Draft Scotland Act 1998 (Consequential Modifications) and (Modification of Schedule 5) Order 2001

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Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine): I, too, welcome the explanatory notes and the Minister's presentation. I shall return to the modification of schedule 5 order in a moment. However, it might explain the Committee's reaction to the Minister's suggestion that there is no policy significance to the order if I say that there is always a worry when, as the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) said, the explanatory note gives no more explanation than the order. I, too, read it several times and finally decided that it made sense.

I want to push the Minister a little further on the explanatory notes. In one of his last acts, one of the Minister's predecessors, the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald), gave me an assurance that he would consider listing in the explanatory notes those who had been consulted. It would be useful for hon. Members to know if no one had been consulted on a proposal and it had come out of thin air. Similarly, if the notes contained a list of consultees, we could be slightly reassured that those in the know had not flagged up any concerns and that, therefore, the order was less controversial than it might seem. That is another modification that the Minister could consider, building on the work of his predecessor. We are a lucky Committee in that our work touches on the work of another parliament, so we can try to learn what is best practice in the Scottish Parliament and bring back some of the benefits of its creation.

I welcome the modification of schedule 5 order if it does anything to help provide affordable housing. My constituency is a classic example of the challenge in many attractive constituencies where development is constrained by planning regulations. At the same time, the housing market is fuelled by proximity to the major oil industry in Aberdeen and by commuting pressures. It is difficult for people in traditional industries to stay in the community, and it is also difficult for the next generation, so we should do anything that we can to facilitate affordable housing.

On first reading the order, my only concern was—and I believe that the Minister has dealt with this concern—whether introducing this added protection would increase the cost of borrowing. If there is protection against insolvency, creditors might be reluctant to enter into contracts, and that might put a premium on the contract. I want to reinforce the fact—and to check again with the Minister—that this is a permissive order, and that it will be up to the Scottish Parliament to work out how to make housing policy work.

Finally, on the issue of affordable housing, I was unveiling a road sign in my constituency the other day to Sir Patrick Geddes. The 150th anniversary of his birth in Ballater is coming up in 2004. As he had the foresight to see the importance of community planning, I shall perhaps send the Minister literature on his achievements and see whether the Scotland Office is considering doing anything to mark that anniversary.

4.49 pm

Mr. Alasdair Morgan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale): Like the hon. Member for Beaconsfield, I also congratulate the Minister on his explanation of the orders—particularly the first one that he dealt with. The clarity of his delivery almost convinced us that he understood it. Perhaps he over-egged the custard a little in claiming that such orders justified the existence of the Scotland Office, but if he wants to think that, why should I disabuse him?

This is the last such delegated legislation Committee on which I shall have the privilege to serve, in view of the imminent election. I shall miss these exciting occasions. I am very glad about any measure that passes more power to the Scottish Parliament—even in such minuscule amounts as we are dealing with today. Certainly, the pace of transfer of powers is a bit pedestrian, but I expect that it will speed up.

4.50 pm

Mr. Foulkes: I am grateful to all three hon. Members who have spoken, although during their kind congratulations to me I was disturbed by a slight ripple among Labour Back Benchers, apparently signifying that so much Opposition praise might not be a good thing—particularly when it came from such a wide spectrum of the Opposition.

The hon. Member for Beaconsfield referred to the remark of my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow that the devil is in the detail--my hon. Friend is an expert in the detail. I am not new to the Scotland Act 1998, having followed it during its passage and as a Minister in another Department, but on rereading it I consider it one of the clearest and most effective Acts of Parliament that I have ever read. It is a great credit to the late Donald Dewar that he managed to pilot such a good Act, with such clear powers, through the House so quickly.

According to the predictions of some Jonahs and harbingers of doom, we should still be scrutinising the Bill now, but the Scottish Parliament has been operating for 21 months. The fact that the Act is in force and the Parliament is working, and that we are now considering the transfer to the Scottish Parliament of important powers, however small and limited, is a great tribute to the Labour Government and to our late friend Donald Dewar.

Sir Robert Smith: I echo that tribute to the late Donald Dewar. Does the Minister think that tribute should also be paid to the Scottish Constitutional Convention for doing much of the groundwork on potentially contentious issues that could have bogged us down?

Mr. Foulkes: Absolutely. The hon. Gentleman underlines my point. The fact that the Scotland Act 1998 followed much campaigning—in which he and I were involved—as well as cross-party discussion and cross-community agreement in the Scottish Constitutional Convention, and was approved overwhelmingly by the majority of the Scottish people, gives hon. Members on both sides of the House a responsibility to ensure its success and to maximise its effectiveness. I know that Labour Members are determined to do that.

I am glad that the hon. Member for Beaconsfield found the first of my explanations clear and complete, and had no points to raise about it. He went on to use some interesting metaphors about a long and winding road for further statutory instruments concerning road traffic. None are currently planned, but issues may always arise that need tidying up. Devolution was a change of such complexity that it was always likely that one or two matters would be missed. As I said earlier, it is remarkable that so little remains to be changed.

The hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine cited my hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles. My hon. Friend was a distinguished Minister, and he did an extremely good job dealing with roads and other matters. I had the privilege of visiting the Western Isles last week, and saw the resurgence in the Harris tweed industry; 42 people have been taken on by the manufacturers and things are looking up again thanks to the encouragement of the Labour Government and my hon. Friend's initiative. Not only was he a good Minister; he is an excellent constituency Member of Parliament. I shall look into the point raised by the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, which my hon. Friend agreed to consider, to find out whether hon. Members can be advised in more detail about the consultation that has taken place.

The hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine asked about affordable housing. The modification of schedule 5 order deals only with the moratorium and the transferring of that power and responsibility to the Scottish Executive and the Scottish Parliament. I have more detailed notes about the Housing Bill, in case the hon. Gentleman asked. It is a good Bill. It was introduced in the Scottish Parliament by the Labour-Liberal Democrat Administration. It will help to provide affordable housing, and is a positive move. I would have liked the opportunity to say more about it, because it is so good, but you, Mr. Cunningham, would have ruled me out of order.

If the hon. Gentleman wants to make a specific suggestion about Sir Patrick Geddes to the Government or the Scotland Office—perhaps an exhibition or an event to commemorate his 150th anniversary—we would certainly consider it seriously.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the premium on contracts due to the moratorium provisions. As I have said, the provision already exists in England and Wales, so we do not have to guess. The evidence is that it would not have that effect. In any case, we planned only for a 28-day moratorium, and we do not expect it to have much effect.

I can tell the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale that I shall miss his presence in the House. As he knows, I do not agree with him politically; we have had many opportunities to express our different views in the Chamber. However, unlike some other hon. Members—I shall not name them—the hon. Gentleman is invariably courteous, and puts his views with force but never with fury or unnecessary vitriol. I always appreciated the way in which he performed in the Westminster Parliament, because I sometimes have to control myself when speaking. I wish him well, but not too well, in his continued time in the Scottish Parliament.

The consequential modifications order is merely a tidying up order; it has no policy significance. The modification of schedule 5 order has small, limited, but nevertheless important policy implications. It is right that we should transfer that responsibility to the Scottish Parliament. It is somewhat ironic that it will bring practice into line north and south of the border, but that is precisely the sort of matter that can be agreed in Westminster and north of the border. The partnership between the Scottish Parliament and Westminster will benefit the people of Scotland, so long as we put forward policies that ensure that the social justice agenda is pursued north and south of the border.

Question put and agreed to.


    That the Committee has considered the Draft Scotland Act 1998 (Consequential Modifications) Order 2001.

Draft Scotland Act 1998 (Modification of Schedule 5) Order 2001


    That the Committee has considered the Draft Scotland Act 1998 (Modification of Schedule 5) Order 2001.

        Committee rose at Five o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Mr. Jim Cunningham (Chairman)
Atkinson, Mr. Peter
Foulkes, Mr.
Grieve, Mr.
Joyce, Mr.
Macdonald, Mr.
McGuire, Mrs.
Morgan, Mr. Alasdair
Murphy, Mr. Jim
Robertson, Mr. John
Sarwar, Mr.
Smith, Sir Robert
Tynan, Mr.

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