HL Deb 10 January 2002 vol 630 cc685-8

3.14 p.m.

The Duke of Montrose asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether devolved administrations are free to make their own decisions within their competences without intervention from central government.

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston

My Lords, I believe that I can safely assure the noble Lord that devolved administrations are free to make their own decisions within their competences without intervention from central government.

The Duke of Montrose

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. What explanation, therefore, can the Government give for the Scottish First Minister's remarks, quoted in Scotland on Sunday—namely: I think we have to move on in Scotland. To get to the stage where we are not looking over our shoulder every time we want to make a decision". Will the Minister tell the House in precisely what way Scottish First Ministers have been looking over their shoulder and, if they did so, whether there was anyone there? Will he give the House a categorical assurance that the initiative for none of the 24 Sewel Motions that have been placed before the Scottish Parliament came from departments and Ministers in London, and that in future no such initiative will be taken?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston

My Lords, if the First Minister in Scotland was looking over his shoulder, I think it was to ensure that continuing support was still in sight. We should all be pleased at the remarkably seamless transition during devolution since 1999. It is all too easy to lose sight of the magnitude of what we have achieved. I can say from personal experience as a Minister that we have had a remarkably affable and effective relationship with the devolved administrations. I cannot answer the more detailed question on the Sewel amendments. I shall make inquiries and write to the noble Duke.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie

My Lords, after 50 years, devolution in Northern Ireland became unsatisfactory and so was abolished. Do the Government have any plans to intervene in a more intermediate way in the event of unsatisfactory activity by a devolved institution?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston

My Lords, I know of no plans for such intervention. The experience of the past few years has shown that devolved administrations can take different positions from that of the UK Government. All of that simply adds to the richness and opportunity that we had hoped that devolution would produce.

Lord Jones

My Lords, does my noble friend say categorically that central government do not intervene?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston

Yes, my Lords, we do not intervene. We leave matters inside the jurisdiction of the devolved administrations.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, does the Minister's reply mean that the Scottish Executive can provide free care for elderly people in nursing homes, in contrast to the situation in England? If so, are the Government ready for an exodus of senior citizens northwards across the Border, for the good of their pockets as well as their health?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston

My Lords, it is not only in long-term care for the elderly that we look to a different policy in Scotland now; it is also the case with student tuition fees. Wales has a different policy on prescription charges. That is within the rights of the devolved administrations. Presumably those decisions, taken democratically, were judged to be best for the local situation in those administrations. That is exactly what the devolutionary settlement was produced to provide. We are happy to see the devolved administrations take those kinds of decisions if they are in the interests of their citizens.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords—

Lord Sewel

My Lords—

Noble Lords

Cross Benches!

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn)

My Lords, I think it is the turn of the Cross Benches.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff

My Lords, I speak from the perspective of the National Assembly for Wales. Do the Government have plans to ensure that draft legislation applying to England and Wales will, in future, contain an appendix summarising the parts of a Bill which do or do not apply to the National Assembly for Wales in order to ease the interpretation of complex legislation in those two areas of the UK?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston

My Lords, I am not aware of any plans of that nature. If it is the case, I shall write to the noble Baroness.

Lord Sewel

My Lords, is the Minister aware that Sewel Motions are very good things, in that they show that the two Parliaments are working together? They exist to enable the Westminster Parliament to legislate in a devolved area with the approval of the Scottish Parliament. In other words, the devolution settlement has brought about exactly the right type of co-operative, efficient working between two parliaments.

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for clarifying that matter. I restate my experience as a Minister and assure your Lordships that there is an easy relationship between Ministers in the devolved administrations and those here in London.

Lord Roberts of Conwy

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the National Health Service Reform and Health Care Professions Bill, which contains Substantial Clauses relating to Wales, received its second reading in the other place before it was fully approved by the National Assembly for Wales? While there is nothing illegal about putting the cart before the horse, does the Minister agree that it is not an ideal way to proceed and that the issue might well be considered by the Constitution Committee, under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston

My Lords, I am aware that the noble Lord, Lord Norton, and his Select Committee on the constitution are looking at these matters. I welcome their closer scrutiny. Devolution has been in place since 1999. There will be lessons to be learnt and if there are better ways forward I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Norton, will point us towards them.