HC Deb 05 February 1998 vol 305 cc1220-2
17. Mr. Ruffley

What representations she has received from small businesses regarding the impact of the introduction of the minimum wage. [25702]

Mr. Ian McCartney

I have received a number of representations from organisations representing small businesses about the introduction of a national minimum wage.

Mr. Ruffley

Will the Minister note that, in a survey of small and medium business men in my constituency, the overwhelming majority opposed the national minimum wage? When will the Minister finally start listening to small and medium business men?

Mr. McCartney

I should point out that the Federation of Small Businesses voted overwhelmingly in support of a national minimum wage. I should also point out that successive business surveys have favoured a sensibly set national minimum wage. The only people in Britain who are opposed to it are apologists for low pay and Conservative Members.

Mr. Grocott

Does my hon. Friend agree that the national minimum wage policy possesses four characteristics that often go hand in hand these days: it is morally right, economically right, popular with the voters and opposed by the Tories?

Mr. McCartney

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Those of us who are running the Bill in Committee have managed to get rid of the Tories' filibuster and are well on the way to ensuring that a minimum wage will become law.

18. Mr. Hammond

What representations she has received from her ministerial colleagues with regard to the exclusion of groups of workers, occupations or sectors of industry from the scope of the national minimum wage. [25703]

Mr. Ian McCartney

The national minimum wage aims to cover all workers. The limited scope for exemptions is set out in the Bill and reflects the result of discussions between Ministers.

Mr. Hammond

The Minister has not answered my question. The House will be aware that the Government suffered a humiliating U-turn this morning in having to disapply the Bill to the armed forces as a result of the Secretary of State for Defence's spectacular victory in his battle against the Department of Trade and Industry. Many employers in the agriculture sector are hoping that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has made similarly successful representations that will persuade the Government to reconsider the way in which agriculture workers are treated and allow agricultural wages councils to continue outside the scope of the minimum wage. Even at this late stage, will the Minister consider changing the Bill to allow that?

Mr. McCartney

The hon. Gentleman and I must stop meeting like this; people will start to talk. He is a member of the Standing Committee on the National Minimum Wage Bill. The Government have not made a humiliating U-turn; we are well on the way to establishing a minimum wage regime to cover all workers of all status. The arrangements for the armed forces mean that they will be covered by the pay review body. That means that every worker in Britain will have some form of pay body to determine their pay and ensure that they receive proper minimum standards of pay. For the first time in Britain, special arrangements have been made, in the National Minimum Wage Bill, for home and agency workers. Agriculture workers, including farmers, agree on minimum wages for agriculture workers.

Mr. Winnick

Would not it be interesting to know the total income of Tory Members of Parliament who, on every occasion, oppose the national minimum wage? Why do not they declare their income, since they believe in starvation wages for others?

Mr. McCartney

My hon. Friend will not be surprised to know that, in Committee, Opposition Members have spent hours filibustering, supporting low-pay employers who pay home workers as little as 30p an hour. Opposition Members have been exposed for what they are: apologists for low pay. We shall end low pay by introducing a minimum wage as soon as we can.

Miss McIntosh

Does the Minister agree that there are very strong grounds for arguing for exclusion of workers in hotels and the tourism industry generally? Their work is seasonal, and insisting on a minimum wage in that sector would lead to higher unemployment.

Mr. McCartney

As a former low-paid catering worker, I can tell the hon. Lady that there are absolutely no grounds to continue poverty pay in the hotel and catering industry. Large and small companies now recognise that a minimum wage will be as good for their business as it is for their employees.