HC Deb 19 January 1993 vol 217 cc243-4
1. Mr. Canavan

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what further representations she has received about her proposals to abolish wages councils; and if she will make a statement.

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

My right hon. Friend has continued to receive representations for and against the proposals.

Mr. Canavan

Why do the Government persist in the absurd claim that the abolition of wages councils will create jobs? That claim is clearly refuted by the research done by the Department of Trade and Industry, the Institute of Personnel Management, the London school of economics and the Low Pay Unit.

Instead of abolishing wages councils, will the Minister take steps to give more protection to the 2.5 million people, mostly women, who are covered or supposed to be covered by wages council agreements? If the Government are serious about law and order, will they employ more inspectors to stop unscrupulous employers breaking the law by employing people at less than wages council agreements?

Mr. Forsyth

When the hon. Gentleman represented part of my constituency he supported a Labour Government in abolishing 11 wages councils, taking half a million people out of the so-called wages councils. I am sure that he did so because he recognised the arguments for employment. It is the height of hypocrisy for him to come to the House and complain about this Government following the very measures which they—

Madam Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman used a word which is unparliamentary.

Mr. Forsyth

I am happy to withdraw the accusation of hypocrisy. I note that the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) acepts that the Labour Government abolished 11 wages councils, just as this Conservative Government will do.

As to the hon. Gentleman's point about the effect on employment, only a socialist would believe that one would get more jobs by increasing the price of labour.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

My hon. Friend's history is disputable. One of the wages councils which was abolished was in the road transport industry, where collective negotiation was putting up pay.

If my hon. Friend believes that putting pay up is the best action to take, is not the fastest way to do it to have higher rates for the minimum wage for wages councils? Does he prefer to consider the question whether abolition of the wages councils is a sensible idea in a year in which we are likely to abolish the out-of-date restrictions on Sunday trading, which will affect retail workers?

Mr. Forsyth

I favour deregulation of the labour market in relation to Sunday trading because I believe that it will create more jobs. I assume from my hon. Friend's question that he has the same view. I am therefore a little puzzled as to why he does not see a deregulatory measure —the abolition of wages councils—as being in the interests of the labour market as a whole. It was certainly a view which he accepted in answers that he gave when he was a Minister. Then he accepted the principle that there was a relationship between the creation of jobs and the fixing of wage levels by statutory bodies such as wages councils.

Mr. Dobson

Will the Minister confirm that the Secretary of State received a letter in November from Cyril Stein, the boss of Ladbrokes, who pays himself £584,000 a year? In the letter Mr. Stein welcomed the abolition of wages councils and said that the wages council award which gave his employees £2.92 an hour was causing difficulties for his company.

Mr. Forsyth

The wage of the chairman of Ladbrokes is a matter for the board of directors and the shareholders. [Interruption.] Hon. Members who are cheering might like to know that the Chairman of the Select Committee on Employment is one of those directors.

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