National Minimum Wage debate

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MPs have defeated a Labour motion calling on the government to strengthen enforcement of the National Minimum Wage and to encourage employers to pay a living wage.

The opposition lost the vote by 299 to 235 on 15 January 2014. A government amendment noting that the minimum wage has increased each year since since 2010 was approved by a majority of 70.

Shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves argued: "We know a strengthened minimum wage and practical policies to promote the living wage are essential to building the recovery that works for working people, and secure rising standards of living for the future.

"That means stronger penalties and effective enforcement against rogue employers who flout the minimum wage. It means plans to restore the value of the minimum wage that has been lost over the last three-and-a-half years."

Outlining the government's position, Business Secretary Vince Cable said employers who do not pay the minimum wage would now be fined per worker rather than per company to make the penalty more substantial.

He defended the current system of up-rating the minimum wage via the independent Low Pay Commission, and said he was "appalled and alarmed" that Labour wanted to "tear it all up and politicise it".

Mr Cable said he supported the living wage on a voluntary basis but warned that making it mandatory would jeopardise firms already at risk of bankruptcy.

Conservative backbencher Robert Halfon argued for a real-terms increase in the minimum wage from £6.31.

"We are the workers' party," he told the Commons. "We are here to get people out of dependency and back into work and Labour is the party of benefits.

"But if the slogan 'For Hard-Working People' is to really mean something, not only do we have to become the workers' party but we have to shout from the rooftops our support for the minimum wage.

"A real-terms rise in the national minimum wage, a regional top-up, and raising the National Insurance threshold, would really give us legitimacy as the party standing up for millions of workers."

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