Previous Section Home Page

Column 399

Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)

Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela

Ryder, Rt Hon Richard

Sackville, Tom

Sainsbury, Rt Hon Sir Timothy

Scott, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas

Shaw, David (Dover)

Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)

Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian

Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)

Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)

Shersby, Michael

Sims, Roger

Skeet, Sir Trevor

Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)

Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)

Soames, Nicholas

Spencer, Sir Derek

Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)

Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)

Spink, Dr Robert

Spring, Richard

Sproat, Iain

Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John

Steen, Anthony

Stern, Michael

Stewart, Allan

Streeter, Gary

Sumberg, David

Tapsell, Sir Peter

Taylor, Ian (Esher)

Taylor, John M (Solihull)

Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)

Temple-Morris, Peter

Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)

Thornton, Sir Malcolm

Thurnham, Peter

Townend, John (Bridlington)

Townsend, Cyril D (Bexl'yh'th)

Tracey, Richard

Tredinnick, David

Trend, Michael

Trotter, Neville

Twinn, Dr Ian

Waldegrave, Rt Hon William

Walden, George

Walker, Bill (N Tayside)

Waterson, Nigel

Watts, John

Wells, Bowen

Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John

Whitney, Ray

Whittingdale, John

Widdecombe, Ann

Wiggin, Sir Jerry

Wilkinson, John

Willetts, David

Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)

Wolfson, Mark

Yeo, Tim

Young, Rt Hon Sir George

Tellers for the Noes: Mr. David Lightbown and Mr. Timothy Wood.

Column 399

Question accordingly negatived .

Clause 5

Duration of a contribution-based jobseeker's allowance

Miss Widdecombe: I beg to move amendment No. 6, in page 5, line 3, leave out `him from' and insert `his'.

Column 400

Madam Speaker: With this, it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments Nos. 7 to 10, 14 to 17, 20 to 22, 29, 30 and 36 to 38.

Miss Widdecombe: I understand that the Opposition are content not to have an exposition amendment by amendment. Many of the amendments, of course, have been tabled in response to representations from Opposition Members in Committee, including the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn)--he is not here, sadly--who debated the gerund and possessive pronoun extensively. Other amendments make clear the policy intention, in some cases just changing "and" to "the," or "the" to "and". I therefore wish to move the amendment without further discussion.

Mr. Bradley: I am grateful to the Minister for the succinct explanation of the amendments. We do not want line-by-line clarification of them, but in Committee we opposed every aspect of the measures that are being tidied up. By not having a vote, I do not want it to be construed that we support the clauses to which those tidying-up amendments refer. With that explanation, we accept the amendments.

Amendment agreed to .

Clause 6

Availability for, and actively seeking, employment

Amendment made: No. 7, in page 6, line 11, leave out `actually'.-- [Miss Widdecombe.]

Clause 7

The jobseeker's agreement

Mr. McCartney: I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 6, line 31, at end insert--

`(6A) A jobseekers agreement may specify that a claimant need not be available for or seek, employment other than at a minimum prescribed amount of remuneration.'.

Madam Speaker: With this, it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 2, in clause 16, page 14, line 32, at end insert-- `(1A) Nothing in section 15, or in regulations under that section, shall be taken to prevent payment of a jobseekers allowance merely because the claimant refuses to seek or accept employment other than at the minimum amount of remuneration prescribed under section 7(6A) above.'.

Mr. McCartney: I exclude the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth) from criticisms that I will make of his party in relation to the minimum wage and to in-work poverty. The hon. Gentleman has more than a fair record on those issues. It is pity that he was not a member of the Committee that considered the Bill. He would have assisted us greatly when Opposition Members moved the amendments to improve the Bill in relation to unemployed people. The amendments have been tabled specifically to deal with minimum earnings. The reason we have done that, as I shall set out in detail, is the context of the debate. The Tory party is a party of fat-cat excess, exploitation and the dole--there can be no doubt about that. In 1993, directors in Britain's six top banks enjoyed salary increases of up to 181 per cent. Many of them made

Column 401

profits of more than £4.8 billion. That orgy of greed has resulted in the axing of 72,000 jobs since 1990, and the closure of 2,252 branches in the past five years.

The figures show how these godfathers of the bank boardrooms have been writing fat pay checks to themselves in the morning and redundancy notices to their employees in the afternoon. It is a scandal that pay has gone through the roof for top directors while thousands of their employees have faced a pay freeze or the sack. So what strategies do the Tories have for tackling the poverty trap? The answer is simply that they have none. They have turned Britain into a sweatshop. I want to set out the reasons why that is the case, and a diary of events on low pay.

The Committee sat for the first time on 24 January this year. Interestingly, that was the first occasion on which Mr. Cedric Brown of British Gas discussed with members of the Select Committee on Employment his views on fair remuneration at work. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle). I am not someone who goes in for gongs or presentations, but my hon. Friend has been outstanding in her pursuit of greed in the boardroom at the expense of ordinary workers at the work place. Much of the exposure of the Conservative party's hypocrisy on these issues and its sham support for low-paid workers has been down to my hon. Friend.

On 1 February this year, my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Ms Harman), the shadow Secretary of State for Employment, released figures from the Government's own new earnings survey. They showed that Sir Iain Vallance earned more in a day than 80 per cent. of Britons earn in a month--more than 17.3 million people had to work a month to earn what Sir Iain Vallance earns in a day. On 9 February, when the Committee was sitting, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation report on income and wealth stated that

"low pay is a problem on unprecedented scales. The lowest 10 per cent. of hourly paid workers are earning less now than in 1975 while the top 10 per cent. are earning 50 per cent. more."

On 14 February the Minister of State, Department of Employment, announced triumphantly to the Committee that considered the Bill that no lower income floor would exist to which an unemployed person could look for a safeguard against being offered a £1-an-hour job, or losing benefit. She trumpeted that as a triumph for the marketplace. On 16 February, a Sweatshop of Europe report entitled, "What Future?" was published. It contained a detailed analysis of the jobs and pay rates offered by the careers and employment services, which are directly under the control of the Minister. The report highlighted the fact that young people had to work about eight weeks full time to earn what the head of British Telecom earned in one hour. The Minister's Department is offering people in Britain jobs where they have to work eight weeks to earn what the head of BT earns in one hour of one day. Despite that, she still trumpets with triumph her commitment to offering to the unemployed jobs that pay £1 an hour or less.

On 17 February, to their shame, Tory Ministers lined up to defend top pay awards and to attack the minimum wage proposals of my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham. On 21 February, the International Labour Organisation attacked deregulation and stated that that

Column 402

was not the pathway to greater job creation. It called on all Governments, and in particular this Government, to end poverty pay and to renew a commitment to full employment. The Government failed to respond to that by offering a debate in the House or even by offering the House a statement about their position on the ILO. The reason for that is that they do not want further to expose themselves publicly about their lack of commitment in relation to poverty pay. Their support for driving down wages further directly contravenes the ILO report.

On 1 March, the Secretary of State for Employment put clear blue water between himself and the Prime Minister when he defended mega pay rises and attacked a minimum wage, offering himself as a standard bearer of the politics of greed and privilege. I was unfortunate enough to be there listening to that diatribe of attacks on the low-paid in Britain.

On 7 March the banks were at it again, along with the privatised utilities. Jam, jam all the way for the rich and powerful, and dole, dole every day for more of the workers. There was a further scandalous announcement of mega pay rises and arrangements on pensions and share deals making them instant millionaires while workers were being made redundant, despite the fact that the profits were at the greatest level ever.

7 pm

On 15 March I issued a report highlighting the fact that privatised utility bosses have axed 126,000 jobs with another 82,000 to go in the next five years. So far, the jobs-to-dole strategy has cost the taxpayer £1 billion in benefit payments. That £1 billion of taxpayers' money has been used to strip out high-paid, high-quality jobs from the privatised utilities while the profits from those utilities go straight into the pockets of the few powerful people in charge of them. The Government responded by supporting that.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Mid-Staffordshire): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. McCartney: I will give way in a moment.

On 17 March my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham published a further report saying that the axing of wages councils has led to a cut in wages and reduced levels of employment. That is a direct attack on the concept that the Secretary of State for Employment always parrots; that if wages are reduced, employment increases. That is entirely bogus and my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham proved that to be so.

Mr. Fabricant: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. McCartney: I said that I would give way in a moment. The hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) has only just come into the Chamber. He was not around for the eight weeks during which we were discussing this issue in Committee. I will give way later. On 20 March my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham published a further report highlighting the fact that over 3 million workers now earn less than the national insurance contribution of £57 per week. Of that number, a shameful 74 per cent. are women. It beggars belief that as we come to the next century so many people are earning less than

Column 403

£57 a week. Yet, the Government and their proposals in this Bill will force people to accept wage levels that are even lower than that.

Mr. Fabricant: The hon. Gentleman said that in the privatised industries money had been diverted into the pockets of the managers. That is a gross simplification. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that it is only since the privatisation of the water companies that they have begun to deal with the huge logjam of crumbling Victorian sewers? That is costing hundreds of millions of pounds and was not being dealt with when the industry was in state hands.

Mr. McCartney: It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman should defend the Government's position on private utilities and that he went further to promote the water industry, which, since privatisation, has made thousands of people redundant. There have been record levels of cut-offs and record levels of profit at the expense of those who require water for the basic necessities of life. The hon. Gentleman should apologise to the House for his views on this matter. What about his constituents who have to suffer under the yoke of privatised utilities such as water which are increasing charges at the same time--

Mr. Fabricant rose --

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse): Order. It might be advisable if we returned to the subject of the minimum wage.

Mr. McCartney: I apologise for allowing myself to be led down the wrong path. I will not do it again.

On 21 March the Secretaries of State for Employment and for Social Security tabled a new clause, which will be debated tomorrow, to cut hardship payments to unemployed 16 and 17-year-olds. It will confirm the £400 million cut in benefits for the unemployed.

There it is. That is the catalogue of Government support for greed and privilege which occurred during the weeks in which the Bill was in Committee. At the end of that, the Government's only response is to attack unemployed 16 and 17-year-olds and reduce further their ability to live on or below the breadline. Many of those young people whom the Government intend to attack are kids who have come out of care and who may have been physically or sexually abused. Some of them are children with relationship problems or who have mental health or other health problems. The Government's only response is to defend the fat cats and the privileges in privatised industry. Those 16 and 17-year-olds will have no training place and no proper job to go to. It is no wonder that today Lord Whitelaw said of the Government:

"This lot are a complete shower. . .one of the worst Governments I can remember."

Opposition Members could not agree more with those sentiments. Where have the Government got us? We are now the sweatshop of Europe. We have the longest working hours, the least holidays, poorest pensions, lowest pay and highest levels of insecurity. The bottom tenth of the population are 17 per cent. worse off in absolute terms than when this lot came to power. The proportion of households living in poverty has trebled from 7 per cent. to 24 per cent. of the population since the late 1970s. A total of 328,000 people in Britain earn less than £1.50 an hour. Over 1 million people earn less than £2.50 an hour.

Column 404

Women have been badly hit by low pay-- 670,000 of them earn less than £2.50 an hour. In every part of Britain there is a serious low pay problem. Some of the worst affected areas are in regions such as Yorkshire, Humberside and the north. That coincides with high levels of structural unemployment. Those are the very areas that will be the worst affected by this Bill.

The Government do not just stop there. Between 1984 and 1994 there has been an increase of 1 million people holding down two and sometimes three jobs just to make ends meet, and a further 4.5 million people are earning so little that they live on or below the poverty line. The Government promote that as an excellent idea. They say that that is what people should do in a deregulated marketplace. They say that people should find themselves a second or third job in order to develop their skills and energies and that they should be thankful for it. Interestingly, in The Guardian today there is a little more insight into what the Government really mean about their friends having little extra earners in little jobs. Seamus Milne, the labour correspondent said:

"The £300,000-a-year chief executive of the privatised electricity generator Powergen left MPs investigating top corporate salaries speechless last night when he mentioned in passing he had three `little jobs' on the side paying £36,000 a year."

I must emphasise that they were "little jobs" on the side. Mr. Wallis took up share options of £876,194 last year and received a pension payment of £53,000. He stands to earn a £100,000 bonus. In defence of all that he said that the

"extra jobs were all `done in my own time'."

For one meeting a year he was paid £17,000 by the British Standards Institute. That is not a bad rate--

Next Section

  Home Page