HC Deb 22 February 2000 vol 344 cc1357-8
3. Mr. Jim Murphy (Eastwood)

If he will make a statement about the impact of the national minimum wage in Scotland. [109608]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Dr. John Reid)

The national minimum wage has brought substantial benefits to a large number of people throughout the UK, including Scotland, with no adverse effects on the economy. It is estimated that about 150,000 people in Scotland will benefit from the national minimum wage.

Mr. Murphy

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. On behalf of those 150,000 low-paid people in Scotland, may I welcome the recent announcement of the increase in the national minimum wage, which will improve the quality of life of many families in Scotland? I urge him to be tough on two groups who oppose the national minimum wage: first, the small number of Scottish businesses that continue to evade the procedures and legislation. Will he work with others to close those loopholes? Secondly, and perhaps more significantly, will he reserve no effort and no energy in being tough on the Conservative party, which continually opposes the national minimum wage in Scotland and which would have ensured that those 150,000 Scottish families had no national minimum wage whatever?

Dr. Reid

My hon. Friend is correct. The national minimum wage, which is one of the most radical and beneficial changes brought about by the Government, was carried through in the teeth of opposition from the Tory party, with the Scottish National party standing aside, as usual, betraying the low paid in Scotland by refusing to turn up even to vote on the matter. We will be tough on those employers who refuse to implement the national minimum wage. It is of enormous benefit to people not only in his constituency, as he knows, but in a place—I just pluck somewhere out of the air—such as Ayr, where almost 1,000 low paid workers have had an increase. It is not something that they are sneering at, unlike the SNP.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

The Secretary of State is right to say that the introduction of the minimum wage has had many beneficial effects, but will he concede that some groups of workers cannot take advantage of it over a year? I think of people such as school dinner staff, who, because of the way in which contracts are configured, are laid off for the long summer recesses.

The Secretary of State will be aware that the ability of those people to claim jobseeker's allowance during the summer holidays is deadlocked between the Court of Session in Edinburgh and the Court of Appeal in the House of Lords in London. Will he work with his ministerial colleagues and others to change the regulations? At a stroke, they could be changed and those important staff could get access to JSA during the summer.

Dr. Reid

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but, he will appreciate—in fact, he mentioned it—that the matter is sub judice. Court proceedings are taking place on the matter. As he will know, there have been several court decisions, not all entirely consistent, so we have to wait until the legal position is resolved. I would not want to say anything more than that while the legal proceedings continue.

Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries)

Will my right hon. Friend welcome the fact that the action of national minimum wage enforcement officers has ensured that women employed at Chicony Electronics in Greenock now receive the national minimum wage and not the pitiful 96p an hour that they previously received? Does he agree that Scottish employers now have a duty to their employees to pay that minimum rate?

Dr. Reid

Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. The national minimum wage is one example of how people's lives are being made better. Politics is not about charts on accountants' walls or graphs published in official statistics, but about ordinary people gaining benefit from their Government. The case that my hon. Friend mentioned is an example of that. The increase that he mentioned amounts to almost £3 an hour, which is £24 a day or £100 a week. With the other social justice measures that we are introducing—such as the working families tax credit, increase in child benefit, restoration of free eye tests to pensioners and the Christmas bonus—we are the first Government not only to pledge ourselves to combating and eradicating poverty, but to put our pledges on those matters into practice.

Mr. Alasdair Morgan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale)

Given that the minimum wage has been introduced without detriment to the economy, is there not an unanswerable case to give a commitment to upgrade it annually in line with inflation or, preferably, with average earnings? Will the Secretary of State lobby his colleagues to give that commitment?

Dr. Reid

Given the hon. Gentleman's absolute passion and commitment on the national minimum wage, I am rather surprised that he could not be bothered even to turn up and vote for it. When we were up all night fighting the Tories in the House on the minimum wage, he was absent. Therefore, I do not particularly want to take lessons from him on the matter. All I would say is that 150,000 people in Scotland will be substantially better off as a result of a measure passed by the Labour Government in the teeth of Tory opposition—when, once again, we looked around and found that the Tories' allies in failing to support the minimum wage were the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues in the Scottish National party.