National Minimum Wage

Part of Opposition Day — [6th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 1:54 pm on 15th October 2014.

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Photo of Alec Shelbrooke Alec Shelbrooke Conservative, Elmet and Rothwell 1:54 pm, 15th October 2014

I do not disagree with a single word of what the hon. Lady has just said. It is absolutely true, and that is why it falls to this place to start looking at the way in which employers have been abusing a flexibility which does work for certain people.

When I was between contracts and doing manual labour, did I want to be wondering whether I would have a kitchen or bathroom to fit in the following week, or did I want a constant supply of work? The fact is that I could not demand that the work would be there. I could not say, “Sorry, Mr Shelbrooke, you will be on a permanent contract whether the work is there or not.” There must be flexibility, but what we must legislate for is stopping the abuse. That is what my party is trying to do now, and my hon. Friend the Minister is working to address these very issues in his Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill.

Let me now deal with the minimum wage, which, after all, is what the debate is mostly about. I want to go further than our £12,500 tax threshold. My hon. Friend said that people in full-time work who are paid the minimum wage would not pay tax, but I want to maximise the benefit. If anything, I am a politician of aspiration. I want to make sure that someone who wants to work 42 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, will not have to pay any tax. That gives us a figure of £14,196 at today’s minimum wage rate, and that is my ambition. It is not a new policy. We have seen members of a newly formed political party leap up and say that they want the threshold to be raised to that level. Let me remind them that, back in the 1980s, Nigel Lawson said that no one should be taxed until their income had reached the rate at which it was not necessary to give the money back to them. That is the really important point when we are talking about how we can empower people. We must ensure that they have not only the motivation to go to work but the ability to keep the money they earn. If we have a minimum wage, surely we have to have minimum taxation. That taxation should not start until people start to earn more than the minimum wage full time. That is my ambition for this Government. Yes, I am delighted with our policy regarding £12,500 but I personally would like to go further.

The Opposition Front-Bench spokesman, Mr Umunna, said that there was not enough certainty in our policies. He made a good, considered opening speech but when he was pushed on the detail of where the 10% tax threshold would come in, he had no answer. That worries me. I worry that the policy of increasing the threshold from £10,500 to £12,500 would involve people paying 10% tax. We do not know whether that is the case; the policy is not there. I accept his argument that he cannot answer the question today, but this worries me none the less. I am worried about what these policies on wages for the lowest-paid workers actually mean. I worry that these policies could be inflationary if they are not carefully considered.