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The Advocate-General for Scotland (Dr. Lynda Clark): Since 26 October, there have been 118 devolution issues intimated to me. Twenty-three devolution issues related to criminal matters including pre-trial delay and self-incrimination. The remaining 95 devolution issues related to civil matters, almost all of which concerned prison conditions.
Miss McIntosh: I am delighted that interest in the hon. and learned Lady's work is increasing. Last time, she had only 28 devolution issues, I believe. What is the legal issue on delivering energy policy in Scotland, particularly renewable energy targets, when energy policy is reserved and planning policy is devolved?
The Advocate-General: The interest and the increase in devolution issues is not necessarily a good thing in the sense that these are allegations that various Ministers have acted contrary to the convention on human rights. I do not think that we necessarily want to have hundreds of devolution issues.
Each issue, as I have tried to explain, has to be considered in its own context, against the background of the fairly complex provisions of the Scotland Act 1998. In general terms, land use, planning and environmental protection are devolved. Energy policy is reserved. Obviously the Government work closely with the Scottish Executive in policy terms. If any challenge is made by way of a devolution issue or if it is necessary to look at legislation, that would be a matter to which I would apply my legal mind.
Ann McKechin: I am sure that my hon. and learned Friend shares my support for the introduction of a corporate manslaughter Bill for England in the Queen's Speech, and the announcement by the Scottish Executive of a similar corporate homicide Bill for Scotland. Can she confirm that it would be her intention to meet Ministers of the Scottish Executive and members of the legal profession of Scotland to ensure that these Bills will effectively dovetail with each other and provide robust protection for workers wherever they may be working in the United Kingdom?
The Advocate-General: Obviously there have already been discussions with policy Ministers. There are a number of quite complex legal issues that will be addressed in future. I will no doubt have relevant discussions from time to time about these issues. My lawyers in the Office of the Solicitor to the Advocate-General will advise the Whitehall Departments about Scottish law and how best to draft the Bill to take account of the particular Scottish law context.
Does the Advocate-General share my concern that the proposed power that is to be given to the director of the intended Serious Organised Crime Agency to designate his officers as having the powers of a constable in Scotland risks riding roughshod over the devolution settlement, which gives operational competence for criminal justice to the Scottish Parliament? Does she agree that that could lead to having people operating on the streets with the powers
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of a constable who have no knowledge of Scots criminal law or procedure? Will she speak to her colleagues in the Home Office about that?
The Advocate-General: Again, that is a matter that lawyers in the Office of the Solicitor to the Advocate-General would discuss. As for the policy view, I am afraid that I do not share the hon. Gentleman's concern, although I am anxious that Scots law provision is taken into account. I am sure that he will accept that as we have introduced the European convention on human rights in domestic law there are increased opportunities for challenge when there is difficulty in exercising those powers.
Annabelle Ewing: Does the Advocate-General believe that the UK Government's plans to reform the public inquiries system that were announced in the Queen's Speech last week will make it more or less likely that there will be a public inquiry into Deepcut? The case for holding one is surely overwhelming following the damning allegations revealed last night in the Surrey police dossier.
The Advocate-General: I do not think that the provisions will make any difference, but I understand that a statement will be made by the Minister of State, Ministry of Defence about those particular matters.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Mr. David Lammy): It is not possible to answer this question in precisely the terms requested. We do not record the number of people assisted but the number of acts of assistance granted. One person, of course, may receive several acts of assistance. The number of civil acts of assistance in 2003 was 1.14 million.
Mr. Cunningham: The Coventry and Warwickshire branch of the Law Society has expressed grave concern about the legal aid budget, as it is set at a level that denies large numbers of people legal aid. What is my hon. Friend doing to offset that through mediation and conciliation?
I know that Coventry has a very good law centre. We have set up a fundamental legal aid review to look at processes and legal aid costs. We are working with stakeholderssolicitors and barristersacross the piece to ensure that we have the right legal aid settlement in future. It is important to remember that our civil legal aid bill has remained static at a time when many other countries, including Sweden, the
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Netherlands and Canada, have cut theirs. We are piloting mediation and arbitration in 30 centres across the country, and expect to see the results next year.
Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): The Minister is surely well aware that the civil legal aid budget is under constant pressure because of the criminal legal aid budget. Does he recognise that it needs to be ring-fenced if we are to avoid a situation in which the pressures of criminal legal aid, if not dealt with, result in fewer people having access to the law through civil legal aid?
Mr. Lammy: The right hon. Gentleman will know that we took personal injury cases out of scope, and conditional fee agreements are available for such cases. The Select Committee on Constitutional Affairs has discussed before-the-event and after-the-event insurance, as well as other mechanisms to enable people to access justice. We have just set up CLS Direct so that people can receive advice through a telephone service, which is particularly important in rural areas. However, his point goes to the heart of many our discussions in the fundamental legal aid review. Indeed, I have discussed all those issues with barristers, solicitors, community workers and others over the past few weeks.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/ Co-op): The Minister referred to the review of civil legal aid within the framework of trying to encourage early resolution and discourage unnecessary litigation. Can he reassure the House that, whatever recommendations are implemented, the baby will not be thrown out with the bathwater, and the civil legal aid budget can still target deserving cases and priority areas, as there is a risk that they will be pushed to the sidelines?
Mr. Lammy: We on the Labour Benches are rightly proud of setting up legal aid in the first place, and we are looking to ensure that we have the right settlement over the coming years. We are proud of the contribution that we make through Government to the citizens advice bureaux and to our law centres across the country. We want to ensure that people who are socially excludednot just through poverty, but many elderly as well receive that advice, and we have set up the funded legal aid review to ensure that they get it.
Mr. Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con): I am grateful to the hon. Member for Coventry, South (Mr. Cunningham) for tabling the question. I asked the same question as a written question only a few weeks ago, reference 198521. The Minister's reply today has left me none the wiser. He replied to my written question that in 1997, 52 per cent. were eligible for civil legal aid; in 1999, 51 per cent. were eligible; and in 2000, 50 per cent. were eligible; but no recent figures were provided. Perhaps that is not so strange, considering the management failures of the Department. On legal items, which cannot be capped
Is it not the case that not only are the Government reducing access to civil legal aid but that the budget is being sucked dry to pay for a small number of criminal cases and also asylum seekers?
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Mr. Lammy: The hon. Gentleman said he did not understand the figures, and he compares 1991 with 2004. Let me tell him what was different about 1991. In 1991 we were heading towards mass unemployment and rising mortgage costs. Those factors affect the civil legal aid budget. Because the economy is stronger, fewer people are experiencing the sorts of social exclusion that civil legal aid exists to help. Let me also say
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