Winning the National Minimum Wage: In the trenches
Frank Doran is the MP for Aberdeen North and Secretary to the Trade Union Group of Labour MPs. In 1997-98 he worked with the employment relations minister, Sir Ian McCartney, to legislate for the minimum wage. In this blog he tells how the opposition of the day tried to delay or derail the passage of the National Minimum Wage bill by filibustering, only to find that Labour was well-prepared for the ensuing mammoth committee session, which lasted for more than 26 hours.
For those of us involved in the development of the minimum wage policy there was real excitement attached to every stage of the process, led by Ian McCartney. The second reading was held before Christmas 1997. When we returned from the break we went straight into the Committee Stage.
The early stages went slowly because the Tory opposition was filibustering. Ian decided that the best way of dealing with the Tory delaying tactics was to sit through the night for as long as it took for them to concede and to accept a reasonable time table.
We started the 8th sitting on 13 January 1998. Normally there is a morning sitting and an evening sitting. These went as usual until we got to the late evening, when the Tories expected us to end the sitting at or around 10pm.
All our troops were prepared. Our strategy allowed us to give each member of the Committee a break so they could go off to have a nap in their room or freshen up. The Tories had no plan and they became more and more miserable as the night went on (and on).
The highlight for us came at about 3am. Gillian Merron was due a break between 2 – 3am. When she returned looking refreshed and in clean clothes the Tories unkempt, bleary-eyed and dejected, groaned audibly.
We carried on until 1pm the next day. Then on Thursday’ we started the Committee again at 10.30. There was still no sign of a Tory surrender so we kept it going to 7am on the Friday am. We only stopped so that we could all get back to our constituencies.
The weekend gave the Tories the opportunity to rethink their strategy and the rest of the Bill was dealt with in a more orderly fashion.
For the final stages of the Bill in the Commons the Tories kept us up until the early hours of the morning but by then they were just going through the motions.