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Solicitor-General For Scotland

Volume 22: debated on Wednesday 28 April 1982

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Crimes Of Violence


asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland if he will meet the procurator fiscal of Perth to discuss prosecutions for crimes of violence.

I have no plans to meet the procurator fiscal of Perth in the near future to discuss prosecutions for crimes of violence. However, I regard it of importance to meet procurators fiscal whenever my other responsibilities will allow, and, although no plans have yet been made, it is my intention to visit the procurator fiscal at Perth, when the work of the office generally will be discussed.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Does he agree that although unemployment in Perth is well below the national average, crime is increasing? Is there not some relationship between that increase and the trendy practices in schools and homes which have led to a breakdown in the standards and values of discipline and order? Surely that has more to do with the level of crime than unemployment.

As my hon. Friend has already suggested, there is no simple correlation between unemployment and the level of crime, but there are certainly deep-seated problems affecting responsibility for law.

My hon. Friend might be interested to know that where the Tayside police in Perthshire have exercised their powers under section 4 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act in the search for offensive weapons, on 13 out of 23 searches offensive weapons have been found. It is difficult to see in what circumstances unemployment leads to people carrying offensive weapons.

The Solicitor-General has obviously looked into the specific issue of searches for offensive weapons in Tayside. How many of those searches could not have been carried out under the Prevention of Crime Act?

I have given the number of occasions when the specific power was used under the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act, and it has been used sparingly elsewhere in Scotland, as the hon. Gentleman knows. When it has been used, on a regrettably large number of occasions people have been found to be carrying offensive weapons.

Trials (Recovered Stolen Goods)


asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland what representations he has received about prosecuting authorities in Scotland retaining recovered stolen goods for the purpose of evidence at subsequent trials.

From time to time I receive representations from individuals about stolen property which is retained for prosecution purposes.

Does my hon. Friend appreciate the hardship that can be caused when vital domestic items are retained for a long time by the prosecuting authorities? With the increase in the technological capacity of the prosecuting authorities, not least the development of the camera, has not the time come for photographs to be produced in court rather than the items themselves?

From the many years that my hon. Friend practised in the High Court in Scotland I am sure that he is aware that the best evidence rule requires that on most occasions property that is at the centre of a court case must be produced. As my hon. Friend has indicated, if it is possible to secure defence agreement, it is desirable that photographs should be used instead of objects, or, if it is possible to reach agreement with the defence, even without photographs.

If individuals wish to have property returned to them pending a trial, they should approach the procurator fiscal, but it must be understood that they may be required to produce it again for the trial.

Murder (Prosecutions)


asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland how many cases involving murder have been prosecuted in Scotland so far in 1982.

There have been 20 cases involving a charge of murder prosecuted this year during the period up to 31 March, involving 30 accused.

Will the Solicitor-General confirm that, while crimes of violence as a whole went up in 1981, the number of homicides went down, and that over the past two decades there has been no increasing trend in the number of homicides? Therefore, does he agree that the campaign now being waged by the Police Federation, while unjustified in the United Kingdom as a whole, is entirely inappropriate in Scotland?

I can confirm that the number of reported murders in Scotland last year fell from 200 to 190. In the House there are deeply held views on the reintroduction of capital punishment. I accept that if one looks at the crude statistics in Scotland, it is difficult to reach a firm decision one way or the other.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the reintroduction of the death penalty, particularly for the murder of policemen or prison officers, would be warmly welcomed in the country and might do a great deal to deter violent crime in Scotland?

I know that my hon. Friend has taken that view in the past. I accept that there is a widespread feeling in the country that if capital punishment were to be reintroduced for these specific offences, it might have a significant deterrent effect. However, I am not sure that this is an appropriate occasion on which to enter into discussion on this difficult and delicate subject.

Will the Minister confirm that he joined Labour Members in voting against the reintroduction of capital punishment when it was last considered by the House and would he do so again?

It was not a matter of my joining Labour Members. I took a decision on that vote at that time. There are delicate and difficult decisions to be reached on this matter. If the House reconsiders the matter on another occasion, I shall reconsider my position.

Armed Trespass (Prosecutions)


asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland how many prosecutions there have been in the latest convenient year for armed trespass.

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply I sent him on 24 February 1982.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the figure that he mentioned is very disappointing? Is not the only way to reduce poaching in Scotland for offenders to be apprehended by the police with far greater enthusiasm and subsequently to be prosecuted by the procurator fiscal? That is how we shall stop armed trespass, particularly on the foreshore in Scotland.

I know that my. hon. Friend is particularly worried about criminal trespass on the foreshore in Scotland. As hon. Members appreciate, the foreshore in Scotland enjoys a particular legal status. In a case in the sheriff court at Dumfries there were difficulties about criminal trespass, possibly on the foreshore. That issue probably requires to be resolved by a civil action. It is not one that should properly be considered in a summary criminal court.

Will the Solicitor-General dissociate himself from the view expressed by his predecessor in an article inThe Times yesterday, that the reintroduction of capital punishment would have the effect of deterring criminals from offences such as armed trespass?

I have read the article to which the hon. Gentleman referred, but I did not understand that my hon. and learned predecessor was suggesting that capital punishment should be reintroduced for this crime.

Scottish Law Commission


asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland what future inquiries are planned for the Scottish Law Commission.

In its sixteenth annual report, published on 9 December 1981, the Scottish Law Commission gives details of the work being carried out by it in pursuance of its published programmes of law reform and of consolidation and statute law reform and of its statutory duties under the Law Commissions Act 1965.

Will my hon. Friend give details of what happens to the Scottish Law Commission's reports? Is he satisfied that prompt and efficient action is taken on them, or do they lie on a shelf with law books and collect dust?

I am happy to use this opportunity to make it clear to the House that successive Governments have acted promptly on the Scottish Law Commission's reports. The best recent example is the report on occupancy rights in the matrimonial home and domestic violence, which was produced by the Scottish Law Commission on 17 July 1980. When my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind), now the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, was in the Scottish Office, he introduced a Bill on the basis of that report a little over seven months later.

When does the Solicitor-General expect progress to be made on the implementation of court awards for maintenance after divorce cases?

That matter is being considered. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that there has been some development on this recently in the Civil Jurisdiction and Judgments Bill[Lords], which is currently before the House. That Bill contains a measure that will allow the enforcement of maintenance awards throughout the United Kingdom. It is a small measure, but I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that it is a desirable improvement in the law.

Order. I propose to call the hon. Members for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) and for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Ancram).

Is the Scottish Law Commission presently at work on the area of law that was covered by the recent Supply of Goods and Services Bill, for which the hon. Gentleman was a Government spokesman, and about which there is a good deal of anxiety that Scottish law might be falling behind that of England?

The Scottish Law Commission is looking at that issue. The approach that it is taking is desirable, in that it is considering the matter not in isolation but in the broader area of implied terms in the supply and sale of goods. In addition, a joint report with the English Law Commission should bring about a far better and more comprehensive reform of Scottish law in this area.

Will my hon. Friend ask the Scottish Law Commission to look again at the common law of nuisance in relation to anti-social behaviour by neighbours in owner-occupied tenements? The common law is totally incapable of protecting such people at the moment.

I am not sure that looking at the law of nuisance is the best way of dealing with this matter. My hon. Friend might consider putting down an amendment to the Civic Government (Scotland) Bill[Lords] to deal with it.