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Tourism (Minimum Wage)

Volume 300: debated on Monday 10 November 1997

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2.

What representations he has received on the impact of the introduction of a minimum wage in the tourist industry. [13427]

I have received representations from a number of leading figures in the tourism and hospitality industry, and have taken careful note of the views expressed.

Has the Minister seen the evidence presented to the Low Pay Commission by the British Hospitality Association, which represents 25,000 establishments in the hotel and catering industry, some 78 per cent. of which think that the introduction of a national minimum wage without regional variations will have a particularly serious effect on jobs and businesses in rural and coastal areas? Does the Minister agree with the association's view that the least that should be done to help those businesses is for benefits in kind to be taken into account in assessing compliance with the minimum wage?

The hon. Gentleman should give the Government credit for honouring their election pledges: first, to commit 'themselves to a minimum wage; secondly, to set up the Low Pay Commission; and, thirdly, to ensure that the commission recognised the issues faced by the tourism industry. The hon. Gentleman referred specifically to the British Hospitality Association. I remind him of the views of the president of that association, Garry Hawkes. Referring to a survey showing that 84 per cent. of hospitality staff and 65 per cent. of their employers supported a statutory minimum wage, he said:

"this research shows there is a broad acceptance of the minimum wage issue now. This industry is not against it, but employers want it to be set at a realistic level".
That is entirely the Government's intention.

Does the Minister recall the words of Sir Winston Churchill? He said that a minimum wage was needed because, otherwise, the good employer would be driven out of business by the bad, and the bad employer would be driven out of business by the worst. I have consulted tourism employers in my constituency who say that they have no problem with the principle of a minimum wage, although they believe that the level at which that wage is set is important. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that a wide range of voices in the tourism industry will be consulted before a final decision is made?

That process is already going on. I agree with my hon. Friend, who rightly referred to Winston Churchill. One of the problems about the Conservative party is that it not only does not know where it is going—it does not know where it is coming from. The minimum wage has been supported by Winston Churchill, by Harold Macmillan, by the Father of the House, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath), and, much more important, by people such as John Scott, the managing director of the Frere Jacques restaurant in Kingston, Surrey, who said:

"this is not about altruism. It makes sound business sense to pay high wages because I get good-quality, highly motivated people."
That is the Government's intention as well.

What does the right hon. Gentleman think will be the impact of the European Commission's social chapter proposal, which we cannot now veto, to impose works councils on small and medium-sized businesses? Does he not recognise that that, coupled with the introduction of the minimum wage, will destroy the viability of our tourism industry, destroy jobs now and destroy the ability of this important industry to create jobs in future?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new post and look forward to further exchanges. I hope that, on future occasions, he will get his facts right. He does not speak for the industry when he deplores the social chapter, and he does not speak for the British people either. The Labour party's policies were endorsed by the British people and we intend to implement them. We do so in the knowledge that we are attempting to ensure proper job motivation, proper careers, especially for young people, and the removal of sweatshop conditions that the industry itself deplores. I recommend the hon. Gentleman to make some of the visits that I have made over the past six months in every part of the country. He will hear from people such as Jerry Walden, who wrote just a few weeks ago from the New Commercial inn in Axminster, Devon. He said—his views are important—

"the long-term future of our industry is dependent on a better paid, better cared for, better trained and more professional workforce".
That is what we intend to introduce.

Having heard numerous representations from the Opposition on the minimum wage, has my right hon. Friend formed the impression, as I have, that it is a matter of supreme indifference to them whether people are earning £1.50 an hour, £1 an hour or even less? Although we regret the fact that the Opposition are taking such a time to learn basic, decent standards of industrial relations, does my right hon. Friend share my pleasure that, even six months after the election, they still have not begun to learn some of the reasons why they were beaten?

My hon. Friend is entirely right. The tourism, hospitality and leisure industry employs 1.7 million people. It has a great future, but not one based on exploitation, poor wages or lack of training. That is one of the many reasons why the Conservatives are in opposition and we are in government.