HC Deb 21 March 2000 vol 346 cc843-5
24. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

What representations she has received on her plans to increase her staff; and if she will make a statement. [114032]

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

I have nothing to add to my written answer on 22 February 2000, Official Report, column 860W.

Miss McIntosh

I do not know whether or not I should be grateful for that answer. Will the Advocate-General share with the House what her responsibilities are for Scots law in the House of Commons, and why she needs any staff?

The Advocate-General

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her interest. I know that she is a distinguished—although no longer practising—member of the Scottish Bar. My responsibilities are many. I inherited the opinion work of the Lord Advocate and the Solicitor-General. I advise not only on Scots law in relation to devolved and reserved matters but, with the Attorney-General, I advise in relation to the European convention on human rights and European law. That is my main advisory work. It has taken one woman to do the work of two men.

In relation to my new statutory powers under the Scotland Act 1998, there are a number of different aspects to them. I have the power, but not the duty, to take matters to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council if I think that any Scottish Parliament legislation is outwith its legislative competence. I also have certain powers in relation to devolution issues. These matters can arise in any court in Scotland, in civil or criminal matters. I think that today's was the 500th devolution issue intimated to me. I have looked at all 500, and I have intervened in a number of them. Some will come to the Privy Council, and I hope—certainly initially—to do those cases myself. I also have—[Interruption.] Will the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) be satisfied with that for now?

Miss McIntosh

indicated assent.

Mr. Desmond Browne (Kilmarnock and Loudoun)

Could my hon. and learned Friend share with the House what considerations she takes into account when she is deciding whether or not to enter an appearance in a case involving a devolution issue?

The Advocate-General

I thank my hon. Friend—another distinguished member of the Scottish Bar, which is having a good run today. I consider each case individually, and there are a range of criteria that I take into account. The first matter that I might consider is whether or not there is a UK interest. For example, in relation to the road traffic cases which came before me recently, the legislation is common to Scotland and to England and Wales, which raises certain issues. Many of the cases have been raised at sheriff court level throughout Scotland. Generally, I have not intervened in such cases. Each case is considered individually, and I consider a range of criteria in relation to them.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield)

The Advocate-General has today answered a question which, a month ago, she refused to answer. I asked about her involvement in Starr v. the Procurator Fiscal, but she said that she would not answer because the matter was confidential between her and the Government. Will she confirm that it is nothing of the kind, and that it is part of her statutory duties under the Scotland Act? In future, can we please have answers from her to Members of this House on the discharge of her responsibilities under the statute?

The Advocate-General

The hon. Gentleman is a member of the English Bar, which might explain the way in which he put his question. It had a certain lack of finesse. Earlier I made some general comments about the way in which I approach individual cases. It would not be my practice to give reasons for individual cases, especially if they are sub judice.