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Lord Bach: This amendment relates to the appointment of members to the joint committee and is designed to impose specific terms on appointment to it and a maximum of 10 years for any appointee. It is a probing amendment.
Schedule 4 does not specify the lengths of any appointments. However, the joint committee is covered by the code issued by the Commissioner for Public Appointments, and that will not change when it is reconstituted. I am assuming that the intention is to ensure a phased turnover of appointments. While I can see how that might work in theory, here we are setting up a new committee from scratch. The JNCC will be reconstituted and some existing appointments will carry over. Following best practice, appointments have been made so that they will not all come to an end at the same time, though however well we plan these things, premature resignations can frustrate our intentions. That is a good reason in itself to retain
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greater flexibility. It also covers those who are appointed from the UK conservation agencies and could conceivably impinge on appointments to those bodies.
The intention behind the amendment is at odds with the code itself, since an appointee who has served two full terms or 10 years is eligible to apply for appointment through open competition and can be appointed again if selected on merit through that competitive process. The JNCC, as I have said, is not a new body, so not all appointments will come up at the same time. Usually appointments are for three yearsoh! I have inadvertently made an error in saying that the committee was setting up from scratch. In fact it is the opposite; it is continuing. I apologise to the Committee. I congratulate those who advise me for having let me know as quickly as they did.
Baroness Byford: I am grateful to the Minister. I was having a chuckle to myself, because I was going back to the RCC when I should have been on the JNCC. Perhaps if we used the full names we would make sure that we were in the right place in the Bill at the right time. My noble friend referred to this point earlier, and we should bear it in mind. I apologise for the confusion. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Baroness said: I hesitate to mention pensions again; it is perhaps one stage too far. We debated these amendments earlier, because they overlap with other parts of the Bill. The principle behind all the amendments that we have been debating is the same. Unless the Minister intends the word to mean something other than what is normally meant, I cannot agree that the board of Natural England should be empowered to pay a pension to any of its members.
Empowerment to pay pensions to existing members, however, implies that the boards will take over the responsibility from another pension provider. Thus someone joining the board who, while still relatively young, is entitled to a pension from, say, the police or the Armed Forces, might be covered by this part of the Bill. Or is the Minister contemplating the possibility that the board might attract applications from senior civil servants or even ex-politicians, who would be entitled to draw a pension while fulfilling their contract with Natural England? The idea that the board might take on the responsibility for paying the pension of someone from the private sector is extremely far-fetchedheaven forbidbut I suppose that, if the permission were there, it could happen.
It is interesting that this provision should be in place for the JNCC but not for either Natural England or the commission. That implies that JNCC employees will not be civil servants. Is that the case and, if so, why? I beg to move.
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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: This provision enables payments and allowances, including pensions, to be made to persons appointed by the Secretary of State to the joint committee, and it enables staff pension schemes to be maintained. We addressed many of these issues when we debated a similar point relating to Natural England and the Commission for Rural Communities, so I will be brief. Having said that, a range of issues has been raised in relation to pensions. I shall undertake to look at all of them and write to the noble Baroness, who mentioned most of them, and I shall ensure that every other noble Lord who has taken part in the debate has a copy.
Amendment No. 267 would remove the power in respect of pensions for appointees to the joint committee. In practice, only the JNCC chairman holds a pensionable appointment. The appointment itself may be pensionable and, in answer to another point, it does not relate to other pensions that the person may have. I am certain that, because of her questions, the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, will want me to expand on that.
It is normal practice when making appointments to an NDPB for Ministers to decide the terms of the appointment, the remuneration and other payments, including the costs of any pension. Paragraph 8 of Schedule 4, which the amendment seeks to alter, is part of the standard framework by which these arrangements are reflected in statute. If accepted, the amendment would mean that the current JNCC chairman could not, in future, be provided with a pension. Similarly, future appointments would have to be made on a non-pensionable basis, and that could either affect the calibre of potential applicants or require a substantial increase in their basic salary so that they could make their own pension provisions.
Lord Carter: I shall make a point for when my noble friend writes to us all. We have used "pensions" interchangeably between meaning pension premiums and pensions that are paid after someone has retired. The Bill does not distinguish between the two; it just uses "pensions", which I presumeI am looking at the Boxmeans the same thing as pension premiums and retirement pensions. I am seeing nods. I think that that has led to some of the confusion, and it would be helpful if it could be spelt out. Obviously if you are receiving a salary and a pension is linked to the salary, you will be caught by the total amount of the pension premium and the tax allowances and so on. I refer back to the problem of board members, which we spoke
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about earlier. The remuneration that they would receive, even if they were paid a pension premium on top, would be very small indeed.
Baroness Byford: I am grateful to the Minister. I assure her and other noble Lords that I will not mention pensions again in this sitting. It is an important issue and certainly some of our earlier discussions got slightly heated. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 268, it may be for the convenience of the Committee if I link it with Amendment No. 270. It would seem sensible to do so and will save a little time later because the two suggestions sit closely together.
This is a probing amendment. Does the first reference mean that if the JNCC decides that it needs someone to minute meetings, answer the telephone or welcome visitors, it will need the approval of the Secretary of State before doing so? I am sure that it does not, as clearly that would be ridiculous. Or does it mean that if the JNCC decides to appoint a small team to prepare the position papers for its meetings, the Secretary of State must approve the chosen candidates?
If the Bill can give Natural England and the commission the power to employ staff, surely it should extend the same courtesy to the JNCC, which is after all the body through which Natural England has to work to exercise some of its functions. It will presumably be open to investigation by the Audit Commission and pay the scales that have been approved by the Secretary of State. There should be no fear of unreasonable salaries.
The second reference appears to negate the first. If Great Britain conservation bodies have to pay the salaries of the JNCC staff, they will be fairly concerned that no one is employed who is not absolutely necessary, thus rendering the Secretary of State's approval superfluous. If Natural England and the UK conservation bodies can be funded from the centre, why cannot the JNCC be funded in the same way? I beg to move.
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