HC Deb 23 May 2000 vol 350 cc850-1
17. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

What recent advice she has given on the introduction into Scots law of the European convention on human rights and its implications for practising (a) lawyers and (b) judges. [121890]

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

I have had many meetings in different parts of Scotland and in London in which I have discussed the implications for Scots law of the European convention. As Advocate-General, I give legal advice on matters of human rights. I have also ensured that United Kingdom Department lawyers are aware of the effects on Scots Law of the introduction of convention rights. I regularly inform UK Departments about the implications of devolution issues that have been raised in Scotland.

Miss McIntosh

When the hon. and learned Lady and I were law students at our respective Scottish universities and European law was first introduced into Scots law, there was an obligatory European Community law course. Has she advised that a similar obligatory course should be introduced for all undergraduates, practising lawyers and sitting judges in Scotland?

The Advocate-General

It is not for me as Advocate-General, but for the Scottish Executive, to give such advice. It is also a matter of the organisation of universities and of the various training courses that they offer. I have, however, visited various Scottish universities, and I am pleased to advise that their students are very well-informed about the European convention on human rights. It is a matter of great interest in the universities and, of course, elsewhere.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield)

The hon. and learned Lady takes a little refuge in the particular of not being able to reply to specific questions, but I am sure that she will agree that some of these matters are of general importance and have a United Kingdom-wide effect, as the Human Rights Act 1998 will apply in all parts of the United Kingdom. What action could she, please, take to ensure that hon. Members and the public are fully briefed on how the Government—for whom she speaks on the matter—understand the implications of implementation, so that Parliament itself can understand the problems that it will face?

The Advocate-General

If the hon. Gentleman would like me to provide a little human rights course for him and other hon. Members, I would be delighted to do so. I have made it perfectly clear that I am more than happy to meet individual hon. Members—or groups of hon. Members; however they wish—to discuss these matters. I also have regular meetings with Ministers and with the lawyers across Whitehall. I assure hon. Members that lawyers in Whitehall and in the wider community are very much aware of the convention's implications, and that action is being taken to ensure that lawyers are ready for the convention when it is in force in the United Kingdom.

18. Mr. Desmond Browne (Kilmarnock and Loudoun)

What steps she is taking to anticipate the incorporation of the European convention on human rights into Scots law in October. [121892]

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

Since last year, I have spoken to many groups on those issues. As my hon. Friend will be aware, the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Ministers are already bound under the Scotland Act 1998 not to breach convention rights.

Mr. Browne

My hon. and learned Friend will be aware that the incorporation of the ECHR into Scots law in respect of the actions of the Scottish Executive and the Scottish Parliament has already given rise to a substantial number of applications to the court, including an important current case. What steps are being taken to ensure that the lessons learned in Scotland are disseminated among the Departments of the UK Government that still have responsibility for reserved matters for Scotland?

The Advocate-General

There have been approximately 650 devolution issues covering a range of subjects intimated to me as Advocate-General. As part of the procedures that I introduced, we have taken steps to ensure that UK Departments are well aware of the issues, the problems and some of the solutions available. I appeared last week in the current court case that my hon. Friend mentioned and I shall appear again tomorrow.