HL Deb 31 March 1981 vol 419 cc110-1

2.40 p.m.

Lord Spens

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the first Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government how many wages councils are now functioning; how many wages inspectors are employed; what is the cost of financing the wages councils and inspectorate and whether any significant reduction in these costs has been made in the light of Government policy on spending cuts.

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, at present there are 33 wages councils; on 31st December 1980 there were 148 outdoor inspectors and 122 other staff in post in the Wages Inspectorate; and the estimated cost of financing the wages councils and the inspectorate is £3.68 million for 1980–81. There will be a substantial reduction in cost in future years as a result of the Government's decision last year to reduce the number of posts in the inspectorate.

Lord Spens

My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for that reply, which is encouraging so far as it goes. Will the Minister tell us how many independent members of wages councils sit on more than one council? Even though, by doubling up, there may be a saving of expense, would it not be true to say that it is very difficult for somebody who sits on four, five, six or seven wages councils to be truly impartial in his consideration of the problems of any one?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, when I became Minister with responsibility for wages councils, representations were made to us as to whether the judgment of independents was impartial. We had a look at the record of their judgments over a number of years, and we came to the conclusion that indeed they were and that, if anything, they slightly favoured the employers' side. As to the number who sit on more than one council, I should need prior notice of that question.

Lord Blyton

My Lords, is the Minister aware that wages councils were set up to protect those in work who had no industrial muscle with which to protect their wages, and that as a result of wages councils a decent wage has been established for many people who were not otherwise covered? I hope the Government will not reduce the number of inspectors or the number of wages councils, thus leaving a number of employees at the mercy of rapacious employers.

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, I recognise that wages councils cover people who are not otherwise collectively represented. As believers in free collective bargaining, the Government recognise the good work which the wages councils do. That said, at a time of high unemployment and high inflation there must be worry, whenever there is any form of national minimum wage, that people immediately below the margin will not find employment.

Lord Leatherland

My Lords, did I hear the Minister say that under this Government there is high inflation and high unemployment? If so, what are the Government going to do about it?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, as the noble Lord is perfectly well aware, there is at the moment raging currency inflation around the entire Western world.