Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am not quite sure what further reassurance I can offer the noble Lord other than to reflect that it is necessary in some cases, for the purposes of gathering and assessing evidence, to conduct matters in the way that we are suggesting, particularly where criminal proceedings are to be instituted, and which may ultimately result in a decision not to prosecute. In such cases the act would be exempt, as it rightly should.

The noble Lord raises an understandable concern, but I think we have addressed that and I felt that we had matched pretty accurately the commitment that was made to the noble Lord, Lord Lester, at Committee stage which achieves our objective in relation to the decision-making process leading up to the taking of a decision about instituting criminal proceedings but without excluding all acts leading to a decision not to prosecute. On that basis--

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, I do apologise for interrupting the noble Lord, but can he tell me whether it is the Government's wish that the actions of the

27 Jan 2000 : Column 1700

police in interviewing somebody, in assessing an alibi and so on, should be relieved by Section 19B from the provisions of this Bill, as expressed in that section?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, without wishing to be too precise, as I understand it, that is our intention. I hope that that helps the noble Lord.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 11 not moved.]

Schedule 1 [Public Authorities]:

Viscount Astor moved Amendment No. 12:

    Page 10, line 26, at end insert--

("(4) Sub-paragraphs (1) and (2) shall not take effect until the Scottish Parliament have approved the provisions of this Act which cover matters devolved under the Scotland Act 1998.").

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, this amendment concerns Scotland. We debated this matter in Committee. The Bill covers some devolved responsibilities, notably criminal justice. The Government have corresponded with the Scottish Executive and have apparently received the latter's blessing for the changes that are involved. However, the Government have not consulted the Scottish Parliament on the matter. The Minister sent a helpful letter to my noble friend Lord Cope explaining why the Government had not done so. However, I still have some anxieties on this matter.

Concern has been expressed in Scotland that the Immigration and Asylum Bill, as it then was, gave the Home Secretary powers to rehouse asylum seekers in Scotland without consulting the Scottish Parliament. Your Lordships will know that criminal justice and housing constitute devolved responsibilities as regards Scotland. Recently my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy tabled a Starred Question on the arrangements being made for accommodating asylum seekers in Scotland. In his reply the Minister referred to negotiations that were taking place with regard to the public and private sectors. I understand that these negotiations are being held with local authorities and, presumably, with the Scottish Executive. If housing is a devolved responsibility, how is it that the Scottish Parliament is bypassed in the negotiations just because it is not involved in procuring housing in Scotland?

The Government should clearly state their policy on this matter. During debate on the then Scotland Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, said that the Westminster Parliament,

    "would not normally legislate with regard to devolved matters in Scotland without the consent of the Scottish parliament".--[Official Report, 21/7/98; col. 791.]

It seems to me that we are to a degree legislating with regard to some matters that have been devolved, but the consent of the Scottish Parliament has not been sought. I hope that the Minister will explain the position as regards criminal justice and housing responsibilities. I beg to move.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, we oppose this amendment as being inconsistent with the scheme of devolution to Scotland. Schedule 5 to the Scotland Act

27 Jan 2000 : Column 1701

1998 sets out what are called "reserved matters". A reserved matter at Section L2 to Schedule 5, on page 90 of the Act, refers to,

    "Equal opportunities, including the subject-matter of ... the Race Relations Act 1976".

That means that responsibility for the Race Relations Act 1976 lies within the Parliament of Westminster and not within the Scottish Parliament. There is a good reason for that; namely, the right to equal treatment without racial discrimination is a fundamental civil right of every citizen of the United Kingdom which should be enjoyed in the same way in every part of the kingdom and should not be able to be diluted or varied within the quasi-federal system that Parliament has approved. It would be entirely disruptive of a scheme to implement our international obligations under the various human rights treaties were there to be any difference in that respect. Therefore, there is no point in consulting the Scottish Parliament as a matter of comity on a matter for which the Scottish Parliament cannot exercise legislative powers. For those reasons, we oppose the amendment.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, noble Lords will recall that equal opportunities legislation is reserved to the UK Parliament by the Scotland Act 1998. It is therefore for this Parliament to legislate on such matters.

The inclusion of the Scottish Administration in Schedule 1 to the Bill is intended to ensure that the administration in Scotland is covered by the Bill while treating its legislative powers in the same way as those of the UK Government. The Government have made clear the circumstances in which they will seek the consent of the Scottish Parliament to legislation dealing with devolved matters. These were announced by the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, in this House on 21st July 1998 at col. 791 of Hansard.

Noble Lords may wish to note that the Government have prepared guidance on the operation of the Sewel convention. This guidance was published as Devolution Guidance Note 10 on Friday 21st January and copies are available in the Library. In terms of this guidance, the consent of the Scottish Parliament will be sought where a Bill contains provisions applying to Scotland and which are for devolved purposes, or which alter the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament or the executive competence of Scottish Ministers. Consent is not required where a Bill relating to reserved matters merely contains provisions which make incidental or consequential changes to Scots law on non-reserved matters.

The consent of the Scottish Parliament to the Race Relations (Amendment) Bill as introduced to this House is not required under the terms of those arrangements. However, as noble Lords would hope and expect, there has been contact at both official and ministerial level on the application of the Bill to devolved Scottish public bodies. This contact will continue throughout the passage of the Bill. I hope that on the basis of that clarification setting out the Government's position on the matter, the noble Viscount will withdraw his amendment. It has been a

27 Jan 2000 : Column 1702

helpful probing measure and I trust that our response will have satisfied him as regards the way in which we intend to proceed.

Viscount Astor: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lester, uncharacteristically, entirely missed the point of my amendment. I never suggested that anything concerning the main functions of this Bill should be devolved to Scotland. I am well aware that equal opportunities legislation and the Race Relations Act are specifically reserved to Westminster. However, the point I was making, which the Minister has partially answered, is that areas which are covered by this Bill are areas of devolved competence within the framework of criminal justice. I shall not press the matter this evening. However, between now and Third Reading I shall write to the Minister setting out the areas that cause me concern.

The Minister did not address a matter that I specifically referred to; namely, housing. I hope that he will address that matter. The Government have a perfectly reasonable policy of housing certain people in Scotland but how do the negotiations with Scottish local authorities on housing square with the devolved responsibility of the Scottish Parliament as regards housing? That is how I understand the matter, but I stand open to correction if I have misunderstood the position. I hope that the Minister will comment on that point.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, perhaps the best course would be to correspond with the noble Viscount on this matter setting out how we see these arrangements working in the light of the Sewel convention.

Viscount Astor: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for those comments. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 13 not moved.]

5.30 p.m.

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 14:

    Page 4, line 40, leave out ("relevant") and insert ("police").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of this government amendment is to clarify the drafting of this provision. Paragraph 4(b) of Section 76A in Clause 3 provides for the settlement of claims against a chief officer of police to be paid from the police fund if the settlement is approved by the "authority". This amendment is simply intended to make clear that the "authority" being referred to is the "police authority"--it is a technical amendment--as it is that authority which must approve any settlement paid out of the police fund. I commend this drafting amendment--that is what it is--to the House. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

27 Jan 2000 : Column 1703

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page