Backbench MPs' bills, particularly those from opposition parties, rarely attract much attention. After all, they have little if any chance of passing into law.
Not so today. 11 Tory MP's had previously tabled a motion to allow employers to 'opt-out' of the National Minimum Wage (NMW). It would have effectively killed the NMW, introduced by Labour in 1999. The bill was due to have its Second Reading this afternoon. Unbelievably, they claimed it was against workers' Human Rights to have a Minimum Wage!
This was a telling piece of draft legislation - the Tories are itching to reverse many of Labour's key reforms, and look forward to a time when Britain will once again be a low wage economy. I had a look at the debate in the Commons at the time the Act creating the NMW was introduced - then, a chip shop worker for example was receiving £1.20 an hour, and a waiter was paid £12 for an 8-hour shift, and had to pass any tips back to his employer.
As John Hannett, General Secretary of USDAW, the shopworkers' union said,
"This shows the Tories in their true light and is a little insight into what a Conservative Government would do. They are still fighting the battles of the 1980s and 90s when they abolished the wages councils and left my members and millions of other workers without wage protection. David Cameron talks about an age of austerity, well we now know that he means for low-paid workers."
Remember too that one of David Cameron's few public pledges is to take Britain out of the European Social Chapter if he becomes Prime Minister. Important protection for millions of workers will be lost.
A campaign against the Tories' bill was mounted in Parliament by Labour MPs led by John Prescott. I'm pleased to say that today, Tory Christopher Chope MP deferred his bill, and effectively killed it. This is a good victory for Labour, especially as the internet and Facebook in particular were used extensively to raise awareness of the Tories' plans.
Still, if elected next year, there will be little if anything we can do to stop the Conservatives returning Britain to the dark ages of poverty pay and worsening working conditions. A battle has been won, but the war is far from over.