HC Deb 16 September 2004 vol 424 cc1482-3

Lords amendment No. 51.

Mr. Sutcliffe

I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take Lords amendments Nos. 52, 53 and 55.

Mr. Sutcliffe

One always seeks to take note of instructions from the Whips, but I shall not speak for an hour on these amendments. This package of amendments improves the procedures for enforcing the minimum wage. The purpose of the amendments is straightforward. Under the National Minimum Wage Act 1998 as presently drafted, compliance officers are unable to withdraw enforcement notices, which set out the arrears due to workers, even if they realise they have made an error or new evidence has come to light. The position is the same for penalty notices, which are issued when employers refuse to comply with enforcement notices. That means that tribunal hearings are the only way to rectify notices that both sides know to be incorrect, and that then delays the process and wastes the time of the tribunals.

The amendments therefore allow officers to withdraw enforcement and penalty notices and replace them with corrected notices where necessary. That area of enforcement is technically extremely complex and that is why the clause is so long, but that is the essence of it. The amendments are uncontroversial and were accepted as sensible by both sides in the other place.

In asking the House to support the amendments, I wish to encourage other hon. Members to take part in this debate.

Mr. Bellingham

I thought that amendment No. 51 was on union modernisation. Can the Minister clarify the position?

Mr. Sutcliffe

Union modernisation is the subject of amendment No. 54.

Mr. Bellingham

I thank the Minister for explaining that. He sent me a helpful note, but it is possible that the numbering of the amendments has changed. On the basis of what he said about the amendments we are considering, I endorse the Government's actions on this matter.

Sir Robert Smith

It is common sense not to have to go to a tribunal if both sides recognise that something is wrong. Therefore, the amendments are eminently sensible.

Mr. Sutcliffe

I do not wish to be accused of racing through the amendments and I wish to be sure that hon. Members fully understand the implications of the amendments before us.

The minimum wage was a major piece of legislation for this Government and it is important that it is effectively enforced. On rare occasions, employers are not prepared to pay the minimum wage, and enforcement activity is required. The purpose of the amendments is to try to simplify the procedure and make clear the circumstances in which enforcement will be used. I know that most good employers pay well above the national minimum wage. Concerns were expressed that the national minimum wage would have an impact on the number of jobs created. That was not the case, and I welcome the belated acknowledgement from the Conservatives about the impact it had. I hope that the way in which we have outlined the amendments, and the overall implementation and enforcement of the national minimum wage, will mean that it will reach all those who deserve it.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 52 and 53 agreed to.

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