HC Deb 13 January 2004 vol 416 cc658-9
16. Ann McKechin (Glasgow, Maryhill) (Lab)

What devolution issues she has considered since 2 December 2003. [146406]

17. Annabelle Ewing (Perth) (SNP)

What devolution issues have been raised since 2 December 2003. [146407]

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

What devolution issues have been raised with her since 2 December 2003. [146408]

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

What devolution issues she has considered since 2 December 2003. [146409]

20. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con)

What devolution issues she has considered since 2 December 2003. [146410]

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

I consider all devolution issues that are intimated to me. Since 2 December 2003, there have been 32 devolution issues. Two of them arose in the civil area, while the rest concerned criminal matters such as pre-trial delay, failure to communicate information required by sea fishing measures, and the use of sexual history evidence in trials.

Ann McKechin

In relation to the current debate about our proposals for the new supreme court, what advantages does my hon. and learned Friend consider the proposals have over the existing arrangements for the Privy Council in connection with the Scottish legal system?

The Advocate-General

Considerable representations have been made on the matter. In my personal experience, appearing both in the Privy Council and the House of Lords, legal principles and disputes do not necessarily fall into easily defined categories. They have a nasty habit of spreading across into other areas. Thus, a devolution issue before the Privy Council may raise more general principles that in other cases are considered by the House of Lords. One possible advantage of a supreme court would be that only one superior court would exist to decide such cases. But there are, as my hon. Friend knows, a range of issues that a number of Members of Parliament have raised, as well as many other groups, all of which are being considered by the Department for Constitutional Affairs.

Annabelle Ewing

Sticking with the supreme court, does the Advocate-General agree with her fellow members of the Faculty of Advocates who recently concluded that the current proposals for a UK supreme court were unconstitutional? If she disagrees, can she tell the House why?

The Advocate-General

The proposals are being considered along with other proposals. If there were any suggestion that there was any illegality in the proposed arrangements, that might be referred to me as a Law Officer but, on the general issues, there is no question, in my view, of their being unconstitutional, in the sense of illegal. They may be politically controversial, which is another matter altogether.

Mr. Carmichael

Does the Advocate-General share the view of Lord Hope of Craighead, who, with regard to the creation of a supreme court, told the Constitutional Affairs Committee on 2 December last year: what we are talking about, when we are talking about a final court of appeal in Scottish cases, is an amendment of the Court of Session Act, which is a Scottish Act, which really is under the supervision of the Scottish Parliament?

The Advocate-General

Of course I defer entirely to Lord Hope, particularly when I am appearing in front of him, but in other areas of dispute, it depends how the proposals are brought forward. These matters are all still being considered.

Mr. Reid

At the European Fisheries Council meeting in December, a decision was taken that placed certain restrictions on Scottish fishermen fishing in the North sea, but the same restrictions were not imposed on fishermen from other European countries. Surely that is illegal under the treaty of Rome. Does the Advocate-General agree that that is illegal discrimination?

The Advocate-General

If there was a substantive case of that being illegal discrimination, no doubt someone might raise it as a devolution issue. In that case, I should be happy to consider it.

Miss McIntosh

Has the hon. and learned Lady been asked to give her advice on the constitutional implications of the West Lothian question of Scottish Members of Parliament being allowed to vote on laws that will apply exclusively in England? If a test case were brought, which Law Officer would act as adviser?

The Advocate-General

I shall be delighted to see any test case that is brought and to consider it. I am sure that such a case would raise interesting issues. On the general question, the constitutional issue that the hon. Lady mentions seems to me a political controversy, not a legal one.

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