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Lord Stoddart of Swindon: I support the amendment for two reasons: it is eminently sensible and it gives me the opportunity of supporting my Front Bench on at least one occasion in relation to the Bill.
At the point of divorce it is right to see that the husband and wife are treated fairly. The noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, emphasised that point. My noble friend Lady Hollis assured me that the amendment would be equitable as between the sexes, husband and wife.
I am glad that the noble Baroness was able to deal with the Treasury opposition to this amendment concerning pensions on divorce. However, it is quite outrageous that the Treasury should use fiscal arguments to attempt to abort a measure which is so reasonable, sensible and fair. I hope that we shall not hear today that, because of the fiscal implications, a measure which is so sensible, fair and reasonable should not be agreed to.
I wish to ask only one question. What happens where there are second, third and even fourth marriages? I assume that the accrued pension contributions will then be split according to the length of that marriage. My noble friend Lady Hollis nods her head. I am glad that that is so because I believe that that is the only way it can be done.
Lord Boyd-Carpenter: I am sure that my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor has noted that all speeches so far have been in support of the amendment. I wish to say at once that I, too, fully support it.
It is clear that the splitting of pensions is practical. There are complex details to be resolved. However, I think that I know the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor well enough to believe that he is not the sort of person who relies on technical small details of this kind but is well able and well suited to understand the opinions held throughout the Chamber on matters of considerable importance like this. I very much hope that he will not disappoint those of us who do not wish to see this admirable remedy for certain troubles and difficulties frustrated. I hope that he will feel that it is up to him to deal with any minor technical problems that arise and that he realises that your Lordships' House in a matter of this kind is a very appropriate judge of the merits.
I add one further comment. I do not know whether my noble and learned friend has had time to read the clear report of the Law Society--it is not a body unduly tainted by sentiment--which has considerable knowledge of the practicalities involved. In particular, in the document that the Law Society circulated support is given explicitly to Amendment No. 203C which is grouped with this amendment. Perhaps I may invite the attention of my noble and learned friend and the Committee to the beginning of the Law Society's opinion. It states:
That seems to me a conclusive consideration. Members of the Committee will be well aware that in the affairs of today for many married couples the husband's pension is the main, almost sole, source of income apart from current earnings. The tendency has been--I speak with some experience having been Minister of Pensions and National Insurance for a number of years, as some Members of the Committee may recall--that for a considerable number of families the husband's pension is the main support for a couple in their old age. It seems absolutely right from the arguments so well put, if I may say so, by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, that where there is a divorce, unhappily and unfortunately, the pension should be split and there should be power in the relevant authorities to ordain an adequate and sensible splitting.
I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, with his very great knowledge of these matters and his humane sympathy with human problems and difficulties, will see his way to accepting the proposals contained in the amendment, if necessary at a subsequent stage of the Bill introducing any minor and technical repairs which may be necessary.
Lord Acton: The noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, described the amendment as a simple act of justice; the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, described it as practical; and the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, described it as clean, decent, simple and fair. I regard the amendment as so obviously sensible that I, too, support it; and I very much hope that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will see his way to agreeing to it.
Lord Dean of Harptree: I support the amendments in principle. I shall be extremely brief because the main arguments have been effectively deployed already in all parts of the Chamber. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, said, there is little doubt that the Pensions Act 1995 was a big step forward from the previous position. However, as one reflected on that position, it seemed clear that it did not go far enough. The earmarking has definite difficulties--this is not the only difficulty--in particular for the older divorced woman, and it can create uncertainty.
When we discussed the prospect of a clean break option in debate on the Pensions Bill, there appeared at that time to be a number of considerable difficulties which had not yet been overcome. Some were technical, some related to costs. It appears from what has been said in the Chamber this afternoon, and from the briefing material from the Law Society, the National Association of Pension Funds Limited and others, that many of those difficulties have now been removed. They have been resolved through further discussions, including, of course, the matter of costs which is clearly always an important factor when one deals with issues like the vast expenditure involved in the social security budget.
The National Association of Pension Funds Limited has stated that the clean break would be, "an inexpensive option". If the difficulties have been removed, and the cost implications are much less than appeared at one time, I hope very much that my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor will be prepared to give sympathetic consideration to the principle underlying the amendments. It may well be that the amendments are not technically correct. I shall be quite content if my noble and learned friend says that he is prepared to consider seriously the points put from all sides of the Chamber and that if he is not satisfied with the details of these amendments he will bring forward government amendments at Report stage.
Baroness Hamwee: I support the amendment from a slightly different perspective. The noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, mentioned the support for marriage which is absolutely fundamental to the Bill. I know a couple who are not married, the man rather older than the woman. They have been together a long time and it is clear that their relationship is stable. I wondered why they were not married. I discovered recently that it is because of anxiety for the wife who is also older than the female partner in the current relationship. There is anxiety about her loss of pension rights. There could be nothing more moral and more in support of relationships as they are than to pass the amendment and allow three people who find themselves in that situation to rectify matters.
Lord Marsh: There are strong, fundamental disagreements among us in relation to the Bill, but there is virtually no disagreement on the amendments. That is significant. It is understandable because there can be no logic in differentiating between pensions and other matrimonial assets. It is impossible to do that in logic.
It has been said that there are technical problems which would arise from the amendment. That is true. However, as someone who has spent many years in the pensions industry, I venture to say that the problems are not insoluble and are certainly not fundamental. The change is long overdue on the grounds both of logic and of compassion. The time has now come when Ministers should overrule the actuaries on the subject.
Lord Milverton: I hope that if the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor is not able to accept the amendment as it is, he will at least give it due consideration. It has great support and, as was said by one noble Lord, we know him as an understanding person, concerned about human relationships, especially marriage and people's rights in the breakdown of marriage. I hope that he will be able to give a satisfactory answer to the amendment.
Lord Boardman: I wish to support the amendment and illustrate it with a short example of which I am well aware. A civil servant who had been married for many years divorced his wife and married a young second wife. He died. His young second wife then became entitled to the pension. She was an honourable person and did her utmost to disclaim it; she asked the Civil Service to pass the pension benefit to the first wife to whom the civil servant had been married for many years. She was unable
The rules in regard to Civil Service pensions may have altered, since that was a few years ago, but it is an illustration of the need for a change along the lines of the noble Baroness's amendment.
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