Scotland Act 1998 (Modification of Functions) Order 2000

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:40 pm on 24th May 2000.

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Photo of Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale Government Whip 8:40 pm, 24th May 2000

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should like to speak to this order and also the following order together. The subjects for consideration are the draft Scotland Act 1998 (Transfer of Functions to the Scottish Ministers etc.) Order 2000 and the draft Scotland Act 1998 (Modification of Functions) Order 2000.

Before going into the details of the orders, it may be helpful to put them into context and give a brief explanation of their purpose. The Scotland Act recognised that in some cases it would be appropriate for the Scottish Ministers to be able to exercise executive powers in areas where primary legislation continues to be a matter for the UK Parliament. This is commonly known as executive devolution. Section 63 of the Scotland Act allows functions in reserved areas to be transferred to the Scottish Ministers, or for the Scottish Ministers to be given a role by introducing requirements for them to be consulted or for their agreement to be obtained to the exercise of functions by UK Ministers.

Noble Lords may recall a previous order, considered in June 1999, called the Scotland Act 1998 (Transfer of Functions to the Scottish Ministers etc.) Order 1999--the first executive devolution order. That order ran to 30 pages, transferring a wide range of functions to the Scottish Ministers. The first order now before us adds a number of additional functions to those already executively devolved, where it has been agreed between the UK Government and the Scottish Executive that this is appropriate.

I turn to the content of the Scotland Act (Transfer of Functions to the Scottish Ministers etc.) Order. The National Board for Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting for Scotland (NBS) is an executive, non-departmental public body. Its function is to maintain and develop standards of professional education in nursing, midwifery and health visiting, through the approval of institutions and courses and through research and development programmes.

The board is part of the UK regulatory framework for the nursing professions, and the regulation of nurses and midwives is a reserved matter under the Scotland Act. Currently, professional self-regulation of nurses is carried out by five bodies: the UK Central Council for Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting (UKCC) and the four national boards, one each for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The national board for Scotland is, therefore, an integral part of the UK regulatory system, responsible for ensuring that entrants to the profession in Scotland and the courses of preparation that they undertake meet the UK Central Council for Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting standards.

However, it brings a distinctive Scottish perspective to this role, promoting developments in nurse education which are in tune with the Scottish higher education system and which meet the needs of the NHS in Scotland. For these reasons, it has always been funded by and accountable to the Health Department in Scotland.

Because of this, the UK Government and the Scottish executive agree that responsibility for the board should rest with the Scottish Ministers. The order therefore transfers to the Scottish Ministers all the ministerial functions under the Nurses, Midwives and Health Visitors Act 1997 as they relate to the national board for Scotland.

In addition, article 8 of the order provides for new arrangements for the auditing of the accounts for the national board for Scotland by the Auditor General for Scotland, to be consistent with the arrangements for public sector audit set out in the Public Finance and Accountability (Scotland) Act 2000.

The order also includes entries relating to the Disability Rights Commission. This body was set up earlier this year under the Disability Rights Commission Act 1999 and replaced the National Disability Council.

The separate order under Section 106 of the Scotland Act creates a new requirement that one of the commissioners should have "special knowledge of Scotland". The first order before us keys into this requirement and provides that this appointment is to be made with the agreement of the Scottish Ministers. Similar requirements were already in place for the National Disability Council.

Article 2 of the first order deals with the Tax Credits Act 1999. Section 15(3) of this Act allows the Secretary of State to accredit organisations which may approve childcare providers for the purposes of eligibility for the childcare element of the working families' tax credit and the disabled persons' tax credit. Such organisations must meet certain criteria. This article will provide that when an organisation is accredited for the purpose of applying a scheme for childcare providers in Scotland, the function will be treated as exercisable in or as regards Scotland.

In addition, the function of making regulations under Section 15 of that Act will now be exercisable by the Secretary of State only with the agreement of the Scottish Ministers. Section 15 provides for these regulations to put in place a scheme which would establish a new category of person whose charges for providing childcare would be taken into account when assessing eligibility for the childcare element of the working families' tax credit and the disabled persons' tax credit. In practice, this scheme will ensure that the childcare provider must be approved by an accredited organisation. This scheme also authorises making grants and loans to these organisations and ensures that the fees that they charge are reasonable.

The subject matter of Part VI of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 deals with speed limits and is largely reserved, although some functions have already been executively devolved. This order further devolves certain functions in relation to temporary speed limits. This will mean that the Scottish Ministers will be able to make an order to impose a maximum speed limit, for periods of up to 18 months, on specified roads.

Article 4 relates to the Welfare Reform and Pensions Act 1999. This Act contains provisions relating to employment zones and allows for schemes to be set up in designated areas where special benefit rules can apply. Participants in the schemes are helped back to work by allowing them to anticipate funding for up to six months' worth of spending on training and jobsearch. To this they can add money equivalent to the payments that they would normally receive from the jobseeker's allowance.

Under the Act, the Secretary of State can also provide a wider range of support for activities within the employment zones which help people to get and keep work. This policy of "helping people to help themselves" extends to unemployed people who are seeking to become self- employed.

As a result of this order, the Scottish Ministers will be able to make payments to persons providing suitable facilities for claimants of the jobseeker's allowance to be trained for long-term employment. The Scottish Ministers, concurrently with UK Ministers, will now be able to fund any such eligible activity within an employment zone in Scotland.

Article 6 amends the first executive devolution order. The entry in the original order in respect of rule 4(1) of the Merchant Shipping (Formal Investigations) Rules 1985 was intended to transfer a function from the Secretary of State to the Scottish Ministers. However, other legislation in 1990 had already removed the ministerial function and conferred it on the Lord President of the Court of Session. Unfortunately, this was not identified during the preparation of the order. The entry in the original order is therefore redundant and is being removed.

The other articles in the order are purely technical, either to amend certain terms and references in various enactments or to make transitional and saving provision with the transfer of functions.

On that basis, I hope that your Lordships will feel able to support these two orders. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 8th May be approved [18th Report from the Joint Committee].--(Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale.)