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Rosemary McKenna : Does my right hon. Friend agree that hundreds of smaller firms will benefit from the Budget, and especially the research and development tax credits? They are an important aspect of the Budget, but one that is often ignored. Does he agree that raising the lamentable input into research and development in Scotland will be a key factor in improving the economy? Will he do something to ensure that companies take up the tax credits on offer?
Mr. Darling: My hon. Friend is right. Research and development is crucial if we are to ensure that Scottish companies do well in the future. My hon. Friend has drawn attention to the fact that in the Budget, and indeed in the previous one, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor introduced a number of measures that are designed to help companies. It is also encouraging to note that the various business surveys that have been published this year show, for the first time in a long while, that optimism is increasing, not only in traditional areas such as manufacturing but in newer areas, such as biotech industries, where Scotland has much to show. We are seeing increased optimism as far as jobs and the sale of goods and services abroad are concerned.
It is also encouraging that we are beginning to attract companies relocating from different parts of the world. They are coming to Scotland because they know that Scotland is a good place in which to live and to do business. All the signs are that things are a great deal more encouraging than they were, say, 10 years ago when the picture was very different indeed.
Mr. Peter Duncan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale)
(Con): As a result of the Budget, new businesses in the successful Scotch whisky industry face significant additional burdens to their operations. Bladnoch distillery in my constituency faces an additional cost of
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£220,000 only two or three years after it started operations at the time when the Government ruled such measures out. Why should the Government's grinding reverse gear be so expensive for this and other potentially vibrant new businesses?
Mr. Darling: No doubt, the hon. Gentleman will draw attention to the fact that, among the measures announced by the Chancellor on Budget day, he announced significant help especially for small whisky businesses. At the moment, the whisky industry is discussing with the Treasury how the new help will be applied and what the specific arrangements will be.
I return to the point that I have made on many occasions. No matter how different the views are of the amount of fraud, the common ground is that a significant sum of money is lost through fraud in relation to whisky. Despite all the efforts, it was felt that nothing was being brought forward that was likely to deal with the problem. That is why the Chancellor decided that strip stamps were the best way of combating fraud. He also announced a major package of reform that is designed to help the very businesses to which the hon. Gentleman referred. I would have hoped that the whole House would recognise that, yes, we have to help industry, but we also have to guard against losses to the Exchequer that otherwise would have to be made up for elsewhere.
The Advocate-General for Scotland (Dr. Lynda Clark): Since 16 March, there have been 55 devolution issues intimated to me. Forty-six of these related to criminal matters, including pre-trial delay and self-incrimination in the context of road traffic offences and the breach of sea fishing legislation. Nine devolution issues related to civil matters including two actions for damages in relation to prison conditions, judicial review by a patient detained in terms of the mental health legislation and an appeal to the parking appeals service.
Will my hon. and learned Friend comment on the decision taken yesterday against the
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Scottish Executive on the practice of slopping out in prisons and on the implications of that under the human rights legislation?
The Advocate-General: That is one of the devolution issues to which I referred. It involves an action for damages in relation to prison conditions and it has been determined by a single judge. As the case is still within the reclaiming days for appeal, I do not think that it would be appropriate for me to comment on the legal implications.
Mr. Reid: In response to my question at the last Question Time about the Fisheries Jurisdiction Bill, the Advocate-General said that there were one or two obvious problems with it, but she did not elaborate on what those problems were. Could she give the House the benefit of her legal expertise and advise us what she sees as the legal problems with the Bill?
The Advocate-General: As I suggested, it is not really for me to give free legal advice but, in the spirit of helpfulness, I point out that, unless there have been any recent changes, there appears to be a drafting error in clause 4(5) of the Bill, which purports to amend section 7(2) of the Scotland Act 1998. Section 7(2) deals with the calculation of regional figures for registered political parties in the regional lists and is concerned with elections. The Bill, however, is concerned with fishing. There may have been a mistake and the Bill's provision might be meant to deal with one of the schedules but, having had a look at the Bill, all I can say is that it does seem to contain one or two little problems.
The Bill may also be problematic on a more major issue. It is my understanding that the Bill is designed to amend the reservation on international relations, so as to devolve the negotiation of international instruments that deal with fishery matters. That involves a fairly broad sweep of issues. As I say, it is not really my job to provide an analysis of the Bill but, in the spirit of helpfulness, I throw these comments into the arena.
Mr. Carmichael: Does the Advocate-General agree that, if and when we get the supreme court, it will be of great importance that measures are taken to ensure that cases coming to that court from Scotland are heard by a Bench guaranteed to include Scottish-qualified judges? What steps is she taking to ensure that?
The Advocate-General: Under the existing arrangements in the House of Lords, the convention has generally been to have Scottish judges sitting in appeals that originate in Scotland, but not all such appeals are concerned with Scots law; on occasion they concern only UK statute. Under those arrangements it would be a matter for one of the judges to determine who was to sit and what qualifications they should have. Plainly, those in the lead Department who are considering these matters are aware of the desire for judges qualified in Scots law to be in the supreme court, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that that will be the case. The practical arrangements as to who sits in what case in the supreme court are not a matter for me; indeed, they are a matter for the judges themselves, as they are at the moment.
At our last exchange, last month, the hon. and learned Lady announced a review and revision
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of the 110-day rule. Why is that matter under examination? Is it to do with the failure of the Procurator Fiscal Service to bring evidence to trial in time?
The Advocate-General: As the hon. Lady knows, that is entirely a matter for the devolved Scottish Parliament. It initiated a review under Lord Bonomy, who proposed certain changes to the 110-day rule; for example, to ensure that people could not be set free because of problems in hearing cases which arise from circumstances that were not envisaged when the 110-day rule first came into operation. That is entirely a devolved matter, and I am sure that the devolved Administration will take the hon. Lady's comments into account.
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