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Report By Secretary Of State

Volume 980: debated on Tuesday 4 March 1980

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'For the financial year ending on 31st March 1981 and for each subsequent year the Secretary of State shall prepare a report on the discharge of his functions under this Act and shall lay the report before Parliament not later than six months after the end of the financial year to which it relates.'.—[Mr. George Robertson.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The purpose of the clause is to provide for the preparation of an annual report by the Secretary of State on the discharge of his functions under the Bill. This would be a normal recurring feature. The amounts that we are talking about may not seem large. They are not large by the standards by which public expenditure is usually measured. On the other hand, there is at least the prospect that the sums that could be available could be increased. If circumstances prevail, it is clear from the Government's apparent generosity in the past two weeks that they might make such money available.

It is only right that the Secretary of State should, as he does in so many other areas in which he has a responsibility, make a report to Parliament on how the money was spent and to which carriers the money was directed. Perhaps consideration will be given within the report to the level of fares charged, the standard of service that is being provided and the level of complaints that might have been received by the Secretary of State. It would provide the Secretary of State with a forum for debate and discussion each year. It would establish a standard whereby the public and Parliament could consider the methods by which the Secretary of State has use of these powers.

This is not a controversial issue. The language that I have used in formulating the new clause is specifically taken from the provisions of the Industry Act 1972, the Conservative Government measure that instituted a number of unique phenomena in industrial investment. The principle has been established in many pieces of legislation. It seems that we would be strengthening the methods by which consultation takes place in these important areas of public policy if the Secretary of State, as part of this legislation, were to explain to Parliament and to the Public how he has spent the taxpayers' money. That would provide them with the means of making their view known on whether they think that the money has been spent wisely and properly on their behalf.

I cannot advise the Committee to accept this amendment, for a number of reasons. First, the powers existed for four years under the previous Administration. At no time did they consider it appropriate that a return of this kind should be made, and the hon. Gentleman has not indicated why the Opposition have changed their minds now. Secondly, the information is already available in the annual return of the Scottish Development Agency. Thirdly, anyone who wants this modest amount of information can obtain it through the normal processes of the House. To produce a statutory obligation would involve expense, time and resources that are not necessary, given that the information is already available to anyone interested in obtaining it.

Therefore, I advise the Committee not to accept the new clause.

Question put, and negatived.

Bill reported, with an amendment; amended, considered.

Motion made, and Question, That the Bill be now read the Third time, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 56 ( Third Reading) and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.