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 The Earl of Mar and Kellie The Earl of Mar and Kellie Liberal Democrat 8:40 pm, 24th May 2000

My Lords, we on these Benches welcome these orders. The process of transferring powers to the Scottish Ministers is clearly ongoing. There are several variations of transfer. Some will be outright, some will be shared with the UK Ministers and some will be merely transfers of responsibility for the administration of a function, whatever it is. The Scotland Act 1998 (Modification of Functions) Order is concerned with the appointment of the next and subsequent disability rights commissioners. I am satisfied that the initial appointment was made after consultation with Scottish Ministers, and that this order confirms that such a process will happen again. I am enjoying the expression,

"appears to the Secretary of State to have special knowledge of Scotland".

That is all very quaint, and worrying. It smacks of the, "fly low over Africa, I'm writing a book about it" type of knowledge. I would have preferred wording about the commissioner's domicile being in Scotland.

That said, this is a measure of limited extent which ensures that Scottish Ministers can recommend a Scot to the Secretary of State for appointment. It also confirms that there will be Scottish representation on the Disability Rights Commission. Though it will not set the heather on fire, it is an order which is very much in line with the spirit of devolution and with the continuing reform of the Union.

Going on to the transfer order, as the Minister explained, that is somewhat more meaty than the previous one. I note that, unlike the previous one, it has to be approved by both the UK and the Scottish Parliaments and therefore it is a Type A order. Not only does it have greater content, but it also has several different varieties of transfer within it. First, there is a UK function which is exercisable in Scotland by the Secretary of State subject to a requirement for the agreement of Scottish Ministers. The accreditation of childcare agencies for tax credit purposes is appropriately transferred.

Secondly, functions are transferred from the Secretary of State to Scottish Ministers--an outright transfer. The actual functions relate to the temporary speed limit setting and also to those elements of the Nurses, Midwives and Health Visitors Act which deal with the National Board for Scotland

Thirdly, there are functions which are to be shared by Scottish and UK Ministers. Here we have the Employment Zones, which are clearly part of the Welfare Reform and Pensions Act. The Job-club Plus scheme is very welcome and I note that there are similar measures to devolve it to the National Assembly for Wales.

Fourthly, we have a function to be exercised with the agreement of Scottish Ministers. That looks to me to be the same measure as in the previous order. It involves the appointment of the disability rights commissioner. Is that a case of prolixity on the statute book? Fifthly, we have a modification of the principal order. I am content with the removal of this merchant shipping function on the grounds that it has already been transferred to the Lord President of the Court of Session.

Overall, this order continues a welcome process of devolving power to the Scottish Parliament. It is essential that devolution be generous and that it becomes obvious, as a result, that substantial autonomy within the British Union can be achieved. This Parliament should, wisely, take a back seat while the Scottish Parliament finds its feet. The first primary legislation is now reaching the statute book. Not to do so would play into the hands of those who would either dismantle the British Union or try to revert to the 1707 settlement.