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6. Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) (Lab/Co-op): What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Transport about transferring further responsibility for railways in Scotland to the Scottish Executive. [187631]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Alistair Darling): In July, I published my proposals in relation to railways in the White Paper "The Future of Rail". It sets out proposals for transferring further responsibility for rail in Scotland to the Scottish Executive.

Mr. Foulkes: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. I am sure that his advocacy skills help in all his discussions. However, now that more power has been transferred to the Scottish Executive, I hope that he will ask them not to be too convinced by the right hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling) arguing for more money to be put into Waverley station, especially if that is at the expense of a more frequent and reliable rail service to Prestwick, which is Scotland's fastest-growing airport.

Mr. Darling: I found my discussions with the Secretary of State for Transport to be the most fruitful that I had during the entire consultation process; certainly, we were both absolutely agreed on the outcome.

In relation to Edinburgh Waverley, it is well known that that station needs substantial investment. Railtrack made a complete botch of it. The Scottish Executive, Network Rail, the Strategic Rail Authority and Edinburgh city council have had useful meetings about improving the station. Under the proposals that I made in July, in future it will be for the Scottish Executive to specify what they want in terms of track, stations and services. My right hon. Friend is right, however, that the rail link to Prestwick is equally important. Part of the reason for the success of the airport and development there is that that railway line provides a very good service for people travelling on it.


The Advocate-General was asked—


16. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): What devolution issues she has considered since 29 June. [187623]

17. Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): What human rights issues she has considered since 29 June. [187624]
7 Sept 2004 : Column 593

18. Mr. Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): What devolution issues she has considered since 29 June. [187625]

The Advocate-General for Scotland (Dr. Lynda Clark): Since 29 June, 83 devolution issues have been intimated to me, with all but six relating to human rights. Forty-nine devolution issues related to criminal matters, including pre-trial delay, self-incrimination, the use of temporary judges and regulatory fisheries offences. In the civil sphere, 34 issues were intimated, almost all of which concerned personal injury actions in respect of prison conditions.

Miss McIntosh: Having had such a busy summer, can the hon. and learned Lady share with the House her advice on the legality of the situation raised by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) on the variations with regard to subsidies and grants for renewable forms of energy in Scotland, as opposed to England and Wales?

The Advocate-General for Scotland: Nobody has intimated to me—formally—any illegality. If anyone thinks that any illegality connects to my ministerial office by way of a devolution issue, there is a simple procedure to deal with that. However, it seems to me that this is not a devolution issue.

Mr. Carmichael: Has the Advocate-General had the opportunity to consider the provisions in the Civil Partnership Bill relating to survivor pension provision? Is she aware that the survivor in a civil partnership will receive a pension based on a calculation taken from the date of enactment, whereas the survivor in a marriage will receive a pension based on their entire length of service? Does she agree that that is an inequitable situation that will leave the Bill vulnerable to a human rights challenge? Will she consider that point and offer the appropriate advice to her colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry?

The Advocate-General for Scotland: I am aware of the policy intentions that have been publicised, but any advice that I give will not be public.

Mr. Reid: As a signatory to the European charter for regional and minority languages, the Government are obliged to provide a Gaelic language TV channel. Broadcasting is a reserved power, but in 1999 secondary legislation transferred the funding of Gaelic language programmes to Scottish Ministers. There appear to be endless discussions between UK Ministers and Scottish Ministers on the subject, with no progress being made. Will the Advocate-General inform the House where responsibility lies for ensuring that the UK meets its treaty obligations to provide a Gaelic language TV channel?

The Advocate-General for Scotland: The obligations will always technically be on the state, which is, of course, the United Kingdom, but implementation can be tackled in various ways, as has been done through orders. In the case of any challenge, and if the matter were raised formally in court, for example, the European Court of Justice, the state would have to answer it.
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Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) (Lab/Co-op): Will my hon. and learned Friend use her considerable legal skills to look into the especially difficult problem of leading a Scottish-based party from London and consider whether a Sewel motion might help?

Mr. Speaker: Order. I do not think that the Advocate-General needs to answer that.


The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State was asked—

Legal Aid (Criminal Offences)

19. Jane Griffiths (Reading, East) (Lab): What assessment the Department has made of the operation of means-testing for criminal legal aid. [187656]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Mr. David Lammy): On 17 May, the Department published the draft Criminal Defence Service Bill, which will permit means-testing for those charged with criminal offences. It has been a long-standing policy of this Government and previous Governments that those who can afford to pay their legal costs and are found guilty should do that.

Jane Griffiths: Clearly, when those proposals come into effect, overall access to legal aid for criminal cases will be reduced. What assurance can my hon. Friend give that the access that is provided is targeted where it is needed most?

Mr. Lammy: The community legal service is helping 925,000 people every year in a range of cases, from problems with debt to housing problems, domestic violence and contact with children. That work must continue. However, it is right to give ever greater scrutiny to our criminal legal aid spend when we have experienced a rising budget. Against that backdrop, we spend more on legal aid than any other developed nation in the world.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet) (Con): Apropos of what the Under-Secretary has just said, will he confirm that the current legal aid budget is £2 billion a year? That represents an increase of at least one third in the past seven years. Two years ago, the budget was overspent by more than £250,0000. Given those facts, does he agree that there will be an economic madhouse unless a Government, of whatever hue, restrict the scope, range and amount of legal aid? If he presents sensible programmes, I for one will support a further restriction.

Mr. Lammy: We are all proud of the great Attlee invention of legal aid. At the same time, there has been an increase throughout the developed world in legal aid
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spend. Like previous Ministers, I have presented proposals to deal with that. We have asked for a fundamental legal aid review to examine the issues, root and branch. I hope that we can put forward proposals in due course. I remind the hon. Gentleman that, under the previous Conservative Administration, costs increased by 131 per cent. between 1989 and 1993. The issue of legal aid spend is not unique to this Government.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): How will the Government's new proposals square with any expansion of the salaried defender system?

Mr. Lammy: We have been keen to examine where a public defender system can add value. Indeed, the fundamental legal aid review will want to consider that and bear it in mind. It is extremely unlikely that the Government will move to a wholesale public defender system but there is a role to play where shortages exist. I am keen to observe the way in which the new public defender system will work in the context of asylum and immigration legal aid as it is set up in Birmingham.

Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West) (Con): Can the Minister remind the House about how few years ago it was that the present Government abolished the means-testing of criminal legal aid? Does he accept that this cut may lead to more cases going to the Criminal Cases Review Commission? Can he assure us that there will be no cut in the budget for that commission?

Mr. Lammy: The hon. Gentleman will know that at about the time that we changed from means-testing, the concern on both sides of the House was about the lack of speed with which cases went through the system because of the bureaucracy previously attached to means-testing. That is why we have come forward, in the draft Criminal Defence Service Bill, with a range of options. However, it cannot be right that all of us in the House would be entitled to legal aid should we be charged with a criminal offence. That is why we are looking at the issue and are coming forward with a range of models. Of course, I cannot predetermine the outcome of the consultation.

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