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Lord Addington: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the first step must be the identification of all those who are deafblind? Roughly, when can local authorities be reasonably expected to have an idea of the number of deafblind people in their areas?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the noble Lord is right. In the guidance issued to local authorities we called on them to identify, make contact with, and keep a record of deafblind people in their catchment area. The progress of each local authority is bound to be different. Some authorities have done very well in this area, and others not so well. We shall be monitoring the situation. By autumn this year we shall expect to know how well each local authority has done.
Lord Swinfen: My Lords, the Minister said that local authorities must abide by guidance. But guidance is not approved by Parliament, whereas regulations are. What is the difference, therefore, between guidance and regulations in terms of their mandatory effect on local authorities?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the point is that guidance was issued under Section 7 of the Local Authority Social Services Act 1970. The implication is that, although local authorities are not under a legal obligation to follow Section 7 guidance to the letter, it has been held in case law that they are required to follow the path charted by the Secretary of State and that they are not free to deviate from the guidance unless there is good reason to do so. In any case, they are not free to follow a substantially different course. In experience, local authorities recognise that they are expected to comply with the guidance.
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, it is very important that directors are able to devote sufficient time to their responsibilities. The number of directorships held is one factor that can affect this; there are, of course, others. There is already a requirement under the Listing Rules for all directorships held by directors of listed companies to be disclosed. This is a matter for companies and shareholders to consider when an individual is a candidate for election to a company board.
Lord Smith of Clifton: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. However, I find it slightly complacent. It is of a piece with the Answer that he gave to a previous Question on remuneration. Does he agree thatconglomerates and their subsidiary boards aparteven a complete insomniac cannot do justice to discharging his duties as a non-executive director if he holds up to 17 directorships? Does he further agree that there are potential conflicts of interest in holding a multiplicity of directorships?
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, it is clearly wrong for people to take on too many non-executive directorships which they cannot carry out properly. However, I believe that it is impossible to produce legislation setting out exactly how many non-executive directorships it is reasonable for a director to hold. There are too many variables: the size of a company, its complexity, where it is located, and whether the person has other public duties. Therefore, to come up with a simple figure would be extremely difficult. I point outalthough this is not in the true spirit of kicking people when they are downthat the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, held a number of directorships, such as the Alexander Rose Day, the Warrior Preservation Trust, the Surrey County Agricultural Society, St Swithin's School, Winchester, and the Carlton Club. I very much doubt whether those are taxing jobs, or indeed well remunerated.
Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, in the light of the positively awe-inspiring list of overlapping appointments, both in the public sector and in the private sector and in academia, together with the large number of publications contained in the entry of the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, in Who's Who, will the Government seek to obtain advice from the noble Lord as to how directors and others may carry out such multiple appointments with the apparent dexterity that he has, and without the arrogance to which he has referred?
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, although I have spent a very pleasant morning looking up on websites the directorships of many Members of this House, I do not think it is for me to advise Members on how they should carry out their duties.
Lord Razzall: My Lords, does the Minister accept that the answer to the previous question is, "as a Liberal Democrat"? After that slightly partisan comment, does he agree that there is a real issue here, particularly in regard to the major listed companies? A pattern seems to be emerging in which chief executives of one company nominate non-executive directors from others; then, as chief executives, they are nominated as non-executive directors to those other companies. Does the Minister accept that the Government's policyseemingly one of laissez-faireis perhaps not adequate in modern circumstances?
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I agree that the existence of such cross-directorships is concerning, particularly to shareholders. However, the issue is whether the Government should move in and try to establish how many directorships an individual should have. As I said, it is not possible to do that. I am not aware of any legislation anywhere in the world with that extremely difficult, if not impossible, aim. The issue is of great interest to institutional shareholders. I think that all your Lordships agree that they have a major job to do to stop such situations arising.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, as the Minister and I acknowledged in Committee, this is perhaps the most difficult part of any of our proceedings. As noble Lords are getting themselves into some kind of order, I draw the attention of the House to the fact that the noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden, who would normally be here, is absent today. She is in hospital receiving treatment. Bearing in mind the great knowledge and expertise that she has often given to the House on these subjects, I am sure that all your Lordships wish her well.
We return to a subject on which the Committee spent a great deal of timethe equalisation of the savings credit. On Second Reading, the Minister gave us a dazzling exposition of some of the many reasons why the Government feel unable to introduce the savings credit element of the pension credit at age 60. We were regaled with the examples of Jack and Frank. I am sure that many of those who attended the Committee debates went away and spent a long time studying those biographies. Perhaps your Lordships also agree that, solely for the purposes of these debates, one has to hope that every pensioner is a single person with no intention of going into any sort of relationship with anybody else and becoming part of a double household. That is not a sentiment that I would espouse in any other circumstances.
I moved an amendment in Committee to address the disadvantage caused to a generation of women aged 60 to 65 between now and 2010 by the fact that the pension credit will apply only from age 65. The Minister explained the deficiencies of that amendment in her usual helpful and lengthy manner. I read her answer in some detail, but it was only about men, not about the problems faced by women.
On reflection, I think that fairness can be introduced for women without causing the problems that the Minister explained to us in relation to men. We should look at the income of men. The Minister pointed out that men aged 60 to 64 do not receive the state retirement pension. However, she also said that it would be possible to deem the income of men aged 60 to 64. The amendment would deem the rate that they would receive. It would be necessary to know what contributions had been made and what they would be likely to equal on retirement. That information is already produced and anyone can ask for it well before their retirement. On that basis, we could ensure equality and fairness at 60, because the rate of the savings credit would be based on actual pension contributions. Those actual contributions would be the basis for the deemed amount and would be used for a calculation of entitlement.
The amendment, and the others in the group, would deal with those women of a particular generation who always seem to miss out in pension reforms and have done so throughout their lives. That is the spirit in which I move the amendment. I beg to move.
Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts: My Lords, I have two amendments in the group. I am coming at the issue from a slightly different angle from the noble Baroness, Lady Barker. We should be trying to minimise the complexities and the fundamental shifts that take place in the future. Those arise for two reasons: primarily, in this Bill, because the guarantee credit and the savings credit are not payable at the same age; and, secondly, because of the proposed change in the pensionable age of women, which is not part of the matter under discussion. Thus we have different treatment for the two types of credit and different treatment for men as opposed to women. My amendments would equalise the treatment of men and women as regards the savings credit.
With the greatest respect to the Minister, I think that her officials were disingenuous in coming up with the examples. That is why some of us remain concerned about the issue. The Minister gave the example of Jack, who was aged 63 and had an income of £23 from an occupational pension. To get him up to the £100 figure, he received a £77 credit. She pointed out that if my amendments were accepted, Jack would get an additional savings credit on his £23 that would give him £13.80 extra a week, resulting in a total income of £113.80. She then talked about Frank, who was also 63, but who received an occupational pension of £24, so he received only £76 extra to get him to the £100 minimum guarantee. However, because he was over the maximum savings credit, his entitlement was reduced by 40p in the additional pound that he received from his occupational pension as a result of saving. Therefore, as she rightly pointed out, Jack would get £113.80 and Frank would get £113.40. Frank would be penalised for having saved more. She therefore argued that the amendments would undermine the incentive to save.
With respect, the Minister failed to address the larger anomaly, which will persist if the amendment is not accepted in some form. Perhaps I may introduce to the Minister, Alistair, who comes to us care of the Post Office and BT Pensioners. Alistair also is aged 63, but he has saved nothing at all. He has made no attempt to save for his old age. So, between 60 and 65, he will receive the full £100 single person's guaranteed credit.
The second example that the Minister gave was a 63 year-old man and a 63 year-old woman, both with a £100 per week occupational pension. The Minister said that the man would receive £13.80 per week because he had no retirement pension whereas the woman would receive nothing because with her pension she would be outside the pension credit limits. As the Minister put it,
What I think the Minister's officials have ignored or overlooked is what each of those two is receiving in money each week. The woman is receiving £100 occupational pension and £77 basic state pension, totalling £177 per week. The man is receiving £100 per week plus the £13.80. The differential between £177 and £113.80 shows that the unfairness is the other way round, not as the Minister explained it in the example.
Lord Higgins: My Lords, I intervene only briefly. We discussed the matter in considerable depth in Committee, and the Minister's contribution on it extends over many columns of Hansard. It is very difficult to debate this matter on the Floor of the House. My noble friend Lord Hodgson has spelt out the situation very clearly. It is the type of issue that is sometimes best addressed in writing, and it has been helpful to have it in Hansard.
The problem stems basically from the fact that, currently, men and women retire at different ages, and the fact that, as the result of the European Court judgment, it is proposed that they should coincide. In the interim period, it is extremely difficult to ensure that both men and women are treated fairlywhatever that may mean. I do not think that we are clear even among ourselvesif I may use the expression in your Lordships' Houseas to what "treating them fairly" means.
We have had many representations, not least from the National Federation of Post Office and BT Pensioners which has set out the arguments in considerable detail. I think that it may be worth while for those who have not yet had a chance to see those arguments to do so before Third Reading.
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