HC Deb 25 May 2004 vol 421 cc1436-7
20. Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con)

When he next expects to meet members of the lay magistracy in East Anglia to discuss the workings of the local justice system. [175300]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Mr. Christopher Leslie)

Although I have no current plans to meet representatives of the lay magistracy in East Anglia, I am, of course, ready to do so if that would prove useful.

Mr. Bellingham

It may well prove useful. Is the Minister aware that most of the lay magistrates whom I have met feel very let down by the Government? They feel undervalued, unwanted and unappreciated and they are concerned about the number of court closures. What would he say to lay magistrates today to boost their morale and improve their standing? In addition, will he confirm that there will be no more small court closures?

Mr. Leslie

On the latter point, there have been no court closures this year, in contrast to the closure of 21 magistrates courts in the last year of the Conservative Administration. I believe that the best way to secure high morale among magistrates is to reiterate how much we, on both sides of the House, value them. They are volunteers who provide a good, solid and continuous service in the administration of justice, and I, for one, am very grateful for the work that magistrates do.