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House of Lords round-up

There were some noteworthy questions in the House of Lords yesterday.

If Lord Tebbit gets the memos from modernisers at Conservative Campaign Headquarters, I'm not sure he reads them:

"Lord Tebbit: My Lords, will the noble Baroness say whether her legislation and her policies will do anything to rectify the gross imbalance of the sexes in the Crown Prosecution Service, where twice as many women as men are employed? What will she do about that to help these poor men who are being discriminated against?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, that is an interesting point. In many professions and sections of our society, women do some jobs and men do others. It is part of the culture, but it is also part of our education; women and men do not know of the opportunities that are available to them. Therefore, we need more men to know about the opportunities in the Crown Prosecution and more women to know about opportunities in science."

(Barnoness Royall is Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords.)

Baroness Morris of Bolton (Shadow Minister for Women and Health) asked a question that will cause fewer palpitations:

"My Lords, one area where the pay gap is most stark is the City, usually because of bonuses. Given that the Government are now a substantial shareholder in a number of banks, how will they ensure that there is fair play in those institutions?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, that is yet another interesting point. The Government of course have some responsibility here, but the Equality and Human Rights Commission is conducting a series of inquiries in sectors where inequality is clear, including in the financial sector. We look forward to hearing the results of those inquiries."

Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Lord Lawson of Blaby also marches to the beat of his own drummer:

"My Lords, will the Minister explain how it makes sense for the European Union to ban mercury thermometers because mercury is a health hazard but, at the same time, to force us to use these low-energy light bulbs, which have a great deal more mercury than mercury thermometers?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the noble Lord is not right on that. There is a small amount of mercury in the CFL lamps, but my understanding is that it is 1,500 times less than the amount in mercury thermometers.

Lord Lawson of Blaby: But there are more of them.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, there may be more of them, but the element of hazardous waste is much smaller. As for the mercury processed in manufacturing, if you put the two together, there will be less mercury that comes out."

(Lord Hunt of Kings Heath is a minister in both the Department of Energy and Climate Change and DEFRA.)

Former Secretary of State for Scotland Forsyth of Drumlean is another no-nonsense customer:

"My Lords, is not the truth of the matter that, as a result of the tax-and-spend policies of this Government, private and public sector final salary pension schemes are no longer affordable?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: No, my Lords, I would not accept that proposition. Given the issues around longevity—which is probably the principal driver of this—and longer-term views of market returns from equities in particular, the challenges to defined benefit schemes are clearly increasing. That is happening not only in the UK but across the world. That is why we need to continue to engage and why we have engaged. We have reduced the revaluation cap to 2.5 per cent and the indexation cap to 2.5 per cent and frozen administration charges into the PPF and for the Pensions Regulator. We are helping where we can. We are looking at issues around Section 75, employer debt and statutory overrides whereby current scheme rules make it difficult to take advantage of these deregulatory matters. We are looking at Section 67, which is about future accrual. A big work programme is under way, and we are doing all that we can. However, the Government cannot stop the march of longevity. Well, they could, but I do not think that that would be a palatable policy initiative."

(Lord McKenzie of Luton is Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Department for Work and Pensions.)

It's important to remember that the House of Lords has a great deal to recommend it, and indeed that many (but by no means all) of the best peers are former members of the House of Commons.


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