I propose to take Questions Nos. 22, 47 and 75 together.
I published the final report of the interdepartmental group on implementation of a national minimum wage on the 22 June 1999. The group set out detailed recommendations for the implementation of the national minimum wage. It recommended that the date for implementation should be 1 April 2000 for all sectors of the economy. Other recommendations concern the definition of working time, pay reference period, reckonable pay, under 18 rate, job entrants and certified training rate, repercussive claims, firms in financial difficulty, uprating mechanism, the interaction with Joint Labour Committees and enforcement.
The group's final report includes the impact study undertaken for the group by the ESRI. The ESRI study concludes that approximately 163,000 employees will likely benefit from the introduction of the national minimum wage set at £4.40 per hour, of whom approximately 80,000 will receive an increase of at least £1 per hour. Over half of these beneficiaries will be women and over 40% will be persons aged under 25.
The ESRI study estimates that the impact of the introduction of the national minimum wage on the national wage bill will be an increase of 1.6% of total gross earnings, excluding any repercussive effect. This is much lower than the figure of 4% estimated for the National Minimum Wage Commission in its report last year, mainly due to wage growth between 1997 and the year 2000.
The ESRI impact study highlights the possible increased detrimental effect on the level of employment if the initial rate of the national minimum wage were to be set at above £4.40 per hour. I intend to introduce the national minimum wage from 1 April 2000 at £4.40 per hour and I have no plans to review this proposed initial rate.
The drafting of the national minimum wage Bill is at an advanced stage. Subject to Government approval I will publish the Bill in the coming weeks.