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Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I can only repeat what I said. We have to allow the working group led by the local authority employers to see whether it is possible to remove grossly incompetent teachers in that period. After all, they are damaging the education of children.

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, my noble friend may be surprised by a conversation that I had at a social occasion last week--the question is coming. Government proposals to get rid of unsatisfactory teachers within four weeks have some support within the teaching profession. However, the question I was asked was whether that procedure will apply also to incompetent builders, solicitors or accountants.

A noble Lord: And politicians?

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, the question of incompetent politicians was not raised. No doubt it would read across to that also. I hope that my noble friend can provide some succour to the teaching profession.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, perhaps I may clarify. We are not talking about unsatisfactory teachers. We are talking about people who are grossly incompetent; people who are completely incapable of controlling a class. Some of us who went to school many years ago can remember such teachers. It is very difficult for much education to go on in those circumstances.

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We are not simply talking about those teachers who are not very good at their job. They will be offered training, support and help. There are no proposals to deal particularly with the other categories to which the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, referred.

Baroness Young: My Lords, my noble friend Lady Blatch raises an important point. We all agree that we should find a mechanism for removing grossly incompetent teachers. However, does the Minister agree that she is saying something contradictory? Some of us are chairmen of governors and may have to carry out the policy. The Government have said that their policy will allow the dismissal of teachers in four weeks. If I understand the Minister correctly, she says that the employment law will stand and that dismissal will take six months. Many of us would like to know which statement is true.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, perhaps I may explain again. The working party has been asked to look at ways in which grossly incompetent teachers can be dismissed more rapidly. Perhaps I may explain the current procedures. As the noble Baroness probably knows as she has been a chairman of governors, all schools have negotiated a set of procedures, usually at local level with the local education authority and the teachers' unions. Some of those procedures have five stages of warnings with provision for appeal at each stage, and a term for the teacher to act on each warning. It is no wonder that it often takes up to two years to remove unsatisfactory teachers.

As I said earlier, ACAS recommended a minimum of a formal oral warning, followed by a written warning, followed by dismissal. I cannot say whether it will be possible to go through those ACAS procedures within four weeks. The working group has been asked to look at the issue. It may not be possible.

On the noble Baroness's point about the difference between six months and four weeks, in general it will take at least six months to dismiss unsatisfactory teachers. But we are not talking about unsatisfactory teachers.

The Lord Bishop of Leicester: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that no profession has faced such dramatic change in the past decade as the teaching profession, and that that has affected both recruitment and teaching morale? Can the Minister give an assurance that the latest plans will not affect recruitment and morale?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, the purpose of the proposals is to improve teacher morale. There is nothing more demoralising for those teachers who are doing a good job than having to work with a tiny minority of

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teachers who are completely incapable of reaching the standard that we should all expect a competent teacher to reach.

Pensions Mis-selling

3.17 p.m.

Lord Evans of Parkside asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they propose to deal with the mis-selling of private pensions to the public.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Government are determined to see the case reviews completed quickly, and redress made where it is due. On 9th July, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury published details of progress towards redress, or lack of it, by the top 24 firms. The Government will continue to publish information on progress and will not hesitate to see that further action is taken, as necessary, to speed up reviews.

Lord Evans of Parkside: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Does he agree with me that the risible progress of the 24 pension companies named by Treasury Minister, Helen Liddell, in compensating the victims of mis-selling of pensions is a disgrace that has besmirched the good name of the City of London? Can my noble friend confirm that some 20,000 victims of the scandal have died uncompensated since the companies began their review of the fiasco some three years ago, and that unless the Government take harsh and swift action within the next two or three months many thousands more will die uncompensated before their cases are reached?

Finally, does my noble friend agree that the Tory Government Ministers who launched this privatisation of pensions some years ago bear as much responsibility for the scandal as the pension companies?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, on my noble friend's first question, the aim of the Personal Investment Authority is to see that 90 per cent. of claims are dealt with by the end of this year, and 100 per cent. by the end of next year. I am not at all convinced that it will be achieved and, even if it were, I do not think it is good enough, for the reasons that my noble friend gives.

On the second question, about the responsibility of the previous Government, I have only too good reason to agree with him since I ran a company pension scheme myself for 30 years. The previous Government weakened company pension schemes by allowing individuals to opt out; weakened SERPS by reducing the returns; and encouraged people to opt out by what might be termed the DSS short-term bribe. The result was that hundreds of thousands of people opted out, many of them losing out because of mis-selling and the lack of adequate company contributions.

Lord Marsh: My Lords, will the Minister accept that no one can support the mis-selling of pensions where

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that existed and that resolution of the matter is long overdue--it should have been cleared up to a much greater extent and faster than it has been so far? However, will he further accept that the removal of tax credits has resulted inexorably in a large number of pensions, sold and purchased in good faith, now being clearly inappropriate for those to whom they were sold, purely and solely as a result of the Government's action?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: No, my Lords, I do not agree at all. On the contrary, the Association of British Insurers has recognised that, in the longer term, the switch to greater capital appreciation and the reduction of lower dividend streams will actually be of benefit to pension funds. In the shorter term, I hope that insurance companies and pensions sellers will not use ACT as an excuse for delaying compensation.

Lord Clark of Kempston: My Lords, while I accept the fact that some pensions have been jeopardised as a result of mis-selling, does the Minister agree that the change in the fiscal treatment of dividends in pension funds is bound to mean that those pensioners will be jeopardised as well? Will he further agree that it is quite illogical for the Government on the one hand to try to encourage people to save for their old age and, on the other, to penalise that fund when it is set up?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the first part of the noble Lord's question was the same as that asked by the noble Lord, Lord Marsh. I notice that the noble Lord now acknowledges that "some" pensioners were victims of mis-selling. That is a gross under-statement.

Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, does the Minister agree that, for the lower-paid, personal pensions were always unlikely to be a very good vehicle for retirement? Would it not be a good idea if some of these considerations were pointed out to people? Could not the financial services industry be given deadlines by which this whole fiasco should be cleared up?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, my noble friend is quite right to look to the future of pensions and not merely at the past. As she will know, the President of the Board of Trade announced only yesterday that there would be a new, arm's length financial services regulatory body which will be under the ministerial control of the Treasury rather than the Department of Trade and Industry. I hope she will feel that that, combined with the review announced by the Department of Social Security, shows our firm intention to see to it that in future the best kind of pension scheme is available to all, including the low-paid.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, will the Minister accept that I agree with him that there was no excuse for pensions mis-selling, and there is no excuse for not putting the matter right--just as there was no excuse for the ex-Labour MP, Robert Maxwell,

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pillaging his members' pension funds? Nor is there any excuse, as the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, said, for Chancellor Brown taking £5.4 billion from pension funds in the future. If the Minister doubts that, will he read the comments of the National Association of Pension Funds?

On a more positive note, will the Minister agree with me that, for very many people whose employers do not provide pension funds, personal pensions are a perfectly appropriate and correct vehicle to provide income for their retirement?

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