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Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the noble Baroness moved a similar amendment in Committee. She will not be surprised to hear that the position of the Government has not changed since then. I am very glad to hear that the Liberal Democrats have managed to escape from the mesmerising advocacy of the noble Baroness. One can understand how someone can be mesmerised by it.
The Government have no argument with the need for monitoring. It is important to monitor the effects of any new legislation, especially in an area as important as this, when the country has never before had a universal statutory minimum wage. As with all policies, the Government wish to evaluate fully the effects of introducing a national minimum wage. That is likely to include most, if not all, of the areas listed in the new clause that is proposed by the noble Baroness. The amendment also envisages a permanent role for the Low Pay Commission in continuing to monitor the impact of the minimum wage.
To answer the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Razzall, the Government have made clear in publishing the report of the Low Pay Commission that they wish the commission to continue to monitor and research the impact of the minimum wage following its introduction. The criteria listed in the new clause appear to be sensible, although perhaps not exhaustive. Given time, doubtless we could all come up with matters that could be added. One of the reasons why I ask the House to oppose this amendment if pressed--a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Razzall--is that it is unnecessary and over-rigid to prescribe in primary legislation when, how and who should monitor and report on the impact of legislation.
Furthermore, however significant the matters involved, it is important to recognise, as the noble Baroness appears to acknowledge, that the production of such a report will be an extremely time-consuming exercise. Its contents may also overlap with other government documents, notably the competition White Paper and to some extent Budget documentation. Therefore, we believe that it is preferable to leave this matter open. An annual report by the Secretary of State and the Chancellor specifically on the national minimum wage could easily be seen as part of the annual pay round and lead to expectations of annual increases. I said that also at Committee stage, and uncharacteristically the noble Baroness misunderstood it. It could lead to expectations of annual increases in relation to the national minimum wage, which I am quite sure the noble Baroness would not want.
I move to the role of the Low Pay Commission. The amendment appears to presume that the commission will be able to initiate its own work and make reports rather than wait for matters to be referred to it by the Secretary of State. I should make clear again that the Government fully appreciate the work that the commission has carried out in making its report. I have already indicated that the Government wish the commission to continue to monitor and report on the impact of the minimum wage following its introduction. The position envisaged by the amendment goes somewhat beyond what the commission was asked to do in its first report. The commission envisaged by this amendment would have the power to report on everything on its own initiative, including a whole range of matters raised and debated previously both in this House and in another place at various times during the passage of this Bill.
I find it strange that the noble Baroness should support such a powerful and unaccountable body. This runs counter to other previous amendments that have sought to constrain and limit the power of the Low Pay Commission. I assure noble Lords that the Government envisage the role of the commission as being task-oriented, not unlimited. It is right that Ministers, as elected representatives accountable to Parliament, should be responsible for the setting of those tasks, one of which is monitoring. It is in order to maintain the task-oriented focus that essentially the commission must be reactive, not proactive. The commission must be independent in reaching its view but its ongoing activity should be within the framework set by politicians. For the purposes of administration and accountability there are good reasons for this arrangement.
We shall continue to monitor the effects as we do for all legislation and policies. Continued monitoring can take place through departmental research, ad hoc surveys and calling on the services of the commission itself. No doubt that monitoring process will feed into the consideration of any future variation or uprating of the level. I believe that the amendment goes beyond what is a common sense structure for the commission's activities and places unnecessary reporting obligations on the Government.
There is absolutely no intention whatever to marginalise Parliament in this respect; nor is this a matter of freedom of information. This matter is concerned with keeping under review economic circumstances. One must remember that the Government give a long and detailed report on the economy every year in the Budget. That report is accompanied by substantial red books. I believe that it is misleading and mistaken to say that this is an issue of freedom of information. I therefore ask that if given the opportunity this House should reject the amendment if the Opposition wish to press it.
Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for his response. I am sorry that my drafting of the amendment was too prescriptive so that the noble Lord, Lord Razzall, was not mesmerised by my words and could not support the proposal that there should be a report. I am interested in the response
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.