asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what plans he has formulated to provide an alternative system to the present functions of the Burgh and Justice of the Peace Courts, when the proposed local government reform begins to operate in Scotland.
As my right hon. Friend said in reply to a Question by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Lieut.-Col. Colin Mitchell) on 27th April, 1971, he and my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate consider that the existing justice of the peace system should be developed to meet the need for lay summary justice when local government is reorganised. A working party is examining the practical problems involved and my right hon. Friend hopes to receive its report in the autumn.—[Vol. 816. c. 92–3.]
I am pleased to hear that reply. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that many people do not agree that Burgh and Justice of the Peace Courts are inferior courts presided over by amateur enthusiasts and does he not go along with the view that our lay magistrates do a good job in dealing with petty misdemeanours?
Would the Minister bear in mind the successful use of stipendiary magistrates in the City of Glasgow to relieve the magistrates of some of the heavy burdens of office? When formulating the new situation in the context of the local government reform provisions—which will reduce the number of people available to serve—will he consider the use of stipendiary magistrates without prejudice to the use of lay magistrates?
I agree that the use of stipendiary magistrates in certain areas can be very useful. My right hon. Friend contemplated this possibility in a statement on this matter in April. No doubt the working party will give further advice on this point.
Since this is an important aspect of local government, would the hon. Gentleman discuss the matter with any of his colleagues who have any influence in this sphere to ensure that the House has an opportunity to debate the report when it is published?
The working party will give advice on the practical problems which are involved following decisions announced by my right hon. Friend a year ago. I shall look at what the hon. Gentleman said.