It was extremely interesting to hear the contributions of the hon. Members for Hexham (Guy Opperman) and for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy). All that I can say is that there is room for them on the Labour Benches should they wish to come across. We even have our own private section should they wish to make progress.
Tomorrow, the House will pay tribute to Aung San Suu Kyi, and no doubt Ministers and Government Members will be pushing forward to get their pictures taken with her for their press releases. They should remember what she has stood for—fairness for workers, regardless of their social background or where they come from. When Members are speaking to her tomorrow, perhaps they will remember that.
Any sensible, decent Government have a responsibility to promote fair employment, and that cannot be done by paying nurses, teachers, jobcentre staff and so on less to work in poorer parts of the country. Indeed, regional or local pay could mean two workers with the same skills and experience being paid differently in two different places even though they were doing the same job. It could worsen inequalities between regions by making it difficult to attract and retain skilled public sector workers in low-pay regions.
Local or regional pay could also work against equal pay. The gender pay gap is smaller in the public sector than in the private sector, and great progress has been made towards promoting equal pay through measures such as “Agenda for Change”.
Perhaps the Economic Secretary could answer a practical question. If an employee of the Ministry of Defence worked as a civil servant or engineer at Faslane and then was transferred to Portsmouth, would their pay vary accordingly either up or down? Who would pick up the administration costs if that were to happen?
The other major concern that people have is about the minimum wage. The Minister for the Cabinet Office has sought to reassure the House that regional pay will not have an impact on the minimum wage, but we have to remember that there are still Government Members arguing that there should be exemptions from the minimum wage. I am sure that there are a number of unscrupulous employers who will see regional pay as an opportunity to undercut people’s wages and exempt them from the minimum wage legislation.
The case for regional pay is not even backed up by evidence. I have spoken to a number of local employers in my patch, and, in the nearly 10 years I have been here, I have never had one employer come forward to say that the reason they have difficulties employing people is the lack of regional pay. That is a non-starter, so regional pay is not evidence-based at all. Perhaps the Economic Secretary will explain exactly where the evidence has come from.
I know that time is short and other Members want to speak, but I want to say in the nicest possible way to my colleague from the Scottish National party, Dr Whiteford, that nice person though she is, if the SNP’s ambition and aspiration is to pay a higher minimum wage in Scotland, it has had the opportunity to do so during the time it has been in government. Unfortunately, it has chosen not to do that. It therefore remains an aspiration, because the SNP has not implemented it. The few local authorities that have implemented it have had their budgets cut, which shows exactly what it is all about for the SNP. It does not care for the workers, it does not work for the workers and it very seldom turns up for the workers.