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House of Lords

Tuesday, 21st July 1998.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Exeter.

Baroness Uddin

Mrs. Manzila Pola Uddin, having been created Baroness Uddin, of Bethnal Green in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, for life--Was, in her robes, introduced between the Lord Carter and the Lord Shore of Stepney.

Lord Alli

Waheed Alli, Esquire, having been created Baron Alli, of Norbury in the London Borough of Croydon, for life--Was, in his robes, introduced between the Baroness Jay of Paddington and the Lord Montague of Oxford, and made the solemn Affirmation.

Viscount Downe--Took the Oath.

No. 10 Downing Street: Security Gates

2.48 p.m.

Lord Morris of Manchester asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they see any early prospect of being able to have the security gates at the entrance to Downing Street removed.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, access to Downing Street has been controlled for security reasons for many years. Given the range of possible threats to Downing Street, the gates currently provide the most efficient and cost-effective means of controlling access. If at some time in the future the threats were to diminish sufficiently to allow us to reconsider the status of the gates, we would of course do so.

Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his reply, up with which, as he will know, at least one former celebrated occupant of No. 10 would not have put. Does he recall that, even in the Second World War, when Britain's very survival was at stake, access to Downing Street was not obstructed? And is he aware that, even when the police went on strike and marched there in 1919, our deeply symbolic open access to Downing Street was not curtailed, and indeed that Lloyd George negotiated with the strike leaders from a window at No. 10?

Again, if security gates are so crucially important at one end of Downing Street, why is comparable provision not equally important at the other end? Finally, is my noble friend aware of the widely-held

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view that we lost something very special when the existing barrier appeared and of the widely-held concern that the barrier seems now to be increasingly regarded in Whitehall as permanent?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I think that none of your Lordships would wish to have gates at the Whitehall entrance to Downing Street. We would all prefer to go back to the time when the Prime Minister lived in a house which was immediately accessible. Indeed, I cherish a photograph of my youngest son, taken some 30 years ago when he was campaigning for nursery education for all, holding up a balloon outside the door of No. 10. It has taken 31 years for this Government to achieve what he was campaigning for at that time. There is a difference between the front and the back of the building. After all, the back is protected by a considerable flight of steps, which would make access for bombers difficult. But the whole House will sympathise with the views expressed by my noble friend

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the gates may well be needed to hold back the crowds who want to cheer the friendship between the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the noble Lord must have been watching television on 1st May last year.

Lord Mason of Barnsley: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that he should strongly emphasise "not yet"? Is he aware also that there are too many dissident elements now under the umbrella of the so-called "real IRA" operating in the north and the south of Ireland and no doubt lurking in London and other parts of Britain? Therefore I emphasise most strongly that no security fences should be brought down.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, my noble friend is right. There is a continuing threat from the dissident bodies who rejected the Northern Ireland agreement. Indeed, it is plain that they regard their objective as an attack on the British Cabinet. To that extent my noble friend is unfortunately right.

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, does the Minister agree that, regardless of security, the gates add considerable distinction to what is otherwise a slightly dingy little street?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, it is a personal view, but I do not agree. They are grossly over-elaborate for the rather elegant Georgian buildings in Downing Street and even over-elaborate for the less attractive buildings in Whitehall.

Lord McCarthy: My Lords, is my noble friend saying seriously that assassins cannot run upstairs?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, not when they are carrying heavy bombs.

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Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, the Minister says that the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, must have been watching television on 1st May last year. I was watching television on 2nd May last year and saw cheering hordes in Downing Street. At that time I thought it signified the fact that the gates were no longer going to be operable. Is it the fact that they are flexible, depending upon whether or not there is something to celebrate?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the noble Baroness is correct; I should have said 2nd May and not 1st May. The gates are flexible in the sense that, if notice is given--for example, if a petition is to be delivered to No. 10 notice can be given to Charing Cross police station--access will be made available to delegations for that purpose, as indeed access was made available on 2nd May last year.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the reason the gates were opened on 2nd May last year was to let the previous occupant out so that the new occupant could get in?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I believe the horrible tradition we have in this country is that the departing Prime Minister leaves by the back door. I do not care much for that tradition either.

Social Security: SERPS

2.55 p.m.

Baroness Castle of Blackburn asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Why the leaflet Don't leave your pension to chance, issued by the Department of Social Security in June, does not refer to the arrangements to make proof against inflation the pension received under SERPS, occupational pension schemes and personal pensions respectively.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Baroness Hollis of Heigham): My Lords, I was encouraged by my noble friend's Question to read the new pamphlet on pensions distributed by the Department of Social Security. It presents the basic information about a complex matter in a clear, friendly, balanced, accessible and rather jolly way. I was impressed by it.

If my noble friend believes that the information in the pamphlets is in any way incomplete or less than balanced, I shall be happy to ensure that the contents are reviewed in time for the next edition.

Baroness Castle of Blackburn: I agree that it is very pretty. But does the Minister agree that pensions contributors, still reeling under the misselling scandal which affected millions of them, do not want prettiness, but precision? Does she accept that it is a grave imbalance to leave out of the picture the fact that only one of the pensions options set out in the pamphlet--namely, SERPS--as against occupational or personal pensions, guarantees by law that the contributions will

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be uprated in line with earnings during the building up of the pension and that the pension, when in payment, will be price-indexed? Surely that is not a minor omission. Will the Minister kindly arrange for somebody to look at the whole text to see whether or not there is an imbalance in the almost neutrality of the Government between private insurance companies and their state earnings related pension scheme?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, my noble friend is entirely correct that SERPS has many advantages. That is one of the reasons why the Government are proposing to keep it as an option. As my noble friend said, SERPS is fully indexed; it is portable, it is cheap to run and it is safe against misselling. Those are important considerations.

Nevertheless, SERPS faces real difficulties in today's labour market. It does not cover the self-employed, people who are intermittent, part-time or temporary contract workers and, unfortunately, after the adjustments made to it by the previous administration, it is not of sufficient adequacy to ensure a comfortable old age. In forward projections somebody on a state pension of SERPS is likely to be receiving under 10 per cent. of average earnings by the year 2050. That is why those considerations and others will be reviewed later this year. I am happy to reconsider the entry in the leaflets in relation to SERPS and its indexation.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the expression of her noble friend Lady Castle "not prettiness but precision" might be a good new motto for this Government?


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