Clause 83

Pensions Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:45 am on 19th February 2008.

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Interpretation

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Minister of State (Pension Reform), Department for Work and Pensions

I beg to move amendment No. 164, in clause 83, page 39, line 28, after first ‘order’, insert ‘or provision’.

Photo of Janet Anderson Janet Anderson Labour, Rossendale and Darwen

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:

Government amendments Nos. 165 to 181

Government new clause 2—Projections of numbers of those on means-tested benefits.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Minister of State (Pension Reform), Department for Work and Pensions

The amendments extend the provisions of the Bill relating to pension compensation-sharing on divorce, or dissolution of a civil partnership for couples in Scotland, and I hope that hon. Members will support them.

Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Shadow Minister, Work & Pensions

Again, I wish to make a short point. Will the Minister confirm that the current rules about pension-sharing apply in absolutely the same way in Scotland as they do here? Looking at some of the words that we do not tend to use in English law, I wonder whether they have a wider range of powers and whether he can give the Committee any idea of what those might be; “declarator of nullity” sounds quite dramatic, but he may have some other information on that. Most importantly, I wonder whether the 1999 legislation applies in exactly the same way in Scotland, or whether there is some strange variant of it that we need to know about.

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

The first thing that I want to say, as a Member representing a Scottish constituency, is that it is good that the Government have decided to extend this benefit to cases applying in Scotland, of which there are a substantial number under the PPF and the FAS. It is perhaps a little much to expect the Minister to be a Scots lawyer as well as an English one. I am certainly neither. However, I have had no representations from legal authorities or others in Scotland wishing to object to this. Given that Scots law differs, quite markedly in some respects, to the law in England, it seems to be a sensible way to extend the provisions in a way that is broadly similar. From my reading, the effect is broadly the same as that of the legislation proposed for England and Wales. I hope that is of some help to the Minister in responding to the hon. Gentleman’s questions.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Minister of State (Pension Reform), Department for Work and Pensions 11:00 am, 19th February 2008

It is, indeed, of enormous help.

As far as I am aware, the provisions will have broadly the same effect, although divorce law is devolved in certain respects in Scotland and therefore there are some differences. Qualifying agreements are used in Scotland, but not in England and Wales. At present, couples in Scotland can make a qualifying agreement to set out how a pension is to be shared. We seek to extend that to pension compensation sharing. Qualifying agreements differ from court orders in that they are not orders of the court. However, they still activate pension sharing. The mechanism for the implementation of a qualifying agreement is to effect pension sharing, as set out in section 28 of the Welfare Reform and Pensions Act 1999. Once the agreement has been made in the prescribed form in Scotland, it has the same effect with regard to pension sharing as a court order. That seems to be the main difference.

Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Shadow Minister, Work & Pensions

I am grateful to the Minister for advising the Committee that that is not regarded as a court order because it is not an order made by the court. Even in Scots law, that must be a fairly simple concept to grapple with. I would like to be sure about this. Do the qualifying agreements have all the status and enforceability of court orders? This issue that will clearly keep me awake at night.

Mr. O'Brien rose—

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

Without wishing to steal the Minister’s thunder, it is certainly the case that a registered minute of agreement, which is what this describes, is not a court order. However, if it is breached, it can be enforced through the courts and variations can be agreed between parties using the court system and so on. The way in which it is enforced is broadly similar.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Minister of State (Pension Reform), Department for Work and Pensions

Mrs. Anderson, you will be relived to know that the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey is entirely right.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 165, in clause 83, page 39, line 28, at end insert

‘, or provision contained in a qualifying agreement,’.

No. 166, in clause 83, page 39, line 30, after ‘order’ insert ‘or provision’.

No. 167, in clause 83, page 39, line 31, after ‘order’ insert ‘or provision’.

No. 168, in clause 83, page 39, line 33, at end insert ‘or provision’.—[Mr. Mike O'Brien.]

Clause 83, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.