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Delegated Legislation Committee Debates

Draft Scotland Act 1998 (Modification of Functions) Order 2000

First Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation

Tuesday 23 May 2000

[Mr. John Cummings in the Chair]

Draft Scotland Act 1998 (Modification of Functions) Order 2000

4.30 pm

The Minister of State, Scotland Office (Mr. Brian Wilson): I beg to move,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Scotland Act 1998 (Modification of Functions) Order 2000.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to consider the draft Scotland Act 1998 (Transfer of Functions to the Scottish Ministers etc.) Order 2000.

Mr. Wilson: After the tensions and excitements of Scottish questions, it will be a relief to undertake a leisurely consideration of the orders. Before I go into detail, it may be helpful to put them into context and briefly explain their purpose.

The Scotland Act 1998 recognised that in some cases it would be appropriate for Scottish Ministers to be able to exercise executive powers in areas where primary legislation continues to be a matter for Westminster—that is commonly known as executive devolution. Section 63 of the Scotland Act allows functions in reserved areas to be transferred to Scottish Ministers, or for Scottish Ministers to be given a role by introducing requirements for them to be consulted, or for their agreement to be obtained to the exercise of functions by UK Ministers.

Members of the Committee may recall the first Executive devolution order, the Scotland Act 1998 (Transfer of Functions to the Scottish Ministers etc.) Order 1999, which was considered in June 1999. It ran to some 30 pages, and transferred a wide range of functions to Scottish Ministers. The first order adds a number of additional functions to those already executively devolved, where it has been agreed between the UK Government and the Scottish Executive that that is appropriate.

I turn to the second order. I shall deal first with the Nurses, Midwives and Health Visitors Act 1997. The National Board for Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting for Scotland is an executive non-departmental public body. Its function is to maintain and develop standards of professional education and nursing, midwifery and health visiting through the approval of institutions and courses and through research and development programmes. The board is part of the UK regulatory framework for the nursing professions and the regulation of nurses and midwives is a reserved matter under the Scotland Act.

Professional self-regulation of nurses is carried out by five bodies: the United Kingdom Central Council for Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting—UKCC—and the four national boards for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The National Board for Scotland is therefore an integral part of the UK regulatory system, responsible for ensuring that entrants to the profession in Scotland, and the courses of preparation that they undertake, meet UKCC standards. It also brings a distinctive Scottish perspective to that role by promoting developments in nurse education that are in tune with the Scottish higher education system and meet the needs of the national health service in Scotland. For those reasons, it has always been funded by, and accountable to, the Health Department in Scotland. The UK Government and the Scottish Executive agree that responsibility for the board should rest with Scottish Ministers. The order therefore transfers to Scottish Ministers all the ministerial functions under the Nurses, Midwives and Health Visitors Act 1997, as they relate to the National Board for Scotland.

Article 8 of the order provides for new arrangements for the auditing of the accounts of the National Board for Scotland by the Auditor General for Scotland, to be consistent with the arrangements for public sector audit set out in the Public Finance and Accountability (Scotland) Act 2000.

The order includes entries relating to the Disability Rights Commission. That body was established earlier this year under the Disability Rights Commission Act 1999, and replaced the National Disability Council. The separate order under section 106 of the Scotland Act creates a new requirement that one of the commissioners should have ``special knowledge of Scotland''. The first order keys into that requirement and provides that the appointment is to be made with the agreement of Scottish Ministers. Similar requirements were already in place for the National Disability Council; no substantive changes have been made.

Article 2 of the first order deals with the Tax Credits Act 1999, section 15(3) of which allows the Secretary of State to accredit organisations that may approve child care providers for the purposes of eligibility for the child care element of the working families tax credit and the disabled persons tax credit. Such organisations must meet certain criteria. The article provides that when an organisation is accredited for the purpose of applying a scheme for child care providers in Scotland, the function will be treated as exercisable in or as regards Scotland.

In addition, the function of making regulations under section 15 of the Tax Credits Act will now be exercisable by the Secretary of State only with the agreement of Scottish Ministers. Section 15 provides for the regulations to put in place a scheme that would establish a new category of person whose charges for providing child care would be taken into account when assessing eligibility for the child care element of the working families tax credit and the disabled persons tax credit.

In practice, the scheme will ensure that the child care provider must be approved by an accredited organisation. I am sure that all Committee members subscribe to that objective. The scheme also authorises making grants and loans to those organisations and ensures that the fees that they charge are reasonable.

I shall change direction and discuss road traffic and speed limits. Part VI of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 deals with speed limits and is largely reserved, although some functions have already been executively devolved. The order further devolves certain functions in relation to temporary speed limits. That will mean that Scottish Ministers will be able to make an order to impose a maximum speed limit, for periods of up to 18 months, on specified roads.

On welfare reform and employment zones, article 4 relates to the Welfare Reform and Pensions Act 1999. That Act contains provisions relating to employment zones and allows for schemes to be set up in designated areas where special benefit rules can apply. Participants in the schemes are helped back to work by allowing them to anticipate funding for spending, during a period of up to six months, on training and job searches, to which they can add money that is equivalent to the payments that they would normally receive from the jobseeker's allowance.

Under the 1999 Act, the Secretary of State can also provide a wider range of support for activities within the employment zones that help people to get and to keep work. That policy of helping people to help themselves extends to unemployed people who are seeking to become self-employed.

As a result of the order, Scottish Ministers will be able to make payments to persons who provide suitable facilities for claimants of jobseeker's allowance to be trained for long-term employment. Scottish Ministers, concurrently with United Kingdom Ministers, will now be able to fund any such eligible activity within an employment zone in Scotland.

Finally, I turn to merchant shipping. Article 6 amends the first Executive devolution order. The entry in the original order in respect of rule 4(1) of the Merchant Shipping (Formal Investigation) Rules 1985 was intended to transfer a function from the Secretary of State to Scottish Ministers. However, other legislation in 1990 had already removed the ministerial function and conferred it on the Lord President of the Court of Session. Unfortunately, that was not identified during the preparation of the order. The entry in the original order is therefore redundant and will be removed.

The other articles in the order are purely technical. They either amend certain terms and references in various enactments or they make transitional and saving provisions with the transfer of functions.

I hope that Committee members accept what I believe to be the case—that no controversial issues are involved. The orders are tidying measures and are consistent with the general devolution settlement. I am sure that all fair-minded people agree that it is reasonable and inevitable for such measures to be taken from time to time in order to deal with circumstances that may arise. They also deal with employment zones and some of the other initiatives that I mentioned, which may not have been fully developed when the Scotland Act 1999 was introduced. I should be happy to deal with any issues that Committee members raise.

4.39 pm

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield): The Minister rightly said that there are consequential orders to be made on the passing of the Scotland Act. We have considered a number of them on previous occasions. Some have transferred functions to Ministers of the Scottish Executive; some have taken powers from the Secretary of State for Scotland and given them to Ministers in United Kingdom Government Departments, because that was thought to be a better place for them to reside. I have no difficulty with the principle of that, or with the need to monitor it and carry out such assignments as are necessary.

I have little difficulty with the vast bulk of the proposals before the Committee. The Scotland Act 1998 (Modification of Functions) Order 2000 does not appear to present any problems; nor do most of the issues raised in the Scotland Act 1998 (Transfer of Functions to the Scottish Ministers etc.) Order 2000. However, I should be grateful for clarification on one matter. I stress that I ask in the spirit of requesting clarification: my slight reservations on the issue might be unfounded.

The issue is that of the Tax Credits Act 1999. The Minister seemed to suggest that that power would, in future, be shared between the United Kingdom departmental Minister and the Scottish Minister. However, that might apply only in some cases, because article 3 appears to make it possible to transfer that power completely.

 
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