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Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, the Minister need not apologise for referring to my noble friends as Liberals, because we are, and, as it happens, the amendment is about democracy. The Minister said that central government have an obligation to protect the local taxpayer. Our response is to ask why, to what extent, and when. At this late hour I will not pursue the matter further. However, with regard to the referendum amendment, I think I am right in saying that the turnout in the Milton Keynes referendum was rather high. These powers are referred to as reserve powers. Yet again, the problem we are faced with is that there is nothing to say, "Oh, but the Secretary of State will use these powers only in the most extreme circumstances". We accept that they have not been used this year. There are very good political reasons for their not being used this year. This is somewhat the equivalent of Mandy Rice-Davies--he wouldn't, would he, not this year.

We may wish to come back to this point, knowing that there are fundamental differences between us which I do not think we will resolve. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 38 not moved.]

Schedule 1 [Limitation of Council Tax and Precepts]:

[Amendments Nos. 39 and 40 not moved.]

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Clause 30 [Major precepting authorities: further regulation]:

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 41:

Page 17, line 17, after ("applies") insert ("for the purpose of eliminating any liability of a billing authority as a consequence of the limitation of council tax benefit subsidy resulting from a decision taken by a precepting authority").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have tabled Amendment No. 41 because in my view Clause 30 is outwith the Long Title of the Bill. Therefore, some explanation as to why it is here should appear within the Bill. The Long Title states:

    "Make provision imposing on local and certain other authorities requirements relating to economy, efficiency and effectiveness; and to make provision for the regulation of council tax and precepts". Clause 30 has nothing to do with economy, efficiency and effectiveness; nor does it have anything to do with the regulation of council tax precepts. It is in the Bill to put right a wrong. It is necessary because the Government have acted in haste and have thereby created an anomaly.

Until the Government introduced changes that have made Clause 30 necessary, all social security benefits were paid exclusively by the Exchequer. That is no longer the case. Council tax benefit, which 6.5 million people receive in England, Scotland and Wales, is dependent on the level of a locally determined tax. Because of that fact, the Government decided that they would pay council tax benefit only up to limits that they decided to determine. After that, if the council tax rises to a greater degree, that national benefit falls on the local taxpayer. That is a major change in the way in which the country does its business.

There may be plausible arguments as to why that change should have been made. But in making it, the Government have found that they have created an anomaly. Council tax benefit subsidy is paid to council tax billing authorities, which pass it on to the recipients. But council tax rises not exclusively at the behest of the decisions of the billing authorities. There are precepting authorities which precept on the billing authorities. If their precept rises too far, the power exists and can be used to hold up the subsidy. But because the subsidy is paid to the billing authority, that leaves the billing authority with a hole in its finances. Under the existing law there is no power under which the precepting authority can pay that deficit--it does not have the legal power to do so--when it has actually caused the problem. That is the reason why Clause 30 is in the Bill. This is a convenient place to put it. It is relevant in that it is a local government matter in part.

I am grateful to the Minister for meeting me earlier this week, during what has been a very busy time for him. We had some fruitful discussions. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, was also present. I was grateful for the time and consideration that were given. I do not know whether we can come to a satisfactory conclusion to this matter, but I have still not seen a better one than the amendment that I have proposed.

There were suggestions that the matter might be dealt with by some clear explanation in the Explanatory Notes to the Bill. But having examined them further, I do not

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think that that would be satisfactory. Paragraph 1 carries with it a government health warning in the final sentence; namely, that the notes,

    "do not form part of the Bill and have not been endorsed by Parliament". So to attempt to go down that route would not be satisfactory.

I am therefore looking for some provision, not merely by way of assurance but on the face of the Bill, that gives a sufficient explanation as to why this particular clause should be here. As I have said, it is my view that it is outwith the Long Title of the Bill. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the noble Lord correctly describes the anomaly which required this clause to be included and the reasons behind it. Therefore, I believe that he recognises the need for this provision. His concern is that the legislation is not clear. I fear that much of our legislation may not be particularly clear and that lawyers need legal encyclopaedias, let alone the innovation of our Explanatory Notes to explain what was intended. The noble Lord dismisses the role of Explanatory Notes. However, it is important to recognise that this innovation was brought in in order to help the reader of new legislation. The notes will not alter the purport of the legislation but they will clarify what it is about. Since the noble Lord seeks to clarify the position rather than change the effect of what is already in the legislation, I would have thought that the Explanatory Notes met his objective.

At present paragraph 12 of the existing version of the Explanatory Notes seeks to explain that any shortfall in council tax benefit arising from large increases in council tax falls on the authority responsible rather than--if we do not have this change--solely on the billing authority. Any reader who needs clarification of Clause 30 can therefore look at the notes. I take the noble Lord's point that perhaps that explanation is not sufficient. However, I do not accept his point about the status of the notes. If he is concerned that the status of the notes is not sufficiently clear, or that the disavowal makes them inappropriate for the purposes of clarification, as distinct from the purposes of substantive powers or functions, there is a longstanding tradition that Hansard has some effect in clarifying the intent of the provision. Therefore, for the record we intend to revise paragraph 12 which, subject to minor drafting changes, would read along the following lines:

    "In addition, the Bill will contain provisions to require major precepting authorities to make payments to their billing authorities. Under the Council Tax Benefit Subsidy Limitation Scheme, local authorities which make increases in council tax above a guideline set by the Secretary of State are required to make a contribution to the council tax benefit costs. Clause 30 is needed to ensure that, where a major precepting authority exceeds the guideline, it pays the contribution to its billing authority since they are responsible for the administration of council tax benefit".

I believe that that extends the explanation. It is now in Hansard and I hope, therefore, that if clarification is all that the noble Lord seeks--he has never said that he seeks anything else--that is extant and he will not pursue the amendment.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for his explanation, which I shall study

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carefully. He may well have answered every point that is of concern to me; if so, he will hear no more of the matter. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Scottish Parliament (Assistance for Registered Political Parties) Order 1999

The Scotland Act 1998 (Modifications of Schedules 4 and 5) Order 1999

The Scotland Act 1998 (Transfer of Functions to the Scottish Ministers etc.) Order 1999

The Scotland Act 1998 (Border Rivers) Order 1999

The Scotland Act 1998 (Cross-Border Public Authorities)(Adaptation of Functions etc.) Order 1999

The Scotland Act 1998 (Functions Exercisable in or as Regards Scotland) Order 1999

The Scotland Act 1998 (Modification of Functions) Order 1999

The Scotland Act 1998 (Consequential Modifications) (No. 2) Order 1999

10.2 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (Lord Sewel) rose to move, That the draft orders laid before the House on 26th May be approved [21st Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move en bloc the Motions standing in my name on the Order Paper. We are reduced to a happy but merry band. We have come to the end of a long road which started in September 1997 when we first debated the referendum Bill. Tonight we are debating the final set of orders that implement the devolution settlement. It has been a long road with many twists and turns upon it. Some of those who have participated in the debate have finished up at their desired destinations; others, alas, have not.

The eight draft orders under the Scotland Act for approval today form a vital part of the legislative package required to deliver devolution for Scotland. To reflect the interface between the Scottish Parliament and the administration several of these draft orders require

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the agreement of this Parliament and the Scottish Parliament. The orders before us this evening were debated and approved by the Scottish Parliament on 2nd and 3rd June.

Perhaps I may briefly describe the main contents of the various orders. The Scotland Act 1998 (Modifications of Schedules 4 and 5) Order 1999 adjusts in a number of areas the matters in relation to which the Parliament will have legislative competence so as to extend or clarify its powers.

The Scotland Act 1998 (Functions Exercisable in or as Regards Scotland) Order 1999 assists in ensuring the devolution of functions to the Scottish Ministers either through Section 53 of the Scotland Act, because they relate to devolved matters, or by the Executive Devolution Order under Section 63. In particular, it clarifies cases where there might be doubt as to whether a function is or is not exercisable as regards Scotland. This clarification is necessary to ensure that the relevant function will or will not devolve. Your Lordships may consider that that is a fairly fundamental point.

The Scotland Act 1998 (Modification of Functions) Order 1999, modifies enactments to facilitate the transfer of functions to the Scottish Ministers under Sections 53 or 63 of the Scotland Act.

The Scotland Act 1998 (Transfer of Functions to the Scottish Ministers etc.) Order 1999 provides for what has generally become known as "executive devolution", that is the devolution to the Scottish Ministers of powers and duties in relation to reserved matters. It is important to note that these functions will be additional to those relating to devolved matters which will transfer to the Scottish Ministers automatically by virtue of Section 53 of the Scotland Act. What we are concerned with in this draft order is the transfer of executive powers and duties in areas where primary legislation will continue to be a matter for this Parliament. In exercising these functions, the Scottish Ministers will, of course, be accountable to the Scottish Parliament.

The Scotland Act 1998 (Consequential Modifications) (No. 2) Order 1999 makes a variety of amendments to legislation to take account of the Act for the simple reason that a great deal of legislation that had been previously enacted was obviously enacted at a time when devolution was but a glimmer in the eye. Therefore, these provisions take account of the fact that devolution is now a reality.

The Scotland Act 1998 (Cross-Border Public Authorities) (Adaptation of Functions etc.) Order 1999 puts in place customised arrangements for the control and accountability of certain public authorities which have been specified as cross-border public authorities.

The Scotland Act (Border Rivers) Order 1999 makes provision for whole river management of the Tweed and Esk Rivers. Briefly, it means that the Tweed will be treated as a Scottish river while the Esk will be treated as an English river.

The Scottish Parliament (Assistance for Registered Political Parties) Order 1999 provides for the Scottish parliamentary corporate body to make payments to

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qualifying political parties for the purpose of assisting members of the Parliament who are connected with such parties to perform their parliamentary duties.

At this stage it is sufficient for me to have given that brief account of the content of the orders and their purpose. I shall respond to matters of detail that noble Lords may wish to make. I beg to move.

Moved, that the draft orders laid before the House on 26th May be approved [21st Report from the Joint Committee].--(Lord Sewel.)

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