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House of Lords

Monday, 1st December 1997.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Bristol.

Lord Gerard--Took the Oath.

Homosexuals: Civil Service Pension Rights

Lord Tebbit asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether it is their policy that homosexual employees of the Government should be able to nominate another homosexual of the same sex to enjoy the rights accorded to spouses in occupational pension schemes.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the noble Lord will appreciate that the phrase "employees of the Government" refers strictly only to civil servants. The Civil Service pension scheme pays survivors' pensions only to legal spouses and to dependent children. Lump sum benefits arising on death in service or death in deferment are paid to a person nominated by the member.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his Answer. Is there any proposal to change that situation?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has given authority for officials to start negotiations with the Civil Service unions about possible changes to the Civil Service pension scheme. But it has been made clear at all times that any changes which would cost money would be at the expense of members rather than at the expense of the taxpayer.

Lord Rea: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that many couples of the same sex live together in a stable and supportive relationship and that in such a case the policy mentioned in the Question would be eminently just and morally and legally justified?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the question of what changes might take place as a result of the discussions has not yet come to the surface. The negotiations (if indeed they are taking place yet) are at a very early stage. My noble friend is right in implying that in some private pension schemes provision for survivors' pensions to be paid other than to legal spouses is made. That might apply also to stable same-sex couples.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that some of us wonder just exactly how

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this new arrangement, if it is ever agreed to, would work out? For example, if the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, who asked the Question, and I decided to set up home together, would we be eligible to transfer our pensions between each other, or would we have to declare a sexual relationship before we could do so? How would we be required to prove that it was a sexual relationship and not a platonic one?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, my noble friend is way ahead of the game. Negotiations are at an early stage. All the questions that he raises will no doubt be taken into consideration.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, for how long do a couple of the same sex have to live together in order to qualify as a permanent arrangement?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, that, again, would be one of the considerations for any negotiations.

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the Government have no intention to downgrade the honourable state of marriage?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Question is about pensions. I do not think there is any question of downgrading the honourable state of marriage.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that two brothers, two sisters or two siblings who live together are often dependent on each other in terms of finance? If it is going to go wider than marriage, it should certainly include people of that type.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, as I hope I have made clear, the Government have no intention of preaching or prescribing any particular family structures. However, the wider one casts the net on survivors' pensions, the more it costs.

Romania: NATO Membership

2.40 p.m.

Lord Sudeley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the extent of their commitment towards Romania's membership of NATO.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, we and our NATO allies agreed at the Madrid Summit in July to invite Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic to begin accession negotiations with NATO. We expect those negotiations to conclude this month and for new members to accede to the alliance in 1999. The Madrid Summit also agreed to review the enlargement process in 1999. No commitment has been made to any country about future invitations to join NATO.

Lord Sudeley: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply about Romania, which we let down at Yalta.

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Does she agree that the Government's definite commitment to backing Romania over the second wave of entry is much to be desired, bearing in mind that during the last elections Romania passed the test of democracy with flying colours? There is civilian control of the military, most of the population of Romania supports NATO and the Romanian Government are pledged to increase their defence expenditure.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the Government do not recognise any special cases over future membership of NATO, but the Prime Minister said in another place on 9th July, after the Madrid Summit, that the applications of Romania and Slovenia were especially closely considered even though there was no consensus to invite them to join on that occasion. Both countries have indeed made remarkable progress. As the noble Lord said, Romania's Government deserve particular congratulation on the steps taken since they took office last November. The noble Lord is also right that the Government are fully aware of the commitment by the Romanian Government to NATO and the popular support in Romania for NATO membership. We are encouraging the Romanian Government to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the new Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council and the enhanced Partnership for Peace further to deepen Romania's ties with NATO.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that it is the Government's understanding that this is not the last enlargement of NATO and that after 1999 there will be further stages of enlargement to take in a number of other countries, among which Romania clearly has a very strong claim?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, as I said in my original Answer, there will be a review in 1999 so the door to future membership is certainly not closed. If Romania continues to make economic and political progress it will be an excellent candidate for any future enlargement. But enhancing the security of Europe as a whole will also be part of that decision. The credentials of individual countries are certainly part of the picture. It will also be a question of how the accession of individual countries affects the security of NATO as a whole.

Lord Barnett: My Lords, can the Minister tell the House whether the Government have taken into consideration the financial consequences of a country like Romania, and other Eastern European countries, joining NATO at the same time as having to meet the costs involved in joining an enlarged Community?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, we all recognise that bringing new members into NATO will indeed incur costs, as my noble friend suggests. The forces of the countries joining NATO will need training in communications, in NATO methods and in the use of English. Their communications, air defences and military bases will also have to be brought up to

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NATO standards. NATO forces together have to be able to deliver on the alliance's guarantee of defence for the new members. NATO is currently analysing the costs involved in these objectives.

The Earl of Carlisle: My Lords, will the noble Baroness comment on the recent statement by the Russian Federation that it wants the Baltic states and the northern Scandinavian countries to join its security pact? Does the noble Baroness agree that there is an even stronger case to accept the three Baltic states--Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania--into the NATO organisation as quickly as possible, bearing in mind the recent steps of the Russian Federation?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the Madrid Summit communique recognised the progress achieved in a number of the Baltic states towards greater stability and co-operation. Of course, we are aware of a number of different moves around the Baltic states at the moment in relation to Russia. But at the time of the Madrid Summit we made it clear that in future no applicants would be excluded on the basis of their geographical location and that, of course, includes the Baltic states.

Lord Moynihan: My Lords, given the disagreements between the United States and France on the question of the timing of the accession of Romania and Slovenia to NATO, do the Government envisage that that will cause future problems and delays for NATO expansion? Furthermore, what specific actions have the Government taken to reassure Romania of the United Kingdom's commitment to its future accession, given that the Government supported the American model of limited enlargement at the NATO Summit in Madrid in July?

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