HC Deb 13 January 2004 vol 416 cc660-2
21. Mr. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab)

What representations he has received on where the proposed UK supreme court should sit when considering devolution issues. [147116]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Mr. Christopher Leslie)

I have received a wide range of representations on the proposal for a UK supreme court, including a small number referring specifically to where the court should sit. I will publish the responses to the consultation shortly. Various options for the main permanent base of the supreme court are being considered, although the Government believe that, as a UK court, it should be located in the UK capital city. That will not preclude it from sitting elsewhere in the United Kingdom from time to time. It would be for the supreme court itself to decide when it was appropriate to do so.

Mr. Lazarowicz

I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. When he considers the matter further, will he bear it in mind that the White Paper on Scotland's Parliament, which was published back in 1997, said at paragraph 4.17 that the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, when dealing with devolution issues, might sit in Edinburgh "as appropriate"? That has never happened, as he will be well aware. Will he find out why not and also consider why there should therefore be a requirement on the new supreme court to sit from time to time, when considering devolution issues, in Edinburgh or elsewhere in the UK as appropriate?

Mr. Leslie

My hon. Friend comments on the consultation paper—I think that he responded to it—that contained a proposal to consider transferring the functions of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in respect of devolution issues to the new United Kingdom supreme court. As I said in my earlier answer, it might be appropriate for such a supreme court to sit in places other than London around the country, but that would be a matter for it and would be subject to logistical questions. I am not closed-minded on that.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD)

Is it not abundantly clear, not least from the evidence of Lords Cullen and Hope and the Faculty of Advocates, that the Government have completely failed to understand the Scottish dimension of what they are proposing with the supreme court? Given that we still have no idea where the court will eventually sit—to the extent that the Lord Chancellor has suggested that it may end up camping out in the House of Lords—should we not take time to get this very important reform, which many of us support wholeheartedly, right rather than rushing it through so haphazardly?

Mr. Leslie

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. The purpose of having a consultation paper in respect of any subsequent legislation is to scrutinise such matters in much more detail. We will look very carefully at the representations made about the location of the supreme court. I believe fundamentally that, as a UK supreme court, it should be located in the UK capital city. As I said, however, that will not preclude it from sitting in other parts of the country from time to time.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab)

If my hon. Friend looks at the evidence that has been given so far to the Select Committee on Constitutional Affairs, he will see that many other concerns have been raised. May I press him on his answer to the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath)? Surely a pause in the consultation process and an extension of the timetable would give the House, and the country, the opportunity to have a proper, firm set of proposals on replacing the current system. I do not oppose the proposals, but more time is needed.

Mr. Leslie

I understand that my hon. Friend and the Constitutional Affairs Committee have been looking at those matters, and we are happy to have that dialogue and to learn from any suggestions that they might make. However, an inordinate delay would not be in the interests of the proposal. It is right that we should undertake a consultation process, analyse and respond to the responses, and introduce legislation—and that is what we intend to do.

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