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Scotland Bill

Volume 940: debated on Wednesday 30 November 1977

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Considered in Committee. [ Progress 29th November]

[Sir MYER GALPERN in the Chair]

3.37 p.m.

On a point of order, Sir Myer. I raise the same point of order as I raised yesterday, namely, to request that in the debate today one of the Law Officers of the Crown is present.

Order. Although I was not in the Chair, I was present in the Chamber when the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) put the proposition which he is seeking to raise again today. As he put it yesterday, I fail to see why he should raise the matter again. He received an answer yesterday from the occupant of the Chair.

Further to the point of order, Sir Myer. I think that it is one of the conventions of the House, although doubtless your reply will be the same as was given by the Chair yesterday. It is the accepted way of bringing to the attention of Ministers the strong feelings of some Back Benchers on this question.

I gather that I am not alone in this. There are very grave issues and it would be of great assistance to know what the judges and the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council think of the task that they have been given. [Interruption.] It is all very well for my right hon. Friend the Lord President to complain about this from a sedentary position, but it was he who gave us that marvellous phrase about all the difficulties of operating within the flapdoodle of the law. This is precisely the sort of situation that we are now facing. Able advocate though the Minister of State is, on this particular clause there is a very strong argument for having an authoritative statement from the Attorney-General or the Solicitor-General.

I discovered from the Attorney-General last night that, for reasons which are quite understandable, he is in Belfast. I talked to the Solicitor-General, and at that time it was not clear whether he would be present. He was to have further consultations, and I make no complaint about that. I ask the Government whether on this clause there ought not to be an authoritative statement from one of the Law Officers of the Crown as to what the Judicial Committee thinks about the rôle that it has been given.

It is one thing for my hon. Friend the Minister of State to say at the end of Second Reading, in answer to a question to which I referred yesterday, that the Judicial Committee had been informed. What we are not told is what the Judicial Committee thinks about the role that it has been given.

It would be extremely useful for the House of Commons to know what the judges themselves think. Many of us feel that political decisions ought to be made by the political process and not by the lawyers. No one has been more eloquent on this subject than my right hon. Friend the Lord President in the matter of Sir John Donaldson. He had a lot to say on that, and very eloquently, too. In those circumstances—I put it once again by the established means—there ought to be a statement as to what the judges themselves think about the rôle that they have been given.

The hon. Gentleman indicated that he knew what the answer would be. He is quite correct. It is not a matter for the Chair.

Further to that point of order, Sir Myer. Since the Attorney-General, the Solicitor-General and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Law Officers' Department—for reasons that all of us understand—are not able to be here, but since we have the unusual benefit of the attendance of the Lord Advocate, is it not possible that if the Lord Advocate wished to catch your eye he might be able to deal with the very important issue that has been raised by the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell? If the Lord Advocate were to seek to make a statement to meet the hon. Gentleman's point and if he sought to catch your eye to do so, is it possible that you would call him?

I shall not go into hypothetical questions. All I am concerned with is the fact that no one has tried to make any statement at this juncture. We are not considering statements but rather we are about to consider the amendment on the Order Paper.