Brown 'to raise minimum pay'

Gordon Brown attempted to rally Labour activists yesterday with a promise to increase the national minimum wage. The Chancellor told the party's spring conference in Glasgow that the wage would be raised from £4.20 an hour if recommended by the Low Pay Commission.

He appealed to delegates not to lose their "strength and discipline" in the global slowdown. He insisted Britain was well-placed to weather the economic storms but saidit was still possible to be blown off course if the Government stopped bearing down on inflationary pressures.

The Chancellor also hinted at new measures to ease the bureaucratic burden on entrepreneurs as part of a fresh drive to push down unemployment levels. He urged delegates not to lose their nerve ­ or press for inflation-busting pay rises ­ after the belt-tightening of the Government's first term in power.

He told them: "Strength and discipline is even more necessary in times of insecurity and risk ... I ask you to accept that we have no alternative but to resist a return to inflationary pay deals that would put hard-won economic gains in jobs, standards of living, low mortgages, prosperity and stability at risk."

Mr Brown held out an olive branch by announcing that the drive for full-employment would be one of themes of next month's Budget. He said it would include measures to cut the cost to businesses of setting up and hiring and training staff, and further initiatives to "reform the business regime for entrepreneurs".

Mr Brown mounted a fierce defence of the Government's decision to raise national insurance contributions by 1 per cent for extra cash for hospitals.

The deductions will hit pay packets in April, a month before local council elections. "The case for the NHS, for public funding and provision of health care, is not weaker, but stronger than in 1948 when it was created, stronger because today's treatments and drugs are so much more expensive," he said.