Oral Answers to Questions — Devolution Issues

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 3 April 2001.

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Photo of Eric Joyce Eric Joyce Labour, Falkirk West 12:00, 3 April 2001

If she will make a statement on her role in devolution issue cases to be heard before the Privy Council. [155194]

Photo of Dr Lynda Clark Dr Lynda Clark Advocate General for Scotland, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Advocate General for Scotland

My role in cases in which I intervene is to present arguments from the perspective of the United Kingdom Government. The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council is the highest domestic court for devolution issue cases. Such cases may raise issues involving human rights, European law or legal aspects of the devolution settlement under the Scotland Act 1998 that are of importance to the whole United Kingdom.

Photo of Eric Joyce Eric Joyce Labour, Falkirk West

I am often asked by my constituents as I go round my constituency whether it is necessary for the Advocate-General to appear before the Privy Council, and, if so, whether that takes up much of her time. What should I tell them?

The Advocate-General:

I am delighted that my hon. Friend's constituents take such an interest in my interventions. Personal appearance by the Advocate-General in cases in the Privy Council is not a legal requirement under the 1998 Act, but it is certainly useful, and, I hope, helpful to the court, to have a responsible Law Officer available to present legal arguments in that new and developing sphere of law. It does take a lot of time. As some of my hon. Friends will know, a great deal of preparation time is required for legal research, and there are both conferences and days in court. I have therefore limited my personal appearances to cases that are more complex or involve interesting or novel points. However, if any of my hon. Friend's constituents wish to speak to me personally about the matter, I would be delighted to do so.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Opposition Spokesperson (Constitutional Affairs, Scotland and Wales)

Could the hon. and learned Lady give the House some indication of the annual cost to the taxpayer of investigating and resolving devolution issues both in the Privy Council and in other places?

The Advocate-General:

The cost of the Advocate-General's appearances are subsumed in the general budget, and we have not done a case-by-case analysis. However, I assure the hon. Lady that it is probably cheaper to have me appearing as Advocate-General than it would be to instruct me as counsel.