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Scotland Bill - Committee (3rd Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:45 pm on 22nd February 2016.

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Photo of Lord Dunlop Lord Dunlop The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland 9:45 pm, 22nd February 2016

First, I thank noble and learned Lords for their contribution to the debate about Clause 68. These provisions have been well scrutinised by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee and I am grateful for the Committee’s examination and subsequent report. Of course, Bills of this nature do require necessary powers to ensure that the powers that are transferring to the Scottish Parliament transfer effectively. That is one point that the committee recognised in its report; it is therefore to retain those aspects of Clause 68. However, having considered the report, the Government accept that the ability to amend future enactments and prerogative instruments, and any other future instruments or documents, and Welsh and Northern Ireland legislation whether made in the future or the past, is unlikely to be required for Parts 1, 4, 5, and 6 of the Scotland Bill. Therefore, we intend to bring forward an appropriate amendment on Report, amending the provisions.

More broadly, powers to make consequential provision are commonly found in primary legislation. Section 105, read with Section 113 of the Scotland Act, provides similar powers. The Bill contains consequential amendments identified as necessary during the course of its preparation. However, given the nature of the Scotland Bill and the significant devolution of legislative and Executive powers, it is difficult to anticipate the full extent of the consequential amendments required once the Bill has been commenced. Further, the nature of the Bill means that it effects both Westminster and Scottish Parliament legislation and it is possible that officials in either Administration may in future identify additional necessary amendments to either primary or secondary legislation.

I turn specifically to the use of the consequential power in relation to welfare provisions:

“In operating a system where responsibility for the different social security benefits paid in Scotland is split between the UK and Scottish Parliament there may be some areas where the respective Governments may wish to make mutually beneficial agreements relating to delivery which may require consequential amendments to existing legislation—for example to facilitate fraud investigations, debt recovery and compliance issues arising out of overpayments in respect of both reserved and devolved benefits”.

How feasible it is to make such arrangements will depend,

“to some degree on the provision that the Scottish Parliament puts in place and any agreements would need to be considered and agreed between both the UK and Scottish Governments”.

Therefore, it is necessary to have appropriate consequential provision in the Bill. However, as I said, the Government intend to bring forward an appropriate amendment on the basis that I have set out.

Next I would like to address the concern of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, related to,

“any other instrument or document”,

which I think has been proposed by the Law Society. The Government intend to retain the power to amend current instruments or documents. Let me offer the rationale for that. Section 117 of the Scotland Act 1998 provides that, so far as may be necessary for the purpose of or in consequence of an exercise of a function by a Member of the Scottish Government in devolved competence, any pre-commencement enactment or prerogative instrument and any other instrument or document shall be read as if references to a Minister of the Crown were or included references to Scottish Ministers. The effect of the gloss by Clause 30 of the Bill of references to pre-commencement enactment in the Scotland Act 1998 is that instruments or documents such as the contracts entered into by the UK Government for the provision of welfare that refer to a Minister of the Crown will be glossed appropriately to refer to Scottish Ministers.

However, other amendments or transitional arrangements may be required to ensure the efficient and effective transfer of contracts. For example, the gloss converts references only to a Minister of the Crown to Scottish Ministers. There may be other references that need to be amended. Accordingly, a power to amend, repeal, revoke or modify any other instruments or documents whenever passed or made is required for Part 3. We accept that the power to amend any other future instruments or documents is unlikely to be required, as I have said, in relation to Parts 1, 4, 5 and 6, and we will be bringing forward an amendment to address this issue. We are retaining the power to amend existing instruments and documents on the basis that that is likely to be required, given the scale of the powers being devolved to the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Ministers.

Amendment 79D, tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, requires that all regulations passed under Clause 68 should be subject to the affirmative procedure, reflecting the suggestion of the Delegated Powers Committee that non-textual modifications of an Act should require the same level of parliamentary scrutiny as textual amendments, that being the affirmative procedure. The Government accept the general principle that changes made to primary legislation by secondary legislation should be subject to the affirmative procedure. Wherever possible in the approach to drafting legislation, changes to primary legislation are made by textual amendment.

I have noted the suggestion made by both the committee and the noble and learned Lord. However, we continue to believe that non-textual and minor or technical changes should be possible under the negative resolution procedure. It would be inappropriate to set out on the face of the Bill specific kinds of modification of primary legislation that should require the negative procedure. Doing so would create legal uncertainty, especially in those outlying and indirect cases where it is not always clear when a provision non-textually modifies primary legislation. As well as this undesirable level of legal uncertainty, the Government think that many of the cases which fall into this category are unlikely to warrant the use of the affirmative procedure due to their indirect and remote nature. Furthermore, given the range of legislation under the provisions in this Bill, the Government consider that the approach taken is appropriate, particularly as they enable the use of the affirmative procedure should there be a need to do so. The Government acknowledge that this allows discretion on the part of the Minister, but we have also indicated to the committee that on those rare occasions, and unless otherwise provided for, changes to primary legislation by secondary legislation are normally subject to the affirmative procedure. I hope that this offers noble Lords reassurance on the points raised in the debate and I urge the noble and learned Lord to withdraw his amendment.