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Lord Dean of Harptree: I should not wish it to be thought that only noble Baronesses support the points that have been made so powerfully by my noble friend Lady Young and others. It seems to me that the present situation is grossly out of date. It smacks of the days when the wife was the appendage of her husband who said, "The little woman will have what I assign to her but no more". That might have been appropriate at one time but the situation has changed completely now.
As has already been said, a man who earns a satisfactory occupational pension very often has a loyal wife at home keeping the show on the road. She is enabling him to do a good job and to receive improvements in his salary. In this day and age it is surely wrong that, whoever may be at fault in the divorce, the woman who has done so much is cut out completely from any right to benefit from the occupational pension scheme.
On Second Reading my noble friend was sympathetic, but when Ministers say that something is difficult one must be very cautious about what they really mean. My noble friend said that a project had been set up to look into the matter. I say to him that we have enough research. It is time for action.
Lord Milverton: I hope the Minister will accept the amendment and not merely say that he will look at it again. The amendment and the principles behind it are reasonable and fair. As my noble friend Lord Dean said, many women who have given loyal, trusting and strong support to their husbands are treated unfairly. Many of those women could have used their abilities to further careers of their own. Therefore, it is only right and proper that they should not be unfairly put upon if they find themselves involved in a divorce. I believe that there are still some decent men about who would be pleased to see fair treatment for women.
I hope that the Government will not just reconsider the matter but will accept the amendment or agree to come back at the next stage with a better amendment if they feel that this amendment is not good enough.
The Earl of Clanwilliam: I should like to express my support for my noble friend's amendment. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will be able to respond more positively than he did on Second Reading. The reasons and benefits involved in the proposal have been well aired. However, one consideration in particular is the fact that, if the amendment were accepted, it might do a great deal to reduce the divorce rate.
Baroness Seccombe: I wish to express my wholehearted support for the amendment. I understand the complexity of finding a solution, but that is no reason for not pursuing the matter until we get an answer. Following articles that have appeared in the press during the past few days, I have received letters from women who have suffered in the past and who are continuing to do so as a result of the present situation.
I received a letter from a mother of three, one of whose children suffered from severe asthmatic attacks. She had worked throughout the marriage as a part-time teacher and, obviously, had nursed her daughter through long illnesses. The woman's consequent pension contributions were lamentably low. Meanwhile, her husband continued to build up a healthy pension fund. Now that the couple are separated, their futures are vastly different. The man has comfort and security, while the woman tries to find employment when she can, with certainly an unknown future. Another letter came from a woman whose husband's occupation took them to Japan. She gave up her practice as a chiropodist, but, now that her husband has left her, his future is assured with a pension of £70,000 per year while the woman has no such expectations.
I believe that we are discussing a problem which is very much one of our time, especially for elderly women who are left to fend for themselves. More and more women are now contributing to their own pensions. If both husband and wife have made such provision, I believe that that should be taken into account. I should have thought that most pension fund administrators would be able to assess the size of an individual's fund, as they do every time someone changes a job. It might be possible for that pension to be assigned or, at least, part of itto the wife and, perhaps, frozen until her retirement or assessed in another way.
At a time of divorce there is a great deal of stress and strain and those involved really do not think logically. I believe that legislation bringing pension rights into the equation is absolutely essential if we are to achieve fairness and ensure that there is a more dignified and comfortable way of life for divorced women in their old age.
Both my noble friend and the noble Baroness stressed in their remarks that a considerable amount of social benefit and welfare has to be paid to women who are left with no income, especially those who are divorced later in life and who have not been able to build up a pension or save any money.
I should like to give the Committee three categories of examples as a result of correspondence that I have received. Indeed, I am quite certain that many noble Baronesses and other Members of the Committee will have received many letters on the subject, especially in view of the number of divorces. The first case relates to women who were mentioned by my noble friend Lady Seccombe; namely, those who go abroad, who are not able to work or earn and who are not, therefore, able to contribute to any pension fund. Very often, in the case of couples who go abroad on business representing British firms, the husband can build up a big pension by way of an occupational pension. Such men are very often making contributions in respect of their wives to a separate fund within the pension. However, that also is not allowed to be touched on divorce.
I received a letter from a doctor who had put money into a pension fund specifically for his wife in the event of his death so that she would receive an adequate pension based on his earnings and the way in which the pension fund was increasing. However, the couple then divorced. Therefore, wife number one received nothing because she was no longer the wife if and when the doctor became deceased. Similarly, the second wife would not receive anything because she was not the named wife. There is a case of an insurance company receiving contributions for a pension fund but, in the event, the recipient was not able to be the recipient. The first wife was left with no pension of any kind, despite the fact that money had been paid into an insurance fund for her benefit.
Another example is of a young couple where the husband is earning considerably with the wife, as has been mentioned, looking after the children. All the savings go into the pension fund. That very often happens, especially with younger people: they put all their earnings into pension funds in order to secure themselves in retirement. But, there again, where there is divorce, the court cannot take that into account. I know of a particular case where considerable sums of money were saved by way of a pension fund, but where the wife on divorce was not able to receive anything from it. In such circumstances, all the money saved during the couple's life together would go to the husband or to the second wife should he predecease his second or third wife.
The latter are examples of specific cases of gross unfairness to the wife who has worked, saved and stayed at home looking after the children while the money goes into a pension fund. She is not eligible for any of that
Lord Bridges: I should like to support the amendments, especially that moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. I have had some personal experience in seeing what happens to the wives of Crown servants employed abroad when a marriage breaks up. The result is often very distressing and can lead to great hardship. Such women will have loyally supported the careers of their husbands for, perhaps, a long period of time. In many cases it should be remembered that, although such women are highly qualified and skilled, they are unable to pursue their professions abroad because they are prohibited from doing so by foreign governments who will not allow the wives of foreign representatives to take employment in their countries. So what happens? A woman finds herself divorced with no entitlement to the pension benefit that her husband will eventually obtain to which she has made, in practically every case, a very strong material contribution.
I, too, find it odd that a Bill which deals with so many issues governing pensions does not tackle a matter which has been in the public knowledge for a very long time. I hope that it will be possible to include the provision when we reach a later stage. It is fair to say that the speeches made this afternoon have revealed a large lacuna which means that many women do not receive adequate justice. I believe that it is the duty of the legislature to try to fill that gap. If the Government believe that they are able to do so in better terms, then it is up to them to tell us the nature of those terms.
There is one further cause of delay which may be cited by the Minister. As I understand it, a case is pending before the Appellate Committee which has not yet been heard. It would not be surprising if the Minister had been advised to say that, because the matter is sub judice, it would be inappropriate for him to enter into any discussion. However, I hope that that will not deter the Minister from reviewing the matter. We cannot be sure what the Appellate Committee may decide. Indeed, our learned colleagues may feel that the matter could be more properly dealt with by legislation. I believe that that would be quite the right course for us to follow. At the end of our discussion I hope that the Minister will be able to take such matters into account and that he will bring forward something if he is unable to accept any of the amendments that have been put forward.
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