Philip Davies : I went to visit a charity called Mind in Bradford a few years ago. One of the great scandals that the Labour party would like to sweep under the carpet is that in this country only about 16%—I stand to be corrected on the figure—of people with learning difficulties and learning disabilities have a job. The others are unemployed, but why is that? I spoke to people at Mind who were using the service offered by that charity, and they were completely up front with me about things. They described what would happen when someone with mental health problems went for a job and other people without these problems had also applied. They asked me, “Who would you take on?” They accepted that it was inevitable that the employer would take on the person who had no mental health problems, as all would have to be paid the same rate. Given that some of those people with a learning disability cannot, by definition, be as productive in their work as someone who does not have a disability of that nature, and given that the employer would have to pay the two people the same, it was inevitable that the employer would take on the person who was going to be more productive and less of a risk. The situation was doing the people with learning difficulties a huge disservice.
As I said at the start of my remarks, the national minimum wage has been of great benefit to lots of low-paid people. However, if the Labour party is not even prepared to accept that the minimum wage is making it harder for some of those vulnerable people to get on the first rung of the jobs ladder, we will never get anywhere in trying to help these people into employment.
Philip Davies: I made my position clear in my earlier remarks but, given how uninteresting I am, I forgive the hon. Gentleman for perhaps nodding off during that section. I did make it clear at the outset that I did not agree with the national minimum wage in principle. I said I thought that what somebody was prepared to work for and what somebody was prepared to pay was a private matter between two people and it should not be interfered with by the Government. The big difference between him and me is that I would much prefer the person with the learning disability to be given the opportunity to get a job, do something worth while and contribute in a way that they want to, whereas he would prefer them to be sat at home, unable to get a job in the first place. He may think that he is taking the moral high ground by believing that it is far better for these people to be sat at home unemployed without any opportunity, but I do not
Philip Davies: I will tell the hon. Gentleman what is an outrage. It is an outage that in 1997, 47,000 people had been on incapacity benefit for five years or more, but by the time his party had ruined the country that figure had risen to 1.5 million. That is an outrage that he should be reflecting upon. He should think about the fact that so many people were either priced out of the jobs market or were just out of that market as a result of his Government’s policies. That happened either because of the national minimum wage or because the benefits system penalised people for going out to work. That is the real outrage, rather than what he is pointing out.
Philip Davies: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Of course, it is very easy for everyone to try to sweep such matters under the carpet, but we would be doing this place a great disservice if we did. I am appalled that Labour Members, who supposedly—as they claim—represent the most vulnerable in society, are perfectly happy for those people never to be given the opportunity to get a job as a consequence of Labour’s policies either on this matter or on benefits.
Mr Leigh: My hon. Friend is making an important contribution and it is important that we have thi
Philip Davies: The point is that if an employer is considering two candidates, one who has disabilities and one who does not, and if they have to pay them both the same rate, which is the employer more likely to take on? Whether that is right or wrong and whether my hon. Friend would or would not do that, that is to me the real world in which we operate. The people who are penalised are those with disabilities who are desperate to make a contribution to society and who want to get on the employment ladder, but find time and again that the door is closed in their face. If they could prove themselves earlier and reassure the employer who took them on that they would not cause a problem in the way the employer might fear—I am sure that there are a lot of myths out there and that many of these people would be just as productive as those without a disability—they might well move up the pay rates much more quickly. At the moment, they are not getting any opportunities at all.
We all know that some employers break the law and pay below the national minimum wage, but it strikes me that the only way employers are likely to get away with that is if they employ illegal immigrants. If an employer is employing a British citizen or someone who is here legally and tries paying them below the minimum wage, legal action can be taken against them, they will face a huge fine and the employee can do something about it. If that employer is employing an illegal immigrant, the power rests with the employer, because they will judge that the illegal immigrant will not take up the case officially. If they do, their illegal status in this country will be exposed and they will be turfed out of the country.
One consequence of the national minimum wage is that it encourages illegal immigration into this country. Illegal immigrants know that they can get employment below the national minimum wage and are happy to do so because it is probably higher than the wage they would earn back in their country. They also know that they will have no problem getting a job because some employers will be crying out for someone whom they can pay less than the national minimum wage. I am not sure whether any research has been done on this, but I would be interested to know how much illegal immigration into this country has come about as a result of the introduction of a national minimum wage.
Whatever the effects on employment of a minimum wage are in general, its effects in a recession must be worse. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch may well have made this point before I entered the Chamber, as I was a few minutes late, but people will recall that at the start of the credit crunch, or recession, a couple of companies—my hon. Friend, who is more knowledgeable on this than I am, will correct me if I am wrong, but I am sure that those companies were JCB and Corus—told the people working there that the wage bill needed to be reduced by 20%, so either 20% of the staff could be made redundant or everyone could take a 20% pay cut. One way or another that wage bill had to be reduced. If I remember rightly, the workers in those places—JCB sticks in my mind in particular—got together and voted to take a 20% pay cut. They made that choice themselves. Rather than being made redundant, they chose to take a pay cut.
Philip Davies: My hon. Friend is right and reinforces my point. Those people decided they would prefer a 20% cut to risking a 20% chance of being made redundant.