HC Deb 17 June 1999 vol 333 cc548-50
7. Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)

If he will make a statement about the abatement in respect of the minimum wage payable where an employer provides full board. [86497]

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Mr. Ian McCartney)

Following the recommendations of the Low Pay Commission, there is no offset allowed for the provision of board when calculating whether the national minimum wage has been paid. There is a limited offset of up to £19.95 a week allowed against the national minimum wage to recognise the benefit of the provision of accommodation.

Mr. Swayne

Is the Minister of State aware of the thousands of seasonal jobs that are provided for young people and students by activity holidays, and of the disaster now faced by the industry? In his tour of the country, when he will reconnect with his core supporters, will he check whether he can find accommodation at £20 quid a week anywhere in the country?

Mr. McCartney

I would be delighted to travel around the country and to talk to the 2 million people who have already benefited from the national minimum wage. The hon. Gentleman's "let them eat cake" attitude is out of date. If someone has to remain on his employer's premises to the benefit of that employer, that person should receive a minimum wage as well as accommodation and food. That is why the recommendation is set out as it is.

Since the hospitality industry implemented the national minimum wage, more than 100,000 new jobs have been created, most of them full time. The national minimum wage is a job creator, not a job loser.

Mr. Jim Murphy (Eastwood)

My right hon. Friend will be aware that the introduction of the national minimum wage faced two great challenges: one political and one in implementation. The political one was made by the Conservatives, who said that it would destroy jobs and create inflation. The second referred to employers paying the fair wage. My right hon. Friend may choose to comment on the spectacular failure of the Opposition's scare stories, but I ask him to say what efforts are being made to ensure that the fair wage is being paid and properly enforced.

Mr. McCartney

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments, and assure him that we have the world's most professional and organised system of minimum wage enforcement. Before 1 April, nine out of 10 employers indicated their total support for the minimum wage, and 40 per cent. of them were already paying it. Since then, I have had to have detailed discussions with 1,200 employers about non-implementation of the minimum wage, and half of them immediately implemented it and apologised for their failure in not doing so before. About 300 of the remaining 600 employers are still being investigated. Only this week, however, a media company had to repay £750,000 to its employees in wages backdated to 1 April.

To anyone not receiving the minimum wage, I say: "Phone up anonymously, we'll get the minimum wage for you—that's what it's there for." I also pay tribute to those employers who telephone us daily to tell us about other employers who are not paying the minimum wage. Employers are joining low-paid workers in ensuring that the minimum wage is paid.

Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove)

Why does the Minister have such a blinkered and belligerent approach to the specific question on abatement of the minimum wage when full board is provided? I have a constituent who runs an activity holiday company, and he tells me that, because of the Government's approach, he can no longer offer a job to the young people and students who usually man his United Kingdom sites, but that he is able to continue employing young people and students abroad, where the minimum wage is implemented more flexibly and realistically.

Mr. McCartney

The hon. Lady should know that her constituent's employees, if they are 16 or 17-year-olds, do not qualify for the minimum wage, although people who are not in training will qualify for it. The sector that she mentioned is not losing jobs, but has a shortage of potential employees—because some of the employers are absolutely miserly and want people to work for them for nothing. That is no longer possible, however, because the Government have introduced the national minimum wage, which has been supported by the overwhelming majority of employers.