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The Earl of Mar and Kellie: My Lords, we on these Benches welcome these orders. The process of transferring powers to the Scottish Ministers is clearly ongoing. There are several variations of transfer. Some will be outright, some will be shared with the UK Ministers and some will be merely transfers of responsibility for the administration of a function, whatever it is. The Scotland Act 1998 (Modification of Functions) Order is concerned with the appointment of the next and subsequent disability rights commissioners. I am satisfied that the initial appointment was made after consultation with Scottish Ministers, and that this order confirms that such a process will happen again. I am enjoying the expression,
That said, this is a measure of limited extent which ensures that Scottish Ministers can recommend a Scot to the Secretary of State for appointment. It also confirms that there will be Scottish representation on the Disability Rights Commission. Though it will not set the heather on fire, it is an order which is very much in line with the spirit of devolution and with the continuing reform of the Union.
Going on to the transfer order, as the Minister explained, that is somewhat more meaty than the previous one. I note that, unlike the previous one, it has to be approved by both the UK and the Scottish Parliaments and therefore it is a Type A order. Not only does it have greater content, but it also has several different varieties of transfer within it. First, there is a UK function which is exercisable in Scotland by the Secretary of State subject to a requirement for the agreement of Scottish Ministers. The accreditation of childcare agencies for tax credit purposes is appropriately transferred.
Secondly, functions are transferred from the Secretary of State to Scottish Ministers--an outright transfer. The actual functions relate to the temporary speed limit setting and also to those elements of the Nurses, Midwives and Health Visitors Act which deal with the National Board for Scotland
Fourthly, we have a function to be exercised with the agreement of Scottish Ministers. That looks to me to be the same measure as in the previous order. It involves the appointment of the disability rights commissioner. Is that a case of prolixity on the statute book? Fifthly, we have a modification of the principal order. I am content with the removal of this merchant shipping function on the grounds that it has already been transferred to the Lord President of the Court of Session.
Overall, this order continues a welcome process of devolving power to the Scottish Parliament. It is essential that devolution be generous and that it becomes obvious, as a result, that substantial autonomy within the British Union can be achieved. This Parliament should, wisely, take a back seat while the Scottish Parliament finds its feet. The first primary legislation is now reaching the statute book. Not to do so would play into the hands of those who would either dismantle the British Union or try to revert to the 1707 settlement.
I wish to raise only one specific point, though I shall be interested to hear her replies to the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie. My point concerns the Scotland Act 1998 (Transfer of Functions to the Scottish Ministers etc.) Order. That involves tax credits.
Can the Minister tell me whether tax credits will now be handled in a different way from those in England and Wales? If so, what will be the effect? Also, is it possible that the transfers will impinge on the rights of Parliament to revise taxes or tax credits? I look forward to hearing the noble Baroness's reply.
Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, I thank both noble Lords who spoke and who, I believe, welcomed the orders. I agree with many of the remarks made by the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, relating to devolution and its development. He is right that these orders are made up of many different strands of different kinds of devolution. We have always said that in an exercise on the scale of devolution there will be elements which have been overlooked; issues will continue to arise which need to be dealt with, either to do with new circumstances or in the light of experience. Indeed, the noble Earl is quite right: these orders include elements of all of those.
The noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, asked specifically whether the orders duplicate as to the point he raised. We feel that the answer is definitely no. In accordance with Section 106 the order creates a requirement for a commissioner with special knowledge. The order relating to Section 63 requires Scottish Ministers' agreement to the Secretary of State's selection. So there is a distinction.
The noble Earl, Lord Courtown, asked specifically whether these provisions in relation to the tax credits Act mean that in some way taxation matters are being devolved. He asked whether this would impinge on the Westminster Parliament's rights. The answer is no. There are two elements in the order relating to the working families' and the disabled persons' tax credits under this Act. One is to be found in Article 3 of the order, which, taken with the schedule, confers the powers under Section 15(3) of the Act on Scottish Ministers. That means that they will accredit those organisations who can approve childcare providers, whose charges will be taken into account in calculating the childcare element of the working families' and disabled persons' tax credits. The function of assessing providers of childcare is clearly best carried out by those with expertise in the devolved areas of social work or education.
The other element covered by the order is the making of the regulations under Section 15 of the Tax Credits Act to set up the scheme for designating organisations whose charges can be taken into account in assessing those tax credits and related matters. This regulating power is to remain with the generic Secretary of State. But, as a result of this order, the agreement of Scottish Ministers will be needed.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty) rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 12th April be approved [17th Report from the Joint Committee].
The purpose of this order is to wind up the final business of the Residual Rural Development Commission to transfer some property to the Secretary of State and to apply the Superannuation Act 1972 to certain employees or former employees of the Development Commission and the rural community councils.
These steps flow from the creation of the Countryside Agency and the establishment of regional development agencies on 1st April 1999. On that date the Rural Development Commission functions were transferred to various bodies and since then the Rural Development Commission has carried on in a compact form to complete a range of residual administrative and personnel-related tasks.
It has taken a little longer than was anticipated to finish the work involved. Over the past year or so the remaining commission staff have been working hard to ensure that the interests of former staff and client groups have been respected and to reduce the RDA's liabilities to a minimum so that its successors have few additional responsibilities or liabilities. To ensure that nothing whatsoever is overlooked, this order also provides that any remaining liabilities are transferred to the Countryside Agency, with just a single property lease to be transferred to the Secretary of State. That is a former commission office in Taunton. The office space in Salisbury occupied by the Residual Commission is rented from the Countryside Agency and the rental agreement will cease when the commission is dissolved.
The order also applies the provisions of the Superannuation Act 1972 to certain members of the Development Commission (Staff) Superannuation Scheme1984. As was the case for serving staff who transferred in April 1999, all pensioners, deferred pensioners and residual commission staff currently in the development commission scheme will be offered broadly comparable pension provision and preserved pension rights through membership of the Principal Civil Service Pension Scheme, a scheme with identical provisions to that operated by the RDC.
The small residue of commission staff, headed by a chief executive and accounting officer, elected to stay on for this process in the knowledge that, during or at the end of the process, they would either retire or be made redundant. The staff numbers have further diminished over the past months to reflect the progress in completing particular tasks.
Finally, I should like to pay tribute to the Rural Development Commission for its work spanning most of the last century. I put on record our tribute to the staff for that period. In its last operating year it played an important part in helping the Government to develop guidance on rural policy issues to RDAs. I commend the order to the House.