HC Deb 02 July 1986 vol 100 cc1003-4
34. Mr. Fairbairn

To ask the Solicitor-General for Scotland if he will estimate the cost of time, travel and inconvenience occasioned by the separation of the Crown Office from Parliament House and the separation of the procurator fiscal's offices from the sheriff courts.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland (Mr. Peter Fraser)

It is not practicable to attempt to estimate generally the costs involved. However, with regard to the Crown Office, savings would he likely to be made if it were situated closer to or connected with Parliament House, and it would certainly be more convenient.

Mr. Fairbairn

Does my hon. and learned Friend appreciate that those of us who understand the workings of the courts find the separation of those who have to work in the courts, whether it is in the fiscal's office or the Crown Office, to be inconvenient and expensive, and an unnecessary burden on public expenditure? Will the Government do all that they can to redeem that unnecessary cost so that the service can be provided more frugally, sensibly and efficiently?

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

I shall attempt to give an undertaking. As I said in my orginal answer, it is our desire to get the Crown Office located where it will be possible for Crown Office staff to have more access to the High Court. As my hon. and learned Friend rightly says, there is the other side of the question. It would be much more convenient for those on the defence side who want to make contact with the Crown. I hope that as a consequence of that there might be greater agreement before we go into court in future.

Mr. Wallace

I know that many people who are involved in the legal system in Scotland will be pleased to hear the Solicitor-General showing some flexibility and saying that the Crown Office might be closer to the courts once again. Does he not agree that there could be a double benefit? If the Crown Office were to move out of the old Royal High, it could once again be used for the purpose for which it was primarily intended — a Scottish parliament?

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

One of our proposals would be to relocate the Crown Office in Chambers street. That would be useful for the first purpose that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. With regard to the second part of his question, I am surprised that, after Monday, he thinks that it is an appropriate building. Given the attendance of Opposition Members, clearly it is far too large.

Mr. Michael Forsyth

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that after the performance on Monday, when there were bits falling off the ceiling, the time has come to dispose of that building and to return it to the use for which it was intended, as a school?

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

I do not know whether it would be appropriate to use the building as a school, but I shall rely on the ingenuity of my hon. Friend to produce a scheme that will be of benefit to the public purse.

Mr. Ron Brown

Despite our present problems, lawyers do very well out of the system. They get rich, fat fees do they not? Is not the real difficulty that it is the general public who suffer? I think immediately of the many innocent miners who were unfairly dismissed and who have no chance of receiving justice or even assistance. They want to know whether justice still exists in this country. Will the Solicitor-General intervene to help them?

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

I shall not intervene, as I am not sure how I possibly could. If the miners wish to seek legal remedies they can use industrial tribunals. But if they feel that they should have access to the court, there is, as the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, a very generous system of legal aid, which has been significantly upgraded under this Government.

Mr. Dewar

Will the Solicitor-General note that we strongly feel that using the Royal High school as a meeting place for the Scottish Grand Committee is totally justified? The widespread coverage of, and public interest in, the lively debate on Monday makes that point. This is a matter of considerable interest in Scotland, so will the hon. and learned Gentleman say whether the Government are thinking of disposing of that building on the commercial open market? If so, what is the time scale? If that is a positive plan, we would want to know about it at the first possible opportunity.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

The hon. Gentleman will recall that it was my motion that allowed for the Scottish Grand Committee to move from the House to Edinburgh. He is being far too sensitive about an alternative use for the Royal High school building. As I said in my original answer, there are distinct advantages in moving the Crown Office back to a location that is closer to Parliament House. It will be convenient not only for the prosecution but for the defence. Beyond that, the hon. Gentleman is speculating too wildly on any future use of the building.