HC Deb 22 October 1975 vol 898 cc477-80
33. Mr. Fairbairn

asked the Lord Advocate if he will make a statement on the probable division of his official duties between the Scottish Assembly and the United Kingdom Parliament; and how many additional staff the establishment of a Scottish Assembly will require the Crown Office to recruit.

34. Mr. Rifkind

asked the Lord Advocate to what extent the work of his Department will be affected by the establishment of a Scottish Assembly with the powers set out in the Government's most recent White Paper on devolution policy.

The Lord Advocate (Mr. Ronald King Murray)

Like all other aspects of devolution, these matters are under consideration. As the hon. Gentlemen are aware, it is hoped to publish a further White Paper on devolution next month which will set out the Government's proposals in detail. It would be premature for me to express any views on the likely effect of devolution on the duties of my office or the work of my Departments.

Mr. Fairbairn

Even though it might be premature for the Lord Advocate to anticipate what may happen to his Department in respect of the functions or duties of the Scottish Assembly, does he appreciate that it is important that the Assembly does not impose additional tax and staff burdens on the Scottish people? In anticipation of the White Paper, will he take steps either to prune the Department, if it is to be increased, or to make sure that these burdens do not apply?

The Lord Advocate

The answer to the first part of the supplementary question is "Yes". The second part obviously must depend on the arrangements put forward by the Government in the White Paper.

Mr. Rifkind

Will the Lord Advocate give an assurance that the future role and powers in his hands and in the hands of the Solicitor-General for Scotland will be spelt out in great detail next month in the White Paper on devolution? Will he also inform the House whether any consideration has been given to the possibility of some form of department of justice to ensure uniform progress of Scots law?

The Lord Advocate

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that these are complex questions which are now under close examination. He and other hon. Members will have to await the White Paper.

Mr. Grimond

As the Lord Advocate is aware, there is an acute shortage of legal advice in certain parts of Scotland, including my constituency. Will he bear that matter in mind when he considers the future of the legal arrangements in Scotland and ensure that if any extra work is created by a Scottish Assembly this aspect will be reconsidered?

The Lord Advocate

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I take note of the point.

Mr. Sillars

Will my right hon. and learned Friend arrange in the White Paper to give a detailed statement of present and future patronage powers of the Lord Advocate?

The Lord Advocate

I must repeat that this is a complex and difficult matter which obviously will come under consideration. I take note of my hon. Friend's desire to probe deeply.

Mr. Gordon Wilson

What representations has the Lord Advocate received about the legislative needs of Scotland on law reform in view of the Cabinet backsliding reported in this morning's Scottish Press? What guidance has he given to other members of the Government about the importance of legislative reform by the Scottish Assembly?

The Lord Advocate

I shall continue to give what advice and guidance I can on these matters. Representations about Scotland's legislative needs will clearly be considered along with all the other matters that I have mentioned.

Mr. Michael Clark Hutchison

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman realise that all these questions and much expense will be avoided if we do not have an Assembly?

The Lord Advocate

Yes, Sir.

36. Mrs. Bain

asked the Lord Advocate what further consideration he has given to priorities for law reform following the establishment of the Scottish Assembly.

The Lord Advocate

I have nothing further to add to the reply given to the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) on 9th July last.

Mrs. Bain

Is the Lord Advocate aware that there are those in this House who realise that he recognises the importance of an Assembly which can discuss law reform in Scotland? Will he bear in mind that since it appears unlikely that the present Government will give time to divorce law reform and to consideration of the recommendations of the Clayson Committee, reform should be made a matter of priority? Will he also bear in mind the possibilities of reviewing conveyancing laws with a view to reducing the costs of house purchase?

The Lord Advocate

I recognise the hon. Lady's interest in law reform, which I share, as she was kind enough to recognise. However, this again is a matter that must await the White Paper. Clearly, if we are to have genuine devolution it would be wrong to set out what we believe to be the priorities for law reform.

Mr. Rifkind

Does the Lord Advocate realise that the needs in many areas of Scots law reform cannot afford to wait until the Assembly is established, since it may be two years before that body is able to consider the matter? Will he accept that in the sphere of divorce law reform the Clayson Committee recommendations and many other recommendations of Lord Hunter's Commission are presently gathering dust, and that it is necessary for the Government, this Parliament and the Parliament to come in the near future to bring forward proposals for consideration?

The Lord Advocate

Nothing I have said will make any difference to that situation. I was not suggesting that there was not a heavy responsibility on Westminster to deal with urgent matters of law reform. However, the hon. Gentleman must await the Queen's Speech.

Mr. Henderson

We respect the desire to improve the law of Scotland and we are interested to hear when the Lord Advocate is to bring forward further proposals about land tenure reform to deal with such cases as affect some of my constituents who are tenants at will and who cannot obtain improvement grants because they do not have feudal tenure.

The Lord Advocate

I can only take note of these matters, which are of great importance. The hon. Gentleman can rest assured that the Government are aware of the importance of these matters and of finding legislative time for them.