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Baroness Noakes: I thank the Minister for introducing the orders. We are happy to support them, as they tidy up the loose ends of last year's Civil Partnership Act. I could use the opportunity today to ask some detailed questions about whether the Government have any commitment to rationalising and simplifying the pensions system. The orders add another layer of complexity to an existing system that is marked by complexity, as we debated a little earlier in Committee. We do not object to the orders because we support the completion of the civil partnership regime, but they underline the mess that pensions have got into in this country. I shall not go further on that today, because we have the opportunity of the Adair Turner commission to look forward to later this year. This side of the Committee certainly looks forward to that.
I shall raise just one specific question that arises from the issue of complexity. What plans do the Government have to ensure that those contemplating entering into civil partnerships are aware of the financial consequences of the Act? Consequences are not always benign for all parties. It is important that people know what they are letting themselves in for. The Minister may well say that they are broadly the same as for those people contemplating marriage, which can be paraphrased as, "Let the would-be-marrieds beware". I am not sure that is a satisfactory answer in the context of the novel regime of civil partnership.
I have two further aspects to address briefly. First, regulatory impact assessments show the continuing contempt that the Government have for the RIA process. The RIAs attached to the orders are exactly the same as those produced for the Civil Partnership Bill, as it was last year. No attempt has been made to make the RIAs specific to the orders before the Committee. The best that I can say about that is that it is lazy. Will the Minister give the impact of each of the orders before us today in terms of the ongoing and one-off costs to the Government and to the private sector? It is becoming a point of principle, because we are so often asked to approve orders on the basis of RIAs that are virtually meaningless because they relate to an earlier Act or because they have not been properly updated.
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More importantly, is this the end or just the beginning of pension orders under the Civil Partnership Act? That links to the specific question that I have been asked to raise with the Minister by Stonewall. One of the orders deals with contracted-out occupational pensions, but no mention is made of occupational pension arrangements that are not contracted-out. As I understand it, the practice notes known as IR12, issued by HM Revenue and Customs, provide that survivor pensions are to be paid automatically to survivor spouses but that trustees have discretion as to whether payments are to be made to surviving partners, whether same-sex partners or heterosexual partners. Will those practice notes be changed to give surviving civil partners exactly the same rights as surviving spouses? Or will some further order be necessary to achieve that? Perhaps the Minister will take the opportunity to explain how the two regimes of contracted-out and non-contracted-out occupational pensions will work in the light of the Civil Partnership Act.
Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay: On this occasion, I am delighted to sing from the same hymn sheet as the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, on two main issues. We support the orders, but I feel stronglywe have talked a little about regulatory impact assessmentsthat the Government must take more seriously the need forcan I say?"individually tailored" regulatory impact assessments, rather than just having them roll off the old production line. Both Opposition Benches feel strongly about that.
We support the order. But again the points made by Stonewall seem to us to be very persuasive, that this does not, so far as we can see, deal with the non-contracted out element of schemes, which are often more financially lucrative. It seems to us that it is appropriate, where at present the majority of large occupational pension schemes provide survivor's benefits to same-sex couples only at the discretion of the trustees after investigation of the nature of relationship, that these practice notes should be appropriately amended so that everyone is put on the same basis before the law.
Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: I begin by saying how grateful I am to the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, and the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, for welcoming these orders and, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, for asking a number of fair questions, to which I hope I can give satisfactory answers.
We absolutely agree with the statement of the noble Baroness that people getting involved in these partnerships really should know what they are letting themselves in for. I would like to explain briefly what we are doing to make sure that people do know what they are letting themselves in for. The Women and Equality Unit in the Department for Trade and Industry issues regular email updates to interested parties. Currently, there are 700 addressees on the mailing list. Information, leaflets and flyers have been printed for distribution at appropriate events; for example, they were distributed widely at last weekend's Gay Pride event.
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In the run up to the implementation date, a more detailed guidance booklet will be published on the Intranet, and a small number will be printed for postage to those individuals who contact the DTI and do not have Internet access. That is what the DTI is doing. The DWP is doing various things to enhance customer awareness. It is providing further advice and information. Officials and officers within the department have been, and will continue to attend pride events around the country and are currently working closely with external advisers and intermediaries. Information will be available within specialist press articles and also on the Internet.
A general information leaflet will be produced, which will advise that same sex couples will, for benefit purposes, be treated in the same way, as I said in my opening remarks, as opposite sex married and unmarried couples, whether they have formed a civil partnership or are living together as if they were civil partners. Individuals would be advised that they should contact the office that deals with their benefit claim if they consider that the change applies to them. It is intended that the leaflet will be distributed as widely as possible and will be available in all the usual outlets; for example, Citizens Advice Bureaux, Job Centre Plus offices and social security offices. So, a great deal is being done to make sure that people know what they are letting themselves in for.
Baroness Noakes: Perhaps I may clarify the point. I asked why the RIA did not include costs specific to the particular orders. What the RIA in each case did was simply to repeat the totality of the assessment of the Civil Partnership Bill that was before Parliament last year. No attempt was made either to update that or to make it specific to what we are being required to consider.
Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: The answer to that is that they were part of the provisions set out in the original Act. What we are doing today is looking at a part of the whole that was in place. I see the noble Baroness shaking her head; I wish that she was nodding in agreement. However, that is the answer.
Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: These orders are the first of a series which will amend relevant legislation across government to take account of civil partnerships. As we know, the first two deal with pensions and social security matters, while the third to be taken today addresses registration provisions. Further orders will be laid for debate in the autumn. In addition, consequential amendments to secondary legislation will be included in orders to be laid before Parliament, subject to the negative resolution, in time to come into force on 5 December. So I am afraid that I must confirm the worst fears of the noble Baroness: there will be more orders.
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Finally, our friends at Stonewall have raised the question of contracting out, a point also raised by the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott. The Employment and Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations prohibit trustees and managers discriminating against civil partners as compared to spouses in respect of service after 5 December 2005. This non-discrimination rule binds the managers and trustees of all occupational pension schemes, including those offering contracted-out benefits. If an occupational pension scheme is not contracted out or provides benefits over and above the contracted-out rights, the scheme rules will set out the conditions for the payment of survivor benefits under the scheme. These are matters for the schemes themselves to decide. We do not think it appropriate for the Government to intervene and require all schemes to bear the cost of paying extra benefits for a past period.
I finish simply by saying that a number of general points were raised about pension schemes. I believe that my noble friend said that an opportunity for a more wide-ranging debate will arise at a later stage. Obviously this is neither the time nor the place to initiate it.
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