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Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: I leave it to my noble friend to make up her own mind. It will not do: the Minister said on Second Reading that this place would see the report before the end of last month. I have not seen it. We do not yet have any government decisions on it. At the risk of repeating myself, if the only issue that this place needed to have brought to its attention was the level recommended by the commission--£3.60, £3.40 or £3.80--I could see that a final decision by the Government on that matter would not necessarily affect the detailed scrutiny of the Bill.

What is troubling about today's report is the revelation that there is to be an amendment on how tips are to be treated. There is an indication also in the press reports that the trade unions are profoundly unhappy about the recommendation. The Daily Telegraph claims that it is a recommendation which seems certain to be accepted by the Government.

That is our difficulty. I am sure that the Minister understands what I am driving at. Unless we know how that matter will be handled by the Government, the only way forward for us--I should prefer to avoid taking this way forward--would be to assume in every circumstance in the Bill, where there might be some impact on the drafting, if tipping on a wider basis is to be included, close scrutiny will be needed. Let us not be flippant about 7.30 p.m. or 8.20 p.m., I am more concerned that we will not do ourselves a great deal of good, in trying to scrutinise properly, if we have to make a broad range of assumptions, because, if only the Government would make up their mind, we could set them aside so that the range of scrutiny would be markedly restricted.

I appeal to the Minister again to give us some indication, if he can, of when we might know about these matters. We were promised the report by the end of May. As we understood it at the time, that meant that we would all have it available for this Committee stage. It would be helpful were we to know, at least before we reach the next stage, whether we shall see the report by then, and, equally importantly, whether there is any prospect of having the Government's decision on the acceptance or otherwise of those recommendations by that time.

Viscount Bridgeman: I support the amendment, but I do not in any way anticipate a later amendment tabled

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by my noble friend Lady Miller. The Inland Revenue has, for many years, had to wrestle with the problem of tipping. At the later stages of the Bill, I hope that the Government will pay attention to the long-established practice which has been built up by the Inland Revenue in relation to tipping.

Lord Clinton-Davis: The noble and learned Lord has asked me to do what he used to rebuke me for suggesting, that titbits of information that he might read in the press should be the subject of considered debate here. I decline to do that. He has referred repeatedly to what he has read in the Daily Telegraph, based, of course, upon speculation.

We are dealing with the framework for the national minimum wage. It will be implemented through regulations which will be subject to the approval of both Houses of Parliament. The Bill establishes the principle of the national minimum wage and the regulations will define the detail.

When we come to debate those matters, many of the issues to which the noble and learned Lord has referred will be dealt with. I cannot continue the debate by going into further and better particulars, as the noble and learned Lord wishes. I have said that on a number of occasions, and repetition does not improve the argument. He then said that he would have to take us through the Bill step-by-step, no doubt threatening us with spending hours and hours on the Bill. That is for him to choose.

I have had detailed discussions with his Front Bench and with the Liberal Democrats. The noble Baroness will recognise that. We have tried to be as helpful as possible. I had not expected this kind of approach this evening. It is a matter for the noble and learned Lord. He is an experienced Member of this place and of the other place. It is for him to decide what he wants to do.

The commission's report and the Government's response will be before this place. I cannot say now when that will be. It is not just a question of choosing one item to discuss. The commission was asked to consider a number of complex items. It would be doing an injustice to it were we just to select, piecemeal, the matters that we were going to discuss, when the Government have not mind up their mind upon the entirety of the report. I cannot carry the matter any further.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: I am becoming even more disappointed by the Minister's response. It has been indicated that the noble Lord's colleagues are having a reception this evening. If that were not so, I would be minded to go back on a promise that we would not have a Division on the matter. The noble Lord must appreciate how close he is getting to infuriating us seriously. The programme, the timetable for the publication of the report, and the timetable for securing decisions of the Government are not titbits. It was said at Second Reading that we would at least see the report before we reached this stage of the Bill. That does not seem to be a matter that should be caricatured as seeking titbits of information. The Government

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clearly regard it as extremely important to have the matter resolved as objectively as possible by passing it to the Low Pay Commission for a conclusion.

I shall not press the matter further on this amendment. However, if the noble Lord regards our seeking to discover the likely response of the Government to the report as a titbit, or something of inconsequence, it will not make for a measured, calculated consideration of amendments by the Opposition. I leave it to my noble friend to determine what she wishes to do.

Lord Clinton-Davies: I had no intention of upsetting the noble and learned Lord. I have done so on a previous occasion. I know how wrathful he can be. It was not my intention.

I am saying that at this stage I cannot give the noble and learned Lord a timetable. I can undertake to inform the House at the earliest opportunity what the timetable will be, and how it will fit into consideration of the further stages of the Bill, but I cannot do so tonight. The noble and learned Lord would be the first to rebuke me--he has done so in the past--for relying on speculative information in the press. The noble and learned Lord will recall that. If he cannot do so, my memory is better than his in that respect. Be that as it may, I wish to add that footnote to this debate.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: The Minister will remember that on Second Reading I asked specifically when we were to receive the report from the Low Pay Commission. I recall the matter well because the noble Lord intervened, saying that he thought he had already addressed the matter. It is impressed upon my mind, since I thought that I must have misheard. Whether or not I misheard, it is troubling that when we seek to discuss the Bill all we have are leaks. The Daily Mail today had an article on tipping. A little while ago we heard that the proposed sum was £3.60. We heard that the Treasury was not pleased about that. Then we heard reference to the Board of Trade. We are entitled to ask when we are to receive the report from the Low Pay Commission and to be concerned that the House will not receive it first.

Having said that, I shall read carefully what the Minister said. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6.45 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Hendon moved Amendment No. 2:

Page 1, line 8, at end insert (", provided that such person has no other casual, part-time or permanent employment with another employer in respect of the same work.").

The noble Baroness said: The urgent need for this amendment arises from an ambiguity in the clause compounded by what was thought by one of my honourable friends to be an ill-considered throwaway remark by the Minister for Small Firms during the Committee stage in another place. It occurred not in relation to Clause 1 but on a totally different aspect of Clause 2. That is why I believe that the Minister did not realise the full implication of what she said.

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The Minister began by saying:

    "Under Clause 1 a worker is entitled to receive the national minimum wage from his or her employer. If the employee has two jobs, he or she is entitled to have the national minimum wage from each employer".

The honourable Member for Daventry asked:

    "Is she saying that would apply if the employee was employed simultaneously?"

The Minister replied--and this is of vital significance:

    "Absolutely. An employee who is working for more than one employer simultaneously would be entitled to receive the national minimum wage from each of his or her employers".

Let me stress the word "simultaneously" in that reply. The honourable Member for Buckingham then said:

    "I think the Minister has just dropped a clanger, to judge by the expression on the faces of Labour Members at the back of the room. Am I correct in understanding that an employee would be entitled to claim the national minimum wage from more than one employer at one time for work in respect of the same period?"

The Minister replied:

    "Yes, of course".

I stress the words, "in respect of the same period".

It seems to me that the honourable Member was being magnanimous and charitable, as is his wont, in assuming that the Minister had been guilty of a slip of the tongue. Not so; the Government really meant it. In the very next session of the Standing Committee that afternoon, the Minister of State said:

    "If an individual has two employers for whom he works during the particular pay period, each employer has to pay the minimum wage irrespective of whether a worker has three, four, five or six employers".

I apologise for the lengthy quotations, but it was important for the Committee to hear exactly what the Government contend is the effect of the Bill.

As the Committee is aware, the courts may now adopt the practice of looking at what Parliament intended when interpreting the words of an Act. Perhaps I may give the Committee a couple of examples of the ludicrous results that follow from this incongruous interpretation of the Act.

Let us imagine that three brothers trade in partnership in a small factory unit manufacturing widgets. Their only employee is a secretary who answers the telephone, deals with a small amount of correspondence, issues the invoices and does other minor clerical jobs. For that she is currently paid £7 an hour or £280 a week. We understand that the Low Pay Commission has recommended a national minimum wage of £3.60. If the Minister's interpretation is correct, the result is that she would now have to be paid £432 per week because she was working for three employers, the three persons who owned the business in partnership. However, the paradox does not end there. Next door is a similar business, but it trades as a limited company, so its secretary has only one employer--the company. She therefore has the proper single market rate for the job.

In place of that hypothetical example, let me give one that would exist in real life. Let us consider a large firm of solicitors practising in the City, let us say in Gray's Inn Road. Part of the infrastructure of that firm is a

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catering staff of three or four people to supply tea, coffee and quantities of delicious sandwiches so that complicated negotiations do not have to be broken off for lunch and staff and visitors in meetings are sustained well into the night. Never mind the Minister's hypothetical three, four, five or six employers. Let us suppose that that firm had 54 partners who are the owners of the firm and the technical employers of the catering staff. It is by no means the largest of such firms; there are many larger firms with numbers of partners running into three figures.

If the Minister is right, it means that each member of the catering staff, receptionists, the four people employed in the print room (which churns out thousands of pages of documentation every day), and members of the typing pool, would be entitled to 54 times the national minimum wage. If it were 54 times £3.60, the figure would be £194 an hour, or £1,555 for an eight hour day, or £7,760 for a five-day week, or even £404,352 a year. Of course that is a perfectly preposterous proposition. I am certain that one result would be a mass exodus of your Lordships from this House to seek a job as a messenger boy or girl in such a firm.

By their injudicious remarks in another place, the Ministers have opened Pandora's box. Sure enough, someone will try it on and perhaps a judge will feel bound to adopt the two Ministers' interpretation. This simple amendment removes any possible ambiguity or doubt. Common sense tells us that if a person is working simultaneously for more than one person, then he or she gets paid for the hours he or she is working concurrently. For an eight-hour day the pay is for eight hours, not 16, 24 or 54 times eight which equals 432 hours.

Nobody can claim to be paid for a 432-hour day, but that is what the Ministers in the other place were suggesting. Even the planet Mercury only has a 59-hour day. What the Minister is suggesting is that the meaning of this Bill would introduce the mother of all Spanish practices.

I do not believe for one moment that the Government could possibly intend this utterly ridiculous interpretation to prevail. All they need to do, to put the issue beyond any doubt, is to adopt the eminently sensible amendment, which in no way detracts from the right of an employee to receive the minimum wage, whatever it turns out to be, for each actual hour worked. I beg to move.

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