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The Advocate-General for Scotland (Dr. Lynda Clark): Since 10 February, there have been 39 devolution issues intimated to me. Almost all related to criminal matters, including pre-trial delay, the system for setting the punishment part of life sentences, failure to communicate information required by sea fishing measures, and self-incrimination. In the civil sphere, minutes related to the refusal of scheduled monument consent and breach of prison rules.
Mr. Reid: The Advocate-General referred to sea fishing measures. I draw her attention to the Fisheries Jurisdiction Bill. Does it contain anything that she believes would be incompatible with European law? If so, why? What consequences would there be for the UK if the Bill were to become law?
The Advocate-General: I have a copy of the Bill, and have even read it. I hate to disappoint the hon. Gentleman, but it is not really for me to advise him about the Bill. The Bill is interesting, but has one or two obvious problems.
The Advocate-General: The hon. Lady is right to say that I am the senior Scottish Law Officer here, but I remind her that the convention means that it would not be appropriate for me to give any information about that.
Miss McIntosh: This is the first Question Time since the Advocate-General gave notice that she is to leave the House at the next election, so it is appropriate to pay tribute to the work that she has done. Her close neighbour the Secretary of State has distanced himself from her on the Front Bench today. I should have liked there to be a contest between them, but I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will wish her well in her career.
The Advocate-General said today, for the second consecutive month, that one of the devolution issues raised with her was pre-trial delays. Will she put my mind at rest that she will preserve the 110-day rule to the best of her ability? It has served extremely well to protect people accused of a crime from unnecessary delays before their cases are brought to trial, but I gather that it may be at risk. I hope that she can assure the House that the matter will be resolved, and that the 110-day rule will be kept in Scotland.
The Advocate-General: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her good wishes and hope to be with her for a little longer. She knows that the 110-day rule is a matter of criminal procedure that falls within the remit of the Scottish Executive. It has been an admired feature of the Scottish system for many years and ensures that accused are tried within a reasonable time and not kept in prison. It has been changed in the past, however, and the European convention on human rights bears upon trial within a reasonable period. The Scottish Executive have examined the matter and will consider it in the round, and we will see the results in due course.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Mr. Christopher Leslie): The Department for Constitutional Affairs received responses from eight people readily identifiable as Scottish lawyers and, separately, from eight Scottish legal organisations in response to the Department for Constitutional Affairs consultation paper on the creation of a supreme court for the United Kingdom.
Mr. Leslie: The question of running costs will be scrutinised during the passage of the Constitutional Reform Bill. In England and Wales, costs are recovered by full-cost recovery from the fees imposed on litigants. That would obviously make sense in other jurisdictions but it is clearly a devolved matter for Scotland, and we will continue to discuss it with the Scottish Executive.
Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath) (Con): After that non-answer, which reveals that the Minister does not know the answer to the question, perhaps the Minister will acknowledge the huge concern north of the border at the lack of consultation by the Government on the supreme court and its creation. He mentioned that he has received representations, but will he have the grace to acknowledge that there is strong concern within the Scottish Parliament, which was not consulted properly, the Scottish media and all the Scottish legal organisations? This is yet another Government shamblesthey do not consult properly and just indulge in constitutional vandalism.
Mr. Leslie: I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman noticed that when the Scottish Parliament debated many of those issues the motion was passed overwhelmingly. We have discussed the fee issue with the Scottish Executive. As I have said, we have full-cost recovery in England and Wales for civil litigation, and it would make sense in other jurisdictions too. However, the matter is devolved, and it is therefore important to discuss it with the Scottish Executive so that they can help to resolve it, which is a straightforward process.
Annabelle Ewing (Perth) (SNP): Will the Minister accept that if the UK Government bulldoze the proposals through, it will, as senior legal figures in Scotland have stated on numerous occasions, be at the expense of the independence and integrity of the Scottish legal system?
Mr. Leslie: No, not at all. It is right that the Bill is scrutinised properly, and the other place has made it known that it would prefer more scrutiny. I hope that the concern about scrutiny is genuine and not just a mechanism to oppose the Bill wholesale. The principleseparating the judiciary from the political realmis simple and important, and I would have thought that the hon. Lady would welcome it.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Mr. Christopher Leslie): The Government are committed to the objective of the Constitutional Reform Bill being enacted in this Parliament.
Kevin Brennan : I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. I understand that the objection to the supreme court by Lord Chief Justice Woolf, which might have caused some delay, is not based on the principle of whether we should have a supreme court. Indeed, he might be in favour of it if it has a new building. On that basis, will my hon. Friend draw the attention of Lord Chief Justice Woolf to the Lyons report on the devolution of jobs away from London and suggest using a building such as Cardiff city hall? That building would be available for use, and the Government could house the supreme court there and satisfy Lord Chief Justice Woolf at the same time.
Mr. Leslie: My hon. Friend is right in that many hon. Members and noble Lords are keen to know the location of the proposed UK supreme court, and we are working on those proposals. However, it would be wrong and potentially commercially prejudicial to our case if we were to start disclosing preferred options. My hon. Friends might seek to locate such a body outside the capital city, but I personally think that it would be best to have a UK supreme court based in the UK's capital city.
Mr. Kidney: This is not a bid for Stafford to host the new supreme court's building, welcome though justices of the supreme court would always be in Stafford if they chose to visit. As the House has modern procedures for pre-legislative scrutiny, including ad hoc Joint Committees with members of the other place, and for the carry-over of Bills from one Session to the next, would it be possible to withdraw the Bill in the other place and start again here?
Mr. Leslie: Following the vote that took place in the House of Lords last week and the Lords' decision to have a Select Committee scrutiny process, we are in discussion with other parties about exactly what that would entail. Our intention is to ensure that the legislation is enacted in this Parliament, and we do not see any reason why that should not be possible. We are happy to discuss the scrutiny process as long as it is not just a device to prevent progress.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): Now that we have this delayoccasioned entirely by the incompetence of the Bill's genesiswill the Government use it profitably by engaging with the Select Committee in the other place to find satisfactory means for judicial appointments, to satisfy the requirement for judicial accommodation and to strengthen judicial independence? When the Bill comes to this House, whether carried over or not, will the Minister ensure that it is debated on the Floor of the House, as befits a major constitutional issue, and that we have sufficient time to examine all the consequences of one of the most important Bills in this Parliament?
Mr. Leslie: I realise that the hon. Gentleman is cynical about our desire to see scrutiny of the proposals, but we do want to engage in dialogue, here and in the other place, about the Constitutional Reform Bill. It is an important measure, and because of its constitutional nature it would be subject to special scrutiny arrangements, including proceedings on the Floor of the House. We want to ensure that we have a genuine measure of scrutiny of the proposals, but if Opposition parties are really intent on killing the Bill they should say so, instead of hiding behind the cloak of scrutiny.
Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton) (Con): Let me say in passing that the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords can sit wherever it wants, even now. I echo the question from the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath). Our view is that there is no need for a supreme court, and we are pleased that ill-conceived legislation to set one up and abolish the position of Lord Chancellor will receive some much-needed scrutiny. In the other place, the Constitutional Reform Bill will now be thoroughly analysed and dissected, but the danger is that when it arrives here it will receive less mature study. Indeed, it may simply be rammed through. I am afraid that the Minister's answer was unsatisfactory. Will he give a firm undertakingwhich he did not give a moment agothat the Bill, as with every constitutional Bill in the past, will have all its legislative stages taken on the Floor of the House? All the Minister did was refer to special scrutiny arrangements. What might those be, in terms of parliamentary procedure? Will he also confirm that all stages will be handled by a Secretary of State?
Mr. Leslie: I am not quite sure what the hon. Gentleman's last comment means, but it is important that we have good scrutiny in both Houses. The House has devised thorough and long-standing mechanisms for scrutinising all Bills, and I do not think that there would be any specific need to change completely the way in which we scrutinise this Bill compared with other Bills. We will obviously listen to all Opposition parties' views on, and proposals for, the Bill's scrutiny requirements through the usual channels. However, let us be absolutely clear that the proposals are quite simple. On the supreme court, for example, do we want our judiciary to be in the political realm or not? I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman needs to think about that for several years. I suspect that he is opposed to the proposal, and if he is, he should say so. I think this House's scrutiny capabilities are quite adequate.
Mr. Leslie: It is difficult to follow the emphasis that my hon. Friend put on the point, but he is right to say that the Conservatives have more peers than there are Labour Members of another place. That is clearly a situation that the Conservative party would wish to preserve for ever, hence its opposition to changethat is the nature of its conservatism. I hope that the Constitutional Reform Bill will have the chance to be scrutinised in this House. It would be wrong for the other place to prevent the House from scrutinising the Bill, because this House is clearly supreme in our Parliament.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Will the Minister now confirm precisely who was consulted, and by whom, before the reshuffle last July when we were suddenly told that there was going to be a supreme court? When he answers, will he confirm that the Tories do not have a majority in the upper House?
Mr. Leslie: On the hon. Gentleman's latter point, if he had been listening to my words, he would know that I said that the Conservatives have more peers in the other place than the Labour party. If that is not clear enough for him, I do not know what is. I was not a Minister at the Department for Constitutional Affairs before the reshuffle, so I was not personally involved in the discussions in the lead up to that. I suspect that that is probably a question for the Prime Minister.