HC Deb 22 February 2000 vol 344 cc1360-1
22. Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere)

How many Bills introduced in the Scottish Parliament she has considered; and on how many occasions she has advised that such Bills are not within the Parliament's competence. [109632]

The Advocate-General for Scotland (Dr. Lynda Clark)

Thus far, two Bills have been passed by the Scottish Parliament and I have not considered it necessary to refer either to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. They are now the Mental Health (Public Safety and Appeals) (Scotland) Act 1999 and the Public Finance and Accountability (Scotland) Act 2000.

Mr. Clappison

Although the hon. and learned Lady of course considers such matters in an entirely independent way, given the fact that, so far, she has not considered any Bills to be outside the competence of the Scottish Parliament and given the political composition of that Parliament, does she agree that one would not have to be a tremendous cynic to think it unlikely that any future Bills will be challenged in that way and that there is very little point to what she is doing?

The Advocate-General

I do not share the hon. Gentleman's cynicism. He will remember that, in my position as Advocate-General, I have legal functions to exercise. As an advocate, I have been exercising legal functions for many years and I intend to continue using my independent legal judgment when I act as Advocate-General. We shall wait and see what happens when Bills are introduced.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield)

I have listened carefully to the hon. Lady's comments and they are not very illuminating. She mentions her other roles. She will be aware that she has a constitutional right to intervene in cases which might have a constitutional dimension north and south of the border. Why, for instance, did she not intervene in the cases of Starrs v. Procurator Fiscal and Clancy v. Caird, which have direct constitutional relevance to the United Kingdom because they concern the rights of temporary sheriffs to sit, which could have a knock-on effect south of the border? Did she not see it as part of her role to take a part in that, in view of its profound constitutional implications?

The Advocate-General

The legal advice that I give as Advocate-General is confidential. I know that the hon. Gentleman has a great respect for precedent in the House and for legal precedent, so I quote from the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell) the former Attorney-General in the previous Conservative Administration, who said, on 7 November 1996: By convention, the fact of whether the Law Officers have advised on a given issue is not disclosed, nor is the substance of any advice which may have been given."—[Official Report, 7 November 1996; Vol. 284, c. 610W.]