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Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I would be very happy indeed to look at this matter. It has been our intention throughout to minimise problems of administrative work. We will certainly look at the situation.
Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, having represented low-paid workers for 30 years, I welcome the Government's decision to increase the national minimum wage. However, I am a little disappointed that Her Majesty's Opposition have not also warmly welcomed this development. I think that they should acknowledge today that their prophesies of doom, which they made when the minimum wage was introduced, have not been realised.
The Opposition have asked what will be the economic effect of the increase. We are talking about raising the standards of the most vulnerable workers in this country, who represent 1.3 million out of a labour
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I do not think that that question was directed at me, but I should like to say that it will represent 0.14 per cent of the total wage bill, and the impact on inflation will be very small.
Lord Monson: My Lords, does the Minister agree that a national minimum wage is not the same as a national minimum standard of living? We are all in favour of a national minimum standard of living, even if actors, hill farmers and many other self-employed people do not achieve that at present. A national minimum standard of living is a desirable objective, but can it be achieved other than by compelling employers to pay certain employees more than what their output is worth to the employer, thereby leading inevitably to their speedy unemployment?
Finally--and this is a different point from that raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller--what about the preposterously low maximum set-off for accommodation that is provided free by the employer to the employee? At present, that allowance equates to only one-fifth over the country as a whole of the cost to the employer of providing accommodation, perhaps one-quarter in rural areas and up to one-eighth in London. Are there any plans to raise that set-off to a more realistic level?
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, we have been working towards a national minimum standard, and the working families' tax credit is part of that strategy. It is equally important that work should pay in the context of the wages that people receive. There is an interesting relationship: if there is no national minimum wage but the working families' tax credit, then it is likely that wages will not respond as they should do. Both have to form part of a national minimum standard.
I should like to emphasise again that this unanimous report clearly states that it has not led to speedy unemployment, as some people predicted. We have seen a rapid increase in employment, and those fears were unfounded.
Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, I should like to thank the Minister for repeating the Statement and for the emphasis placed on the position of women. The introduction of a national minimum wage for low-paid women has always been a priority. When I was on the EOC we expressed continued concern about the ghettos of women's employment. Women were nearly always underpaid, and it became increasingly difficult to do anything about it. As my noble friend rightly says, the minimum national wage is as much of an advance for low-paid women as the original Equal Pay Act.
I am not happy, however, about possible exceptions. The issue of care homes has already been raised. I should like to see the employees in these homes also paid the national minimum wage. Standards in some of these homes have been criticised, but if people are paid at substandard rates, that will contribute to a low level of care, something to which we should all be opposed.
Nevertheless, this is a remarkable step forward, and I am obliged to the Low Pay Commission, which has done a marvellous job. I am very grateful that we now have at least a reasonable standard for very low-paid people.
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I had not understood that an exception was being sought for people employed in care homes but that it was a right hand/left hand government issue about whether the care homes would be compensated and how that would be treated. On that basis, I had intended to obtain further information.
Baroness Fookes: My Lords, I urge the Minister urgently to remit to the Low Pay Commission the issue of the value of accommodation and the point raised by my noble friend Lady Miller about house sitters. It is my understanding that previously they were not classified as workers, and therefore there was no obligation to pay them the minimum wage, but the change has put the whole little industry in doubt.
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, as far as I know, that has not been changed. I shall certainly look into the matter to see whether it has been changed and house sitters are now classified as workers. However, as far as I know, that is not part of the Statement today.
Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I wish to refer to a matter that arises out of the point mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes. Is there a problem in the Government's eyes with avoidance? I have in mind particularly the possibility that those who are in reality employees may be told that they have to become independent contractors and that what they receive under their contracts will be less than the minimum wage.
Lord Brookman: My Lords, who could not be pleased to hear the Minister's announcement? After all, there are 1.5 million beneficiaries, the majority of whom are women. There are also the regional benefits, to which the noble Lord, Lord Razzall, referred. I have one question for my noble friend the Minister. He may have covered the point but I did not catch it. What is the position of young workers--those aged 18 to 21, those aged 16 to 18 and those on the magnificent New Deal, with which Labour has been so successful?
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, we are dealing with the first part of the report of the Low Pay Commission. Volume 2 of the report is expected in May. That will cover the whole question of the rate for young workers and any other regulatory changes that are felt appropriate.
The noble Viscount said: I wish to speak to Amendment No. 1 standing in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market. It is my intention to be very brief because I raised the subject matter of this amendment at Second Reading, as did the noble Baroness.
While it is right and proper to deal with the illegal acquisition and disposal of motor vehicles and their parts, there is a very lucrative trade in trailers and caravans and, as I said at Second Reading, some of the component parts of these trailers are very expensive and sophisticated. Consequently, I think that both trailers and caravans should added to the general description of motor vehicles.
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