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Lord Skelmersdale: I asked for it, did I not? However, it obviously not only confused me, but, by virtue of Amendment No. 4, tabled by the noble Baroness, it has also confused the draftsman, which is why she is amending her own Bill.

That said, I shall read extremely carefully what the noble Baroness has said and I may want to follow it up in correspondence. In her exhaustive explanation, she said that in a case of a bankrupt employer owing statutory sick pay, under my amendment two departments would have to be consulted on how to deal with the matter. That is the position now. I do not see why there is a change. I will happily follow up that matter in correspondence or perhaps consultation at a later stage. I do not think that it is right, or indeed proper, to go into it now.

It also occurs to me that in some places in Schedule 2, the Bill transfers all the regulations. "All the regulations" does not necessarily mean the functions of the Secretary of State. In some cases, as I read it, it means functions which are already carried out by the Contributions Agency. I regard these as nuts and bolts and the matters that I have listed in my critique on Amendment No. 3 are also what I regard as nuts and bolts. I suspect that the argument--the noble Baroness is quite correct--is not about what should be done but whether it is being done properly. I still do not know the answer. However, when I have read the explanation in Hansard, I hope I shall. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4.30 p.m.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved Amendment No. 4:


Page 26, line 30, column 3, leave out ("37") and insert ("36").

The noble Baroness said: I accept the noble Lord's correction about timing and my manuscript note not having been adopted accordingly.

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In moving Amendment No. 4, I speak to Amendments Nos. 11, 13 and 64. These are technical amendments to Schedule 2 which specifies provisions of secondary legislation conferring functions on the Secretary of State which are transferred to the Inland Revenue. Column 3 of the schedule expressly excludes provisions conferring functions on the Secretary of State which are not being transferred.

Amendment No. 4 excepts regulation 36 of the Contributions Regulations, as the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, noted, as this relates to functions concerning credits which are not being transferred to the Inland Revenue.

Amendments Nos. 11 and 64 relate to the Employer's Contributions Reimbursement Regulations 1996 (S.I. 1996/145). These are made principally under Section 27 of the Jobseekers Act 1995, to which amendments are made by the Bill (paragraph 64 of Schedule 1: page 25, lines 34-35) to transfer functions from the Secretary of State to the Inland Revenue. Regulations 7, 8 and 9 each confer functions on the Secretary of State, all of which need to be conferred instead on the Inland Revenue. Hence their inclusion in Schedule 2.

Regulation 1(4) contains a definition which becomes redundant as a result of this transfer, and it is therefore revoked.

Section 150 of the Pensions Act 1995 (which extensively amended the Pensions Schemes Act 1993) dissolved the Occupational Pensions Board and conferred power to provide, in the relevant commencement order, for the exercise by other persons or bodies of any outstanding functions of the Board.

Articles 4 and 13 of the Pensions Act 1995 (Commencement No. 10) Order 1997 (S.I. 1997/664 (C.23)) conferred on the Secretary of State the functions of the Board under several provisions of the 1993 Act or regulations which were temporarily preserved.

To the extent that such functions still need to be discharged, they are exercised by officers of the Contributions Agency, and therefore need to be transferred to the Inland Revenue. Amendment No. 13 effects this transfer. I beg to move.

Lord Skelmersdale: As the noble Baroness said, regulation 36 of the Social Security (Contributions) Regulations 1979, deals with crediting class 3 contributions. However, it is an item which the Contributions Agency has to take into account in the operation of its duties. In other words, it has to know whether the money is owing, or whatever. I find it difficult to understand why this matter is excepted--in other words, why the Secretary of State is hanging on to the power.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: The noble Lord refers to regulation 36, which relates to functions concerning credits. We included it in the schedule to make clear that credit functions are to stay with the Secretary of State.

Lord Skelmersdale: I ask: why?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Credit functions, which can involve home responsibility payments

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through to proposals in the new pensions legislation for carers and the like, remain essentially a function of social security legislation, and therefore remain with the Secretary of State.

Lord Skelmersdale: But why? They affect total contributions when eventually they are assessed for the purposes of pension or whatever other contributory benefit one is about to receive.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Those are policy issues. As the noble Lord will understand, some of those credits do not go through the traditional route, with the employer responsible for noting them. By definition they are home based. It is not therefore an obvious function for an employer and therefore the Inland Revenue (vis-a-vis the employer) to collect that information. It is appropriately a matter for the Department of Social Security because it is analogous with information that the DSS would collect about income support or other income-related benefits.

I do not know whether that helps the noble Lord. It seems to me that the matter is in a different category from the employer-based NICs or contributory-based conditions when one needs to see what has been paid in order to determine eligibility for retirement pension. This is not an employment focused credit. In that sense it seems properly to remain with the Secretary of State. In other words, I am puzzled that the noble Lord is puzzled.

Lord Skelmersdale: For the moment we shall have to agree to disagree.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Skelmersdale moved Amendment No. 5:


Page 26, leave out lines 32 to 34.

The noble Lord said: Since the noble Baroness gave a comprehensive answer to Amendment No. 3, and because of the curious rules which we try to obey in this House, I have to move the amendment in order to withdraw it without the noble Baroness saying anything. I therefore beg to move.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: It was a consequence of the grouping. Had the noble Lord wished the amendments to be discussed separately, he would have taken them out of the grouping. That is why they were spoken to collectively.

Lord Skelmersdale: I readily understand that. I give notice that I do not intend at this stage of the Bill to move any of my other amendments. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 6 to 10 not moved.]

14 Jan 1999 : Column 296

Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved Amendment No. 11:


Page 27, line 24, at end insert--
("S.I. 1996/195.The Employer'sContributionsReimbursementRegulations 1996.Regulations 7, 8 and 9.")

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 12 not moved.]

Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved Amendment No. 13:


Page 27, line 51, at end insert--
("S.I. 1997/664 (C. 23)The Pensions Act 1995 (Commencement No. 10) Order 1997.Articles 4 and 13.")

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 14 not moved.]

Schedule 2, as amended, agreed to.

On Question, Whether Clause 2 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Higgins: I thought that discretion was the better part of valour during the previous debates. I am lost in admiration for my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale and the noble Baroness for her replies. They certainly seemed to be caviare for the general--although I have never understood what that meant.

I make a simple point on Clause 2. It reverts to an issue I raised earlier but may appropriately be responded to on this Question. I am still not clear why the matter is transferred from a Minister to an official. The issue may have some implications for parliamentary accountability. The institutional position of what were called the Next Step agencies, such as the DSS Contributions Agency, is not the same as that of the Inland Revenue. I simply do not understand why it has not been transferred to the Chancellor rather than to the Inland Revenue and its commissioners, who are not accountable in the same way.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Instead of the long answer perhaps I can offer the noble Lord a short one. Parliamentary accountability will not be diluted. The person responsible to Parliament for this activity is the Paymaster General. That will continue. However, the operational day-to-day functions will be exercised by the Board of Commissioners of the Inland Revenue. Of course, all high-level policy issues will be determined by the Chancellor, as the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, will know.

I am finding it a little difficult to put my finger on what is precisely worrying the noble Lord. It may be better for him to table a more open amendment at Report stage when we can then tease out some of his concerns. Nothing else is happening here that does not already exist; for example the Child Support Agency, the Next Steps Agency and so forth. I do not understand the noble Lord's concern about the dilution of parliamentary responsibility.


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