HL Deb 29 April 1981 vol 419 cc1173-4

2.45 p.m.

Lord Wilson of Langside

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what contingency and other planning was undertaken to minimise the disruption of the administration of justice in Scottish courts consequent on strike action by the clerks of court: (a) before the closure of the sheriff court in Glasgow on 23rd March 1981; and (b) since that date.

The Lord Advocate (Lord Mackay of Clashfern)

My Lords, the department of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State was in contact with the Sheriffs Principal well in advance of the strike. General guidance was issued to all courts on 2nd March and a meeting with senior court staff concerned was held on 16th March. Since that time regular contact has been maintained with the two Sheriffs Principal concerned and with the Sheriff Clerk at Glasgow.

Lord Wilson of Langside

My Lords, while thanking the noble and learned Lord for that reply, I am bound to say that I am a little startled by its inadequacy. In finalising it, did the noble and learned Lord have in mind the following circumstances: First, did he have in mind the duration of the strike, which is now in its second month, during which the administration of justice in Glasgow and Edinburgh has been practically at a standstill? Did he have in mind also the three previous incidents of strikes in the Civil Service and their consequences for the Scottish courts? On the first of these occasions none of the staff, or only a minority of the staff in the sheriff court struck, and none at all in the Supreme Court. Does not the noble and learned Lord recognise that this suggests a considerable decline in the morale of the staff of the courts, the restoration of which must be the responsibility of the Ministers in the Scottish Office? Finally—

Several noble Lords


Lord Wilson of Langside

Finally, did he have in mind the action taken in 1979 by the Labour Government, for whose competence I had no particular love, when they took the necessary emergency powers to keep the wheels of justice turning? Does he not appreciate that something of that vigorous nature is called for by this strike which is causing so much difficulty in Scotland?

Lord Mackay of Clashfern

My Lords, obviously we had in mind the duration of the strike, and we have it continually in mind. We also had in mind that there were previous occurrences and we regret the fact that in some respects the situation is worse than on some previous occasions, although in other respects it is better than on previous occasions. It is not quite right to say that the wheels of justice are at a complete standstill in Glasgow and Edinburgh. So far quite an amount of work has been done in the sheriff court both in Edinburgh and Glasgow, although certainly not nearly so much as is usually done. We also have in mind what took place on the last occasion in the way of emergency powers legislation. We are keeping that possibility under review. However, as the noble and learned Lord is well aware, the emergency powers legislation has no effect on getting people back to work, and it is to that primarily that the efforts of the Government are directed.