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The Duke of Montrose: My Lords, I begin by thanking the Minister for the trouble that he has taken to inform me and others in advance of the arguments that the Government were likely to make with regard to each of these statutory instruments. Whatever complaints any noble Lords might have about the involvement of Scots in the legislative process after the setting up of the Scottish Parliament, it can hardly be about the way in which we deal with statutory instruments.
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It would appear that the Government have been able to work seven different subjects into the various aspects of these three statutory instruments. There is a hope that we will get through the whole business in 45 minutes. I shall skip any comments about the EU elections legislation.
As the Minister has declared that he is likely to know a great deal more about the Arts and Humanities Research Council than most of us, perhaps I may ask him if he can tell the House whether the purpose will be primarily to allocate funding to various higher education bodies which propose to undertake appropriate research in those fields. If that is so, will that preclude those bodies from looking for further grants from their local administrations? Otherwise, will it gather its own body of experts to carry out the research directly in its own name?
Article 4 of the order seems to have stirred up rather more contention. The Government proposals for the devolution of rail services in Scotland were set out, they tell us, in the White Paper entitled, The Future of Rail. Judging from the Government's Answers to Written Questions in another place, they consider that it will be necessary to have a railways Bill to give primary legislative power to some of the proposals that are contained in it. Is the Minister conscious of any reasons that the Scottish Executive felt it necessary to pre-empt that proposal with their own White Paper entitled, Scotland's Transport Future? Has that been drawn up in co-ordination with the Government's proposals? Would it not have been better to have all the primary legislation in place first or do the two not coincide at all?
Perhaps I may further inquire of the noble Lord, if the Scottish Ministers are given the Strathclyde Passenger Transport functions, they will presumably have to devolve these to several regional transport authorities. Have the Government been given any view on what the role of the Strathclyde Passenger Transport Authority will be? As the noble Lord pointed out, it has been having talks with the Executive. But I gather that, as yet, it has not really grasped what it might be asked to do.
As regards the order concerning functions in or as regards Scotland, I must declare my own interest as a farmer in Scotland. I find it rather puzzling that the Minister's statement says that the powers that the order is conveying to the Scottish Parliament is,
I am told that that is regarded as an issue of cross-border farmers. I can only say to your Lordships that until it is all resolved and made absolutely clear, it is an issue that will produce some very cross Border farmers. Can the Minister tell the House how many of those farmers there are north and south of the Border?
At this point, Scottish farmers who do not have those complications have been given a very clear idea of what payments they can expect under the single
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farm payment, whereas the cross-border farmers have had nothing. Of course, we all understand that the basis of the single farm payment is different in different parts of the United Kingdom. So I can see that there are complications in that it would appear that entitlements at least for arable land will be calculated under the part of the United Kingdom in which the land lies.
But it will be rather more difficult when dealing with entitlement based on the historical basis of the livestock grants where the animals concerned may have spent part of the year in one part of the United Kingdom and part in another. I am told that within holdings in Scotland some system for resolving that by a method known as "stacking" and "consolidation" has been evolved. But that is bound to be more difficult when it occurs between different areas of the United Kingdom. Can the Minister say whether all this will mean that those holdings will have to apply for their single farm payment separately to the different government departments or is it envisaged, for instance, that the Scottish Environment and Rural Affairs Department will have to receive instruction from Defra as to what is the appropriate payment in regard to the English element of the claim and then pay it all in the one cheque?
The final order covers three elements of the Freedom of Information Act. It is of course a good thing that that legislation will ensure that legislation in England and Scotland will apply equally to both. I hope that it will be to everyone's mutual advantage.
Lord Steel of Aikwood: My Lords, I do not wish my appearance on this Front Bench to be misunderstood. I have not received any sudden, unexpected or undeserved promotion. I simply have a watching brief on these highly controversial orders. They are not controversial at all of course. They all have the effect of making the administration of the law both north and south of the Border more sensible. They are tidying-up orders; nothing more and nothing less. Therefore, because they are broadly devolutionary in effect, of course I give them a warm welcome.
It is eminently sensible that, for example, the freedom commissioner should feel free to exchange information without falling foul of the Data Protection Act. As one who represented cross Border farmers for many years, as well as very agreeable Border farmers, I take note of what the noble Duke has said about improving the administration of payments for those who own or farm territory both sides of the Border.
However, I want to say something about the order dealing with railway matters and the transfer of responsibility to Scottish Ministers. That of course is consistent with the intended abolition of the Strategic Rail Authority in Scotland. In my view, that cannot come too soon.
The current Minister for Transport in Scotland, Mr Nicol Stephen, is an old friend of mine. That does not necessarily mean that he will get everything right, but he certainly cannot do any worse than the Strategic Rail Authority. The other day, one of its major spokesmen, when referring to the proposed reopening of the Border
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railway line that is under consideration in a Bill currently before the Scottish Parliament, suggested that that was a waste of time and that it would be better for people to go by bus. For a spokesman for a rail authority, that seems a very odd view. But it is consistent with the views of the rail authorities over many years.
That remark took me back to an episode at the time when the original Border Union Railway was under threat of closure. I went to see the head of the then British Rail Scotland at his office in Glasgow to look at the alleged costs and losses being built up over the running of the railway on the Waverley route, as it was known then, from Carlisle to Edinburgh. We looked at the figures, and he showed me among them the sum of £25,000quite a lot of money in the late 1960swhich was the allocated share of the cost of the upkeep of Waverley station. I said, "If you cut the Border railway line, you will not save that £25,000. It will be shifted somewhere else". He took out a pencil and drew a line through that item on the sheet of paper. It is that kind of casual attitude on the part of the railway authorities over the years which has bedevilled life in the Borders.
I am all in favour of transferring this power to Scottish Ministers. However, anyone who suggests taking the bus on the A7 has never, as I have, travelled by that means on the road. More important, they have never followed a bus on the A7, which is a road on which it is almost impossible to overtake between Galashiels and Edinburgh, particularly if traffic happens to be coming the other way.
I give this order, as part of the series before us, my support as a means of ensuring that in the future Ministers have greater control over policy. I hope very much that we will see the reopening of the Waverley line and I hope that there will be a faster and more imaginative service than the one currently being considered in the Bill before the Scottish Parliament. I know that my noble friend Lord Mar and Kellie may want to say something about the aspects of this order which affect the Strathclyde passenger authority, but in general I am in favour of Ministers taking responsibility to the Scottish Parliament for the future pattern of railway life in Scotland.
Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I am happy to follow the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and to agree with him in his comments about the reopening of the Waverley route. It was one of the very important railway lines in Britain which should not have been closed under the provisions of the Beeching report and it is scandalous that it has taken this long for the reopening to take place.
I do not dissent from anything that has already been said by noble Lords and I want to say only a few words about Strathclyde Passenger Transport. This is an opportunity to draw attention to the very substantial contribution made by SPT to the provision of rail services in the west of Scotland at a time when other passenger transport authorities and local authorities have been finding it difficult to support railway services. The record of SPT in maintaining a very high
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level of service at fares which the majority of residents can afford, along with the programme of reopening and refurbishing stations, is one for which it deserves enormous credit. I hope very much that what my noble friend on the Front Bench said about future co-operation between the Executive and SPT will indeed come to pass, because it would be most unfortunate if the advances achieved by SPT with rail services in its area are not continued and further improvements made.
My noble friend Lord Elder, who cannot be in his place this evening, has asked me to say to noble Lords that he relies heavily on SPT for his transport around Glasgow. He is fortunate enough to live in a suburb of Glasgow which is served by no fewer than 16 trains an hour into the city centre. His life would be impossible if SPT was not able to maintain the level of service it currently offers from Hyndland.
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