HC Deb 16 December 1996 vol 287 cc610-1
29. Mr. Llwyd

To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department what is the procedure for intervention by the Lord Chancellor's Department in the matter of a dispute about closure of a magistrates court; and if he will make a statement. [7624]

Mr. Streeter

There is no procedure for intervention as magistrates courts are not Crown property. The Lord Chancellor is involved in a dispute over a magistrates court only when an appeal is made by a contributing local authority against a proposed closure. The procedure for such appeals is set out in section 56 of the Justices of the Peace Act 1979. In the event of a such an appeal, the Lord Chancellor will call for a report from both parties and make a final decision, which is binding. In the absence of such an appeal, the Lord Chancellor has no locus in the matter.

Mr. Llwyd

I thank the Minister for that reply. He will be aware of my concern about my constituency of Meirionnydd Nant Conwy, which is one of the largest geographically in the United Kingdom. The magistrates clerk has circulated the preposterous idea of closing the last but one court, which would leave the entire constituency to be served by one magistrates court. The Minister is aware that an appeal is pending. Will he please meet a small delegation led by me as soon as possible so that that preposterous and ridiculous notion can be put to rest at last?

Mr. Streeter

If an appeal in relation to the court that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned is pending, it would be inappropriate for me to comment. I would be delighted to receive a delegation from his constituency, as I have from other hon. Members in the past few weeks. I look forward to that, and I will listen carefully to the case that he puts for the retention of the courts in his constituency. We recognise that, in rural areas in particular, the distance that people must travel to court and the cost of their journey are significant matters.

Mr. Harry Greenway

When considering the possible closure of magistrates courts, or any other function of any other court, will my hon. Friend consider the recent incident in which a convicted murderer telephoned, or received calls from, a newspaper? That caused enormous distress—

Madam Speaker

Order. What does this have to do with magistrates courts?

Mr. Greenway

I am referring to the function of a court in achieving the conviction of an individual, and the subsequent behaviour of that individual.

Madam Speaker

The hon. Gentleman did not describe his question in that way. The main question deals with magistrates courts, and so must the answer.

Mr. Streeter

My hon. Friend raises an important point concerning the magistrates courts in his constituency and people who have passed through them in relation to offences that they may have committed. He speaks for many people when he describes the offence that has been caused by the incident that he mentioned, and his points are well made.

Hon. Members

Was that a challenge to you, Madam Speaker?

Madam Speaker

It certainly was a challenge, and I do not accept that the question put by the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) was correct in following the substantive question.

Mr. Boateng

In view of the widespread concern about the erosion of locally administered justice, will the Minister revisit the arrangements for the funding of local magistrates courts committees to see whether we ought to have a better formula than is currently applied? Does not the present formula lead to overfunding in some areas and underfunding in others, and to an end to locally administered justice?

Mr. Streeter

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman has missed it by a mile. The Lord Chancellor and I are committed to local justice being dispensed by local people for local people, and the funding is in place. The hon. Gentleman commits the Labour party to yet more spending every time he gets to his feet in the House. Unless he can come to the Dispatch Box and tell us where that extra money would come from, he will have no credibility in this place.

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