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Lord Marsh: Obviously this is the wrong time to get involved in this argument because I suspect there is a certain gap which exists—

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Between men and women!

Lord Marsh: —between the different views. One of the effects of the Government's determination to use active measures to seek to employ or appoint women, as happens with public boards as well, is the embarrassing telephone calls one gets from time to time to this effect: "Do you know of any women who might fill this job because we have been told by the Minister that he is insisting (particularly in the National Health Service) that we have to have women?" That is an insulting way to start off. It would not be liked if it were said of black people and I do not like it when it is said about women.

I have to declare an interest. I chair a company where the company secretary is a woman, the chief legal adviser is a woman and the chief broker is a woman. The new regulatory authority of the PIA has a chief executive who is a woman. There is plenty of evidence

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now that that barrier has been broken. It is positively damaging to continue with the idea that one has to ensure that women have a little special help before they can get a serious job. If I may say so, some of the noble Baronesses who are taking part in this debate are classic examples of how redundant that approach is.

Baroness White: I have great sympathy with what the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, said. In any normal circumstances I insist that I am not a woman, that I am a person, and I have usually found it a great advantage to be in a conspicuous minority.

In this matter of pensions, where distinctions are made between men and women in the system, I make an exception to my usual position of refusing to join my noble Lady colleagues in some of their objectives. We should be sensible about this. Pensions are different, and I hope very much that the Minister will realise that fact.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I must come back to the main point that I have made once or twice in the course of discussing some of the amendments. We are appointing a regulatory body—a body which has huge responsibilities to police a pension scheme. We are not trying to appoint some kind of general representative body; we are looking for people with knowledge and background, and the kind of expertise that we want to bring to this.

I have said "people". We cannot tie down the Secretary of State to how many women he ought to appoint. I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, if I used the words "he" and "chairman". As far as I am concerned, "he" and "chairman" take in both men and women. I do not think about it in any other way. The Occupational Pensions Board has a good record; currently three out of the 12 members are women, including the deputy chairman. In a previous existence of mine, when I had to make a number of public appointments, I did not go rushing around the countryside looking for women to appoint. I am happy to say that many women were proposed to me who were perfectly able to fill the job. I never counted whether the ratio was 50:50 or 60:40, that did not bother me one way or the other. My only interest was to get somebody who could do the job and handle the responsibility—that is the point—for all the pension schemes and the members of the pension schemes.

That does not mean that we are not going to appoint women, but we should not tie the hands of the Secretary of State and insist that three of the appointments should be women, which is what the amendment proposes. As I said initially, if the Secretary of State were to find more than three women, should he not appoint more than three?

Perhaps I should say in conclusion—at the risk of being accused of making a political point—that I have read occasionally in the newspapers of the trouble that the party opposite has got itself into with its policy on the selection of candidates, where it is trying to enforce just this kind of rigidity. I do not believe that it helps women at all.

Baroness Turner of Camden: I thank my noble friends who have contributed to this interesting debate.

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I am not at all surprised that the Minister responded as he did. On the other hand, I carefully noted that he said it was the intention to see whether suitably qualified women could be found to serve on the authority. I am grateful for that assurance.

We are not asking for special consideration to be given to women just because they are women. There are plenty of women with the appropriate skills. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, indicated that there were such women by quoting his experiences in his own company. So there are such women.

There should be open and equal access to this very important new body in order to make sure that the special considerations which apply to women in the pensions area are represented. As has already been stated by my noble friends, pensions are different. It is a separate area, and women have had special problems with pensions. For all those reasons it would be a good idea to have stated on the face of the Bill that there should be representation from women as women—although we accept that they have to be women with the appropriate skills and experience.

Having said that, and having noted the assurance of the Minister that there will be an attempt to fill some of these positions with suitably qualified women, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4.15 p.m.

Baroness Turner of Camden moved Amendment No. 7:

Page 1, line 24, at end insert:
("( ) It shall be the duty of the Authority to monitor the operation of the occupational pension schemes coming within the scope of this Act, with a view to ensuring that schemes are efficiently and satisfactorily administered in the interests of beneficiaries and to that end it shall appoint suitably qualified persons to act as an inspectorate, to be deployed as the Authority may determine.").

The noble Baroness said: I move the amendment because we made no progress on our first amendment this afternoon. The amendment moved by my noble friend Lady Hollis took from the Goode Report the precise functions that that committee felt to be appropriate. It is essential that there should be some reference to the functions of the new authority set out in primary legislation.

However, since that detailed list of functions was not acceptable to the Minister, we must have another clause written in—perhaps less detailed—which sets out a far more proactive role than is apparently envisaged in the Bill as it now stands.

Reference to the Goode Report indicates clearly that the committee was thinking in terms of a system involving spot checks. Paragraph 4.19.29 states, for example, that the regulator will need the support of a professional staff, and it spells out the sort of staff that will be required. It continues:

    "they will also have a central role in investigating schemes where there have been allegations of impropriety or as part of a programme of spot checks".

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The report also points out that the new regulator will be taking over some of the functions hitherto performed by the Occupational Pensions Board. As we all know, that board had a much more restricted role.

If, as the Secretary of State has said, the recommendations of the Goode Report in relation to the regulator have been accepted, then an apparatus for the conduct of spot checks must be in place. This will require the appointment of suitably qualified people.

No one can say with any certainty that the kind of scandal we had in the Maxwell affair will never happen again. I agree with those who have said that, in general, most pension schemes are well and effectively monitored, perform a very good service and provide a very good degree of security for the people who belong to them. Nevertheless, because of the scandal and the ripples that flowed from that and other, less serious, cases which have arisen, it has been necessary to introduce the system set out in the Bill.

The mere existence of a system of spot checks, plus the staff to carry them out, might deter people who are tempted to take risks in the manner of Maxwell. A spot check could well reveal the existence of malpractice before anyone—even the trustees—could be aware that things were going wrong.

Although the Minister was unwilling to accept the detailed list of functions set out in the first amendment moved by my noble friend, I hope he is prepared to look more favourably on the present amendment which seeks to spell out a more proactive role for the regulator than appears to be the case in the Bill as it stands. I beg to move.

Baroness Seear: I very much support this amendment, which is also in my name, simply as a matter of logical presentation which should appeal to the Minister. If we look at the Bill we go straight into:

    "There shall be a body corporate called the Occupational Pensions Regulatory Authority".

The Minister has been living with this Bill, sleeping with it, and thinking of nothing else for weeks and weeks. No doubt to him it is perfectly clear when he reads it what it is talking about, but anybody picking up the Bill and just reading that will very reasonably say, "What on earth is this regulatory body? What is it supposed to do?" It is surely logical at the beginning of a Bill which is introducing an organisation such as this authority to say, briefly, in a matter of half a dozen lines or a little more, exactly what it is, what it has to do, and what its authority is. That is all we are asking.

I underline what the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, said. We are also trying to emphasise that the authority has a proactive role to monitor. While that may be what the Minister takes exception to—and I hope that he does not—he must agree that on the face of the Bill should be a clear, short statement of what the authority is there to do and why it is there. That is what this amendment contains, and I very much hope that the Minister will feel able to accept it.

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