HC Deb 17 June 1999 vol 333 cc220-1W
Ms Roseanna Cunningham

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what discussions he has had with the Scottish Executive to ensure that any changes to legislation relating to the age of consent in Scotland are introduced and proceeded with simultaneously in the House of Commons and the Scottish Parliament. [87172]

Mr. Straw

I have discussed this issue with my right hon. Friend the Scottish First Minister. This is a devolved issue, but one which is complicated by the consideration being given by the United Kingdom Government to the use of the Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949. I fully support the conclusions reached on this by the Scottish Executive, as set out in the First Minister's statement to the Scottish Parliament on 9 June 1999,Official Report of the Scottish Parliament, columns 358–60, in which he said: The Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill is a United Kingdom measure designed to equalise the age of consent for homosexuals and heterosexuals, and to introduce a new offence of abuse of trust. It was introduced to the Westminster Parliament in December last year and defeated in the House of Lords in April this year. The United Kingdom Government is likely to reintroduce the Bill, making use of the Parliament Acts to ensure its passage. That means that the Bill that is re-introduced would have to be identical to the one that was defeated. Therefore, even if it were thought desirable, it will not be possible to remove Scotland from the Bill's scope if the Parliament Acts are invoked. Until the United Kingdom Government and Parliament have concluded the existing legislative process, it is logical to regard it as unfinished Westminster business. However, these are devolved matters of some sensitivity. It is essential that this Parliament should have the opportunity to debate the Scottish provisions of the Bill. We shall therefore provide for a debate in Executive time. I and my colleagues in the Executive will argue in that debate that the powers under the Parliament Acts should be used if that is thought appropriate by the United Kingdom Government. We have reached that conclusion in the knowledge that this Parliament will have the power, if it so wishes, to amend or repeal any Scottish provision enacted by the passage of the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill.