Draft Scotland Act 1998 (Transfer of Functions to the Scottish Ministers Etc.) Order 2003

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John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross): May I also say to the Committee that I have looked forward to debating the legislation with keen anticipation? However, with considerable willpower, I was able to put it out of my mind during the festive recess.

I am most grateful for the explanatory notes, which are indeed extremely helpful in respect of these short orders and the procedures that they touch on. It seems to us that the legislation is a fairly straightforward piece of devolution. It is welcome in that it continues the devolution process, which is absolutely appropriate.

Those members of the Committee who served in either House during consideration of the Scotland Act may remember that many of us felt that it was a minimum and rather defensive—indeed, largely because of the opposition of some Conservative Members in both Houses—so it is appropriate that as the devolution process is shown to work so effectively we should continue to give more

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responsibility to the Scottish Ministers. I for one am happy to see that process continuing.

May I ask the Minister one or two fairly straightforward questions? The first is in regard to the 1974 Act. Will she confirm that what is taking place is simply a transfer of Executive power from the UK Minister to the Scottish Minister and that that does not imply that there will be a differentiation in the law due to a circumstance whereby there could be different treatment for past offenders north and south of the border? Are we dealing with administration, not changes in the law?

With regard to the 2000 Act, the order is particularly welcome because it will iron out the anomaly of being allowed to fund only those shipping services that begin and end, and are wholly within, Scotland. Interestingly, the power is being devolved under section 63(1)(b) of the Scotland Act. It will run concurrently with those of UK Ministers, and there is no straightforward transfer.

In that regard, as the power is to be held by the Scottish Minister and the Secretary of State, who will have the final say if, on either side, there is a difference of opinion? Will the Secretary of State get to veto the Scottish Minister or will the Scottish Minister get to veto the Secretary of State? How might that situation be dealt with? On funding, will the Minister confirm that if, for example, the UK Minister decided to make a grant, the resources for it would remain a matter for the UK Treasury and that they would not come from current Scottish funding?

I would be grateful for answers to those questions, but may I also make a brief general point that picks up on my opening comments? The order continues the devolution process, which, unlike the Conservative party, I see as very welcome. However, perhaps we are approaching the point at which the Government might like to consider debating the issue. As a sitting of the Scottish Grand Committee is coming up, they might consider that subject suitable for discussion.

2.51 pm

Mrs. McGuire: On the hon. Gentleman's last point, I am sure that the Lib Dems might want to use one of their Scottish Grand Committee days to pick up those issues. The great advantage of that Committee is that everybody gets a wee shot in terms of deciding the subject matter, so it is open to all to raise issues that they think are a priority.

I thank the hon. Gentleman in particular for his welcome for the order. He has grasped the subtlety of the devolution process, unlike, dare I say it, the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Duncan). I fear that he considers the devolution settlement as set in stone in 1997, but, as the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso) suggested, the subject was well debated in both Houses during proceedings on the Scotland Act.

May I deal specifically with points that have been raised? I was asked why the order has been introduced now. In fact, the process of transferring functions has been ongoing, and part of it involves tidying up the

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settlement as well as reacting to the situation that has developed in terms of the Scotland Act. All that is predicated on the 1997 White Paper and the 1998 legislation.

Pete Wishart: Has the Minister seen the remarks of David Steel, Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, who said that he is becoming increasingly frustrated by the piecemeal reform of the Scottish Parliament, and his claim that there would be much more efficiency in these matters if the Scottish Parliament acted alone?

Mrs. McGuire: I am not sure of the point of that intervention. The Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament is entitled to utter his opinion on whatever subject he wishes, but that is not the focus of today's discussion. However, we look forward with great eagerness to reading the reminiscences of Lord Steel, who is a Member of another House as well as being Presiding Officer, as to his time in the Chair and the lessons that he has or has not learned.

I was asked why is the order being introduced. Such orders were always anticipated as part of the devolution process. The hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale raised a general point on why these functions were not included in the Scotland Act. That is partly because the legal terms of the order are complex, and it was recognised during the passage of the Act that it would take time for issues to come to the fore and that we would then have to do what was required to ensure that the functions were transferred.

Mr. Duncan: Surely the Minister acknowledges that we debated a similar order in May last year, which concerned shipping issues, especially between Scotland and Northern Ireland. At that point, it was perfectly obvious that the establishment of the service between Rosyth and Zeebrugge was imminent. Indeed, the first sailing took place shortly thereafter. Was it not perfectly possible for the Scotland Office to anticipate that and introduce a reasoned, sensible order encompassing both eventualities?

Mrs. McGuire: If memory serves me well, my right hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) was the Minister and we were—

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley): Blame your predecessor.

Mrs. McGuire: I am not going to blame my right hon. Friend, because we should identify the fact that the Scotland Office acted quickly to deal with a specific issue involving Campbeltown and Ballycastle. It would have been inappropriate had we delayed the transfer of functions to deal with the Ballycastle and Campbeltown ferry until we had the whole picture in front of us. We dealt with a specific issue.

Mr. Duncan: Perhaps the Minister will give the Committee guidance. Was the need to support the service between Rosyth and Zeebrugge not anticipated last May whereas now, patently, it is?

Mrs. McGuire: I fear that what I said may have been taken out of context, as I used Rosyth and Zeebrugge more as an example rather than a specific. I do not want the hon. Gentleman to flurry away out of

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here and say that we are debating a freight subsidy or charge to that ferry. I referred to it to show how the order could be used. Equally, I could have mentioned services from Aberdeen to Shetland or a similar example.

John Thurso: Scrabster to the Faroes.

Mrs. McGuire: Exactly.

Rachel Squire (Dunfermline, West): Does my hon. Friend agree that millions of pounds of public funding was made available before the launch of the Rosyth-Zeebrugge ferry in May last year? The hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale does not seem to be aware of that fact. Does she also agree how appreciative the people of Rosyth, Fife and the whole of Scotland are of the public money and support from this Government and the Scottish Executive, which were given to enable a successful service to be launched, sailed and operated?

Mrs. McGuire: I could not have put it better myself. I congratulate my hon. Friend on being a doughty champion of that ferry crossing. I know that it has brought great benefits not only to her constituency, but to areas across Scotland.

May I move on from that issue and deal specifically with taxes management, which seems to exercise the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale?

Mr. Duncan: Will the Minister give way?

Mrs. McGuire: The hon. Gentleman is still exercised.

Mr. Duncan: I am exercised on the one question that the Minister has not answered: why would it be necessary for the Scottish Ministers to support a service that commenced and finished outwith Scotland?

Mrs. McGuire: My apologies. The Scotland Act uses the terms as regards Scotland and in Scotland—in other words, as regards to as opposed to specifically in Scotland—to allow a more holistic view to be taken. The provision applies to the interests of Scotland as well as to journeys to and from Scotland, so we are allowing a more strategic view to be taken of what are Scottish interests. I hope that that satisfies the hon. Gentleman. If it does not, I am sure that he will write to me.

The taxes management issue involves Executive devolution, not the transfer of legislative competence. I hope that I have reassured the Committee on that point. The power to appoint general commissioners has already been executively devolved to Scottish Ministers, so it makes sense to transfer the functions to allow them to commence and operate the relevant amendments through the 1970 Act. Again, only the Executive function, not the legislative competence, is being transferred. Prior to devolution, the Secretary of State for Scotland made some of those appointments, so it seemed reasonable to ensure that that ability was passed on to the Scottish Executive.

I hope that I have answered most of the points that were raised, with the exception of consultations with the FSA. I assure the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale that consultations were undertaken

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by the Home Office in that respect, and the FSA was content with that aspect of the legislation. On the 2000 Act and the grants that the Scottish Executive may want to utilise, those will come out of existing resources. There is no additional funding as a result of the proposal.

I hope that I have now answered all the questions. The explanatory notes for such orders have continued

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to improve and I am delighted that Members have found them so helpful.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Scotland Act 1998 (Transfer of Functions to the Scottish Ministers etc.) Order 2003.

Committee rose at Three o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Cummings, Mr. John (Chairman)
Cameron, Mr.
Davidson, Mr.
Duncan, Mr. Peter
Foulkes, Mr.
Hamilton, David
Knight, Jim
Liddell-Grainger, Mr.
McCafferty, Chris
McGuire, Mrs.
Murphy, Mr. Jim
Osborne, Sandra
Robertson, Mr. Laurence
Roy, Mr.
Squire, Rachel
Thurso, John
Wishart, Pete

 
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