Clause 97

Pensions Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:30 am on 19th February 2008.

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Pension sharing: power of Court of Session to extend time limits

Photo of Danny Alexander Danny Alexander Liberal Democrat, Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey

I do not wish to entangle the Minister in Scots law—in fact, it is the other Minister’s chance to be entangled in Scots law, which is welcome. Will the Minister clarify the intention of the clause? It seems that it allows the Court of Session, as well as the sheriff, to be involved in decisions about extending time limits, but it does not extend time limits. Is that interpretation correct?

Photo of James Plaskitt James Plaskitt Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions

Broadly, yes, but I will clarify for the hon. Gentleman to get it straight on the record. The clause amends sections 28 and 48 of the 1999 Act, which deal with the orders that activate pension sharing on pension arrangements and on shareable state scheme rights respectively. The amendments deal with orders made in Scottish courts.

When a couple divorce or civil partners dissolve their relationship, they can ask for a financial settlement. One of the options open to the court is to make a pension-sharing or corresponding order. Such an order can be made against a pension arrangement or the shareable state scheme rights. For orders made under the Family Law (Scotland) Act 1985 or a corresponding provision to have effect, the person responsible for the pension arrangement must receive the order and the matrimonial documents within two months of the date of the order. If the order is not received within that period it is deemed never to have taken effect.

A party with an interest in the order may apply to extend the two-month period if it has expired and the order and the matrimonial documents have not been received by the person responsible for the pension arrangement. Applications for extensions can currently only be made to the sheriff. However, as I am sure the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey knows, some divorces in Scotland are heard in the Court of Session. Currently, there is no provision for applications to be made to the Court of Session to extend the two-month period and there is no reason why the Court of Session should not consider those applications. Otherwise, such an application would have to be remitted to the sheriff. The clause gives the Court of Session in Scotland the same powers as the sheriff to extend the two-month period. That will be a modest but worthwhile improvement, which should help the pension-sharing process. I hope that that explains the clause and that the hon. Gentleman will agree that it should stand part of the Bill.

Clause 97 ordered to stand part of the Bill.