John Prescott, Labour's employment spokesman, indicated that the delay was the best way of defusing a top-level internal row.
Some senior Labour politicians, including Gordon Brown, the shadow Chancellor, are understood to want the policy dropped.
Addressing the annual conference of the Manufacturing Science Finance union in Brighton yesterday, Mr Prescott said: 'It is right for this movement to support the introduction of a national minimum wage. There will come a time when we have to set the rate, but let us argue about the principle first.
'Let us win the argument instead of going up the by-ways with a row about how much that minimum rate should be.'
John Smith, the Labour leader, has told the party's national executive that the electorate remains to be convinced on the issue.
The reluctance to set a figure will anger Bill Morris, general secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union - the party's biggest affiliate.
He has urged the Labour leadership to commit itself to a rate of pounds 4.05 an hour. The policy is also backed by Unison, the public service union, which has 1.4 million members.
However, Bill Jordan, president of the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union, has contended that it is wrong to place demands on the Labour Party so far ahead of a general election. He said it would hand the Conservatives a propaganda weapon.
Mr Jordan is also known to be concerned about the impact of the policy on wage differentials between the low-paid and members of his union, most of whom are skilled workers.
Mr Smith has told senior colleagues that he believes the party is vulnerable to arguments by the Conservatives that a statutory national minimum wage would create unemployment.
During the 1992 general election campaign, Labour watered down its commitment to a minimum rate of pounds 3.40 an hour.Reuse content