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The EU also has a role in training the Palestinian civil police. The UK has been a long-standing contributor to the European police mission in the Occupied Territories. We provide three officers to the mission and have
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The Foreign Secretary has been consistently clear that we should not forget about Gaza. Progress there is fundamental to easing the suffering both in Gaza itself and in southern Israel. I pay tribute not just to the One Voice youth movement but to all other civil society groups which try to find ways of building peace between the two communities. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, that far from their being just noise and things to make us all feel good, they build to a critical mass and a tipping point towards peace.
I turn to the improvements which have been referred to this evening. The products of old fashioned diplomacy matter, too. In this respect, the ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas is a very welcome development. The Foreign Secretary spoke to the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Aboul Gheit, and I saw him yesterday in Sharm el-Sheikh. We both commended him on Egypts painstaking work to conclude this agreement. It is good news that the ceasefire has held so far, and it is vital that all sides do their utmost to keep to their commitments because, as was said, while it is just a ceasefire, a ceasefire precedes the building of trust and hence broader peace. Hamas and other militant groups must stop firing rockets into Israel, and Israel must work to reopen the crossings into Gaza. Equally, this agreement must be only a first step. When any Palestinian returning home is the subject of the kind of beating to which the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, referred earlier, we must condemn it. I ask her for details of that incident, so that we can look further into it.
The ceasefire presents an important opportunity to fully reopen the crossings between Gaza and Israel. That is crucial to addressing the dire humanitarian situation inside the country. We will press for industrial diesel and everything else to be let in as quickly as possible.
I shall say a word on the Israel-Syria talks, a subject raised by the noble Lord, Lord Wright, and others. Peace between Israel and Syria would obviously have the potential to transform the broader Middle East peacemaking process. Therefore, let me be unequivocal in saying that we welcome the current peace talks between Syria and Israel, and commend Turkey for its mediation efforts. We see these talks as an important step forward and a way of building confidence in the region. Ultimately, Syria and the Golan Heights must be part of a comprehensive solution to the Arab-Israel conflict. This is why it also made sense for Syria to attend the Annapolis peace conference.
However, as has been said tonight, we equally recognise that a peace deal between Israel and Syria is not easily reached. We have made it clear to Syria on a number of occasions that a fundamental shift in its regional behaviour is required if part of the international community is to reach out to it more broadly. That means that Syria should move to normalise relations
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What has happened in recent weeks on the Syrian front and on the Israel-Hamas front show that when there is ingenuity of diplomacy and commitment by both sides, progress can be made. Therefore I too, in commending the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, again for introducing the debate, am proud that we can all take stock of the situation better than when we last addressed it in this House.
The noble Baroness said: A short while ago we debated whether there should be the possibility of employers being appointed as members of the trustee corporation. I said at that time that I supported the appointment of members as trustees. I was surprised that the Government seem rather more equivocal, because there is no requirement in this Bill for there to be member trustee corporation members. My amendments in this group seek to remedy that.
Amendment No. 112F requires there to be three member trustees within the nine to 15 member bracket in paragraph 1(2) of Schedule 1. Amendment No. 112H would alter paragraph 1(4) so that an order setting up a pension scheme under Clause 58 must apply Section 242 of the Pensions Act 2004. I hope that the amendments commend themselves to the Minister and I beg to move.
Lord Tunnicliffe: First, I make it clear that we fully intend to respect the purpose and intention of Clause 242 of the Pensions Act 2004; that is, to have one-third of the individual members of the trustee corporation nominated in some way by the scheme members. I say in some way not to be deliberately vague, but because the personal account scheme is unlike other occupational pension schemes. It will not have a sponsoring employer, or even a group of sponsoring employers. The personal account scheme is expected to have millions of members who work for many thousands of different employers. This puts the scheme in a unique situation with regard to contact with the schemes membership.
Turning to Amendments Nos. 112F and 112H, tabled by the noble Baroness, PADA has been set the task of designing the process for interaction between the trustee corporation and the scheme members, and the process for trustee recruitment. Until we receive PADAs advice on these processes, we will not know if we can simply amend Clause 242or regulations under itto include the trustee corporation, or whether we need to design a bespoke solution, such as nomination via the members panel, which we would set out in the scheme order. This is our reason for using the word may rather than must in both this paragraph of Schedule 1 and in Clause 60(4). We need this flexibility. When we have all the relevant advice and information, we will make the appropriate decision based on it. As I have previously said, the trustee corporation is the sole corporate trustee and it must act in the best interests of the scheme members, within the terms of the trust. They cannot have special interest groups to represent.
In relation to the specific number of prospective members, under trust law, as I am sure noble Lords are aware, a trustees most important job is to protect the interests of beneficiaries under the trust. In this case, those interests are the pension savings of the scheme members. A trustee should not be directly required to act in anyone elses interests. Prospective members are, of course, important to the trustee corporation and the future viability of the scheme. For this reason, the trustee corporation will work with members and participating employers, through the panels, to ensure that the scheme is running smoothly and that any issues are resolved. In this way, we will make the scheme as attractive as we can both to new employers and members, within the limits set down. I hope I have indicated that, in principle, we are entirely at one with the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, but the steps of setting up the scheme are such that the way we have put it in the Bill so far is the right way forward to achieve the principle of Clause 242.
Baroness Noakes: I thank the Minister for that reply. It is a pity that the Government had not worked out more of the answers before they brought this Bill to the House, but I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Baroness said: I shall speak also to Amendment No. 112K. Paragraph 2 of Schedule 1 deals with conflicts of interest. My amendments are not addressed to the need for members to avoid conflicts of interest, but to the Secretary of States ongoing involvement. He is not only involved in appointing someone who does not have a conflict of interest, but has to keep an eye on this from time to time. That is, under the terms of this Bill, the Secretary of State has both an initial and an ongoing requirement to monitor the status of members of the corporation, outside the initial period, even if he has not appointed them.
I do not understand the need for this or the need to create within the Department for Work and Pensions the mechanism to monitoron behalf of the Secretary of Stateconflicts of interest within the trustee corporation. My amendments remove the Secretary of State from the process once the initial period has passed. The responsibility would then be with the trustee corporation, which is as it should be. That is what happens in organisations such as boards; they have to ensure that conflicts of interest do not get in the way of business, and that important ones do not exist. My amendments seek to take the Secretary of State out of the process because it would be impracticalor, indeed, involve too much public sector, Civil Service effortto comply with this after the initial phase. I beg to move.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord McKenzie of Luton): As the noble Baroness has explained, the effect of these amendments would be to limit the Secretary of State's role in considering conflicts of interest in relation only to appointments made within the initial period, and the corporation's role in conflict only to appointments made after the initial period. I would like to take this opportunity to explain our reasoning for both the Secretary of States and the corporation's continuing role in conflicts of interest.
As has been discussed, we know that appointments to the trustee corporation in the initial period will be made by the Secretary of State. After this period, the trustee corporation itself will be responsible for making appointments. Clearly, it is important, bearing in mind the responsibility they will have for investing the contributions of scheme members, that there are sufficient checks on whether any conflicts of interest exist among members of the trustee corporation.
The corporation itself will have an interest in potential conflicts of interest for the individuals who are members of the corporation, whether or not the appointment is an initial or a later one. They must act together in scheme members best interests, but a conflict of interest for an individual member could restrict their ability to carry out that legal duty.
Equally, even though the Secretary of State will not have a responsibility for appointments beyond the initial period, he will always retain a level of responsibility as settlor of the scheme. Following this, the trustee corporation, as a public body, will always be accountable through the Secretary of State to Parliament. Given the accountability of both the trustee corporation and the Secretary of State for the scheme, it is right that both should have power to ensure that there is nothing which could compromise the integrity or reputation of the trustee corporation.
I am bound to say to the noble Baroness that I do not see any of these involving great processes of administration, but I think that they are important safeguards, both in the public interest and for the corporation. I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment.
Baroness Noakes: I thank the Minister for that explanation. Could he explain how the Secretary of State will satisfy what is an obligation on himit is not voluntaryunder paragraph 2(2) in Schedule 1, which states:
Lord McKenzie of Luton: It depends on the circumstances. I do not see this as being an unduly onerous or time-consuming event. It is more likely to be relevant if issues arise in the public domain because of the conduct of one individual or another. It may be that the corporation itself, undertaking its duties, will swap conflicts of interest which need to be communicated to the Secretary of State. That would be one route. The idea that there is perpetual tracking of the members is far from reality in this case. I just do not see it as a great issue.
It is one thing for the Secretary of State to be reactively waiting for somebody else to tell him that an issue has arisenI think that is what the Minister saidor that the trustee corporation chooses to make a communication with the Secretary of State. This is quite prescriptive; it says that the Secretary of State must satisfy himself,
Lord McKenzie of Luton: It might be both. It might be that from time to time the Secretary of State just needs to touch base with the corporation to satisfy himself that everything in this regard is in order. I simply do not see this as the magnitude of issue that the noble Baroness is making out.
Baroness Noakes: I am not getting any satisfactory answer from the Minister. It seems to me that he does not know how this is going to work; what time to time actually means; and what processes are required. I wish to test the opinion of the House.
The noble Baroness said: Amendments Nos. 112M and 112N both address the issue of who is deemed not to have a conflict of interest. The Minister will be pleased to hear that they are probing amendments.
The relevant authority is the Secretary of State. I am not at all sure what engaged on behalf of means, or who those people are. The purpose of Amendment No. 112M is to ensure that we are not disallowing people who were or who had previously been engaged on behalf of the Personal Accounts Delivery Authority in the same way as those engaged on behalf of the Secretary of State.
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