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Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, I am so glad that the noble Lord has just talked about SPT, which covers the part of these orders that I have found most difficult to understand. I have not been involved in the railway scene and I am glad that the noble Lord has been able to use his knowledge to make those remarks, as did the noble Lord, Lord Steel. Until recently the noble Lord was a Member of the Scots Parliament, since its inception as its Presiding Officer, and it is excellent that he has been able to take part in this debate.
I thank the Minister for supplying in advance of our discussion background material on the three orders. I am glad he did so because I found his speech quite convoluted. I am sure that everything is there, but if I had to understand the orders only from his remarks, that would not be easy because these are complicated matters.
I shall speak to the orders as they appear on the Order Paper. The first relates to the payment of agricultural subsidies. I think that I understand the effect of the order, but I should be grateful if the Minister could confirm that I am correct in thinking that its effect is quite simple. I hope that I am right. The European regulation altering the arrangements for subsidy for farmers is drafted with the usual CAP definition of a farmer being a person having a holding within the Community. Here in the United Kingdom, as the my noble friend the Duke of Montrose made clear, we have decided, as we are permitted to do, to allocate the subsidy in different ways north and south of the Border. In England the allocation is based on output over previous years, while in Scotland it is based on hectares farmed.
That differentiation is easily achieved, as both agriculture and the environment are matters devolved to Scotland. The only problem lies with those farmers who have holdings in Scotland and south of the Border. They must be able to receive the subsidy by way of Scottish Ministers and the Scottish regime for
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their Scottish holdings, and by way of Westminster and Defra for their English holdings. Can the Minister confirm that that is precisely the effect of the order and that it will enable that to happen?
My noble friend on the Front Bench asked why there were two separate references, one to Scottish farmers and one to cross-Border farmers. It will be interesting to hear the Minister's answer. I think the effect is quite simple, and I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm that.
The second order adjusts the list of reserved matters in Schedule 5 to the Scotland Act 1998 in three unrelated ways, as has already been discussed. Article 2 of the order amends Section B3, which relates to elections. It simply corrects an anomaly because of what turned out to be an error in the European Parliamentary Elections Act. That error should not have been made, of course, but I suggest that the House should not object in any way to its being rectified.
Article 3 adds the new Arts and Humanities Research Council to the list of matters reserved to Westminster in order that it may, together with the other research councils, operate UK-wide and be funded by the Office of Science and Technology. That seems to be absolutely unexceptional and should happen. I was one of those who, during the passing of the Scotland Act and during the discussion of the previous White Paper, asked the Government to ensure that the research councils should operate and be funded at UK level. It is in Scotland's interest. This research council will be handling devolved material, but that does not mean that it should be other than funded at Westminster. After all, the Scots Parliament can fund any research it likes in addition through its own funding in its own universities and elsewhere.
I have some questions about Article 4. The Minister explained that in their White Paper earlier this year Scottish Ministers announced their intention to transfer the role of Strathclyde Passenger Transport to themselves or to bodies set up by them. I have been told that SPT was not consulted at all before the order was laid. There was no discussion, and it wrote to say so.
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, it was in a letter from Strathclyde Passenger Transport. However, the Minister said that it is now in discussions. These may have started after the SPT letter was written. However, it is rather surprising.
Strathclyde Passenger Transport wonders what the rush is for; the order is not needed until legislation is brought forward. It wants to know how its role as a regional body looking specifically at the west of Scotland will be carried on. As others have said, it is a success story, and it wants to know how that will be carried on. It will be interesting to hear the Minister's comments on that.
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Why does the centralisation have to be carried out so quickly and without apparently, until now, much examination of the detail of what the effect will be? I may be going up the wrong street. The noble Lord, Lord Steel, who has been familiar with the matter for a long time, seems to think that the whole thing will probably be all right, but we need to know the justification for doing it in this way at this time. Would not it have been wiser to have waited for the legislation to come forward before going into the detail?
There will be many occasions when this House is asked to amend the Scotland Act, as only this Parliament can, because of legislation passed by the Scots Parliament. That is in the normal run of things. I am sure that we will all be interested when those orders come through. I would be grateful if the Minister can answer my, I hope, simple questions.
The Earl of Mar and Kellie: My Lords, like other noble Lords, I am interested in that part of the first order dealing with the devolution of railway powers, and in particular the devolution of the railway interests of the Strathclyde Passenger Transport Executiveor SPTE. These are very extensive, for the west of Scotland has the most extensive urban passenger rail network in Britain and is arguably the envy of many a transport strategist.
About eight years ago, as the chairman of an inquiry, I prevented those railway interests from being even more extensive, when we turned down a tram scheme for Glasgow. I have spent the past eight years trying to atone for that decision, and I suppose tonight, in trying to talk up SPTE, I am making another attempt. But the Scottish Parliament has legislated for the return of a railway that would pass my home, as encapsulated in the Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine Railway and Linked Improvements Act 2004. That proves that railways that have been closed can be returned and that it is not just a pipedream.
What we are being asked to do tonight is to devolve an element of Scottish railway activity, when we all know that there is a much greater devolution of railway powers in the offing, as announced by Alistair Darling in the summer. What is in tonight's first order could well be included in a United Kingdom transport Bill, which will, I hope, be in the gracious Speech later this month. This is a quiet moment, so perhaps the Minister could whisper some confirmation of that.
SPTE has been lobbying noble Lords and Members of the other place to ensure that the Scottish Executive do not dismantle SPTE's extensive railway interests ahead of a full-scale and lasting railway and transport settlement. There is no doubt that this Parliament in general and this House in particular cannot devolve something and then send the subject matter off with tightly drawn instructions and limitations. That would be constitutionally absurd.
What we seek tonight is a limited assurance that this matter is in this order only for reasons of legislative and drafting expediency and is not a harbinger of a two-stage
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upheaval. I certainly hope that my honourable Scottish friend Nichol Stephen, the Transport Minister, would see it this way.
Lord Monro of Langholm: My Lords, my noble friends asked some of my questions, so I can be brief. First, were these statutory instruments subject to the Sewel convention? The problem of dealing with these statutory instruments is that, as we all know, we cannot amend them. But has enough consideration gone into their preparation, and were they thoroughly discussed in Edinburgh before they were agreed and sent to London under the Sewel convention arrangements? Perhaps the Minister could confirm that.
The first order refers to farming. My noble friend the Duke of Montrose elicited that we are not talking about farmers or farms stretching across the Border, but those who have separate farms in England and Scotland. Those farms that cross the Border must be very few and far between, though there are possibly more at the end of the Border, which is an area the noble Lord, Lord Steel, knows even better than I do. But certainly at the west end of the Border, I doubt that any farms cross the borderline as such.
Could the Minister confirm what my noble friend asked him? Also, will there be any simplification in the application as regards the farmer on either side of the Border? I am a farmer on the Scottish side of the Border, and with farming today the administration and red tape is becoming almost impossible with the amount of information required by not only the Scottish Office and the department, but also by every Tom, Dick and Harry. For instance, on Friday I was subject to a spot check by two officials from the department, who said that they had arrived to check all the ear tags on the farm. For one of my staff to handle many hundreds of cattle and bring them in is simply impossible. Of course, they were back on Monday to have another shot. Look at the time it takes to do all that, and whether it is of any practical importance. Many of us begin to wonder.
I shall move on to the rail order. The letter that I have from the director-general of Strathclyde Passenger Transport is dated 3 November, which is only last week. He is very disappointed at the amount of consideration that the Government have given to the position of SPT. It feels that there should have been much more consultation with an effective decision made at the end, rather than finding that the decisions have all been made for it without its approval. That is quite a serious issue. SPT does not stretch quite to my old constituency, but it covers Ayrshire and Lanarkshire and does a good job. Under the order, it could be handed over either to the railway authority, whatever it may be, or to other public bodies. It is important that we should have further consultation in Scotland before a final decision is made.
I was very nearly born on the Waverley linemy mother was hurrying to hospitalso I knew it intimately well all my life until it was closed by Lord Beeching. There is tremendous enthusiasm on the
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Border to have it rebuilt and reopened, certainly the part from Galashiels to Edinburgh. However, it seems a very difficult decision when we look at the economics of alternatives.
The Minister ended by saying that the last order would have no cost to the public purse. Who is paying for the Scottish Information Commissioner? Surely that will be a substantial cost. Can we know how many staff he or she has and what it is reckoned that the administrative costs will be? They certainly must be far above nothing, which is what the order implies.
I agree with the orders going through. However, whichever House of Parliament one is in, one always feels that statutory instruments are cut and dried before they arrive, and that there is very little one can do to see them improved as they could be if they were discussed in greater detail in committees.
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