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Pipe Organs (Lead Pipes)

11. Mr. Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): When his Department first became aware that the use of lead pipes in newly built pipe organs could be prohibited under the restriction of hazardous substances directive. [67733]

The Minister for Energy (Malcolm Wicks): A different topic, but an important one. Our clear view is that pipe organs do not fall within the scope of the directive and that view is widely accepted in the European Commission. The DTI is working closely with the Commission, and our aim is to reach a successful conclusion before the directive comes into force on 1 July.

Mr. Beith: I welcome the Minister's reply and invite him to go down to the Crypt chapel of the House of Commons, listen to the beautiful organ and reflect on how absurd it would be if the ability of British craftsmen to build organs of high quality depended on a renewable derogation, to which we would have to return, perhaps every four years. As neither commissioners nor other European countries seem to accept that that is necessary, I hope that the Minister will stand firm and insist that the directive should not apply to lead in pipe organs.
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Malcolm Wicks: As I have just said, our view is that it should not apply and that view is strongly held in the Commission. I hope that it will be confirmed at an important meeting in June, so that we can put an end to all this nonsense, which has understandably upset people committed to church organs and their manufacture. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be reassured by my words; we are absolutely determined to get this right. Very soon, we shall all be singing from the same hymn sheet.

Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West) (Con): Will the Minister arrange to make a statement to the House after that meeting, on the creation of new organs and the repair of existing ones, and will he tell the House now what "widely" includes? Who disagrees with the view that he says is widely held?

Malcolm Wicks: Margot Wallström, the European Commissioner responsible for the negotiations on the directive and Caroline Jackson, MEP, a crucial player on the Environment Committee, have recently made public statements in agreement with what I have said. We have now got to go through a process in the European Commission for that to be absolutely confirmed at this crucial meeting, which I think will take place in the third week of June. Will I make a written statement afterwards? Yes, of course I will.

National Minimum Wage

12. Mr. Jim McGovern (Dundee, West) (Lab): How many workers he estimates will receive higher pay as a result of the recently announced increase in the minimum wage; and how many of these workers will be women. [67734]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe): The DTI estimates that just over 1.3 million workers stand to benefit from the October 2006 increase in the national minimum wage. Of the estimated 1.3 million beneficiaries, two thirds are women.

Mr. McGovern: Unfortunately the press and the Opposition seem to have largely ignored the recent increases in the national minimum wage. The Minister has just pointed out that many people will benefit from that and I am sure that they appreciate it. I am concerned, however, about the number of women who are on the national minimum wage. I am sure that everyone agrees that they benefit from it, but real action is needed to reduce that number. If the Government are going to bring forward proposals to cut the gender pay gap, I hope that those proposals will address not only the glass ceiling at the higher end of the pay scale, but the sticky floor that sees a disproportionate number of women on the national minimum wage.

Mr. Sutcliffe: I am pleased that my hon. Friend welcomes the success of the national minimum wage—a flagship policy of the Government that was opposed by the Opposition parties, who have now admitted their mistakes. He is right to highlight the issue of low pay and particularly low pay among women. I am sure that he will be pleased by the recommendations of the
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women and work commission, which is looking at cutting the gap. We will continue to monitor what happens with the national minimum wage, but we believe that people on low incomes benefit greatly from it—together with the tax credit system.

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): Given that there has been a modest, but persistent phenomenon of non-compliance with the 1998 legislation, would the hon. Gentleman care to consider the proposition that in such instances, when people have to take action to secure their legal rights, there is a lot to be said for including in legislation an entitlement to the payment of interest on the sums that they are due? I first made that proposal, as an amendment to the national minimum wage legislation, on the Floor of the House as long ago as March 1998.

Mr. Sutcliffe: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on being a lone voice in the Opposition in relation to the national minimum wage. He is right to highlight that a small minority of people are still not paying the national minimum wage, but the legislation covers that situation in that when people are convicted or found not to have paid, they must back-pay to the original start date of the employment. We are looking at enforcement and it is important that we do so right across the range. We have picked particular sectors. Notably, we recently picked hairdressing, where we have looked at enforcement. We will consider all ways of making sure that rogue employers who do not pay the national minimum wage are made to pay it.

Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab): I fully agree with the comments made by the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow). I wonder whether the Minister would consider amending another anomaly in the legislation that means that, when people pay their bills by credit card and leave a tip on the credit card, that can be used at part of the calculation of the minimum hourly rate. That is an unacceptable practice and I wonder whether we can change the legislation.

Mr. Sutcliffe: We have looked at that issue. My hon. Friend will know that we deal with such issues by asking the Low Pay Commission, which is made up of employer and employee representatives, to consider them and see what can be done. We take on board its recommendations. The commission has considered the issue and there are no plans to change anything at the moment.

UK Aerospace Industry

13. Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): What assessment he has made of the future viability of the UK aerospace industry. [67735]

The Minister for Industry and the Regions (Alun Michael): The UK Aerospace industry is one of our great strengths—regionally and nationally. This was shown by the 2003 aerospace innovation and growth team report, which set out a vision for the future. Government endorsed that vision. More information is set out in the Department of Trade and Industry evidence to the Trade and Industry Committee inquiry in March 2005 and in our formal response to the report in July 2005.
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Sir Nicholas Winterton: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that full and accurate reply. The aerospace industry is critical to manufacturing. It produces at the cutting edge of technology and contributes hugely to our exports. Will he ensure that his colleagues in the Ministry of Defence are aware of the importance of the MRA4 project to British Aerospace at Woodford? If the order could be placed as soon as possible, that would be helpful to the industry. Will he also accept, on behalf of the Minister for Energy, the hon. Member for Croydon, North (Malcolm Wicks), a visit from me and a company in my constituency, Senior Aerospace, which is currently in some difficulty with health and safety? The Minister is aware of that. It is critical to the survival of that company for it to be able continue its operation.

Alun Michael: I am aware of the specific point, which is being looking at. We are co-signatories of the defence industrial strategy with colleagues at the Ministry of Defence and the Treasury, and I very much commend the work of Lord Drayson, who is the Minister responsible for procurement, on the way that that is being developed and the fact that it recognises the importance of the industry, both to our defence needs and to our industrial needs in this country. The hon. Gentleman would not expect me to make promises on some of the specifics of his question, but I understand their importance to his constituency. I would be very happy to talk to him further.

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