|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Something like a dozen areas of concern have been raised which we should consider, including transfer values and cost allocation. All pensions organisations have great experience of providing for situations of frozen pensions. Most pensions provide for widows and when a woman finds herself unfortunately widowed, the company is left to provide administration for her widow's pension.
However, there are wider, deeper areas. The cost allocation is raised. Then there is the sheer scale of the legal implications. I am only working on what the letter says; I have not had the chance to ask anybody about it since receiving it. Those implications are far-reaching. As the letter points out, they affect family law, of course; property law; pensions' law, of course; taxation, and problems of Scottish and Irish jurisdiction. Those are weighty issues. The general picture which is painted is of a legislative ship at sea surrounded by obstacles hidden in the water. It has to stop, change course and find a safe haven where advice can be obtained on where to go next.
This issue has been debated publicly for years and years. There is not a Member of Parliament who has not received a letter about it. There are few Members of this House who at the time of the last Pensions Bill did not receive letters on the subject. The Law Society, certainly since 1961, has been in favour of this legislation. The pension fund managers are in favour and they certainly know about the subject. They would be grossly professionally negligent if they did not. The actuaries are also in favour. After the previous debate I received letters of complaint from a number of actuaries who thought that I was being unnecessarily flip in suggesting that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor should cease listening to the actuaries. I wrote back and said that I was not talking about actuaries in general, because actuaries in general are, through their professional organisation, totally in support of the measure.
Actuaries are very special people. The actuarial examinations are among the most difficult and the most exhaustive of any professional examinations. Their powers are almost unique in this area. The appointed actuary can shut down the company which employs him. I am sure that the Government took advice from actuaries. I am bound to say that their professional organisation is totally in favour of this measure. One of the ultimate oxymorons is common sense. There ain't a lot of it about. But I do not believe that common sense enables anyone to portray this situation as surrounded by unknown obstacles. It just cannot be so.
If the noble Lord says that there are a number of things that are major problems which need to be thought through and considered for a period of time, that must be factual. I should like to know the answer to a simple question. Are the Government at this stage, on the knowledge at their disposal, inclined to be opposed to this measure in principle, or are they, like every other professional group involved in this issue, in a situation where they can accept the principle though, on the other hand, there may be other things with which they have to deal?
There are a lot of unknown areas around this issue. One of my greatest worries is that people will exaggerate the benefits which this measure will bring to them. But for some it will bring benefits. What we are faced with is a possibility that the Government are seeking to kick the thing into touch. It will not work because too many people know too much about this subject. It is public knowledge. The Government are entitled to stand up and say, "We do not believe that the economy can face the costs of this"--whatever those costs are, and those can be argued about. They are entitled to stand up and say, "We reject this. There are other things we want to spend the money on". But they are not entitled to stand up and expect a serious reception to the argument that they did not know what the problems were until 24 or 48 hours ago.
Lord Boardman: My Lords, many of your Lordships will have received, as I have, letters from elderly married women whose husbands had the anticipation of a substantial pension on retirement and who then go off with a so-called dolly bird and leave them stranded. The Pensions Act made some provision for what might happen when he retired. That, as has been said, is highly speculative. He may die before he reaches his pension age or even when he has his pension. I believe that we have some duty to see what we can do to deal with those problems. Some of the letters I have received have been extremely painful. I feel that I have a responsibility, as we all have, to try to meet the rightful demands of people who would otherwise suffer severely.
The problems of splitting pensions are acute. I understand something of the difficulties. The problem of splitting a pension which is funded may not be very severe. I believe that the pensions industry can deal with those. It is possible for the industry to split it up to provide that on the divorce the wife and the husband each have a fund which will provide the pension. Splitting up things like SERPS and unfunded pensions
I shall hope that my noble friend will be able to give some encouragement here. I shall wait with keenness his reply. I would not accept, as the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, has said, that it is something we can kick into touch until the time comes round when we can look at it again and try to deal with the whole matter. This is an opportunity at any rate to give the courts power in the case and to give them that flexibility to grant some protection for the divorced wife.
Lord Wolfson: My Lords, while there is considerable merit in the proposed amendment, I am not clear on several points. I should be grateful if the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, could enlighten me further. I shall be brief, although the matters are complex.
First, is the proposed percentage of the pension for the partner to be linked to the length of the marriage and the reasons for the divorce? Secondly, what arrangements are envisaged for subsequent marriage partners, which is a very important point? Thirdly, should not part of the pension sum be set aside for minor children at the sad time of the divorce? Finally, when would the recipient receive payment? If a working partner were 45 or 50 at the time of the divorce and remained in his existing position--an unlikely event--it would be 15 or 20 years before the pension matured. How then would the partner benefit from that source in the interim? Is any differentiation contemplated between contributory and non-contributory pension schemes?
Clearly, we all wish to see enacted legislation that is fair and equitable to all parties and avoids creating anomalies such as we have seen in many cases of legislation in recent years--and in this case including a disincentive to marriage itself. I hope that the Government's forthcoming Green Paper will comprehensively address these issues.
Lord Mishcon: My Lords, I rise to make one point and one point only. During the many years of profit to this House that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has graced the Woolsack there is only one occasion that I can remember when I detected real embarrassment when he made a point to your Lordships' House. He made it at the Committee stage of this Bill, and it was--this was touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Marsh--that one of the objections to this amendment was that a couple may decide to take advantage of the passing of the amendment by deciding to have a divorce which was a bogus divorce and then plan to remarry. However far-fetched the point may be, when the noble and learned Lord raises it I think we all feel that it must at least be answered and treated with some respect.
I ventured on that occasion to rise in your Lordships' House and suggest that the noble and learned Lord might consider that it was an answer to his point if he saw to it, as he has power to do under the Bill, that the statement which originates the whole of the divorce proceedings by a belief that the marriage has irretrievably broken down should be a statutory declaration made under the Act of 1835, where there is a solemn pronouncement--"I conscientiously believe the same to be true"--that the marriage has in his or her belief irretrievably broken down. The noble and learned Lord did me the great courtesy of saying in reply that it was a thought that had occurred to him.
Noble Lords will have noted that this amendment contains a provision that, where a pension may be involved, the information that will be given to anybody making that preliminary statement is that his or her statement that the marriage, it is believed, has irretrievably broken down shall be a statement backed by a statutory declaration, which means that, if it is falsely made, perjury will have been committed.
Quite frankly, it is my hope that whatever the circumstances, the original statement, because of its solemnity, shall be a statutory declaration. But that is not the amendment that I am pleading for today. It may be that if I hear that it meets with the general approval of those in charge of this Bill I shall take the liberty of moving it at Third Reading. I did want your Lordships to know that in my humble opinion--and it is the only point that I intend to make in this debate--bogus marriage and divorce are firmly dealt with within the wording of the amendment.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page