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House of Lords

Thursday, 11th June 1998.

The House met at three of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Ripon.

Athens Olympic Games: Counter-terrorism Measures

Lord Bethell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, in view of the decision to hold the Olympic Games in Athens in 2004, they will ask the European Union to urge the Greek Government to take effective action against the "November 17th" group.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, Her Majesty's Government condemn terrorism wherever it occurs, including the activities of the "November 17th" group and other terrorist groups active in Greece. We discuss such matters regularly with the Greek authorities. We have made clear our willingness to assist them in promoting effective counter-terrorism measures. To that end, the Greek Minister of Public Order visited London in December last year.

Lord Bethell: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Is he aware though that this group has in recent years killed more than 20 people in Greece and that its targets have included not only Greek property and Greek individuals but also American, French, German and British nationals? Is the Minister worried by the thought that militant groups traditionally use and exploit the Olympic Games for spectacular attempts to gain publicity? That being the case, and as this is now an international matter, will he advise his right honourable friend to raise this question in the margins of the Cardiff Summit?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am aware of the targets of the "November 17th" group and certain other terrorist organisations within Greece. They have encompassed businessmen, diplomats and other foreign nationals. We are deeply concerned. We have specifically offered assistance to Greece already in establishing effective security arrangements for the 2004 Athens Olympics. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has offered the services of his department and police expertise in helping the Greeks in this area.

Lord McNally: My Lords, as the Minister has said, terrorism always surrounds international sporting events but they are also of tremendous economic benefit. Will

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he indicate whether it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to try to bring the Olympics to the United Kingdom at any time in the next 20 years?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am not immediately aware of a bid for the Olympics. I shall have to consult my colleagues in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. We shall report to the House in due course.

Baroness Hooper: My Lords, can the Minister kindly enlighten some of us as to exactly what the "November 17th" group is about?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, its basic ideology is a little obscure. It is an anarchist organisation which appears to have close links with some of the Kurdish terrorists who operate in the area.

Lord Moynihan: My Lords, in the light of the decision to hold the Olympic Games in Athens, what offers of assistance--rather more specific than the Minister has already mentioned--and counter-terrorism assistance do the Government intend to make to the Greek Government? Furthermore, have the Government offered the Greek Government the assistance of the Directorate of Counter-Terrorist Expertise set up by the G7 countries under a British initiative of the previous government which enables expert help to be made available immediately to countries which need it?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the UK and Greece work closely together to combat terrorism. The UK has provided technical assistance and advice to the Greek police on a number of occasions, most recently in February this year. As I indicated, the Greek Minister of Public Order visited us at the end of last year. In the European Union and elsewhere--for example in Interpol--the UK and Greece have, in common with other countries, established good police liaison for sharing intelligence in order to fight crime and terrorism. In relation to the G7 initiative, clearly that is available to Greece, as it is to other countries faced with terrorist problems.

Pensions: Administrative Costs

3.10 p.m.

Lord Peston: My Lords, in the unavoidable absence of my noble friend Lady Castle of Blackburn owing to illness, at her request and with the permission of your Lordships, I ask the Question standing in her name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

    To ask Her Majesty's Government what percentage of the contributions paid for national insurance, pensions, occupational pension schemes and personal pensions goes on administrative costs.

Lord Haskel: My Lords, the administration costs charged to the National Insurance Fund for awarding and paying state retirement pension and collecting and maintaining records of national insurance contributions

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were some £622 million in the financial year 1996-97. This represents about 1.5 per cent. of the fund's income in that year.

Little information is currently available about the costs of running occupational pension schemes. The Government Actuary's Department has carried out a study and will shortly publish a report of findings in this area. The Government do not collect information on the cost of administering personal pensions.

Lord Peston: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. As I understand the matter, there may be a policy move towards encouraging personal pension schemes in the private sector. Will the Government at least pay some attention to the costs of such schemes in comparing them with the possible alternative of extending public sector schemes?

Lord Haskel: My Lords, personal pensions are a private contract between the pension provider and individuals. As we know, some charges attached to personal pensions are too high and inflexible. Individuals must therefore consider very carefully the charges that attach to personal pensions before entering into such contracts. The purpose of the stakeholder pension is to attempt to reduce some of those costs for people who cannot afford them.

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is absolutely scandalous that the previous administration, in promoting personal pension schemes, did not set up a mechanism to monitor the administrative costs associated with their provision, which would have been available to the Government now?

Lord Haskel: My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend.

Lord Meston: My Lords, have the Government yet received any reliable estimates from the pensions industry or elsewhere as to the additional administrative costs which may be incurred when pensions come to be split on divorce?

Lord Haskel: My Lords, that will form part of a study that was announced last week by my right honourable friend into the whole matter of pensions splitting. Other matters enter into it. There may be single-sum payments, which would reduce administrative charges. The whole question of whether one or other spouse can afford their share of the split pension also has to be examined. It is quite an involved matter.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Castle of Blackburn, has put a remarkable series of questions over the past few days. Perhaps I may express a personal hope in that I trust she is well.

So far as concerns comparative administrative costs, presumably the ratio would be better, as regards the Government's proposals for a stakeholder pension or a

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second pension, if that is made compulsory rather than if it is not. Despite the delay in publishing the Government's Green Paper on pensions, presumably estimates have already been made as to the comparative figures. Will the noble Lord give them to the House?

Lord Haskel: My Lords, no estimates have been made. The study is still continuing. The whole purpose of the stakeholder pension is to reduce the costs below those of personal pensions, which are considered to be rather high and unaffordable by the low-paid, those in intermittent employment and some of the self-employed.

NHS: Missed Hospital Appointments

3.15 p.m.

Lord Hardy of Wath asked Her Majesty's Government:

    In how many cases a patient failed to attend a hospital appointment in 1996-97, and in 1997-98; and what proportion of total hospital appointments these absences represented in each year.

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Baroness Jay of Paddington): My Lords, the figures available are for 1996-97. During that period, more than 6 million clinic appointments were missed by patients in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. That represents roughly 12 per cent. of all appointments. In Scotland, the data available are for first clinic appointments only: 148,000 first appointments were missed, representing 11 per cent. of the total.

Figures for missed procedures, which might be operations or other procedures booked on a day case and normal admission basis, are only collected in this form in England. The latest figures indicate that 156,100 people failed to turn up. That represented 4.6 per cent. of the total.

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