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As I managed to speak on the Second Reading, I had not thought to intervene at this stage, but I feel that I must support the case put by my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger). On Second Reading, I expressed my deep concern that we were intending to continue the wage-stop. I am sure that the Minister will remember what I said. I should have thought it possible between the Second Reading and this stage for the whole matter to be looked at again. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree that, since the Second Reading, there has been a good deal of comment in the Press and by people who have been associated with the Labour Party side of social security policy expressing concern that the wage-stop is to continue.
We speak here of the poverty which still continues in our country. We recognise that those who are at present on National Assistance and those who will be on the minimum benefits proposed under the Bill comprise a group who, as my hon. Friend said, are living well below even the poverty line as it is recognised at present. This is why, bearing in mind the economic circumstances of the country, I find it so difficult to understand why we cannot be somewhat more generous than we are to people in these circumstances.
There are some who argue that the solution lies in the level of wages, that people should receive a higher wage so that their earnings would not be so low as to make them subject to the wage-stop. It may be of interest to hon. Members to know that I have put down a Question to the Minister of Labour, which has not yet been reached, asking him what steps he will take to try to improve the level of wages received by people whose present earnings are so low that, when out of work, they are subject to the wage-stop.
I apologise for raising a point which I made on Second Reading, but I am particularly concerned about the children in families subject to the wage-stop. I think that it is true that most of those families have a large number of children. Most employees or ex-employees subject to the wage stop—perhaps it is natural with poverty-ridden families—have a large number of children, and it is particularly the children who will suffer great hardship. During Questions yesterday I asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what research was being carried out to ascertain the connection betwen pupils coming from households suffering a good deal of poverty and their progress in school, and I was informed that some research was being undertaken. There is no denying that the children in these families will be penalised if we continue this very obnoxious practice.
That is why the Child Poverty Action Group, which was recently formed under the chairmanship of Professor Peter Townsend, has made the question of the wage-stop a very important point in its campaign. Just before last Christmas the group sent a deputation to the Prime Minister, and one of the essential points made then was that when this Bill came before the House the wage-stop practice should be discontinued. If it is argued today that it is impossible to delete the provision dealing with the wage-stop, I support the suggestion just made that each case should be subject to review.
The New Society this week makes the point that if it is impossible for the wage-stop to be completely deleted, each case should be looked at on its own merits. Can we have a promise from the Minister that this will be done? We ought not just to say that the practice cannot be stopped and nothing more can be done about it, but each case should be looked at to ascertain whether any exceptional treatment can be given to enable the people to receive more money than they do now.
I said that it was not my intention to speak, but I felt it right and proper to support the remarks which had been made. I conclude with two points. First, we are right to raise this point because once the Bill becomes an Act it will be argued that the points were dealt with in the debates on the Bill, and so it will be difficult to raise the subject except at Question Time. This is all the more reason why we should have an adequate answer from the Minister today.
My second point may be considered unnecessary, but I am sure that I am entitled to make it. As long as there are people subjected to the wage-stop, our consciences as Members of Parliament cannot be very clear. I hope that I shall not be accused of preaching, but I believe that we have a duty and obligation to try to remove the worst forms of poverty from our fellow citizens, and one of the best ways to do this would be to remove the wage-stop.