Draft Scotland Act 1998 (Transfer of Functions to the Scottish Ministers etc.) and (Modifications of Schedule 5) Order 2002

[back to previous text]

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): What is the relationship with the Treasury? Does it have any residual powers in such matters?

Mr. Foulkes: The Treasury has residual powers in everything, in that money must be made available through a block or specific grant, for example, or consequentials. The Treasury is ultimately responsible for all expenditure in the United Kingdom, but this money will come out of money allocated by the Treasury through various means to the Scottish Executive.

There is no comparison between public support for services between the highlands and islands and Northern Ireland and other services to points outwith Scotland. Such comparisons have been made but are not relevant.

Mr. Dalyell: May I confirm that the Treasury can veto projects if necessary?

Mr. Foulkes: I would not describe the power as a veto, which would be entirely to misconstrue it. My understanding is that, once the money is made available, it is up to the Scottish Executive to make the decisions.

I was talking about the other ferry services. Such services are operated on a commercial basis, within a competitive market and with no requirement for an operating subsidy. The Government see no economic or legal justification for using public funds to interfere in that arrangement. Neither the Government nor, I understand, the Scottish Executive consider that there is a need to add to the Scottish Executive's economic development role by providing them with powers to support ferry services other than those that come within the scope of the order.

Both orders give additional powers to the Scottish Executive. One concerns railways and the other affects ferries and associated economic development functions. Both are sensible and entirely consistent with our scheme of devolution. I wholeheartedly recommend them to the Committee and the House.

4.50 pm

Mr. Knight: I am pleased that the reach of the Leader of the House has touched this Committee. I served with the right hon. Gentleman on the Modernisation Committee, and it is right and proper that many of our procedures should be examined. That is particularly so when, as in this instance, a small

Column Number: 009

change in common practice can bring about much benefit for right hon. and hon. Members; it can help them to understand what is under consideration without having to grill Ministers on every aspect of the issue. I repeat what I have said in another arena: I applaud what the Leader of the House is seeking to do in many areas of modernisation. I also thank the Minister for providing a full explanatory memorandum, which has been helpful to Members on both sides.

My hon. Friend the Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale was referred to earlier. Hon. Members who have served in the House for any length of time will know that it is often impossible to attend every forum that we are entitled to attend in the discharge of our parliamentary duties. My hon. Friend has spoken to me about today's proceedings, and he asked me to make his apologies for not being here; he is attending a meeting in Glasgow that is pertinent to his work in the House.

I shall deal first with the Scotland Act 1998 (Transfer of Functions to the Scottish Ministers etc.) Order 2002. The Minister was good enough to point out—I shall use his phrase—that it is not a complete devolution in that Ministers will have reserved powers. I do not object to Ministers of the Crown at Westminster having powers concurrent with those of Scottish Ministers, but I will he tell the Committee why it was thought appropriate to proceed in that way with the orders?

Although the explanatory memorandum refers to the Campbeltown and Ballycastle ferry service, will the Minister confirm that the order does not restrict itself specifically to that ferry service, and that it is therefore wider than might be inferred from the explanatory memorandum? I understand that the original ferry service was set up with the aid of large European grants, but that the service struggled for a while and the big blow came when the ferry was taken out of service and diverted to the Isle of Man route during the TT races. That caused considerable public inconvenience, because no ferry service was available at the height of the season. Indeed, I understand that many motorists who were unaware of that turned up at the ferry and then had to undertake a detour of some 140 miles.

David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde): Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the Committee who wrote the contracts for the tendering of the ferry service that resulted in that patchy service and its being diverted to the TT races? In case he cannot remember, I can tell him that it was one of his former right hon. Friends, who is now a noble Lord.

Mr. Knight: Any lawyer involved in drawing up contracts knows that when a commercial activity gets under way things often do not go to plan, and I accept that difficulties can arise that were not foreseen at the outset. We do not oppose the subsidy, and the Minister has made a number of good points about why the project should go ahead.

I want to place on record my concerns and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale about the Stranraer to Northern Ireland

Column Number: 010

route, from which one of the conventional ferries was taken out of service in February 2002. I understand that a feasibility study is taking place to consider moving the operation completely out of Stranraer. Is the Minister aware that around 1,100 jobs depend on ferry operations in that area? The loss of such a huge number of jobs would double unemployment in the local economy, and the matter has caused great concern.

In the Minister's opening remarks, he said that there is no justification for providing assistance to other ferry routes, but is there not a case for keeping all major ferry routes under review? Indeed, is there not a case for going further and saying that all major ferry routes between Scotland and Northern Ireland should be treated equally? Conservative members of the Committee are concerned that the north channel crossing should, if necessary to keep it going, receive the same consideration as the matter to which the Minister referred.

Mr. Reid: In order to clarify the position, which is not too clear from the right hon. Gentleman's remarks, is the Conservative party in favour or opposed to the ferry service from Campbeltown to Ballycastle being paid a subsidy?

Mr. Knight: I thought that I had made it clear that my party is not opposing the matters under discussion today. That is the answer to the hon. Gentleman's question. Perhaps he was not listening.

Mr. Reid: I am sorry, but I am still unclear. The right hon. Gentleman has said that his party will not oppose the devolution order, but he has not said whether his party is in favour of a subsidy being paid to the ferry service, which is different from passing the order.

Mr. Knight: If my party were opposed to the devolution order and its contents, we would have opposed it. We are not opposing the order today, which makes the position quite clear.

Turning to the order modifying schedule 5 to the Scotland Act 1998, I should like to ask the Minister about the position of tramways. Have they already been devolved because they are not referred to in the order? How wide is the definition in the order of the word ''promoters''? Could the Scottish Executive, for example, become a promoter? Conservative Members are aware of the ongoing debate in the Labour party about the renationalisation of our railways. I wonder whether the Minister can tell us whether the Scottish Executive could build its own railway under the provision if it decided to turn back the clock to the old Labour days of state control? I hope that he will assure the Committee that that is not something that he expects to happen, or will encourage.

Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Knight: I am coming to the end of my remarks.

Subject to receiving satisfactory answers to those points, we do not intend to divide the Committee.

Column Number: 011

4.59 pm

Mr. Dalyell: Most statutory instruments are worthy of cursory examination before the Committee quickly comes to an end, and it is understandable that that should be so. These are matters of considerable substance, however, and I hope that the Minister will forgive me for saying—I have not hitherto made any critical remarks about the Scottish Parliament—that we are paying the price for the fact that the Scotland Act 1998 was truncated by a vigorous guillotine, because the order includes matters that should have been debated in 1998 and 1999, but were not. That is history, but I am concerned about three issues, of which I gave the Minister warning, albeit at short notice.

First, what can the Scottish Executive do to initiate financial projects such as the Bathgate line west to Airdrie, which has been much talked about for the past 20 years? I make no bones about referring to a matter of constituency interest. If the Scottish Executive had the power and, much more important, the financial resources to initiate such projects, that would be a boon to central Scotland. I do not doubt that the Stirling-Alloa line is equally important, but I want to be clear about whether additional resources are likely to be allocated or whether the money will come from an existing budget of the Scottish Parliament? It is so desperate for cash in many areas that it is unlikely to be able to initiate expensive but highly desirable railway projects. That matter needs to be clarified.

The second issue is no longer my constituency responsibility, and in so far as it is a Westminster responsibility, it is the task of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (John Barrett), as a Scottish Member. I am appalled at the deterioration of the Forth rail bridge, which is possibly the greatest monument to engineering in the 19th century. For years, some of us, including hon. Members who represented Fife constituencies, struggled to get the Health and Safety Executive to do something. In a sense we were successful and much work was done, but anyone who looks at the bridge today must be ashamed of its present state.

 
Previous Contents Continue

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index


©Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 20 May 2002