Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lady Fookes, I understand that no amendments have been set down to the Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Therefore, unless any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.
In past debates on Scotland Act orders, mention has been made on a number of occasions that it is desirable to group and consolidate such orders so as to minimise the number of debates and make the best use of the time of the House. That is therefore the explanation for the wide and varied range of subject matter covered in the orders before us today.
Noble Lords who have attended previous debates on orders of this sort will recall comment made on a number of occasions about the level of information made available to this Parliament when considering delegated legislation compared to that available to Members of the Scottish Parliament, which was considered much wider and more useful.
The noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, has been particularly exercised about the matter and in a debate on 17th July the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, and the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, who unfortunately cannot be in their places today, commented on the brevity of the explanatory notes provided. Therefore, I have on this occasion arranged for copies of the executive notes prepared by the Scottish Executive for the assistance of MSPs to be sent to the opposition Front Benches. I hope that that has proved helpful and welcome.
Scotland Office officials have assisted in arranging for copies to be laid in both Libraries. They have also made efforts to improve the usefulness of the explanatory notes attached to the orders, within the existing guidance, which again I hope noble Lords have found helpful.
I turn to the first order. The Scotland Act recognised that in some cases it would be appropriate for the Scottish Ministers to be able to exercise executive powers in areas where primary legislation continues to be a matter for this Parliament. Section 63 of the Act provides for various forms of what is known as "executive devolution". In that case, the functions concerned will be transferred to the Scottish Ministers so far as they are exercisable in or as regards Scotland.
I now turn to the content of the order. I should explain that Article 2, together with Schedule 1, sets out the extent to which the functions concerned are to be regarded as affecting Scotland for the purposes of the order. That is a procedure provided for in Section 30(3) of the Scotland Act. Article 3, together with Schedule 2, then sets out the functions to be transferred. Article 4, together with Schedule 3, makes changes to other Acts and orders which are consequential on the transfer of those functions to the Scottish Ministers.
I turn to the actual functions to be transferred. The entries concerning the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 have the effect of transferring certain powers to issue warrants under Sections 5 and 32 of the Act. Those warrants are to authorise the interception of communications by the police and HM Customs or to authorise intrusive surveillance by the Security Service.
In each case, the function of issuing the warrant is transferred to Scottish Ministers where the purpose is to prevent or detect serious crime. Scottish Ministers will therefore issue such warrants for the interception of communications where the person or premises concerned are, or are believed to be, in Scotland at the time the warrant is issued. Similarly, they will issue such warrants for intrusive surveillance by the Security Service on premises or private vehicles which are, or are believed to be, in Scotland at the time the warrant is issued.
The order also transfers functions to the Scottish Ministers enabling them to give consent to developers to lay certain gas pipelines that begin and end in Scotland. It also gives them powers to approve compulsory purchase orders associated with these pipelines. Pipeline consents are for the most part already devolved, but Transco pipelines and the environmental impact assessment procedures relating to all pipeline developments were not covered. The order will remedy the omission. The order will also transfer powers created by the Utilities Act 2000, when it comes into force, to allow the Scottish Ministers to make orders specifying the level of electricity to be produced from renewable resources in Scotland.
Schedule 12 to the Poisons Rules 1982 allows the Secretary of State to authorise persons to purchase strychnine for the killing of moles and to authorise officers of the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland to purchase strychnine for the killing of foxes. The order will transfer these functions to the Scottish Ministers and at the same time change references to now obsolete names of departments.
The second order before the House relates to cross-border public authorities. In preparing for devolution it was recognised that some public bodies which operate both in Scotland and beyond would have a remit which included devolved matters in Scotland. Section 88 of the Scotland Act provides the mechanism to designate public bodies as "cross-border public authorities". Designation as a cross-border public authority meant that ministerial functions in relation to the body did not transfer automatically to the Scottish Ministers, as they did for bodies operating wholly in a devolved area. Instead, the default arrangement is that the Scottish Ministers have a right to be consulted on appointments to, or removal from, the body, and on the exercise of any functions in relation to the body which might affect devolved matters. But these default arrangements will not necessarily be suitable for every cross-border public authority, so Section 89 of the Scotland Act allows arrangements to be tailor-made for a particular body. That is what this order does.
The British Waterways Board and the Inland Waterways Amenity Advisory Council operate on a Great Britain basis and were specified as cross-border public authorities, as responsibility for inland waterways in Scotland is devolved to the Scottish Ministers. The order will modify the British Waterways Act 1975 and the Transport Acts of 1962 and 1968 to give the Scottish Ministers, by and large, the same functions with regard to these bodies as those held by UK Ministers. These are set out at some length in Schedules 2 and 3 to the order. The executive note to which I referred earlier provides quite a useful summary list.
The Fire Services Examination Board administers the statutory examination whereby fire service personnel qualify for promotion across the UK. In the past, a proportion of its expenses were paid by the Scottish Office and now must be met by the Scottish Executive. Power to meet these expenses did not transfer to the Scottish Ministers. The order will provide the statutory authority for those payments to be made from the Scottish Consolidated Fund and further stipulates that reports and accounts are presented to the Scottish Ministers instead of the Secretary of State.
The order also makes arrangements for consultation between the Home Secretary and the Scottish Ministers in relation to the appointment of the chairman and four members of the board and their period of appointment. Consultation on these issues has previously taken place between the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State.
The final entry in the order concerns plant varieties. It requires the consent of the Scottish Ministers for certain orders under the Plant Varieties Act 1997 in relation to the Controller of Plant Variety Rights, the Plant Varieties and Seeds Tribunal and the Plant Variety Rights Office.
The third order before the House concerns adjustments to Schedule 5 to the Scotland Act. As noble Lords may remember, Schedule 5 forms part of the definition of the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament and sets out the matters which are reserved for the purposes of the Act. The devolution settlement was always intended to have scope for flexibility. Therefore, Section 30 of the Scotland Act provides a mechanism whereby Schedule 5 can be modified by an Order in Council, subject to the approval of both Parliaments. This allows the boundaries of the Scottish Parliament's legislative competence to be adjusted, either by removing existing reservations in whole or in part, by adding new ones, or by updating existing ones.
Under the Postal Services Act 2000 the statutory corporation, the Post Office, is being abolished and its assets and liabilities transferred to a public limited company nominated by the Secretary of State which is wholly owned by the Government. That Act also replaces the Post Office's monopoly with a reserved area. Instead, universal service providers, which are expected to include the new Post Office company and others, may operate in this area of business so long as they have been granted a licence by the Postal Services Commission. That is a new body, established by the
It also ensures that the Scottish Parliament can legislate in the future to provide financial assistance for the provision of non-postal services provided from public post offices. The amendments do not make any change of policy in relation to the reservation of postal and related services, but merely bring the existing entry up to date, reflecting the changes made by the Postal Services Act.
As far as concerns transport strategies, put simply, this order amends Section E2 and E4 of Schedule 5 to allow the Scottish Parliament to legislate to enable the Scottish Ministers to require Scottish public authorities with mixed devolved and reserved functions exercisable only in Scotland to produce joint transport strategies covering the provision of their rail services and air services respectively.
The power in relation to aviation is chiefly of relevance to the Highlands and islands of Scotland. Scottish Ministers would be able to require named local authorities to prepare a joint strategy to, for example, safeguard and develop strategic and lifeline links within the region and to other parts, including particularly matters concerning lifeline air services.
These amendments were requested by Scottish Ministers, who plan to cover these matters in the Transport (Scotland) Bill currently going through the Scottish Parliament. The devolved power does not cover cross-border public authorities such as the Scottish Rail Passengers' Committee, or reserved bodies such as the Strategic Rail Authority or the Civil Aviation Authority.
Article 3(2) of the order amends the reservation of rail transport at Section E2 of Schedule 5. The purpose is to enable the Scottish Parliament to transfer to, or allocate among, any new Scottish transport authorities the same rail responsibilities as any other passenger transport executive. It does not confer powers to create new types of passenger transport executive rail functions. These would continue to be determined by this Parliament. Nor does it include a power over cross-border public authorities or reserved bodies such as the Strategic Rail Authority. This fulfils the commitment, usually known as the "McLeish settlement", made during the passage of the Scotland Bill. This was to give the Scottish Parliament legislative competence over the rail responsibilities of Strathclyde Passenger Transport and any similar bodies that may be set up in Scotland in future within the Great Britain framework for railways.
Section C5 of Schedule 5 reserves the control of imports and exports, and Section C8 reserves product standards, in each case with certain exceptions. Pesticides are included in the exceptions to each of these reservations.
Article 5 of the order also amends the reservation at Section C8 of Schedule 5 on product standards, safety and liability by extending its scope. In the context of standards, accreditation is the process by which an authoritative body gives formal recognition that a body or a person is competent to carry out specific tasks. The sole body recognised by the Government for the accreditation of conformity assessment bodies in the UK is the United Kingdom Accreditation Service. It is particularly important that conformity assessment bodies are accredited by a recognised national accreditation body. Their work can then be recognised by European and other international partners.
Accordingly, the order extends the reservation at Section C8 to accreditation in support of trade carried out under Community law and trade matters related to competition. This recognises that, for UK businesses to gain the best competitive advantage, accreditation must be carried out by the sole recognised national body in line with European and international practice.
I have spent some time running through the content of the three orders. They are, I hope, uncontroversial adjustments at the margins of the devolution settlement but nevertheless necessary and useful ones. On that basis, I hope that noble Lords will feel able to support the orders.
The Earl of Mar and Kellie: My Lords, I should like to start my remarks by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay of Cartvale, for making available the executive note to these three orders, as provided to the Scottish Parliament. On a previous occasion, I had remarked about how much more informative were the Scottish notes. This is a small example of good practice spreading southwards.
We have before us today three "type A" orders, the most heavy duty of orders, requiring, of course, the consent of all three Houses of Parliament. Since the Scotland Act team last met, we have been saddened by the death of First Minister Donald Dewar, a friend to us all. We have to reflect on how providence has determined that Scotland must go forward without his hand on the tiller. I am confident that others will be inspired to take on the task ahead.
The transfer of functions order deals with what can probably be called administrative devolution, which is, of course, not new at all. Scottish Ministers are to be involved with the granting of consent to developers
Scottish Ministers are also to assume powers to put in place "renewables obligations". This gives them the opportunity to be innovative in this very necessary area of research and development into new forms of energy. Although this may be casting a little wider than what is specified in the order, I hope that it will include biodiesel, because that would be a useful non-food crop into which farmers could diversify.
The Regulations of Investigatory Powers Act is coming to Scotland and Scottish Ministers will have the powers to grant warrants for the interception of communications as regards persons and premises, and for the intrusive surveillance of residential premises and private vehicles. These reluctant powers should assist with the detection of crime and the gathering of criminal intelligence.
The cross-border authorities order takes us into the world of public bodies with so-called mixed functions--either devolved and reserved, in Scotland and elsewhere, or both. The British Waterways Board and the IWAAC will have a new master in Scotland, the Scottish Executive. The DETR will transfer resources to the Scottish Executive for those purposes. Inland waterways have of course been devolved since the Scotland Act was passed. Canals are on the move in Scotland, somewhat belatedly. Ambitious plans for the repair and restoration of navigation on the Forth and Clyde and Union canals are already under way. It is hoped that the Lowland canals will start to make an impact again on the economy of central Scotland. Certainly, as a canoeist and small boater, I look forward to the increased recreational opportunities, but I hope that there might also be some return of commercial traffic.
For the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, there is clarification that Scottish Ministers can refer matters to the Royal Commission. For the Fire Services Education Board, there is clarification that the Scottish Executive will make a proportionate contribution to the board's funding, as well as recommending appointments to the board.
Lastly on this order, Scottish Ministers are given the right to give their consent to the regulation-making powers of the three bodies responsible for plant varieties and seeds. That is very appropriate given the large volume of plant research undertaken in Scotland.
Scottish Ministers will gain the power to require Scottish public authorities to produce joint transport strategies for rail and air services, both largely reserved matters. As it has been announced that my home town of Alloa is shortly to be reconnected into the passenger rail network, I can certainly see the advantage of a strategic approach to Scottish regional transport planning. To further this, the Scottish Parliament will be able to confer PTE-style functions on joint transport authorities; presumably the Lothians and Fife area is ripe for such a new strategic status.
The mixed bag of measures in the order clarifies the devolution of pesticides and reserves the accreditation of product standards. This latter is an essential part of the control of the single British market and its interface with the EU.
These three orders will place more work before Scottish Ministers and the Scottish Parliament. I instinctively approve of measures which have a positively devolutionary flavour.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page