HC Deb 11 March 1998 vol 308 c552
Q11. Mr. Crausby

Does my right hon. Friend welcome the fact that Britain will soon have, for the first time in our history, a national minimum wage that will protect our people from the low wages that create poverty? Does he relish the prospect of fighting the next general election against an out-of-touch Conservative party that will no doubt campaign on the slogan, "Vote Tory and return to poverty pay"?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. We do not yet know from Conservative Front Benchers whether they will abolish the minimum wage. [HON. MEMBERS: "How much is it?"] Oh, I see—it all depends on the amount; otherwise they will keep it, will they? That is very interesting; we were very near to getting the first policy commitment from the Conservative party.

The Conservative party opposes the minimum wage. The Conservatives would not want anyone connected with them to be working for these poverty rates of pay, but they are opposed to essential fairness at the workplace. We need a minimum wage to save the £3.5 billion benefits bill that subsidises low pay and because a proper minimum wage is an essential basis of a decent, civilised society—but then those are values the Conservatives would not understand.

Mr. Martin Bell

Will the Prime Minister consider the advantages of a Whips' ceasefire on these occasions so that Members might ask the questions they wish to ask rather than those they have been encouraged or instructed by others to ask? Would this not be to everyone's benefit, including his own?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman has just asked me a question—I am not quite sure how he wants me to reply, other than to say that people are free to ask whatever questions they want. As everybody knows, nobody could be a more democratic, open and understanding leader than me. Perish the day that anyone is encouraged to ask any question at all. However, if he listens to the questions asked by Conservative and Labour Members, he will see that the questions about schools, health, pay, living standards and crime are asked by my hon. Friends, and not by Conservative Members.