HC Deb 08 May 2001 vol 368 cc10-1
29. Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire)

If she will make a statement on the role of the private finance initiative in the provision of new magistrates courts. [159318]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Jane Kennedy)

The private finance initiative is used to procure new magistrates courts throughout England and Wales. I am happy to make a statement on the subject.

Projects for 13 magistrates courts committees are in various stages of procurement. The first of the new courts to come into use under this funding route will open later this year at Kidderminster, Hereford and Worcester.

Mr. Luff

The Minister will know how glad I am that the Government continued with the construction of new magistrates courts under PFI that was started by the previous Government. Would not it be wrong. however, to sacrifice smaller, rural magistrates courts such as Evesham on the altar of PHI, especially when they are being asked to provide extra capacity during the construction of the new courts?

Jane Kennedy

I am happy to pay tribute to the representations that the hon. Gentleman made during the consultation on the original closure programme introduced by the magistrates courts committee in Hereford and Worcester, and I acknowledge that, as the Worcester court has become inoperable because the police no longer use it, Evesham is now one of the courts that is used for the excess work. I understand that the committee intends shortly to hold consultations on proposals for courthouse closures, but as no decisions have yet been made, I cannot comment on any such proposals.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley)

Will my hon. Friend ensure that PFIs can be used to bring existing courthouses up to scratch, so that the jailing sections meet the modem European standard?

Jane Kennedy

I absolutely concur with the point that my hon. Friend is making about security. PFIs are indeed being used for a range of purposes, and not only new build, important though that is. For example, once such initiative is providing refurbished courthouses at Redditch.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath)

The Parliamentary Secretary talks about the use of private finance in magistrates courts, but has she considered the figures revealed this morning in one of the national newspapers by the distinguished legal correspondent, Joshua Rozenberg, that show that in Greater London fines worth more than £92 million remained uncollected last year alone? Does she not recognise that judges and magistrates are increasingly concerned that the mismanagement and incompetence of her noble Friend the Lord Chancellor has led to a collapse in confidence in collecting fines and in other non-custodial penalties? On the day the Prime Minister finally dared to call a general election, which he will lose, should not the Parliamentary Secretary recognise that the Lord Chancellor must acknowledge that he is the weakest link and say goodbye?

Jane Kennedy

The hon. Gentleman may not know that successive Governments have considered that fine enforcement would be more effective if such work were transferred from the police to the magistrates courts committees, which can give it a higher priority. However, this Government have delivered that modernisation to the magistrates courts committees. That is a measure of our confidence in their ability to handle that work. He and his party propose to take £525 million out of the justice system, so it is rich for him to lecture us on modernisation and improvements in the service.