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Scottish Parliament: Devolved Functions

2.47 p.m.

Lord Hogg of Cumbernauld asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, under the Scotland Act 1998, the Secretary of State, the Advocate General and the Attorney-General have various powers designed to ensure that all primary and secondary legislation passed by the Scottish Parliament is within its legislative competence and that the Scottish Executive acts in a manner compatible with international obligations of the United Kingdom. The Scottish Executive is accountable to the Scottish Parliament for the way in which it exercises functions within devolved competence, and in the final analysis is answerable to the Scottish electorate through the ballot box.

Lord Hogg of Cumbernauld: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. She will accept that, so long as the Westminster Parliament votes the money that the Scottish Parliament spends, it would be responsible for the Westminster Parliament to retain a close interest in all that goes on. Will my noble friend assure the House that the central aim of our constitutional policy is to ensure the better governance of these islands? Will she give the further assurances that, were it to be shown that better government would be served by further devolving powers to the Scottish Parliament, the Westminster Parliament would not hesitate to do so; and, likewise, were it to be shown that a function or a department of government should be repatriated to Westminster and Whitehall, the Government would not hesitate to do that in the interest of better government?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, under Section 63 of the Scotland Act 1998 Her Majesty the Queen may by Order in Council provide for functions exercisable by a Minister of the Crown to be exercised by Scottish Ministers instead of, or concurrently with, a Minister of the Crown. Similarly, Section 108 enables devolved functions to be undertaken by a Minister of the Crown instead of, or concurrently with, Scottish Ministers. Orders in Council can also be made under Section 30 to modify Schedules 4 and 5 which define reserve matters. That is a direct answer to the mechanism about which my noble friend asks. As some noble Lords will be aware, these orders require affirmative resolutions in both Houses and both Parliaments and, therefore, cannot be implemented without agreement between the two administrations.

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Lord Thomson of Monifieth: My Lords, did the Minister note the observation by the Prime Minister in an interview in Wales the other day that,

    "the Welsh experience had taught him the hard way that devolution is about allowing the devolved bits to find their own way"?

Is it not a good idea for those in either House of the Westminster Parliament to learn the same lesson and to allow those with heavy and difficult responsibilities within the new Scottish Parliament and Scottish Executive to carry out the duties that we have devolved to them?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, not for the first time I find myself in complete agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth. To do things differently in different parts of the UK is not an accidental consequence of devolution; it was our express intention. This is not difference for difference's sake; local needs and circumstances justify such variations. I wholeheartedly agree with my right honourable friend the Prime Minister that we should allow the devolved assemblies, parliaments and administrations to continue their work.

Lord Monro of Langholm: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that, in view of the fact that the block grant emanates from the Westminster Parliament, we should take some interest in how it is spent and evaluated? Can the noble Baroness say why, at a time when council tax is racing way ahead of inflation and jobs are at risk in Scotland, Scotland's Labour Government, supported as ever by the Liberal Democrats, are prepared to spend £200 million on new parliamentary accommodation?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, the provision of the new parliamentary building is entirely a matter for the Scottish Parliament.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the noble Baroness will be aware that a new report about student fees in Scotland has just appeared. It was the case that the Scottish Parliament decided to treat Scottish students and European Union students more generously than English, Welsh and Northern Ireland students. Given that the United Kingdom is just one entity in the European Union, does the Minister agree that it is worth reconsidering treating United Kingdom students fairly and justly throughout the whole of the EU? Does the noble Baroness also agree that that is very much a matter for the Westminster Parliament, as it is for the Scottish Parliament?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, higher education is a devolved matter, and decisions as to student support in Scotland are a matter for the Scottish Executive. The purpose of devolution is to allow distinctly Scottish solutions in devolved areas. Scottish students who study in England will continue to make a contribution to tuition fees depending on their circumstances, in exactly the same way as non-Scottish students. That is a matter for the Student

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Awards Agency for Scotland and for the Scottish Executive. European Union students, but not other non Scottish residents, will have their fees paid because there is a requirement under EU law to treat EU and home students in the same way; but there can be differences within a nation state. The noble Baroness will be well aware that students from Wales, England and Northern Ireland who take four-year courses at Scottish universities will have their fees waived in the final year of their courses and the costs will be borne by the Scottish Executive. That decision, which was announced by Henry McLeish on 29th March, implemented a recommendation of the Quigley report.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, in answer to a previous question the noble Baroness said that a sum of about £200 million had to be paid and that that was a matter for the Scottish Parliament. Can the noble Baroness explain how much of that must be paid by the Westminster Parliament?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, the noble Lord misquotes me. I did not provide any figures. I said that the question of the cost of the Scottish parliamentary building was a matter for the Scottish Parliament. It is expected that the money for that building will be found by the Scottish Parliament from its budget. If extra resources are needed for the building, that matter will be considered by the Scottish Executive and Scottish Parliament.

Lord Hooson: My Lords, if this line of questioning is pursued, is there not a danger that the Scottish Parliament may demand powers to monitor the effectiveness of the House of Lords?

Young Offender Institutions: Education and Training

2.55 p.m.

Lord Quirk asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Following the chief inspector's report on Portland, whether they will take steps to ensure a greater focus on education and training in all young offender institutions.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, new regime standards have been in place from 1st April for prisoners under the age of 18 which place a particular and clear emphasis on education and training. An individual programme is to be introduced for each young person suited to his individual needs, ability and aptitude. For prisoners between the ages of 18 and 21, the Comprehensive Spending Review delivered £4.6 million for a welfare-to-work programme, as well as general improvements in educational provision.

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Lord Quirk: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response. Does the noble Lord agree that this matter depends very much on how the money is spent? In all conscience, Portland is far from the worst young offender institution. For example, Rochester beats it hollow in that respect. Does the Minister agree that Portland's rather good workshop and education provision shows just how much more could be done if better use was made of those facilities and, in particular, if they were integrated so that the splendid and often quite enthusiastic work carried out in the workshops was linked to the education system so as to provide youngsters with vocational qualifications? Further, does the Minister agree that we have both a duty and an enormously exciting opportunity to do something to remedy the deficiencies, whether through exclusion or otherwise, in the education of the 11,000 young offenders, 2,000 of whom are juveniles, and provide them with the necessary skills and training so that they lead productive and crime-free lives in future?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the short answer to the noble Lord's question is yes, but obviously there is much more to it than that. I am grateful to the noble Lord for his observations about the improved quality of the young offender regime at Portland. The noble Lord puts his finger on the key issue which is to ensure that young offenders generally emerge from the periods of detention that they endure better educated than when they went in. I must advise noble Lords that, as to BSA screening tests, the levels of educational attainment by young offenders on entering those institutions are extremely low. The figures demonstrate that only 41.6 per cent of young offenders are above level 1 in reading; only 14.4 per cent are above level 1 in writing; and only 24 per cent are above level 1 in numeracy. There has been welcome progress over the past three years, and today many young offenders achieve far higher levels. As to rates of recidivism, it is clear from the evidence that those who emerge with educational qualifications are much less likely to re-offend, and I believe that we should take great comfort from that.

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