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Devolution

Volume 407: debated on Tuesday 24 June 2003

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17.

What devolution issues she has considered since 20 May. [120225]

18.

What devolution issues have been raised with her since 20 May under the Scotland Act 1998. [120226]

19.

What devolution issues have been raised since 20 May. [120227]

All the 28 devolution issues intimated to me since 20 May have concerned human rights issues. I therefore refer the hon. Ladies to the reply I gave some moments ago to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell).

May I congratulate the hon. and learned Lady on retaining her post in the recent reshuffle, but express my disappointment that the part-time Secretary of State for Scotland has not remained in the Chamber to support her during questions?

I wish to revert to a subject that I have raised before: the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Act 2003 and its impact on agricultural tenancies and limited partnerships in Scotland. Will the Advocate-General please urgently give her advice on this issue, which is causing severe consternation among practising lawyers throughout Scotland, and especially among those specialising in agricultural holdings? It is having a severe impact of which she might not previously have been aware. Will she address the issue urgently?

I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for her congratulations, which I am sure are heartfelt. As far as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is concerned, as she well knows, the Law Officers are independent of all Secretaries of State, but I am sure that he is very busy.

On the substantive matter that the hon. Lady raised, I am aware that she has raised it previously and flagged up concerns, which we take into account. However, it is not my role to advise individual members of the public or solicitors about the difficulties that they might be having. Individual constituents who are having difficulties can raise the matter, and if there is any ground for challenge they can take it up.

The Government recently announced proposals for a supreme court. Can my hon. and learned Friend advise me whether she intends to consult members of the Scottish legal profession and the Civic Society in Scotland about how that court should proceed?

I regularly have informal discussions with members of the legal profession about a whole range of subjects, and I am sure that that issue will come up from time to time. The responsible Secretary of State will undertake the formal consultation and the issues will be widely canvassed. Indeed, I was encouraged by hon. Members on both sides of the House who represent Scottish constituencies to take part in that. Plainly, the supreme court is a matter of considerable interest in Scotland.

Does the Advocate-General agree with Lord Hope, the senior Scottish Law Lord, that the new supreme court would have to be distinct in all respects from the English legal system in order not to fall foul of the treaty of Union? Would this not be a timely opportunity to repatriate final jurisdiction over civil law in Scotland to Scottish courts?

There has been a long tradition of appeals from civil cases going to the House of Lords. As part of the general consultation, Lord Hope's comments will be taken into account, along with the many other comments that have been made. I will consider all the issues in due course.