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House of Lords

Monday, 14 July 2008.

The House met at half-past two: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Exeter.

Introduction: Lord Smith of Kelvin

Lord Smith of Kelvin—Sir Robert Haldane Smith, Knight, having been created Baron Smith of Kelvin, of Kelvin in the City of Glasgow, for life, was introduced between the Lord Macfarlane of Bearsden and the Lord Robertson of Port Ellen.

Energy: Nuclear Development Forum

2.42 pm

Lord Jenkin of Roding asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (Baroness Vadera): My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State is considering the detailed operation and membership of the nuclear development forum. He expects that members should be invited from across the industry to make the most effective forum for ensuring progress on nuclear new build and would expect this to include those responsible for promoting skills and training. He expects to finalise and publish proposals over the summer.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, does not the Government’s welcome, if somewhat belated, commitment to a substantial civil nuclear programme make it more important than ever that we have a competent, well trained and skilled workforce for that industry? Do the Government recognise that the National Skills Academy for Nuclear, which enjoys the support of all the leading employers in the industry, is very well placed to address this issue, and should therefore be represented on the nuclear development forum? Is not the commitment of employers absolutely crucial to the development of skills training?

Baroness Vadera: My Lords, I agree but, tempting as it may be, I cannot make the announcement on behalf of the Secretary of State, so we will have to wait for it. However, the National Skills Academy for Nuclear is central in ensuring that we get apprenticeships, foundation degrees and upskilling of existing workers in the nuclear force.

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Lord Redesdale: My Lords, is the Minister confident that there will be enough trained individuals to be safety inspectors in 2020, considering that there is such a shortage now? What are the Government doing to ensure that this gap is filled?

Baroness Vadera: My Lords, the Government are fully aware of the potential shortage of skilled nuclear inspectors, which is why we allowed a 15 per cent pay flexibility last year for existing and new staff, and is why the NI was able to recruit nine new inspectors earlier this year and has an ongoing recruitment programme. Dr Tim Stone’s review will look into ways to ensure that the NI is ready for significantly increased new build in the future.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, to go a step backwards, in order to have these skills presumably the individuals concerned will have to have physics and chemistry in their background. What is being done to increase the number of qualified physics and chemistry teachers in schools?

Baroness Vadera: My Lords, the noble Countess is totally correct in her analysis that that is where we need to start to address the problem. We have a £140 million programme over the next three years to encourage the teaching of science, technology and maths in schools. We also have a programme for recruiting teachers, which includes the use of golden hellos to get them into schools, as well as training existing teachers and providing an entitlement for all children doing GCSEs to study two science GCSEs.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, when does the noble Baroness expect work to begin on the first replacement nuclear power station?

Baroness Vadera: My Lords, construction is expected to begin in 2013 for the first one, for commissioning between 2017 and 2020.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, what is being done to encourage more of the able and fully trained women members of the engineering profession to stay in it? They are the leaders of the future, who could well and truly be trained to take on the nuclear energy side of things.

Baroness Vadera: My Lords, the noble Baroness is right that, as in many other skilled professions, the lack of women joining the profession and being retained in it is a key gap. That is why we have a number of what we call engineering ambassadors, who work to encourage girls in particular to join, and why a lot of employers have programmes to try to encourage women to stay in the profession.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, at lunch today Professor Sir David King stated that we have enough uranium in this country to last for something like 127 years without importing any more, and that that good stock would be of great benefit to our

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nuclear industry. Many people are concerned on that issue, so does the Minister think that such good news should be more widely broadcast?

Baroness Vadera: My Lords, again, the noble Baroness is right in her assessment. We always take the advice of Professor King, who was the Chief Scientific Adviser.

Baroness Wall of New Barnet: My Lords, will the Minister congratulate Cogent, the sector skills council which deals with the nuclear industry, on its work in trying to recruit women into that element of its footprint?

Baroness Vadera: My Lords, I again agree; Cogent has done an extremely good job in attracting not just women but younger people into the engineering profession.

Lord Smith of Clifton: My Lords—

Lord Broers: My Lords—

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My Lords, it is the turn of the Liberal Democrats, but there is time for both noble Lords.

Lord Smith of Clifton: My Lords, how many departments of nuclear energy will be recreated in our universities? About 35 years ago, there were at least five. How many are there now, and how many do the Government propose to have in future?

Baroness Vadera: My Lords, I do not know the plans of all individual universities, but I am pleased to say that at least two have started to provide undergraduate degrees in nuclear power, and a significant number provide postgraduate degrees in it. I would be happy to write if the information were available, but of course the plans are undertaken by the universities directly.

Lord Broers: My Lords, to make teaching in schools interesting in science and technology, one needs practical and experimental work, and there is a lack of training and support for technicians’ careers in schools. Does the Minister recognise that problem, which was pointed out by the Select Committee on Science and Technology in our report last year, Science Teaching in Schools?

Baroness Vadera: Indeed, my Lords. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families is very well aware of this, which is why we have put significant funding into the ability of young children to have STEM education in schools, part of which requires technicians.

Lord De Mauley: My Lords, the Prime Minister was quoted in the press over the weekend as saying that there were to be eight new nuclear power stations. What output will that represent?

Baroness Vadera: My Lords, the reference to eight nuclear power stations was to the ministerial commitment for new nuclear build to at least replace existing capacity. That will mean that we need eight, but of course, given

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that new nuclear generation has a greater capacity per generator, that is not a cap, but is simply an aspiration to replace existing nuclear.

Pensions: Retirement Age

2.50 pm

Lord Sheldon asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord McKenzie of Luton): My Lords, under the Pensions Act 2007, the state pension age for men and women will increase to 68 by 2046. This increase is broadly in line with projected increases in average life expectancy and is a sensible response to the demographic challenge we face today. It will be for future Governments to consider any further increase beyond 68, if evidence indicates that life expectancy continues to further increase in the latter part of this century.

Lord Sheldon: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply, which was rather limited. In the early post-war years, life expectancy after retirement was only a few years. We have seen a much greater increase in retirement years. Is it not clear that the large numbers of doctors and scientists involved in the extension of life will lead to a much greater increase than the Government’s proposed three years, from age 65 to 68, in 2046? What consideration is being given to age in pension provision, given such a change in life expectancy?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, the timetable for changes until 2046 is at the limit of our current abilities to project life expectancy. Increasing the state pension age to 68 in 2046 is broadly in line with those projected increases, which will ensure, as the Pensions Commission recommended, that each generation spends a broadly similar proportion of adult life receiving the state pension and that our state pension reforms are affordable. Following the state pension reforms, from 2020 to 2050, men will live approximately 21 years after the state pension age; for women it will be 24 years. The time spent after the state pension age over that period as a percentage of working life will broadly be even, at around 30 per cent for men and 33 per cent for women.

Lord Brookman: My Lords, I may be coming to this subject from the wrong angle, but when I started work in the steel industry in 1951 it was pretty tough. Some men were well over 70 with no pension and very poor conditions of employment. That was rectified under a Labour Government. We are not turning the clock back, are we?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: No, my Lords, on the contrary, in the 2007 Act we made significant improvements to state pension provision, and the Bill

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that we are considering will look at automatic enrolment in private sector schemes for all employees. But my noble friend is right about the changes that have taken place. In 1911 there were 10 individuals of working age for every pensioner; today there are about four; and in 2055 there will be two. One in four babies born today is expected to live to 100. There are now 9,000 centenarians. While I hesitate to mention this, in case they are present, we expect the first 120 year-old female pensioner to be with us in the 2060s.

Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay: My Lords, what was the average age last year at which public sector employees retired with a full pension? If women will have to wait eight years longer for their basic state pension, what is the projected rate at which retirement age in the public sector will rise? If the Minister does not have the answers at his fingertips, will he let me know? Will the Government publish every year the average retirement age of public sector employees on a full pension?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I will be very happy to seek those figures and provide them to the noble Lord, but we should not confuse the age at which people retire with the age at which the basic state pension becomes payable: those are two separate things. As the noble Lord is aware, between 2010 and 2020 there will be equalisation, currently up to 65, between men and women, with further changes after that. Off the top of my head I think that the average retirement age in the public sector is something like 62, but I will write to confirm that in case it is not right.

Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, what steps will the Government take to ensure that employment is available at these later ages? Many employers currently seem reluctant to retain people beyond the normal retirement age. Steps will have to be taken to ensure that employment is available. Do the Government have this in mind?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: Yes, my Lords, my noble friend is right to press on this matter. I confirm that there is no national mandatory retirement age, although there is still the default retirement age of 65, which we are committed to reviewing in 2011. There are 800,000 more people between 50 and state pension age in employment now than there were a few years ago, but there are real challenges and we are working with employers to increase flexibility in employment arrangements, to make sure that there is proper skills training for older people as they wish to change their role within the labour market and to make sure that there is not discrimination in practice, although obviously we have dealt with the legislative framework to prevent that.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, for some time now the Government have been encouraging people to continue in some form of paid employment after the state retirement age. At the moment, this encouragement applies to those up to age 70. First, how many people

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between 65 and 70 are working and, secondly, what plans do the Government have to increase such encouragement for those beyond the age of 70?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, that encouragement is not specifically targeted at people up to the age of 70. We encourage every older person who wishes to continue in work to do so for as long as they feel able. I do not have to hand the data concerning those who are actually in employment between state pension age and 70, but I shall happily write to the noble Lord.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, once we have reached that first point of equality of opportunity, at which the statutory state retirement age is the same for both sexes, may we expect the Government to insist that insurance companies pay on the same basis of non-discrimination and equality for annuities?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, the noble Baroness is trailing the amendment that we are due to consider very shortly in Committee on the Pensions Bill. It is riveting stuff, and I encourage noble Lords to stay for it. As the noble Baroness will be aware, we do not believe that it is discriminatory that there are different annuity rates for men and women so long as those rates are based on hard evidence and facts, which take into account the differences in longevity between men and women, although the gap in life expectancies is narrowing.

Baroness Greengross: My Lords, will the Government reconsider the review and carry it out a little sooner? It is sad that a lot of the people concerned will probably be dead by the time the review of the current anti-age-discrimination legislation takes place.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I think the noble Baroness may be referring to the review of the default retirement age. As I said earlier, we have committed to do that in 2011. There may well be good arguments for doing it early, but that is the commitment that we made. We recognise that it is a potential constraint on people being able to stay longer in the labour market.

Aviation: Air Quality

2.59 pm

Baroness Trumpington asked Her Majesty’s Government:

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