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Solicitor-General For Scotland

Volume 98: debated on Wednesday 4 June 1986

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Assembly Building

24.

asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland what area of the Scottish Assembly building in Edinburgh is currently used by him, by the Lord Advocate and by their staff.

As I have indicated previously to the hon. Gentleman, Crown Office buildings are fully occupied as office accommodation with the exception of the debating chamber, a lobby and a press room.

Is it not an absolute national scandal that the debating chamber of the Scottish Assembly building is lying empty and unused for most of the time because this Tory Government are refusing to respond to the legitimate demands of the majority of the people of Scotland, who want a democratically elected Scottish Assembly instead of being ruled by an undemocratic Tory junta which has received no mandate from the people of Scotland?

The chamber would have been much better used if a number of the hon. Gentleman's colleagues had attended the last time the Scottish Grand Committee held its meeting there. As part of a Government who have done more than any of their predecessors to reform the private law of Scotland since 1979, in my view we are much better to concentrate our efforts on that than to waste months of parliamentary time putting together another unworkable scheme.

Does my hon and learned Friend agree that the lack of interest shown by the Scottish people in the meetings of the Scottish Grand Committee that have taken place in Edinburgh, and the lack of attendance of Labour Members, which was referred to by my hon. and learned Friend, and of other Opposition Members shows clearly that the debating chamber is best left empty for most of the time?

Certainly, there has not been much of a turn-out recently either of hon. Members or of the public, although in the past we have taken the oportunity of using the Scottish Grand Committee meetings in Edinburgh to put forward the legislation and the reform of which I have already made mention.

Does the Solicitor-General agree that if the Royal High school building was used for a Scottish Assembly it might generate more interest among his colleagues than is witnessed today by the lack of interest in this place, where not one Scottish Conservative Member has a question on the Order Paper?

Attendance at meetings of the Scottish Grand Committee in Edinburgh has been thin, as the hon. Gentleman will have noticed if he has been there. If he wants to encourage greater use of the building, I am sure he knows how to set about it.

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that, rather than go through the farce of wasting vast sums of public money on running the Scottish Grand Committee meetings in that building, it would be better to sell it and use the resources on the Health Service or on something useful in Scotland, given that his Department survived without it in the past, and as the people of Scotland certainly do not want a Scottish Assembly?

Much as I appreciate the architecture of the Royal High school building in Edinburgh, as Solicitor-General I believe that the sooner we can move out of it and return to a proper Crown Office, the better.

Will the Solicitor-General expand on that last remark? He appeared to support the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) and his scheme. Is that the Solicitor-General's personal view? Will he note that the Opposition are strongly in favour of continuing the present practice of meeting in Edinburgh as a prelude to the day when we have a Scottish Assembly properly established there?

I thought that I said clearly that at present the Crown Office occupies the greater part of the building. As a lawyer, the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that Crown Office activities are to some extent separated not only from the Court of Session and the High Court, but from the sheriff court in Edinburgh. It would be much more appropriate for my Department to be closer to those courts. There are a number of possibilities for the future use of the building, but I certainly would not suggest that it would be right to use it for a Scottish Assembly.

Criminal Justice Act 1980

25.

asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland when he intends to meet procurators fiscal in Scotland to discuss the use of evidence in courts obtained under part I of the Criminal Justice Act 1980.

I meet procurators fiscal from time to time to discuss various matters, including the 1980 Act, but no particular meeting is planned to discuss evidence under part I.

Does the Solicitor-General remember, when he was a mere Back Bencher serving on the Committee on that Bill, that his right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State, then a junior Minister, promised that there would be research into the working of detention powers? Is it correct that that research was carried out and that a report was produced in March 1985, which went to the Association of Chief Police Officers (Scotland), which demanded that it be repressed and that no further research be carried out? Will he now ensure that that report is published?

That is a searching and compelling question, but it is inappropriately addressed to me. It is for my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State.

Police (Complaints)

26.

asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland how many complaints against the police in Scotland have been referred from procurators fiscal to the Lord Advocate for advice or decision.

To date this year, 142 cases of complaints against the police have been reported by regional procurators fiscal to the Crown Office for consideration by Crown counsel. In 1985, 493 cases were reported. Such cases are seen by me and occasionally by my noble and learned Friend the Lord Advocate.

I am most grateful to the Solicitor-General for that reply. Will he give serious consideration to an examination by his Department into whether the police are referring to the procurators fiscal complaints which have nothing to do with the alleged offences? When the procurators fiscal say that they will take no action, it gives some spurious exoneration to the person under complaint. If that examination shows that that is the case, will the Solicitor-General give further consideration to the possibility of an independent complaints procedure for complaints against the police, in which the Scottish public would have much greater confidence?

The hon. Gentleman raises a serious and difficult matter. There are occasions when the police cannot immediately identify a complaint and when it would be inappropriate for them to reach a conclusion on whether it is purely a disciplinary matter or one which contains an allegation of criminal conduct by the police. Clearly, in those circumstances they tend to veer on the side of caution. They certainly put some cases which do not have a criminal content to procurators fiscal and the Crown Office. I am not sure that that causes the difficulties that the hon. Gentleman mentions, but I am prepared to look into the matter.

Will my hon. and learned Friend confirm that all complaints against the police are reported to a Law Officer and are scrutinised by him, or his noble and learned Friend the Lord Advocate, so that the highest consideration is given to any complaint of alleged abuse by the police?

Yes, I can confirm that matters have not changed and that the policy has not been altered since my hon. and learned Friend had these responsibilities. Not everyone is involved if it is only a matter of a possible breach of disciplinary code within the police. Furthermore, if it is a complaint which clearly has no substance, it is not reported to Crown counsel or to one of the Law Officers. Otherwise, as I said, a considerable number of complaints are personally examined by me or by my noble and learned Friend the Lord Advocate.

Of the 400 or so complaints, how many originated in Greenock and Port Glasgow, and of those how many led to disciplinary or criminal proceedings, being taken?

The hon. Gentleman has me at a loss. I am not able to tell hum immediately what the Greenock and Port Glasgow figures are, and I cannot tell him how many of them resulted in disciplinary proceedings, because the pursuit of disciplinary proceedings would be a matter for the assistant chief constable and the chief constable rather than my self. Those instructions would come from me only if there was a decision to proceed with criminal proceedings against a police officer.

Does my hon. and learned Friend accept that while one wants to see complaints made against the police properly and fully investigated, it is equally important, when frivolous or malicious complaints are made, that the full rigour of the law is taken against people who distract the police and other officers of justice from their proper duties?

Yes, indeed. The policy is clear. If at some stage it is identified that the complaint is in any way malicious or is a wilful effort to waste the time of the police, often to secure a balance, proceedings are taken against those who make the malicious complaints.

Procurator Fiscal (Kilmarnock)

27.

asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland if he plans to meet procurators fiscal in Kilmarnock to discuss matters of accommodation.

I have no immediate plans to discuss matters of accommodation with the procurator fiscal at Kilmarnock. His accommodation problems are well understood. The planned solution is to relocate his office in the old Kilmarnock sheriff court house once that building has been vacated.

Can the Solicitor-General for Scotland tell me whether the Crown Office has, therefore, approved the sketch plans for the refurbishment and redevelopment of the old Kilmarnock sheriff court? If it has done so, would he perhaps discuss with his colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, the possibilities of Government funding to give that project the go-ahead?

As I said in my original answer, it is certainly the intention to relocate. That is a policy which my noble and learned Friend the Lord Advocate and I warmly support. A considerable amount of work has already been done on that, but, as the hon. Gentleman appreciates, funds have not yet been committed to it. However, we certainly want to see the project go ahead.