HL Deb 24 March 2004 vol 659 cc779-85

8.23 p.m.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 25 February be approved [11th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, with the permission of the House, I shall take the two orders together and—also with the permission of the House—speak to them in the reverse order from how they appear on the Order Paper.

The instruments are to be made under Section 104 of the Scotland Act 1998. Where such instruments amend primary legislation, as both do, the Scotland Act requires them to be subject to affirmative resolution in both Houses. The instruments were considered and approved in the other place on 16 March.

As is usual with affirmative instruments of this type, copies of the explanatory memorandums on each are available in the Printed Paper Office. Instruments under Section 104 are used when changes that would be outside the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament need to be made. I should like to stress to noble Lords that these changes are consequential. They are a matter of good housekeeping by ensuring that the relevant statutes are up to date after the Scottish Parliament has exercised its legitimate power to legislate in areas of devolved competence.

The instruments before us are two in a series of consequential amendments being made in relation to the Primary Medical Services (Scotland) Act 2004 and the Local Government in Scotland Act 2003. The Scottish Executive has been making its way through these consequential changes and agreed with the relevant Whitehall departments—in this instance, the Department of Health and the Treasury—that these orders be laid for consideration so as to come into force by 1 April 2004. The orders are an example of the partnership between the Government and the Scottish Executive that continues to make devolution work so successfully.

The draft primary medical services order is being made in consequence of the Primary Medical Services (Scotland) Act 2004. As set out in the explanatory memorandum accompanying the instrument, the services provided by general practitioners to the NHS in Scotland are provided at present in one of two ways: either by way of a statutory arrangement between the health service bodies and the GPs called "general medical services" under Section 19 of the National Health Service (Scotland) Act 1978 or by way of an arrangement called "personal medical services" under Section 17C of the 1978 Act. These services are in substance the same, but are given different labels according to the arrangements under which they are provided.

That old regime is being replaced by amendment of the 1978 Act as set out in the 2004 Act of the Scottish Parliament, which brings all these services under a single label—primary medical services. It puts a duty on health boards to provide or secure what are to be known as primary medical services. The boards will be able to provide these themselves or secure the services by making arrangements with a GP or GP practice. The boards can choose which arrangements they make if they wish to secure the services from others. They are not limited to the particular arrangements for which detailed provision will be made in the 1978 Act.

However, two sorts of arrangement are set out for their use. These are, first, a general medical services contract under new Section 17J of the 1978 Act, inserted by the 2004 Act and replacing the current Section 19 arrangements, or, secondly, arrangements under Section 17C of the 1978 Act, as amended by the 2004 Act. Sections 17C and 17J of the 1978 Act, along with all the provisions about primary medical services, will be found in Part I of the 1978 Act. Previously the provisions about general medical services were found in Part II of the 1978 Act.

The new primary medical services regime for Scotland will come into force on 1 April. Therefore, the references in legislation to the existing regime, including general medical services under Part II of the 1978 Act, and personal medical services under Section 17C of the 1978 Act require to be dealt with. Otherwise the legislation that contains them will either refer to the incorrect regime or contain spent references to a redundant regime.

The exercise could not be undertaken in the 2004 Act of the Scottish Parliament as it involves the modification of the law of England and Wales (and Northern Ireland, where appropriate) as well as modifications of reserved law. Accordingly, it would have been outside the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament to make such modifications. Therefore, in order to ensure that the statutes continue to work and to remove references to the old regimes from the statute book, the amendments set out in the schedule are required.

The second instrument is being made in consequence of the Local Government in Scotland Act 2003. This instrument provides for a simple, technical amendment to Section 95 of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988.

Section 95 concerns the destination of fines imposed in respect of certain road traffic offences committed in Scotland. This order will amend Section 95 to provide for fixed penalties imposed for the offences listed in Section 46(2) of the Local Government in Scotland Act 2003 to be paid into the Scottish consolidated fund. Section 46(2) of the 2003 Act concerns speeding and red light offences in Scotland.

The background to Section 46 of the Local Government in Scotland Act 2003 and the proposed Section 104 order relates to the funding of safety camera partnerships in Scotland. In 1998 the Treasury announced that revenue from fixed penalty notices issued to drivers caught speeding on camera or passing red lights could be used to fund the installation, where this is justified, of the camera equipment. The revenue could also pay the operating and administrative costs arising from enforcement. The initial pilot projects went live in April 2000, and since April 2002 safety camera partnerships have been established widely across the UK.

The schemes were set up on the understanding that there should be specific statutory powers authorising retention of the income from fixed penalties for the purpose of the scheme, essentially ring-fencing the money raised from receipts. Until such statutory cover could be provided in Scotland, the funding arrangements for the schemes to enable ring-fencing were dealt with on an administrative basis. In England and Wales, the pilot projects had interim legislative cover under the Appropriation Acts and provision was included in Section 38 of the Vehicles (Crime) Act 2001 which empowered Ministers to make payments to authorities in connection with the provision and operation of safety cameras.

In Scotland, the statutory cover was to be provided through a three-stage legislative process. First, a tailored funding power would be provided through Section 46 of the Local Government in Scotland Act 2003, which closely mirrored that already in operation in England and Wales through the Vehicles (Crime) Act 2001.

Secondly, as a consequence of the Local Government in Scotland Act, clarification that the moneys from these fixed penalty notices should be paid into the Scottish consolidated fund. This amendment was necessary because at present there is no provision in the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 requiring fixed penalty receipts to be paid into the Scottish consolidated fund. The subject matter of the Road Traffic Offenders Act is reserved by the Scotland Act 1998 and it would therefore be outside the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament to amend it. The proposed order before the House will make this amendment to the reserved 1988 enactment.

Thirdly, an order under Section 64(5) of the Scotland Act 1998 would allow the Scottish Executive to keep the moneys from the safety camera partnerships. This order is necessary because at present the Scotland Act 1998 (Designation of Receipts) Order 2000 designates all fines, forfeitures and fixed penalties for the purposes of Section 64 of the Scotland Act. This has the effect of requiring Scottish Ministers to pay such receipts to the UK consolidated fund. The new Section 64(5) order will allow the receipts from these fixed penalty notices to be excluded from this requirement. Scottish Ministers will therefore be able to distribute the receipts retained in the Scottish consolidated fund in terms of Section 46 of the Local Government in Scotland Act.

The Section 104 instrument is therefore part of a three-part package to enable the funding of Scottish road safety partnerships to be constituted on a statutory basis. As noble Lords will have noted, this would have been outside the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament and the Government therefore wish to make this technical amendment to support the work of the Scottish Executive in this area. I commend the order to the House.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 25 February be approved. [11th report from the Joint Committee.]—(Lord Evans of Temple Guiting.)

The Deputy Speaker (Lord Tordoff)

My Lords, although the Minister spoke to the orders in reverse order, I intend to put the Motions to the House in the order in which they appear on the Order Paper. Therefore, the Question is that the Motion relating to the Local Government in Scotland Act 2003 (Destination of Fixed Penalties in Scotland) Order 2004 be agreed to.

The Duke of Montrose

My Lords, I am happy that we can discuss the two orders jointly, as we are all agreed on the subject. I am grateful to the Minister for the way in which he has brought these two instruments before the House. My impression is that he has been able to make their meaning even clearer than when they were presented in another place.

I know that some may have misgivings when the words "Scots" and "money" come in close proximity. I hope that we shall not go down the road of that ancient series of calumnies which was rendered as: an Englishman is a self-made man who worships his creator; a Welshman prays on his knees and his neighbours; an Irishman may not know exactly what he believes in but he is willing to die for it; and a Scotsman keeps the Sabbath and anything else he can lay his hands on. But I have to admit that the Scots are always interested in whose pocket the money lands up.

The Minister began by considering the primary medical services order. I know that he explained to us that it was purely consequential, but I also note that during the process of scrutiny both in the Scottish Parliament and in another place concerns were expressed about how the new GP contracts are seen to be working, particularly in rural areas.

Does the new arrangement do anything to reduce the amount of paperwork and improve the morale of those working under such conditions? At present, that problem seems to show itself in understaffing and people seeking early retirement. Can the Minister comment?

Turning to the order concerning local government in Scotland, it is obviously to be welcomed if a way can be found to simplify the transfer of money in order to achieve some useful purpose. The Minister explained that the order relates to the funding of safety camera partnerships in Scotland and that it is to be ring fenced. Can he explain how that will occur?

Noble Lords would be interested to know whether, on current experience, the amount of money is expected to increase. Exactly how many safety camera partnerships are operating in Scotland at present? Is the sole criteria in the placing of those cameras the reinforcement of public safety; and is there any danger that the number may not simply be increased until they can provide finance for as many activities as can be swept in under the heading that the Minister mentioned?

If, on the other hand, the money exceeded that requirement, what is the arrangement for dealing with any surplus? Can the Minister assure us that this cannot be seen just as a way of making money? The measures have generally received quite a good welcome from all sides, but I think the House could be more reassured if the Minister felt able to answer those questions.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for explaining to us the purpose of these two orders. I am completely content with the narrow purpose of the primary medical services order. Like the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, I am well aware that the National Health Service in Scotland is a devolved matter, but there is undoubtedly concern about the delivery of rural GP services under the new contract. I cannot let the opportunity pass without mentioning what seems to be the collapse of the NHS dentistry almost everywhere—not just in rural areas. Can the Minister say something definitive about the description, "primary medical services"? That would be helpful.

Turning to the destination of fixed penalties order, I am, again, content with the narrow purpose of the order. It is devolutionary in nature not just because it transfers the proceeds of traffic fixed penalties from the Treasury to the Scottish Parliament but because it provides the opportunity to end the rumour or belief that fixed penalties are there only as a central Government cash cow. To do so, the Scottish Executive will need to propose that these proceeds are applied to transport and traffic issues and the Scottish Parliament will need to agree to that. Can the Minister clarify the simplicity of the new system?

I end on a constitutional point. These Section 104 orders are good ones for constitutional anoraks in that they are related closely to Acts of the Scottish Parliament but are evidence of the need for this United Kingdom Parliament to legislate on very narrow points to complete Scottish legislation. We must clearly watch out for these Section 104 orders in the future, not that they threaten us too much.

Having sat through the whole of the Scotland Bill, I do not remember Section 104 and its consequent orders being drawn to the attention of the House. These orders are, of course, the embodiment of the co-operation required to make devolution work—so much so that I wonder whether we would have any real right to reject them if we wanted to or felt that we needed to.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, and the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, for their questions. I shall attempt to answer them. I shall write to the noble Lords on any point that I do not answer.

I was asked what is actually meant by a primary medical service order. Primary medical services are those services normally provided by a GP, such as the treatment of patients who are ill with conditions from which recovery is generally expected, contraceptive services, maternity services, child health surveillance and the treatment of minor injuries. They also cover opportunistic health promotion, referring patients to an acute sector and continuing care after a patient has been discharged from an acute sector.

Both noble Lords asked how primary medical services will work in rural areas, an issue raised in the other place. They will understand that this is not the purpose of the order before us, which is needed to ensure that legislation that makes reference to expired provisions is brought up to date. However, as I said, this issue was raised in the other place and the Scottish Executive has helpfully provided me with information on this issue that can be shared with noble Lords.

The Scottish Executive Health Minister recently informed the Scottish Parliament that the new general medical services contract is supported by a 33 per cent increased investment in primary care over three years, allocated through a funding formula designed to respond to the needs of remote and rural communities. The contract guarantees that patients across Scotland will continue to be offered at least the range of services they currently receive and the contract's quality and outcomes framework will incentivise practices in all areas to improve these services.

A number of questions were asked in relation to the local government in Scotland order. Given that the order simplifies the administering of the transfer of money, I was asked whether the Government have figures to back up the assertion that the revenue distributed in this way is not substantially increasing. The amount of revenue generated will, of course, depend on how many people are caught by speed cameras and thus have been breaking the speeding laws.

It is important to note that noble Lords are here to determine where the money goes once it has been raised, not how much money is raised, but, if it helps, I can give the historic figures from the Glasgow pilot. Between 2000 and 2001, £450,000 was raised, which increased to £850,000 between 2001 and 2002. But it is important that I make it clear to the House that the Government believe in the use of safety cameras to minimise casualties, not to maximise income. That point applies to Wales and England as well as Scotland. We stand firmly by the maxim that the most effective safety camera is the one that raises no revenue at all.

Concern has also been expressed about the administrative arrangements for the transfer of funds and why there is a need for change. The receipts from safety camera partnerships are currently collected by the district courts, passed to the safety partnership treasurer, which is the lead local authority for the partnership, and then passed to the Crown Office. This, in turn, is passed to the UK Consolidated Fund and remitted to the Scottish Executive under the Appropriation Acts.

Under the proposed new arrangements, the money would pass to the Scottish Consolidated Fund and would be available to the Scottish Executive for approved purposes only, effectively ring-fencing the receipts to pay for the administration and operation of safety cameras.

The legislative basis for the current arrangements are the Treasury's Appropriation Acts and the Scottish Executive appropriation orders. As a matter of good practice, these should only be used to support financial arrangements on a short-term basis, where no other legal mechanism exists. At the outset of the Scottish safety camera programme, the Government agreed that a specific statutory footing should be introduced at the earliest opportunity. The order before us is the second stage in this process.

I believe that I have answered the questions that have been asked.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Back to