Vital policy we must defend...

WEST Ham MP Lyn Brown, this week discusses the minimum wage in her exclusive Recorder column. She writes: LIFE in Westminster has been extremely difficult recently. The atmosphere has been very dispiriting for everyone. The expenses row has knocked publ

WEST Ham MP Lyn Brown, this week discusses the minimum wage in her exclusive Recorder column.

She writes:

LIFE in Westminster has been extremely difficult recently. The atmosphere has been very dispiriting for everyone.

The expenses row has knocked public confidence and trust in politicians - and this is something we must urgently work to rebuild.


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Despite the focus on expenses, the day-to-day business of Parliament continues.

Many of you will know that I am often here in Newham on Fridays. But Last Friday I was in the House, ready to defend a policy and principle that our Government established ten years ago.

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Tory backbenchers had used the Private Members Bill route to propose a bill which would have made people here, in Newham, poorer than they are today.

A group of 11 Tory MPs proposed to abolish the minimum wage. Millions of low-paid workers would have been affected.

Unsurprisingly, this Tory group was led by Senior Conservative Christopher Chope - who, as a minister, helped to bring in the Poll Tax.

The Conservative bill's ironic title is the 'Employment Opportunities Bill'.

Mr Chope argues that those currently unemployed would be happy to work for less than the minimum wage, but are prevented from doing so. Presumably the benefit system could then pay more money to the individual working for poverty wages.

If this bill was ever to be passed, it would fatally undermine the minimum wage, driving low-skilled workers back into poverty pay.

I believe that the Minimum Wage legislation is one of Labour's most important achievements.

The Conservatives fought tooth and nail against its introduction, and clearly they have not given up their opposition, even now.

At the time the minimum wage became law, Michael Howard claimed it would put two million people on the dole - which it didn't.

Instead, every time the wage has been increased over the past ten years, more than a million people at the bottom of the employment scale have been helped, two thirds of whom are women.

And now, shortly after we celebrated its tenth anniversary in April, Tory backbenchers are attempting to abolish it.

Of course, in worsening economic conditions, we do need to balance the needs of businesses with those of vulnerable employees.

The latest increase - to �5.80 an hour - is more than some businesses wanted, and clearly less than some workers hoped for.

The Tory claim that the minimum wage costs jobs, is simply wrong.

The independent Low Pay Commission has found no evidence that the Minimum Wage has damaged employment in any of the low-paying sectors.

And so I cancelled appointments, did a surgery Thursday and attended Parliament on Friday morning, and when I arrived I was told that the bill had been withdrawn from that morning's business.

Obviously, some Tory PR guru must have thought it just a touch obscene to be arguing to cut the wages of the low paid when MPs were being blasted over the extent of overpaid housing claims and for cleaning and repairing moats and swimming pools.

But as I write, David Cameron is yet to distance himself from this bill to abolish the minimum wage.

Whether or not he eventually does do so, have no doubt that this is an argument that will resurface; the Tories can't and won't leave it alone.

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