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Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for the way in which he posed the first two questions, and indeed the third. The commission is an independent body. Its chairman has been widely applauded, even by supporters--few though they may be--of the party opposite. I can give my noble friend an assurance that we do not envisage any change in the principles that have been adumbrated.

Regarding the progress that has been made, the commission got down to work within 90 days of the election. It has approached over 600 organisations and individuals and invited them to give written evidence. Over 300 items of evidence have been received. On any account, that is a good response, given that the first invitations were issued in late August, with flexible return-by dates. I have heard no complaints about the procedures that have been adopted.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, in the light of the comments by the Minister without Portfolio in another place, who said:

and the request made by the President of the Board of Trade that the commission should consider differentials, is it the Government's wish that the commission should consider exemptions from the minimum wage for 16 to 25 year-olds, and perhaps even for young people on Welfare to Work programmes?

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, the position that has been applied as far as the Low Pay Commission is concerned is set out very clearly in its terms of reference, which have been put before Parliament and clearly explained. They are, in essence, to recommend the initial level at which the national minimum wage might be introduced; to make recommendations on lower rates or exemptions for those aged 16 to 25; and to consider and report on any matters referred to it by Ministers. The commission has to have regard to the wider economic and social implications, the likely effect on the level of employment and inflation, the impact on the competitiveness of business, particularly the small

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firms sector, and the potential impact on the cost to industry and the Exchequer. I believe that that sets out the position very clearly and I do not think that my right honourable friend the President of the Board of Trade has departed from it in any way.

Lord Barnett: My Lords, can my noble friend tell us clearly whether the Government will necessarily feel obliged to accept every dot and comma that the commission recommends?

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, of course they will not. The commission is considering the evidence. It will weigh the evidence in making its recommendations and then the Government will embark upon a full and comprehensive consideration of those recommendations. It is for the Government eventually to decide on the policy.

Lord Evans of Parkside: My Lords, can my noble friend give the House an indication of when he expects the commission to produce its report and make a recommendation to Her Majesty's Government? Is he aware that there have been some suggestions that it could be up to three years before such a report could be produced? Will he take this opportunity to make it clear that he expects a report to be produced far more quickly than that?

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I gladly respond to that question. There is no question of three years. The commission has been asked to report to the Prime Minister by the end of May 1998 at the latest.

Lord Acton: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the United States of America raised its minimum wage to $5.15 last month? Is he aware that those of us who shop in both places know that $5.15 buys rather more in the supermarkets of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, than does £4 in Tesco's, Covent Garden? Are not fears of the minimum wage somewhat exaggerated?

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, first, perhaps I may welcome my noble friend to these Benches.

Noble Lords: Hear, hear!

Lord Clinton-Davis: I have to confess immediately that his knowledge of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, exceeds mine. Having said that, I think the point he makes is well taken, although I do not wish to embark upon a discussion of the actual level. That is initially a matter for the Low Pay Commission to recommend.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, in the light of the answer which the Minister gave to my question, did he agree or disagree with the honourable Member in another place, the Minister without Portfolio, when he said that that was the Government's view about differentials being applied to the minimum wage?

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, if in fact my honourable friend made that assertion, I dare not disagree with him!

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3.13 p.m.

Lord Carter: My Lords, at a convenient time after 3.30 p.m. my noble friend the Leader of the House will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement which is to be made in another place on the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.

Magistrates' Courts (Procedure) Bill [H.L.]

Read a third time.

Clause 5 [Short title, commencement and extent]:

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg) moved the amendment:

Page 3, line 18, leave out ("Section 1 extends") and insert ("Sections 1 and 3 extend").

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, this a minor consequential amendment, resulting from an omission in the drafting, to the amendment moved at Committee stage. It simply ensures that the references in Clause 5 to the other clauses in the Bill are correctly and fully identified. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.--(The Lord Chancellor.)

Lord Mishcon: My Lords, this is a useful little Bill. I am sure noble Lords will agree that anything that achieves the result of making justice quicker and cheaper and administration more efficient will be welcome to this House.

I believe that this is the first Bill that my noble and learned friend has piloted through the House. Something tells me that in future he may be faced with a rather more difficult job of piloting than on this occasion. I am sure that those who participated in the debates in the course of the Bill would wish to join me in paying tribute to the courtesy and patience which he has shown.

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Mishcon is characteristically generous. His own long contribution to the cause of the reform of the law is well known. This is indeed my first Bill. I believe that it is accurate to predict that it will not be my last and it certainly will not be the most difficult.

It is a small Bill, but important in its way. It makes small incremental improvements which, added to future small incremental improvements, will bring substantial benefits in the long run.

The commendably economic progress of this small law-reforming Bill has been a model. I am grateful to all noble Lords who contributed so supportively. The end result is the Bill that we are about to pass.

On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.

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Local Government Finance (Supplementary Credit Approvals) Bill

3.18 p.m.

Read a third time.

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

Moved, that the Bill do now pass.--(Baroness Hayman.)

Lord Bowness: My Lords, I said at Second Reading that this was not a Bill which we on this side of the House could support and I regret to say that the passage of the Bill has not led us to feel any differently about it. Despite the number of occasions on which the noble Baroness has talked about the Bill being for the purpose of building and improving houses, I think it is true that this is a Bill about more local government borrowing to finance revenue and increase public spending. It is not about the release of the accumulated receipts and certainly not about the release of future receipts. The amounts involved, at least initially, are very small compared with the hopes that have been raised; perhaps that is a good thing in view of the borrowing aspects.

Although we cannot support the Bill, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for the courtesy and patience with which she has dealt with the points raised from this side.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, those who have followed the course of the Bill will realise that I am not my noble friend, for whose absence today I am here to apologise. We take a slightly different view of the Bill from that expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Bowness. Broadly speaking, we support it, but we feel that it does not go far enough in allowing local authorities more freedom to invest their own money where they wish to invest it. That having been said, I am happy to see the Bill go through.

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I am grateful for the comments made by the noble Baroness in the absence of her noble friend. I understand the reservations about the Bill not having gone far enough, but I am grateful for the support for what we have managed to achieve.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, for the second part of his remarks. The whole of the debate has been conducted with patience and courtesy and it was useful in terms of the amendment that we managed to discuss. I am disappointed, if not surprised, that the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, has, to the end, kept up what can only be described as a very carping attitude to the Bill.

The Local Government Finance (Supplementary Credit Approvals) Bill will provide the Government with the legislative foundation for a capital receipts initiative that can begin to reverse years of cuts to Exchequer support for housing. In that context, and in view of the undoubted distress, concern and ill health that bad housing causes in this country, I am sorry that noble Lords opposite cannot give their wholehearted support to such a move. The Bill is neither lengthy nor complex. In essence it will simply allow the

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Government to distribute additional public expenditure in the form of supplementary credit approvals, striking a balance between the historic generation of capital receipts and need. This is far and away the most effective way to release the additional spending represented by set-aside capital receipts. I should also say that, despite the criticisms that have been made, it is the mechanism that has received the endorsement of the local authority associations, of individual local authorities and of key housing practitioners.

In 1997-98, in England, an additional £174 million will be released to local authorities, followed by a further £610 million in 1998-99. In releasing those receipts, the Government are fulfilling their manifesto commitment. We have brought forward the legislation needed to distribute the resources fairly and we consulted widely and openly on our proposals. I commend the Bill to your Lordships.

On Question, Bill passed.

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