HC Deb 27 January 1982 vol 16 cc885-6
34. Mr. Ancram

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations the Lord Advocate has received about the use of the warrant sales procedure in Scotland.

Mr. Rifkind

My noble and learned Friend the Lord Advocate has received representations on this matter suggesting either that warrant sales be abolished or that the present system be reformed. My noble and learned Friend has also received copies of the Scottish Law Commission's five consultative memoranda published in October 1980. The commission's view, with which we agree, is that it would not be right, and indeed would be misleading, for it to submit a report on warrant sales in advance of a report on the other aspects of enforcement covered by the four other memoranda. I am assured that the commission is working on its report and regards its completion as its first priority.

Mr. Acram

Is my hon. Friend aware that a number of ratepayers in Lothian region have been threatened and pursued by this arcane procedure for failure to pay their exorbitant rate demands? Is not that a moral abuse of this procedure, illustrating the total hypocrisy of the Labour group in Lothian region, which is always shouting about its interest in people's rights?

Mr. Rifkind

It is for the local authority to decide the appropriate way to pursue those who have not paid their rates. The whole subject of warrant sales, including the point raised by my hon. Friend, is now being considered by the Scottish Law Commission.

Mr. Dewar

I am grateful to the Minister for not following the personal vendetta of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Ancram) against Lothian. I should like to press him about a reform of the law on warrant sales. We have been waiting for many years for the report on the law of diligence. While I welcome the fact that it is now to be a first priority, is the Minister aware that further substantial delay will bring into question the efficiency of our law reform procedures? When will the Law Commission be prepared to produce a considered statement?

Mr. Rifkind

I fully accept that there is concern in some quarters about this subject, and I certainly accept that there should be no substantial or unnecessary delay. The fact that the Scottish Law Commission has confirmed that the completion of this report remains its first priority should give reassurance to all who have taken an interest in the subject. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a specific date, but, as the Law Commission will be treating this as its first priority, he can be sure that there will be no unnecessary delay whatever.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

As cases of hardship have been reported to the Scottish Law Commission, will my hon. Friend inform the commission that an early completion of its report will be welcomed?

Mr. Rifkind

The Government are as anxious as many hon. Members to hear the views of the Scottish Law Commission. This is an important and sensitive area, and I am sure that no one would want legislation to be rushed through in an ill-considered fashion. As soon as the Law Commission has made its recommendations my noble and learned Friend will give the fullest consideration to the proposals that are put forward.

Mr. McKelvey

Will the Minister give the House an assurance that he will ask electricity boards in particular and British Telecom not to use this medieval and barbaric way of securing debts in the meantime, because there are bound to be a large number of increased bills as a result of the heavy winter?

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Member will appreciate that, as it was for local authorities, so it must be for electricity, boards and others to decide what means they use to pursue unpaid debts. I am sure that all public bodies and officials will take into account the effect on individuals of any action that they might take. However, the matter of the law is clearly one that must await the recommendations of the Law Commission.