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Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend is entirely right. I know that she is one of those who, night after night, valiantly bore the heat and the burden in the Standing Committee on the Bill to get the legislation on the statute book. She is right to say that one of the beneficial effects of the legislation will be substantial savings to the taxpayer. I noticed that the shadow Secretary of State chose to dress up, in references to an overall minimum income, a call for substantial taxpayer subsidies to people who exploit by paying poverty wages. We do not share that view.

I have to tell my hon. Friend that I am not in a position to give the estimates for which she calls. It may be possible over time for people to do some calculations, but I have no figure before me for savings on the tax bill. However, we all know that, at the present time, the subsidy from taxpayers for low pay is about £1.5 billion, and we expect that substantially to reduce.

Mr. Alasdair Morgan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale): Are the Government slightly embarrassed that the Government of the Republic of Ireland have recently proposed a minimum wage there of £4.40 per hour?

The Low Pay Commission's recommendation that the national minimum wage should be £3.70 in 2000 is the very first recommendation in its report, which seems to signify that it is seen as a key recommendation. How does the right hon. Lady square her non-acceptance of that with the fact that she says that the Government are accepting all the key recommendations?

Mrs. Beckett: First, the Republic of Ireland has different structures and different pay rates, but, if its Government were having to introduce a minimum wage today, cold, on the basis of a labour market that had been exploited and neglected as ours was under the Conservatives, I am not at all sure whether they would choose to introduce it at that rate. It is the Government's concern to get the right rate and level of introduction.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about the recommendation on the development rate. I repeat that the Low Pay Commission made a small number of key recommendations, which we have accepted. We have said that we will phase in that recommendation for that group in the first year.

Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury): Will the President of the Board of Trade accept that if the minimum wage rate is set at or below the market rate, it will simply be otiose and, if it is set above the market rate, it will simply lead

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to a loss of jobs? Has the right hon. Lady estimated how many jobs will be lost, has she simply not estimated that, or has she done so but is not prepared to share the estimation with the House?

Mrs. Beckett: If the hon. Gentleman is worried about employment levels, he could give up one of the six jobs that he has. He has made that point before ad nauseam and there is nothing more nauseous than listening to well-paid Conservative Members defending a system in which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) pointed out a few moments ago, some people receive sums as low as 89p an hour. I am disgusted that the Conservative party defends that.

Mr. Chris Pond (Gravesham): While not wishing to undersell my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), may I point out that cases of 49p an hour are not uncommon? That is why Labour Members welcome my right hon. Friend's statement. Is she aware that her pride in it will be reflected in the welcome that it will receive throughout the country? Many people will think that the statement by the shadow President of the Board of Trade that the minimum wage is fool's gold is adding insult to the injury that the Conservative party created for the low-paid for so many years. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that when the Low-Pay Commission is asked to reconsider the appropriate rate for 21-year-olds, it will also be asked to consider the appropriate rate for 18 to 20-year-olds in relation to the adult rate?

Mrs. Beckett: I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks. Of course, all hon. Members--certainly those on the Labour Benches--are aware of the long and honourable record that my hon. Friend has in campaigning on the issue. I am sure that he is as pleased as we are that we are so close to achieving the introduction of a national minimum wage. He asked about the proceedings when the Low Pay Commission reconsiders the rate for 21-year-olds. We are anxious for it to begin that reconsideration during 1999, and to make early recommendations. Of course, it will be its role in general to monitor, keep under review and, from time to time, advise on rates and, indeed, the process and pattern of what is happening as we introduce the national minimum wage across the board.

Several hon. Members rose--

Madam Speaker: Order. Thank you, Mrs. Beckett. I am bringing this statement to a close.

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Business of the House

4.17 pm

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Ann Taylor): With permission, Madam Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the business for next week.

Monday 22 June--Progress on remaining stages of the Crime and Disorder Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 23 June--Conclusion of remaining stages of the Crime and Disorder Bill [Lords].

Wednesday 24 June--Until 2 pm, there will be debates on the motion for the Adjournment of the House.

That will be followed in the afternoon and evening by consideration in Committee of the Human Rights Bill [Lords] (third allotted day).

Thursday 25 June--Opposition Day (14th allotted day).

Until about 7 pm there will be a debate on a sittings motion for Friday 3 July in the name of the Liberal Democrats, followed by a debate on Government strategy on social welfare on a motion in the name of the Scottish National party.

Friday 26 June--The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the following week will be as follows.

Monday 29 June--Opposition Day (15th allotted day).

The subject will be announced.

Tuesday 30 June--Progress on remaining stages of the Finance (No. 2) Bill.

Wednesday 1 July--Until 2 pm, there will be the usual debates on the motion for the Adjournment of the House followed by completion of remaining stages of the Finance (No. 2) Bill.

Thursday 2 July--Conclusion of consideration in Committee of the Human Rights Bill [Lords] followed by the remaining stages of the Data Protection Bill [Lords].

Friday 3 July--Private Members' Bills.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire): The House is grateful to the right hon. Lady for giving next week's business and the provisional business for the following week. In addition to the business that she has announced for next week, it is likely that there will be further ministerial statements. In the light of what happened today--not for the first time, the contents of a statement were widely trailed in the press and the media--will she bring to the attention of fellow members of the Government paragraph 27 of the Ministerial Code, which was revised by the Prime Minister last July? It makes it clear that

The right hon. Lady announced that, on Monday, the House is to consider a range of amendments to the Crime and Disorder Bill, some of which relate to the age of consent. Has she seen the points of order raised by two Labour Members yesterday--in column 386 of Hansard--pressing for changes in the way in which the Business Committee operates so that the House can vote

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on amendments that have been selected by Madam Speaker but have not been reached? Does she have sympathy with those points of order?

Two weeks ago, in response to a business question, the right hon. Lady said that the House would not sit on Saturdays for "normal business". Will she confirm that, like the establishment of an assembly in Wales and of a Parliament in Scotland, the establishment of an assembly in Northern Ireland is, indeed, the normal business of the House and that there is no question of inviting the House to sit on a Saturday to deal with it?

The House will be expecting the Government to have completed a number of reviews shortly, including the strategic defence review, the comprehensive spending review and reviews on the Child Support Agency and on pensions. Will the right hon. Lady confirm that statements will be made to the House on each of those? Will she give some idea of when they will be made, especially the statement on the comprehensive spending review? Furthermore, when can the House expect the long-awaited and much promised foreign affairs debate?

Finally, those who work in the House--and, indeed, many Labour Members--will want to know more about the plans for the summer recess. Will she shed any further light on when the House will rise for that event?

Mrs. Taylor: I shall deal first with the right hon. Gentleman's point about statements. I hope that he is not suggesting that it is only under this Government that there has been a great deal of press speculation about the contents of statements that are to be made to the House. I know that Ministers take steps to try to ensure that speculation does not get out of hand and that they are careful about what they say in advance of statements. As he is pressing for more statements, he will know that there is speculation, not least by Conservative Members, about the contents of some of the reviews. We cannot stop all speculation, but it is right that Ministers should not be party to the early release of information and that they should make relevant statements to the House--that is the procedure that we try to follow.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about consideration of the Crime and Disorder Bill on Monday and the points of order that were raised, which, I believe, concerned genuine issues. We shall have to look at how the Bill is dealt with on Monday. The Business Committee is taking on board those issues; it is trying to ensure that there are votes on Monday evening on the relevant amendments selected by Madam Speaker. Those discussions are continuing and I intend to ensure that all hon. Members know the exact order of votes on Monday--we shall try to make that factual information available to all hon. Members in advance of any votes that are called.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about reviews. I said that we will have statements, not necessarily on all the subjects that he mentioned, but on all the more important issues. They will be made, I hope, some time next month, although I cannot give dates in advance.

The right hon. Gentleman again asked for a foreign affairs debate. I have said that I hope to find time later in the Session for one. We arranged for a full day's debate on European matters last Thursday, but it was poorly attended, especially by Conservative Members, and collapsed earlier than we had expected, so I am not sure that there is always as much interest in the subject as people think.

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I answered the point about sitting on Saturdays some time ago. It is not my intention that the House should sit on Saturdays, but we all have a responsibility to ensure that if there is an occasion on which the House can make special arrangements to help advance the peace process in Northern Ireland, we should do so. I do not expect anything specific, but we should always be careful about what we say on Northern Ireland issues and the responsibilities of the House in that respect.

I genuinely cannot answer the question about the recess, not least because the dates will depend on the progress of the business that is currently being conducted. The right hon. Gentleman will know from our discussions through the usual channels that not all the details have yet been agreed.

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