HC Deb 05 February 1996 vol 271 cc15-6
29. Mr. Flynn

To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department what recent representations he has received from the police concerning transfers of responsibility. [11787]

Mr. Jonathan Evans

Apart from the normal consultations with the police, my Department has received one letter from the Metropolitan police, which expresses concern about the progress of the transfer of certain warrant enforcement responsibilities to magistrates courts committees.

Mr. Flynn

Are the police as enthusiastic as everyone else about the future transfer of the government of this country from the Conservatives to Labour? Since the war, crime levels have risen under every Conservative Government and fallen under every Labour Government. Is it not true that criminals are now three times more likely to get away with their crimes than previously? Tory Britain today—as at every other time when the Tories were in control—is a paradise for criminals.

Mr. Evans

The hon. Gentleman should know that I had a long record prior to my coming to this place— [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah!"]—of service in the criminal courts as a court advocate. I have therefore spoken to many of the police officers who are constituents of the hon. Gentleman and of many other Labour Members. They all recognise that there has been a great transformation in the conditions of service of the police under the Conservative Government. They are in no doubt about that.

Mr. Jenkin

While we are talking about transfers of responsibility, did my hon. Friend listen to the BBC Radio 4 "Analysis" programme, which was broadcast yesterday afternoon, about the apparent transfer of responsibility and discretionary power from Parliament to the judges? Should we not be aware also of the huge transfers of power from Parliament to Brussels that are likely to occur if the Labour party is elected to government?

Mr. Evans

I recognise the concerns that my hon. Friend has expressed over a lengthy period about the European Commission's interference in many aspects of life in this country. I think that the points made by the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) are somewhat wide of the real issue, which is the debate about the transfer of responsibilities from the police to magistrates courts regarding the enforcement of fines. The Government recognise that that issue is important and that the situation will be improved by the transfer that we are seeking to carry forward.

Mr. Boateng

Putting the Minister's criminal antecedents to one side, let us look at the real situation in the magistrates courts at present. Does the Minister accept the very real concerns of the magistrates courts committees and of the police regarding the transfer of civilian staff from the police to those courts—not least because those staff have hitherto relied on uniformed police support for their enforcement role, for transportation to court of those who have been arrested, and for access to the police national computer? Will the Minister ensure, through increased negotiation with the magistrates courts committees, that the interests of justice are not subordinated once again to the interests of the Treasury?

Mr. Evans

The interests of justice underpin the proposal to transfer fine enforcement responsibilities. The credibility of the magistrates courts must be supported by placing responsibility for fine enforcement in their hands, and a number of magistrates courts committees currently undertake that work very effectively. The hon. Gentleman is right: consultation is important. It is taking place both with the Association of Chief Police Officers and with magistrates courts committees. As a result of that consultation, the implementation date of the change has been altered to 1 April 1997, as the hon. Gentleman will know. That enhances the position that the Government have set out for some time: the change will increase the efficiency of the courts and be made in conjunction both with the police and with the magistrates courts committees.