always be against those at the bottom and in favour of those at the top. There is no logic to that, but I look forward to hearing the Minister's explanation.

I know that many hon. Members wish to speak in the debate, and it has already run for some considerable time, so I will bring my remarks to a close. I am not in any sense exaggerating when I say that the "Cutting Edge" programme last night had a profound effect upon me. It was not just the woman herself, who was, of course, a journalist and to some extent was cushioned from the long-term effects of her experiences over the three months. I was concerned about the people that she was meeting on a daily basis. She was asking them about their wages and why they had never done anything about them, and it was quite clear that they were afraid to raise the matter. We did not learn whether the sectors in question were unionised; I suspect that almost definitely they were not. But the point is that those people are afraid to raise so much as a question with their employers about the rates of pay, the hours they work or the conditions that they have to face, because they are terrified that they will lose their jobs.

That is the situation, because of the desperate state of our economy, and it is a situation that the Government seem to be prepared to accept and make the basis of our economic recovery. It is a scandalous and indefensible position.

The woman in the programme slogged away at a number of pitifully paid jobs and, as if that were not bad enough, had to demean herself by going some 40 or 50 miles to her employer's house to beg for £75 that she had already earned and was entitled to. Then she had to make all kinds of desperate pleas before she got the money. What stuck in my mind at the end of the programme were two words which she used to describe her position and which she felt adequately described the position of the people with whom she had been working for the three months of the programme. She said that she felt powerless and invisible. That is with wages councils in existence, and she still felt powerless, invisible and unable to do anything about it. How much worse will the situation become when those wages councils are abolished?

The Government may well be prepared to abandon these people, to be pleased that they are powerless and to regard them as invisible. Opposition Members are not; we will not abandon them; we will continue to defend them. If the wages councils are abolished, it will be scandalous. None the less, those people can find some solace from the fact that there are those of us who are prepared to stand up for them, argue for them and ensure that they get a decent standard of living and a job that enables them to live with dignity. That is something which the Government and the Ministers will have to live with if they proceed with this obnoxious suggestion of abolishing wages councils.

Mr. Robert Ainsworth

I shall be as brief as I can, having been allowed to speak on the earlier clause.

We sat for a couple of months in the Committee discussing the issues and, at the end, were congratulated by the Chairman on having dealt with some politically controversial issues in a correct parliamentary way. The only time when that broke down was during the discussion on the abolition of wages councils, when there was a great deal of anger on our side of the Committee. I cannot quite get the anger out of my system now at the proposal under discussion and I know that that feeling is shared by many of my hon. Friends.

The proposal is born of a number of things. It is born out of right-wing ideology and, as has been said by one or two Conservative Members, originated from the think tanks. It is born out of the naked protection and enhancement of vested interests. The only company to have been quoted by the Minister in Committee as having made representations in favour of the abolition of wages councils is Forte. When we pushed the Secretary of State for Employment for a response as to who had made representations to her in favour of the abolition of wages councils, she mentioned hoteliers. The measure is the product of the representations of vested interests.

As was said earlier, the measure is also the product of the instability in the Government. Against the backwoodsmen in their own ranks, they are attempting to push through some pragmatic policies on Europe and they are having to dress themselves up as right-wing ideologues to attempt to keep their coalition together and maintain some semblance of unity. They are doing that at the expense of the weakest people in society.

There is no justification for the abolition of wages councils; we heard none whatsoever in Committee and we have yet to hear any tonight. We all wait with bated breath for the Minister to stand up and give us the first justification for the abolition of wages councils. What we have heard from him is Orwellian double-talk about the abolition of wages councils. He asked why, although the Labour Government abolished certain wages councils, Labour Members are now opposed to the abolition of wages councils. The position is now totally changed. If a wages council had become completely and absolutely obsolete, as many of them did because they no longer provided a safety net as the bargaining arrangements within a particular industry had taken the rates of pay way above any national minimum, at a time when standards of living had risen across the board and there was sustained full employment, there was obviously no need for certain wages councils to continue. They became an anachronism and a complete waste of time. We are now talking about the abolition of the remaining wages councils when the need for them has never been greater in modern times.

Statistics on current living standards which have been released by a number of organisations prove that the gap between the richest and the poorest in Britain is wider than it has been since 1886. I suggest that the conditions prevailing in 1886 led right hon. and hon. Members at the time to the conclusion that there was a need for some safety-net legislation on wages. That was the reason for the introduction of wages councils in the first place. We are now moving back towards a position in which that legislation is necessary. The reason for its existence is the reason behind the proposals for its abolition.

The only weakness in wages councils is the refusal effectively to enforce existing legislation and to extend it to areas where it is clearly inadequate. Some new industries are not covered by wages councils when they should be —the example that always jumps out at me is the security industry, where there are the most appalling rates of pay —yet the Government have refused to extend wages councils legislation into those industries. Now we are faced with the total abolition of the system.

In Committee we heard arguments from Conservative Members—although we have not heard any such arguments from them tonight—for the total application of the market. This is not a debate on the economy and we have to decide for ourselves whether the Government in this day and age and in a so-called democracy have any role to play in saying that a certain standard of living should apply to the citizens of our country—not an extravagant standard by any means, but some minimum standard that we believe it is our responsibility to protect. If we do not believe in that and if we do not believe that the Government have any responsibility in those matters, we should vote for the abolition of wages councils, but if we do, we should oppose it.

We are talking about a blatant abuse of privilege and power at the expense of the weakest in our society. That is what the Government are attempting to push through the House tonight without any adequate defence of their proposals.

Mr. Michael Forsyth

We have been discussing amendments about producing reports to Parliament, but we have heard a number of speeches about the principle of the abolition of wages councils and I shall try briefly to deal with some of the arguments that have been made tonight.

The most extraordinary statement that has been made repeatedly by a number of hon. Members was the criticism of my right hon. and hon. Friends for not having made speeches in favour of Opposition amendments. It is true that two of my hon. Friends did so, but it is for Opposition Members to make their own case for the new clause and amendments that they have tabled.

A number of hon. Members have drawn attention to the attendance on the Conservative Benches. I will not embarrass Opposition Members by pointing out the attendance on their side of the House. Those arguments do not advance their case.

Mr. Salmond

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Forsyth

No, I shall deal with some of the arguments first.

There has also been a disgraceful suggestion, which came first from the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), that the proposals to abolish wages councils had something to do with vested interests in the Conservative party.

The hon. Gentleman might like to reflect on the position that the Labour party has taken on the matter. The Labour Government abolished 11 wages councils. They did so because the trade unions asked them to do so and it is the trade unions that run and fund the Labour party. If the hon. Gentleman wants to talk about vested interests, he might reflect on the fact that the Labour party's position on wages councils has been stood on its head as the trade unions have changed their position from opposing wages councils to being in favour of them.

What has brought about that transformation? I venture to suggest that the Labour Government abolished wages councils at the behest of the trade unions because the trade unions believed that they could organise collective bargaining on a scale which would mean that they would be able to recruit members. As their membership has declined, they have decided that wages councils are quite good because the members of the unions can sit on the boards of wages councils and determine wages and conditions, although they are no longer able to attract the membership which gives them the authority to do the same. Let us not hear anything about vested interests in wages councils.

Mr. Malcolm Chisholm (Edinburgh, Leith)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Forsyth

I should like to make a little progress. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has been in the House throughout the debate.

The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras asked, with an air of puzzlement, why British hotels were more expensive. He did not believe that wages had anything to do with the efficiency of the companies. Ninety per cent. of the representations that we received on wages councils from the business community supported their abolition.

Employers and people affected by wages councils say that the councils are destroying jobs—not, as the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. Watson) and others have suggested, because they are setting especially high rates of pay, but because they have set, in the hotel industry, for example, which seems to interest the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, increases that are well above the rate of inflation. In one year the increase was 9 per cent., which must be given not simply to those who are affected by the wages council orders but to other employees to maintain differentials. If we are in a period of economic difficulty—[Interruption.] I am sorry that hon. Members find it funny. At least the Government's policies are directed at removing the barriers to employment and creating opportunities for recovery. Only Opposition Members would advocate increasing wages by more than employers can afford in a recession.

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Forsyth

I shall give way in a moment. The notion that a committee sitting in London can set wage levels that are above people's ability to pay, and that that will not result in jobs being lost, would be absurd and could be held only by people who have never had any experience of employing people. That is certainly true of most Opposition Members who have spoken in the debate.

Mrs. Browning

Does my hon. Friend agree that many hoteliers, especially in the west country—I represent Tiverton in Devon—are not national or multinational companies? Often, they are proprietors of small, family-run hotels who do not have the enormous salaries which Opposition Members claim directors and owners have. We hope that those people will create job opportunities and we rely on them to do so. I have received representations from those people, not the Fortes of this world.

Mr. Forsyth

I agree with my hon. Friend. She makes another important point: by setting national rates., wages councils do not take account of local conditions. They may set rates which are appropriate in London but which are inappropriate for regional areas. My hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) made that point, but he could not quite bring himself to support the general thrust of our policy.

Mr. Salmond

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Forsyth

No, I want to deal with the points which have been made.

Mr. Salmond

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Forsyth

If the hon. Gentleman wishes to intervene at a later stage, I shall happily give way to him. If he thinks that I am frit of any intervention that he could make, I assume that his intervention will be a lot more plausible than his speech, with which I shall deal in a moment.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eltham said that, when he was a Minister at the Department, he accepted the idea that wages councils would cost jobs. I hope that I am not misquoting him in the way in which he misquoted me.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

I apologise if I misquoted my hon. Friend. I quote him less often than he quotes me. Each time he has quoted me, he has left out any sense of proportion. I have accepted that the wages councils may have some employment effect. I put it to my hon. Friend —perhaps he can respond to this when he refers to economics—that if we accept the study which shows that a 1 per cent. change in real pay has a 1 per cent. effect on employment, why have not the Government, with their pay policy for public sector workers, rolled back their pay, as is likely to happen to people in the wages council industries?

If a 1 per cent. change to employment in wages council industries is likely to be at the cost of an 18 per cent. change in the rate of pay for statutory wages orders, why does not the Minister say so explicitly so that we can see that he believes that a mere £1 in £5 reduction in pay may lead to a 1 per cent. increase in employment?

Mr. Forsyth

My hon. Friend is barking up the wrong tree. The argument put forward by employers to the Department—it is one that has certainly persuaded me —is that, by setting increases for those workers who are within the scope of wages councils orders, which, to maintain differentials, are above the rate of inflation, the pay bill is increased by more than would otherwise be the case and jobs are lost.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eltham acknowledges that wages councils may cost jobs. He said that he was not prepared to accept the consequences of the abolition of wages councils. It is easy for people who have the comfort and security of employment to advocate policies that will result in jobs no longer being available to the people involved.

The hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon), who is not in her place, gave the House a great lecture on the evils of law-breaking. She complained about the failure of wages councils' inspectors to enforce the law. I said that the cases outlined in the programme were not referred by the journalist to the wages council inspectorate. I referred those cases to the inspectorate as soon as I saw the programme. I am sorry that the hon. Lady is not here. It ill-behoves someone who was a leading proponent of non-payment of the poll tax to lecture the House on the virtues of obeying the law.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)

So the Minister supported the poll tax?

Mr. Forsyth

Of course, as a loyal member of the Government, I supported the poll tax.

The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) talked about poverty and said how worried he was about the abolition of the wages councils in the context of poverty. The greatest single source of poverty is unemployment. The hon. and learned Gentleman advocates a policy which would result in fewer people being in work. People in work whose income is insufficient for their needs will be given support through the benefits system in the form of family credit or other benefits. From the point of view of poverty, it is better for people to be in a low-paid job than in no job at all.

The hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson) talked about the importance of wages councils in his constituency. Listening to the speeches of Opposition Members, one could be forgiven for thinking that wages councils covered the whole economy—everyone in every area. One would not imagine that we were talking about bodies which provide protection for 10 per cent. of the work force. If that protection is so essential, how do the other 90 per cent. of the work force get by without them?

Mr. Graham

The Minister suggests that the 10 per cent. of the work force covered by wages councils is unimportant. Eastwood district council is a well-known Tory council. The Member of Parliament for that constituency is a Minister. Yet it sees the importance of maintaining the wages councils. If some Tories do not see the reason for that, why do the rest?

Mr. Forsyth

Eastwood is a splendid council. It is right on most things. If what the hon. Gentleman says is correct, it goes to show that the exception proves the rule.

My hon. Friend the Member for Broxstowe (Mr. Lester) spoke about the importance of the wages councils and said that he could not agree with the change that we were introducing. He said that he was against a minimum wage, but in favour of wages councils because they set minimum wages in different sectors of the economy. He argued that a minimum wage would not be appropriate across the economy. I agree with that.

Perhaps my hon. Friend might reflect on the argument which my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mrs. Browning) put to the House. Just as one cannot set a fixed floor for wages across the economy because of the differing nature of industries, one cannot set wages across the country because it varies from one part to another in particular industries. That is the difficulty with wages councils. It is exactly the problem that he identified.

The hon. Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mr. Graham) talked about the problems of poverty in his constituency. I sympathise entirely with the difficulties that he described, but wages councils add to those difficulties. They do not make them better.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

Who says?

Mr. Forsyth

If the hon. Gentleman wished to listen to the arguments, he could have attended the debate. He was not here. He sails in and finds it possible to comment on a debate that he did not hear.

The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) told us that 100 years ago Scotland set the highest wages in the world and had a high-productivity, high-efficiency economy. That was before wages councils existed. The hon. Gentleman should learn the lesson to which he drew the attention of the House: that if one wants to have a high-wage economy, one must have a competitive economy. That is what we had in 19th century Scotland, as he told the House.

Mr. Salmond

We do not argue for Victorian values; we prefer the Edwardian values of Winston Churchill. This is not an argument about the economy; wages councils are a matter of decency—a matter that the Minister has not addressed at all. Throughout the debate, the Minister has swept aside the argument that no other Conservative Member has been prepared to argue the Government's case. Can he, having been in the House of Commons for 10 years, recall another reasonably substantial debate in which all speeches, except those of Ministers, have been against the position of the Government? Can he recall one such debate?

Mr. Forsyth

When I was at the Scottish Office, it seemed that all the debates were like that.

The hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Hutton) made a very emotional speech, in which he said that tonight we were breaking a consensus of 80 years. He completely forgot that the consensus on wages councils was first broken by a Government of his party, when they abolished 11 councils covering 500,000 workers.

The hon. Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth) said that this was all a plot by right-wing ideologues in the think tanks. Opposition Members should think very hard at a time when large employers in Britain say that wages councils are keeping and putting people out of work. The Government's first priority is to get Britain back to work. If that means removing barriers to employment such as wages councils, we shall do so.

I urge the House to reject the new clauses and amendments.

Mr. Dobson

The Minister has given a totally inadequate response to the points made during the debate. The Tory party has managed to put up one Member in support of the abolition of wages councils. It is totally unsatisfactory to suggest that 2.7 million of the worst-paid people in this country–2 million of them women—should be put in danger of having their wages cut to enable the Tory party to pay off its general election debts to a few rich bosses. If the Minister denies that that is what is happening, why will not he publish all the representations that have been made? Is not the reason that too many of those people are saying, "Thank you for abolishing wages councils. That is why we gave you the money before the general election"?

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 262, Noes 290.

Division No. 152] [9.11 pm
Abbott, Ms Dianec Bayley, Hugh
Adams, Mrs Irene Beckett, Margaret
Ainger, Nick Beggs, Roy
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Benn, Rt Hon Tony
Allen, Graham Bennett, Andrew F.
Alton, David Benton, Joe
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Bermingham, Gerald
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale) Berry, Dr. Roger
Armstrong, Hilary Betts, Clive
Ashton, Joe Blair, Tony
Austin-Walker, John Boateng, Paul
Barnes, Harry Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)
Barron, Kevin Boyce, Jimmy
Battle, John Boyes, Roland
Bradley, Keith Hardy, Peter
Bray, Dr Jeremy Harvey, Nick
Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E) Henderson, Doug
Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E) Heppell, John
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Burden, Richard Hinchliffe, David
Byers, Stephen Hoey, Kate
Caborn, Richard Hood, Jimmy
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Hoyle, Doug
Canavan, Dennis Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Cann, Jamie Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry) Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Chisholm, Malcolm Hume, John
Clapham, Michael Hutton, John
Clark, Dr David (South Shields) Ingram, Adam
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Jackson, Glenda (H'stead)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H)
Clelland, David Jamieson, David
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Johnston, Sir Russell
Coffey, Ann Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side)
Connarty, Michael Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Môn)
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Corbett, Robin Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)
Corbyn, Jeremy Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW)
Corston, Ms Jean Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Cousins, Jim Jowell, Tessa
Cryer, Bob Keen, Alan
Cummings, John Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn)
Cunliffe, Lawrence Khabra, Piara S.
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE) Kilfoyle, Peter
Dafis, Cynog Kirkwood, Archy
Dalyell, Tam Leighton, Ron
Darling, Alistair Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral) Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Lewis, Terry
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Litherland, Robert
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'I) Livingstone, Ken
Denham, John Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Dewar, Donald Llwyd, Elfyn
Dixon, Don Loyden, Eddie
Dobson, Frank Lynne, Ms Liz
Donohoe, Brian H. McAllion, John
Dowd, Jim McAvoy, Thomas
Dunnachie, Jimmy McCartney, Ian
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Macdonald, Calum
Eagle, Ms Angela McFall, John
Eastham, Ken McGrady, Eddie
Etherington, Bill McKelvey, William
Evans, John (St Helens N) McLeish, Henry
Ewing, Mrs Margaret McMaster, Gordon
Fatchett, Derek McNamara, Kevin
Faulds, Andrew Madden, Max
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Mahon, Alice
Fisher, Mark Mallon, Seamus
Foster, Derek (B'p Auckland) Marek, Dr John
Foster, Don (Bath) Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Foulkes, George Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S)
Fraser, John Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Fyfe, Maria Martlew, Eric
Galbraith, Sam Maxton, John
Galloway, George Meale, Alan
Gapes, Mike Michael, Alun
Garrett, John Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Gerrard, Neil Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute)
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Milburn, Alan
Godman, Dr Norman A. Miller, Andrew
Godsiff, Roger Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)
Golding, Mrs Llin Molyneaux, Rt Hon James
Gordon, Mildred Morgan, Rhodri
Gould, Bryan Morley, Elliot
Graham, Thomas Morris, Rt Hon A. (Wy'nshawe)
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Grocott, Bruce Mowlam, Marjorie
Gunnell, John Mudie, George
Hain, Peter Mullin, Chris
Hall, Mike Murphy, Paul
Hanson, David Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
O'Brien, Michael (N W'kshire) Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
O'Brien, William (Normanton) Snape, Peter
O'Hara, Edward Soley, Clive
Olner, William Spearing, Nigel
O'Neill, Martin Spellar, John
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)
Paisley, Rev Ian Steinberg, Gerry
Parry, Robert Stevenson, George
Pendry, Tom Stott, Roger
Pickthall, Colin Strang, Dr. Gavin
Pike, Peter L. Straw, Jack
Pope, Greg Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Powell, Ray (Ogmore) Taylor, Rt Hon John D. (Strgfd)
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lew'm E) Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Tipping, Paddy
Primarolo, Dawn Trimble, David
Purchase, Ken Turner, Dennis
Quin, Ms Joyce Tyler, Paul
Radice, Giles Vaz, Keith
Randall, Stuart Wallace, James
Raynsford, Nick Walley, Joan
Redmond, Martin Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Reid, Dr John Wareing, Robert N
Roche, Mrs. Barbara Watson, Mike
Rogers, Allan Welsh, Andrew
Rooker, Jeff Wicks, Malcolm
Rooney, Terry Wigley, Dafydd
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Ross, William (E Londonderry) Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Rowlands, Ted Wilson, Brian
Ruddock, Joan Winnick, David
Salmond, Alex Wise, Audrey
Sheerman, Barry Worthington, Tony
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert Wray, Jimmy
Simpson, Alan Wright, Dr Tony
Skinner, Dennis
Smith, Andrew (Oxford E) Tellers for the Ayes:
Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'sbury) Mr. Eric Illsley and
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent) Mr. Andrew Mackinlay.
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)
Aitken, Jonathan Budgen, Nicholas
Alexander, Richard Burns, Simon
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Burt, Alistair
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Butler, Peter
Amess, David Butterfill, John
Ancram, Michael Carlisle, John (Luton North)
Arbuthnot, James Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Carrington, Matthew
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv) Carttiss, Michael
Ashby, David Cash, William
Aspinwall, Jack Channon, Rt Hon Paul
Atkins, Robert Chapman, Sydney
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E) Clappison, James
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North) Coe, Sebastian
Baldry, Tony Congdon, David
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Conway, Derek
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)
Bates, Michael Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Batiste, Spencer Cope, Rt Hon Sir John
Bellingham, Henry Couchman, James
Bendall, Vivian Cran, James
Beresford, Sir Paul Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)
Biffen, Rt Hon John Day, Stephen
Blackburn, Dr John G. Deva, Nirj Joseph
Body, Sir Richard Devlin, Tim
Booth, Hartley Dickens, Geoffrey
Boswell, Tim Dicks, Terry
Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia Dorrell, Stephen
Bowden, Andrew Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Bowis, John Duncan, Alan
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes Duncan-Smith, Iain
Brazier, Julian Dunn, Bob
Bright, Graham Durant, Sir Anthony
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Dykes, Hugh
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes) Eggar, Tim
Browning, Mrs. Angela Elletson, Harold
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield) Lang, Rt Hon Ian
Evans, Jonathan (Brecon) Lawrence, Sir Ivan
Evans, Roger (Monmouth) Legg, Barry
Evennett, David Lennox-Boyd, Mark
Faber, David Lidington, David
Fabricant, Michael Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Fenner, Dame Peggy Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Lord, Michael
Fishburn, Dudley Luff, Peter
Forman, Nigel Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) MacKay, Andrew
Forth, Eric Maclean, David
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman McLoughlin, Patrick
Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring) McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley) Madel, David
Freeman, Roger Maitland, Lady Olga
French, Douglas Malone, Gerald
Fry, Peter Mans, Keith
Gale, Roger Marland, Paul
Gallie, Phil Marlow, Tony
Gardiner, Sir George Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Garnier, Edward Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Gill, Christopher Merchant, Piers
Gillan, Cheryl Milligan, Stephen
Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair Mills, Iain
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Mitchell, Sir David (Hants NW)
Gorst, John Moate, Sir Roger
Grant, Sir Anthony (Cambs SW) Monro, Sir Hector
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Moss, Malcolm
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N) Nelson, Anthony
Grylls, Sir Michael Neubert, Sir Michael
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Hague, William Nicholls, Patrick
Hamilton, Rt Hon Archie (Epsom) Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Hampson, Dr Keith Norris, Steve
Hanley, Jeremy Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley
Hannam, Sir John Oppenheim, Phillip
Hargreaves, Andrew Ottaway, Richard
Harris, David Page, Richard
Haselhurst, Alan Paice, James
Hawkins, Nick Patnick, Irvine
Hawksley, Warren Patten, Rt Hon John
Hayes, Jerry Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Heald, Oliver Pawsey, James
Heathcoat-Amory, David Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Hendry, Charles Pickles, Eric
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence L. Porter, David (Waveney)
Hill, James (Southampton Test) Portillo, Rt Hon Michael
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham) Powell, William (Corby)
Horam, John Rathbone, Tim
Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter Redwood, John
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Renton, Rt Hon Tim
Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A) Richards, Rod
Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford) Riddick, Graham
Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W) Rifkind, Rt Hon. Malcolm
Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W) Robathan, Andrew
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne) Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn
Hunter, Andrew Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Robinson, Mark (Somerton)
Jack, Michael Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela
Jenkin, Bernard Ryder, Rt Hon Richard
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Sackville, Tom
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Sainsbury, Rt Hon Tim
Jones, Robert B. (W Hertfdshr) Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Shaw, David (Dover)
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Key, Robert Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian
Kilfedder, Sir James Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Kirkhope, Timothy Shersby, Michael
Knapman, Roger Sims, Roger
Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash) Skeet, Sir Trevor
Knight, Greg (Derby N) Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n) Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Kynoch, George (Kincardine) Soames, Nicholas
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Speed, Sir Keith
Spencer, Sir Derek Trend, Michael
Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset) Twinn, Dr Ian
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs) Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Spink, Dr Robert Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Spring, Richard Walden, George
Sproat, Iain Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Squire, Robin (Hornchurch) Waller, Gary
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John Ward, John
Steen, Anthony Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Stephen, Michael Waterson, Nigel
Stewart, Allan Watts, John
Streeter, Gary Wells, Bowen
Sumberg, David Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John
Sweeney, Walter Whittingdale, John
Sykes, John Widdecombe, Ann
Tapsell, Sir Peter Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Taylor, Ian (Esher) Willetts, David
Taylor, John M. (Solihull) Wilshire, David
Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E) Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Temple-Morris, Peter Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Thomason, Roy Wolfson, Mark
Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V) Wood, Timothy
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N) Yeo, Tim
Thurnham, Peter Young, Sir George (Acton)
Townend, John (Bridlington)
Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th) Tellers for the Noes:
Tracey, Richard Mr. David Lightbown and
Tredinnick, David Mr. Andrew Mitchell.

Question accordingly negatived.

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