HC Deb 11 June 2002 vol 386 cc709-11
26. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

What devolution issues have been raised since 30 April under the Scotland Act 1998. [57404]

27. Annabelle Ewing (Perth)

What devolution issues have been raised in the last month under the Scotland Act 1998. [57405]

28. Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

What devolution issues have been raised since 30 April under the Scotland Act 1998 relating to human rights. [57406]

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

Since 30 April, 33 devolution issue cases have been intimated to me. They have involved a variety of matters, mostly concerning the right to a fair trial under the European convention on human rights.

Miss McIntosh

I congratulate the Minister on retaining her post. As a result, we can continue to hold her to account at these monthly Question Times. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), the shadow leader of the House, is present, and I am sure that he will support me in asking whether she has made progress with the modernisation plans that would allow an extension of this Question Time. At present, we have the minimal period of five minutes. An extension would help to make the Minister totally accountable to the House.

The Advocate-General

I am delighted that there is still support for further time to question me. That sits rather uneasily with those Opposition Members who feel that there is no role for the Advocate-General. However, the determination of the length of Question Time is a matter for the House, not for me.

Annabelle Ewing

What has been, or is likely to be, the Advocate-General's involvement in the ongoing saga of the Megrahi case? Yesterday, Nelson Mandela, the former President of South Africa, called for the matter to be referred to the Privy Council. Does the Advocate-General have no role in the matter, or is her role secret?

The Advocate-General

My role is not a secret at all. The Scotland Act 1998 makes it plain that I have no role in connection with prosecution matters, which are entirely for the Lord Advocate. As the hon. Lady knows, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs has other relationships to deal with. If further legal proceedings were begun, it is possible that a devolution issue might arise. If so, that would be intimated to me in the normal course of events, under the rules of the Scotland Act.

Mr. Dalyell

Given that President Mandela asked that there should be an appeal, will my hon. Friend the Minister use her good offices with the Crown Office to accede to the request from Mr. Eddie McKechnie, Megrahi's lawyer, that a moratorium be placed on the handing over of crucial artefacts? What is the hurry about handing them over, after 13 years? What does the Crown Office have to hide in the matter?

The Advocate-General

The Lord Advocate, and through him the Crown Office, are responsible to the Scottish Parliament and to the courts. There is no role for me in relation to the way in which the Lord Advocate exercises discretion. If my hon. Friend wishes to make representations to the Lord Advocate, that option is open to him.

Mr. Eric Joyce (Falkirk, West)

With regard to devolution issues, have any cases been referred to my hon. and learned Friend that allege delay in criminal proceedings? Will she relate that to possible breaches of the ECHR?

The Advocate-General

I have indeed had many intimations about delay in criminal proceedings as alleged contraventions of the ECHR. The number of such cases runs into the hundreds, about 50 per cent. of which raise those issues. Because of the number of cases intimated to me, for a number of days recently I was involved in a test case, at which I appeared personally to deal with those legal issues. The Appeal Court has given a decision in that case, and the representations that I made were successful. However, a further appeal to the Privy Council is to be mounted, and I shall be dealing with that in due course.