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Lord Elton: My Lords, as regards the Minister's own welfare, can he say whether he enjoyed a sufficient holiday during the Recess? It seems to me that his voice is no better now than it was at the end of July. If it is a matter of the Minister cheering himself hoarse for his leader at the conference, we are concerned that he should not now answer all the Questions on the Order Paper.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I was indeed cheering my leader at the conference yesterday. Unfortunately, as my voice disappeared before then, it was not very effective cheering. I have no intention of answering any Questions on other subjects from noble Lords today, although I shall be happy to continue to answer questions on this matter as long as the House wishes me to do so.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, the House always admires the versatility of the noble Lord. However, on the point raised by my noble friend initially on housing

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benefit, does the Minister recall that the Audit Commission suggested last December that 40 per cent of councils do not require applicants for housing benefit to give their national insurance number? Further, is he aware of the very depressing statistic that benefit fraud by council staff and councillors affects some one-eighth of councils? Can the noble Lord say whether any progress has been made on either on those issues?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the noble Lord is entirely right about the Audit Commission's report. It is certainly true that there is housing benefit fraud in some areas of the country on a very considerable and organised scale. However, it is largely landlord fraud rather than fraud by those receiving housing benefit or, indeed, by council staff. I am not aware of the accusation made by the noble Lord about councillors. If he has any further information on that point, I should be glad to know about it.

Yes, it is true that a great deal of further progress is needed on housing benefit fraud. It is also true to say that the failure of councils to take up the option that they have been urged to adopt to stop the Royal Mail redirecting housing benefit cheques still needs to be addressed by all local authorities. We urge them seriously to do so. We shall continue to make what progress we can.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, with reference to the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, can the Minister confirm, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, has assured us at least two or three times in this House, that there is still very little fraud, if any, in the disability benefits system?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Yes, my Lords. Of the £4 billion of fraud to which I alluded in my Answer, that relating to disability living allowance amounts to not more than £0.5 billion. The figures for incapacity benefit and invalid care allowance amount to less than £0.25 million when put together, which represents a small proportion of the total. I should point out that those figures include both fraud and error.

Senior Civil Servants: Retirement Age

2.49 p.m.

Lord Janner of Braunstone asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will increase the compulsory retirement age for senior officials in the Cabinet Office from 60 to 65.

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): My Lords, the retirement age for members of the Senior Civil Service within the Cabinet Office follows the policy laid down in the Civil Service Management Code for Senior Civil Servants, which specifies a normal retirement age of 60. In the light of

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the Performance and Innovation Unit report, Winning the Generation Game, the Cabinet Office will be considering, as recommended in the report, whether any change to the normal retirement age is required.

Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend for that Answer and especially for promising to look into the question of forcing people out of work at the age of 60 simply because they have reached that age. Does he accept that to do so, whether in the Cabinet Office or anywhere else, is a form of totally unacceptable ageism? Does he not recognise that in this House the vast majority of people have learned from their own experience that it is only after the age of 60 that one acquires full skill, experience and knowledge?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I am not sure about the second point; everyone is able to judge that for themselves. As regards the first point, the PIU report, Winning the Generation Game, makes clear that people retiring at the age of 60 results in a large section of employers losing what may be a beneficial period of work. The report prescribes that the Civil Service should consider whether the normal retirement age could be increased to 65 where that is not already the case. That matter is now being examined.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, will the Minister consider going a stage further? Will he accept that the whole concept of compulsory retirement at a time when we are all living longer and finishing our education later may not make a great deal of sense? Will he consider the experience of the United States in this respect? Given the difficulties of financing adequate increases in the state pension for ordinary people, does he recognise that different conditions as well as different levels of pension are the source of an innate sense of injustice?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the noble Baroness's first point about whether the concept of a normal retirement age is now appropriate is important. However, the normal retirement age has two aspects. First, it affects pensions and the funding of pensions, which is an important and difficult issue; secondly, people who join organisations must believe that there will be scope for them to progress within those organisations. That is a difficult balance to bear in mind. As I said, the noble Baroness makes an important point. There is much to be learned from the experience of the United States in this regard.

Lord Renton: My Lords, has the noble and learned Lord witnessed that many people of 60 still have a lot to learn? It is a terrible waste of talent within the Civil Service if people are made to go at 60 merely to transfer their abilities to business while they are still much needed by the state.

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Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, it is often the case that people of all ages, even, from time to time, those over 60, have much to learn. However, I agree with the essential point that the noble Lord makes; namely, that, particularly within the Civil Service, much talent may well be lost if people retire at the normal age. The private sector may be the beneficiary of what the whole nation could benefit from if someone stayed in the Civil Service.

Lord Shore of Stepney: My Lords, I encourage my noble and learned friend on the course of virtue which he is now beginning to pursue. I urge him and his colleagues to proceed as rapidly as possible. We comprise an ageing population which retains a good deal of its health longer into old age. For the Government to insist on retiring people compulsorily at the age of 60--people often of great ability and experience--is an absurdity. If it is not ageism, it is still absurd.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, it is important that we learn the lesson implicit in what the noble Lord, Lord Shore, says. A timetable has been set for the process on which we have embarked within the Civil Service. Each department must report back by 30th September of next year with a view to implementing what is in effect an increase in the normal retirement age to 65 by 2005.

Lord Armstrong of Ilminster: My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord aware that this Question comes 13 years too late for one retired senior official of the Cabinet Office? Is he also aware--if he is not, I hope that he will in due course become so--that life does not stop at 60 and those who retire from the public service at 60 are still able to deploy their talents and energies not merely in the private sector but also in public service of many and various kinds? I refer to membership of departmental committees, conducting special reviews and many other different activities, including, for a fortunate few, membership of this House. Finally, when the noble and learned Lord considers raising the final retirement age, will he also consider the possibility of a more flexible retirement age so that officials can retire without feeling that that is discreditable at any time between 55 and 65 if the public service needs allow and encourage that? I believe that that could be of great benefit to the public service.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I am well aware that as regards this House and other organisations what is now proposed by the Government has come much too late for too many people. I also take the point that people can contribute to other sectors than the private sector once they have retired from the public sector. I hope that the department will consider flexibility when it conducts the review that the PIU report calls for.

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MI6 Headquarters

2.56 p.m.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester asked her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they are taking to review security procedures at the MI6 headquarters as a consequence of the recent missile attack.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, security procedures are naturally reviewed after any incident such as the attack on the headquarters of the Secret Intelligence Service on the evening of 20th September, and, in conjunction with the Metropolitan Police, such a review is in progress. My noble friend will, I am sure, appreciate that I am not able to discuss the detail of any existing or future security measures that are or will be in place at government buildings.

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