HC Deb 25 February 1999 vol 326 cc533-4
6. Mr. John Healey (Wentworth)

What assessment he has made of the likely impact of the national minimum wage on wage levels from 1 April. [71600]

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Mr. Ian McCartney)

The introduction of the national minimum wage on 1 April will increase the wage levels of some 2 million low-paid workers throughout the United Kingdom.

Mr. Healey

My hon. Friend referred to 2 million people across the United Kingdom, but is he aware that 77,700 people in South Yorkshire currently earn less than £3.60 an hour? What would he say about the potential benefits of the national minimum wage to the thousands of people in South Yorkshire who, for too long, have been working at the rough end of the labour market?

Mr. McCartney

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I pay tribute to him for his activities inside and outside the House in defending and promoting the business case as well as the social justice case for the national minimum wage. On 1 April, many workers in his constituency and in the surrounding areas will receive pay rises of about 50 per cent., and following the introduction of the working families tax credit in October, those with families could receive in their pay packets the equivalent of a pay rate of £7 an hour. The Government, along with industry, are committed to eradicating low pay and to giving people decent pay and dignity in the workplace.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

Will the Minister tell the House what plans the Government have to increase the minimum wage? Companies will have to budget for a minimum wage of £3.60 an hour from 1 April. Should they expect a rise in the minimum wage every year in line with inflation, or is it still the Labour party's intention to increase it to a much higher level in the next few years?

Mr. McCartney

The real issue, which the hon. Gentleman would of course dodge, is whether the Tories will fight the next election on a pledge to cut the minimum wage. The Government will implement the minimum wage on 1 April at the levels set out. I pay tribute to British business, because companies are, of their own volition, implementing the minimum wage in advance, so more than 200,000 workers are already receiving it. Those companies do not want to follow the Tory policy of low pay, no pay. The Government are implementing the minimum wage with the full support of British industry.

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