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15. Ann McKechin (Glasgow, Maryhill) (Lab): What devolution issues she has considered since 8 February. [221046]

17. Mr. Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): What devolution issues she has considered since 8 February. [221048]
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18. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): What devolution issues she has considered since 8 February. [221049]

The Advocate-General for Scotland (Dr. Lynda Clark): Since 8 February, 95 devolution issues have been intimated to me. Of the 66 civil cases, one related to failure to transfer a patient from a state hospital and the remainder concerned prison conditions. Of the 29 criminal cases, 19 concerned pre-trial delay.

Ann McKechin: I have raised with my hon. and learned Friend in the past the question of the so-called compensation payments for slopping-out cases. Does she share my concern about the fact that more than 400 cases are currently in the Scottish court system? Compensation payments are being discussed with prisoners. Has my hon. and learned Friend made any assessment of those cases and, in particular, of the award that will have to be made?

The Advocate-General: As with all individual cases, each case will be assessed on its merits either by the court—if it goes to the court and is determined by the court—or in discussions between the parties. I am not party to those cases; it is not part of my task to assess the compensation. The claims range from very small amounts to fairly substantial amounts, and the outcome is difficult to predict. I can confirm that about 320 such cases are lodged with five Scottish sheriffdoms, and more writs are being received almost daily. A further 80 Court of Sessions petitions have been served on Scottish Ministers to date.

It should be borne in mind that the cases intimated to me involve devolution issues. I understand that there are also some common-law cases that do not raise such issues.

Mr. Reid: If circumstances arose in which the Advocate-General believed that Scottish Ministers were not taking the actions required by European Union law, would she advise the Secretary of State to use his powers under section 58 of the Scotland Act 1998 to compel Scottish Ministers to take a certain course of action?

The Advocate-General: Scottish Ministers are obliged to act in accordance with European law. If a challenge were made on the ground that they had not fulfilled that legal obligation, I would assess that as well as my powers under the Scotland Act. These issues can be complex, and there is room for more than one view. If necessary, the court would ultimately determine the matter.

Miss McIntosh: As this is possibly the hon. and learned Lady's last appearance as Advocate-General, may I, on behalf of my party, wish her every success in her future career? As her departure may well coincide with a change of Government, may I ask whether she has any advice for her potential successor on whether we should keep this Question Time?

The Advocate-General: It is kind of the hon. Lady to speculate on these matters. I must say that, bearing in mind how much this Government have done to help individuals—particularly those in her constituency—I find it very difficult even to speculate on the idea of a change of Government.
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Abdelbaset al-Megrahi

16. Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) (Lab): What discussions she has had with the Scottish Executive on the transfer of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi from Barlinnie to Greenock prison. [221047]

The Advocate-General for Scotland: I have had no discussions with the Scottish Executive on the transfer of Mr. al-Megrahi. I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), gave on this matter on 9 March.

Mr. Dalyell: Is it recognised that thanks to the excellent and highly professional attitude of the governor of Greenock prison and his colleagues, this transfer has gone far better than any of us dared hope that it might? But could the Advocate-General help by getting an answer to the very specific questions that I asked about the payment given to, and the hospitality shown to, Mr. Gauci? During a foreign affairs debate, the Foreign Office said that it would provide such answers, but that it has to go to the Crown Office. Will my hon. and learned Friend try her luck with the Crown Office?

The Advocate-General: If the Foreign Office is going to the Crown Office, as my hon. Friend suggests, I am sure that it is capable of dealing with it directly. I understand his frustration with this process, but the division concerning these matters arises as a result of devolution. So I repeat what I have told him before: this issue forms no part of my role as Advocate-General.

David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde) (Lab): At the invitation of governor Derek McGill, I visited Greenock prison a few weeks ago to see for myself the cells that Mr. al-Megrahi was to be kept in. Far from being the lap of luxury that some quarters of the press were presenting them as, they were in fact very basic. Does my hon. and learned Friend share my confidence that the excellent governor and staff of Greenock prison will keep Mr. al-Megrahi at Her Majesty's pleasure and ensure that he is properly integrated into prison life; and does she agree that the scare stories that he will be detained in luxury and at huge expense do no credit to anyone?

The Advocate-General: Accurate information is of course extremely important, and it is always very useful for Members of Parliament, particularly those with prisons in their constituencies, to exercise their visiting rights, which I understand that they have as MPs.


The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State was asked—

Legal Services (EU)

19. Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): If he will make a statement on the progress of the draft EU framework services directive relating to the provision of legal services in the EU. [221522]
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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Mr. David Lammy): The EU directive on services in the internal market is a key priority for the UK presidency. At present, we are working with the European Council, the European Parliament and other member states to achieve a successful outcome to a series of ongoing negotiations. We hope to have made significant progress by the end of the year.

Sir Nicholas Winterton: The Minister will know that under the proposals, solicitors working abroad would be subject to the Law Society's professional rules, rather than those of the country in which they operated. Bearing in mind that both Germany and France strongly oppose these changes, does the Minister think it fair that Britain is opening itself up to competition in legal services, while a number of our European partners refuse to reciprocate? Will he give an assurance that we will not proceed unless agreement on this matter is reached across Europe, and that we will not open up our legal services to unfair competition?

Mr. Lammy: The hon. Gentleman will know that this Government have backed the liberalisation of legal services for many years; indeed, we are pleased to see such liberalisation progressing in Europe and beyond, with countries such as India, Japan and China looking to liberalise their legal services. The Department of Trade and Industry is leading our discussions on the regulation of EU legal services offered here, and that debate goes on. But I should point out to the hon. Gentleman that during the 29 committee meetings held so far on services within the European internal market, this issue was not described as an obstacle that we cannot surmount.

Ross Cranston (Dudley, North) (Lab): May I congratulate my hon. Friend and the Government on all that they are doing to promote UK legal services not only in Europe but around the world? Is it not true that many foreign lawyers practise in London and throughout the UK, and that countries that adopt a restrictive approach to this issue—be they in Europe or elsewhere—are cutting off their nose to spite their face?

Mr. Lammy: My hon. and learned Friend is right. The liberalisation of legal services is important, because it is important to the British economy and is worth, on the last estimate of a year ago, about £2 billion. There has been a significant debate within Europe and liberalisation is in effect within Europe. It is now the case that 35 countries around the world are represented in the City of London. That shows the benefits of liberalisation. Consumers and clients who want services, particularly cross-border services, should be able to receive their partner of choice from whatever country that person comes from.

Mr. Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con): The international legal market is dominated by the expertise, experience, networks and high reputation of British lawyers. We allow and encourage foreign legal competitors in England, so why will the Government not stand up for this sector and insist on fair and equal access for our lawyers abroad?
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Mr. Lammy: I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman, who knows about these matters—he did not declare his interest—is not behind everything that the Government are doing on these issues. There are international law firms all around the capitals of the world and the hon. Gentleman knows that they include British firms. Because of the work of my Department, they bring in £2 billion to our economy. He is wrong in making that assessment.

Mr. Speaker: Order. The Minister will know that there is no need for such a declaration on a supplementary question.

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