HC Deb 25 March 1999 vol 328 cc514-6
8. Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

If he will make a statement on the implementation of the national minimum wage. [77040]

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Stephen Byers)

I am delighted to say that in just seven days' time we shall bring an end to poverty pay through the introduction of the national minimum wage.

Mr. Winnick

May we first send our best wishes to the Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry, my right hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney), who we hope will soon be back with us? Would it not be right for all those who oppose the national minimum wage to try to live on less than £3.60 an hour? Will my right hon. Friend give a solemn and binding promise that under no circumstances will he try to change the Conservatives' views on the national minimum wage? We want to hang their opposition to it round their necks at the next election.

Mr. Byers

I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State will be delighted to hear wishes from everyone in the House for a speedy recovery. I have spoken to him several times, and he sounds as chipper as usual. I think that he will try to be back with us next week, to celebrate the introduction of the national minimum wage, which is wholly appropriate.

It was with some delight that I saw the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) on a television programme a few Sundays ago, wriggling about the Tories' position on the national minimum wage. After years of opposition to it, even they have realised that it is both popular and economically sound, especially at the level recommended by the Low Pay Commission. We calculate that more than 2 million people will benefit by its introduction next week. It will be interesting to see how the Conservatives respond to the popular support that it will attract.

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley (South-West Surrey)

What does the Secretary of State advise me to say when I visit a pre-school in my constituency tomorrow to discuss concerns about its viability? There have already been local authority settlements that raid the shire counties and send the money to the north, and we now face further regulations, and in particular the minimum wage, putting in doubt the pre-school's long-term viability.

Mr. Byers

I suggest that the right hon. Lady draw attention to the more than £500 million that the Government are putting into pre-school provision, in dramatic contrast to the cuts that were implemented when she was a member of the Cabinet.

Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry)

May I first send the good wishes of Conservative Members to the Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney), in his indisposition?

We have all noted the recent not inexpensive advertising campaign for the national minimum wage, which is a characteristic mixture of helpful information and unhelpful spin. Will the Secretary of State explain why that campaign, intended to inform the public, omitted to make any mention of the implications of the minimum wage for jobs? Will he comment on the analysis of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development that high unemployment in the euro zone is closely related to over-regulation in the labour market and the presence of minimum wages?

Has the Secretary of State had a chance to study the recent report by Peninsula Business Services of Manchester, in whose poll of 2,200 small business, 65 per cent. of respondents expected that the introduction of the minimum wage would lead to job cuts or a reduction in recruitment; 67 per cent. expected a negative financial impact; and 69 per cent. expected problems of implementation, which the report summarised as a complex and tightly timed line of red tape for them to grasp over the past six months"? The report concluded: and there is more to come.

Mr. Byers

That was clearly the Conservative party's case against the national minimum wage. It will be interesting to see how, given those severe reservations, the party will manage to turn round and endorse the minimum wage, which I predict fairly confidently that it will do before the general election. The Low Pay Commission was specifically charged with consulting small businesses about the level at which the minimum wage was to be introduced, and £3.60 is a responsible and reasonable figure. It will take millions of people out of poverty pay and stop them being exploited. That is what we are doing as a Government: operating for the many, and not the few whom the hon. Gentleman still seems to stick up for.