First, as this is the last day of term—or at least it has the feel of the last day of term—may I thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and all the team in the Speaker’s Office for their warm welcome to all us new Members? That has made a huge difference to the beginning of what I hope is a long parliamentary career.
When I saw that today’s business would be a Second Reading debate on the Finance Bill with such exciting Ministers giving their remarks I thought it might be a bit dry, but in fact it has been stimulating and interesting, in particular the discussion of wages. I am glad we have got on to the question of low pay; that came up in the election and I am very pleased that the Treasury team has given it some thought. However, as somebody who worked hard on the living wage at local government level, I am a little concerned that it took a long time to introduce it in a meaningful way; the current living wage is £9.15 in London and introducing that in inner London takes an enormous amount of work for a large organisation such as a local authority or a business.
I am also a little worried about there being a cliff-edge in respect of the removal of working tax credits from those on low pay. We need a sliding scale to cover the fact that we have such a flexible workforce, which many say is a good thing. The trouble with that is that people can be in and out of work, on varying rates of pay in different sorts of employment, and have numerous different employment situations. Working tax credits tend, therefore, to be a safety net for people on low incomes, so, although this debate about low pay is to be welcomed, I am concerned that we will end up with less security for low-paid people. It may even create a perverse incentive: people may not want to take risks in the workplace and may even turn back to benefits. They may be worried that over the long term they will not be able to sustain themselves on what the Government call a living wage but which, in fact, is just an increase in the minimum wage.