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Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I cannot undertake to make the representations for which the noble Lord pressed. I understand his point about the enormous volume of work which is occasioned by new members and the necessity of translation. I am afraid that there is little way round that, other than ensuring that the reforms we are examining, which will be discussed in Cologne, will continue. The process will be discussed throughout the year, the Committee of Independent Experts making further recommendations later in the year. I am sure that the points raised by the noble Lord will be of great interest in those discussions.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that Mr. Prodi's address to the European Parliament accentuated and gave great prominence to the need for Europe to be integrated into a single state? Do Her Majesty's Government agree with that? Have they now become federalists, as they supported Mr. Prodi? If not, will they ensure that Mr. Prodi behaves as the head of a civil service and not as the head of a European country?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I cannot agree with my noble friend's original premise that Mr. Prodi's speech was entirely that of a federalist. I am sure that Mr. Prodi's conduct in office will be entirely proper. However, the extent to which Mr. Prodi focuses on reform and on practical policies is striking and his analysis of the necessity for reform is close to ours. I believe that recently he has argued quite a lot for a decentralised European Union. He also talks a great deal about the role of the European Council and the European Parliament in guiding the Commission. I am sure that my noble friend will be pleased to hear that.
Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, will the Minister explain why the Government are opposed to the enhancement of the role of this Parliament in terms of giving another place the opportunity to approve the appointment of this country's European commissioners?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the national minimum wage is 20 days young. It has the support of the vast majority of employers; a success story despite some reports of evasory tactics. It would be nothing short of astonishing if no attempts at evasion were reported. The Inland Revenue will deal with non-compliance by acting on complaints received and carrying out targeted visits to areas where underpayment is suspected.
Lord Newby: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that Answer. Will the Government give us an assurance that the Inland Revenue minimum wage enforcement unit has adequate resources to deal, in a timely fashion, with the increasing number of complaints that it is likely to receive over the coming months?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, of course we shall ensure that the resources are available. I am not sure that I agree with the noble Lord that we can expect an increasing number of complaints. This is the time when complaints might be expected. Of the 25,000 calls to the helpline--1,500 a day--since the minimum wage was introduced, only about 200 have been specific complaints.
Lord Clark of Kempston: My Lords, can the Minister say whether the Government are fully convinced that there will be no increase in unemployment because of the introduction of the national minimum wage? If the Government are so confident, on what evidence are they so confident?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Yes, my Lords, we are still convinced, as we were at the beginning, on the basis of the very detailed inquiry made by the Low Pay Commission. Of course, evidence post hoc will be available only when the new earnings survey and the labour force survey start to produce results for the period after 1st April, which is three to six months away.
Earl Russell: My Lords, will the Minister agree that employers who fail to pay the minimum wage risk free-loading on the budget of the Department of Social Security? Therefore, will the Government attempt to use data-matching with social security records to detect those employers who fail to pay the minimum wage?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, employers who fail to pay the minimum wage not only encroach on the social security budget, but also break the law. That is our first position. Issues of transfer of data between the Inland Revenue and social security, as the noble Earl well knows, are extremely complicated.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am very pleased to have my noble friend's support and very pleased to be reminded that in this country the kind of dire warnings that she received are likely to arise again and should be ignored as she ignored them. Of course, minimum wages laws have been in force in many countries for many years without the kind of dire effects that people seem to expect now.
Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, in view of what the Minister has just said, will he agree that national minimum wage laws in other countries have always had exemptions, which the Government have declined to provide in this country?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: No, my Lords, I do not think I can agree. I have inquired into it and the most difficult area of the minimum wage is piecework. I found that the French minimum wage law includes coverage of piecework, as does that of the United States, so I do not agree that ours is a more draconian minimum wage law than that of other countries.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, can the Minister tell us whether recourse will be through the industrial tribunals? If so, what steps are being taken to increase the number of people dealing with industrial tribunal cases? There has been a huge increase in the number of employment cases and there is a backlog at the moment.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the noble Baroness is right in saying that such matters will be referred to industrial tribunals in the first instance. There is also the possibility of reference to the civil courts. Of the 200 specific complaints to which I referred and which have been followed up by the Inland Revenue, there have been only 10 refusals to comply with the law. I believe it is premature to make arrangements now to increase the facilities of the industrial tribunals, although we are prepared to do so if necessary.
As we are invited to begin the Committee stage on this momentous Bill, this may be a good time--perhaps the last time--to pause and ask ourselves on what course the Government have set us and where ultimately this House is headed. I have no intention of opposing this Motion and I hope that no one else will, but I believe that it is worth reflecting for a moment before the House resolves itself into Committee.
As I said at Second Reading, things can never be the same again. I do not say that out of anger, envy or regret; it is a simple fact. The Government have tugged at the strings that bind together our constitutional arrangements, and perhaps even our kingdom. The strings have been loosened, the boxes opened and the pieces are falling from their places and we cannot know what will happen at the end of the process.
I do not wish to take the time of the House on other aspects of the constitutional settlement. The fears of many noble Lords on those scores are well known. I refer only to the future of this House and of our Parliament.
I ask your Lordships: is it really too late to stay our hands at a time of such constitutional uncertainty? Is it too late to seek on the way forward some better consensus, for I believe consensus is possible? Is it too late to identify some shared vision, for surely a vision of a stronger, independent House is achievable, unless the executive is wholly determined to stamp its will on Parliament?
Total war on hereditary Peers is not the answer to an old constitutional problem; it is the creation of a new constitutional problem. As I said at Second Reading, you cannot destroy the hereditary peerage without exposing the life peerage and other elements of the House. No one in this House, as the report from my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern reminded us, should proceed without that reality firmly in mind.
My noble and learned friend's report changes the whole background against which this debate takes place. I do not say that to detain the House; I say it to remind us that the Bill is not the final answer, but the beginning of many a question. The Government have consistently evaded the answer to the straight question their actions posed. No one wants this Bill or pretends it is the answer. We do not. The public do not. The outside world does not. Even the Government do not believe that this is the answer; after all, they consistently and glibly remind us that this is a two-stage process.
I return to where I began. The world has changed. The House is changing and it can never be the same again. We accept that. The Government accept that. My noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern has demonstrated it to be true. Is not there a better way forward? I ask the Leader of the House to step out of the backroom of party politics and on to the broad ground of constitutional reform. Reform in our Parliament should be cross-party reform; strategic reform; visionary reform. It should not be inspired by the negative motive
So I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her Motion and to suspend the consideration of this measure which is partial in every sense of the word. Let us wait for the debate on the Mackay commission to unfold. Let us wait for the findings of the Royal Commission. Then let us come together, as I believe we surely can, with a set of proposals built not on one party's manifesto but on genuine cross-party consensus; built not as a temporary provision, which this is, but for a Chamber that will last.
I give the noble Baroness this solemn assurance on behalf of my party. If she makes that effort she will have from us even now a constructive response and this House can be set on a secure basis for a lasting future. My door and my mind are open. Will the Leader of the House now say the same to this House?
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