Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, this draft order was laid before the House on 8 November 2021. I am grateful to have the opportunity today to open the debate on these consequential amendments that support the decision of the Scottish Government to establish Consumer Scotland as the body responsible for the devolved areas of consumer advocacy and advice. Consumer Scotland has been created by the Scottish Government as a source of expertise focused on advocating for change on issues that affect people in Scotland.
This order assists with the implementation of Consumer Scotland by establishing it as a non-ministerial body of the Scottish Administration. It also ensures that its new functions are reflected in UK legislation. Through this order, Consumer Scotland will be accountable to the Scottish Parliament and will be added to the list of bodies whose members are disqualified from being members of the House of Commons under the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975. This is necessary as Consumer Scotland must legally be operationally independent of Scottish Ministers. Furthermore, the legislation will also give consumers confidence in the independence of this new body.
Let me provide some background on consumer law in the UK. In 2010, BIS, as the department was then called, consulted on changing the consumer landscape to make it easier for consumers to access advice. Consumer advocacy functions and the responsibility for the delivery of general consumer advice by Consumer Direct were transferred to Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Scotland. This resulted in the abolition of Consumer Focus in 2014.
Under the Scotland Act 2016, functions relating to the delivery of consumer advice and advocacy, but not consumer protection, were devolved to the Scottish Parliament. This meant that it was the Scottish Government’s responsibility to fund and decide on the delivery mechanism for consumer advice and advocacy in Scotland. The power to raise a levy on industry to fund energy and postal advice and advocacy, against an agreed work programme, remains the responsibility of the UK Government. Consumer advocacy is just one of the activities that Citizens Advice Scotland and the bureaux network undertake. The advocacy work, including highlighting issues of consumer detriment and potential remediation, will pass to Consumer Scotland. These outputs will support front-line delivery by individual bureaux and other organisations.
Next, I would like briefly to provide some background on the type of secondary legislation we are discussing today. Scotland Act orders are legislation made under the Scotland Act 1998, which devolved significant powers to Scotland and provided the foundation of the devolution settlement. The order before us is a Section 104 order, which allows for necessary or expedient legislative provision in consequence of any provision made by or under any Act of the Scottish Parliament or Scottish statutory instrument. In this case, provision is required in consequence of the Consumer Scotland Act 2020, which I shall refer to as the 2020 Act.
Turning once again to the purpose of this order, as I mentioned earlier, the 2020 Act allowed for the establishment of Consumer Scotland as the body responsible for the devolved matters of consumer advocacy and advice. The aim of the order is to amend UK legislation, which will provide Consumer Scotland with full authority in its role of dealing with consumer advocacy and advice. Consumer Scotland will take over a range of responsibilities relating to advocacy in the energy, postal services and water sectors, currently undertaken by Citizens Advice Scotland. The advice it provides will be on new and emerging issues or matters of general interest to a range of consumers.
In 2020-21, Citizens Advice Scotland advised over 171,000 clients and dealt with over 647,000 advice issues, helping clients to gain nearly £147 million. Citizens Advice Scotland will remain a vital player in this area, and it will continue to provide advice to individuals, and also on a range of other areas, including social security and tackling poverty.
In closing, this instrument supports the Scottish Government’s decision to establish Consumer Scotland, which will give consumers confidence in the independence of the new body, and ensure that its functions are reflected in UK legislation. This instrument, the policy behind it and its legislative contents have the support of Scotland’s Governments in London and Edinburgh. It represents an excellent example of devolution in action to deliver for the people of Scotland. I commend the order to the Committee, and I beg to move.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation of the background to this instrument. Of course, it is set out very clearly in the Explanatory Memorandum, which I have read.
I have just one comment, which is on the change of name. The name Citizens Advice Scotland is very well known to people who live in Scotland, and the crucial word in the name is of course “advice”. As an ordinary consumer in Scotland in need of advice, the body to go to would be Citizens Advice Scotland. The new name going into the legislation is Consumer Scotland, which does not include the word “advice”, which begs the question of whether this new body continues to have the function of providing advice. As I understand what the Minister said, and what is set out in the Explanatory Memorandum, the answer is yes; there is no change in function, but there is a change in name.
I was not quite sure whether I picked up the Minister correctly as to whether Citizens Advice Scotland will exist as a body beneath the umbrella of Consumer Scotland, or whether its name will go altogether. If its name goes altogether, there is a question as to the extent to which Consumer Scotland will advertise and make it known to everybody in Scotland that it has an advisory function as well as an advocacy function. For the ordinary person in the street, that is possibly more important than the advocacy—which is important, of course, but not everybody in the street is thinking of it. People seeking advice want to know where to go.
Can the Minister reassure us that the advice function will not only continue to be performed but the people in Scotland will be aware that Consumer Scotland is the body to which to go?
My Lords, this is a bit of a maiden speech, in that I must have done at least 100 SIs over the past years, especially in that wonderful rush towards leaving the EU, but I have managed to avoid Scottish SIs until today. As a result, I found reading the SI and the Explanatory Memorandum something of a challenge. Everything I now say may be rubbish, because I might have got it wrong, but I do not really think that we are here to discuss the merits of Consumer Scotland.
It seems to me that the Scottish Government created Consumer Scotland, and as far as I can see that is their business, and they have to be accountable to their electorate over whether it is a good or a bad thing. To do its full job, as I understand it, it needs to take over responsibility of Citizens Advice Scotland with respect to energy, postal services and water, because they are not devolved areas, and therefore it is our responsibility to agree that these non-devolved areas shall be given to Consumer Scotland. As I said, to do this, it needs our authority, because those areas are not devolved. This oversight activity seems to have worked in the past with Citizens Advice Scotland, and I have no reason to believe that it will not work as well with Consumer Scotland. Our only interest should be whether those transfers will bring harm to those services in the rest of the UK—and, frankly, I do not see how it can possibly produce any harm.
As far as I can see, the other parts of the SI seem to be technical in nature, and we have no interest in whether Consumer Scotland is a good or a bad thing. That is the responsibility of the Scottish Government. I therefore fully support the draft instrument.
I start by thanking both noble Lords for their general support for this order. Our amendments to the UK legislation made through this Scotland Act order will enable, as I hinted —or said—earlier, effective implementation of the Scottish Government’s decision to establish Consumer Scotland.
The few questions that arose were over the relationship and to do with the changes, and I hope that I can answer them. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, asked whether the advice function would continue to be performed in Consumer Scotland. I shall give the noble and learned Lord a little more detail on this. Consumer Scotland, as it will be called, will have five key functions. The first is a general function to provide consumer advocacy and advice—so the word “advice” is definitely in there. Secondly, it has a representative function to provide advice—again, it says “advice”—information and communication to other public bodies on consumer advocacy. Thirdly, it has a research and investigation function to research consumer matters and conduct investigations into consumer harm. Fourthly, it has an information function to provide public-facing consumer advice and information; and, finally, a recall of goods function, which will allow for the managing of records of recall of goods. As the noble and learned Lord will know, that is something that has been in England for some time.
I just add that Citizens Advice Scotland will still operate in Scotland. It will remain an important partner for Consumer Scotland and the Scottish Government in tackling consumer issues, providing advice to individuals and in a range of other areas, as I mentioned earlier, including social security and tackling poverty.
I shall try to answer a question from the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, on how the body might differ, and I shall perhaps add to what I have been saying. The 2020 Act created an independent consumer champion dedicated to representing the interests of consumers, so it will be a source of expertise, focused on advocating for change on issues that particularly affect people in Scotland. It will recognise Scotland’s distinct circumstances, such as its rural population and devolved industries. That would include matters of transportation, which I suspect will be of interest to the noble Lord, and the fact that there are particular specific issues in that respect for Scotland. I hope and believe that Consumer Scotland will create better outcomes for citizens in Scotland.
I hope that that gives a little bit more meat to the bones on the questions raised. To close, our support for the Scottish Government on the establishment of Consumer Scotland demonstrates Scotland’s two Governments working very well together, and the commitment of this Government to strengthen the devolution settlement. I hope that with those remarks, this order will be passed, and I commend the order to this Committee.