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Volume 116: debated on Thursday 14 May 1987

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asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what number and proportion of workers in Northern Ireland were paid less in 1979 than the Council of Europe decency threshold; and what are the latest available figures for workers in this category.

There is no such thing as a Council of Europe threshold for a minimum acceptable level of earnings.

The Minister is absolutely wrong. The Council of Europe has set down a decency threshold, which is reommended right across Europe. In Britain it would represent £126 a week, or £2·40 an hour. In the whole of the United Kingdom 8·8 million people are paid less than that, and I understand that in Northern Ireland that proportion is much worse. Indeed, the incidence of low pay, as with unemployment, is much worse in Northern Ireland. I am disgusted that the Minister has nothing to say about this serious question.

The hon. Lady is wrong. No such proposals have ever been endorsed by any member state, by the Council of Europe or by its governmental committee on the European social charter. If the hon. Lady wishes to put down any specific question on numbers she is, of course, at liberty to do so. However, first it will be necessary for her to win the seat of Birmingham, Ladywood, which, judged by current events, must be regarded as marginal.