asked the Secretary of State for Employment how many workers are affected by wage settlements agreed within the 5 per cent. guidelines; and what proportion of these will still be earning less than £60 per week after the settlements take effect.
Up to mid-February, about 850,000 employees covered by major settlements notified to my Department have had pay increases within the Government's guidelines—some having benefited from the provisions which allow increases of over 5 per cent. in certain circumstances, such as low pay or self-financing productivity schemes. Information with which to answer the second half of he question is not available.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that, despite the £3·50 limit, the low-paid are still faring quite badly under this phase of pay policy, as indeed they have done under every phase of pay policy, with the possible exception of the £6 provision, and as they did under the free-for-all? Will the Government make the elimination of low pay one of their top priorities, through the introduction of either a statutory minimum wage or agreed targets with the TUC, to eliminate this scandal?
As my hon. Friend will appreciate, one of the major problems of operating pay policy in this round has been that it was not based on an agreement with the TUC. I hope that in discussions with the TUC we shall be able to define a low-pay priority much more clearly. Within the present round there is an initial provision for low pay, namely, exempting certain wage increases from the 5 per cent. limitation. To that has been added the £3·50 underpin. Those advantages might be wiped out if higher paid groups go for much bigger settlements.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the goal of the elimination of low pay is wholly unrealistic and that the best way in which the Government can help the low-paid is by getting a firmer control of inflation than they have at present?
I hope the hon. Gentleman will bear that in mind if we come to another vote which has as much effect upon inflation and pay settlements as the sanctions vote had. I believe that policies can be pursued that are of considerable advantage to the low-paid. Indeed, the £30 low pay target, which the Government agreed with the TUC in 1974–75, was such a policy.
I do not understand what is meant by "higher grades of low-paid" against the definition of £44·50. My understanding of the £44·50 is that it applies to all those working a normal working week.