§ 27. Mr. Ainger
To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department how many magistrates courts have been closed in the past 10 years.
Mr. John M. Taylor
Magistrates courts are provided by local authorities for the use of the Magistrates Courts Committee. Closure decisions are for the MCC, although the paying authority may appeal to the Lord Chancellor against a proposed closure. That is the only situation in which we are informed of a closure or involved in any way.
§ Mr. Ainger
The Lord Chancellor's Department will be well aware that, over the past 10 years, there has been a significant number of magistrates courts closures, particularly in rural areas. That has coincided with significant reductions in public transport. Does the Minister share my concern that people living in rural areas, particularly in rural Wales, are now finding it extremely difficult to meet court times of 10 am using public transport? That is causing serious problems. Those people who have to pay fines at magistrates courts are also experiencing serious problems. Does the Minister accept that it is now time to start a moratorium on magistrates court closures in rural areas?
I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that he must advance and develop those arguments in his own local area where there are, in fact, no proposed closures. The only body competent to propose a closure is the magistrates themselves through their committee. The only body competent to oppose a closure is the county council. Only if they are at odds does the Lord 559 Chancellor have any role. The hon. Gentleman should be lobbying his local magistrates and local county councillors.
§ Mr. McLoughlin
Can my hon. Friend assure me that the Lord Chancellor and his Department will consider carefully the question of rural services and the availability of courts when such proposals come before them? May I say that I am not too worried about people who must pay fines in magistrates courts, as the simple answer is that they should not get convicted in the first place?
I take very much to heart what my hon. Friend says. The issues are weighed carefully, and I shall make sure that that continues. I might say also that we do open new courts as well as attend occasionally upon the closures of old ones.