I have raised with my hon. and learned Friend in the past the question of the so-called compensation payments for slopping-out cases. Does she share my concern about the fact that more than 400 cases are currently in the Scottish court system? Compensation payments are being discussed with prisoners. Has my hon. and learned Friend made any assessment of those cases and, in particular, of the award that will have to be made?
As with all individual cases, each case will be assessed on its merits either by the court—if it goes to the court and is determined by the court—or in discussions between the parties. I am not party to those cases; it is not part of my task to assess the compensation. The claims range from very small amounts to fairly substantial amounts, and the outcome is difficult to predict. I can confirm that about 320 such cases are lodged with five Scottish sheriffdoms, and more writs are being received almost daily. A further 80 Court of Sessions petitions have been served on Scottish Ministers to date.
It should be borne in mind that the cases intimated to me involve devolution issues. I understand that there are also some common-law cases that do not raise such issues.
If circumstances arose in which the Advocate-General believed that Scottish Ministers were not taking the actions required by European Union law, would she advise the Secretary of State to use his powers under section 58 of the Scotland Act 1998 to compel Scottish Ministers to take a certain course of action?
Scottish Ministers are obliged to act in accordance with European law. If a challenge were made on the ground that they had not fulfilled that legal obligation, I would assess that as well as my powers under the Scotland Act. These issues can be complex, and there is room for more than one view. If necessary, the court would ultimately determine the matter.
As this is possibly the hon. and learned Lady's last appearance as Advocate-General, may I, on behalf of my party, wish her every success in her future career? As her departure may well coincide with a change of Government, may I ask whether she has any advice for her potential successor on whether we should keep this Question Time?
It is kind of the hon. Lady to speculate on these matters. I must say that, bearing in mind how much this Government have done to help individuals—particularly those in her constituency—I find it very difficult even to speculate on the idea of a change of Government.