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Lord Haskel moved Amendment No. 9:

Page 36, line 21, leave out ("in writing").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.--(Lord Clinton-Davis.)

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, this is the last occasion on which this Bill will be before your

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Lordships' House, assuming, that is, that the other place has the good sense to accept the very moderate and eminently reasonable amendment that was approved last Monday. For my part, it is rather like saying "goodbye" to an old acquaintance, because I have been involved in my researches, discussions with interested parties and writing my notes since before Easter.

I ask your Lordships' indulgence to enable me to add a few words to the thousands that I have spoken at the various stages of the Bill. I must first say that I am disappointed by the manner in which the Bill has been dealt with by the Government; not, I hasten emphatically to say, by the Front Bench in this House. They have been thoroughly professional and have extended me every courtesy that I could have wished for. At this stage, perhaps I may extend my sincere congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, on his becoming a Privy Counsellor. I am sure that Her Majesty's Opposition and indeed the whole House will agree with me in my sentiments. More than that, despite our differences of opinion, I believe that our debates have been conducted in a friendly and good-humoured way. The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, the noble and learned Lord the Solicitor-General and the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, have contributed very much to that.

In paying them this well deserved compliment, I hope that I will not get them into trouble with the Minister of State, Mr. McCartney. When the amendment was passed giving the Secretary of State the option, entirely at her sole discretion, to moderate the operation of the Bill if she, and she alone, was convinced that it was necessary, the Minister of State's Pavlovian reaction was to describe it as a "wrecking amendment". While I can find excuses for his ignorance, what is not excusable was the continuation of his outburst when he added a vituperative rant straight out of Old Labour's Book of Slogans. He described the hereditary Members of your Lordships' House as,

    "the descendants of robber barons and cattle thieves".

It is perhaps not surprising that the mouthpiece of the Labour Party, the Daily Mirror, was encouraged last Thursday into describing your Lordships, and me in particular, as "vermin in ermine". In a particularly abstruse phrase used by my late mother-in-law, I take that statement from whence it comes. Whence it comes is from a paper whose main claim to fame is that Robert Maxwell considered it fit to be owned by him.

In the other place, on 16th July, the Minister of State demonstrated his implacable hatred of Conservatives, which he takes no trouble to conceal, by describing those who oppose the Bill as "a shambles" and "a rabble". I have to assume that he includes me in that description. But since the civilised rules under which this House operates forbid us to speak with asperity, I shall not reply in kind. I shall content myself with saying that if any reform of Parliament is needed, it should begin in the other place, as indeed the Daily Telegraph suggested in the leading article last Friday. I do not expect noble Lords on the Bench opposite to apologise for the Minister of State's outburst. They are most certainly not responsible for his actions. Perhaps he may not be either.

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The other disappointment is that I put down 108 amendments at Committee Stage, with about a third brought back on Report. Every single one of them was rejected by the Government. While I congratulate the noble Lords opposite for the way in which they doggedly stuck to their briefs, even occasionally giving a passable imitation of pretending that they believed some of the more specious arguments they were advancing, I have to say that on the law of averages I must have been right at least once.

No doubt the objective of the Minister of State was to get the Bill through both Houses with a clean sheet, with no Opposition amendments. The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, admitted that the Government may not have got everything right. I must apologise, therefore, to the House for my being remiss in somehow not spotting and dealing with any of those potential errors in the 108 amendments that I moved.

I should also like to refer to the part played by the Liberal Democrats in our deliberations. On most occasions that they intervened they disagreed with me, which is of course their right. But they did so with great courtesy and politeness, if not always with logic. The noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, spoke about the problems of shift workers and night workers gaining access to their pay records by personal inspection. But his party opposed my amendment that access should be by means of copy documents, which would have made that easy. However, I forgive his party after it supported my Amendment No. 1 at Report stage, recognising as it did that every other country which has a minimum wage regime also has exceptions.

I thank my noble friend Lady Seccombe for her endurance in sticking solidly by my side on this Bench during the more than 12 hours or so of debates. I also thank the Shadow Minister my noble and learned friend Lord Fraser of Carmyllie for landing me with--I shall rephrase that: giving me the opportunity to conduct the Opposition's case on the Bill, and for all the helpful advice and encouragement that he provided. I also thank my unnamed researcher for the many hours of work, patience and good humour he showed in providing the information that I needed.

No one can be in any doubt, especially readers of the Daily Mirror, that I regard the Bill as a monumental mistake from start to finish, with its paraphernalia of production notices, enforcement officers and workers' minders, and the reversal of the burden of proof. I believe that it is a piece of political dogmatism, founded on the pay back to the unions for their surrender of the block vote, their acceptance of the abandonment of Clause 4, and the fact that the Government will not reverse most of the Conservative union reform legislation. The trouble is that the ones who will pay off that debt will be those whose jobs will be lost, who will not find jobs, or whose businesses will go to the wall as a result of the Bill. Unfortunately, the comments of the new president of the CBI, whose support the Government repeatedly prayed in aid during our debates, came too late for me to quote. But he confirms what I have been saying all along. The national minimum wage will cost jobs and will close businesses.

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I hope that we shall be proved wrong. I am not one who says, "I told you so", but in due course I fear that I may have to do so.

No less interesting is the admission reported in yesterday's Sunday Telegraph by Gavyn Davis, a close adviser to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and a member of the Monetary Policy Committee. He said that the national minimum wage is a factor in a forecast surge in wage inflation. It may well be that the disastrous consequences will be subsumed in the increase in unemployment that will follow from the Government's economic policies. The Rover car redundancies are only the beginning. The time will come when the Government can no longer glibly blame everything that is currently going wrong with their policies on 18 years of Tory misrule--just like the Wilson government which also began their career by complaining of 14 years of Tory misrule. Then they will blame their failures on the collapse of Far Eastern economies, the chaos that the single currency may bring to Europe, or even the millennium bug.

I cannot bring myself to support the Motion that the Bill do now pass. I shall not oppose it, but for the record, never let it be said that in the end the Bill received the unanimous support of your Lordships' House.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Razzall: My Lords, before the Minister responds, on behalf of the Liberal Democrat Benches perhaps I may follow the self-styled "vermin in ermine" in giving thanks for the support and help that I received in relation to the Bill. It is the first Bill in which I have participated since coming to this House. I have learnt an enormous amount from all involved. I learnt from the noble Baroness in particular that with charm and occasional wit over the various stages of the Bill she can say almost everything with which I totally disagree yet allow me on occasions to support her.

I have also learnt from her the wonderful ability to ask the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, 53 questions on the Statement. To my knowledge, she has not received more than 10 answers. Nevertheless, I shall ponder on and learn from her skill in being able to turn her Second Reading speech into 53 questions when next I am involved in a Bill of this nature.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, for the skill with which he has dealt with all the issues I raised. I join the noble Baroness in congratulating him on his prestigious award announced today. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, for the help that he has given and the assiduousness with which he pursued all points. I thank the noble and learned Lord the Solicitor-General for the wit with which he has engaged us throughout the past heavy days.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, first, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, for the way in which she conducted the response to the Bill of the Front Bench. It was a real tour de force on her part. She has effectively put forward almost all the amendments--there have been hundreds--with immense charm and skill. At no stage of the Bill did any of the Front

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Benchers fall out with each other. That is a tribute to the noble Baroness. In the middle of a speech, the noble Baroness told us that she had eaten half her dinners in the Inner or Middle Temple. Having heard the noble Baroness, I cannot think why she did not finish. It was a great loss to the Bar.

The noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, wound up the Second Reading debate. It was an excellent speech. It was the first time she had done so, and the speech was delivered with incredible skill and aplomb. I say that without patronisation: it was a quite difficult speech to make.

I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Razzall, and the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, for the extremely effective way in which they conducted the matter on behalf of the Liberal Democrats. Despite the unnecessary political remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, today this is not the moment for a political speech on my party, save to say this. I feel privileged to have been part of the team that has driven or piloted this Bill through the House--it depends on which form of transport one has in mind--which puts an end to poverty pay for people who have been entitled to social justice for a very long time indeed. I am proud to have been part of it. I commend that the Bill do now pass.

On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons with amendments.

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