HC Deb 10 February 2004 vol 417 cc1257-8
17. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con)

What devolution issues she has considered since 13 January. [152903]

18. Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD)

What devolution issues have been raised with her since 13 January. [152904]

19. Annabelle Ewing (Perth) (SNP)

What devolution issues have been raised with her since 13 January. [152905]

20. Mr. Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD)

What devolution issues she has considered since 13 January. [152906]

21. Ann McKechin (Glasgow, Maryhill) (Lab)

What devolution issues she has considered since 13 January. [152907]

The Advocate-General

Since 13 January, 51 devolution issues have been intimated to me, all of which were in the criminal arena and concerned matters such as pre-trial delay, failure to communicate information required by sea fishing measures, and the use of sexual history evidence in trials. I am happy to elaborate on those matters if hon. Members wish.

Miss McIntosh

I am most grateful to the hon. and learned Lady, particularly following our illuminating half-hour Adjournment debate last week, which was most positive. Will she comment on the situation that will arise after the enactment of the Traffic Management Bill, which will apply in England but not in Scotland? In particular, has she or her office given any thought to the difficulty of prosecuting for road traffic accidents in which cannabis use has been a causal factor

The Advocate-General

Prosecutions and prosecution policy are entirely matters for the Lord Advocate. I am sure that he has considered that issue, and it is not for me to advise him.

Mr. Carmichael

Today's report by the Constitutional Affairs Committee states at paragraph 39: The jurisdiction of the Supreme Court over Scottish appeals and any changes will require legislation or a resolution of the Scottish Parliament. Does the Advocate-General agree with that assessment? Can she tell the House that she will ensure that it is implemented, and explain why that has not already been done?

The Advocate-General

The short answer is that we do not have a Bill yet. My functions in relation to Scottish Parliament legislation do not kick in under section 33 of the Scotland Act 1998 Until Bills are available We are awaiting a United Kingdom Bill, and there is no Scottish Parliament legislation for me to examine.

Annabelle Ewing

During last week's Adjournment debate, which some would describe as less than enlightening, and in which I was fortunate to participate, I asked the Advocate-General a question to which I did not get an answer. I should therefore like to ask it again today. Is the hon. and learned Lady constitutionally required to put the interests of the United Kingdom Government before those of the Scottish Parliament?

The Advocate-General

One of the reasons why I could not finish all the points that I wished to make in the interesting Adjournment debate that the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) instigated was that I took too many interventions, including those from the hon. Member for Perth (Annabelle Ewing). I did reply to her question during the debate, but I do not think that she liked the answer. I must make it plain that I am a UK Law Officer and I obviously get instructions, which I consider, from UK Departments. However, my job is to give the best advice that I can about the law. It therefore does not matter whether I am advising the UK Government or anybody else: I always try to give the best advice I can.

Mr. Reid

Customs and Excise is a UK department, whereas the Scottish courts are devolved. Customs and Excise claims that 200,000 bottles of spirits are sold illegally every day, yet in two years there were only five prosecutions for spirit duty fraud in the Scottish courts. As the Government's legal adviser in Scotland, can the Advocate-General shed any light on the reason why there are so few prosecutions when so much fraud is alleged?

The Advocate-General

In the devolution settlement, all prosecutions—whether involving UK Departments or devolved matters—are devolved to the Lord Advocate. Prosecution policy is entirely a matter for him, and it is not for me to interfere with that.

Ann McKechin

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that, notwithstanding the concerns that the Select Committee on Constitutional Affairs raised today, the proposal for a supreme court is not a threat to the traditions and values of Scots law, and that it should be viewed as part of the process of evolution?

The Advocate-General

My hon. Friend sums up the matter well. Scots law has survived for many centuries through developing. The institutions, too, develop, and the proposal is one example of that.