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Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I know that we want to press on with this matter. I do not intend to speak long. I am president of the Married Women's Association. Since I first became associated with that group I have been approached by many women who have suffered desperately from not having the pension split. I am reluctant at any time to vote against the Government, but I feel strongly on this issue. If this matter is divided upon, the principle is so important that I would have to support the amendment.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, it is important that we get this amendment written into the Bill. It will establish a principle. I say that having heard what the noble Lord, Lord Elton, had to say about the difficulties. If what he was proposing was what happened on the Telecommunications Bill with regard to telephone tapping, that might be something which my noble friend on the Front Bench might consider. What happened was that an amendment to the Telecommunications Bill was tabled to make telephone tapping illegal. It was withdrawn by my noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington on the promise from the Leader of the House that the Government would bring forward their own Bill to deal with telecommunications in the following Session or before. That is what happened.
We had an undertaking from the Leader of the House that that would be done. If that is what the noble Lord proposes, I would recommend that my noble friend Lady Hollis give it consideration. But, if that is not forthcoming--I fear that it is not--I would stress that we need to write something into the Bill to establish the principle of pension splitting on divorce.
I want to make one thing absolutely clear, because I have been challenged on it. My support for the amendments depends upon the fact that they are gender neutral. I must have an absolute assurance from my noble friend Lady Hollis when she winds up that I have made no mistake about that, because it is important.
My support is also based on protecting the child-rearer and home-maker, usually but not always the wife, from being penalised on retirement for having sacrificed a career to cherish and care for the family. I believe that that is an important point.
I too have received a letter from the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, which has made pretty heavy reading in the short time available. I am afraid that I cannot comment on it in detail, but there is one sentence, the first line of the fourth paragraph, on which I should like to comment. It states:
I thank the noble Lord for taking the trouble to write to me. His letter was extremely useful, but I should like to point out that deferred pay is not only for the employee. It is also for the spouse because the spouse will have had to make the sacrifices in the housekeeping for the 6 per cent., 7 per cent., or whatever the reduction in salary arising from the superannuation contributions. So, we must remember that it is not only the employee who is affected.
I know that the House wants to get on, so I merely repeat once again that we are concerned about the principle. I believe that unless we are given the assurance on which I opened--I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, would want the Government to give such an assurance--I hope that the House will vote for the amendment.
Viscount Tenby: My Lords, much has been said already on the subject of pension splitting and in a much more witty and more knowledgable way than I am capable of. I am afraid that I belong to the "glazed eye brigade" to which the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, referred. However, I hope that I can at least identify injustices where they are to be found--and I believe this area to be one of injustice. The present arrangements can undoubtedly lead to hardship, particularly and usually to ex-wives of a certain age. As has been said, it must be unfair that women who have played a major role in the success of their partner's career should be faced with the possibility of that contribution being to all intents and purposes set aside through his remarriage.
I am afraid that it is a fact of life that governments and their advisers will always put up arguments against fundamental changes no matter how reasonable the proposals may be. One of the first knee-jerk reactions--and at first sight an eminently reasonable and democratic one--is to call for a period of consultation, with enough Green Papers to make even an environmentalist twitch nervously. That tactic appeals particularly to the present Government, as we have recently observed, but as I know to my cost in a quite different area from this, periods of discussion do not always take account of the opinions of the majority being consulted. However, on an issue such as this, which commands cross-party support and the total commitment of all the relevant professional bodies, we must go forward to establish the principle in law. Of course, we can have substantive discussions afterwards, and a Green Paper, but let them be set against a background of total commitment to the principle of pension splitting. That can be achieved by supporting the amendment.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I sense that there is a need to press on with the debate. I believe that both my noble friend Lady Strange and my noble friend Lord Brentford wish to speak. Perhaps my noble friend Lady
Baroness Strange: My Lords, I thank my noble friend. Without wishing to embarrass anybody, I should like to support the amendment on the ground of the principle of fairness. Without being a feminist, I believe in fair and equal treatment for men and women. If the wife has been the chief wage-earner and the chief supporter of the pension, it seems unfair that if the husband has been darning the socks and changing the nappies he should be left on the dissolution of the marriage without his share of the pension, and vice versa. Surely, if they can divide the wedding presents, they can divide the pension.
Viscount Brentford: My Lords, I became convinced at Committee stage that it was right, fair and equitable for pension splitting following divorce to be incorporated into the law. I have no problem with that. In Committee I felt that it was right that the Bill should incorporate provisions to effect that. However, the more that I have thought about it since Committee stage and the more that I have talked to different people, the more the problems have mounted. If a divorced couple is to receive benefits which will include tax advantages, is it morally right that that couple should be put in a more favourable tax position than a married couple? I am sure that the pro-family lobby will argue once again that marriage is being penalised.
Pension splitting is a major change in the law. It will affect many Pensions Acts and other legislation, as my noble friend Lord Elton summarised. I believe that such changes need to be made in primary legislation and should be carefully drafted. The Government have been hammered time and time again for introducing legislation which has not been carefully thought through and carefully drafted. We need more thoroughness in our legislation, even if that costs time. However long many outside organisations have been considering the matter, it is vital that we take whatever time is needed in order to produce the right legislation.
In conclusion, I should be grateful if my noble friend could answer two questions for me. First, when will his department start to prepare the Green Paper? I believe that there is great pressure not only in the House but around the country for this principle to be adopted. That is why I ask when his department will start moving to produce the Green Paper. Secondly, in terms of the time that it will take to implement the pension-splitting legislation, what difference will it make if we pass the amendment now or act in, say, a year's time following the results of the Green Paper?
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, this has been an interesting debate which has been understandably strong on principle and occasionally strong on emotion. I venture to say, as my noble friend Lord Brentford has just pointed out, that it has been a little short on detailed consideration. Unfortunately, it
I start by acknowledging the problem and the emotional case of the ex-spouse, usually the ex-wife, who is left in old age without the pension which she thought that she would have either as the wife of a retired husband or as his widow. Indeed, at the request of my noble friend Lady Young and with my full support, the House included in last year's Pensions Act a provision stating that pensions should be taken into account by the courts. We made provision for pensions' attachments, so that when a pension comes into payment, part of it can be paid directly to the ex-wife. That is a simpler and, in my view, more attainable method. That remains my position--
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