Draft Scotland Act 1998 (Cross-Border Public Authorities) (Adaptation of Functions, Etc.) (Amendment) Order 2002

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John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross): It occurs to me that I should begin by declaring an interest, in case there is any doubt about my motives in sitting on the Committee. I am a trustee of Longoe farm, which is part of the Mey estate, and we breed the highest quality Aberdeen Angus cattle.

The Liberal Democrats welcome the order, not least because it will help my colleague Ross Finnie in his work in helping regenerate Scottish agriculture. As has been said, the order has been widely welcomed throughout Scotland and the NFUS has also given it a broad welcome. Quality Meat Scotland has become a vital tool in the regeneration of Scottish agriculture, and the Scottish Executive should have increasing autonomy in deciding the strategy that it wishes to pursue for agriculture. Added value, branding and quality assurance are critical elements in ensuring the regeneration of Scottish agriculture. I also see the order as an example of the continuing evolution of devolution and of further devolution, as is thought fit, from Westminster to Holyrood. Will that process, which I welcome, continue so that Quality Meat Scotland will perhaps come more fully under the control of the Scottish Executive?

I welcome the principle underlying the order. I went through most of the orders for cross-border authorities in the other place—which was interesting because at the time none of us had any idea how they would pan out. Quite properly, we were somewhat cautious in our approach, and if we felt that there was

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doubt, powers were held back to Westminster. As the success of devolution has continued, we can now be a little less cautious. Other cross-border authorities could be examined—the British Tourist Authority springs to mind, but that debate is for another day. I shall say no more than that we welcome the order and ask the Minister to confirm that the process of devolving powers will continue.

4.47 pm

Mrs. McGuire: It is always a delight to hear the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso), not least because he visits, with such style and panache, his experience of the other place on us mere mortals in this place. The image of the hon. Gentleman cutting his grass at the weekend is one to conjure with, given that his grass probably stretches all over Caithness.

John Thurso: I hope that the Minister refers to grass that grows on the lawn and not to any other noxious substance.

Mrs. McGuire: That is a road down which I do not want to venture.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his welcome of the order. He will know, from his active discussions on the Scotland Act in the other place, that section 89 of that Act allows an occasional variation of the implementation of devolution. Some provisions may need to be adjusted at the margins, and this is one such. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments.

I am sure that all members of the Committee agree with the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) that the quality of meat from Scotland is superb. I heard noises from the back of the Committee to the effect that there is not just Aberdeen Angus but also Ayrshire cattle. The steak in restaurants in the House is from Aberdeenshire and is called ''Blairmore''. After today's performance, I suggest that it might be ''more Blair''. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Murphy) tells me that he is a vegetarian.

I shall answer some of the questions put by the hon. Member for Beckenham. On the direction of QMS,

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Scottish Ministers will have power of general direction over strategy and the use of the levy in Scotland, as defined in the Agriculture Act 1967. On the responses to the consultation, I advise the hon. Lady and members of the Committee, if they are IT literate, to read the summary analysis of the responses on the Scottish Executive website when they leave the Committee, as the Scottish Executive, not the Government, undertook the consultation. On the variation of the QMS levy, QMS cannot vary the levy. The MLC retains that power. Scottish Ministers acting alone cannot vary it. On the question of who will decide what would benefit Scottish levy payers, the QMS board will decide which of the main stakeholders of the Scottish red meat industry will be represented, as I indicated earlier. I should add that the QMS chairman, or chairperson, will sit on the MLC board of commissioners to promote co-operation and co-ordination between QMS and MLC.

The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross asked if QMS should come under the control of the Scottish Executive. He is right: there will be a strengthening of accountability to the Scottish Executive. As he said, that is part of the strengthening of the devolutionary settlement.

I am delighted that we have such unanimity on the order. There is a general understanding that the orders are intended to strengthen the devolutionary settlement. In response to a point made by the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, there is recognition of the occasional need to introduce orders as devolution evolves. In the light of my comments, and trusting that I have answered the questions raised by Opposition Members, I hope that the Committee will endorse the order.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Scotland Act 1998 (Cross-Border Public Authorities) (Adaptation of Functions, Etc.) (Amendment) Order 2002.

Committee rose at eight minutes to Five o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Amess, Mr. David (Chairman)
Carmichael, Mr.
Dalyell, Mr.
Davidson, Mr.
Foulkes, Mr.
Harris, Mr. Tom
Lait, Mrs.
MacDougall, Mr.
McGuire, Mrs.
Murphy, Mr. Jim
Osborne, Sandra
Ross, Mr.
Sarwar, Mr.
Stewart, Mr. David
Swayne, Mr.
Thurso, John
Wishart, Pete

The following also attended, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(2):
Duncan, Mr. Peter (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale)

 
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