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7 Jan 2003 : Column 8—continued

Cross-Border Economic Issues

5. Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton): What action she is taking to consult Scottish business and trade union interests on cross-border economic issues. [89140]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mrs. Anne McGuire): In conjunction with the Treasury, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State recently held a seminar involving the main Scottish business organisations and the Scottish Trades Union Congress to discuss the macro-economic policy directions set out in the Chancellor's pre-Budget report. My right hon. Friend plans to hold another seminar

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with those organisations and other key stakeholders in the Scottish economy to provide input to the Chancellor's Budget preparations.

Mr. McFall : As a result of the Chancellor's macro-economic policies, we now have the highest employment in Scotland for more than a generation. Despite that, for every one job created in disadvantaged areas, three are created in the more prosperous and advantaged areas. Will the Minister ensure that Scottish business and trade unions take advantage of the initiatives for enterprise set out in the Budget, so that those in the disadvantaged areas that I and many of my colleagues represent can get the job increases into their areas?

Mrs. McGuire: I recognise the picture that my hon. Friend paints. He will be aware that the Government aim to promote the productivity agenda in Scotland. Key to that promotion is the fact that we work together hand in hand, as both a UK Government and a Scottish Executive, to deliver improvements for the communities that have suffered historic weaknesses in terms of economic development.

Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest): Does the Minister agree that most people in Scotland would prefer taxpayers' money to be spent on job creation, as two of her hon. Friends just said in their questions? As everyone has said in respect of the fishing communities, taxpayers' money would be better spent on helping people than on employing more politicians and bureaucrats and building more buildings for more and more government in Edinburgh.

Mrs. McGuire: I am pleased to advise the hon. Lady that the Scottish people are happy to recognise that we have the highest recorded level of employment in Scotland, and the lowest unemployment count, for 27 years. That stands in stark contrast with some of the issues that we had to deal with during 18 years under her party's Government.


6. Mr. Eric Joyce (Falkirk, West): When she last met the Scottish Trades Union Congress to discuss employment issues. [89141]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mrs. Helen Liddell): I have regular contact with representatives of the STUC to discuss a wide range of issues. I last met the STUC general council on 2 December 2002.

Mr. Joyce : My right hon. Friend will be aware that the great majority of jobs in the North sea are in the oil and gas industries. Does she agree that we can never take those jobs for granted, and will she commit herself to maintaining strong relationships with the STUC and the trade unions, and with employers?

Mrs. Liddell: I spend a considerable amount of time talking to the trade unions about the North sea—of course, as a former energy Minister I have a substantial number of contacts there—but I also maintain close contact with the STUC. The North sea is going through a period of change—it faces great opportunities, as well

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great challenges—and we must ensure that the Scottish economy benefits from that. Indeed, the Chancellor's introduction of 100 per cent. capital allowances for investment in the North sea is very much to be welcomed.


The Advocate-General was asked—


16. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): What devolution issues she has considered since 26 November 2002. [89151]

17. Mr. John Robertson (Glasgow, Anniesland): What devolution issues she has considered since 26 November 2002. [89152]

The Advocate-General for Scotland (Dr. Lynda Clark): Since 26 November, 34 devolution issue cases have been intimated to me, all but one of which related to criminal law. All of them concerned human rights issues, and a substantial number concerned undue delay in criminal proceedings. Others included cases on the law on rape; the fixing of the punishment part of the sentence of a life prisoner, to replace the old system of serving an indeterminate length of sentence; and the powers of the Crown to use surveillance tapes from prison visiting rooms. The one civil case involved delay in an appeal from the application of a children's panel reporter to the sheriff for an interim exclusion order.

Miss McIntosh: The hon. and learned Lady was very helpful in answering my question of a month ago, saying that a procedure exists under the Scotland Act 1998, but can she explain what that procedure is? In the event that a Scottish airport sought to expand, who would take the final decision: the Secretary of State for Scotland, the Scottish Executive, or the Secretary of State for Transport?

The Advocate-General: As I have tried to explain to the hon. Lady—I am more than happy to discuss the matter with her—the answer depends entirely on the circumstances of the particular case. We cannot speculate about a case in isolation. The Scotland Act 1998 makes provision for reserved matters and the rest are devolved, but every single case must be looked at entirely in the context of its particular circumstances. The answer to her speculative question is therefore very difficult to give, because I do not know the context in which she puts forward her request for information. However, as I said, I am more than happy to discuss the matter with her at length, at her convenience.

John Robertson: I thank my hon. and learned Friend for her earlier answer. How many delay cases are currently outstanding, and are safeguards in place in Scotland to prevent any undue delay in trial?

The Advocate-General: There are approximately 700 delay cases outstanding, albeit that the Appeal Court has doubtless dealt with some of them already.

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However, that number must be seen in the context of the thousands of cases that proceed through the Scottish courts. I am pleased to advise my hon. Friend that a number of different procedures exist in Scots law that prevent undue delay in trial. Perhaps the most famous one is the so-called X110 day rule", which means that, in general terms, a person who is in custody in Scotland must be brought for trial within 110 days. In many ways, that piece of Scots jurisprudence has been the envy of many other jurisdictions.

Human Rights

19. Mr. Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute): What human rights issues she has dealt with since 26 November 2002. [89154]

The Advocate-General: I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer that I gave a few moments ago to the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh). All of the devolution cases to which I referred in that answer involved human rights issues.

Mr. Reid : I thank the Advocate-General for that answer. May I draw her attention to some of the recent actions of the state-owned Caledonian MacBrayne shipping company, which have deprived many people with disabilities of their human rights? For example, the catamaran that runs between Gourock and Dunoon is not accessible to people with disabilities. The ticketing arrangements on some vessels also discriminate against disabled people. What actions can the Government take to prevent Caledonian MacBrayne from depriving disabled people of their human rights?

The Advocate-General: As far as my responsibility is concerned, the Government have given citizens a right of challenge if they think that their human rights under the European convention have been breached. Clearly, hon. Members would have to advise constituents as to whether legal advice was appropriate in any given case to determine whether that right of challenge should be invoked. The more general policy issue is not my responsibility, but the Government have a good record in respect of introducing protection and rights for members of the public who are disabled.


The Parliamentary Secretary was asked—

Criminal Courts System

23. Mr. David Kidney (Stafford): If she will make a statement on the Lord Chancellor's proposals for a unified criminal courts system and the representations that he has received in response. [89158]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Yvette Cooper): The Auld review proposed that there should be a unified courts administration to improve the effectiveness of the courts and of the justice system. We are taking that recommendation forward, but with some modifications. Those modifications include the introduction of local courts administration

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councils, which go further than the Auld recommendations. We have received a wide range of representations and continue to work closely with stakeholders on the design of the new organisation.

Mr. Kidney : I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Does she agree that there needs to be a good degree of sensitivity in ensuring that the new unified courts system has a good strong local connection for management and accountability purposes? Magistrates and magistrates clerks in Stafford have a constructive attitude towards the change, provided that they are involved properly with other local stakeholders. Will my hon. Friend ensure that there will be consultation at every stage in the future, so that people feel involved in the decision-making process as well as in the system that we eventually get?

Yvette Cooper: I welcome what my hon. Friend has said, and the response from the magistrates and clerks in Stafford. He is right to say that we are keen to involve in the design of the new system all stakeholders in the criminal justice system and the courts service. The new design must learn from and build on their experience. In particular, it must have a local aspect, which is why we have introduced the courts administration councils. For the first time, magistrates, judges and local people will be able to have a say in how all courts in an area are run.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): Does the Lord Chancellor ever listen to the representations made to him? Will the Parliamentary Secretary confirm that the experimental night sittings will not be taken forward in the new system and that they have been abandoned after costing #5.4 million and an average of #4,000 per case? Will she confirm that all informed opinion told the Lord Chancellor that the experiment would not work—with the exception of No. 10 Downing street? What is the point of consultation if responses are not listened to?

Yvette Cooper: The Lord Chancellor of course takes very seriously all the responses to consultation. It was right to set up the pilot programmes in Manchester and in one magistrates court in London. The final report on those programmes is yet to be published. It is true that the night courts proved disproportionately expensive, but the early-morning sittings were useful. The final conclusions have yet to be drawn, and the final decisions have yet to be taken.

Mr. William Cash (Stone): Will the Parliamentary Secretary say how she and the Lord Chancellor intend to satisfy the profound concerns of the Central Council of Magistrates Courts Committees? The role of courts councils under the proposed model is inconsistent with clear principles of local management and accountability. As she knows, that and the weak and ineffectual consultative councils are unacceptable to the magistrates courts committees. How can she deny that the uniform court system is driven by the political objective of reducing public resources for political purposes, rather than of improving justice? The Lord Chancellor's unacceptable comments—addressed to judges and magistrates in the present and future unified

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courts—that many first-time burglars should be sent to prison only as a last resort are driven by the political objective of reducing the prison population, rather—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The Parliamentary Secretary should answer part of that question.

Yvette Cooper: What a lot of nonsense. There were about eight different attempts to ask questions. The hon. Gentleman started by making a point about the Central Council of Magistrates Courts Committees. I understand its views and have had many meetings with it, but I completely disagree with it. It wants the new courts organisation to mirror the current structure of the magistrates courts committees, where 43 different organisations run the courts. That is contrary to the recommendation of Sir Robin Auld, who pointed out that having 43 different organisations running the courts led to fragmentation, division, complication and duplication of procedures.

It is right that there should be considerable local decision making. That is why we have set up the courts administration councils, which will increase the voice of the local community for the Crown courts and county courts for the first time and extend the voice of the local community for magistrates courts, which are currently covered in the main by magistrates, not by other members of the local community.

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