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24 Jun 1999 : Column WA103

Written Answers

Thursday, 24th June 1999.

House of Lords: Age Limit

Lord Patten asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answers by Lord Williams of Mostyn on 25 May (WA 79) and 7 June (WA 123-24), whether they now wish to see an upper age limit for membership of the House of Lords that would make it unique amongst the legislative chambers of the countries of the European Union.[HL2992]

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington): The views of the Government on the essential characteristics of the fully reformed second Chamber are:


    that it should not interfere with the position of the House of Commons as the pre-eminent chamber of Parliament; and


    that it should take particular account of other constitutional developments, especially devolution, human rights and developing relations with the European Union.

Beyond that, the Government have deliberately made no proposals for the long-term reform of the House of Lords. To do so would have pre-empted the findings of the Royal Commission, which has been set up to ensure the widest possible consideration of the issues.

Advocate General for Scotland

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon asked Her Majesty's Government:

    (a) What are the ministerial responsibilities of the Advocate General for Scotland; and

    (b) whether it is proposed that there should be any change in those responsibilities after 1 July 1999.[HL2918]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (Lord Sewel): The responsibilities of the Advocate General for Scotland include:


    (a) giving advice as a Law Officer to the United Kingdom Government particularly on matters relevant to Scots law;


    (b) specific functions under the Scotland Act 1998 including the right to raise or participate in court proceedings regarding devolution issues;


    (c) representing the departments of the United Kingdom Government in court proceedings in Scotland in accordance with the Crown Suits (Scotland) Act 1857; and


    (d) certain specific functions as Law Officer, mainly relating to court proceedings. At 1 July 1999 she will take Ministerial responsibility for the new Office of the Solicitor to the Advocate

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    General for Scotland, which will advise United Kingdom government departments on matters related to Scots law. Certain of her specific statutory functions as Law Officer, which relate to devolved matters, will revert to the Lord Advocate at that date.

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the Advocate General for Scotland's duties as a Law Officer will include the duties, previously undertaken by the Lord Advocate and the Solicitor General for Scotland, of working with the Attorney General and the Solicitor General in the provision of legal advice to Ministers of the Crown on issues relating to: (a) domestic law (other than those confined solely to questions of English law), (b) the United Kingdom's international obligations, (c) the European Convention of Human Rights and (d) Community law created or arising by or under the Treaties of the European Union.[HL2919]

Lord Sewel: The Advocate General for Scotland will advise jointly on these matters as the Lord Advocate and the Solicitor General for Scotland previously did.

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Of which Cabinet Committees is the Advocate General for Scotland a member.[HL2920]

Lord Sewel: The Advocate General for Scotland is a member of Legislation Committee, Queen's Speech and Future Legislation Committee, the Ministerial Committee on Devolution Policy, the Ministerial Sub-Committee on Incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights and the Ministerial Sub-Committee on Freedom of Information.

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the Advocate General for Scotland intends to establish a Legal Secretariat; and, if so, how it will be constituted and where it will be located.[HL2921]

Lord Sewel: When fully staffed, the Legal Secretariat will consist of the Legal Secretary to the Advocate General for Scotland, such other lawyers as required and supporting administrative staff. The Legal Secretariat is based, along with the Advocate General, at Dover House in London, and also has an office in Edinburgh, at present in St. Andrew's House.

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon asked Her Majesty's Government:

    (a) What plans the Secretary of State for Scotland has to maintain a Solicitor's Office within his Department, (b) whether the lawyers employed in such office will have any role to play in the provision of legal advice and assistance to the Scottish Executive and the Scottish Parliament, and (c) whether the other members of staff employed in, and working with the lawyers attached to, his

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    Solicitor's Office will have any additional role to play as support staff to lawyers who may be providing legal advice and assistance to the Scottish Executive or the Scottish Parliament.[HL2923]

Lord Sewel: The Office of the Solicitor to the Advocate General for Scotland, which will be established on 1 July 1999, will be responsible to the Advocate General. It will provide legal services in relation to Scotland to most United Kingdom government departments, including that of the Secretary of State for Scotland, as well as supporting the Advocate General in her functions under the Scotland Act 1998. The office will be entirely separate from that of the Solicitor to the Scottish Executive, although it will share certain support and library facilities.

Scottish Parliamentary Counsel

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they intend to preserve the office of First Scottish Parliamentary Counsel after 1 July 1999; and, if so, within which government department the holder of such office will be located.[HL2922]

Lord Sewel: After 1 July there will be a new post of Scottish Parliamentary Counsel (UK). He will be responsible to the Secretary of State for Scotland and will be located in Parliamentary Counsel's office at 36 Whitehall, London.

Wormwood Scrubs

Baroness David asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they expect Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons' report on the inspection of Her Majesty's Prison Wormwood Scrubs to be published.[HL3275]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): I understand that Sir David Ramsbotham intends to publish his inspection report on Wormwood Scrubs prison on Monday 28 June. I have arranged for copies of his report to be placed in the Library on publication.

A.12: Advertisement Hoardings

Lord Marlesford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will consider calling in the planning decision to be made by the Braintree District Council when it meets on 12 July to consider whether or not to renew the advertisement control consents and licences for the advertising hoardings which line the side of the Witham by-pass on the A.12 trunk road.[HL2986]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): At its meeting on 12 July, Braintree District Council will only be considering

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whether to renew the licences for the advertisement hoardings, and this is not a matter in which the Government would intervene. In reaching its decision, the Council will take into account the views of interested parties, which should be submitted by 30 June.

Human Reproductive Cloning

Baroness Gould of Potternewton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When the response to the joint Human Genetics Advisory Commission and Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority report, Cloning Issues in Reproduction, Science and Medicine, will be published.[HL3270]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): The Government's response to the joint Human Genetics Advisory Commission (HGAC) and Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) report, Cloning Issues in Reproduction, Science and Medicine, has today been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Following public consultation, the joint HGAC/HFEA report's recommendations included the proposal that consideration be given to regulations under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 to allow research for therapeutic purposes which involved cloning techniques.

The Government reaffirm their policy that human reproductive cloning is ethically unacceptable and cannot take place in this country. Also, more evidence is needed of the potential benefits to human health before the use of cloning for therapeutic purposes is allowed in research. We recognise that regulations to allow therapeutic research should be very carefully considered. We believe, however, that more evidence is required of the need for such research, its potential benefits and risks and that account should be taken of alternative approaches that might achieve the same ends.

That is why we have asked the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Liam Donaldson, to set up and chair an independent expert advisory group to seek the views of a range of experts, both here and abroad, so we have a clearer idea of the potential benefits of such research for human health. We expect that it will begin work during the summer and report its findings to Ministers early next year.

We welcome the HGAC/HFEA report's recognition that the safeguards currently in place are wholly adequate to prevent human reproductive cloning in the United Kingdom, and that the Government's policy of forbidding this practice received support during the public consultation.

The Government accept the report's recommendations that the adequacy of the safeguards and related issues should be kept under review in order to address public concerns about the rapidity of development in these areas at the cutting edge of science and medicine.

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