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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Baroness Hollis of Heigham): We will introduce pension sharing for divorcing couples. This is an important step towards meeting the Government's objectives of improving the income of women in retirement.
It is the combination of the basic state pension and a decent second pension which prevents people from retiring into poverty. But women are less likely than men to have a good second pension: Women are less likely than men to belong to an occupational pension scheme--in 1991 only 3.9 million women belonged to an occupational pension scheme, compared to 6.8 million men.
Women are less likely to have a good second pension because they are more likely to be in part-time or low-paid work, and they are more likely to interrupt their working lives to care for their families.
Women make a vital contribution to the family income by bringing up children or caring for an elderly relative. On divorce, this contribution must be recognised, and where appropriate, pension rights shared.
It is not currently possible to share pension rights between men and women. Under the current arrangements, maintenance payments can be made from one spouse to another--we expect usually from husband to wife--once the pension is in payment. But these payments can stop on the death of the pension scheme member, and a former spouse who remarries could lose his or her share of the pension. In addition, these arrangements mean that a financial break between the spouses is not achieved; ties between them remain throughout their retirement.
Our proposals will lead to fairer treatment of pensions in financial settlements between divorcing couples and will provide a better and more secure income in retirement for those receiving a share of pension rights.
We will be working in partnership with the pensions industry, family lawyers and others to deliver pension sharing arrangements by April 2000. In order to do this, we will be producing a draft Bill in this session for consultation with interested parties before we introduce it to Parliament.
This will be the first time that the Department of Social Security has adopted the approach of consulting on a draft bill, and confirms our commitment to deliver practical, workable and effective measures based on sound legislation.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): Following our manifesto commitment, we are acting to end the primary purpose rule because it is arbitrary, unfair and ineffective and has penalised genuine marriages, divided families and unnecessarily increased the administrative burden on the immigration system. The rule has also placed British citizens resident here at a disadvantage compared with other EU nationals resident in Britain--to whom no primary purpose rule has applied.
Applicants under the rule had to prove a negative both before the entry clearance officer and on appeal. But, even where applicants lost their appeal, they would then be allowed in where there was a child with right of abode in the United Kingdom or where the marriage had lasted five years. It is also very doubtful that this inherently ineffective and unfair rule has worked to filter out those who sought to cheat the system. This question is not therefore about numbers, but about fairness.
My right honourable friend the Home Secretary is determined to build an immigration and asylum system that is fairer, faster and firmer. Ending this rule will allow resources to be focused on the other requirements of the rules, which are known to be fair, effective, and enforceable. These include: First showing that the marriage is genuine; the couple must intend to live together permanently as husband and wife, and the marriage must be subsisting. In other words, it must not be a marriage of convenience. Secondly, both parties to the marriage must have met. Thirdly, both parties must demonstrate that they can maintain and accommodate themselves and any dependants without recourse to public funds. The burden of proof in these cases will remain on the applicant. In addition, couples will continue to be subject to a 12-month probationary period, at the end of which they must show again that their marriage is genuine. This will be firmly enforced.
An amendment to the rules will be made today. Entry clearance officers are being instructed not to refuse entry clearance applicants where the refusal depends solely on the primary purpose rule. Similar instructions are being issued to staff in the Immigration and Nationality Directorate. Home Office Presenting Officers are being instructed not to oppose cases on appeal where the refusal was based wholly on the primary purpose rule and the rule will not apply to outstanding applications. However, if an appellant still decides to proceed on his own initiative, he will still have to prove his case to the adjudicator, even though the Presenting Officer will not formally oppose the appeal. Those who have had their case and their appeal refused will be entitled to apply again (on payment of an appropriate fee).
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