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Lord Gainford: My Lords, does my noble friend have any information as to whether there is any possibility of Britain following the example of Canada and the United States of America where it is illegal for an employer to ask the age of any applicant for a job?

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, there are no such plans. In fact, research has shown that in countries which have introduced such legislation it has been ineffective. We shall carry on encouraging employers to take advantage of the business benefits from employing everyone with the appropriate skills, whatever their age.

Baroness Gould of Potternewton: My Lords, does the Minister accept that while there has been some welcome improvement in the number of women of all ages on public bodies, overall that improvement is not reflected in the number of chairs? For instance, in the Department of Employment there are no women chairs—and those are the paid posts. Is she aware that the six male chairs in the Department of Employment—

Noble Lords: Oh!

Baroness Gould of Potternewton: —received a total of £184,000? Can the Minister indicate whether the Government have any proposals or have set any targets to rectify that position by using the nominating process?

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, I must say to the noble Baroness that I have no knowledge of male chairs at all. However, I share her concern about appointments for women and I think I have a very good story to tell. On a purely personal basis, in 1987, when I was chairman of The 300 Group, the group, together with the Fawcett Society, launched the Women into Public Life Campaign in order to try to make sure that more women were appointed to public bodies. At that

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time only 17 per cent. of all public appointments were held by women. There were various other initiatives—from the EOC and the Hansard Commission—on women getting to the top. As a result, by 1990 23 per cent. of all public appointments were held by women. That percentage stayed the same through 1991 when my right honourable friend the Prime Minister launched Opportunity 2000, urging departments to look at women with the necessary skills and to make the appropriate appointments. I am delighted to tell the House that by 1992 26 per cent. of all public appointments were held by women. By 1993 the figure was 28 per cent.; by 1994, it was 30 per cent. Perhaps even more encouraging is that today nearly half of all the new appointments are women. As regards the specific question about male chairs, I shall look into that.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone: My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that a chair is an article of furniture?

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, I can confirm that. As far as I am concerned, I have never been unhappy to be called "Chairman".

Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, the Minister is correct to inform your Lordships' House that there is no reason why people who have been made redundant should not serve on quangos. I have in mind, of course, that almost all the Conservative Members of Parliament who were made redundant at the last general election have been placed on quangos.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, I am not sure whether that was a question or a statement from the noble Lord. I have no comment to make.

Baroness Platt of Writtle: My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on the picture she has given of the number of women who have been appointed. Does she agree that some people switch off at 50 years of age but that others, well over 70, are lively and bright?

Noble Lords: Hear, hear!

Baroness Platt of Writtle: Does my noble friend agree that if those older people have the relevant experience—perhaps in local authority work or on health authorities—they can be most useful, particularly in terms of appointments which deal with the needs of the elderly?

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, I totally agree with my noble friend.

Mortgages on High-rise Flats

2.52 p.m.

Lord Blyth asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have to enable residents of high-rise buildings previously owned by local councils to obtain mortgages more easily.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Viscount Ullswater): My Lords, there is no reason why mortgage lenders should treat residents

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of high-rise ex-council dwellings differently from any other applicant for a mortgage. However, it is true that some prospective purchasers of ex-council flats are having difficulty obtaining a mortgage where lenders are reluctant to advance loans on such properties until a resale market has become fully established. My right honourable friend hopes shortly to approve a more flexible form of mortgage indemnity agreement which local authorities will be able to use to encourage mortgage lending in such areas and help speed up the development of a healthy resale market.

Lord Blyth: My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount for that helpful reply, but does he realise that it is a little difficult at the lower end of the market? Is he aware that it is not just the obtaining of mortgages which is difficult but also estate agents are reluctant to take this type of property on their books? Will his right honourable friend continue to work on the problem and, we hope, improve the position, as he said?

Viscount Ullswater: Yes, my Lords, I understand the problem identified by the noble Lord. The purpose of the mortgage indemnity agreement is to act as a comfort to the lender to secure a mortgage for the prospective purchaser.

Lord Molloy: My Lords, is the Minister aware that there are millions of ordinary British families who live in rented property but who have the laudable desire to own a home of their own? Following the encouraging reply which the Minister has given, would it not now be possible for the Government, the noble Viscount's department, the bankers and all the other folk involved to take note of this laudable desire of very many ordinary people and do their best to assist them to achieve that end?

Viscount Ullswater: My Lords, I welcome the noble Lord's question and I shall put the problem in context. Local authorities have sold over 169,000 flats since 1979. A recent survey of leaseholders by Bristol University found that the vast majority were pleased with their flats.

Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the slowness in disposing of council-owned property not only concerns flats? Is he also aware that anyone who has bought a council house and places it on the market has an almost nil chance of selling it? Is he aware too that there have been demonstrations in London by people living in flats which they are unable to sell under any conditions, as nobody wants former council flats?

Viscount Ullswater: My Lords, it is an indictment of the construction of the flats in the first place and we have to be worried about that. As the noble Lord identified, currently a great many people are living in those flats, whether they own them or are tenants. As the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, indicated, the option of purchasing a home is something which a great many people have in mind.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, the Minister takes great pride in local authorities having sold so

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many houses. Will he now allow local authorities to use all the proceeds of the sales to relieve the housing shortages in their areas?

Viscount Ullswater: My Lords, that is a completely different question to the one on the Order Paper.

Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, does the noble Viscount recall that in the leasehold reform Act, which I know the Chief Whip will recall, the Government introduced a scheme called Rent to Mortgages? Is the noble Viscount aware that the Government have spent approximately £400,000 advertising the scheme and that the take-up so far is five? Given the failure of the scheme, does the Minister agree that it is now right that the Government should go into reverse and help people out by going back to a Mortgages to Rent scheme?

Viscount Ullswater: My Lords, that is a consideration which is presently being thought about. The difficulty is that a great many people living in these flats want to sell them because they want to move. They then do not want to become tenants of the local authority.

"Living Wills"

2.56 p.m.

Lord Ashley of Stoke asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they intend to legislate to implement the Law Commission's proposals on "living wills".

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Mackay of Clashfern): My Lords, no decisions have yet been taken on whether the Government will introduce legislation to implement the Law Commission's proposals on "living wills". The Government welcome the Law Commission report on mental incapacity and intend to give it full consideration. The Government have set up an interdepartmental working group, chaired by my department, to co-ordinate this consideration. The working group's terms of reference are to co-ordinate the government response to the Law Commission report on mental incapacity published on 1st March 1995 and to produce an initial report by 1st September 1995.

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