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 11:15 pm on 9th March 1998.

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Photo of Ian McCartney Ian McCartney Minister of State (Competitiveness), Department of Trade and Industry 11:15 pm, 9th March 1998

I shall come to what powers should be on the face of the Bill in a moment, but may I ask Opposition Members one question that they have never answered? In envisaging a crisis that was so real and of such consequence that it was necessary to cut the minimum wage, why have they remained silent about everyone who is paid more than the minimum wage? If, in the event of a national crisis, the very poorest—because no one will be paid less than the minimum wage—are to bear the entire brunt of that crisis, which is surely the intellectual argument that Opposition Members are making, what will happen to those who are better off or well off? Are people with huge resources to be excluded from the consequences of any financial or economic crisis that may arise while the lowest-paid workers in Britain bear the full weight of that crisis? It is economic illiteracy.

The Opposition are using the new clause for one simple purpose: to make a further attack on the principle and concept of establishing a national minimum wage and dealing with the inheritance that they left the United Kingdom. There are large areas of low pay in Cumbria, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales—in the north, south, east and west. Huge numbers of families who work full time are paid so little at the end of the week that they have to rely on state benefits. That is the legacy of the Conservative Government. We are addressing the real national emergency—their legacy of poverty pay, not their spurious arguments that we have heard so far in support of the new clause.