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Baroness Pitkeathley: My Lords, perhaps I too may express my congratulations to the Government on dealing with this matter with such despatch. It is perhaps not easy for those of us with an adequate income or maybe an understanding bank manager to understand how difficult it can be for people who are completely dependent on benefits when there is a delay in payment of them. The speed with which this matter has been concluded is a matter for congratulation.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I am grateful for the warm response from all sides of the House. I am delighted that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State felt able to respond to a matter which has been a concern for some time but which was highlighted at the Public Accounts Committee, as well as in debates in your Lordships' House. I am particularly grateful for the kind words of my noble friends and for the welcome from the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart.

Perhaps I may seek to answer some of the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Higgins. The total numbers we are talking about are as follows. In the case of retirement pensioners, the figure is around 178,000. Many pensioners will already be receiving their full amount because it has been manually calculated or because they already have sufficient contributions, even without the last year, to float them off the need for that additional information. There are 163,000 people in SERPS affected, and they will be dealt with and paid in exactly the same way as those on RPs. In the case of

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widow's benefit, there are something like 27,000 people affected. Up to about 27,000 people on incapacity benefit are affected. I say "up to" in all these cases because some people have already received their sums and some have been topped up by income support, which they will not necessarily now have to repay, and so on. Our best estimate of the total sum involved is between about £3 million and £4 million.

The noble Lord pressed me about the point concerning a "reasonable" delay. The details of the scheme will be made more widely available next week and in the forthcoming weeks. The point of using that word was to draw a distinction between what I would call a casual delay, such as when someone delays giving information or is away for a few days, or possibly even when some benefits are paid a fortnight in arrears, and the unreasonable and unacceptable delay which has been caused by the NIRS 2 computer. It is meant to be a decent and generous scheme and not a weasel-like way to protect ourselves against that kind of situation.

The noble Lord asked what the situation would be when someone chose to defer drawing down their state pension in order to gain from the additional 7.5 per cent. extra per year paid for each year of deferment in drawing down the old age pension, that being how the annuity rates balance out. In all fairness, I do not think that someone who was 66, say, could ask for their pension to be paid in November 1998 and, because of the delay, receive arrears and compensation, and then, having done a "best buy" calculation, say: "Thank you very much, but please ignore my request for it to be paid in November; I will have it paid as of August 1999 and as a result receive a higher annuity rate in perpetuity". The point at which a person says they wish to draw down their pension will be taken as evidence of their stated intention and the ordinary arrears and compensation payments will kick in as a result. I hope that that makes the situation clear.

Finally, I again thank the House for its warm welcome. I am delighted that the Government recognise that, as a result of this, many elderly people, widows and people on incapacity benefit will have suffered not only stress but worry and distress. We are offering a helpline: we can give details of that to people who wish to make enquiries. I am delighted that the Government felt able to recognise this problem, even though it was not a problem of the Government's making but one that they inherited. The response has, in my view, been a decent and generous one.

Lord Higgins: I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 11 [Appeals against decisions of Board]:

Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved Amendment No. 2:

Page 6, line 3, leave out ("10(1)(b)") and insert ("10(1)(b) or (c)").

The noble Baroness said: This is a technical amendment. Noble Lords will recall that at Report stage we inserted a new paragraph (c) in Clause 10(1) so that a decision which had been confirmed or varied on

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appeal might be superseded in limited circumstances. This amendment now adds a reference in Clause 11(1) to that new paragraph (c) to make good the assurance I gave on Report (at col. 821 of Hansard) that a superseded decision would itself carry a right of appeal to the tax appeal commissioners. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 3 [Transfer of other functions to Treasury or Board]:

Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved Amendment No. 3:

Page 31, line 37, leave out from ("regulations"") to end of line 39.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this amendment simply removes from paragraph 12 of Schedule 3 some words which become redundant as a result of changes made to the text just before the Bill's introduction but which were unfortunately not noticed and taken out. I beg to move this technical amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 9 [Further consequential amendments]:

Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved Amendment No. 4:

Page 56, line 5, leave out ("5(4)(f)(v)") and insert ("5(4)(f)(iv)").

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 4, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 5. These are two technical amendments, both concerned with adjustments made by the Bill in the Debtors (Scotland) Act 1987--with which I am sure the entire House is familiar! The first amendment puts right an incorrect reference to a sub-paragraph in Section 5(4)(f) of that Act. The second averts the unintended repeal of two provisions in the Social Security Act 1998 which made consequential amendments to the 1987 Act. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 10 [Repeals and Revocations]:

Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved Amendment No. 5:

Page 59, line 20, column 3, leave out ("12, 14,").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Am amendment (privilege) made.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass. Today's debate brings us to the conclusion of our scrutiny of the Bill. We have had some very wide-ranging debates, covering subjects as diverse as the direction of social security reform, the Contributions Agency's computer systems and some of the more esoteric regulations which underpin the social security system. I do not wish to take any more of your Lordships' time in rounding off those discussions.

Let me begin by reminding the House of the purpose of this Bill. This Bill will transfer the Contributions Agency to the Inland Revenue. This will enable businesses and individuals to sort out their tax and contributions questions through a single government department. The two organisations will be able to combine their expertise and resources on customer service and compliance.

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The Bill will also transfer responsibility for policy on national insurance contributions from the Department of Social Security to the Treasury and the Inland Revenue, along with control and management of the National Insurance Fund. It will also provide a single focus for discussion of improved legislation guidance and procedures. Over time, it will make it easier to achieve a gradual alignment of the tax and NIC rules.

As we have discussed, the Bill also provides for appeals on national insurance contributions matters to be heard by general and special tax appeal commissioners. As I have said, this is largely in response to points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, during the passage of the Social Security Act 1998.

In our consideration of this Bill we have had some useful and at times highly technical debates. I am grateful for the constructive spirit--reflected again today--with which noble Lords have approached these. This has been one of the first Bills where new style explanatory notes have been published alongside the Bill. I am pleased that noble Lords have said that they found them helpful in assisting their preparation for these debates.

In comparison with some social security debates relatively few noble Lords have spoken but I like to think that we have made up in quality what we lacked in quantity. The noble Lord, Lord Higgins, has brought his considerable Treasury experience to bear in both his questioning and his knowledge of tax and pensions matters. The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, has similarly brought her experience of social security to these debates with good effect.

It has been extremely valuable--if sometimes a little embarrassing--to have the experience of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, particularly on Part II of this Bill. I am sure he will be remembered--certainly within the department--for some time for his triumph in spotting a missing consequential amendment. He pointed out the matter to us in Committee when he was on his feet, and we rectified it at Report. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, has been unusually, though not totally, quiet in our debates--but I am sure that his vow of silence will not last for long in social security matters. I have been grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, for his tireless attention to detail and pursuit of clarity, particularly on Schedule 2 to the Bill. Finally, I would like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, for her continual assistance and support at my side--even if at times she thought she was running a marathon between here and the Box as the technical questions flowed.

I said in my speech at Second Reading that this was a technical and largely mechanical Bill. I am sure that noble Lords would agree with me that that assessment was correct. But as the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, said at Second Reading, it is precisely the technical Bills that need detailed scrutiny. I believe this House has given this Bill that scrutiny and that it can go to another place for consideration in better shape. I thank noble Lords who have helped in this work.

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