HC Deb 23 May 1973 vol 857 cc459-60
19. Mr. Ronald King Murray

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make an early statement on legal aid in the lower courts following publication of the recent White Paper on the JP courts in Scotland.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

Legal aid will be extended to criminal proceedings in all courts of summary jurisdiction, as financial resources permit.

Mr. Murray

I hope that there will be an early opportunity to debate this important White Paper, but in the meantime will the Under-Secretary bear in mind the urgency of the matter? The need for legal aid in these courts has been put many times by hon. Members on both sides and there is little point in reorganising these essentially local courts unless we can ensure that justice is available to all regardless of means.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

As I have indicated, we accept in principle the introduction of this but there is another factor as well as the one of financial resources limitations. We are about to embark on reorganisation of lay summary justice in Scotland following local government reorganisation and that will obviously be the occasion on which to consider these wider matters. We shall consult the Law Society and others involved in the subject.

Mr. Gourlay

If the policies of the White Paper are put into effect, there will be no requirement for the clerks of the new JP courts to have any legal qualifications, thus depriving the lay magistrates of necessary legal advice in court. Will the Under-Secretary seek to alter this unsatisfactory arrangement before the Bill is brought before the House?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

All we have produced so far is the White Paper, and I promise to make sure that the point mentioned by the hon. Member is taken into account.

Mr. Ross

When will we be discussing the White Paper? Such a discussion is desirable before the subject of a Bill is even approached.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I take note of what the right hon. Gentleman has said. If he wishes, there can be an opportunity later this summer for a debate in the Scottish Grand Committee.