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Sunday, October 3, 1999 Published at 17:10 GMT 18:10 UK

UK Politics

Tories accept minimum wage

Ann Widdecombe signalled that the Tories will keep the minimum wage

Shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe has given a strong hint that the Conservatives will promise to keep the minimum wage at the next election.

In an interview the day before the party's annual conference got underway, she insisted it was not a "major issue".

The Tories had previously vigorously opposed the minimum wage, claiming it would cost jobs and be hated by employers.

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But Miss Widdecombe signalled a major shift on the policy, just days after the Confederation of British Industry declared the minimum wage had not made a significant impact on the economy.

The shadow minister said: "Now that it has happened, it has happened.

"If the minimum wage is working and employers are happy to keep it, and we don't actually judge it is going to be a very major factor on putting burdens on employers, then that will be reflected in our policies."

Miss Widdecombe said the new policies being outlined by Conservative leader William Hague this week would be radical but based on traditional Tory policies.

"What we do have to do is give those principles fresh application, an updated look, a vibrant approach to the next general election," she said.

She also dismissed suggestions that books by former Prime Minister John Major and his ex-Chancellor Lord Lamont had overshadowed the start of the conference.

She said: "Let me share a big secret with you. I don't find it at all terrible, because all those things are about the past and our conference will be about debates and policies for the future."

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