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Session 2005 - 06
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Standing Committee Debates

First Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation




 
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First Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman:

John Bercow

†Austin, John (Erith and Thamesmead) (Lab)
†Bellingham, Mr. Henry (North-West Norfolk) (Con)
†Brennan, Kevin (Cardiff, West) (Lab)
†Bryant, Chris (Rhondda) (Lab)
†Burrowes, Mr. David (Enfield, Southgate) (Con)
†Cooper, Rosie (West Lancashire) (Lab)
Dorrell, Mr. Stephen (Charnwood) (Con)
Duncan Smith, Mr. Iain (Chingford and Woodford Green) (Con)
†Gidley, Sandra (Romsey) (LD)
Gove, Michael (Surrey Heath) (Con)
Hesford, Stephen (Wirral, West) (Lab)
†Love, Mr. Andrew (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op)
†Moffat, Anne (East Lothian) (Lab)
†Prentice, Bridget (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs)
Stunell, Andrew (Hazel Grove) (LD)
†Wright, Mr. Iain (Hartlepool) (Lab)
Mark Etherton, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee


 
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Wednesday 9 November 2005

[Mr. John Bercow in the Chair]

Draft Civil Partnership (Judicial Pensions and Church Pensions, etc.) Order 2005

2.30 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Bridget Prentice): I beg to move,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Civil Partnership (Judicial Pensions and Church Pensions, etc.) Order 2005.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to consider the draft Civil Partnership (House of Commons Members’ Fund) Order 2005, the draft Civil Partnership (Jurisdiction and Recognition of Judgments) Regulations 2005 and the draft Civil Partnership (Family Proceedings and Housing Consequential Amendments) Order 2005.

Bridget Prentice: May I begin by saying what a joy it is to serve on a Statutory Instrument Committee with you in the Chair, Mr. Bercow? This is my first time doing so, and I am sure that you will be a most splendid Chairman, particularly given the joyful news that you have another baby son. We are delighted to congratulate you on that. I must say that you are looking remarkably well on it.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): He did not have most of the trouble. [Laughter.]

The Chairman: Order.

Bridget Prentice: You will see from the list, Mr. Bercow, that we are dealing with hugely exciting legislation. The instruments were laid before the House, and I believe that they are compatible with the convention on human rights. They make a varied set of changes, all of which form part of the implementation of the Civil Partnership Act 2004.

The Civil Partnership (Judicial Pensions and Church Pensions, etc.) Order 2005 is made under sections 255 and 259 of the 2004 Act. The House debated at length the issue of scheme members accruing rights to survivor benefits for a civil partner, and amendments have already been made under the Pension Schemes Act 1993 to require contracted-out pension schemes to provide surviving civil partner pension benefits in respect of service accrued from 6 April 1988. In accordance with that requirement, the order provides that judicial pension schemes will provide survivor benefits for civil partners based, as a minimum, on members’ contracted-out rights accrued since 6 April 1988.

In addition, if judicial pension schemes offer surviving spouses’ pensions on more preferential terms than the minimum required of contracted-out schemes, the order amends the schemes so that the
 
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same treatment is offered in respect of surviving civil partners’ pensions. In some circumstances that do not affect the vast majority of scheme members the existing provisions of the schemes treat widows and widowers differently. The order treats civil partners in the same way as widowers, in line with agreed policy for introducing civil partnership benefits.

The changes are necessarily detailed and technical. The order modifies the Judicial Pensions Act 1981, which continues to apply to those appointed prior to April 1995, and the Judicial Pensions and Retirement Act 1993, which applies to those appointed after that date. The order also modifies, as appropriate, the secondary legislation in respect of pension schemes under those Acts. For the most part, the order simply adds appropriate references to civil partners and civil partnerships to the existing provisions for surviving spouses.

The changes deal with the benefits to be provided and ancillary matters such as the contributions required in return. Similar changes are made to the separate legislation that affects those judicial office holders in Northern Ireland whose benefits fall to be determined under older legislation. The changes do no more than ensure equal treatment of civil partners in respect of contingent dependants’ benefits payable on the death of a scheme member under the judicial pension schemes.

The order also amends Church legislation on pensions and certain other matters such as the provision of residences to retired clergy, to ensure that civil partners are treated in the same way as spouses. In particular, schedule 7 contains amendments to the Church of England pensions scheme established under the Church of England Pensions Regulations 1988 and the Church of England funded pensions scheme established by trust deed under the Pensions Measure 1997. This is to ensure that such provision complies with legal requirements in respect of civil partners’ pensions, in particular those relating to contracting out, and, for future service under the funded pensions scheme, the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003. It is, of course, the convention that the Government do not legislate for the Church of England without its consent. The provisions in the order were included at the request of the Church of England, having been approved by the House of Bishops and the Archbishops Council.

On the Civil Partnership (House of Commons Members’ Fund) Order 2005, the trustees of the House of Commons Members’ fund have the power to make discretionary payments to former Members of the House of Commons, their widows, widowers or orphan children, having regard to their circumstances. For example, the trustees might choose to make a one-off grant to facilitate a minor home adaptation for an elderly widow whose income is small. The 2004 Act amended the House of Commons Members’ Fund Act 1948 with the intention of extending the range of potential beneficiaries of discretionary payments to surviving civil partners of persons who have been Members of the House. However, an amendment to the House of Commons Members’ Fund Act 1939,
 
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which provides an overall definition of the categories of potential beneficiaries of payments from the fund, was omitted in error. The order, made in exercise of powers conferred by section 255 of the 2004 Act, corrects that error and will ensure that the trustees have the power to make discretionary payments to surviving civil partners, as originally intended.

The Civil Partnership (Jurisdiction and Recognition of Judgments) Regulations 2005 are made under section 219 of the 2004 Act, which gives powers to make provision in respect of the jurisdiction of courts in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to hear civil partnership proceedings. It also contains powers to make provision for the recognition of orders made in civil partnership proceedings in other member states. In particular, the regulations make provision on the jurisdiction of courts in England, Wales and Northern Ireland based on the approach taken in matrimonial matters as set out in the Council resolution known as Brussels II bis, which deals with divorce, annulment and legal separation in matrimonial matters but not in civil partnerships.

In order to ensure consistency for civil partners, the regulations make provisions that correspond to the Council resolution. The purpose of the parts of the regulations dealing with recognition is to enable civil partners who obtain a dissolution, annulment or legal separation in another member state to have, in this country, the same recourse as married couples to resolve issues arising from relationship breakdown. I should make it clear that there is no obligation on other member states to recognise our civil partnerships. Indeed, it is a matter for each member state to decide whether it wishes to recognise another country’s same-sex relationships.

The 2004 Act made a substantial number of amendments to primary legislation to ensure parity of treatment between spouses and civil partners, and included in section 259 the power to make further consequential and supplementary amendments. The Civil Partnership (Family Proceedings and Housing Consequential Amendments) Order 2005 invokes the powers under that section. The amendments in the order are, for the most part, minor and consequential.

The order amends the Family Law Act 1986 to enable civil partnership proceedings to be treated in the same way as matrimonial proceedings. The amendments were withdrawn from the 2004 Act before introduction, as it became clear that alterations to the same provisions of the Family Law Act would need to be made to implement Council Regulation (EC) No. 2201/2003 before the 2004 Act came into force. That is a more formal way of describing a situation that is similar to making an amendment to an amendment. That will be understood by those of us who sit in long, boring committees and listen to people amending amendments.

The Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984 is amended to enable the transfer of family proceedings from a High Court to a civil partnership
 
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proceedings county court; that is, is a court that is given the jurisdiction to hear civil partnership proceedings.

Finally, the Housing Act 1996 is amended to enable a deceased tenant’s civil partner to succeed to an introductory tenancy in the same way that a deceased tenant’s spouse can do at present. I commend the draft regulations and the draft orders to the Committee.

2.40 pm

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): I add my congratulations to you, Mr. Bercow. It is a pleasure to serve under you.

I pass on the apologies of my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald), who is shadow Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, and those of the junior shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Djanogly). Neither of them can be present this afternoon for understandable reasons. They asked me, as the Whip to the team, to keep a close eye on these proceedings, and it is a pleasure for me to do so.

You will be aware, Mr. Bercow, that, as an official Opposition, we obviously carefully examined the Civil Partnership Act 2004 and the whole consultation process running up to it. Most of us in the official Opposition noticed that there was large public support for the measure. I think that 85 per cent. or so of the people who were consulted—or who contacted the Department—said that they supported it. Although there was a robust debate in the other place, as there was in Committee about some of the measures, the House passed the Bill. All these amendments are consequential to the Act. Policy commitments have been given, and I am grateful to the Minister for spelling out exactly what the measures entail; she did so very clearly.

I have two quick questions to ask. The Minister mentioned compatibility with the human rights legislation, which is straightforward. Will she elaborate a little on costs to the Exchequer? In addition, what will the costs be to the Church of England? She mentioned that the Church will always be closely consulted before legislation is introduced and that legislation of this type does not goes through this House without the Church agreeing it. Was this matter discussed in Synod? Are there any cost implications?

The Minister also mentioned the point about survivor benefits more generally and referred to 1988. Was there a significance to her comments on that year? Will she elaborate on that, because I could find no mention of 1988 in the different statutory instruments before us?

Leaving those points aside, I can say that we considered the matter carefully and supported the legislation, and we are grateful that the Minister has come before the Committee. It is timely that she should do so, because the implementation date for the provisions is 5 December.


 
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2.43 pm

Sandra Gidley (Romsey) (LD): I, too, add my congratulations to you, Mr. Bercow.

I am afraid that I, too, am a last-minute substitute. I am here in place of my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath). I fully confess that I have not cross-referenced each insertion into the legislation. I am not sure that he has either, but he had a chance to have a much longer look at the proposals. He assured me that he had not managed to spot any pitfalls; he is usually quite good at doing so.

I congratulate the Government on introducing the legislation that has made this possible. We can be gracious on occasion, although possibly not later today in the main Chamber. These proposals will be welcomed by many and they are not before time.

2.44 pm

Bridget Prentice: We have delightful substitutes this afternoon. Long may they continue to be good substitutes for other members of their parties.

The hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) asked a couple of questions that it is important to clarify. It is not possible to quantify the cost of providing contracted-out rights and future-service benefits as the occurrence of civil partnerships and of civil partners who survive the scheme member is not known. However, the costs are expected to be negligible.

The hon. Gentleman also asked a question about 1988. It is important to explain this point. As I suspect every member of the Committee is aware, contracting-out rules are different for widows and widowers. Widows get contracted-out survivor benefits on service from 1978 and widowers get such benefits on
 
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service from 1988. It would not be possible to achieve equality with married couples because of the different rules for widows and widowers. During the passage of the Bill, the Government gave a commitment that civil partners would be given pension rights in respect of contracted- out service from 6 April 1988. That is what these provisions are trying to deliver.

I hope that I have answered the questions that were asked appropriately. I thank the hon. Members for their support for this rather technical legislation, which fulfils our commitment on civil partnerships.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Civil Partnership (Judicial Pensions and Church Pensions, etc.) Order 2005.

DRAFT CIVIL PARTNERSHIP (HOUSE OF COMMONS MEMBERS’ FUND) ORDER 2005

Resolved,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Civil Partnership (House of Commons Members’ Fund) Order 2005.—[Bridget Prentice.]

DRAFT CIVIL PARTNERSHIP (JURISDICTION AND RECOGNITION OF JUDGMENTS) REGULATIONS 2005

Resolved,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Civil Partnership (Jurisdiction and Recognition of Judgments) Regulations 2005.—[Bridget Prentice.]

DRAFT CIVIL PARTNERSHIP (FAMILY PROCEEDINGS AND HOUSING CONSEQUENTIAL AMENDMENTS) ORDER 2005

Resolved,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Civil Partnership (Family Proceedings and Housing Consequential Amendments) Order 2005.—[Bridget Prentice.]

Committee rose at thirteen minutes to Three o’clock.

                                                                                           
 
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Prepared 10 November 2005