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Labour Statistics

Volume 87: debated on Monday 18 November 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for Wales what is the percentage of full-time workers, male and female, respectively, in Rhymney Valley, Mid-Glamorgan and Wales earning less than 90 per cent. of the respective United Kingdom averages.

According to the results of the new earnings survey undertaken in April 1985, the Wales figure is 54 per cent. for both males and females. The corresponding figures for Mid-Glamorgan are 57 per cent. for males and 56 per cent. for females. Similar information is not available for Rhymney Valley.

Will the Secretay of State confirm that wages for those in Wales who are employed are not only among the lowest in real terms in the United Kingdom, but in relative terms are falling? If the Government's view is correct, that lower wages mean more employment, how can the Secretary of State justify the record level of unemployment in Wales? How much lower does he want wage levels in Wales to fall before unemployment starts to fall?

The crucial fact which explains the difference in wage levels is the different structures of industry and service employment in different areas. The point about wage levels is their effect upon wage costs. We are concerned about wages being pushed up in a way that adds to wage costs and makes firms uncompetitive. It must be an advantage in any area to ensure that the firms that operate there do so competitively.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware, how much young people resent the proposal that wages council protection for them should be scrapped, in particular holiday rights protection, and fear that this will usher in a new era of exploitation of young people? The right hon. Gentleman may be interested in Victorian values, but we know that they are bad, not good, values.

There is a great deal of evidence that the constraints imposed by the wages councils as they have applied to young people have destroyed job opportunities for them. There is also a great deal of evidence in countries which do not have the same restrictions—for example, Germany—that job opportunities for young people are thereby greatly strengthened. I should have thought that that ought to be the priority for the hon. Gentleman, but it does not seem to be.

Does the Secretary of State accept that in England last year the average wage for men in manufacturing industry was £159, whereas in Wales it was nothing like that figure? Is the objective of the Secretary of State to keep down wages, in a vain bid to try to get work to Wales, or to try to increase the standard of living in Wales?

I said that what matters is that wage costs in an industry should be competitive. I welcome the fact that successful industries are able to pay higher wages to their employees. As we diversify and strengthen the Welsh economy, as we are doing, I hope that there will be higher earnings for a great many people.

Will not the Government's proposals on Sunday trading further undermine the wages and conditions of the people who live in the valleys and towns of Wales? Would it not be better for the Government, after six and a half years, to concentrate on getting people back to work regularly for five days, from Monday to Friday?

The important point is that individuals and companies should be able to choose on which days of the week they wish to trade. I see no reason to believe, particularly with the safeguards that will be built into the legislation, that there will be the kinds of effects about which the hon. Gentleman speaks. That has not been the experience in Scotland, which does not have the kind of protective legislation that exists in England.

Is it not typical of the Opposition and their head in the sand attitude that they are still unaware that the majority of people in Wales want Sunday trading?

Above all, it should not be imposed by law. It should be a matter of individual choice and conscience whether people want to shop on Sunday, and traders should be able to decide whether they wish to open their businesses on Sunday.