New clause 6 - Administration

Part of Housing Benefit (Withholding of Payment) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:45 pm on 11 July 2002.

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Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Shadow Spokesperson (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister), Shadow Minister (Olympics and London), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Olympics and London), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister) 4:45, 11 July 2002

Thank you, Mr. O'Hara.

New clause 6 deals with the administration of this process. I think that when hon. Members read it they will be surprised, because it proposes an unusual way to administer housing benefits. It will link things back to the Secretary of State. It will be a very centralised system.

Unfortunately, we will not debate this at length now—although we might do so at a later stage. However, I am concerned that this administrative process will be complicated, and it will not work. It could be argued that I should be delighted that the Government are taking this approach, because it might prevent what I believe to be an unfair system from operating. However, we should do our jobs properly, so I suggest that the Minister explains why the Government have gone down this road of centralisation, and why local authorities are, effectively, being bypassed. My study of the notes leads me to believe that that is the intention. Who in the Minister's Department will do all of the tasks that are set out in new clause 6?

The Government might have learned to their cost that messing around too often with the administration of housing benefit creates problems at the local level, and they might not wish to add further problems to those that they have already created. However, between now and Report, the Government should

think about whether this really is the administrative route that they want to go down. I would also be interested to know whether the right hon. Member for Birkenhead considers it to be the most sensible route, because I think that there are problems with it.