Draft Scotland Act 1998 (Transfer of Functions to the Scottish Ministers Etc.) (No. 2) Order 2001, Etc.

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Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield): I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Cummings. I shall be brief, if only because my presence is required downstairs in the Chamber to wind up for the Opposition in this afternoon's debate. By the time that my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) has sat down, I ought to be present to hear what is being said.

I begin by welcoming the Minister. The order dealing with the transfer of functions has complete clarity and, again, has benefited from an Executive note explaining what it is designed to achieve. That is a sensible move. Since devolution, debates such as this have tended to look at rather arcane aspects of Government administration, and I suspect that today's is no exception. I have no anxiety about the proposal, and I can see its force.

In response to my intervention on the order dealing with operator's licences, the Minister gave the reassurance that I sought. He will understand that, when dealing with rather complex orders following on from devolution and the Scotland Act 1998, there is always a slight anxiety that we have missed something. Often, such orders are very dense and somewhat unintelligible. In the light of the reassurance that the provision will not lead to a different competition regime, I am satisfied that we are not opening a door to problems that were not envisaged when the 1998 legislation was enacted.

I am grateful to the Minister for clarifying the intention behind the provisions, and I certainly do not intend to divide the Committee.

4.46 pm

Mr. Michael Moore (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale): Thank you, Mr. Cummings; I hope to be similarly brief. Like the hon. Member for Beaconsfield, I commend the new approach whereby the Scottish Executive's explanatory notes are appended to the statutory instrument. In terms of intelligibility, the contrast between the two statutory instruments—one has Executive notes but the other does not—is clear. In the past, such points have been made by Opposition Members of similar Committees. Will the Minister consider importing into this venerable institution that good practice from north of the border? Brilliant though his opening remarks were, he might be able to save himself a few minutes if he were able to refer us to clearer notes.

The orders are important. They are highly technical and I admire the way in which the Minister avoided tripping up when describing them. This week in particular, we are aware of the importance of the environment, which is a constant theme. Of course, renewable energy is a very important part of achieving the Kyoto objectives. Given that those objectives are perhaps in danger, the quicker the Scottish Executive are given the powers that they need to accelerate matters, the better.

More and more imaginative schemes are being developed. I was sceptical, if not hostile, to wind power, but now I am thoroughly won over. Perhaps some imaginative schemes will mimic the success of the Soutra wind farm, to the north of my constituency on the A68. That said, as I drove past it this morning on my way to Edinburgh airport, I was alarmed to see that, for the first time, every single windmill was stationary. For Scotland not to have wind is a rare event, although there may have been a serious technical fault. [Interruption.] I was not speaking as I drove past, so perhaps that was the answer.

The Minister has already dealt with many issues, but will he say whether any budgetary implications arise from granting the Scottish Executive such powers? Will the Executive need to take account of such factors when using those powers?

I turn to the transport order. Competition has been a vexed issue among bus services for many years. The chaos that resulted a few years ago from Conservative competition policy is being resolved only slowly, in part through improved legislation. During the previous Parliament, I served on the Committee considering the Transport (Scotland) Act 2001, and the Scottish Parliament has passed its own Act north of the border.

Will the order allow the Director General of Fair Trading, or any traffic commissioner, to intervene where competition has begun but seems to have failed? Everyone can think of constituency examples. Penicuik in my constituency used to be well served by Lothian regional transport and by the First bus group. The First bus group has now disappeared from the route and, consequently, Lothian regional transport has substantially cut back the service available to my constituents. I am sure that that is being repeated across east Lothian and elsewhere.

Does the order allow the Executive north of the border, or civil servants—quangocrats, if I dare use the term—to take issue with such a situation and address the remaining difficulties that previous competition policy introduced? As we always say, such statutory instruments are highly technical so we must hope that we are not letting through anything more significant than what I have mentioned. Like the hon. Member for Beaconsfield, if the Minister answers those questions, I will be delighted to support the order.

4.51 pm

Mr. Foulkes: I am grateful to both hon. Gentlemen for their remarks, particularly about the Executive notes. We have had discussion in the Liaison Committee about improving our explanatory notes. I know that the new Leader of the House, who is currently on his feet in the Chamber, is keen to see how things might be improved. I will certainly draw those points to his attention. I know that my right hon. Friend is going to Edinburgh to observe the procedures of the Scottish Parliament, and to see if we can learn from them. That is a sensible step.

I thank Members for commenting on the clarity of the explanation of such a complicated subject. I will pass on that thanks to my officials, who have explained the matter to me; I think that I am beginning to understand it. I hope that that understanding has been transferred to hon. Members. Without my officials I would have found it particularly difficult, so I am very grateful. Earlier, I gave an assurance to the hon. Member for Beaconsfield off my own bat. Thankfully, my official confirmed that I was right to give that assurance. With renewed vigour and certainty, I can confirm that what I said earlier is the case.

The hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale raised the issue of budgetary implications. I do not think that budgetary implications exist. As he knows, if one Parliament, Executive or Administration does anything that raises budgetary implications for the other, it is the responsibility of the body that creates those costs to pay for them. I do not think that there is a cost in this case, but I will look into it further. If any budgetary implications appear, I will drop the hon. Gentleman a note.

I agree with the other two points made by the hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale. I am sure that all Labour Members will agree enthusiastically and wholeheartedly with what he said about the chaos of bus deregulation, which was introduced by the Tories. Like him, I represent a rural seat. In this Parliament, more rural seats are represented by Labour Members than by Tory Members; perhaps that is a comment on the effects of bus deregulation. I have represented a rural seat for 22 years and I fear that the order, and the powers of the Director General, will not sort out the chaos that has already been created.

On the hon. Gentleman's other point, I, too, am an enthusiast about renewable energy. In fact, I came here straight from a meeting of the advisory group of the performance and innovation unit dealing with our energy policy for the next few decades, where I stressed the importance of renewables and how that factor must be taken into account. If I tell the Committee any more about what happened at the meeting, Mr. Cummings, you would rule me out of order for going beyond the terms of the orders, or the Whip would give me one of her gentle looks, meaning either that I have gone on long enough or that I am saying things that I ought not to say.

I hope that I have dealt with Committee members' questions about the orders. The hon. Member for Beaconsfield—who has been involved in the details of this matter in Parliament for longer than I have, although I think that I have been involved in the policy for a great deal longer overall—rightly said that such details can be arcane and difficult in parliamentary terms. However, bit by bit, we are arriving at a clearer definition of the responsibilities of this Parliament and of the Scottish Parliament, including a good arrangement for dealing with grey areas involving the transfer of powers or any problems at the edges that may arise in the important partnership between the Parliaments at Westminster and Holyrood. By passing the orders, we are refining that situation a little bit more, and making it a little bit easier for us to work together in the constructive partnership that will ultimately benefit the people of Scotland.

Question put and agreed to.


    That the Committee has considered the draft Scotland Act 1998 (Transfer of Functions to the Scottish Ministers etc.) (No. 2) Order 2001.



    That the Committee has considered the draft Transport (Scotland) Act 2001 (Conditions attached to PSV Operator's Licence and Competition Test for Exercise of Bus Functions) Order 2001.—[Mr. Foulkes.]

        Committee rose at three minutes to Five o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Cummings, Mr. John (Chairman)
Begg, Miss
Donohoe, Mr. B.
Foulkes, Mr.
Grieve, Mr.
MacDougall, Mr.
McGuire, Mrs.
Moore, Mr.
Osborne, Sandra
Picking, Anne
Prisk, Mr.
Robertson, John

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