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House of Lords

Thursday, 30th January 2003.

The House met at eleven of the clock: The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Hereford.

Arms Control and Disarmament (Inspections) Bill [HL]

Read a third time, and passed, and sent to the Commons.

National Minimum Wage (Enforcement Notices) Bill [HL]

11.6 a.m.

Read a third time.

Clause 1 [Enforcement notices]:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville) moved Amendment No. 1:

    Page 1, line 14, at end insert—

"(2B) An enforcement notice may not impose a requirement under subsection (2) above in respect of any pay reference period ending more than 6 years before the date on which the notice is served.""

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 1 is grouped with Amendment No. 2. I am grateful for the all-party support we have had during the course of the Bill and I hope that we can also win all-party support for the government amendments which follow on from the debate held at Report stage. Briefly the first amendment will limit the period that an enforcement notice can cover to the period of six years before the date on which it is issued, and the second amendment is a consequential amendment to the Title.

Noble Lords may recall from our earlier debates that the Government expect few cases to go back more than three years. That is mainly because the minimum wage regulations require employers to keep pay records for only three years. In practice we expect the Revenue to find it difficult to pursue cases that go further back than that unless there were clear evidence such as payslips held by the worker and no dispute about the hours worked. We would therefore expect very few cases to go back as far as six years. In addition the Limitation Act means that all cases taken through the county courts—the great majority—can only go back for six years.

The noble Lord, Lord Razzall, asked what that meant. Briefly, the six-year limit runs back from the date when the claim is lodged with the court. In the county court, each underpayment is viewed as a separate breach. The six-year time limit runs from the date of each underpayment. So if a claim for an underpayment is not brought within six years, the worker will be time barred from bringing that claim.

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Let us take a hypothetical example in which a person has had a job since 1990. The job ends in 2003 and throughout that period the worker had not received the minimum wage—on the basis that the legislation had been in force since 1990. If a claim were lodged for that person in 2003, it could only go back to 1997, six years before the claim was lodged. The arrears for the pre-1997 period could not be recovered because they occurred more than six years before the claim was lodged. On reflection the Government can agree to limit the period that enforcement notices may cover to six years, as sought by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller.

I should stress, however, that we do not propose to limit the existing rights held by individual workers. Of course, it seems very unlikely, for the reasons I have given, that more than a handful of cases will go back for more than six years. But we do not wish to rule out the possibility that individual workers might wish to take cases going back for more than six years to an employment tribunal. To do so would put workers claiming in respect of underpayments of the national minimum wage in a worse position than workers claiming in respect of other contractual underpayments. I am happy, as I said, to limit the powers held by the Government's enforcement officers. However, it seems to me that it would be wrong at the same time to limit the existing rights held by individual workers.

The Government believe that the amendment brings clarity to the situation and ensures that the rights of the worker and employer are respected. I beg to move.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, for the courteous way in which he has dealt with my earlier amendment, particularly as we said that it would concern only a few cases. I am happy to accept the amendment that has now been produced in lieu.

Lord Razzall: My Lords, as the Minister is aware, I had concerns about the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness in Committee. I was concerned about the points that the Minister raised and that we should not be seen to take away rights from employees or ex-employees that they would otherwise have. In the light of the helpful assurances given by the Minister, I too am happy to support the amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

In the Title:

Lord Sainsbury of Turville moved Amendment No. 2:

    Line 5, at end insert "; and to limit the pay reference periods in respect of which a requirement under subsection (2) of that section may be imposed"

On Question, amendment agreed to.

An amendment (privilege) made.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

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Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Sainsbury of Turville.)

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

Police (Northern Ireland) Bill [HL]

11.11 a.m.

Read a third time.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn) moved Amendment No. 1:

    After Clause 3, insert the following new clause—

After section 5 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 (c. 32) insert—
(1) The Board may enter into a contract with another person for the provision of services relating to the detention or escort of persons who have been arrested or are otherwise in custody.
(2) The powers of the Board under this section shall be exercised, on behalf of and in the name of the Board, by the Chief Constable.
(3) The power conferred by this section is subject to any regulations under section 40 of the 1998 Act.""

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, your Lordships know that I introduced an amendment on Report enabling the Chief Constable to designate any person who is an employee of the contractor, as either a detention officer or an escort officer. The purpose of this new short clause is to provide a consequential amendment to the 2000 Act to put it beyond doubt that the board can enter into a contract for the provision of such services. Your Lordships will have seen that the powers shall be exercised on behalf of the board by the Chief Constable. I beg to move.

Lord Glentoran: My Lords, perhaps I may open the Third Reading debate by making some comments. First, I shall make a negative comment. As noble Lords will know, the Government tabled some complex and complicated amendments late on Tuesday evening, which we did not receive until Wednesday morning. I thank the noble and learned Lord for making available his officials to explain those amendments to my party and myself yesterday afternoon. I also accept his personal apologies on behalf of the Northern Ireland Office for this occurrence.

However, as we now sit at 11 o'clock on a Thursday morning, I suggest that if the Government wish to table amendments late—and I understand that there are reasons—perhaps the Procedure Committee should look at the matter with a view to ruling whether, if a major part of a Bill is to be dealt with on a Thursday morning, all amendments should be made available to your Lordships by the previous Tuesday evening. That would give noble Lords the whole of the working day of Wednesday to sort out any problems.

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I humbly make that suggestion to the Government, the officials of the House and those who manage our business.

I turn to the noble and learned Lord's amendment, to which I have absolutely no objection. There are one or two issues that I am slightly nervous about and on which I should like some reassurance.

I understand that the Chief Constable has the right to decide which individuals may or may not be contracted to do certain quasi police work. However, I am slightly concerned with the words:

    "Contracts relating to detention and escort services".

If that kind of work is put out for public tender by companies or corporations in the normal commercial way, it strikes me that some of the safeguards might go. The Chief Constable might be aware that a company, which is owned, run or managed by a certain group in the community, might not be the most suitable to win the contract. However, if that company returned the lowest bid, I should like reassurance that there will not be EU or other UK legislation in relation to awarding of government contracts that would interfere with the Chief Constable's right to decide from a security point of view which company would not be suitable to do the job. With those slightly nervous queries, I am content with the idea as it stands.

11.15 a.m.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran. His point about national security, so far as contracts are concerned, is a very valid one. He will know that there is another reason why we must be very careful. That is, certain contractors and their employees would come under the most hideous pressure from what one might term as "the other side of the community".

While in another place, there were occasions when those who would be regarded as being from the same side of the community as the terrorist community were shot dead simply because they drove lorries which provided materials to work sites and so on. Of course the murderers were never traced. We must be very careful when making allowances—and, I hope, make them in a sensitive way—when spelling out how to achieve this objective.

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