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The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mrs. Helen Liddell): I meet regularly with a wide range of bodies and people to discuss aspects of the Scottish economy, including Scottish Executive Ministers and senior officials from Scottish Enterprise. The fundamentals of the Scottish economy as part of the United Kingdom remain stronghigh levels of employment, low levels of unemployment, strong public finances, low inflation and the lowest interest rates since the 1960s.
Mrs. Liddell: Not only is the hon. Gentleman content to whinge for Scotland, but he does not even care about its environment. The extent of his self-interest is dramatic. This is the man who was going to leave Parliament and decried us; he was going to go to the Scottish Parliament and then he was going to come back. At Christmas time he told us that the Scottish Parliament would soon be good enough to accept him back. There is no end to his self-interest
The Advocate-General for Scotland (Dr. Lynda Clark): The Sewel motions procedure, which is reflected in the memorandum of understanding between the Government and the devolved Administrations, states that this Parliament would not normally legislate with regard to devolved matters without the agreement of the devolved legislature. The devolved Administration are responsible for seeking such agreement. Sewel motions are the method by which the Scottish Executive seek to obtain the agreement of the Scottish Parliament. They are a matter of practice, not law. A Sewel motion, whether it is approved or not, has no bearing on the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament, as set out in the Scotland Act 1998, or on the legislative competence of the UK Parliament.
Mr. Carmichael: I thank the AdvocateGeneral for that answer, but does she agree that the operation of Sewel motions presents a number of practical problems? It does not allow Members of this House to question the Ministers who have direct executive responsibility, because they are part of the Scottish Executive. Will she have discussions with the Leader of the House to ensure that, in future, when legislation that comes before this House as the result of a Sewel motion has been given its
The Advocate-General: I regret to tell the hon. Gentleman that I see no reason whatever to enter into such discussions with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. Of course, he is entitled to enter into such discussions if he wishes to do so.
On procedure in the Scottish Parliament, it is entirely a matter for that Parliament to decide how to deal with the motions. As for procedure in this House, the UK Parliament always has competence to deal with these matters. Hon. Members are always entitled to raise any issues about which they want to speak that are within that competence.
Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, Pollok): Does the Advocate-General accept that the Proceeds of Crime Bill, which is currently travelling through the House, is a very good example of legislation that has been supported by the Scottish Executive and by the Government in this House and that it will bring enormous benefits to Scotland? Does she agree that, rather than trying to invent mechanisms to cause difficulties, the Liberals, whom I thought were our chums, would be much better advised to co-operate with us in processing the Bill as quickly as possible?
The Advocate-General: My hon. Friend makes a very important point. The Scottish Parliament has co-operated on many occasions with the UK Government in order to bring forward legislation, probably more quickly than the Scottish Parliament alone might have done, bearing in mind its heavy legislative programme. The Proceeds of Crime Bill is a very good example of that. Therefore, my view is that the two Parliaments are working well together to help the citizens of Scotland to get the sort of legislative programme that they deserve.
Miss McIntosh: Following my supplementary question on the same point during Question Time last month, will the hon. and learned Lady confirm that she intervened in 20 cases? Rather than simply saying that she has saved money, will she explain, without false modesty, what added value she has brought to her position?
The Advocate-General: I think it was 20 casesI thought I had written to the hon. Lady about that. I shall give her the exact figure, which is in that region. I cannot go through the whole 20 cases now, but I intervene in cases for a range of reasons. For example, I might wish to bring to the court's attention the position of the law in England and Wales. In the misuse of drugs legislation, it was important to clarify the position and its effect in
The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Mr. Michael Wills): The Lord Chancellor's local advisory committees tailor recruitment initiatives to local needs so that magistrates benches are representative of the community. In Norfolk, the advisory committee participated, for example, in a regional television broadcast and had interviews with magistrates published in the local press. Such activities led to an increase in the number of magistrates in Norfolk from 13 in 1997 to 30 in 2001.
Mr. Bellingham: I am grateful for that reply, but the Government are not doing enough. Is the Parliamentary Secretary aware that a record number of lay magistrates resigned last year? Many of those in my constituency cited low morale and a sense of being undervalued by the Government. Is he also aware that 22 magistrates courts closed last year and that Fakenham court in west Norfolk is threatened with closure? That makes local justice more remote from local people, not least because the local press does not report cases in much detail. Why do not the Government do more for local justice?
Mr. Wills: The hon. Gentleman did not listen to my answer. I explained that the number of magistrates recruited in Norfolk increased from 13 in 1997 to 30 in 2001. That hardly squares with his allegations of a lack of interest or morale among those who wish to be magistrates. We take local justice seriously, but he knows that the closure of magistrates courts is a matter for magistrates courts committees.
Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley): My hon. Friend knows that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has, through the advisory committee for the appointment of magistrates in Lancashire, tried to achieve a better representation of people on the magistrates bench. Does he appreciate that employers make it increasingly difficult for working people to take time off to be a lay magistrate? Can we do more to ensure that employers recognise that we need ordinary working people to serve on the magistrates bench and that that is an important element of justice in this country?
Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): Does the Parliamentary Secretary accept that the number of magistrates will increase and people will be encouraged to join the magistracy by a confirmation that Government policy under the Auld proposals and the subsequent legislation supports an increase, not a reduction? Will he confirm that it is Government policy to increase the number of lay magistrates in England and Wales, not reduce them? Does he have figures to show the number of new appointments of people aged between 18 and 38, not between 38 and 58, since the Labour party came to office in 1997? Without significant new recruitment of younger people, we shall have an imbalanced bench, which is unrepresentative of the community with which it deals.
Mr. Wills: I agree with the hon. Gentleman on the need to ensure that magistrates benches are properly diverse and represent the communities that they serve, and that is clearly something that we strive to achieve. I do not have the figures for precisely those age breakdowns to hand, but I shall be happy to write to him with the details. He will be aware that we are still consulting on the proposals made by Lord Justice Auld, so I am not in a position to announce policy on the matter today, but I can assure him that the House will have plenty of opportunity at the appropriate time to debate our responses to Auld.