HC Deb 04 April 2001 vol 366 cc324-5
4. Mr. Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd)

What discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer about the impact of the national minimum wage on income levels in Wales. [155495]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. David Hanson)

I have regular discussions with a range of ministerial colleagues on various issues. The national minimum wage has contributed to a reduction in the pay gap between different parts of the United Kingdom. Latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show that, between April 1999 and April 2000, due to the minimum wage, average earnings in Wales increased by 4 per cent., compared with a national average of 2.3 per cent.

Mr. Ruane

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. May I inform him that my constituents remember the bad old days under the Tories, when my constituents worked for as little as a pound an hour and all the chips they could eat? What measures have been taken to monitor the introduction of the minimum wage in Wales?

Mr. Hanson

My hon. Friend will be aware that 80,000 people in Wales have benefited from the minimum wage, which, as he knows, will increase to £4.10 from October 2001. Measures are in place to ensure that there is enforcement and that workers receive the minimum wage when companies renege on their responsibilities. I remind my hon. Friend and the House that the 80,000 people in Wales who are benefiting from the minimum wage would not be doing so had Conservative Members been in office. Neither Conservative Members, the nationalists nor Liberal Democrat Members voted for the minimum wage.

Mr. Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire)

Is the Minister aware that there is no minimum wage for farmers and many others who are affected by the foot and mouth crisis? I am sorry to say that that fact, coupled with general stress, may have caused a number of suicides in Wales. What assurance can the Minister give that there will be some type of minimum wage for those who are affected by the foot and mouth crisis? Will he also assure us that he is seriously considering possible support for the emotional well-being and mental health of those affected by the crisis?

Mr. Hanson

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we very much sympathise with those people and are concerned about the level of farm incomes, particularly now. He will also know that the Government have invested heavily in support for a farmers helpline. However, it is a bit rich for Liberal Democrat Members to talk about a minimum wage. As I said, neither they, Conservative Members nor the nationalists voted for it in the first place.