Devolution

Oral Answers to Questions — Advocate-General for Scotland – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 15th March 2005.

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Photo of Ann McKechin Ann McKechin Labour, Glasgow Maryhill 11:30 am, 15th March 2005

What devolution issues she has considered since 8 February.

Photo of Alan Reid Alan Reid Opposition Whip (Commons)

What devolution issues she has considered since 8 February.

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

Since 8 February, 95 devolution issues have been intimated to me. Of the 66 civil cases, one related to failure to transfer a patient from a state hospital and the remainder concerned prison conditions. Of the 29 criminal cases, 19 concerned pre-trial delay.

Photo of Ann McKechin Ann McKechin Labour, Glasgow Maryhill

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?

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

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.

Photo of Alan Reid Alan Reid Opposition Whip (Commons)

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?

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

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.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Transport)

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?

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

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.