I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.
This is an amendment identified in the process of consultation with independent counsel which gave rise to the other amendments brought forward by the Government in the Lords. I should like to take a little time to explain the reasoning behind this amendment.
Hon. Members who have followed the discussion of the Bill will remember that in Committee there was much discussion of the priority likely to be attached to different applications for payments from the social fund. Establishing the relative priority of applications is important, to ensure that the funds available to social fund officers at a given local office are used to best effect, so that, as far as is possible, in that office eligible applications of similar priority are treated similarly over the course of the year.
As part of this process, we were advised that it would be helpful for social fund officers to have guidance to which they could turn, and which made specific reference to the conditions and circumstances prevailing in their local office. Obviously, this is best done by a senior official working in that local office. We shall therefore be requiring local office managers to draw up guidance on the different priorities of various types of applications to their local office. This will help them to manage their budget over the course of the year and to ensure that similar applications are treated similarly.
For the sake of consistency, social fund inspectors clearly also need to take account of such local priorities. It is worth reiterating that nothing that we are proposing here will limit the discretion of a social fund officer. The amendment is aimed at being helpful to social fund officers in their determination of applications and at supporting them in the exercise of their discretion.