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ADVOCATE-GENERAL

The Advocate-General was asked—

Human Rights Act

26. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): How many actions under the Human Rights Act 1998 involving the Government have been brought in Scotland. [17512]

The Advocate-General for Scotland (Dr. Lynda Clark): Human rights issues can arise in the Scottish courts in a number of ways. For example, 10 actions involving potential declarations of incompatibility under section 4 of the Human Rights Act 1998 have been formally intimated to the Government. To date, so far as I am aware, no free-standing actions in Scotland against any Department of the Government have been raised under section 7 of the Act. The hon. Lady will be aware that the Government have been interested in a number of devolution issues raising human rights points, in which I have intervened as Advocate-General.

Miss McIntosh: Would the hon. and learned Lady agree that more than 1,300 cases involving human rights issues have been brought under devolution since May 1999? In answering, will she tell the House what added value her position has brought to the Government, and how accountable to Parliament she believes that she is?

The Advocate-General: I certainly agree that that is the correct number—it is the number that I gave recently in Parliament. So far as added value is concerned, the hon. Lady will be pleased to know that I did not intervene in 1,300 cases. I restricted myself, held myself back and saved public money. I intervened in only a small number of cases, when I thought that I could assist, for example, by explaining the UK position or by developing arguments that might be useful to the court in reaching a

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determination. I have the exact number elsewhere—I can give it to the hon. Lady—but I think that I intervened in about 20 cases.

Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill

27. Annabelle Ewing (Perth): What role she has played in the preparation of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill as far as devolved aspects are concerned; and if she will make a statement. [17513]

The Advocate-General for Scotland (Dr. Lynda Clark): Officials in my Solicitor's Office have been involved in the preparation of the provisions of this Bill which, for Scotland, have both devolved and reserved aspects. In doing so, they have collaborated closely with officials in the Home Office and the Scottish Executive.

Annabelle Ewing: I thank the hon. and learned Lady for her answer. Jurisdiction of the devolved aspects of the Bill were ceded to Westminster under a Sewel motion—the 25th Sewel motion since May 1999. To give the House an idea of the scale of that, there have been only 23 substantive pieces of legislation in the Scottish Parliament in that time. Will the hon. and learned Lady support a reversed Sewel procedure to ensure that, when substantial amendments are made at Westminster—for example, with respect to the Proceeds of Crime Bill—the matter is referred back to the Scottish Parliament for proper consideration?

The Advocate-General: No, I would not support such a procedure. It is a matter for Members of the Scottish Parliament to raise matters in the Scottish Parliament as and when they wish. So far as Westminster is concerned, in relation to issues on which the Scottish Parliament has made a Sewel motion, the Westminster Parliament will legislate, and debate on the matter will take place here.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): Would my hon. and learned Friend be prepared to ask her officials to meet Mr. Douglas Connell of Turcan Connell, and other Edinburgh lawyers who have serious misgivings about the Bill?

The Advocate-General: The policy of the Bill is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and I will certainly pass on my hon. Friend's concerns to him.

Skye Toll Bridge

28. Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Inverness, West): What assessment she has made of the circumstances in respect of the toll collections on the Skye toll bridge. [17514]

The Advocate-General for Scotland (Dr. Lynda Clark): The operation of the Skye bridge and the collection of tolls are matters for the Scottish Executive. Therefore any assessment in respect of toll collections on the bridge is a matter for Scottish Ministers.

Mr. Kennedy: I am sure that the Advocate-General is aware that, for the first time since 1977, a Joint Statutory Instruments Committee of this Parliament is meeting to consider whether the legal circumstances as applied to this

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House at the time of this enactment were in order. The Committee will have particular regard for the fact that the legislation on the Skye bridge tolls was passed under a classified statutory instrument. Will the hon. and learned Lady undertake to conduct her own legal inquiry into the appropriateness of the matter, because there is now— in addition to the legal and Scottish Executive considerations—serious re-examination of the matter taking place at Westminster?

The Advocate-General: The right hon. Gentleman may be aware that the legal issues have been explored at some length in the Scottish courts. Indeed, the matter has gone, so far, to a division of the Appeal Court where it was explored at some length. In the legal context, if a further appeal is made, that can be explored further. On the work that I might do as Advocate-General, I remind him that my job is to advise the Whitehall Departments of the UK Government; it is not to conduct new investigations of the type that he suggests.

LORD CHANCELLOR'S DEPARTMENT

The Parliamentary Secretary was asked—

House of Lords (Judicial Functions)

29. Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): What plans the Lord Chancellor has for reform of the judicial functions of the House of Lords. [17516]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Mr. Michael Wills): As we made clear in our White Paper on reform of the House of Lords, published last month, the Government have no plans to alter the current arrangements under which the Law Lords are Members of the House of Lords.

Mr. Heath: The Government have made a complete mess of democratic reform of the House of Lords, so will they at least seriously consider judicial reform? Is it sustainable that the Lord Chancellor remains a member of the Executive, the legislature and the judiciary at the same time? Is not the highest court in the land compromised by its position in the legislature? Is it not time to establish a supreme court for this country that is clearly separate from the legislature—these Houses of Parliament?

Mr. Wills: We have considered those questions exhaustively and extremely carefully, and we are content with the proposals that we have made; otherwise, we would not have made them.

The hon. Gentleman rightly refers to the separation of powers. That is important, which is why we have that arrangement in this country, and we are keeping it because we believe that it works. I must point out that the Wakeham royal commission considered the arrangement under which the Law Lords sit in the House of Lords and concluded that it works. Because it works, we are going to keep it.

The hon. Gentleman also referred to the position of the Lord Chancellor, and of course he is right: the office is unusual in the way that it combines different roles, but it

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is also unusually useful, because through it the judiciary has a representative in the Cabinet and the Cabinet has a representative in the judiciary. As such, we believe that the Lord Chancellor is well placed mutually to represent the views of each branch of our constitution to the other.

Tony Wright (Cannock Chase): My hon. Friend says that he has no plans to revisit the issue, but, for the sake of clarity, is he saying that, although we are consulting on House of Lords reform proposals in general, reform of the judicial function forms no part of that?

Mr. Wills: I think that we have already made our position very clear on that.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): May I say to the Parliamentary Secretary that, while I do not question the utility of the Lord Chancellor in some functions that he identified, I think it objectionable that the Lord Chancellor may sit in a judicial capacity, bearing it in mind that he is a member of the Executive? That is difficult to reconcile with the proposition of the independence of the judiciary, which is enshrined in the European convention incorporated in domestic law.

Mr. Wills: I am always interested in the right hon. and learned Gentleman's views on the matter and there are circumstances in which it would not be appropriate for the Lord Chancellor to sit in a judicial capacity. That is well established, and it has been well established by many Lord Chancellors, but it is important that we do not set down rigid rules about when that applies. The very essence of our constitution is its flexibility and pragmatism. I would have hoped that the right hon. and learned Gentleman, of almost all Members of the House, endorsed that.

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon): Does my hon. Friend not agree that the judicial functions of the House of Lords could perfectly well be exercised by a separate supreme court? Allowing judges, senior judges and, indeed, retired senior judges to act as part of the legislature confounds the concept of separation of powers, so I urge him, as the consultation goes ahead, to think about whether it is appropriate for judges both to pass laws and enforce them.

Mr. Wills: I can assure my hon. Friend that we never stop considering such matters, but he obviously has deep concerns. I hope that it helps to reassure him if I refer him to a statement by the senior Law Lord, Lord Bingham, on 22 June last year. He set out carefully the principles that the Law Lords would observe in pursuing the question of separation of powers, their participation in debate and voting as well as their eligibility to sit in related cases.

Speaking on behalf of all the Law Lords, Lord Bingham made it clear that they did not think it appropriate to involve themselves in matters containing a strong element of party-political controversy; that they were mindful to avoid anything that could cause them to be ineligible to preside over any appeal to the House of Lords in its judicial capacity; and that, in deciding

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eligibility issues, they applied the same principles that apply in the courts elsewhere. As far as I know, Lord Bingham's statement has never been criticised.

Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and West Devon): I hope that the Minister will consider carefully the questions that have just been asked by Members in all parts of the House. Will he also acknowledge that judges in the higher courts bear an increasing workload? Their decisions are of great national and often international importance: England and Wales is the chosen jurisdiction for many international contract cases and arbitrations. Is the Minister satisfied that there is enough administrative support and back-up for judges not just in the House of Lords, but in the Court of Appeal and the High Court?

Mr. Wills: As the hon. Gentleman will recognise, I am not responsible for support for Members of the House of Lords. Of course we appreciate the importance of the work done in the High Court and the Court of Appeal, and the need for judges to receive the support they need to discharge their functions. We are engaged in constant dialogue with the senior judiciary, and as a result we have recently increased by two the number of lawyers giving support to the criminal division of the Court of Appeal. Moreover, since 1998–99 we have increased funding for the Supreme Court—which covers the Court of Appeal and the High Court, among other bodies—from just over £21 million to £23 million in the current financial year.


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