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Lord Sewel: My understanding is that the parliament could certainly set up advisory committees if it wished. It could set them up in the way that the noble Viscount indicates. I believe there is a big difference between advisory committees and decision-making committees. Essentially we come back to the point that we return to time and time again; namely, that how the parliament develops its committee structure is a matter for the parliament to decide. I am happy with that. It must make provision to meet the requirement that, in appointing members to committees and sub-committees, regard is had to the balance of parties in the parliament. The balance of parties must be taken into account. However, it may be that in some cases, having had regard to the balance of parties in the parliament, the parliament
Amendment No. 126 would require the parliament's standing orders to allow MEPs to sit on committees or sub-committees which scrutinise European Commission documents or European legislation. We do not accept that amendment. While I agree that there may be occasions when a contribution by MEPs could help the parliament's consideration of EU proposals, how best to achieve that is a matter which should be left to the Scottish parliament to decide for itself. That does not prevent the parliament deciding whether and how to make provision in its standing orders for inviting non-members of committees to attend committees so that the benefit of their knowledge and experience is available to the parliament and its committees. However, as I have indicated previously, the Government believe it is right that, with the exception of the Lord Advocate and the Solicitor-General, for whom special provision is made, only members of the parliament should be members of its committees and sub-committees.
I can therefore agree with the idea that lies behind the amendments and we shall certainly want to encourage close collaboration between members of the Scottish parliament and Members of the European Parliament. But let us leave it to the parliament itself to decide how to achieve that and what the appropriate measures should be. I hope that on that basis the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: The Minister has interpreted paragraph 4(2) of the schedule in a way that is directly contrary to the interpretation of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, a moment before. The noble and learned Lord could not see that regional committees could possibly be set up under paragraph 4(2) which did what my noble friend Lord Thurso suggested would be sensible; namely, that those regional advisory committees should consist of all the members elected for that region.
However, having heard the interpretation that the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, has put on that paragraph, it is right that it will be interpreted in that way should the point arise for discussion in any legal forum in the future.
Lord Sewel: Regarding the matter of, "have regard to", the case law on the issue is in support of the Government's position. I refer the noble Lord to Simpson v. Edinburgh Corporation 1961, and Bearsden and Milngavie District Council v. Secretary of State for Scotland 1992. It is on those cases that the argument has been advanced tonight.
Lord Sewel: I apologise to the noble Lord for not replying to his question immediately. His point is a specific one but it raises a general issue: that of the relationship between the parliaments and the courts. I cannot give a single useful generalised answer to that question. I am happy to take away any specific points and consider them. I accept that this is a significant issue.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: My noble friend Lord Thurso asked a straight question and received a straight answer from the Minister. His question was: is it possible to have a regional committee under paragraph 4(2) on which all the members of that region sit, without incomers from other areas taking part. The Minister said yes.
The cases to which he referred are always carried in my head. I turn them over in my mind in the early hours of the morning and am fully aware of their implications, who decided them and who appeared in them. The Minister has given the answer that will be used in any court proceedings that may ever arise on the construction of this paragraph.
The question of the desirability of regional committees was raised. Perhaps noble Lords will forgive me for saying that in Wales we regard regional committees as essential. In various parts of Wales there are communities of interest. We believe that each of those communities should be represented and should be in a position to advise the national assembly of Wales.
In case noble Lords think that I am fixated on Wales, I should say that I have a deep interest in Scotland. Perhaps I can best illustrate it by saying that my new grandson's name is Angus Huw (the second name is spelt in the Welsh way), so I am almost 50:50 split on the Wales/Scotland issue. I can see that in the part of Scotland that I know best, Aberdeen, people have the same concerns about a tug from the central belt, the polarisation of power and influence in Edinburgh and Glasgow, as we in North Wales have about the polarisation of power in Cardiff. Consequently, in the part of the world that I know people are concerned that there should be proper representation and consultation, and a proper community of interests in the Scottish assembly. I should have thought that regional committees are desirable. We hope that this schedule will permit such regional committees to be formed.
The maintenance of subparagraphs (2) and (3) of paragraph 4 means that any question arising under this legislation would be for the courts to determine. If the Scottish parliament decided, for example, that a committee should be formed which did not have a balance of parties in the parliament, then the matter would go to court. All we are saying from these Benches is that the Scottish parliament should be able to decide such issues without the courts being involved in construing Westminster legislation.
The Housing Act 1996 gave local authorities new powers to adopt registration schemes for houses in multiple occupation (HMOs). It was intended that local authorities should be able to charge a non-refundable fee on application to recoup some of their costs of processing applications for registration. However, we have concluded that the provisions of the 1996 Act do not enable authorities to charge a fee unless and until registration is granted.
We are concerned that that may leave authorities that have adopted control schemes out of pocket, particularly if there are large numbers of HMOs in a poor condition in their area. It may also deter them from chasing landlords of poor-quality HMOs to ensure that they comply with their duty to apply for registration. However, authorities may be reluctant to adopt these schemes if they are unable to charge a fee until registration is agreed.
These regulations will enable authorities with control schemes to charge a non-refundable fee when application for registration is made. They are made under the power in Section 150 of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989. This power has previously been used to enable authorities to charge fees under HMO registration schemes adopted prior to the Housing Act 1996. The fee stipulated by the regulations is subject to a maximum of £60 per habitable room, which was prescribed by the Houses in Multiple Occupation (Fees for Registration Schemes) Order 1997. This order will also be amended to provide that where a fee has been paid on application under the regulations, no further fee will be payable on registration. I therefore ask the House to approve the making of the regulations.