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The Advocate-General was asked—


16. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): What devolution issues she has considered since 28 October. [140758]

The Advocate-General for Scotland (Dr. Lynda Clark): Since 28 October 32 devolution issues have been intimated to me, all in the context of criminal matters. Although the majority concerned delay in court proceedings, others related to self-incrimination under

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the Road Traffic Act 1998, the offence of breach of the peace and the system for setting the punishment part of life sentences.

Miss McIntosh : I wonder whether one of the Road Traffic Act cases has involved the question of Scottish police forces immediately imposing fines on the now illegal use of mobile phones while driving. What answer has the Advocate-General given? Is it not inconsistent and unfair that although there is a two-month period of grace in England, in Scotland the penalty is being applied immediately?

The Advocate-General: I am sure that the hon. Lady recognises that we have two separate jurisdictions. The Lord Advocate is in charge of criminal prosecution in Scotland, and he is perfectly entitled to come to his own decision in relation to these matters.

17. Ann McKechin (Glasgow, Maryhill) (Lab): What devolution issues she has considered since 28 October. [140759]

The Advocate-General: I refer my hon. Friend to the answer that I gave some moments ago to the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh).

Ann McKechin : I would be grateful if my hon. and learned Friend could confirm what discussions she has had recently with civic society in Scotland and the Scottish legal profession regarding the possible consequences of the civil partnerships Bill that was announced in the Queen's Speech.

The Advocate-General: I have had some general discussions about legal issues, but generally the policy matters are not for me. The legal issues are still to be worked out, and my legal officials will be actively involved in taking forward the Bill. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has been actively involved in policy matters.

18. Mr. Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): What devolution issues she has considered since 28 October. [140760]

The Advocate-General: I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer that I gave some moments ago to the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh).

Mr. Reid : If the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill currently before the House were to be passed, thus removing Crown immunity from the planning system, and if the Ministry of Defence were then to apply for planning permission to construct a radioactive waste dump in Scotland, and if a Scottish Minister then

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refused planning permission, are there any circumstances in which a UK Minister could overrule that decision?

The Advocate-General: That is an interesting hypothetical question, and I do not give answers to hypothetical questions.

19. Annabelle Ewing (Perth) (SNP): What devolution issues have been raised with her since 28 October. [140761]

The Advocate-General: Again, I refer the hon. Lady to the answer that I gave some moments ago to the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh).

Annabelle Ewing : I hope that I might do a little better than my colleagues by getting an answer to my question. The Advocate-General will be aware of the outrage in Scotland over the Home Secretary's latest immoral proposal to punish asylum seekers, by taking their children into care. Will she take the opportunity to confirm that the children's panel system in Scotland has jurisdiction over those matters, not the Home Secretary?

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): Say yes.

The Advocate-General: I am afraid that legal questions do not have clear yes or no answers. The hon. Lady will be aware that there is a whole legislative structure under the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 which relates to taking children into care. So far as asylum is concerned, there is no question of any punishment. When the proposals are introduced and debated, the hon. Lady will see that they are designed to protect children. Whether or not matters arise under the Social Work (Scotland) Act is still to be resolved.


The Secretary of State was asked—


6. Mr. Peter Atkinson (Hexham) (Con): If he will make a statement on the change in Scotland's energy mix over the last five years. [140748]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mrs. Anne McGuire): Comprehensive figures for Scotland are not available. However, trends for individual fuels between 1998 and 2002 show falls in the use of oil and coal. There was a small fall in the industrial use of gas. The use of electricity and domestic gas has increased slightly over the period.

Mr. Atkinson : I thank the Minister for her answer. Is she aware that the drive for green energy in Scotland is threatening jobs in Scotland in the wood panel industry and in my constituency? A plan for a new wood-burning power station at Lockerbie will mean that the company will compete with the wood panel industry for the essential raw material that both need, which is wood chips. As the Lockerbie plant will effectively be

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subsidised under the green energy initiative, it will be able to outbid the wood panel industry for its essential raw material. Jobs are threatened because the companies involved cannot afford the on-costs. Will the Minister undertake to carry out an investigation? A plan that may be entirely sensible on the face of it could do considerable damage to the rural economy of both Scotland and Northumberland.

Mrs. McGuire: I undertake to speak to the hon. Gentleman after Question Time to obtain the details of the specific issue. I will raise it with colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry.


The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State was asked—

Land Registry

20. Jim Knight (South Dorset) (Lab): What progress has been made with putting the Land Registry online. [140728]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Mr. Christopher Leslie): Many of the Land Registry's key services are already available online. My Department is also increasingly enabling customers to make land registration transactions electronically, which I hope will culminate in a full electronic conveyancing system from 2006.

Jim Knight : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer. As he knows, the Land Registry is the second largest employer in Weymouth, in my constituency, with high quality jobs. It is a tribute to the Land Registry and to the Government that they can run such a successful agency and even manage a successful IT procurement, which seems quite unusual for government. Can my hon. Friend give some reassurance to those who work at the Land Registry in Weymouth and elsewhere that the development of IT will not result in deskilling and redundancies at the agency?

Mr. Leslie: My hon. Friend rightly identifies the fact that the Land Registry, being one of the largest databases of its kind in Europe with more than 90 million titles registered, is a significant operation. Moving to an electronic basis for business-to-business activities and for providing information to the public will be the right way forward. I am told that the strategic plan at the Land Registry does not involve any major changes in employment levels in the foreseeable future. I think that its business will be expanding, which is good news for my hon. Friend's constituents, particularly those in Weymouth where I know the registry is a big employer. My hon. Friend has been a good advocate on his constituents' behalf in raising the success of the Land Registry today.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): The Minister will be aware from various written questions that I have tabled to him that people in my constituency who are involved in online conveyancing businesses are

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interested in how the national land information service is working. Does he recognise that there is still concern about the difficulties for local authorities dealing with searches online? Does he recognise also that there is great concern about the Government's decision to reintroduce the concept of home information packs? The Government tried to introduce them earlier and then, humiliatingly, had to withdraw. Will the Government carefully examine some of the issues that went wrong before in terms of the links between home information packs and online conveyancing?

Mr. Leslie: The hon. Gentleman highlights an issue. Issues will always arise in shifting from paper-based processes to electronic conveyancing. I believe that the Land Registry has managed to cope with the issues admirably. The national land information service is on track. Although it is aimed at conveyancing professionals it will have a big impact on the wider market. I think that e-conveyancing will help with the seller's pack—the home information pack development—as the hon. Gentleman says. I am fairly confident that the progress being made is adequate and that we should be on course with the plans that are already published.

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