National Minimum Wage Bill — 16 Dec 1997

Order for Second Reading read.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I am proud to be able to stand before the House today moving the Second Reading of the National Minimum Wage Bill. The Bill will introduce, for the first time in the United Kingdom, minimum wage protection for all workers and will begin to end the scandal of poverty pay.

This is one of the many areas of politics in which for the Opposition the debate has stood still. They continue--most of them at least--to attack even the principle, let alone the detail, of a national minimum wage as if they and not we had won both the argument and the election. Indeed, this is a good example of the stark differences between us; differences which shape a wholly different approach to Britain's competitiveness.

Increasingly in recent years, the Conservative party has argued that Britain can only and should only seek to compete by aiming to be the cheapest at all costs; aiming to be the bottom of the heap; aiming for the lowest wages and the worst working conditions to be found among our competitors. It was truly a counsel of despair.

The previous Government inherited a country long regarded, certainly since the earliest days of the industrial revolution, as the workshop of the world. Yet the underlying thrust of the policy of the previous Government was to try to turn Britain into the sweatshop, certainly of Europe if not of the world. Fortunately, undercutting the wages and working conditions of countries such as China, for example, was beyond even the previous Government, although heaven knows they tried. In the process they added to changes coming from elsewhere--to a ridiculous extent--and created endemic and high levels of insecurity across every group and profession in the country. Thanks to them, it is well understood that in today's world there is no longer any such thing as a safe job or even a secure profession. Those who thought themselves well-established in their comfortable middle years saw their personal and financial security stripped away and a Government utterly indifferent to their impact on the lives of individuals, of families or of society as a whole.

It is never possible to summarise differences in political philosophy in a sentence or two, but it certainly goes to the heart of the difference between ourselves and the Conservative party that it sought to achieve competitiveness through lowest price whereas we seek to achieve it through high quality. We profoundly believe that Britain's only route to a secure and competitive future

16 Dec 1997 : Column 163

is to remain at the forefront of technological development, of the pursuit of innovation and indeed of quality in all the goods or services that we seek to supply, whether domestically or across the world.

Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:--

The House divided: Ayes 387, Noes 145.

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Party Summary

Votes by party, red entries are votes against the majority for that party.

What is Tell? '+1 tell' means that in addition one member of that party was a teller for that division lobby.

What are Boths? An MP can vote both aye and no in the same division. The boths page explains this.

What is Turnout? This is measured against the total membership of the party at the time of the vote.

PartyMajority (Aye)Minority (No)BothTurnout
Con0 145 (+2 tell)090.7%
Lab352 (+2 tell) 0084.9%
LDem26 0056.5%
PC2 0050.0%
SNP5 0083.3%
UKUP1 00100.0%
UUP1 0010.0%
Total:387 145083.0%

Rebel Voters - sorted by party

MPs for which their vote in this division differed from the majority vote of their party. You can see all votes in this division, or every eligible MP who could have voted in this division

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no rebellions

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