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Volume 932: debated on Wednesday 25 May 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what is the total amount of fines imposed in Scottish courts which has been written off as irrecoverable debts since the introduction of payments of fines by instalments; and if he will make a statement.

Since 1971, when the Scottish Courts Administration was set up, the total amount of fines which has been written off in the sheriff courts as irrecoverable three years after their imposition is £88,424. The total amount of fines imposed during that period was nearly £11½million. The amount written off, therefore, represents less than 1 per cent. of this figure. Corresponding information about burgh and justice of the peace courts, and the district courts that replaced them on 16th May 1975, is not available.

Does not my hon. Friend agree that if figures from other courts were available and were added to the figures that he has quoted, they would produce a substantial sum of money? Does this not indicate that hooligans, ruffians, thugs and other undesirables are getting off scot-free after committing offences against society and decent people? Is it not about time that we examined alternative means of making guilty persons pay?

No one claims a monopoly of concern for law enforcement. We are all deeply concerned about it, and that includes concern about fines enforcement. My hon. Friend should bear in mind that the courts, to which no information is available, have only a limited ability to apply fines, so even if the information were available it would not produce the result that my hon. Friend forecasts.

The subject of fines enforcement was considered by the Scottish Council on Crime and the Thompson Committee. We are looking at it in our consideration of possible legislative measures on criminal procedure.

Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that the largest irrecoverable debt that he owes in Scotland is to the police force, which brings the criminals to justice? Is he not greatly concerned about reports of very low morale and the number of resignations from the police force in Scotland?

I can claim with some justification and pride that no junior Minister has given more time and attention to the needs and requests of the police in Scotland than I. I have worked hard over the past three years to establish the good relationship that the Government have with the Scottish Police Federation. I see no evidence of low morale. Too many people are trying to talk down the police force. The police do not enjoy that, and all the evidence is that the morale of the police in Scotland is high.