Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 3rd May 1966.

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Photo of Mr Richard Winterbottom Mr Richard Winterbottom , Sheffield, Brightside 12:00 am, 3rd May 1966

No. I am saying that if the varying prices of commodities are examined from source to final point of sale, it will be found that there are many examples of expense which can be eliminated. For instance, in the distribution of meat there are five distinct types of person who receive a subsidy for every pound of meat which comes under the auctioneer's hammer, and some of those people never handle or see the meat for the commission which they receive, and yet that commission is reflected in the price of meat on the butcher's block.

If those costs were eliminated, the saving would more than compensate for the new tax. The Selective Employment Tax will cause a great deal of heartburning and searching in the distributive trades, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend on introducing it at this stage in the difficult economic conditions through which we are passing, for I believe that ultimately it will not only stabilise, but lower price levels.

Just as I want price levels to be examined, so I believe that we have to do something about wages, a subject mentioned by many hon. Members today. When we discuss the new tax, we discuss those in the service industries who today take more out of the economy than those who produce the wealth on which the country depends. One of the problems of the Prices and Incomes Board is the fact that there are so many people who, despite what some people say, receive what can be described only as starvation wages.

There are some 90 wages councils in the country, 75 per cent. of them producing wages of less than £10 a week for men on a 47-hour week. About 60 per cent. of them provide wages of less than £6 a week for women. What is the value to society of those who are getting £6 a week, or less than £10 a week, as against the value of the accountant, the lawyer or the doctor? Just as we have an examination of prices, so we should have something in the nature of job evaluation in order to find some relativity between various jobs, and perhaps so as to fix a minimum rate below which no one could fall.

These are important issues and they cannot be approached as the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby approached them. The hon. Gentleman praised Gladstone. To me, the heritage of Gladstone is that I went to work as a cotton worker at 12 for 2s. 6d. a week. To me, Gladstone means the cotton mills of Lancashire and the dirty, mean, terraced houses without baths and without hot water and with nowhere for children to play. "Thank heavens", it was said, "they did not need to play, because they could be sent to work". That was Gladstone.

I hope that this is a 20th century Government. I hope that it has a 21st century outlook, not the outlook of Gladstone, but the outlook which sees in this problem of Britain a problem which is a whole, which takes industry and commerce and the problems of education and wages and exports as a whole and relates one to the other and out of that relativity finds justice for all. I do not object to the new tax. It has made me think much more clearly today than I have done for many a long day in the past.