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The Advocate-General for Scotland (Dr. Lynda Clark): Since 12 February, 36 devolution issue cases have been intimated to me, and 17 of those concerned questions of delay in criminal proceedings in relation to article 6.1 of the European convention on human rights. Last week, I argued a case in the High Court of Justiciary over four days, which may help to resolve some of the difficulties in devolution cases based on delay.
Annabelle Ewing: I draw the Advocate-General's attention to another important devolution issue that was raised in the House a couple of weeks ago and in the Scottish Parliament last week, and that concerns the important issue of planning consent for new nuclear power stations in Scotland. Will she take this opportunity to clarify the matter once and for all and to agree with her colleague in the Scottish Parliament, the Deputy Minister for Enterprise, Lifelong Learning and Transport, who, on 14 March in the Scottish Parliament, said that the final decision lay with the Scottish Parliament and that there
The Advocate-General: I do not think that the hon. Lady fully understands my role, despite my best efforts. My role is to consider devolution issues when they are intimated to me and, in due course, if a devolution issue is intimated to me on that matter I shall certainly consider it, but I am not here to give answers to hypothetical questions in relation to legislation that does not yet exist.
Mr. Dalyell: What advice does the Advocate-General have as to the proper authority to address the concerns of my former constituent, ex-Woman Police Constable Mary Boylan, about the alleged suppression of police evidence in relation to Lockerbie?
The Advocate-General: I am certainly aware of my hon. Friend's long interest in these matters and I am sure that he will make his usual strenuous efforts on behalf of his former constituent but, as he knows, these matters are devolved. The matter is for the Scottish Executive under the Scotland Act 1998 and he should direct all inquiries to them.
Miss McIntosh: With regard to the vexed issue of who will have the final say on planning future nuclear power stations, the Advocate-General will understand that the particular problem is who will have the last word. Is it an energy problem, and will it be the Department in London, or is it a planning problem, and will it be the Scottish Minister?
The Advocate-General: The hon. Lady must understand that that depends entirely on how the legislation is framed and the form in which it comes. The legislation can be framed in a variety of ways, and if and when it is passed by the Scottish Parliamentor if it comes to me in my role as Advocate-GeneralI shall deal with it.
The Advocate-General for Scotland (Dr. Lynda Clark): There has been provision in legislation since 1857 to the effect that proceedings in the Court of Session raised by the Inland Revenue shall be in the name of the appropriate Law Officer. Following devolution, the Advocate-General became the appropriate Law Officer. The Advocate-General has no responsibility for raising or conducting proceedings. That responsibility, along with all policy decisions, remains with the Commissioners of the Inland Revenue. Proceedings are instructed or conducted by the office of the solicitor to the Inland Revenue, and, since May 1999, more than 1,300 Inland Revenue actions have been dealt with, as I have just explained.
The Advocate-General: As I tried to explain to the hon. Gentleman, policy matters and the conduct of litigation in Inland Revenue cases are not matters for me as Advocate-General. In my role as a constituency Member, however, I shall pass on the hon. Gentleman's comments.
The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Mr. Michael Wills): In 1979 there were 24,021 magistrates; in 1987 there were 27,926 magistrates; and in 2001 there were 28,735 magistrates. It is impossible to say how many magistrates will be serving in 2003. I would expect that there will be more or less the same number as were serving in 2001, but the number appointed and the numbers leaving the magistracy fluctuates inevitably from year to year.
Simon Hughes: Will the Minister accept that the figures show that there was growth in the number of lay magistrates every year from 1979 to 1997, but, that since 1997, there has been a considerable net reduction? Indeed, there are now fewer magistrates than there were 10 years ago. Is it Government policy that more lay people should be encouraged to be lay magistrates taking part in the criminal justice system in that way? If so, why have the numbers tailed off in the last five years of the Labour Government? What will the Government do to make sure that the numbers get back on the upward trend that they were following in each year of the predecessor Government?
Mr. Wills: The Government's policy is to have adequate numbers of people joining the lay magistracy. We feel that that is currently the case, although, inevitably, numbers fluctuate. The important point lying behind the hon. Gentleman's question is that we want people to continue to apply to become lay magistrates, as they play a very important part in our system of justice. We are making considerable efforts not only to encourage more people to apply but to ensure that we have a proper range of diversity, in terms of class and ethnic composition. We are doing pretty well on gender at the moment, but we need to drive our efforts forward. The Lord Chancellor's advisory committees are doing a
Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley): Does the Minister feel that the Lord Chancellor and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster are succeeding in their efforts to try to make magistrates benches more representative of the areas in which they serve? Does he feel that there are sufficient numbers of working people in many areas on magistrates benches? Is the work load of magistrates increasing and becoming impossible to manage?
Mr. Wills: I shall take my hon. Friend's questions in sequence. We are having considerable success. I want to pay tribute to the work done by the Lord Chancellor's advisory committees in broadening the diversity of the magistrates bench. To give one example, 9.3 per cent. of magistrates recruited last year were from ethnic minorities. The proportion is therefore increasing, and we are having considerable success. There are not enough people from as wide a social class base as we would wish, and we need to do better on that, too. The work load of magistrates has not been increasing unduly, and there is no evidence that that is a disincentive to people joining the bench.
Mr. William Cash (Stone): Does the Minister accept that there was a degree of complacency in the way in which he has addressed this question? After all, there has been a sharp drop in the number of lay magistratesdown by 5.2 per cent. between January 2000 and April 2001. As he tacitly admitted, under the Conservative Government between 1979 and 1997, the number of justices of the peace increased. Despite what the Prime Minister said in Prime Minister's questions last week, does the Minister accept that the sharp drop in the number of magistratestogether with the recent admission by the Lord Chancellor that the number of criminals brought to justice last year fell by 80,000is the primary reason why more and more criminals are getting away scot-free? The Government have flaunted their manifesto commitment in this respect.
Mr. Wills: It is extremely unwise of the hon. Gentleman to pray in aid the previous Conservative Government's record. Under them, crime doubled and the system of criminal justice came very close to collapse, not least because they invested nothing like the funds that need to be invested. We are now investing them.
However, to pass on from the Conservative party's record in governmentI would have thought there is nothing that the hon. Gentleman would like to remind anyone aboutI shall now give him the good news about what we are doing. There is no complacency in any area, so he was obviously not listening to what I said. Let me tell him some of the things that the Lord Chancellor's advisory committees are doing to make sure that adequate numbers of people come into the lay magistracy and that they are from the diverse backgrounds that we require. The committees are advertising and putting articles in local newspapers, they are targeting leaflet drops, they are holding open days in courts, they are putting poster displays in public places, they are talking to local groups and employers and they are establishing many contacts with local organisations. That shows no complacency, but a determination to make sure that we get the lay