Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Clause 23

Power to call for witnesses and documents

Mr. McLeish: I beg to move amendment No. 129, in page 11, line 7, leave out 'statutory'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: Government amendments Nos. 137 to 145, 159, 183 to 186, 259, 262, 263 and 198 to 201.

Government new clause 19--Agreed re-distribution of transferred functions.

Government amendments Nos. 204, 205, 207, 215, 218 and 221.

Mr. McLeish: With the tolerance and forbearance of the House, we shall proceed.

This is a group of technical amendments to the clauses that are concerned with the transfer of ministerial functions to the Scottish Ministers. It will clarify which functions will transfer down under clause 49. It will clarify the functions that will transfer, including those conferred by prerogative instruments such as royal charters. It will also clarify how the functions of United Kingdom Ministers can be split so as to enable the split functions to transfer under clause 49, and will insert a new clause permitting functions to be transferred from Scottish to United Kingdom Ministers by agreement--for example, in relation to schedule 5--if there is any modification required following discussions. That, in essence, is what new clause 19 seeks to do.

The intent of the amendments is fairly straightforward, and, with the agreement of the House, I shall go through the details as quickly as I can. I refer first to Government amendments Nos. 139, 159, 183, 198, 259, 204, 205 and 218.

Government amendment No. 139 modifies clause 49--which is intended to transfer to the Scottish Ministers those ministerial functions that relate to devolved matters--so that it is clear that it transfers functions that are conferred by prerogative instruments, such as royal charters. Government amendments Nos. 159, 183 and 259 make related amendments to clauses 83, 96 and 100. Government amendment No. 198 amends clause 104 so that the appropriate references to the Ministers of the Crown in prerogative instruments shall be read as

12 May 1998 : Column 246

references to the Scottish Ministers. In a sense, it is a tidying-up amendment. Government amendments Nos. 204, 205 and 218 provide a definition of prerogative instrument.

Government amendments Nos. 138, 140 to 142, 144, 199 to 201 and 215 are centred around Government amendments Nos. 138 and 140 to 142 to clauses 49 and 50. Their essential purpose is to make it clear that executive functions will transfer if it would be within the Parliament's competence to pass laws enabling a Scottish Minister to exercise the relevant function. Government amendments Nos. 144, 199 to 201 and 215 make consequential technical amendments.

Government amendment No. 143 amends clause 52, which sets out those powers in relation to devolved matters that, despite devolution, are to be exercisable by Ministers of the Crown as well as by the Scottish Ministers. The amendment adds a reference to ministerial powers conferred by Orders in Council implementing United Nations sanctions. That will enable appropriate arrangements to be made for the continuation of licensing of trade in goods and services under such orders.

In most cases, it would make sense for the United Kingdom Government to continue to administer a unified regime of licensing covering both reserved and devolved matters. This amendment will enable that to happen by agreement. Future sanctions orders are not covered: they can make their own provision as to who exercises any licensing functions. I trust that the House will agree that this amendment is necessary as a practical solution to the continued administration of UN sanctions as part of our international obligations.

Government amendment No. 137 inserts a definition of "statutory function" into clause 48. Government amendments Nos. 207 and 221 make consequential changes to clauses 111 and 112. Government amendment No. 145 alters clause 59 so that all forms of ministerial function, not just those conferred by statute, can be executively devolved or modified by Orders in Council under that clause.

That will bring what is possible by executive devolution into line with the intended effect of clause 49 in transferring ministerial functions that relate to devolved matters to the Scottish Ministers. Government amendment No. 129 makes a consequential amendment to clause 23, so that Parliament's power of summons applies in relation to matters that are the subject of non-statutory executively devolved functions as well as statutory ones.

Government amendments Nos. 184, 185 and 186 are technical amendments to the order-making powers in clause 97. Government amendments Nos. 184 and 185 make it clear that such subordinate legislation under that clause can split ministerial functions so that they are exercisable separately within devolved competence for the purpose of facilitating their transfer to the Scottish Ministers. At present, the clause merely mentions the splitting of functions so that they are separately exercisable in, or as regards, Scotland. Government amendment No. 186 deletes clause 97(3), which would be redundant as a result of the proposed amendments to clause 84.

New clause 19, together with Government amendments Nos. 262 and 263, enables Her Majesty by Order in Council--subject to affirmative procedure in both Parliaments--to provide for functions exercisable by the

12 May 1998 : Column 247

Scottish Ministers to be exercisable instead by a Minister of the Crown or concurrently with a Minister of the Crown, or by a Minister of the Crown only following consultation or agreement with the Scottish Ministers. The power would ensure that appropriate arrangements could be made for the transfer of functions to the UK Government in consequence of an extension of the list of reserved matters by an Order in Council under clause 29, or of an agreement to vary the functions that were exercisable by the Scottish Ministers under executive devolution.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): With regard to the Order in Council referred to in new clause 19, can the Minister tell the House whether it is to be made by the affirmative or the negative procedure?

Mr. McLeish: I am sorry that the right hon. and learned Gentleman missed my point; perhaps it was not distinct. The Order in Council will be subject to affirmative procedure in both Parliaments.

Mr. Hogg: In both Parliaments?

Mr. McLeish: In both Parliaments. We are seeking to improve the Bill by adding these technical amendments, which make the splitting of responsibilities clear. We must do that by agreement. If the power is required, it will be subject to affirmative procedure in both Houses, which is appropriate in the circumstances that I have outlined. It could also be used to enable UK Ministers to exercise certain functions on a UK-wide basis--for example, in the collection of certain statistics.

These technical amendments are necessary to make adequate provision for the transfer and exercise of executive functions. The Bill is a major constitutional measure, and the amendments are intended to improve it. As a courtesy to hon. Members, I will be happy to furnish them with further details of each of the amendments, if that is required.

Mr. Heald: In respect of amendment No. 159, which extends the requirements on cross-border public authorities concerning the laying of reports by including bodies that might be required to lay reports before this place under prerogative instrument, would the BBC, as a body under royal charter, be required to lay a report before the Scottish Parliament?

Mr. McLeish: That particular amendment and clause would not have that effect, but we have arranged that the report of the BBC nationally will be placed before the Scottish Parliament. That has been done by agreement, in the context of the cross-border debates that we have had. That is a reserved function, which is covered by other parts of the Bill.

Dr. Fox: During our consideration of the Bill, we have often accused various groups of tabling amendments for various reasons, but clearly the Government did not table this group of amendments to try to steal the headlines from the Foreign Secretary. It is not the most politically contentious group of amendments that we have considered.

I am grateful to the civil servants who spoke to us in advance about the need to table a large number of amendments, but we must ask why there are so many.

12 May 1998 : Column 248

I seek clarification from the Minister on one or two points, so that those mere mortals among us who do not have law degrees and those outside who pay attention to such matters can have the answers in plainer English.

Amendment No. 138 removes the words

and replaces them with the words "within devolved competence". Why has that change been made? What is the difference? Is it simply drafting, or is a different meaning brought in by the change?

With reference to amendment No. 141, what is the difference between clause 50(2) as it exists in the Bill, and subsections (2)(a) and (b) in the amendment? Again, there seems to be a slight difference that may not be accounted for by drafting.

Can the Minister tell us what amendment No. 142 means in practice? The words

in clause 50 are to be replaced by the words

    "confirmed or approved, or purporting to be made, confirmed or approved".

It would be helpful to the House to know what that change means. I have read the amendment four or five times, and I am none the wiser, so I shall be pleased if he can help us.

On amendment No. 143, the Minister spoke of the need for measures to give effect to Security Council decisions, but how does that square with the reservation for foreign policy in schedule 5? If such a foreign policy decision is entirely reserved to the Westminster Parliament, why is the provision needed? If a particular aspect of foreign policy requires the agreement of the Scottish Parliament, what will happen if the Scottish Parliament does not agree? What will happen to Britain's international obligations?

The Secretary of State told us, I think on Second Reading, that the reason for reserving foreign affairs to Westminster was that we could not afford a split in the responsibility; we could not afford ever to have a situation where the Scottish Parliament did not want to accept international responsibility. What would happen with regard to a Security Council order? If the Scottish Parliament decides that it does not like what the Westminster Government are going along with in terms of sanctions, would not that be a breach of our international obligations, and is that not incompatible with the worst case scenario that the Secretary of State set out at the beginning of the Bill's passage?

Next Section

IndexHome Page