: I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time".
This Bill is a technical one. Its purpose is to clarify the law in relation to the determination and making of rates by local authorities and to ensure the validity of rates determined or made in recent years. Perhaps Deputies would bear with me while I explain the background and details of the Bill.
Local authorities have raised questions recently about the timescale within which local authorities must make the rate. Section 29 of the Local Government Act, 1946, requires that a rate be made "either immediately prior to or at the beginning of each local financial year". A later enactment—the City and County Management (Amendment) Act, 1955 — reinforced this by requiring local authorities to prepare estimates prior to the beginning of the year to which they relate.
The derating of domestic dwellings and certain other property in 1978 created a different situation. Deputies will be aware that the Local Government (Financial Provisions) Act of that year gave a power of direction to the Minister for the Environment in regard to the level of rate poundage increases. The local authority estimates cycle therefore had to await decisions on national budgetary measures which were generally not made until the beginning of the calendar year and, in the exceptional circumstances of this year and last, until well into the year. The 1978 Act recognised this problem and purported to deal with it. Section 14 of that Act provided that a local authority could prepare an estimate in the financial year to which the estimate relates notwithstanding the contrary provisions of the 1955 Act. The 1978 Act went further. It allowed local authorities to spend up to one-half of the previous year's budget pending the adoption of the estimate and rate. The 1978 Act, therefore, clearly envisaged and provided for the estimates cycle taking place in the year to which the estimate relates. Moreover, local authorities must prepare their estimates in a period prescribed by the Minister by order. Ministerial orders in recent years have set estimates periods which have ended as late as 15 May. The preparation of estimates is an essential prelude to the making of the rate. Nevertheless, local authorities have asked that the law be clarified as regards consistency in the provisions relating to the preparation of estimates and the making of rates.
Part of the urgency in relation to the Bill arises from the fact that local authorities are already in the process of determining and making the rates for this year and it is desirable that the law be clarified urgently.
I should say that I would prefer that local authorities should be allowed to prepare estimates and make rates much earlier than in recent years — preferably before the commencement of the financial year. This makes for better budgetary planning and earlier flow of rates and other revenues. This Government have as an objective the bringing forward of the national estimates cycle and this will facilitate the setting of earlier estimates cycles for local authorities. The timing of the two most recent general elections has meant that this year and last the estimates cycles have been much later than one would have wished for. The main purpose of the Bill is to deal with that situation and to remove any doubt about the validity of the rates for those years. It will not in any way hinder the adoption of an earlier cycle for further years.
I commend the Bill to the House.