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Museums (Minimum Wage)

Volume 300: debated on Monday 10 November 1997

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What representations he has received on the impact of a minimum wage on employment in the nation's museums. [13428]

No direct representations have been made to me, but I am aware that a number of organisations that represent museum interests have submitted written evidence to the Low Pay Commission in response to its invitation.

Will the Minister be making any representations to the commission in order to safeguard the interests of the museums which, for the time being, are under his care? If so, what will he say? Is he concerned about the possibility that the museums might have to lose valuable staff if a minimum wage were wrong-headedly set at too high a level? Is that one of the things that he will say?

No. I have met the Museums and Galleries Commission and the Museums Association and seen their submissions to the Low Pay Commission. They have discussed the issues and are much more positive about the proposals than the right hon. Gentleman appears to be.

Does my hon. Friend recognise that tourism has a track record of low pay, which results in high staff turnover and low investment in training? Does he further recall the report that was commissioned and published by the previous Administration showing that 45 per cent. of full-time tourism staff—

Order. I regret to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but his remarks relate to the earlier question. We have moved on and are now dealing with the nation's museums. The hon. Gentleman's question must relate to the substantive question on the Order Paper.

Order. Had the hon. Gentleman mentioned museums in the earlier part of his question, it would have been acceptable. Presumably, he is talking about the staff in museums.

Thank you, Madam Speaker. I omitted to mention that in the earlier part of my question.

Does my hon. Friend recall the survey commissioned by the previous Administration covering tourism staff, including museum staff, which showed that 45 per cent. of full-time staff in the sector had received no training since they left education, and that 74 per cent. of part-timers were in the same position? Does he agree, therefore, that the national minimum wage offers the museum sector of the tourism industry the chance finally to break the vicious cycle of recruitment problems, skill shortages, low pay and poor image?

I think my hon. Friend makes his point extremely well and I agree with him.

I am sorry the Minister's answers are not to be followed by a countermanding from the Secretary of State, who seems to be in the habit of saying that the Minister has it wrong whenever the hon. Gentleman opens his mouth in public.

I hope that the Minister will reconsider the effect of a national minimum wage on the enthusiasts who are the lifeblood of many small local museums, many of whom work for less than £2 an hour, which is really pocket money. Is he saying that in future, under a caring Labour Government, such people must work for nothing—if they work at all?

No. The right hon. Gentleman probably refers to the Association of Independent Museums. I have received representations from Mr. Jonathan Bryant and others in that association. It is quite right that they should make those representations—and they have done so—to the Low Pay Commission. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the Low Pay Commission is required to take into account the social as well as the economic impact of the report.