HC Deb 25 May 1993 vol 225 cc736-7
2. Mrs. Fyfe

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what representations she has received about companies planning to lower wages when the wages council for their industry has been abolished.

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

One person has written to me.

Mrs. Fyfe

Is the Minister aware that a considerable number of employers have already cut pay below wages council rates? A laundry worker in my constituency is paid £2.98p an hour and has been threatened with a reduction in his pay. Will the Minister advise the Prime Minister to advise foreign laundry firms to come to Britain and to take British laundry workers to the cleaners?

Mr. Forsyth

The hon. Lady's constituent wrote to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and me some time ago about this matter. From memory, I think that he did so in December, when he was advised, if he had a complaint, to approach the wages inspectorate. He has not done so, but I should have thought that that was the proper avenue to pursue the matter.

Mr. John Marshall

Does my hon. Friend agree that the abolition of wages councils will create jobs—[Interruption.]—and is that not better than destroying jobs, which is what a national minimum wage will do?

Mr. Forsyth

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Spanish socialists are presiding over twice the level of unemployment that we have because they embraced the minimum wage policy. I do not know what Labour Members are jeering about, because their party will not commit itself to bringing back wages councils after the House has abolished them. When pressed on the matter, it does not know, just as it does not know about a range of other issues—from British Rail, to Maastricht and one member, one vote. It is a party which is making a virtue out of agnosticism.

Mr. Galbraith

Why, in order to retain their jobs, must the low paid take cuts in wages, whereas, in order to retain their jobs, ex-con company directors must take huge salary increases, pension rights and share options?

Mr. Forsyth

We have never argued that the abolition of wages councils would necessarily result in a reduction in wage levels. When the Labour Government abolished 11 wages councils, wages did not go up. When the Conservative Government took people under the age of 21 out of the scope of wages councils, wages went up by two fifths and employment increased considerably among young people.

Labour Members must come to terms with the fact that the European Governments who have embraced their policies are presiding over higher levels of unemployment and fewer jobs in their economies as a result.