Official Report


Justice 2 Committee, 29 Jun 2004

Scottish Parliament
Justice 2 Committee
Tuesday 29 June 2004

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: [The Convener opened the meeting at 14:02]

Items in Private

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The Convener (Miss Annabel Goldie): : I welcome members to the 23rd meeting in 2004 of the Justice 2 Committee. I hope that members have been circulated with the papers for the meeting, including the amended agenda. I have received apologies from Maureen Macmillan. I welcome her committee substitute, Cathie Craigie, and thank her for coming to this afternoon's meeting. I have also received apologies from Mike Pringle. I understand that his substitute, Margaret Smith, hopes to attend; we shall await developments. Finally, I have received apologies from Nicola Sturgeon. I am pleased to say that, thanks to the collective efforts of the members who are present, we are quorate.

Under item 1, I seek the committee's agreement to take items 4 and 5 in private. Are we agreed?

Members indicated agreement.

Subordinate Legislation

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Police (Scotland) Regulations 2004
(SSI 2004/257)
Advice and Assistance (Scotland) Amendment (No 2) Regulations 2004
(SSI 2004/262)

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Criminal Legal Aid (Fixed Payments) (Scotland) Amendment (No 3) Regulations 2004 (SSI 2004/263)
Criminal Legal Aid (Scotland) (Fees) Amendment Regulations 2004
(SSI 2004/264)

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Civil Legal Aid (Scotland) (Fees) Amendment Regulations 2004
(SSI 2004/281)
Criminal Legal Aid (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2004 (SSI 2004/282)

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Advice and Assistance (Scotland) Amendment (No 2) Regulations 2004 Amendment Regulations 2004
(SSI 2004/305)

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The Convener: : Item 2 concerns subordinate legislation. I am afraid that we have been deluged with quite a raft of instruments. The situation is made a little more complicated by the fact that the instruments include an additional set of amendment regulations. Members received an amended agenda earlier today to allow us to consider the Advice and Assistance (Scotland) Amendment (No 2) Regulations 2004 Amendment Regulations 2004 (SSI 2004/305), which were laid on 25 June. The regulations amend the Advice and Assistance (Scotland) Amendment (No 2) Regulations 2004 (SSI 2004/262). We received a letter about SSI 2004/305 from the Justice Department, and a copy of that letter was circulated to members by e-mail on 25 June. I apologise for the slight confusion.

We have a total of seven sets of regulations, all of which are to be considered under the negative procedure. Although no motion to annul has been lodged, I should probably bring to the attention of the committee some issues that have been raised.

On the Police (Scotland) Regulations 2004 (SSI 2004/257), the Subordinate Legislation Committee considered the regulations and raised a number of points, some of which it has reported to the Parliament and this committee. Members were circulated with a copy of the committee's report on Friday. I am given to understand that the majority of the 12 points that the Subordinate Legislation Committee raised are either technical in nature or drafting errors that have been acknowledged by the Executive. Members of this committee might want to consider the Executive's response to points 2, 7, 8 and 12.

The final little titbit of delectation that I am to bring to members' attention concerns the title of SSI 2002/282, which should be the Criminal Legal Aid (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2004 and not the Criminal Legal Aid (Scotland) (Fees) Amendment Regulations 2004, as is shown on the agenda.

I hope that I have correctly understood the encyclopaedic instructions that I received from the clerks. Happily, they are indicating that everything has been explained correctly. Although I do not undertake to answer questions on the instruments, I am happy to take comments. I should declare an interest as a member of the Law Society of Scotland. A number of the regulations apply to the remuneration of solicitors. Although that does not directly affect me, I should declare my interest nonetheless.

We normally advise the Law Society about instruments that come before us in case it has any comment to make. Just before the meeting commenced, the clerks told me that we have received a letter from the Law Society advising us that it has absolutely no comment to make on the regulations that are before us today.

Do I take it that the committee has no comment to make on the instruments?

Members indicated agreement.

Convener's Correspondence

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The Convener: : The next item is our consideration of a letter from Mrs Gina Riva, which was addressed to me as convener of the committee. I have discretion in these matters as to whether such correspondence should be brought before the committee. On this occasion, I felt reluctant about taking a unilateral decision not to do so. I thought that it was preferable at least to place the item on the agenda so that committee members could express their views. I invite members to discuss the letter.

Karen Whitefield (Airdrie and Shotts) (Lab): : I read Mrs Riva's letter and the enclosed report in which she raises a number of points. I am not clear, however, whether she has raised them with her constituency member of the Scottish Parliament or any of the list MSPs for her region. The most appropriate way for her to raise them is not with this committee but with her constituency member or her list members. She should give those MSPs the opportunity to pursue the points that she raises. As a constituency MSP who has a prison in her constituency, I get many letters—almost on a weekly basis—from prisoners who raise issues, some of which are important and others that are less so. It is for constituency or list MSPs to pursue those issues.

We have to be careful not to establish a precedent whereby members of the public raise with this or another subject committee issues that should be raised initially at the constituency level.

It may well be that Mrs Riva has points to raise with the Parliament, but the first point of contact should be the Public Petitions Committee, which in turn would want to contact the relevant subject committee. I suggest that we write back to her and thank her for her correspondence, note that she has raised the issue most appropriately with the Minister for Justice and recommend that she make early contact with her constituency member and with the list members in her region. We might also want to consider copying her letter to the constituency member and notifying them of any decision that the committee takes.

Colin Fox (Lothians) (SSP): : I am happy with Karen Whitefield's suggestion about Mrs Riva's letter. However, when I read the letter I was mindful of the recent report of HM prisons inspectorate for Scotland about Cornton Vale. Perhaps members of the Justice 1 Committee or the Justice 2 Committee have visited Cornton Vale. I might have missed that visit, or we might have a visit scheduled. Could you clarify that, convener? If we have not visited Cornton Vale, do we have a space for a visit in our schedule?

The Convener: : I will just clarify that with the clerks. As you know, we have had a schedule of prison visits. I know that some of us were able to make some visits but not others. Cornton Vale was among the prisons in the schedule. We do not have a current schedule of prison visits, presumably because we have no active business relative to prisons. The committee has no intention at this point to visit more prisons. The schedule of visits that we undertook was our last activity in that respect.

Colin Fox: : Okay.

The Convener: : Are you content with Karen Whitefield's suggestion?

Colin Fox: : Yes, as that is probably the best way to deal with the correspondence. I was just aware of the programme of prison visits in which we were engaged.

The Convener: : That has been a helpful discussion. I acknowledge the point that Karen Whitefield was quite correct to make, as the committee is not the agency of first intervention or first action. It is the obligation of constituency and list members to take matters forward on behalf of constituents who instruct them. It is important that the two separate roles of the MSP and the committee are identified and acknowledged, because they are not the same.

The proposal, as outlined by Karen Whitefield, is that we should write to Mrs Riva suggesting that she raise the matter with either her constituency member or one of her list members, to whom she should certainly copy her report. We should strongly advise her to ask her MSP to liaise with her and the Minister for Justice, because if the minister is simply sent a copy of the report, she may not be clear as to whether action is sought or advice is required. As Karen Whitefield said, Mrs Riva can also approach the Public Petitions Committee, which would certainly be a relevant step to take. Does the committee agree that I should proceed on the basis that Karen Whitefield outlined and ask the clerks to draft a letter to Mrs Riva?

Members indicated agreement.

The Convener: : Thank you. We proceed to items 4 and 5, which are to be taken in private.

: Meeting continued in private until 14:40.