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Lord Watson of Richmond: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. She has raised a very important point. When on 18 March 2003 the Prime Minister rose in another place to move the Motion in favour of the commitment of British troops, he did so very clearly to,

That was the core of the case made by the Prime Minister and that is what this debate is about.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, this debate is not solely about weapons of mass destruction. The Opposition parties asked for a debate about matters relating to Iraq. That is why it has been a broad-based debate. If the noble Lord wants to have a debate about specific issues, he knows that he is at liberty to table such a debate.

Again, we have gone back to blaming the Government for the decision and have moved away from the issues surrounding the atrocities of Saddam Hussein. I ask noble Lords this: do they really believe that waiting another year would have made a difference? Would Saddam have backed down from developing weapons of mass destruction? Such a supposition is not just fanciful; at worst, it is irresponsible.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords—

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am not going to give way because, as noble Lords have pointed out, I have been a fairly lonely voice on some of these issues. Many noble Lords have had the opportunity to speak and very soon we shall run out of energy, let alone anything else.
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As always, the debate has been stimulating and interesting but at times, I am bound to say, in the enthusiasm to express a clear view about the genesis of this conflict, the evidence of four reports examining what happened has been reinterpreted. The plain and simple findings of those reports have been set on one side, which is worrying.

But what is more worrying is the refusal to acknowledge any improvements for the Iraqi people in facing a future without Saddam Hussein and his vicious regime.

I acknowledge today—as I have consistently acknowledged in the past—the shortcomings in the way in which the coalition governments have operated in relation to Iraq. But it strikes me that no such desire for a balanced approach afflicts some commentators, including some in your Lordships' House.

We knew before today that we would not agree on the legal basis for war. Now it seems that, although we all agree that the report of the noble Lord, Lord Butler,
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was "brilliant", as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said, or "excellent" as the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, said, or just plain balanced and sensible, we still do not agree with his conclusions.

But surely we can agree on some points. Iraq's future without Saddam Hussein is a better prospect than Iraq's future with Saddam Hussein. Surely we can agree with my noble friend Lord Tomlinson that we want the best possible future for Iraq—a peaceful and prosperous future.

I cannot, nor would I wish to, spin away the military action of last year. But I look forward to a time when we can discuss a way forward for Iraq, as well as understanding why we continue to disagree about the past.

I hope that at some stage soon your Lordships' passion about the past will be equalled with a passion about the future, for what has been achieved and what can be achieved. Iraqi people deserve no less.

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7 Sept 2004 : Column 129

Official Report of the Grand Committee on the

Pensions Bill

(Sixth Day)

Tuesday, 7 September 2004.

The Committee met at half past three of the clock.

[The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Gould of Potternewton) in the Chair.]

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Gould of Potternewton): I welcome you all back after—I hope—a very happy and restful break, ready for day six on the Pensions Bill.

Clause 126 [Directions]:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Baroness Hollis of Heigham) moved Amendment No. 194D:

On Question, amendment agreed to.

On Question, Whether Clause 126 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Higgins: I was going to begin by saying, "Here we are again". Unfortunately, that is not true, strictly speaking. Instead of being in the rather congenial atmosphere upstairs, with fresh air and so on, we find ourselves back in the Moses Room. I find the arrangement for sitting in the middle of the Recess signally inconvenient. It is one thing if World War III is about to break out or something—we would come back and understand the problems—but it is another to come back on a planned basis when the Library is cut off from many sections. The Government really ought to decide whether, in the summer, this place is a building site or a legislative chamber. It is not helpful at all.

A number of current developments are not without interest. There is, of course, a very large rumour going around that the Bill is to be dropped in favour of a Bill on fox hunting. It should be clear that we are not wasting our time. I hope that the Minister can give us a clear assurance that there is absolutely no question whatever of that happening.

A large number of government amendments have also been tabled. As often in the past, I pay tribute to the Minister for the very helpful way in which she has provided notes on the different amendments. There are hundreds and hundreds on which debate could have taken place in the Commons. We are also short of a Secretary of State. As all the legislative process seems to be moving to this end of the building rather than taking place in the other, perhaps the sensible thing to do is to make the noble Baroness Secretary of
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State. She knows infinitely more about the subject than any other possible candidate and that would enable us to proceed smoothly in scrutinising the Bill.

I ought to mention a couple of other developments. I suggested to the noble Baroness during the Recess that it would be helpful if we had some sort of matrix showing which groups of pensioners whose company schemes are in difficulty are likely to qualify for no help at all, help under the financial assistance scheme or help under the PPF. As always, she courteously replied. The difficulty is that many of us are receiving letters from companies that ask, "What's happening so far as we are concerned?". I find it difficult to give any authoritative answer lest I have misunderstood the situation. In addition to the very helpful note sent by the noble Baroness, it would be of great value to the public outside—who obviously have considerable expectations about the Bill—if she could give a more specific answer on that.

Worryingly, the noble Baroness's note referred to the financial assistance scheme. We are still in a situation where only one clause in the Bill effectively says that everything will be done by statutory instrument. We have no idea what the content is. It is clear from her note that the Government do not seem to have very much idea at the moment either. The idea was introduced in something of a panic in the other place at a late stage of the Bill, but we really need to know the Government's intentions so far as that is concerned. When we come to the clause, I hope that we have amendments so that, instead of leaving the whole thing to unamendable regulations, we know exactly what the Government have in mind. It would be unacceptable for the clause to go on the statute book in its present form.

The noble Baroness—this is a rather retrospective comment—has sent many of us a note on the progress of consultation on the moral hazard problems that we raised earlier. We are very grateful to her for that. We must hope that more progress on those crucial issues can be made. All of us are concerned with improving the Bill as it stands, particularly in regard to the dangers that the earlier clauses present on a wide range of issues.

I turn briefly to Clause 126. I am a little puzzled by it in that it enables directions to be given during an assessment period in relation to an "eligible" scheme. I am slightly puzzled by that expression because I am not clear in my own mind when a scheme becomes an "eligible" scheme. I should have thought it would not become an eligible scheme during a period of assessment because, presumably, the assessment may be such that it is decided that it is not an eligible scheme. Perhaps the noble Baroness will clarify that point.

I am not clear why the assessment period should take place when the assets appear to exceed the scheme's protected liabilities. I should have thought that only if it was increasingly apparent that that was not the case would it become an assessment period. But the whole issue of assessment periods and what happens in them is something to which we shall come a little later and I shall raise it then.
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I should be grateful if the noble Baroness could clarify those points. Once again I express our appreciation. We are all trying to get the Bill right and we are grateful to her.

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