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Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, is there any significance in the numbers of women officers who resign after their statutory maternity leave? Are there opportunities, such as work sharing or part-time work, for those who want to spend time with their small children beyond the statutory limit?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, one of the difficulties that the noble Baroness rightly highlights is the inflexibility of some working practices. That is one of the things that we are looking at with great care. In the reorganised police service, which is much more intelligence-led, there are more opportunities for specific expertise and for women to have a more flexible input and play a part. We are looking at those issues carefully to make sure that we do not lose the considerable talent of our women officers.

Lord Condon: My Lords, does the Minister agree that, through fair and transparent selection processes and promotion procedures, female police officers have risen—quite properly—on merit to the most senior positions in the service, including chief constable, and that only the post of commissioner is yet to be filled by a talented female colleague?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I can confirm that women have done very well in the service. We have six chief officers, four deputy chiefs and nine assistant chief constables. I can also confirm what the
 
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noble Lord said about recruitment. Women now make up 21 per cent of the number of police officers and are being recruited at a rate of 32 per cent. The success rate at the assessment centre, which is competency-based, is 78 per cent for women and 65 per cent for men.

Lord Glenarthur: My Lords, can the Minister say whether the figures that she quoted include women special constables? If not, can she supply figures showing whether they leave at the same rate?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I do not have with me the figures for special constables. I shall look at that issue, but I assure noble Lords that overall wastage rates are low in the police force generally. The wastage is lower for women than for men: it is 3.5 per cent for women and 5.7 per cent for men. Those figures compare favourably with other public services.

I shall look at the issue of special constables. Noble Lords will know that they have a slightly different status from those who are employed on a full-time basis.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, the Minister said that the regionalisation of the police force was unsettling. Is there any truth in the rumour that the boundaries of the new regional police forces just happen to coincide with the boundaries of the European regions under the Europe of the regions project?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the ingenuity of the noble Lord in getting Europe into a question never fails to astound me. I can tell your Lordships that the reorganisation is consistent with the needs of Great Britain and that that takes priority.

Pensions: Ombudsman's Report

11.27 am

Lord De Mauley: My Lords, in the absence of my noble friend Lord Higgins and at his request, I beg leave to ask the Government the following Question:

What action they propose to take as a result of the report of the Parliamentary Ombudsman on Trusting in the pensions promise.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, after very careful consideration, we have reached the view that we cannot accept the findings of maladministration made in the report and have, therefore, decided to reject all but one of its recommendations. We intend to issue a full response to this report in the next few weeks. Regarding the one recommendation that we are accepting, we have already begun work to review the time taken to wind up pension schemes.
 
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Lord De Mauley: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. What action would Her Majesty's Government take against any insurance company that had acted as they have done? Would they, as they did when insurers over-promised personal pensions, order them to pay compensation of £14 billion?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I do not accept the premise behind the noble Lord's question for the same reason that, after very careful consideration, we rejected the recommendations of the ombudsman. All the leaflets that the ombudsman was concerned with made it clear in specific statements that they were not a full explanation of the law and were for general guidance only. None of the leaflets or statements formed a proper basis for scheme members, still less trustees who are professionally advised, to assess the security of individual pension schemes. The report fails to demonstrate that decisions taken by individual scheme members were influenced by information that was or was not in those leaflets. The report did not establish that the wording of the leaflets led to losses suffered by individuals. We estimate that the cost of fully implementing the ombudsman's recommendation would be £15 billion over a 60-year period. On the basis that we cannot accept those recommendations, we are not able to make those payments.

Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay: My Lords, does the Minister accept that the anger of the 85,000 people who have lost their pensions has been aggravated by the meanness of the financial assistance scheme on which they have to rely? Will he confirm—I have received the figure from his office; he was not able to answer me last week—that the amount paid out so far by the FAS is about £100,000, which is less than £1.25 for each of the 85,000 people who have lost their pension? Will he confirm that figure for the record? What exactly did the Prime Minister mean last week when he talked about expediting a review of the financial assistance scheme? Has the Chancellor of the Exchequer agreed that it will be reviewed in advance of the current spending round? If he has agreed, when will the first penny from that review reach the pensioners who need it?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I informed the noble Lord last week of the number of people who had received money from the FAS. He is right that it is roughly estimated that £100,000 has been paid out so far. The Government are disappointed that so few people have received payments so far. We are dependent on information provided by trustees. I have made sure that officials in the financial assistance scheme are being proactive and getting in touch with trustees to expedite the provision of information and speed up payments. We want to speed up payments.

The noble Lord mentioned the Statement that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister made last
 
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week. He will know that we were committed to reviewing the amount of money that should be given to the FAS as part of the next spending review. We remain committed to that. The Prime Minister said last week that we would do that as quickly as possible, and we will do so.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, does my noble friend share—as I am sure does the House—everyone's regret at what has happened to those pension schemes, in the same way as we all deeply regret the collapse of Equitable Life? However, if employers, employees and trustees really believed, on the basis of a couple of leaflets, that the Government were underwriting and guaranteeing the whole of the occupational pension system, what incentive would there have been for any employer ever fully to fund a pension scheme? It is called "moral hazard". Does my noble friend therefore agree that the right response is to strengthen and speed up the FAS?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I echo my noble friend's point that anyone who has met or knows about the circumstances of people who were affected by the problems with pension schemes can have only the utmost sympathy for them. My noble friend was right to refer to the moral hazard. Responsibility in the end lay with those pension schemes and not with the Government. I reiterate: it is difficult to see what causal connection can be made between the very general information in those leaflets and the ombudsman's recommendation that the Government should pay £15 billion over 60 years. There can be no connection.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, have the Ministers in the department learnt nothing from the report? I am grateful to the Minister for the voluminous package of departmental pension guides that I received last night, following a request that I made during my response to the recent Statement. I observe that, in July 2001, one of the booklets stated:

The word "not" was in heavy type. Would the Minister authorise the same words today? If not, what advice would he give to today's pensioners?


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