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Lord Swinfen: I shall read with care what the Minister said. I may return to this matter at a later stage. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Goodhart moved Amendment No. 59:


Before Clause 14, insert the following new clause--

SOCIAL SECURITY ADVISORY COMMITTEE

(" . Section 170 of the Social Security Administration Act 1992 (social security advisory committee) shall apply in connection with tax credits as if references in that section to the Secretary of State were references to the Treasury or the Board and as if this Act was one of the relevant enactments as defined in that section.")

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The noble Lord said: Section 170 of the Social Security Administration Act requires the Social Security Advisory Committee to give advice to the Secretary of State in connection with the discharge of his functions under the relevant enactments. Those enactments are defined to include the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act which continues to be the primary legislation governing the WFTC in the same way as it now governs family credit.

Section 170 also authorises the Secretary of State to ask the committee for advice. The effect of the Bill is that the Secretary of State will cease to have functions in relation to tax credits under the contributions and benefits Act because those functions will have been transferred to either the Treasury or the Board of the Inland Revenue. Nothing in the Bill provides for the committee to give advice to the Treasury or the Board of the Inland Revenue.

A similar point arises under Section 172 of the Social Security Administration Act which requires the Secretary of State to refer to the committee in draft any regulations that he proposes to make. By an oversight, my amendment does not refer to Section 172 but I assure the Committee that if we bring back the amendment on Report, we shall certainly include on that occasion a reference to Section 172 as well as to Section 170.

On Section 172, of course, it will not be the Secretary of State who makes draft regulations in relation to tax credits. So there will be no obligation to refer those draft regulations to the committee. One may ask rhetorically: why is it that the committee is excluded from this role in relation to tax credits? Surely, the Treasury and the Inland Revenue will need advice as much as the Department of Social Security does at present, and indeed probably more so, because the Treasury and the Inland Revenue will be less familiar with what I might call broadly benefit issues than is the DSS. Surely, the committee performs a valuable role and it should be allowed to continue to do so. I beg to move the amendment.

9.45 p.m.

Lord Higgins: I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. As the amendment refers to the Secretary of State, it echoes the debate earlier which also referred to the Secretary of State. I have often wondered why we do not say, in legislation, which Secretary of State is concerned. In the debate on Clause 15, as I understand it, it was the Secretary of State for Education, whereas in this context presumably it is not the Secretary of State for Education but another Secretary of State.

The curiosity is that if it is the Chancellor of the Exchequer, apparently he is not included within the category of Secretary of State. The noble Lord, in his amendment, seeks to widen the reference to include the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I believe that he is right in saying that the Inland Revenue, the board and the Chancellor are more likely to be in need of advice from the Social Security Advisory Committee than is, for example, the noble Baroness who, I gather, will reply to the debate.

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Ever since I took up my present task on the Front Bench on social security matters, I have had the impression that increasingly less work is being given to the Social Security Advisory Committee. We discussed a Bill last year which appeared to exclude the committee. Can the Minister say whether it is the Government's intention that it should have an important role? Can she also say, in the context of the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, whether it is important, given the switch from the Department of Social Security and its Secretary of State to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that the committee should be concerned with the Inland Revenue and the other departments?

Earl Russell: Perhaps I can say a brief word in support of my noble friend's amendment. Although I did not have the privilege of hearing the debate on Clause 2 stand part on the first day in Committee, I have read Hansard.

I understand that the Minister does not think that there will be a big culture problem between the two departments. However, there are bound to be adjustments. In making those adjustments, I believe that the advice of the Social Security Advisory Committee would be extremely valuable. Inevitably, there will have to be some marrying up of cultures and some adjustment in the process. I believe that some outside comment on how the system is working would be extremely valuable to the Government as well as to us.

In addressing the Minister, I do not need to stress the value and quality of reports of the Social Security Advisory Committee. The noble Baroness and I have spoken to those reports enough times for me to know that she is as well aware of their quality as I am.

We shall need a great deal of expert advice on regulations as they come forward. In any other field, I know of no advice that is quite as independent, as expert and as regularly available as that we receive from the Social Security Advisory Committee. The Minister may say that this is a work incentive and not a benefit, but if she looks at reports by the Social Security Advisory Committee in 1993 on the role of incentives in the benefits system she will see that those are some of the best reports produced by that committee. They suggest to me that the committee will be entirely at home, within its cultural remit, in working in this area. It could save the Government a great deal of trouble in the future. They might perhaps like that.

Lord Swinfen: I wonder whether, on this amendment, the Minister can answer a question I posed earlier to which I do not recall receiving a reply. The Treasury spends its time trying to cut down the costs of the other ministries. With that in mind, and with the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Cabinet, I asked what Minister in the Cabinet would be arguing for those who are in need of both these tax credits. Who will be fighting to make certain that these people receive high enough tax credits? Or will it be entirely up to the Chancellor of the Exchequer?

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The nature of the Chancellor's job--I am not being personal because it will apply to whichever government are in office--is to make certain that the Treasury outgoings are reduced to the lowest possible level. Which Minister in the Cabinet will be fighting to make certain that the people who qualify for tax credits receive sufficiently high credits?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: The proposed new clause seeks to provide broadly that Section 170 of the Social Security Administration Act shall apply to tax credits. That provision establishes the role of the Social Security Advisory Committee. Its role is to advise the Secretary of State for Social Security in connection with the carrying out of his functions. The new clause therefore proposes to extend the remit of the committee to providing advice to another department--the Board of Inland Revenue. The SSAC at the moment has no remit but to advise the Secretary of State.

Perhaps I can say that I defer to no one in my admiration for the work of the Social Security Advisory Committee. I have attended its meetings. I have the highest regard for Thomas Boyd-Carpenter, who chairs it. I agree that the report of 1993, which I know well, was a powerful one and, indeed, a reading of the latest annual report of the committee, which I am sure Members of the Committee have read, confirms our high estimate of its work.

The committee has regularly not only discussed regulations that come to it from the Department of Social Security which are traditionally at some distance from a Bill and therefore not open to the usual scrutiny in that regard; but it has also taken on board discussion of specific issues, reflected on them and reported. All of that is highly valuable.

At the moment, SSAC currently has no remit to do anything other than advise the Secretary of State. "Secretary of State" is a generic term because obviously it is the Prime Minister who allocates specific responsibilities to specific departments. The Board of Inland Revenue is a statutory body.

Lord Higgins: Perhaps I may interrupt the noble Baroness; it may avoid her taking longer on the point later on. The Minister is rightly saying which Secretary of State is determined in the way she described. But, for example, in relation to Clause 15 there is reference to the Secretary of State who is in fact the Secretary of State for Education as I understand it. Presumably on the basis of what she has just said--namely, that the Social Security Advisory Committee is to give advice to the Secretary of State for Social Security--it would be precluded from giving advice to the Secretary of State mentioned in Clause 15.

It has always seemed to me odd that one should not be more specific in legislation, making clear to which Secretary of State one is referring in any given context. In any event, can the noble Baroness say whether the Social Security Advisory Committee will be able to advise the Secretary of State referred to in Clause 15?


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