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

The Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister made it perfectly clear in their speeches that there would be more reductions in certain areas of public spending. We are looking at a 0.3% further reduction, which can be found. The point that the Opposition do not understand is that if we grow an economy by building on solid foundations, we end up with a growth rate that far outstrips those of the EU or the USA. More importantly, this is in stark contrast to the economy of France, whose policies the Opposition were telling us only three years ago we should be adopting. Their plan B was to follow the French President’s economic proposals, yet that country’s economy is now collapsing round its ears and dragging a lot of the EU down with it. This is simple: we must grow the economy healthily, and the hard-working people of this country who help to grow the economy do not deserve to come home after a day’s work to discover that the Government are taking more of their money. We need to ensure that increases in the minimum wage do not simply involve people doing more work for the same money.

The living wage is an important development. I have gone on record in this Chamber as saying that I do not support a statutory living wage. If we try to chase a living wage simply by upping wages by statute, we will increase inflation, thereby putting the living wage out of reach. The figure for a living wage has gone up since we last had this debate, but the way to reach it is to grow the minimum wage by cutting taxes on business and growing the economy. We cannot do it by imposing stealth taxes on business. We should be saying to employers, “Don’t give the money to the Government so that we can do all the things we want to do. Instead, give it directly to the people who are creating the wealth.” That is a policy that we should be proud of, and that everyone on these Benches will get behind. We want the highest wage figures that we can get in this country, and we want to ensure that people are not being exploited. When new phenomena such as the exploitation of zero-hours contracts are created, it is important that we legislate on them in a way that still allows flexibility for people who are trying to put together a living.

I am worried that Opposition day debates are often simply about electioneering. That is the wrong thing to do in this Chamber. The Opposition have talked about taking things seriously and being the party that truly represents the lowest-paid workers in society, but I must remind the House that they opposed my ten-minute rule Bill to outlaw unpaid internships. The Division was called by Opposition Members. I am still a strong believer that nobody in this country should work for more than four weeks without pay. Work experience has its place, but employing people for months at a time with no pay, claiming that they are gaining experience as interns, is morally wrong. That is why I introduced my Bill.

In that context, we have to look at what we are really discussing. We need to ensure that the poorest in society—those who are working at the bottom and in the most economically sustainable way—see their wages increase without having to give the money back to the Government just so that they can be grateful when the Government then give it back to them. We need to ensure that a good day’s work is properly rewarded. As we grow the economy, we need to ensure that businesses give the money to the people doing the work and not to the Government. When we discuss the minimum wage, we must ensure that we have in place a strong economy and strong policies, and that we are willing to legislate against those who abuse workers in this country. We must ensure that we represent everybody; that is what a one-nation party is all about.