HC Deb 13 May 1985 vol 79 cc12-3
31. Mr. Dubs

asked the Attorney-General what plans he has to introduce the 24-hour duty solicitor scheme.

The Solicitor-General (Sir Patrick Mayhew)

Planning for the 24-hour duty solicitor scheme is the responsibility of the Law Society, which is pressing ahead with this. The Government are committed to an effective scheme, and are doing all they can to assist the society.

Mr. Dubs

Is not the truth that the Government are failing to provide the essential resources necessary to implement the scheme so as to mitigate the worst effects of the custody provisions of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act? Are not the Government reneging on commitments given during the passage of that legislation?

The Solicitor-General

That is not true. Discussions are going on with the Law Society about remuneration in particular. It is quite without justification to say what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Mr. Ashby

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that once the Police and Criminal Evidence Act is implemented, the 24-hour duty solicitor scheme may be very necessary? Can he say when it is intended that the various sections of the Act providing for detention for 36 and 96 hours will be put into effect, because they are a necessary ingredient in the prosecution of justice?

The Solicitor-General

The scheduled date to which my hon. Friend refers is 1 January 1986. It is important that there should be an effective scheme, but I remind my hon. Friend that the Police and Criminal Evidence Act clarifies the powers of the police as regards the interests of arrested persons. We intend that there shall be a scheme in effect by then, but it is important to make that point.

Mr. Alex Carlile

Is the Solicitor-General aware that the Law Society is becoming extremely frustrated by the Government's failure to commit the £20 million a year which it appears will be necessary to run the scheme? Will he now commit that money for the running of the scheme, as promised earlier? Will he ensure that under the scheme a detained person has access to a solicitor of his choice rather than to a limited list held by the police and that, where people are detained voluntarily in a police station, their friends and relatives have access to the duty solicitor under the scheme rather than, as is proposed at present, access being limited to the police only in those circumstances?

The Solicitor-General

The last two points are under consideration by my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor. It is important that costs should be considered together with other relevant considerations. As to the resources that will have to be committed to the scheme, it is estimated that it will cost £100,000 to set up the telephone answering service and that the maximum annual cost will be between £500,000 and £750,000, depending upon which option is chosen.

Mr. Nicholas Brown

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that the issue underlying the fragile 24-hour experiment is the broader difficulty of remunerating a private sector profession with standby duties at night-time and into the early hours of the morning? If, as is anticipated, the experiment establishes a need for professional advice that is not being met, what range of alternatives does the Solicitor-General have under active consideration?

The Solicitor-General

We need to be able to consider the results of the three pilot schemes—the two that have been taking place at Kettering and Birmingham and one later this summer at Clerkenwell—before we can have a clear idea as to what practical measures need to be taken.