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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, as I said previously when we discussed this issue, we have no quarrel at all with the principle that trustees should undergo training as soon as possible following their appointment. I made it clear that noble Lords on all sides of the House are at one on this issue. However, we do differ in that we do not see any need or justification for setting up the sort of register of approved training courses that would be necessary under this amendment, nor for requiring the authority to consider whether a trustee should be disqualified if he fails to undergo training within the specified three month period.
I made our position on trustee training very clear when I addressed similar amendments at the Committee and Report stages of this Bill. I said then that we were fully in support of trustees being properly trained. In fact, I believe I went so far as to say that training is essential. This is, then, something on which, as I said, we are all in agreement. However, as I have said before, I do not agree that training should be made compulsory.
We have, we believe, gone as far as it is sensible to go by requiring employers to give trustees paid time off for training. In this way we have clearly signalled the importance we attach to training and, at the same time, we have lifted a major obstacle to trustee training by requiring employers to allow paid time off for the purpose. I believe that about 27 providers of trustee training exist at the moment, offering training at basic levels and at more advanced levels. There is an examination: the PMI's Trustee Certificate of Basic Pensions Knowledge, which trustees may take if they wish.
I believe that to go any further and to require someonein this case OPRAto specify what courses were and were not appropriate is to go too far. That might in turn require a constant monitoring of the wide range of courses. I referred to 27 courses. If it were required to consider the disqualification of anyone who had not undertaken approved training, OPRA would presumably need to assess individuals' training needs, which would vary widely, and the appropriateness of any non-approved training they had undertaken. How could OPRA justify pursuing untrained trustees who might nevertheless be well-qualified, while ignoring those who had been on an approved course but failed to benefit from it? The only logical course open to OPRA would be to establish an examination system to check levels of trustee proficiency. That would be both expensive and intrusive. It would be quite incompatible with the role we envisage for the regulatory authority and would cloud its main purpose which is to enforce compliance with the statutory requirements. All this reinforces the points I made in Committee and on Report. This is a matter for the trustees themselves to sort out and not something which should be made a statutory requirement or brought within a regulatory framework. The Bill gives trustees the key thing they need in order to undertake appropriate trainingthat is, reasonable time off with pay. It is unnecessary to go further. I believe that to do so would risk us establishing a bureaucracy inside OPRA which would have to monitor and decide which courses were or were not appropriate. I can almost foresee it having to create a consultative curriculum on trustee training.
The next step would be to insist that we made sure the trustees learnt from the courses they attended. That would undoubtedly lead us to create an examinations board for trustees. I believe that sort of road is not worth going down. Where we are is a much better place to stop; that is, ensuring that trustees can have paid time off and ensuring that the courses are available. We should underlineI do so once againthe importance of training and leave it to the trustees to take the reasonable and sensible decisions which I am sure they will take. I see the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, wishes to intervene.
Lord Eatwell: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, as someone who is professionally involved in education I was struck by the rather cavalier attitude that he took to the quality of courses which people might have to take. Certainly the courses at my university are inspected regularly both by our peers, and now by the Higher Education Funding Council. The noble Lord said earlier that there were 27 providers of training. Does he know that their training is adequate? If so, how does he know? Whose responsibility would it be if a training course were misleading or inadequate?
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I think the noble Lord has made my point for me in his intervention. He has introduced the whole idea of some kind of review of the courses and of some over-arching body which would decide which courses were or were not appropriate. I have the names of some providers of training in front of me, many of whom are serious players in the pensions business. It is for them and for the trustees to make a decision. Frankly, I should have thought that if the trustees are considered able enough to be trustees of a pension fund, they are able enough to judge what is a good course and what is not. Dare I say to the noble Lord that many university students recognise a good course from a bad course in universities around the country?
Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, I find that response very unsatisfactory and so, I think, do a number of my colleagues on this side of the House. I thought we had drafted this amendment in order to meet some of the objections which have been raised on previous occasions during discussion on this issue. We specify that:
That was written into the amendment specifically in order to meet the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter. It does not mean that a trustee should be disqualified automatically if he or she does not take a training course. It is for the authority to decide. Clearly, the authority would not disqualify someone already appropriately qualified. So there is little more to say about that particular intervention.
As regards the comments made by the Minister, does he suggest that we set up some form of elaborate system involving examinations? That is not what is proposed in the amendment. We propose short courses of training. On the other hand, there is no reason why there should not be some means of approving courses. It does not seem to me to be very difficult to do that. If one does not have approved courses, provided independently, one comes up against the argument that it would be entirely inappropriate if the courses could be provided by the people running the scheme because they would not have the necessary independence.
We suggest that approved courses of training should be available which trustees should be compelled to undergo if they are to remain trustees. If, by any chance, somebody is well qualified, obviously he or she would not be disqualified for not taking a separate training course.
I do not find the arguments advanced by the Minister at all acceptable. Training is a key issue in relation to the appointment of trustees and the role of trustees under this extremely important Bill. The response is so unsatisfactory that I should like to take this last opportunity to test the opinion of the House on the matter.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.