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Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, does not the Minister agree that the sooner we can put these provisions into operation the better? It would give hundreds of thousands of women who are extremely poorly paid and on shamefully low wages a decent standard of living for once in their lives.
Lord Ezra: My Lords, in his original Answer the noble Lord referred to skills training being required. Does he agree that at this stage in the economic recovery we are extremely short of skills, particularly in the area of high technology? Many firms are now having to recruit abroad. What urgent measures are the Government taking to overcome that problem?
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, the House will be familiar with the fact that this Government are committed to that specific policy. I agree with the noble Lord, and he has heard this House agree with him on that issue on many occasions in the past. Now that we are in government we intend to give this matter the highest priority.
Lord Clark of Kempston: My Lords, does the Minister agree that his Government are extremely fortunate in inheriting a first-class, healthy economy? Not only is it the envy of Europe; it is the envy of all our competitors. Does he further agree that that is in sharp contrast to the shambles in the economy that the Conservative Government took over in 1979?
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, the Government take the view that the current level of unemployment is unacceptably high. It is 50 per cent. above the level in May 1979--a fact which the party opposite significantly ignores. In making comparisons, why does not the noble Lord refer also to the United States, Japan and other countries where minimum wage legislation is in place? That is another fact which he chooses significantly to ignore. However, I must remember that I am not supposed to be asking questions at this time.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the recommendation of the expert committee of the Council of Ministers puts the minimum wage at just over £5 an hour? Can he give an assurance that whatever recommendation his Government may accept it will be nothing of the order of that?
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, surely it is appropriate to await the Low Pay Commission: the work that it undertakes, the assessment that it makes, the analysis that it undertakes and the conclusions that it reaches. I am certainly not prepared at this stage to pre-empt that decision.
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, the fact that unemployment is higher in some countries is due not simply to a minimum wage but to a whole range of different factors. I have also adverted to the experience of two countries which the noble Lord seeks to dismiss from his calculations. I refer in particular to the United States, which has a rather healthy economy.
Lord Stallard: My Lords, my noble friend referred to the other factors involved. Is he in a position to give us an estimate of what effect the job seeker's allowance has had on the current reduction in unemployment?
Earl Russell: My Lords, may I take it that the Minister agrees with the view I have often heard expressed by his colleague, the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham, that jobs paying below a likely minimum wage owe their existence to government subsidy in the form of in-work benefits? While I would not expect him to hold the view held by the ideological
Lord Acton: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the United States of America adopted a minimum wage in 1938 and that unemployment there dropped annually for the next six years? Is he further aware that the most recent increase in that minimum wage was from four dollars and 25 cents to four dollars and 75 cents in October of last year and that unemployment has come down since then? Bearing those facts in mind, does he agree that a minimum wage does not necessarily lead to an increase in unemployment?
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, who has quite correctly drawn the inference that he has. It seems extraordinary that the party opposite--I do not know what the Leader of the Opposition is iterating from that sedentary position, but I do not even care--does not seem to have become aware of the fact that it lost an election in which we placed this issue fairly and squarely before the electorate and received its commendation.
The Minister of State, Department of Health (Baroness Jay of Paddington): My Lords, the Government consider pregnancies among under-16s to be a matter of great concern. Noble Lords will know that progress on The Health of the Nation targets has so far been disappointing. We are currently reviewing those targets as part of the development of a public health strategy which will emphasise the role of social and economic factors in problems like pregnancy in young girls. We also want to ensure that all young people have access to effective and appropriate health and social education.
Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for that encouraging reply. Do the Government accept that an important contribution towards solving this problem could be made through education for parenthood in schools both for girls and
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am aware of that publication not least because the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, was kind enough to send me an early copy of it. It is an enormously helpful piece of work and demonstrates the considerable benefits to pupils, teachers, parents and, potentially, society in general of good parenting education in secondary schools. The noble Lord may be aware that my honourable friend Ms Estelle Morris, one of the Ministers for Education, launched the report yesterday. We believe that schools have a part to play in teaching pupils about the responsibilities of parenthood. The Government are considering how best this can be done, including the recommendations of this very important report.
Baroness David: My Lords, does the Minister agree that school nurses also provide helpful advice and education? Is she aware that there have been cuts in that service in a great number of local authorities? Is she prepared to try to reverse that situation?
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am aware of the role school nurses have played in this important work. I am also aware of the way in which the service has been cut back in certain places. My noble friend will know that we are considering the whole issue of children's health and particularly the role of schools in the health of children. We shall want to look carefully at the role school nurses can and should play in that.
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, do the Government agree that it is important to help teachers to work in this area. It is a difficult and delicate task to perform. Are the Government contemplating extending the mainstream training of teachers so that this important area of helping young people understand the problems of young single parenthood can be developed?
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, the noble Baroness raises an important point. The whole issue of sex and health education in its wider context is not that it should simply be about practical advice; for example, on contraception. It is, as she said, a delicate and difficult issue. It is difficult for teachers and indeed for some parents to deal with. It is appropriate that teachers should be properly supported both in their training and in their in-service work in this way. I am sure that my honourable friend the Minister for public health, who is considering this matter as part of a public health strategy, will be conscious of those concerns.
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