HC Deb 07 March 1963 vol 673 cc644-6
Q9. Sir J. Duncan

asked the Prime Minister whether, in view of the difficulties that may arise from the absence of the Scottish Law Officers from the Scottish Standing Committee when it is considering the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill, he will as an experiment move to amend Standing Orders so that a Law Officer may appear and speak at the Bar of the Committee and give such legal advice to the Committee as is required.

The Prime Minister

If any such experiment were to be made I think that it ought first to be discussed through the usual channels.

Sir J. Duncan

If my right hon. Friend does not accept the suggestion, may I ask whether he will try to think up some better one and consult through the usual channels? In my view, and that of a great many other people, this is a continuing problem and not a party problem.

The Prime Minister

I feel that that is so, and I think that it would be very suitable if there were some discussions on the matter.

Mr. G. Brown

Let them stand for Parliament.

Mr. Hector Hughes

As an alternative, will the Prime Minister adopt the suggestion which I made on Second Reading of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill and submit the Bill to an expert committee of Scottish lawyers who know the difference between English and Scottish law, and so make the Bill much more useful to Scotland?

The Prime Minister

This is a problem and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan) for raising it, and it might be discussed. If it were not for the unlucky fact of the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) not being a member of the Scottish Bar I could advise him to cross the Floor of the House.

Mr. H. Wilson

Is the Prime Minister aware that if he wants to discuss this proposal through the usual channels it will get pretty short shrift as far as we are concerned? [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Certainly, because the Government have it within their own power to bring Scottish lawyers into the House, unless they are afraid of the consequences of any by-election which might have to be held.

The Prime Minister

On reflection the right hon. Gentleman will see that he has taken rather a narrow view of a problem which arose during the time of a Labour Government in my lifetime and was solved by making Mr. Hugh MacMillan Lord Advocate, but am in the House of Commons. This is a problem which may recur, but I did not think that it was something about which I should do more than recognise its existence at Question Time.

Mr. T. Fraser

Will the Prime Minister say whether it is a fact that the present Lord Advocate accepted his employment on condition that he would not be coerced by the Tory Party into taking a seat in Parliament?

The Prime Minister

No. Sir.

Mr. C. Pannell

Does the Prime Minister appreciate the very weak moral position which the Government would he in about bringing Scottish Law Officers to the Bar of the Committee unelected when in fact it was the cohorts on the other side of the House who refused permission to Mr. Wedgwood Benn to proceed to the Bar of the House when he was properly elected?

The Prime Minister

That brings up a question which may or may not be put right and dealt with in the course of this Session but which would not solve the problem of the Lord Advocate for Scotland.

Sir T. Moore

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that we are a little disturbed by the present situation in which there is no legal mind in the Scottish Grand Committee to advise Ministers who are dealing with very intricate and difficult Bills? Would my right hon. Friend consider the suggestion that one of the present Law Officers in Scotland might sit on the bench above in the Committee and be there available and ready to answer any question that might be suggested to him?

The Prime Minister

No doubt the Ministers are excellently briefed, but this is clearly a question which, if it was decided, could be decided only in a particular way by the general good will of the House.