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Lord Roper: My Lords, from these Benches, I welcome the efforts of the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House in achieving this result. It has been a matter about which we have had some concern for some time and I am delighted that we are now put,
Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, I disagree slightly with the noble Lord, Lord Roper, and my noble and learned friend. The facility is to be welcomed but it is not the same as that which is available in the House of Commons. I shall explain that briefly.
One will be able, under this provision, to go to Strasbourg to meet a group of Members of the European Parliament to discuss lawnmower noise but one will not be able to go to the Council of Europe to talk to its delegates about the matters for which they are responsible. The Council of Europe is included in the arrangements in the Commons.
Perhaps even more important at this stage of European history is the fact that the Western European Union is the only European forum that is concerned with security and defence. Members of the House of Commons can go to Paris, the planning cell in Brussels and so on to visit the WEU, which at this stage may well be particularly relevant. I therefore hope that further consideration can be given to the matter so that Members of this House can enjoy similar arrangements to those that are available to Members of another place.
Lord Geddes: My Lords, I wonder whether the noble and learned Lord can help me on two counts, the first of which directly relates to this resolution and the second of which is very closely related to it.
First, paragraph (d) concerns getting prior approval from the Clerk of the Parliaments. I give a hypothetical case. What would happen if a Member of your Lordships' House was told on a Saturday when he was at home that it was urgent for him to go to Strasbourg, let us say, first thing on Monday morning? How would he be able to get such prior approval, even though it was for an entirely bona fide visit?
I turn to my second question, which, I repeat, I know is slightly wide of the mark; however, it is a very old chestnut. By coincidence, I had the privilege of leading a delegation from European Sub-Committee A yesterday to Brussels. We left on the 6.50 a.m. train and returned at about 7 p.m., to which no one objected. We had a fascinating trip. I realise that expenses and the allowance in your Lordships' House are for expenditure incurred. I also realise that no such expenditure is incurred on such trips by individual Members because the expenditure is covered within the budget of the European Committees.
Will the noble and learned Lord yet again put to the SSRB the proposal that there should be some way of providing financial recompense to Members of your Lordships' House who go on such visits? We were on business of your Lordships' House for 12 hours, which is, dare I say, perhaps longer than noble Lords might have been in this Chamber or in committees. There should be some form of financial recompense. I understand that it would not involve an allowance for
Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, I join in the gratitude expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Roper, for the generality of the announcement and sympathise with the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Hardy, and my noble friend.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am always grateful for the non-tendentious way in which the noble Lord introduces his questions. In fact, the only reason that I was determined to see if we could have the travel allowance for going to Europe was to please the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch.
We have obligations in respect of public money, and we also have obligations under the Freedom of Information Act. It appears to me to be a commonplace that if public money is to be expended by any of us or on our behalf, it must be a matter of public record and given appropriate safeguards.
The resolution is in exactly the same terms as the resolution in the Commons. I remind my noble friend Lord Hardy that I said that the allowance would be broadly in line with a similar allowance. I take the points about the Council of Europe and the Western European Union, and I am always willing to take such matters further with the SSRB. I must say that I was in correspondence with it for several months. It broke with its normal timetable to consider the request and it has acceded to it generally in the form in which it was put. If any noble Lords have supplementary matters for me to consider, I shall establish whether the SSRB will meet them or perhaps be able to advise noble Lords about other sources of funds that may be available for certain parliamentary duties.
The noble Lord, Lord Geddes, asked a question about Saturday evening. I was about to volunteer the home telephone number of the Clerk of the Parliaments. The advice that I have received is that that is the sort of legitimate detail that we shall consider in the next meeting of the House Committee.
The question of recompense is more difficult. Noble Lords well know that every allowance that we receiveI add in parenthesis that they are really quite reasonable nowis not subject to the beady investigative eye of the Inland Revenue. We should be cautious about getting into the territory of recompense for 12 hours' labourunless, of course, we take a much more radical and lateral approach, and have a wholly elected House that is fully remunerated.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Motion calls attention to the Government's Green Paperwhich, incidentally, has not previously been debated in this Houseand asks whether the Government's present policies will have the desired effect of promoting adequate pension provisions. In my view, few issues in domestic politics are as important as this.
I should perhaps start by declaring an important interest. A month ago, I passed the not-altogether-magic state retirement age of 65. I know that that is difficult to believe. Dare I say that this is one of the few places in which one can make such a confession and still be regarded as a young whipper-snapper.
I must admit that reaching 65 this year does have its advantages. A kindly local authority gives you free Underground travel to avoid the congestion charge and, best of all, you stop paying national insurance, thus avoiding the Government's entirely unjustified increase in national insurance in April. It also enables you to road-test a central policy of the Green Paper; namely, the Government's intention to encourage people to go on working after the age of 65. It has taken me a long time to attune to new Labour but in this respect our aims are exactly the same. I am one of the people whom the Government want to encourage. Sadly, I must report that, as in so many other areas, the Government are strong on aspiration but weak on delivery. What I found was that the Post Office was entirely impeccable in issuing my freedom pass, that the Inland Revenue was super-efficient in issuing a national insurance exemption certificate but that the Pension Serviceas a former Secretary of State, it gives me no great pleasure to say thisachieved a standard which, in road-test terms, could best be described as "1960s Skoda".
In September, my wife and I sought pension forecasts. According to page 42 of the Green Paper, such forecasts are crucial to understanding one's financial position. By the New Year, no reply had been received. I therefore rang the Pension Service myself to be told, of course, that there was no trace of the letter and, what was more, that it was now too late for me to get a forecast. The only way in which I could get the information was to apply for the pension, but I said that that was the point: I wanted to decide whether to apply for a pension. I asked whether there was a leaflet setting out the position on deferment. No, came the reply, there used to be a leaflet but there was not one any more.
Suffice it to say, finally, following phone call after phone call, I received my pension forecast, although I might point out that my wife, who has now sought information by letter, phone and Internet, has still received no reply. Fortunately, she has some years to go before retirementand it looks as though she will
As to whether or not to defer your pension, the position is anything but clear. Basically, the pension increases by 7.5 per cent per annum for each year deferred but obviously you lose the payments in-between. My actuarial friends say that you need to live into your eighties in order to make it a good investment.
I dwell on my own experience for a minute or so in order to make a fundamental point. Pension complexity should be at a minimum in any sensible policy. If you do not achieve that, then the public will not understand the system, and those managing and administering pensions will often themselves be defeated. The Government go along with that aim, at least in one respectthe title on the cover of the Green Paper is Simplicity, security and choice. I do not wish to be unfair. I welcome their proposals to simplify the tax regime and, yes, to reward people for working longer.
However, the question remains whether the Green Paper provides an answer to today's pensions crisis. My answer to that is that it does notand, above all, my feeling is that Ministers have missed an opportunity to take pensions policy forward. That is not just my view. It is the view, among others, of the National Association of Pension Funds, the Association of British Insurers and Age Concern. Those are bodies that any government might listen to, but all too often the response of this Government is a version of Jim Callaghan's famous response: "Crisis: what crisis?"
The pensions crisis that I see is this: the working population is saving too little to ensure good lives in retirement; final salary schemes in the private sector are closingand today we have news of moves to prevent the scheme members that remain from transferring their assets; and we are heading rapidly towards a position of two nations in retirementthe private sector facing problem after problem, and the public sector with unchanged schemes which the Government finance or stand behind. In that context, frankly, it is breathtaking that MPs should choose this moment to improve the terms of an already generous parliamentary scheme.
Of course no one claims that everything that has gone wrong in pensions can be blamed on the Government. I do not remotely want to claim that. They cannot be blamed for the new FRS17 accounting rules, or the worldwide collapse of share prices. But they can be blamedthey should be blamedin a number of other crucial respects. They should be blamed for their £5 billion a year pensions tax. That was a policy introduced in 1997 on the basis that stock markets were rising and was actually termed a "reform" by the Prime Minister. That reform has so far cost pension fundsor, to be more accurate, all those saving for retirementover £25 billion. It has inflicted damage on millions of pension savers
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