HL Deb 29 March 2000 vol 611 cc892-6

8.20 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 1st March be approved [12th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in preparing for Scottish devolution, it was recognised that there would be some UK or GB-wide public bodies with a remit which includes responsibility for devolved matters in Scotland. Section 88 of the Scotland Act provides the mechanism to designate such public bodies as "cross-border public authorities". The Scotland Act 1998 (Cross-Border Public Authorities) (Specification) Order 1999 designated 65 public bodies as cross-border public authorities, including the British Library Board, Theatres Trust and the trustees of the National Heritage Memorial Fund.

Designation as a cross-border public authority has the effect that ministerial functions in relation to the body do not transfer automatically to Scottish Ministers, as they would for bodies operating wholly in a devolved area. Instead, the Scottish Ministers have a right to be consulted on all appointments to the body and on the exercise of any functions in relation to the body which might affect devolved matters.

But these default arrangements are not suitable for every cross-border public authority, so Section 89 of the Scotland Act allows arrangements to be tailor-made for a particular body. This is the purpose of the present order in relation to the appointment and, in certain cases, removal of members of the British Library Board, trustees of the Theatres Trust, and trustees of the National Heritage Memorial Fund. For these bodies, UK and Scottish Ministers have agreed that it is not necessary to consult on the appointment or removal of every trustee or member. The order ensures that Scottish interests are properly represented. In effect, it re-establishes the pre-devolution position on appointment issues, which was a mixture of statutory and voluntary arrangements.

All the bodies affected by this order have been consulted. They all support the provisions. Indeed, Section 89(3) of the Scotland Act provides that no recommendation shall be made to make an order unless the cross-border authorities have been consulted. The order is also in line with the concordat between the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Scottish Executive covering consultation arrangements on all appointments of interest to the Scottish Executive.

The order cannot be recommended to Her Majesty unless it has been approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament, and by a resolution of the Scottish Parliament. The order was agreed in another place on 20th March and approved yesterday by a committee of the Scottish Parliament. Formal approval of the order by the Scottish Parliament will be, presumably, on 6th April. This is the second such order. The first was approved last year and covered 30 cross-border public authorities.

Let me deal briefly with each of the three public bodies concerned. The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and the foremost centre for reference, study and bibliographical and other information services for both science and the humanities. The remit of the Theatres Trust UK is, to promote the better protection of theatres for the benefit of the nation". Local authorities are required to consult the trust on planning applications affecting land on which there is a theatre. The trust also provides advice on theatre buildings to grant-making bodies, including lottery bodies. I am confident that in the case of both public bodies Scottish interests will be fully represented in their work across the United Kingdom.

For the British Library and Theatres Trust, appointments are made by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and Scottish Ministers will be consulted on one member of the British Library's Board and one member of the Theatres Trust, who, in the view of the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, appears to him to have special knowledge of Scotland". The National Heritage Memorial Fund is a fund of last resort that has the powers to provide financial assistance towards the acquisition, maintenance and preservation of buildings, lands, works of art and other objects or structures of importance to the national heritage. The NHMF also administers the Heritage Lottery Fund that distributes money generated by the National Lottery. Both the NHMF and the HLF have a remit that is UK-wide.

Appointments to the NHMF are made by the Prime Minister on advice from the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. The Prime Minister will consult Scottish Ministers on the appointment of the chairman and however many persons with Scottish connections—"by residence or otherwise"—are normally trustees at any one time. In Section 1 of the National Heritage Act 1980, consultation on the appointment of the chairman is required to take place with what are now the devolved administrations.

In addition, the Prime Minister is required to consult Scottish Ministers on the termination on grounds of misconduct of appointment of the chairman and any trustees with Scottish connections. Again, I am confident that Scottish interests will be fully represented in the work of the NHMF and the HLF across the United Kingdom.

The order makes sensible provision to ensure that these cross-border public authorities can continue to operate with an appropriate input and control for the UK Government and the Scottish Executive. The pre-devolution arrangements worked well, and UK and Scottish Ministers are happy to have these reestablished as set out in the order.

I can confirm that the order complies with the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights. I commend the order to the House.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 1st March be approved [12th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Lord McIntosh of Haringey.)

Baroness Anelay of St Johns

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving an explanation to the House, one that is far easier to understand than that given in another place. I trawled through the Official Report of proceedings there; I read twice, thrice and still felt that I had made no headway at all, but eventually got there. Certainly, I feel that the explanation given to this House was a lot more helpful.

In effect, we are asked to accept that this order provides a pragmatic answer to the question of how much consultation with Scottish Ministers is enough to maintain that fair balance between a representation of Scottish views about appointments and the delay that would be caused by seeking views on each and every appointment to bodies that represent the whole of Britain. We, on these Benches, would not oppose the making of the order and would accept that its purpose is to achieve that fair balance. The Minister has referred to the fact that consultation has taken place. I have spoken to two of the bodies concerned, and they reflect that and feel that they were able to put their views satisfactorily.

When the order was taken in another place, my honourable friend Mr Grieve sought assurances from the Minister with regard to the consultation upon the removal of members from the British Library Board and the Theatres Trust. I would be grateful if the Minister would repeat the assurances given in another place by his honourable friend Mr Howarth that in practice the Government would consult on the removal of appointees from both bodies.

I have two questions that were not fully covered during the debate in another place. The first relates to the issue of what is special knowledge of Scotland. The appointment of one member to each of the two bodies—the British Library Board and the Theatres Trust—will be made by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport after consultation with Scottish Minister s. The appointee will be a person who appears to haw "special knowledge of Scotland". Does that mean that the individual could be English—or any other nationality—living in England, but who has, say, a very detailed, academic knowledge of Scotland? What does the Government have in mind as to the meaning of "special knowledge of Scotland"?

My second question is with regard to the matter of a concordat that was mentioned in the debate in another place. In those discussions the Minister said that the order is in line with the separate discussions that the DCMS had with the Scottish Executive on an agreed concordat covering consultation arrangements on all appointments of interest to the Scottish Executive. Were those discussions only with the relevant Minister, Rhone Brankin, or were they widened to include other members of the executive?

With reference to the concordat, perhaps the nub of the issue is: has that been published? Is it in the public domain in any way?

Will any further orders be necessary for other culture, media and sport bodies under the Scotland Act 1998? The Library could not assist me on this point: will any comparable orders be required under the Government of Wales Act? We do not oppose the making of the order.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her response to the order. I shall answer her questions as quickly and as fully as I can. But I do not think I can answer all of her questions in the time available.

Yes, the noble Baroness is right. The procedures for the removal of trustees of the British Library and the Theatres Trust are not set out in the order. They are for the National Heritage Memorial Fund, because that is appropriate in terms of its constitution. The procedures are informal and have been agreed. They appear to be satisfactory to all concerned.

The noble Baroness asked about "special knowledge". There is no such thing as English or Scottish nationality. We are all citizens of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; at least, that is what my passport says. One could have someone on, for example, the Theatres Trust who is a director of a theatre in Edinburgh. His or her appointment may be up for renewal, by which time he or she has gone to direct a theatre in Leeds. It would be quite stupid to take it away because by that time he or she was living south of the Border. We wanted a little flexibility. That is why we put it in terms of "special knowledge" rather than in terms of residence or of nationality.

The noble Baroness asked about the concordat. I do not think it is particularly appropriate for me to say which Minister> of the Scottish Executive were involved in the discussions. The Scottish Executive has its own ways, which are none of our business, for deciding who takes responsibility for decisions. If I say to the noble Baroness that the executive observed its proper procedures and is satisfied with the results, that is as far as I need go. I do not know whether it was published, or whether more are needed, or whether it applies to Wales, but I shall write to the noble Baroness on those points.

On Question, Motion agreed to.