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Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 108:

Page 17, line 37, leave out ("authorities or")

The noble Lord said: This is a simple amendment. The clause refers to,

Amendment No. 109 is grouped with Amendment No. 108. I believe that everything done in Part II of the Bill should be consistent with everything done in Part I.

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I thought that should be explicit rather than implicit and that is the only reason for that amendment. I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: For the purposes of council tax benefit subsidy limitation, the Secretary of State will determine criteria to decide whether the budget requirement is excessive. When determining these criteria the Secretary of State may refer to whatever factors he sees fit.

Amendment No. 108 would ensure that these factors could apply only to categories of authorities and not to different authorities.

Amendment No. 109 would additionally require the Secretary of State to determine categories of authorities that were consistent with Clause 1 of this Bill, that being the section which defines best value authorities, including various types of local authorities, police authorities and fire authorities.

This year, we used the same criteria and factors for all authorities. However, a few authorities pointed out that there were particular circumstances which applied only to their individual authority and argued that these should be taken into account.

Although we did not agree that this was right for this year, it is possible that in future years there might be good reasons for differentiating an individual authority because of its particular circumstances. This flexibility is needed to ensure that the Secretary of State can act fairly. I should remind noble Lords that the Secretary of State is under a duty, enforceable by the courts, to act consistently in relation to different authorities. I therefore ask the noble Lord to withdraw Amendment No. 108.

We would agree that it may also be right in future years, in the interests of fairness, to have different factors for different categories of authorities. Where that is the case, it might be necessary to have categories of authorities other than those we intend to be listed in Clause 1 of this Bill. In addition, Clause 1 includes a number of categories of authorities which will be best value authorities but not covered by the council tax benefit subsidy limitation scheme, and the read-across is not helpful.

Amendment No. 109 also represents, therefore, an unnecessary restriction to flexibility. I hope the noble Lord will feel able not to press it.

Lord Dixon-Smith: I am grateful to the Minister for her explanation, which I shall study. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 109 not moved.]

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 110:

Page 17, line 41, after ("State") insert (", after consultation with best value authorities,")

The noble Lord said: This is a fairly standard request to include in consultation. Clause 30(4) states:

    "The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision"

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    I seek to add the words,

    "after consultation with best value authorities". We have been seeking to include this throughout the Bill and this is yet another instance where I have made that request. There is no need to explain it again. I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: Amendment No. 110 would require the Secretary of State to consult best value authorities before making the regulations requiring major precepting authorities to pay their contribution to the costs of council tax benefit to billing authorities.

As I have previously explained, the provisions in Part II do not apply to all best value authorities and I presume again that the amendment is intended to apply only to those authorities potentially subject to council tax benefit subsidy limitation and covered by Clause 30.

We have already discussed the importance of central and local government working closely together. The Government do consult or discuss issues with local authorities or their representatives whenever it is appropriate. However, as I said earlier, setting out this requirement in a legal instrument is neither helpful nor necessary. In this case it represents an unnecessary restriction. I therefore ask the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Dixon-Smith: Once again, I am grateful to the Minister for her explanation and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 111:

Page 18, line 31, leave out ("60(8)") and insert ("70(8)")

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 111 is a minor, technical amendment to correct a numbering error to ensure that this Bill and the Greater London Authority Bill are consistent. The Liberal Democrat Benches may recognise that it is an amendment which their colleagues in another place put forward but which we persuaded them to withdraw at that point in case there were any other numbering changes. This is the same as the Liberal Democrat amendment and I trust that it will therefore receive universal acclaim. I beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee: I thank the Minister for taking the point on board--a small triumph!

On Question, amendment agreed to.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 112:

Page 18, line 35, leave out subsection (11)

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 112, I should explain that I find it slightly strange. Here we are in the middle of May debating a Bill which may come into effect some time later this year--let us not put a date on it--and subsection (11) reads:

    "In its application as regards the financial year beginning with 1st April 1999 this section shall have effect".

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    We are now way past 1st April 1999 and I find myself wondering whether we are behaving in a normal and consistent fashion in what I can only describe as producing a bit of post facto legislation. It may be that there is a perfectly normal and rational explanation for this which is important. If there is I shall be glad to hear it. I beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee: I can see that there is a difficulty with the particular amendment because it would leave a problem with regard to who bears the cost of the new scheme in the current financial year. Having said that, the noble Lord is absolutely right to remind the Committee of--I cannot say "impropriety" because that would be putting it too high. However, it is certainly undesirable that we have passed the start of a financial year and are having to deal with regulations at the level of primary legislation after the start of that year. It would have been much more satisfactory if we had been able to deal with the whole of the council tax benefit limitation scheme before the year in which it was to start to take effect.

Lord Whitty: In response to the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, I can give a rational explanation but whether I can give a normal one may be another matter. We are in the same bind as with the previous amendment. We have a scheme that has been perfectly legitimately advanced under the existing regulations, but from which the precepting authorities would be in an anomalous situation were we not to make provision for them.

The amendment would not have the effect the noble Lord intends. It would not prevent the council tax benefit subsidy limitation scheme operating for 1999-2000 as that is provided for under Clause 30(7) rather than Clause 30(11). That scheme is already established. Local authorities, both billing authorities and major precepting authorities, have set their budgets knowing that that is established for this year and, if they have exceeded the guideline for the scheme, they are collecting their contribution to council tax benefit cost now.

The clause is required simply to ensure that major preceptors which may have exceeded the guideline should pay their contribution to their billing authorities. Amending a clause to prevent them from so doing would simply lead to a shortfall which would have to be made up next year by either or both the preceptor or the billing authorities. That would not leave us in a more rational situation; it would leave us in a less rational situation. In general, I fully accept the strictures about supposedly retrospective legislation but this is a consequence of a power that the Government already had. It is tidying up the effect of that power and making sure the cost lies where it should. I would therefore ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Dixon-Smith: I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation. The amendment only becomes irrational if it happens to succeed and, since I have no intention of pressing it, it is not irrational at all. It enabled me to make the point that this retrospection post facto

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legislation is undesirable. That is what I wish to do and it indicates yet another area of concern about this whole scheme. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 30, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 31 to 33 agreed to.

Schedule 2 agreed to.

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Remaining clauses agreed to.

Title agreed to.

Bill reported with amendments.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Chesham): That concludes the Committee's proceedings on the Bill.

        The Committee adjourned at nineteen minutes past six o'clock.

12 May 1999 : Column CWH107

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