Power of Secretary of State to Suspend the National Minimum Wage in the Case of National or Local Economic Emergencies

Part of Orders of the Day — National Minimum Wage Bill – in the House of Commons at 10:45 pm on 9th March 1998.

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Photo of Mr Tim Collins Mr Tim Collins Conservative, Westmorland and Lonsdale 10:45 pm, 9th March 1998

My right hon. Friend is right, and his intervention is helpful. He mentions exactly the sort of factor that sensible legislation should take into account. The new clause would enable the easement of economic difficulties that could be ridden out by a large multinational. ICI is likely to survive anything. It has survived 70 or 80 years of depressions and recessions, and even successive Labour Governments, which testifies to the longevity of any company.

The small firms that provide only one, two or three jobs are likely to be the engines for future jobs. They are currently being assailed by advertisements to join the Government's new deal to help the young unemployed, and they are the firms most likely to find themselves in the economic firing line. Without the protection of new clause 8, they will not be able to deal with some of the problems that arise.

I think of the difficulties that might prevail in my county of Cumbria if there were an incident at the nuclear installation at Sellafield. That could cause severe economic problems throughout the north-west and north of England. There would undoubtedly be an emergency, and it would be imperative to maintain the economic fabric by keeping some jobs and enterprises going.

Imagine, for example, what might happen in our part of the world if, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border said, there were a recurrence of the oil crisis. In current circumstances, that is a distinct possibility. It is barely two or three weeks since the House was seriously conducting a debate on the general expectation—I think that it was shared by hon. Members on both sides of the House—that, by the time we reached this point in March, British, American and other forces would be engaged in combat in the middle east and in Iraq.

My right hon. Friend reminded us of the economic consequences of the Gulf war in 1990. We remember the oil crisis in 1973–74 and the immense effect that the sudden, overnight and unexpected acceleration of the oil price had throughout the economy.