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Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: My Lords, may I associate these Benches with the sentiments expressed by the noble Viscount to the noble Lord, Lord Richard, who, I think, has had a difficult year as Leader of the House but has always put the consideration of the House first. He is an old friend of mine and his service in public life over many years is something which none of us will forget or underestimate.

Changes in government are celebrations for some but they are always painful for others. I think we should remember both categories at the present time. Like the noble Viscount, I greatly welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, to her new role. We shall show great good will towards her and understanding of her actions as Leader of the House. I am sure she will show reciprocal understanding when, from time to time, we are fairly difficult from these Benches.

Lord Weatherill: My Lords, may I, on behalf of the Cross-Benchers, also thank the noble Lord, Lord Richard, for the way in which he has shown very fair consideration for Cross-Benchers during the time he has been Leader of the House. I too give a welcome to the noble Baroness, Lady Jay. We look forward to working with her. I hope that she will not forget that we now number 326 on the Cross-Benches.

Lord Richard: My Lords, unaccustomed as I am to speaking from this particular spot, I thank the noble Viscount, the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, and the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, for their kind sentiments. It strikes me that perhaps the rumours of my retirement from politics are a little premature, if I may respond to the noble Viscount. I have no intention of departing from these proceedings. From time to time I might even feel compelled to utter a few words.

These occasions are rather like funeral orations with the corpse having a right of reply. This particular corpse is not yet so defunct as to be incapable of expressing his deep thanks for the sentiments uttered by the noble Viscount and other noble Lords. It has been instructive, interesting, stimulating and enjoyable to have served as Leader of your Lordships' House. It has also been a

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great honour. I am grateful to those who gave me that honour for the time that I was able to enjoy it. Thank you very much.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I should like to thank noble Lords who have spoken, particularly the noble Viscount, the Leader of the Opposition, for his kind words of welcome to me in my new position. It is an honour and a privilege to take on the position; it is also somewhat daunting. However, I look forward, given the expressions of co-operation heard from all around the House, to maintaining both the effective process of business and the longstanding courtesies which we always enjoy in this House. I simply disagree with the noble Viscount, as he would expect, concerning his pious political hope.

Perhaps I may take this opportunity to thank my noble friend Lord Richard for the extraordinary leadership he has given both to the party and to the Government in the House since we took office. He has guided us most effectively. He was a particularly good and helpful Leader to me in my previous role as deputy Leader. I am glad to hear my noble friend say that he has no intention of retiring as I shall look to him both for personal support and for public support on the Floor of the House.

City of Edinburgh (Guided Busways) Order Confirmation Bill

3.25 p.m.

Considered on Report.

Private Hire Vehicles (London) Bill

Read a third time.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I beg to move That this Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.--(Baroness Gardner of Parkes.)

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, it is perhaps appropriate that I should say a few words from the Government Bench before, as I hope, we agree that this Bill do now pass. I speak partly to express, on behalf, I am sure, of all noble Lords, our collective thanks to Sir George Young and the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, for their efforts in taking this Bill through.

No one who embarks on a Private Member's Bill can be certain of success so we must be all the more appreciative of what both Sir George and the noble Baroness have achieved in bringing this Bill to the brink of Royal Assent.

If your Lordships agree that this Bill do now pass, it will then fall to the Government to take forward implementation. It is in that context that I should say something about Clause 40(2) and its powers to make commencement orders which could modify primary legislation.

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The Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation of this House has drawn attention to that power and has compared it to the power to make regulations in Clause 37. The Select Committee questioned whether it was appropriate that provisions which would be subject to parliamentary scrutiny if included in regulations under Clause 37 should escape that scrutiny if included in an order under Clause 40(2).

The thinking behind that provision was merely that the commencement of the Bill, as part of the transition from the present wholly unregulated regime to a continuing system of regulation might be a complex matter which for the sake of all concerned should be conducted smoothly. But the point of the Select Committee is well taken. I therefore echo the words of the Minister for Transport in London. In a recent letter to the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, the Minister gave an undertaking that the power in Clause 40(2) will not be used as it might otherwise have been to modify any enactment contained in the Bill, should it become law, or in any other Act. If such a modification is judged to be necessary, provision will be pursued by regulations under Clause 37 in order that it should be laid before Parliament. I am glad to repeat that undertaking on the Floor of your Lordships' House. I hope that it gives noble Lords the reassurance they seek and that the House will therefore feel able to agree that this Bill should now pass. In doing so, we shall be sending for Royal Assent a measure which, in the opinion of many, is long overdue. It will make London a safer place.

The House has done itself credit in providing all-party support for this measure after a constructive Second Reading debate. I am grateful to all noble Lords who spoke in that debate. It now falls to me to commend the Bill to your Lordships' House as a proper, necessary and appropriate measure to which I hope your Lordships will agree.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for repeating that undertaking which was given by the Minister for Transport in London. I thank all those who have done so much as regards the progress of the Bill. I hope that your Lordships will now agree that the Bill do now pass.

On Question, Bill passed.

National Minimum Wage Bill

3.31 p.m.

Read a third time.

Baroness Miller of Hendon moved Amendment No. 1:

After Clause 5, insert the following new clause--

Power to suspend the national minimum wage in the event of local or national economic emergencies

(" .--(1) The Secretary of State, after such consultation with the Low Pay Commission as may be reasonably practicable, may by order suspend the operation of this Act if he is satisfied that such suspension is required in the public interest by extreme economic circumstances.

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(2) An order under subsection (1) may provide for the operation of this Act to be suspended in whole or in part and, in particular, may provide for the provisions of this Act to be suspended in respect of--
(a) any area or description of area; or
(b) any individual employer.
(3) No order shall be made under subsection (2)(b) above unless the employer has given the Secretary of State not less than 30 days' notice in such form as may be prescribed that, in the opinion of the employer, such an order is necessary in order to prevent the loss of jobs.
(4) A statutory instrument containing an order under this section shall be laid before each House of Parliament after being made.
(5) Unless an order under this section is approved by resolution of each House of Parliament before the end of the period of 28 days beginning with the day on which it is made, it shall cease to have effect at the end of that period.
(6) In reckoning the period of 28 days for the purposes of subsection (5), no account shall be taken of any time during which Parliament is dissolved or prorogued or during which either House is adjourned for more than four days.
(7) An order under this section which does not cease to have effect before the end of the period of three months beginning with the day on which it is made shall cease to have effect at the end of that period.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in Committee, I withdrew this same amendment because of the lateness of the hour, which was 11 p.m. I did not move the amendment on Report because the time for that stage had been shortened by the two Ministerial Statements. However, I now wish to return to it because in Committee I asked the Minister to reconsider the position and I hope that he has now done so.

The detailed words of the amendment speak for themselves and I certainly shall not take up the time of your Lordships by going through them in detail. The margin note provides an adequate summary. The proposed new clause gives the Secretary of State power to suspend the national minimum wage in the event of local or national emergencies. I regret to say that I thought the Minister's response was inadequate and irrelevant. He complained that the circumstances in which the powers might be invoked were ill-defined. The Government claim to be expert at defining what is in the public interest. Indeed, they claim to be the sole arbiters of it. The Minister did not understand the phrase I used; namely, "extreme economic circumstances". At least he recognised that I was not referring to extreme uneconomic circumstances.

I suspect that we can all recognise extreme economic circumstances when they arise. But an order could not be made arbitrarily by the Secretary of State. Subsection (4) requires the order to be subject to the scrutiny of both Houses and to a positive resolution of both of them. That is a procedure in which I have considerable faith and I hope that the Minister has too. Subsections (5), (6) and (7) impose stringent and very short time limits on the operation of any order. The Minister suggested that the amendment could lead to what he called exploitation and suggested that unscrupulous employers--the bogeymen whom the Government see lurking round every corner--might try to take advantage of the situation. I consider that to be fairly far-fetched. I cannot imagine an employer bankrupting himself simply to avoid paying the national minimum wage. The example I gave was of a group of

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workers banding together to save their firm, possibly by investing their redundancy payments or forgoing their wages until the firm gets back on its feet again.

According to the Government's response to the amendment, those people would be better off going on the dole rather than breaching the Government's philosophy of universality for the national minimum wage. The Minister's response shows also a surprising lack of confidence in the Secretary of State's ability to spot an undeserving case; or to recognise an extreme economic situation; or to recognise an unscrupulous employer.

The provisions of that subsection do not come into effect automatically. They require the Secretary of State to investigate the matter. She must also consult the Low Pay Commission if it is reasonably practicable to do so. After all that, she still has a total discretion as to whether or not she will take any action. That is the nub of the clause.

Before anyone wrongly accuses me of introducing a wrecking amendment, I should point out to your Lordships that the clause simply gives the Secretary of State a reserve power to exercise if, and only if, she thinks it appropriate. On the previous occasion on which the amendment was debated, I said that I do not possess a crystal ball. But then, neither do the Government. They must allow for the possibility that the circumstances which the clause envisages may arise. It will then be too late for the Secretary of State to come to Parliament to pass a new Act.

This Bill has been described repeatedly by the Minister as an enabling Bill. I do not understand why the Government would wish to enable themselves to do some things but to disable themselves from doing others. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us some convincing reasons for rejecting the amendment, if that is what he is minded to do. Otherwise, he will be accepting on behalf of the Secretary of State a much needed reserve power to use in case of an emergency. I beg to move.

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