§ 20. Mrs. Wise
asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will direct the Wages Inspectorate to alter present policy of not prosecuting employers who break the law by paying workers less than the statutory minimum wage fixed by wages councils, in the light of the widespread flouting of the law which has been revealed by the Inspectorate and the need to protect workers against this offence.
§ Mr. John Grant
Seven prosecutions have taken place this year and others are in the course of preparation. I believe that the present policy of not prosecuting first offenders unless the offence is flagrant, but always considering prosecution in the case of other offenders, is right.
§ Mrs. Wise
Does my hon. Friend accept that the policy of not prosecuting first offenders who underpay their workers contrasts strangely with the very severe prosecution policy of the Secretary of State for Social Services in the case of people who overclaim social security? Does he also accept that it contrasts strangely with the very vigorous efforts made by the Government to prevent employers overpaying, as they think, on non-statutory wages policy? Why is this law not vigorously enforced?
§ Mr. Grant
I shall not go into comparisons. I believe that the policy we are pursuing in terms of the Wages Inspectorate is the correct one. On the final point my hon. Friend raised, there is a 10 per cent. guideline and there is no special provision within that guideline for the low paid. What we shall do in the future is another question. I have expresed my views fairly clearly. Perhaps my hon. Friend will share them in due course.
§ Mr. Grant
The right hon. Gentleman, as he does most of the time on these matters, has lost his way and does not understand the situation. We would like to know when he will clarify the catalogue of contradictions that forms the Opposition's policy and, in particular, when the Leader of the Opposition will clarify their policy.
§ Mr. Greville Janner
Does not my hon. Friend accept that there is genuine worry over the matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-West (Mrs. Wise) and also over the failure to prosecute those who do not employ their quota of disabled people? Will he also accept that prosecution on its own is useless, as has been shown under the provisions of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act, because the courts will not impose severe penalties on those who are convicted?
§ Mr. Grant
I agree with the last point that my hon. and learned Friend has made. It is up to the courts to take a tougher line in many of those cases. On the matter of the disabled quota, we have 264 introduced a positive policy which is based primarily on persuasion, not coercion. We must give that policy an opportunity to work through before we look at other methods.