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Lord Clinton-Davis: The noble Baroness demonstrated once again her deep opposition to the Bill in her closing remarks. I respect her position but I cannot agree with it. She resorted to a number of shibboleths. She said that small businesses were not listened to. That is simply not correct. Small businesses were widely consulted by the Low Pay Commission. The noble Baroness said that no member of the LPC had run a small firm. That is not correct. The member to whom she referred specifically has done so and is currently chief executive of the Scottish Grocers' Federation. It is patently incorrect to say that the views of small firms have not been consulted or considered in these recommendations.
The noble Baroness disparaged the role of the CBI. I believe that members of the CBI are very knowledgeable about the interests of 190,000 small businesses, and perhaps even medium-sized enterprises. I have said many times that it is wrong to refer in this context to representatives. If the noble Baroness wants
I should like to deal briefly with the remainder of the membership of the LPC. They were appointed not only within the criteria to which I have just referred but in a way that complied fully with the Nolan procedures for public appointments. The Government have stood rigidly by those requirements. The Government stressed in their advertisement for members that they were looking for individuals with experience of a range of industries and services. They were required to display a record of high achievement in the chosen area of expertise.
We sought to achieve a balance of representation, and I believe that we have succeeded. The commission is there to try to achieve a reasonable consensus among the social partners. The noble Baroness appears to dismiss the trade unions as having no interest and no expertise in this matter. That is patently absurd. I entirely reject that philosophy. It was one of the many things that went wrong with the previous government. The previous government were deaf to many views held widely in the community because of ideology. That is not the input that we wish to make in relation to this or any other policy.
The commission is not there to act as a forum for different parts of industry to pursue their own interests. We want balance. We do not want advantage. That is the approach which the Bill reflects and which is rejected, of course, by the Opposition.
Amendment No. 129 asserts that eight should be the minimum number of members rather than the fixed number as at present. There is some advantage in flexibility. That would enable additional members to be appointed, but there is also a disadvantage. I should have thought that it would be clear to most Members of the Committee that there would be a risk of open-endedness and unwieldiness. While the choice of any particular member is, to some extent, arbitrary, we were determined to provide a group--I believe that we succeeded--of a reasonable and manageable size, including the chairman, comprised of three, identifiable, mini groups. That is the right way to achieve balance.
The fixed size of the commission would enable us to combine a core of expertise and experience with a degree of flexibility and ease of management. The commission is sufficiently comprehensive to ensure a wide spread of interests and a knowledge of the various sectors of our industrial and business life. The commission could draw on extra support from others--people who can provide advice without being appointed as full commission members. That is what the commission has done in going about its business. That is an entirely sensible approach.
The strongest argument for a group of this size may be that it seems to have worked well for the present non-statutory commission. So is it not sensible to adopt the same criteria for the statutory body?
Amendment No. 130 would lay down strict rules about the make-up of the commission requiring an equal number of members from the employers' and employees' side. It would leave open the number of members to be appointed as independent experts, but with the upper limit that the independent members could not outnumber the remainder. The effect would be that the commission could, but need not, have a membership of which half consists of independent experts. I am sure that the amendment is a probing one. However it seems to be inconsistent with the general thrust of the case made by members of the Opposition in another place when they discussed the commission's membership.
It was suggested there that once the commission had made its first report, academics could be weeded out. I do not know what would happen to them after they had been weeded out, but that was the suggestion. They would be replaced by those with direct business experience. The noble Baroness did not go as far as that this evening. By contrast, the amendment would increase substantially the number of academics on the commission.
I turn now to Amendment No. 131, to which the noble Baroness alluded. It would require the statutory Low Pay Commission to continue to exist once appointed--by default, as it were--until the Secretary of State is satisfied that there is no purpose in the commission continuing. I thought that I heard the noble Baroness argue that she wanted the whole thing wound up; but, there it is, she wants it to go on indefinitely.
I believe that the noble Baroness is saying that the commission should be wound up once it had no significant functions to undertake. My noble friend referred earlier to the way in which the commission would work. It would be task-oriented; it would be linked to need. That is the basis for any future appointment of a statutory commission. On completing its task, we intend that the commission be disbanded if there is nothing further for it to do. The amendment assumes that the commission will have continuing duties, beyond reporting to the Secretary of State on the matters referred to it.
Once the commission has reported on all the matters referred to it, it will have nothing further to do. There will be no point in continuing its existence. To some extent we are in unknown territory, because it is the first time that we have had a national minimum wage. So it is right to see what the impact is, and what follow-up will be necessary. We envisage the commission having a part to play in all that. We want monitoring of and reporting on the impact of a minimum wage, following
Perhaps I may mention at this stage, because I believe that it will be the last opportunity for me to do so, and it is appropriate for me to say this before we close the Committee proceedings, that there will be another small batch of government amendments on Report. I had already indicated to the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, and the noble Lord, Lord Razzall, that some further technical amendments would be coming. I can assure the Committee that the amendments are highly technical. They are nearly all linked to and relate to the bodies for which the Secretary of State may make arrangements under Clause 13 for their officers to act as minimum wage enforcement officers, and the position that could arise following devolution as a result of the Scotland Bill. There is also one purely drafting amendment.
I hope that the Committee will forgive me if I do not go into detail at this stage. I can assure the Committee that we shall be tabling the amendments shortly. I shall be writing with a detailed explanation to the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, as I did earlier for the other government amendments. Disappointed though I am sure she is, I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw the amendment.
Baroness Miller of Hendon: I once again thank the Minister for the courteous way in which he dealt with my amendment this afternoon. Having formerly been involved in a small business, I do not believe that small businesses are represented sufficiently. I regret that. I say that in view of the many amendments that I moved today about spouses and so forth. However, I understand what the Minister has said.
The Minister referred to Amendment No. 131. I am merely asking for a little more flexibility. I am not saying that the commission should go on for ever. I am trying to ensure that the Secretary of State has the flexibility that she requires. This is the final amendment that I move at this stage of the Bill. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, for the courteous and good humoured way they rejected all of my reasonable amendments, even though I argued them--in their words--so beguilingly. Nevertheless, at the next stage, I shall be returning to some of the amendments that I withdrew or did not move, by which time I hope that the Minister will have persuaded the Secretary of State to take a more positive attitude.
Lord Clinton-Davis: Before the noble Baroness sits down, perhaps I may say that she has been most courteous and kind as she always is. I cannot call her my noble friend, although I can call her my friend, in other respects, as she knows. Both noble Baronesses and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser, have been articulate--I cannot say helpful. This is not the appropriate time to thank everyone. I shall reserve that for another occasion.
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