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Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the noble Earl, Lord Munster, tabled a Question last week for Written Answer asking for more details about the nature and extent of the disease? Will the Minister make quite sure that, having regard to the limited publicity given to Answers to Written Questions, in that particular case the fullest possible publicity is given to her Answer?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I shall be delighted to do so. I thank my noble friend for drawing attention to the Written Question. Of course, that system provides an opportunity to give more detail than it is possible to give on the Floor of the House. If my noble friend can suggest further ways in which to make Written Answers, which, as he says, are sometimes buried at the back of Hansard, more available I shall be delighted to follow his recommendations.

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, is the Minister aware that general practitioners who are fundholders have been able to use their resources in order to provide screening for their patient population? What will happen in the future on that score? What plans do the Government have to improve links between primary and secondary care with regard to osteoporosis?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, as I understand it, the advisory group on osteoporosis, which reported to the department at the time at which the noble Baroness was a Minister there, recommended that there

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was no need for national screening in that area. But individual health authorities and GPs can make available that opportunity if they wish to do so.

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, perhaps I may make it clear that I was referring to high-risk screening.

Lord Shore of Stepney: My Lords, given the high incidence of that extremely debilitating illness, is there not a strong case now to launch a major public screening programme? Medical science now has the necessary equipment to do that. I am thinking in particular of bone density scanning which brings quickly to light how serious the problem is for an individual.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, my noble friend provides me with a helpful opportunity to answer that question and the supplementary question from the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege. There is clearly an interest in developing screening programmes for those people who have already been demonstrated to be at high risk. But there has been no suggestion yet that national screening for the condition should be available or would be profitable. On the other hand, the Royal College of Physicians is working on national guidelines to be distributed within a few months, as I understand it, which may indicate the way to go.

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, can the noble Baroness help me to understand the relative importance which this Government--or perhaps in some senses the previous Government--attach to the terrible disease of osteoporosis by telling me how many people are suffering from it? How much money is currently being spent on research into prevention and treatment? How does this compare, for example, with the number of people suffering from AIDS, and the amount of taxpayers' money which is being spent on research and prevention of AIDS?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am afraid it is not possible for me to give exact figures on the distribution and numbers of people with osteoporosis. As I said in response to an earlier question, there are about 60,000 fractures a year which can be attributed in some degree to osteoporosis. I shall write to the noble Lord as regards research moneys.

National Minimum Wage

3.21 p.m.

Lord Henley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether it is proposed that the minimum wage will be set at the same rate for recipients of all ages and in all parts of the United Kingdom.

Lord Haskel: My Lords, it is the Government's intention to introduce a national minimum wage. As we said in our manifesto, this will be set sensibly and apply throughout the United Kingdom taking account of the economic circumstances prevailing at the time. The independent Low Pay Commission will

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recommend to the Government the level at which the minimum wage might be introduced. Before formulating its recommendation the commission will undertake a wide-ranging consultation exercise and take account of the needs of workers of all ages.

Lord Henley: My Lords, while I thank the noble Lord for that Answer, can he give an assurance that when the commission conducts this work it will look at the evidence from other countries, and in particular the evidence from Japan? Japan has relatively low unemployment and the minimum wage varies across the country. As I understand it, it is as low as 17 per cent. of the national average wage in metropolitan Tokyo. Will he compare that situation with the figures in France where there is a relatively high national minimum wage of some 58 per cent. of average national earnings and as a result there is high unemployment with youth unemployment double what it is in this country?

Lord Haskel: My Lords, it is wrong to attribute the comparatively high level of youth unemployment in some countries to minimum wage legislation. High unemployment levels within a particular country are the product of a number of different factors. The noble Lord may be a little selective in the figures that he has mentioned. If he were to study the figures in the United States he would see the impact of the minimum wage on youth unemployment there.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, with respect, is the noble Lord's assessment of this situation entirely realistic? Is he assuming that the commission will set disparate minimum wages in different countries? Perhaps he would agree that the commission will set a minimum wage and that it will be done by subsidiary legislation with supra-national effect to impose it upon a single European labour market. Is not that the reality of the situation?

Lord Haskel: No, my Lords. The duty of the commission will be to recommend to the Government a minimum wage for the United Kingdom. As I said in response to the Question, the commission will undertake a wide-ranging consultation exercise and will consider the needs of workers of all ages and in all parts of the country.

Lord Rochester: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree with the recently appointed chairman of the Low Pay Commission that whatever level the minimum national wage is set for adults, there is a strong case for setting the rate for young workers at a lower level? Would that not both encourage more young people to stay in full-time education and also act as an inducement to employers to offer more of them jobs?

Lord Haskel: My Lords, I am inclined to agree with the noble Lord, but I cannot anticipate what the Low Pay Commission will decide. Part of its remit will be to look into that very point.

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, can my noble friend assist us as regards the questions that the Opposition asks the Government about minimum wages? On what

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basis does it formulate its position? Is the Conservative Party in favour of poverty wages or is it in favour of the public purse subsidising bad employers?

Lord Haskel: My Lords, I cannot answer for the Opposition. One of the purposes of the minimum wage is to remove the subsidy of family benefits as they are used to subsidise low pay.

Viscount Ullswater: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the third report of the Competitiveness Advisory Group set up by the European Council of Ministers, on which the noble Lord, Lord Simon of Highbury, sat when chairman of BP, stated,

    "Modernisation of the labour market and the fight for more employment in Europe is not social policy: it is essential for our long-term economic competitiveness"?
The group said that,

    "social legislation ... should be subjected to a more intensive cost-benefit analysis and that minimum wages may do more harm than good".
Does the noble Lord agree with that report and with his noble friend, or not?

Lord Haskel: My Lords, I think that the noble Lord is being a little selective. From my memory of the comments made by my noble friend Lord Simon, he also said that it depends at what level the minimum wage is set. He did not say that the minimum wage itself was either good or bad.

Earl Russell: My Lords, will the Minister remind the noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater, that there is a convention that committees on which we sit attempt to produce unanimous reports and that a great many of us on both sides of the House have sat on committees which have produced reports for which in our individual capacity we should not be called to answer?

Lord Haskel: My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Earl.

Viscount Waverley: My Lords, what will be the impact on competitiveness when producers pass on additional costs as a result of a minimum wage?

Lord Haskel: My Lords, there is no proof that the minimum wage creates increased costs. The research seems to indicate that firms tend to compete on the excellence of their products and services rather than on the wages that they pay to their staff.

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