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Lord Monkswell: My Lords, will the Minister clarify a couple of points for me? The first relates to Minister's knowingly misleading the House. I am a little worried about that. I have not been a Minister, but as I understand it, a great deal of what Ministers tell both Houses is the result of information they receive from their civil servants. If a Minister on taking up office says to his senior civil servants, "Always advise me what is in line with our policy, and do not tell me when I am misleading the House", effectively the responsibility is shuffled from the Minister onto the civil servants. What mechanism is there to enable the civil servant to say, "Look, it is not my responsibility. It is the Minister's"? If the Minister has not been told by the civil servant that he is misleading the House, he can get away from the problem by saying, "I did not knowingly mislead the House".

My second question relates to the concept of collective Cabinet responsibility. Again, I have not been in the Cabinet, but my understanding is that one could effectively describe it as a party political situation. My understanding is that Ministers are Ministers of the Crown. They are almost independent of people. They are effectively doing the Queen's business in a department of state. To think that they may be restrained from doing that business on behalf of the Queen because of some rule which is of a party political nature worries me a little. Will the Minister explain that side of things as well?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, on the first point, the noble Lord over-simplifies the role of those who have to serve on the Front Bench. First, we are not totally mouthpieces for the lines given to us by our civil servants. Clearly we have to be advised because a great deal of what we do is technical. We will take advice, be bound by that advice and deliver that advice. There are occasions when we do not agree with that advice. There is now a proper procedure set down here relating to the area in which a Minister may take a policy decision. There is a proper procedure for when a Minister receives advice, considers the advice but comes to a different conclusion.

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There is now also a procedure for when a civil servant believes that a Minister is behaving improperly in any way, or even illegally, if one take a more extreme example. A procedure will be set down which will clarify the position to allow a civil servant to have a voice.

If in the course of answering questions—I am now answering a question well away from the brief on the Statement with which I started—I unwittingly mislead the House, I hope, as is the tradition of the House, that I would come back to the House and make amends. Sometimes we are cautious enough to preface what we say by saying, "I understand" or "If I mislead you, of course I shall write to you".

It would be a very different and much more serious matter were I knowingly to come to the Dispatch Box and mislead the House. That is why that behaviour is singled out as being a distinctive form of behaviour for a Minister. I believe that that is right.

On the other point, the noble Lord over-simplifies the whole issue of being a member of the Cabinet. Of course there will be spirited debate within Cabinet. I do not believe that there has been a British Government Cabinet in which there has not been lively, spirited debate and agreement and disagreement when subjects are being discussed. When a view is taken by the Cabinet, as a properly responsible member of the Cabinet it is entirely proper that collective responsibility is a condition of belonging to Cabinet. If one cannot accept Cabinet responsibility, the principled thing to do is to resign from Cabinet to make way for someone who will accept Cabinet responsibility.

Lord Burnham: My Lords, within the past 27 hours your Lordships have heard four Statements repeated from another place which have a strangely interlocking agent. In each case the interlocking agent has been the work of the media, specifically the work of the press, in giving rise to discussions and investigations into affairs which have required such investigations.

Yesterday a number of your Lordships expressed a wish to adopt the French system, which makes it much more difficult for the press and television to do their work. Had that been the case here, we would not have heard so much about any of the four Statements. The actions which led to Nolan would probably have not been made public, or not so many of them. It is ironic that all the Statements came together. It is the press which brought that about.

Only a few tributes were paid yesterday to the press for asking the questions that they have asked. There was a great deal of discussion about the invasion of personal privacy. It is that behaviour which everyone wishes to stop, and I have no argument with that. Were not the Government right yesterday to support the press and voluntary self-regulation of its affairs so that we were able to hear the Statement this afternoon and take action upon it?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, my noble friend makes an interesting point. It is linked with the findings of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan, who said that we are dealing more with perceptions and beliefs about people in public life than what is the case in fact: that

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most people in public life are honourable and people of integrity. It is often the press that perpetuates the perception and belief. We must do what we can to counter that. As my noble friend pointed out, we can address these matters, but I think that it is depressing that we have to spend so much time and energy countering what are only perceptions and beliefs and not facts.

Disability Discrimination Bill

6.28 p.m.

Consideration of amendments on Report resumed on Clause 4.

Baroness Turner of Camden moved Amendment No. 18:

Page 3, line 10, at end insert ("and occupational pensions").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 19. The amendments are grouped also with Amendments Nos. 31 and 32 in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Buckinghamshire. No doubt he will deal with them as he feels appropriate.

In Committee, I moved a series of amendments designed to ensure that disabled people were not discriminated against when it came to membership of occupational pension schemes. I pointed out that disabled pensioners had a lower average income than non-disabled pensioners; that the changes to the state pension scheme had disadvantaged disabled pensioners since they were more likely than the non-disabled to have to rely upon state provision and SERPS; and that since the Government's policy was against discrimination in employment, they should also be against discrimination in one of the major non-wage benefits, which is of course the provision of occupational pensions.

The Government have actively encouraged people to belong to private pension schemes rather than to the state scheme. We may have our doubts about that, in particular as regards the sale of personal pensions where the circumstances of the individual concerned are not appropriate. However, the fact remains that that is Government policy.

Therefore, in a Bill aiming to end discrimination against disabled people, it makes sense that there should be a clear commitment to ending discrimination as regards the membership of occupational pension schemes. In Committee the then Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, seemed quite sympathetic. However, for various reasons he did not like my series of amendments. He said:

    "I cannot support his amendment but we shall consider this matter further and I shall come back to the House on the point at Report".—[Official Report, 13/6/95; col. 1704.]

Here we are at Report. We have tabled another amendment (No. 19) which provides that regulations may make provision for:

    "the elimination of discrimination against disabled persons in relation to terms of employment relating to membership of an occupational pension scheme, with such modification as may be prescribed".

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In other words, we have tried to meet some of the objections raised by the Minister at that time. We hope that this time the Government will see the justice of what we are proposing and will come back either accepting what we say or, if they cannot, producing their own alternative at a later stage.

Clearly, at a time when pensions are on everybody's mind and when there is constant talk of the need to provide for the elderly in one way or another, it would be inappropriate that a Bill intending to outlaw discrimination against disabled people should leave your Lordships' House without the vital provision that we suggest in these two amendments. I beg to move.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for raising this important matter and I hope that she will find my response helpful.

Perhaps I may first deal with Amendment No. 18. The purpose of this amendment is to include occupational pensions within the defined meaning of "benefits" in Clause 4. As my noble friend Lord Inglewood made clear during the Committee stage, Clause 4 is drafted in the same terms as Section 4 of the Race Relations Act 1976. It has never been suggested that that Act has failed to cover entitlement to occupational pension benefits. It is easy to see why that is so. Clause 4 applies both to "terms of employment" and to "benefits", which is already widely defined. A person's entitlement to a pension from his employment will normally be a term of his contract, and even where it is not a term it is so plainly a benefit that I cannot believe that courts or tribunals would have the slightest difficulty on the point. I cannot agree to the amendment as it would throw doubt on the existing wording of the Race Relations Act, but I hope that this assurance will enable the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

I turn to Amendment No. 19. It provides the power to make regulations to deal with the detailed issues which may arise regarding the application of Part II of the Bill to occupational pensions. Amendment No. 32 seeks to disapply Clause 6(5) in the case of discrimination relating to benefits in employment. It also disapplies the subsection in relation to occupational payments.

Your Lordships will be aware that Clause 6(5) enables regulations to be made to specify additional circumstances in which less favourable treatment is taken to be justified. It may be that the noble Baroness intends that the question of justification of less favourable treatment in pensions should be dealt with separately by regulations made under the new regulation-making power that she is proposing in Amendment No. 19. However, we must take great care to understand the possible effect of this Bill upon occupational pensions. We must accept that there will be cases in which less favourable treatment will occur for wholly justifiable reasons.

There might be two types of cases in which occupational benefits for a disabled person might justifiably be less than those for a non-disabled person working next to him. The first is that pensions are almost always linked to pay. If there is a justifiable

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difference in the pay received by the two workers—perhaps, for example, because the disability means that the disabled person has to work fewer hours—it must be right that the pension can also reflect that difference. I cannot believe that your Lordships will wish to require the employer to have to arrange for a full pension in such circumstances.

The second reason is that the disability might create actuarial risks which the employer or the pension fund should not have to take. For example, depending on the circumstances, we believe that an employer who takes on an employee who is terminally ill can be justified in refusing such a person cover under any scheme he operates for death-in-service benefits. The removal of any justification in the case of these benefits and payments would place quite unwarranted burdens on employers. For that reason, the Government cannot accept these two amendments. I hope that with that explanation of what we envisage, the noble Baroness will be able to withdraw her amendment.

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