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Column 262This excellent trust does a huge amount of work to bring hope and purpose and to offer opportunity to those whose talents would frequently otherwise be wasted. I notice also that it is an efficient organisation, and that the Department for Employment last year gave the trust the accolade of saying that it was the most cost-effective job creation programme in the country. The trust can be proud of that.
The trust is also an excellent example of partnership in action. My hon. Friend the Member for Dover mentioned the various agencies--the local authorities, the training and enterprise councils, Government Departments of course, and the the European Union--which co-operate with the private sector to make it all happen. Obviously, central Government funding has been vital and welcome. I think I am right in saying that £20 million of central Government funding has been applied to the trust since its inception, and, as we know, a new arrangement has been put in place for the next three years, which will add another £10 million to what has been spent.
The success of the scheme depends crucially on the commitment of people and companies in the private sector, who are prepared to lend their time and expertise and give willingly to help young people to set up in business. My hon. Friend the Member for Dover pointed out that it is estimated that that assistance alone is worth about £5 million per year.
Three years ago, Robert Darrell started a business under the scheme with a £5,000 loan. His business now turns over £2.4 million per year and he believes:
"The advisers provided by the Trust are as valuable as the loan".
I think that that is absolutely correct.
The scheme has caught the imagination of businesses in Surrey to such an extent that the clarion call by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey to the private sector to become involved in the scheme is somewhat otiose. Until recently, a superfluity of business people wished to offer their help for free, but unfortunately their number was not matched by people wishing to participate in the scheme. The hon. Gentleman, who spoke eloquently about the problems in his constituency, smiles wryly. It is true that, thankfully, Surrey does not suffer the same sorts of problems as his constituency. However, that is not to say that individuals do not need help. I hope that they will come forward and take advantage of the scheme.
It is in keeping with the spirit of the trust that, faced with the situation that I have described in Surrey, instead of sitting around and doing nothing, advisers have gone into the community to encourage people to come forward with ideas for developing their businesses. To that end, a roadshow will be held in Caterham in my constituency this Friday. I look forward to attending it, and I hope that it is enormously successful.
Mr. Simon Hughes: If there are spare advisers in Surrey, they could travel to areas where there are not enough advisers to talk to the people there. They will be more than welcome in south London.
Mr. Ainsworth: I will certainly convey the hon. Gentleman's message to the advisers in Surrey. Bermondsey is not that far away, and I hope that something will come of his suggestion.
Column 263Every hon. Member has his or her favourite scheme, and a few from the Surrey area have caught my imagination. One involves a young man with cerebral palsy, who, with the help of the trust, has established a business duplicating musical cassettes. I am assured that that is not a breach of copyright, and that it is perfectly legal. That business is extremely successful, and it has given that young man access to a whole new field of activity, which would otherwise have remained closed to him.
Perhaps a more spectacular example is that of the young man from Kingston who, four years ago, visited his mother in hospital. He found that, like many people who are in hospital for any length of time, she was becoming very bored, and he brought a television to the hospital for her to use. That gave him an idea, and, with the help of the trust, he set up a company called Hospital Entertainment, which rents televisions to hospitals. The company has done extremely well, and it now turns over £750,000 per year. It recently acquired a subsidiary of Thorn EMI, which specialises in similar activities. Less well known is the growing success of the trust abroad. Through Youth Enterprise Service International, the Prince's Youth Business Trust is exporting its expertise and its ideas to several countries, notably India and Hungary. I am happy to say that that enterprise is backed by the Foreign Office with money from the Overseas Development Administration programme.
The trust's activities are not only good news economically and socially-- they fulfil an important social function which was perhaps the original idea behind the trust--but also an example of a great British idea which is being applied successfully overseas. I think that we should all be proud of that.
It is hard to think of a better idea. The trust is not the biggest charity in Britain, but it is targeted very carefully. It is difficult to think of any charity--particularly one associated with the unemployed--which has such a rewarding and beneficial effect on those who become involved with it. The trust's advantages are summed up by a member of the Surrey Prince's Youth Business Trust board, who said:
"The Trust does so much to get young people doing things for themselves; and even if their businesses just potter along and they don't do much with them and eventually move on, they have so much more to offer prospective employers as a result of their experience".
The beneficiaries of the trust, the people they employ subsequently and every hon. Member have cause to be grateful to His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales for having the idea in the first place, and to all those who give of their time, energy and effort to ensure that the scheme is a success. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Dover for giving the House the opportunity to put on record its appreciation for the tremendous work of the Prince's Youth Business Trust. I wish the trust every success in the future.
Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley): I also congratulate the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) on his success in the ballot, and on introducing this morning's debate on the Prince's Youth Business Trust. I think that everyone agrees that the trust has done very valuable work over the
Column 264years in helping young unemployed people into self-employment. Most of the people the trust supports are in their twenties and have been unemployed for a considerable time.
The hon. Member for Dover referred to a survey conducted by the Department of Employment to gauge the trust's success rate. It found that more than two thirds of businesses created under the scheme are still operating three years later. That is a better success rate than that of most of the high street banks, which in most cases turned down those ideas in the first place. It makes one wonder about the ability of those who are running our banking system to gauge individuals' potential to contribute to economic growth.
Some 3,000 young people have benefited from the scheme in the last 12 months. As it is International Women's Day, I point out that 40 per cent. of that number were women, and I am pleased to say that that includes some of my constituents. About 24,000 people have taken advantage of the trust since its inception. That figure relates roughly to the number of long-term young unemployed people in Yorkshire, Humberside and the east Midlands. That gives us some idea of how much assistance the trust has provided.
The average cost to the Prince's Youth Business Trust of creating a job is £2,500, which is less than a third of the cost of keeping one unemployed person for a year. Clearly, in that context the trust is a major success. That cost pales into insignificance when compared with the cost of inward investment through regional selective assistance, and it shows how the country has benefited from that type of scheme. I visited the Prince's Youth Business Trust exhibition marquee at the Rotherham show last year as a guest of the South Yorkshire region, and I was greatly impressed by the types of products on display. I spoke to a man named Frank White, who started a business called Busy Bees in May 1991 after having been unemployed for 10 years. The business, which is run from the Westfield road craft park in Rotherham, makes garden ornaments. What I found most amazing about the company is that between 60 and 80 per cent. of its output, depending on the season, is exported to the United States of America.
Mr. White exports garden ornaments in the guise of alligators to America. They are constructed in three sections and are most impressive, although I would not want to have one in my garden. Mr. White is a success not only for himself, but also for the country and the local economy, because he employs two people in his business. Since its inception in South Yorkshire, more than 700 people have benefited from the trust's work. In 1994, the trust helped 16 young people to start up 13 businesses in my constituency. Those businesses range from a mobile beauty therapist to tachograph services, and from a manufacturer of jewellery to a delicatessen in the village of Thurcroft. In the latter two cases, the individuals concerned had been out of work for 18 months, so that shows how successful the trust has been in combatting long-term youth unemployment in the area.
I welcome the fact that the Department of Employment now matches the donations that the trust receives from private sources. It is my understanding that, if private funding is raised, the money from the Government now represents about 20 per cent. of the trust's total funding.
Column 265Echoing what has been said by all hon. Members this morning, I very much hope that the Government's commitment will continue after the current end date of 1996.
I should also mention that the Government are a taker as well as a giver, for they have removed an important method of potential support for participants in the Prince's Youth Business Trust in recent months. I refer to the business start-up allowance that was mentioned by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey. That problem has not arisen in his constituency, simply because the South London TEC has gone into liquidation. The Government have moved money away from supporting self- employment for the previously unemployed by that method.
When the business start-up allowance replaced the enterprise allowance scheme, a large number of unemployed people were dropped from the system, despite the fact that the "£1,000 of own capital" rule was removed.
In 1984, more than a quarter of those receiving the enterprise allowance had been out of work for a year or more and all were unemployed. By the first year of business start-up, just one in 10 of those receiving the allowance had been long-term unemployed, and a quarter of the people on the scheme were not classified as unemployed.
The withdrawal of the business start-up scheme as a nationally available measure is a distinct threat to the ability of the Prince's Youth Business Trust to perform effectively. That is not an idle remark. In South Yorkshire, for example, the effects of losing the business start-up allowance are already being felt.
In the past, applicants had been able to claim a business start-up allowance of £35 a week for the first year of trading. The South Yorkshire area manager, Mr. David Houghton, wrote to me recently: "We have been informed by the TECs in south Yorkshire that" the allowance
"is now being withdrawn this month and not being replaced. Our information is that enterprise allowance is disappearing nationally except for a couple of areas in the North East.".
"In my view I believe that the removal of the . . . allowance will dramatically affect the number of people we help and we are already seeing signs of this in South Yorkshire. Throughout the last year the South Yorkshire Board have considered between 12 and 16 businesses each month, but in February 1995 only eight businesses were helped and this month possibly only five or six are being put forward.".
The impact of the Government's ending of the start-up allowance is giving some early warning signs to the South Yorkshire manager of the Prince's Youth Business Trust. If that is a reflection of the future, we shall have to reconsider the position.
A great percentage of the people the trust helps have been unemployed for six months or more, and have no collateral, so the guaranteed business start-up allowance of £35 a week was vital to them. It made the difference between taking the risk of trying to improve their standard of living and continuing to live on state benefits.
I know that there is common agreement about state benefits. Certainly, people with young children find it difficult to get into any work, let alone self-employment. The experience of the Prince's Youth Business Trust is
Column 266that, in the first few months of trading, the businesses rely on the £35 a week while they build up sales and a customer base. My local area manager continued in his letter:
"If these unemployed young people lose their initiative due to the curtailment of the allowance they will miss the opportunity the Trust gives them at a relatively low cost to become self-employed and will possibly remain unemployed at a yearly cost of thousands of pounds to the state.".
That cannot be right. The Government must put in place some alternative business encouragement measures to replace what we are about to lose or are losing.
The bottom line is that there is there is no real money on the table to encourage young unemployed people to start their own businesses. There is plenty of advice and training, but no hard cash. The cushion provided by the business start-up allowance has gone and the allowance itself has been subsumed into the general funds of the single regeneration budget.
My own borough, Rotherham, was successful in its bid for the single regeneration budget. I was looking at the submission and the outcome only yesterday. However, the only thing on offer under the single regeneration budget in Rotherham is advice to people who are already getting that advice through the Prince's Youth Business Trust. Under the circumstances, it seems that the allowance is being withdrawn without being replaced.
We have to ensure that such a cavalier attitude does not damage the operation of the Prince's Youth Business Trust. It is vital for the growth of local economies, and I hope that the Government will look hard at the possible consequences of the withdrawal of the business start-up allowance.
My own borough has only half the national average for self-employed people- -the figure is only 4 per cent. I am clear in my mind that there is a great deal of scope for the growth of self-employment as a means of getting rid of long-term unemployed in my constituency, but it will not happen if people cannot get the assistance they have had in the past.
In the next few weeks, I hope that the Government will look hard at the results from the Prince's Youth Business Trust about how many start-ups are occurring, and if the withdrawal of business start-up allowance from long- term unemployed people has created a problem for the trust, I hope that the Government take measures to remedy it. Like everybody else, I am sure that they would like the trust to go from strength to strength in its work for our young people in the economy.
The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Miss Ann Widdecombe): I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) on obtaining the debate, and on raising the important matters that we have been discussing. He was quite right to draw attention to his own track record of support for small businesses, which is well recognised in the House, and on which he also deserves to be congratulated.
I was interested to hear from the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) that today is an unique occasion, and that we have not discussed the Prince's Youth Business Trust before. I hope that we will not leave it quite so long in future before we return to such an important subject.
Column 267I think that the interest caused by the business trust was exemplified by the number of hon. Members who have been present in the Chamber during the debate. I mention in particular the hon. Member for Belfast South (Rev. Martin Smyth), my hon. Friends the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway), for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan), for Surrey, East (Mr. Ainsworth) and for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), and the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon). I now see my hon. Friends the Members for Finchley (Mr. Booth) and for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland). It is a tribute to the Prince's Youth Business Trust that so many hon. Members are present this morning to hear about its excellent work and to pay their own tributes to it. Certainly, the PYBT carries out excellent work in helping disadvantaged young people to enter self-employment and set up their own businesses. Today's debate provides us all with a welcome opportunity to publicise that work.
The trust was founded in 1986. Since then, it has helped some 25, 000 young people to set up or expand more than 19,000 businesses. It does that, as we have heard during the debate, through providing grants or loans and in particular through its volunteer network of business advisers. Those advisers are assigned to particular young people and act as mentors, giving help or advice for a couple of years or so.
I find it very heartening that there are currently some 4,500 volunteers, most of whom have themselves started businesses. They therefore know exactly what is involved, and are prepared to give young people the benefit of their time and expertise. More than 2,000 volunteers are needed each year to keep up the momentum, and I understand that the Prince of Wales recently wrote to every existing adviser asking him or her to recruit another volunteer. I wish the trust every success in that campaign.
As has been acknowledged today, we in the Government are extremely supportive of the trust's work. Indeed, we have provided substantial financial help over the years. In November 1988, on his 40th birthday, the Prince of Wales launched an appeal to raise £40 million from the private sector, and the then Secretary of State for Employment, Lord Young, promised to match that pound for pound. So far, we have given some £21 million in accordance with that promise, and our total maximum commitment currently stands at £31 million.
More recently, in March last year, we agreed to provide further funds focused on the more disadvantaged, especially the long-term unemployed and the disabled. Our maximum commitment over the next three years is £10 million, as has already been pointed out. That includes welcome contributions from the Welsh and Northern Ireland Offices.
Our contributions are designed to help the PYBT to maximise the funds it receives from the private sector. Both the schemes, which run alongside each other, are paid only on a matched-fund basis, pound for pound. At the trust's suggestion, the new scheme is also output-related: we pay £2,500 for each young person who is recruited and who survives for 15 months in business, which demonstrates the confidence that both the trust and the Government have in those young people. All that helps the trust to raise substantial private sector contributions to the cost of its work.
Column 268Mr. Hartley Booth (Finchley): My hon. Friend has drawn attention to the interaction between the House of Commons and the trust. Is she aware that, last year, the Prince and his trust helped an all -party project known as "Return Ticket"? Long-term unemployed people were sent 30,000 books to give them hope, which has been afforded not least by the success stories emanating from the trust.
Miss Widdecombe: I am grateful both for my hon. Friend's interest in the trust and for his reminder of that important initiative. The free advice that the trust gives each year is estimated to be worth about £30 million. Because of the leverage that our funds ensure, it hopes to double the number of young people that it supports as a result of the new scheme.
I am delighted to say that our research suggests that the young people who start businesses generally go on to set up thriving concerns: two thirds are still in business after two to three years, and a high proportion of those who sadly cease trading say that their experience with the PYBT has helped significantly to make it easier for them to find employment--or, indeed, to continue in some other form of self-employment.
I pay particular tribute to the work that the trust does in Kent, not least because I was recently privileged to go to a reception for young people who had set up businesses. I particularly remember a young man called Andrew Harsley, who had founded a very successful business making cable ties-- perhaps because he was kind enough to give me a bunch of flowers tied up with one of his cable ties. I thought that that was a very nice gesture, and I wanted to put it on record and thank Mr. Harsley today.
The sheer diversity of the trust's businesses is amazing. They include both the more obvious concerns such as fashion, hairdressing and manufacturing, and unusual businesses such as sheep pregnancy testing, pet food delivery services and surfing. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have given many examples of specific initiatives, and paid tribute to them.
The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) made an important contribution to the debate. He mentioned the fall-out from the circumstances of the South Thames training and enterprise council. As he will know, we are arranging for the TEC's functions to be taken over, but as a result of what he has said today I shall find out what specific arrangements have been made in relation to the PYBT and write to him as soon as I can.
I hope that the hon. Member will take that as an indication of the seriousness with which the Government view the trust, and our awareness of the importance of maintaining continuity. I take the hon. Gentleman's point: continuity is all, especially in the early stages.
The speech of the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) was unusually emollient, which is in itself a tribute to the trust. It clearly has considerable appeal for all parties in the House. I do not think, however, that the hon. Gentleman's portrayal of our treatment of the business start- up scheme was altogether fair. He implied that it had been withdrawn. Our evaluation in 1991 suggested that some 80 per cent. of PYBT-supported businesses were in receipt of business start-up allowances, which did of course tend to increase unit costs from the Government's perspective.
Column 269The funds from the business start-up scheme have been transferred to the single regeneration budget, but that does not mean that they have been withdrawn. The budget will directly support some 18,000 new businesses in 1995-96; moreover, all projects supported by it will tend to help new businesses.
Mr. Barron: Is the Minister saying that the transfer of the money to the single regeneration budget will give those who benefit from the trust's work a weekly allowance for the first 12 months of the existence of their businesses?
Miss Widdecombe: I am saying that it is wrong to suggest that the fact that the business start-up scheme now functions as part of the single regeneration budgets means that it has ceased to function at all.
Some £40 million will be available in 1996-97 for the second round of bidding. That will build up to £200 million in the following year. Provision for the single regeneration budget over the next three years accounts for a substantial sum, of which more than £800 million will be provided for new projects.
It is for local partnerships to decide what priority to give to small business support. There is plenty of scope for the PYBT, and for other concerns, to work with local partners, as it is already doing in many parts of the country. I do not share the rather gloomy view of the hon. Member for Rother Valley: The change in procedures does not mean that we are any less committed to looking after small businesses.
Let me again congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dover, and also congratulate the trust on the diversity of its work. As the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey pointed out, many women, disabled people and ethnic minorities have benefited from that work. The trust's scope is wide, encompassing both rural and urban areas, and the contribution that it makes, not only to the well-being and the economic prosperity of young people but to the well-being and the economic prosperity of the country is well worthy of the recognition that it has received today.
Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge): Today is International Women's Day and it is right to celebrate that with a debate about an issue that is dear to the hearts of many women, who comprise 51 per cent. of the people of this country. It is worth saying at the outset that there are at least 4 million low-paid women in this country. We define low pay as being below two thirds of the male median earnings. That is not an insignificant number. Divided equally, on a geographical basis, it would mean that there are 6,000 low-paid women in every constituency in the United Kingdom. However, the geographical distribution of low pay is not completely even. In inner London, only 18 per cent. of women are low-paid, while in west Yorkshire the figure is 58 per cent.--a much higher figure. East Anglia, the part of the world that I represent, is often seen as more prosperous, but in fact 54 per cent. of women in East Anglia are low paid. That is perhaps a surprising figure, but East Anglia has low-paid employment in agriculture, hotel and catering, cleaning, the health service, social services, and many other jobs traditionally done by women.
Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): The hon. Lady is saying that women earn less in certain parts of the country than in others. She is also a well-known supporter of the national minimum wage. If the national minimum wage were introduced, would there be a regional differences in the minimum wage?
Mrs. Campbell: The hon. Gentleman misunderstands the point that I was making. I said that the distribution of low pay was different in different regions. I will come to the minimum wage later. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will wait until I reach that point.
One of the rather surprising things--or perhaps it is not so surprising, given the national situation--is that in Cambridge and the surrounding areas there is a great deal of high-tech industry, but although people working in those industries are often highly paid, on the whole women are not benefiting from that high-tech industry which has grown so successfully in and around Cambridge over the past 15 years. I am pleased to say, however, that Doctor Elizabeth Garnsey of the Judge Institute in Cambridge is embarking on a study to determine why so few women are employed in the high-tech industries in the Cambridge region. It will be interesting to see the results of that study.
Much of the ground was covered in yesterday's debate, when Ministers and Conservative Members spent a great deal of time telling us of the tremendous improvements that had been made, and it is true that for some women life has got better over the past few years. There are more women in professional jobs, there are more women at the top of their professions and there are more women Members of Parliament, but that has not been achieved as a result of Government policies; it has been achieved despite the Conservative Government. A good way of illustrating that is to look at how the number of women Members of Parliament has increased. It has increased because the Labour party has taken positive steps to improve the chances for women in our
Column 271party, and we are continuing to take those steps, which bring nothing but criticism and carping from Conservative Members.
Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey): We all welcome the increase in the numbers of women who manage to rise to the top of their professions, but does my hon. Friend agree that the fact that just 5 per cent. of professors in higher education and 6 per cent. of QCs and High Court judges are women is not exactly a startling achievement as we approach the end of the 20th century?
Mrs. Campbell: My hon. Friend makes a valuable point. Although some progress has been made, the situation is far from satisfactory and certainly does not merit the kind of complacency that we have seen from Front-Bench Conservative Members.
Ms Jean Corston (Bristol, East): My hon. Friend referred to the Labour party's determined efforts to ensure that our electoral representation in the House reflects Great Britain, where half the population is female. Does she not find the schizophrenia of Conservative Members on this issue fascinating when they attack-- [Interruption.] --and laugh at the fact that the Labour party has quotas for women but fail to acknowledge that the deputy chairman of the Conservative party, the right hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Dame A. Rumbold), is frequently given permission to be away from the House to try to persuade constituency associations to comply with the Conservative party's target of 50 per cent. for women candidates? Is not the only difference the fact that the Labour party is serious about it and the Conservatives are willing the means?
Mrs. Campbell: My hon. Friend makes an important point. The Conservatives are trying to improve on their 63 women candidates in the past election compared with Labour's 138.
Several hon. Members rose --
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris): Order. Even hon. Ladies must take their seats. The debate is about wage levels for women. It is not really about party politics and which party has which candidates.
Mrs. Campbell: As women Members of Parliament are perhaps more highly paid than other women, an increase in their numbers will help in a small way to raise wage levels for women.
Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam): Will the hon. Lady give way?
Mrs. Campbell: Perhaps the hon. Lady will wait until I have made a further point.
If we define low pay as less than two thirds of a full-time median wage-- not just men's wages, but taking men and women's wages together--we can compare ourselves with our European partners.
Mr. Richard Spring (Bury St. Edmunds): Will the hon. Lady give way?
Mrs. Campbell: Not at the moment.
In Belgium, for example, which has clear minimum wage legislation, less than 5 per cent. of women come into the category of low-paid. In the Netherlands, which
Column 272also has minimum wage legislation, although perhaps not quite so good, only 11 per cent. of women come within the definition of low-paid. In Ireland, however, the figure rises dramatically to 18 per cent., in Spain it is 19 per cent. and the UK tops the European Union tree with 20 per cent. That says something important about the effect of a minimum wage on low pay for women.
Mr. Spring: Will the hon. Lady specify what she is saying in quantitative terms? She has defined low pay as being two thirds of male median earnings. What are male median earnings in quantitative terms? Unless we know that figure, talking about low pay and linking it with some kind of poverty makes no sense whatever.
Mrs. Campbell: I have the figures and I can inform the hon. Gentleman that, according to the 1994 wages survey, male median earnings were around £300 per week, so two thirds of male median earnings is a little over £200 a week. The hon. Gentleman can find those figures quite easily if he would like to look them up. In the last case, I was talking about two thirds of the full-time median wage, taking both men's and women's pay together.
Yesterday the Trades Union Congress launched a new document, "The New Divide". It is a study of the pay of part-time workers. The TUC says something that is important for us all to take on board, and we should celebrate the contribution that part-time workers make to the economy. Many men and women want to work part time because of family responsibilities, others perhaps want to study at the same time or they may be caring for elderly parents. There are all sorts of reasons why people want to work part time. We should encourage that if it is what people want to do. But why should part-time work mean low pay and worse conditions than those of people in full-time employment?
It is shocking that half a million part-time workers, mainly women, earn less than £2.49 an hour. That is disgraceful, and it is an indictment of the Government's complete lack of policy on earnings and incomes. Many workers earn less than the national insurance threshold, which is currently £57 per week. Those workers not only take home low pay but lose a number of contributory benefits, especially pensions, so those who are poor at work tend to be poor in old age as well.
In the context of social justice, it is obviously important for part-time workers to be treated in the same way as full-time workers. With more people choosing to work part time, it is becoming more essential to treat people equally. The Government have an appalling record and have continually tried to block part-time workers' rights. Following the House of Lords ruling in March 1994 that the Government were acting illegally in denying employment rights to part-time workers, in December last year the Government were forced to give equal rights to part-timers.
The Secretary of State for Employment last year blocked European directives on parental leave which would have been of enormous help to men and women in employment. That now has to be introduced under the social protocol, which excludes the UK and means that our workers are not able to benefit from it.
The Equal Opportunities Commission has produced a good report on low pay and women. The report identifies that low pay is associated with having children and/or caring responsibilities and having a part-time job. I can
Column 273illustrate how that affects ordinary people from the letters of one of my constituents. She is a highly qualified woman with a degree in microbiology. In her letter to me she describes how she had worked while living with the father of her two children. He became violent and threw her out. As a single parent she was able to draw £600 a month in benefit.
However, when she tried to go back to her job, which was quite well paid compared with most of the jobs that women are able to get, the loss of benefit and the cost of child care reduced her income from £600 to £450 a month. Not surprisingly, with two children, that woman found that quite impossible to live on. She wrote to me pointing out how ridiculous it was that the Government were paying her £600 a month to stay on benefit rather than £150 a month to be in work. That is the amount that she would have needed to bring her income up to what she had while on benefit. That is absurd.
It is essential to increase opportunities for women by increasing the provision of low-cost publicly funded child care and abolishing the anomaly by which people can reclaim tax on their secretary's wages but not on child -minding costs. It is no coincidence that, on the whole, men employ secretaries and women employ child minders, and it is clear discrimination that the one is allowable against tax while the other is not.
Mr. Peter Butler (Milton Keynes, North-East): It would be discourteous to allow the debate to go much further without congratulating the hon. Lady and her lady colleagues on having overcome the ingrained male chauvinism within her party to which she referred earlier. Not one male Labour Member is in the Chamber or has been here since the start of the debate. Does the hon. Lady feel that that is a symptom of the fact that perhaps there is still a long way to go? There is an empty space where one male Labour Member was sitting, so I apologise for being incorrect in that, but certainly no one has bothered to stay. The one who was here left as soon as the hon. Lady started to speak, which was grossly discourteous.
Mrs. Campbell: I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend (Mr. Byers) has slipped out for a few moments and will be back. He was here at the beginning of the debate. The Opposition can celebrate the fact that we have enough women to keep the debate going without falling back on our male colleagues. The Conservative party would dearly love to solve the problem of having too few women hon. Members, but it has no idea how to go about it.