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Warrant Sales

Volume 940: debated on Wednesday 30 November 1977

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asked the Lord Advocate when he expects the Scottish Law Commission review of warrant sales to be reported; and if he will make a statement.

The Scottish Law Commission has commissioned a research project into factual and sociological aspects of the working of the present law including warrant sales. It is not possible to say when the Commission will be in a position to report, as it will wish to consider the outcome of the research project.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it would be interesting to know whether the Commission condemns the inhumane system by which credit establishments can embarrass and humiliate debtors publicly and strip them of almost everything they have in their home in order to obtain what is owed them? Will my right hon. and learned Friend say, from the research into the matter, whether we shall be told why the 1828 Act should be used in Scotland when it is used in no other part of the United Kingdom?

I can give my hon. Friend an assurance on the latter part of the question by indicating that the research to which I have referred will investigate the circumstances of people who have court action taken against them for debt, the factors leading to the existence of the debt, the impact of debt recovery on the debtor and the help or support that various agencies, including social agencies, can offer. The study will be carried out over nearly two years. The consultants carrying out the work are the University of Edinburgh.

In addition, the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys has assumed responsibility for a survey of between 1,000 and 1,500 persons against whom debt proceedings have been taken. This will be followed up by field work in other areas. There has been a great lack of hard fact in this area and I am sure that these researches will be of great assistance in ascertaining the facts before we achieve reform.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that this is probably one of the most unsavoury aspects of Scottish law and that it is time something was done about it? Will my right hon. and learned Friend therefore make representations to the Scottish Law Commission to see whether it can produce an interim report, so that we might have some early interim legislation on the matter?

I understand my hon. Friend's concern, but with a research project of this sort I do not think that it would be worth while asking for an interim report. However, I accept the sense of urgency that has been indicated today and I undertake at once to take the matter up if it can be shown that systematic abuses of the law are taking place.