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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness. It is one of the issues which the Government Actuary addressed in his report. It was not a statement but a report of a lecture given at a think tank Politeia. There are major problems both for the protection of employees against age discrimination and as regards the public purse about the over-use of retirement on health grounds.

Lord Lipsey: My Lords, does the Minister agree that we need not only more action to prevent too much early retirement but also action so that people who retain their youth and vigour can continue to work, a concept for which your Lordships' House is an advertisement?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I should not be tempted to reply to that question, which is wide of the Question on the Order Paper. But I am tempted; and I agree with my noble friend.

Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, is there not the paradox of trends to greater longevity at the same time as trends towards difficulty in financing pensions?

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Does the Minister agree that we have to put pressure on employers to reverse that trend? The alternative will be legislation on discrimination.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, one of the continuing problems which public policy faces is that employers may be tempted to give early retirement on health grounds rather than on other grounds on the basis that those who are retired will become eligible for incapacity benefit and, therefore, less demanding on the pension fund of the employer. It is a problem which the Government are addressing.

Baroness Barker: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Government produced a report, Winning the Generation Game, in April of this year which covers all these issues in detail? It is a comprehensively researched report containing 75 recommendations. What progress has there been on implementing the recommendations in the report?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, indeed I am just about aware that the Government have produced a report on the subject, yes! I think that I could be expected to be aware of it.

The 75 recommendations in the report published only six months ago require careful consideration and consultation. We are keeping the matter under urgent review.

Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that far too many people who have led active and busy lives are forced prematurely into retirement on health grounds or otherwise and simply fade away and die? Will he assure the House that the Government will do what they can to encourage employers to keep on people who are suffering from ill health in a way that enables them to cope, perhaps on a part-time basis, to prevent the unnecessary loss of vigorous, active, experienced people and to enable those people to continue to lead active and useful lives?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, my noble friend points out one of the dangers of early retirement on ill health grounds. As the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, said, it can be used as an excuse for unnecessary early retirement. The Government Actuary's report also pointed out that those who retire early on ill health grounds ought to be encouraged to go back to work if their health improves sufficiently. That is another issue that the Government need to address and are addressing.

The Earl of Northesk: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the Welfare Reform and Pensions Act 1999 introduced a clawback provision under which half of any occupational ill health retirement pension above £85 a week is offset against benefit? Does not that demonstrate that the mounting crisis over ill health retirement is at least partly of the Government's making? More generally, although they made a manifesto commitment to encourage saving for retirement, is not the broad thrust of their pensions policy a huge disincentive to that?

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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I draw the opposite conclusion from the provisions in the Welfare Reform and Pensions Act 1999. I do not think that the noble Earl is entitled to draw his more general conclusion about pensions policy.

Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen: My Lords, does my noble friend have any information about which workers are currently the most likely to seek early retirement on health grounds?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am sure that I should have such information, but I do not. I shall have to write to my noble friend on that point. I suspect that those who are under stress at work are among the most likely. That is a common cause of early retirement.

Lord Lawson of Blaby: My Lords, given the spirit that has been evinced on all sides of the House in answer to the Question, including by the Minister, will he give an undertaking that if and when stage two of the reform of this place is introduced, there will be no question of there being a retirement age?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, although I answer on behalf of the Government, that exceeds my personal responsibility, and it does not follow from the Question.

Disqualifications Bill

3.23 p.m.

Lord Rotherwick asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What organisations or political parties have made representations in favour of the provisions of the Disqualifications Bill or have welcomed the Bill.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton): My Lords, the Government's reason for introducing the Disqualifications Bill is to reflect the special relationship that exists between the United Kingdom and Ireland since the coming into force of the British-Irish agreement. As such, it has been welcomed by the Irish Government. In drawing up the legislation, the Government have taken into account the views of all the parties--unionist, nationalist and republican.

Lord Rotherwick: My Lords, I thank the Minister for going considerably further than the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, went the other day in Committee. He said that it was inappropriate to give such an answer. What has changed since then, that the Minister has been able to be more open?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, my response reflects exactly the comments of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, on Monday, when we had the pleasant experience of discussing the detail of that Bill.

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Lord Lamont of Lerwick: My Lords, can the Minister give a single example from anywhere else in the Commonwealth or the rest of the world in which members of one sovereign Parliament have sat simultaneously as members of another country's sovereign Parliament? Is it not the case that the Bill is opposed by the First Minister of Northern Ireland, has been criticised in the Irish press and is not welcomed by many Members of the Dail? The only reason for its introduction is that Sinn Fein has argued that all 18 Northern Ireland Members ought simultaneously to be Members of the House of Commons and of the Dail. It is not just the Bill that is disgraceful, but the Government's refusal to be frank about its purpose.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, we have been entirely frank. We have made it plain that we believe that the Bill is justified on its merits and in its own terms. We believe that it could do a great deal of good in strengthening the close historical and cultural ties between our country and Ireland. For those reasons it is a very sensible measure. Talking of popular and unpopular measures, on Monday the noble Lord was kind enough to admit:

    "I must confess that I introduced many measures for which there was no demand--indeed, there was positive opposition!".--[Official Report, 6/11/00; col. 1333.]

It is for the Government to decide whether something is right. That is what we have done.

Lord Rogan: My Lords, does the Minister accept that when my party, the Ulster Unionist Party, was consulted, we replied that we were definitely not in favour of the Bill? Will he take my assurance that when we independently consulted the major political parties in the south of Ireland, we did not find one which was interested in the measure or supported the Bill? Is it not a fact that the only party that organises in both Northern Ireland and southern Ireland--Sinn Fein/IRA--is the only party that supports the measure? If so, why?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I thought that I had made it plain in my opening Answer that we consulted the Irish Government and that they had commented favourably on the measure. The views of other parties are no doubt a matter for public record. We have listened carefully to the views offered by the official Ulster Unionist Party. They have been reflected in amendments that we have already passed to the Bill.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that the Northern Ireland Act 1998, which dealt with the main measures for devolution under the Good Friday agreement, made provision for joint membership of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Senate in Dublin? I took that Bill through and I was not aware of any significant body of opposition to the measure, even though the issue of principle is very similar to that in the Disqualifications Bill.

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