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Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that encouraging response. Are the Government prepared to commit the resources necessary for an effective public information and consultation campaign? In 1992 the Local Government Commission engaged in what was undoubtedly the most full and wide-ranging exercise in public consultation hitherto. Its expenditure was £15 million. This may not be a question that the Minister can answer directly, but will the Government be likely to encourage that kind of expenditure in this case?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am wary of the expression "public relations campaign" which I believe the noble Lord used and of the large sum of money which he mentioned. But I hope the House will be assured that we shall take appropriate action to consult public opinion.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I welcome the approval of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, for the idea of building a public consensus on the reform or the future of your Lordships' House. However, does not the noble Baroness think that it would have been much better to have appointed this Royal Commission immediately after the previous general election? There might even have been a chance that it could have made a substantial report by now and we could be considering a full reform rather than merely the half-baked stage one reform which the Government are at the moment pressing upon us.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I do not wish to trouble the noble Viscount with concern about language but I think there is a difference between consensus and

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consultation. I believe that I have committed the Government to appropriate consultation, and we shall certainly fulfil that. As regards the timing of the Royal Commission, the noble Viscount is well aware that from the time of the election manifesto we have always said that the stage one reform--as it has become colloquially known--is a stand alone piece of constitutional reform which we seek to achieve on its own. We see the second stage, and the organisation of the Royal Commission to inform that second stage, as being a sensible way to proceed.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords--

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the recent report of the Electoral Reform Society in which it boasted that hundreds of its members had packed the public meetings of the Jenkins Commission? Will she ensure that the Royal Commission is protected from such unscrupulous exploitation?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, as I said in my Answer to the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, I do not believe it is for the Government to dictate the arrangements of the Royal Commission, but I am sure that it will be sensible of previous examples.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware--

The Lord Bishop of Oxford: My Lords--

Noble Lords: The Bishop!

The Lord Bishop of Oxford: Thank you, my Lords. Does the Minister agree that the recommendations of the Crick Report, Education for Democracy, would be well served by such a campaign because the campaign could then be not just about the reform of the House of Lords but about the whole question of representative democracy?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, all of us who are interested in reorganising some aspects of the constitutional settlement and looking at the broader ways in which representational government can be improved are aware of the interesting suggestions of the Crick Report. It is not necessarily directly relevant to the work of the Royal Commission but, nonetheless, plays a valuable part in the general discussion on those issues.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, third time lucky and blessed by the Church. On the question of consultation, is the noble Baroness aware that a MORI poll on 1st November showed that two-thirds of the electorate oppose the Government's proposals to abolish the extant hereditary entitlement of noble Lords to sit and vote and their proposal to set up a wholly nominated Chamber? Is that not an expression of opinion to which the Government ought to defer?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I should be very surprised if the noble Lord were seriously to suggest that the Government should defer to the results of any

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public opinion poll, however reputable. This Government are normally accused of paying too much attention to some aspects of polling, so I would be surprised if that were a serious suggestion.

In response to the noble Lord's question about a particular poll, I suspect that it is one of those instances where one needs to look at the nature of the question that was asked as well as the result.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: My Lords, can the noble Baroness say when the Royal Commission will be appointed and whether that will be simultaneous with the publication of the White Paper? When is the White Paper likely to be published? Will it accompany the publication of a Bill following the Queen's Speech or may we expect it sooner?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, would not want me to pre-empt in any way the Queen's Speech next week. I repeat what my noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn and I both said about a month ago during the two-day debate in your Lordships' House on this question: the White Paper will be published in the context of the publication of the Bill.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that there will be some anxiety centred on the machinery of consultation? It would be quite nice to be assured that Ministers will actually listen to the answers, instead of letting the public speak to empty air. It would also be comforting to be reassured that the answers will not be handled by a regiment of spin doctors, of whom we have had more than enough.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord will be comforted by my original Answer to the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, in which I said that it was precisely because the Government were interested in wider consultation and views beyond the original proposition (which was simply that a committee of both Houses of Parliament should look at the issue) that we have established the mechanism of setting up the Royal Commission. Of course, we shall be extremely interested in how the Royal Commission seeks to proceed, but we would not wish to prescribe its way of working.

National Minimum Wage

2.53 p.m.

Lord McCarthy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many employees who now earn less than the national insurance lower earnings limit of £64 a week will be lifted above this limit by the introduction of the national minimum wage; and what would be the annual cost of providing those that remain with the right to full contributory benefits.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Baroness Hollis of Heigham): My Lords, data from the Labour Force Survey indicate that about 900,000 people will be floated above

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the lower earnings limit as a result of the national minimum wage, assuming no change in the number of hours they work.

With regard to the second part of my noble friend's Question, I am afraid that it is not possible to make reliable estimates of the cost of paying contributory benefits to employees who remain below the LEL.

Lord McCarthy: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. If I understand her correctly, she says that something like 50 per cent. of the 2 million people who suffer from the fact that they do not receive contributory benefits will be lifted out of that position by the national minimum wage. That leaves 900,000 who will not be lifted out. What will the Government do about them? The Minister says that she does not know the cost. What is the attitude of the Government to the estimate of the cost made by the TUC recently, which, as I understand it, said that it would cost £250 million for the whole lot--that is, for the 2 million or so? Therefore, it would cost £125 million for the 900,000 who are left. Can the Minister tell me where we could do more good for less money?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, the first reason why we cannot confirm or challenge the TUC figures is that we do not have statistics on that basis. The reason why most people are below the lower earnings limit is not so much because of low pay--although that undoubtedly exists--but because some people, especially married women, work very short hours. Someone could work four hours, for example, and be paid £15 an hour, but still be below the lower earnings limit. Therefore, it is not clear to me whether my noble friend is asking that people who work only one hour, two hours, three hours or four hours should nonetheless be entitled to the full range of contributory benefits. If that were the case, they would be better off out of work on contributory benefits than in work and earning.

The second reason why it is difficult to answer my noble friend's question--I have tried to find the answer to this, but cannot--is that at the moment many people who do not qualify for contributory benefits receive income-related benefits and those are household assessed, whereas contributory benefits are individually assessed. For both of those reasons, we simply are not able to confirm my noble friend's figures, much though I would like to be able to do so.

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