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Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:52 pm on 19th March 2015.

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Photo of Vincent Cable Vincent Cable The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills 12:52 pm, 19th March 2015

As I said, the whole of society was hit by the economic crisis, but it is clear that the poorest in society have not been proportionately badly hit, and the people at the top have paid proportionately more. I remind the hon. Lady of what the IFS data said, which was that if we take into account inequality in all its aspects—that includes tax, tax credits and earnings—in income terms Britain is more equal, or as equal now as it was under a Labour Government. Labour Members may need to explain why the economy got into that position when they were in office, but that is what the independent sources tell us.

In addition to the tax allowance, the other key step has been protection of the minimum wage and the Low Pay Commission. I was alarmed by comments made yesterday by the Leader of the Opposition about the minimum wage. I am not one of the people who wants to trash everything that Mr Brown did when in office. There were some mistakes but also some good things, not least making the setting of interest rates independent through the central Bank—a very positive step. Supporting science was another positive step, as was the establishment of the Low Pay Commission as a mechanism for deciding what is in the national interest as far as the minimum wage is concerned, and how we balance the perfectly natural wish of working people to see their wages rise with the overall interests of the economy and employment.

What was alarming about the comments of the Leader of the Opposition yesterday was that he now wishes to turn that valuable inheritance into a political football. I think he originally said that he would determine politically that there should be an £8 minimum wage, regardless of the conditions of the economy. Yesterday it was “at least £8”, but why not £8.50, £9 or £10? We could all bid in a Dutch auction on the minimum wage, but it would be ruinous for the economy.