HL Deb 28 July 1998 vol 592 cc1486-9

(" .—(1) There shall be an Interparliamentary Consultative Commission (referred to in this section as "the Commission").

(2) The Commission shall comprise—

  1. (a) the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Scotland, the Speaker of the House of Commons and the leaders of all opposition parties in the House of Commons;
  2. 1487
  3. (b) the First Minister, the Presiding Officer and the leaders of all opposition parties in the Parliament.

(3) The functions of the Commission shall include—

  1. (a) ensuring co-operation between the Scottish Parliament and the Westminster Parliament on—
    1. (i) issues of legislative competence;
    2. (ii) compliance by the United Kingdom with Community law and other international obligations;
    3. (iii) cross-border matters; and
    4. (iv) negotiation of international treaties, including amendment to and modifications of European Community and European Union treaties; and
  2. (b) facilitating communication between Her Majesty's Government and the Scottish Executive.").

The noble Lord said: I shall speak to the amendment quite briefly. It seeks to insert into the Bill a new clause regarding the establishment of an interparliamentary consultative commission. The White Paper Scotland's Parliament, in paragraphs 4.12 to 4.14, made proposals regarding liaison machinery. This included meetings between officials and United Kingdom Ministers and Scots Ministers. The Bill does not make provision for any formal exchange to take place between the United Kingdom Parliament and the Scottish parliament or between the United Kingdom Government and the Scottish executive.

There is need for a body along these lines for a variety of reasons: first, to ensure exchange of information; secondly, to provide an accountable framework in which communication can take place; and, thirdly, to ensure that there is adequate co-operation on the matters listed at subsection (3)(a) and (b). In such important issues it is inappropriate to rely on any informal machinery. There has to be some adequate mechanism to ensure that the Scottish executive and Westminster Ministers speak to each other, especially if they are not of the same party.

If it is good enough for Northern Ireland, why should it not be good enough for us? In the Northern Ireland Bill there are arrangements laid down in Clause 66 to the effect that the first minister and the deputy first minister acting jointly should ensure that there is participation in the north/south ministerial council. Clause 67 lays down that certain reserved matters relating to Northern Ireland are to be discussed at a meeting of the British-Irish intergovernmental conference. So there is a precedent for setting out mechanisms to ensure that the necessary co-operation takes place.

If there is an obvious need for co-operation in the context of Northern Ireland, surely there is every bit as strong a need when the issue does not involve two separate states but different nations within a unitary state. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say. I beg to move.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

I think that we would all agree that, post-devolution, it will be important for the parliaments to keep in close touch with each other and to share ideas and experience in areas of common interest. That being said, we do not think that the amendment is necessary. It is for the parliaments themselves to decide what arrangements might be appropriate. Further legislative provision is not required in order to enable them to do so.

The amendment refers to facilitating communication between Her Majesty's Government and the Scottish Executive". I can assure the noble Lord that the Government intend that all the devolved administrations should be as fully involved as possible in discussions with the UK Government about the formulation of their policies on all issues which touch on devolved matters. Indeed, a great deal of thought has been given to how the UK Government and the devolved administrations should interact on matters of communal interest.

The Government intend that there should be standing arrangements for the devolved administrations to be involved by the UK Government at ministerial level when they consider reserved matters which impinge on devolved responsibilities. It is envisaged that this would be achieved through the establishment of a joint ministerial committee of which the UK Government and the devolved administrations would be members. The joint ministerial committee will be an entirely consultative body, supported by a committee of officials and a joint secretariat. Further details of the standing arrangements will be announced later. Where there is agreement between the parties that it should do so, the JMC could also discuss the treatment of devolved matters in the different parts of the UK.

These standing arrangements will run in parallel with and underpin the bilateral concordats between the Scottish executive and departments in the UK Government. These arrangements would be non-statutory. The Scottish executive cannot, of course, be committed in advance to any particular form of liaison. That said, however, the UK Government believe that there will be strong mutual benefits from such liaison arrangements and we would expect the devolved administrations to recognise this also. The Government believe that these non-statutory arrangements, together with the provisions in the devolution Bills, will enable the United Kingdom to work more effectively in future, giving due and appropriate weight to each of its main components. In the light of what I have said, I hope that the noble Lord will not press the amendment.

Baroness Linklater of Butterstone

I rise to say that we on these Benches feel that this amendment proposes something which is both unnecessarily large and bureaucratic. There will be a need for liaison and a facilitator for discussion and co-operation and communication. The joint ministerial committee, which the noble Baroness suggested, sounds ideal, but surely the Secretary of State would also have a central role to play. What is proposed is not only large and cumbersome, but also would put more control in the Westminster Parliament than would be desirable. It would also create a greater level of bureaucracy between the two parliaments than we would wish to see. Therefore, we do not support this amendment.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

Before my noble friend decides what to do with his amendment, perhaps I may explore something which is almost certainly not in the Bill; if it is, I have missed it. I refer to the concept of joint ministerial committees between the Scottish parliament and the UK Parliament. Perhaps the noble Baroness can tell me whether that is in the Bill. If it is not, is it just a hope that the two parliaments will agree to those joint ministerial committees, and have we any indication of what they will do and how that relates to the idea of concordats? Perhaps we shall explore that later, but it is a bit of a mystery to me. Are the JMCs in the Bill, and do we have any papers which explain to us how the Government envisage they will be set up and how they will work?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

There will be one joint ministerial committee. The idea is that the devolved administrations will be represented on it, plus representatives of the UK Government. There will be representation of each administration. That representation will vary according to the specific issues under consideration. Fisheries Ministers would be involved on fisheries matters, for example. As to the joint ministerial committee, I do not believe that I can add much to what I have already said. The detailed arrangements are still being developed and will be announced later in the year, well before the devolved administration starts work after the elections next year.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

Presumably, based on the reply by the noble Baroness, the arrangements will be announced after this Bill has completed its passage through Parliament. It might be better if the announcement were made before October so that these proposals would be to hand in looking at issues such as those raised by my noble friend Lord Selkirk of Douglas.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

I can give no such undertaking. The detailed arrangements are still being developed.

Lord Selkirk of Douglas

I thank the Minister for accepting the principle of my amendment. In those circumstances I shall not press the matter. But I respectfully suggest that the issue be looked at before the next stage of the Bill in case it is necessary to make a suitable provision concerning the arrangements now being worked up with regard to a joint ministerial committee, bearing in mind that the Northern Irish legislation sets out specifically such arrangements. With that thought, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 257A to 257C not moved.]

Clause 48 agreed to.

Clause 49 agreed to.

The Earl of Balfour moved Amendment No. 258:

After Clause 49, insert the following new clause—