HC Deb 20 January 1975 vol 884 cc1188-92

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the District Courts (Scotland) Bill [Lords] may be proceeded with as if it had been certified by Mr. Speaker as relating exclusively to Scotland.—[Mr. Harry Ewing.]

11.25 p.m.

Mr. Edward Gardner (South Fylde)

It may seem a little odd that a Member who represents an English constituency should intervene on a matter of this kind, but—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)

Order. If some right hon. and hon. Members do not wish to listen to the hon. and learned Member and those who may wish to follow him, will they kindly withdraw quietly from the Chamber?

Mr. Gardner

I wish to point out that Standing Order No. 67, which would in the ordinary course apply to legislation of this kind, lays it down that if Mr. Speaker is of opinion that the legislation in question relates exclusively to Scotland, he shall so certify, and the Minister may then, on a motion, have that legislation committed to the Scottish Grand Committee.

In this instance the procedure under Standing Order No. 67 is not being followed. I make no objection to that, because it would be within the competence of the House to order, as the Government wish, that the Bill be proceded with as if it had been certified by Mr. Speaker as relating exclusively to Scotland. The reason for my somewhat surprising intervention is that, as I see it, there are in the schedule to the Bill references to two Acts of Parliament both of which apply to England.

The Game Act 1831, which is referred to in paragraph 3 of Schedule 1, was originally excluded from any effect in Scotland or Ireland, and it is only by the Game Licences Act 1960, which amended the 1831 Act, that the provisions of the 1831 Act now apply to Scotland. The schedule contains no reference to the amending Act. For the convenience and enlightenment of anyone who looks at the schedule, I suggest, one amendment to the schedule should certainly be a reference to the Game Licences Act 1860.

I turn next to the Coal Mines Regulation Act 1887, which is cross-border legislation—[Interruption.]I know how enthralled hon. Members must be by these subtle questions, and I am delighted to note the interest being shown. I assure the House that it is a matter of some importance, going beyond technicalities. It is an attempt to introduce, under the guise of exclusively Scottish legislation, an amendment to an English Act of Parliament, and that cannot be right. That is the reason for my taking the rather unusual course of intervening at this time.

I submit that it would be wholly wrong, in these circumstances and for these reasons, that the motion should be allowed to pass committing this legislation to the Scottish Grand Committee.

Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)

I wish to raise briefly a somewhat different point from the important constitutional issue mentioned quite rightly by the English nationalist. I suggest that if this motion is carried and the Bill is referred to the Scottish Grand Committee—to which I do not object—the Minister should look into the question of the representation, at the Committee stage, of my party—and I think that also applies to the Scottish National Party. I hope that the Minister will give an undertaking that he will consult and consider how we may be better represented on the Standing Committee, since these are matters on which we have a view to express.

Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn (Kinross and West Perthshire)

I find it offensive that an Act which applies solely to England should find its way into the schedule of a Scottish Act. I object, secondly, to the fact that an attempt should be made to confuse the law by introducing Scottish terminology into matters which apparently apply only to England. One can conceive of no circumstance in which Section 12 of the Coal Mines Regulation Act 1887 could apply to Scotland. If for no other reason than to counter sloppiness of legislation, it is in the interests of the House that these things should be regulated.

11.32 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Harry Ewing)

I begin by welcoming the hon. and learned Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner) to our debates. No doubt we shall see him in Committee and we shall hear his legal points there. We shall consider what has been said by the hon. and learned Gentleman, although, strangely enough, we have not put down the motion for any of the reasons that he referred to. It was for two other reasons, which have to do with slight amendments to the English law. The two reasons are, first, to do with the transfer of fines and, secondly, the border police, where cross-border activities often take place, and where warrants issued in the Scottish borders often have to be implemented in the north of England.

Mr. Gordon Wilson (Dundee, East)

Will the Minister tell us whether he is making this statement in his capacity as Under-Secretary in charge of home affairs or in connection with his duties in relation to devolution?

Mr. Ewing

I am making the statement in connection with all the responsibilities I have for home affairs and devolution, and the responsibilities I have for keeping the Scottish National Party as well informed as is humanly possible.

For the reasons I explained to the hon. and learned Gentleman, the motion was put down seeking permission of the House to refer the Bill to the Scottish Grand Committee. We shall examine the points that have been made.

The matter of representation on the Committee, which was mentioned by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) is obviously not one for me, but those who have that responsibility were within earshot of his remarks and no doubt consideration will be given to them.

Mr. Ian Percival (Southport)

Did the Minister refer to the importance of certain fines or the importance of some provisions in the Bill in relation to fines? I hope that he will forgive the ignorance of an English lawyer, but I should be grateful if he could explain that part of what he said.

Mr. Ewing

I would not want the hon. and learned Gentleman to go to bed tonight under the impression that his ignorance had been forgotten.

The position in connection with fines, at present—if I may spell it out in order that the hon. and learned Member may sleep peacefully tonight—is that Schedule 1, paragraph 26 provides that in Section 72A(2) of the Magistrates' Courts Act 1952 there shall be substituted "one hundred pounds" for "fifty pounds". Section 72A(2) concerns the transfer of fine orders imposed by the magistrates' courts in England and Wales to courts of summary jurisdiction in Scotland.

At present, where the sum in question is above £50—the maximum amount of fine which can be imposed by existing lay summary courts in common law cases in Scotland—the statute requires that the courts specified in the order shall be sheriff courts. The amendment raises the limit to £100, to be consistent with the provisions in Clause 3(3) of the Bill, which raises from £50 to £100 the maximum fine which can be imposed by a district court in common law cases. I have absolutely no doubt that the matter is now much clearer—indeed, crystal clear—to the hon. and learned Member.

With those comments I hope that the House will approve the motion.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered, That the District Courts (Scotland) Bill [Lords] may be proceeded with as if it had been certified by Mr. Speaker as relating exclusively to Scotland.