First anti-Minimum Wage Bill chopped by Government, several more to come

Various Conservative MPs have put forward Private Member’s Bills that would, if they became law, water down to the point of uselessness the National Minimum Wage.

I think I counted three that were currently going through the process.

The first is the Employment Opportunities Bill, that would allow ‘opt-outs’ of the Minimum Wage, though anyone who has worked for an agency will know there will certainly be situations where if you want to sign up for an agency to get work part of the contract would include an opt-out of the Minimum Wage. We already have enough problems enforcing the Minimum Wage without creating complexity through opt-outs. This was the bill that started the whole Wage Concern campaign – the group still exists on Facebook and I’ve started updating it again now that the Minimum Wage is coming back into prominence after Chope’s last defeat on the issue. This was of course also the bill that Shipley MP, Philip Davies supported, saying he wanted to have a debate on the issue before promptly making no reference to it on any leaflet he produced that went to tens of thousands of households across Shipley.

The second bill is the one that’s just been chopped, a Minimum Wage Amendment Bill, that would force the Low Pay Commission to look at areas with above-average unemployment rates and automatically set the Minimum Wage at a lower rate, which the Government would be obliged to enact. As Paul Waugh’s blog makes clear (you can read the link by going to our Facebook page) the bill has been nobbled by the Government, who obviously want to keep the public in the dark as much as possible about the anti-Minimum Wage tendencies of its own MPs. It’s currently down for a second reading on the 18th March but it is unlikely to be read given he has pulled it once already.

The third bill is the Training Wage Bill, which will again allow opt-outs of the Minimum Wage for people who are training. Its next reading will be on the 18th March.

All these bills are supported by similar Tory MPs, though Philip Davies is conspicuous by his absence from these bills given his previous support for the Employment Opportunities Bill.

What I don’t really understand is why, if Chope feels so strongly about the issue, does he keep pulling his own bill? He must have known the government wouldn’t support anything that would undermine the Minimum Wage, even if secretly many Tory MPs shared Chope’s view (and let’s not forget Cameron campaigned strongly against the Minimum Wage when it was introduced).

I’ll be keeping tabs on how these bills progress, Chope has said he still wants to debate his Training Wage Bill, so we’ll see what happens. Personally I’d like these debates to go ahead so we can flush out the Tories who really think we should be scrapping the Minimum Wage, or at least the ones who have the guts to admit it.

UPDATE: A fuller, more updated version of this post will be appearing on Labourlist later this afternoon. I’ll post a link once it’s up. Quite bizarrely this post has been retweeted by George Monbiot and Naomi Klein (and now Johann Hari) within the space of a couple of hours!

UPDATE: A fuller version has now been posted to Labourlist, with a bit more detail behind the bills and the history of myself and others in opposing and campaigning against them. Check it out!

Let’s not forget the role of Philip Davies in killing the anti-vulture fund Bill

A minor story doing the rounds at the moment is of a Private Member’s Bill was torpedoed at the last minute by an anonymous Conservative MP – thought to be Christopher Chope of anti-Minimum Wage fame – shouting ‘Object!’, which effectively stopped the Bill going through Parliament. 

The Bill was aimed at stopping what’s known as ‘Vulture Funds’, where companies buy up third world debt at a reduced rate, then sue the countries for the debt at full value. 

The Jubilee Debt Campaign has called on David Cameron to reveal his position on the Bill, if he supported it or if he gave the go-ahead for an objection to kill it, as two other potential Tories who could have shouted object were actually whips, meaning they could have been following a party line to kill the Bill. 

At the moment it’s Christopher Chope who is taking the flak, rightly so, but there is a danger that we forget who it was who was going to put forward an amendment that would also have wrecked the bill (these amendments are known as ‘wrecking amendments’ for obvious reasons), until it was disallowed by the Speaker. 

The MP who put forward the amendment was Shipley MP, Philip Davies (also Conservative, unsurprisingly) who has spoken in two debates on the bill opposing it on the grounds that it shouldn’t be retrospective in its scope. 

Apart from the original Guardian article (link) on the wrecking amendment the rest of the news coverage has focused solely on the role of the whips and Christopher Chope, understandably enough but it’s worth remembering that Philip Davies was also prepared to kill the bill if he could. 

What is interesting is why Davies didn’t go to the debate himself to object, if he felt so strongly about it? Could it be that his majority in Shipley is only 500 or so, while Christopher Chope has a majority of over 10,000? Could it also be linked to the fact that the Jubilee Debt Campaign had organised a rally outside Philip Davies’ office on the Friday to oppose his wrecking amendment? 

Its bad enough Davies wanted to kill a bill that had cross party support on helping third world countries in debt. It would have helped them use their money not to pay rich businessmen in the UK and USA preying on the poor and the weak but to put food into the mouths of their starving children. But for Davies not to even have the guts to go through with his objection is simply pathetic. 

He does, however, have form on this sort of thing. When his opposition to the Minimum Wage was revealed by my campaign he stated that he merely wanted to start a debate on the matter. Then, when he sent out thousands of leaflets to his constituents letting them know what he’d been up to, he completely left out any mention at all of his opposition to the Minimum Wage and the ‘debate’ he wanted to have about it. 

If you want to sign the letter sent to David Cameron asking him to explain his position on the issue then click here.

Below is a set of links to news stories and blogs on how the Tories have killed a Bill that would have saved lives in the third world: 

Guardian 1 – with Philip Davies mention.

Guardian 2

Guardian 3

Ekklesia – with Philip Davies mention.

Ekklesia 2

Liberal Conspiracy

Left Food Forward

Tom Harris MP

UPDATE: Philip Davies contacted me to explain his side of the story, see below and make your own minds up. He seems to be under the impression that his amendment would have in no way endangered the progress of the Bill which is pretty much in exact opposition to what Andrew Gywnne and the Jubilee Debt Campaign both believe. However I do believe in openess so am happy to put Philip’s side of the story below.

For a bit of context I should point out the reason his amendment was rejected is that it had already been debated both in the first reading and the committee stage, so whatever issues the parties felt there were had already been resolved, though not, obviously, to Philip’s satisfaction:

I tabled an amendment to the Bill at the first stage of the Bill at which I had an opportunity to debate such an amendment (people are appointed on to Standing committees and I was not appointed).  When the Speaker informed me that he had not selected my amendment on Thursday afternoon I asked (on Thursday – before any campaign or protest outside of my office on Friday!) that my amendment be withdrawn.

This is crucial as if I had left the amendment there (even though not selected for debate by the Speaker) that would itself have blocked the Bill.  Therefore by actively asking for my amendment to be withdrawn on Thursday I was actually smoothing the passage of the Bill through the House of Commons.  I even checked first thing on Friday morning with the Clerks of the House that this was the case and they confirmed this to me.

I was as surprised as anyone to be told that the Bill had been blocked. I was not in the chamber at 2.30pm (there was no debate for this Bill as you suggest as it was not reached) when this happened and therefore do not know who did it or their reasoning.  It may well have been Chris Chope who did it, not because he is a friend of mine, but because he regularly does this with many Bills every week. If it was him it was not something I asked him to do, and it was not something that we spoke about.  I trust you will take my word for that without any kind of innuendo.