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Given that prevention is much better than cure, and taking into account the points made by Mr Robson, I hope the minister will accept that the idea of funding free independent financial advice should become part of the remit of the committee. We have to examine not only what happens when people get into debt but why they get into debt. If we can prevent them getting into debt through advice at an early stage, perhaps we can prevent the use of diligence as a whole.
I have a couple of points on the statement. First, in relation to the involvement of parliamentary committees, would it be better if their members, rather than their conveners, were invited to serve on the working group? Conveners' work load is well known; my concern is that that might affect the number of meetings.
The second point relates to the minister's reference to the Justice and Home Affairs Committee's opinion that the member's bill should be passed immediately and have an implementation date as soon as possible thereafter. An amendment to change the implementation date to April 2000 was lodged yesterday by the sponsors of the member's bill. Does the minister think that that time scale is realistic? The date was chosen—and was mentioned by the Local Government Committee—because it is at the beginning of the next financial year for local authorities.
On the exemptions, Phil Gallie's point may seem trivial, but it is important. The diligence committee report from the Law Society of Scotland made the
Is the minister willing to issue some form of statement to the Deputy Minister for Local Government with a view to recognising that, as we speak, sheriff officers throughout Scotland are, in my opinion, trying to squeeze as much blood as possible before the removal of poindings and warrant sales? I do not accept the points that Phil Gallie made about sheriff officers. Poindings and warrant sales are a profitable pursuit for them—£70.15 every poinding, regardless of any money that is raised.
I have evidence in my office, as I am sure do other members, that sheriff officers are increasing the number of poindings in anticipation of them being removed in the near future. Will the minister issue an appeal to local authorities to examine their debt recovery methods with a view to instructing sheriff officers to use other methods than poinding and warrant sales, as is the case in West Dunbartonshire?
We have mentioned the fact that sheriff officers are independent officers of court. Will the overall review of diligence also examine the role of sheriff officers vis-à-vis their involvement in debt recovery as a whole? They are often linked to rich and powerful debt recovery agencies, which are limited companies. I hope that the review will examine that role and decide whether it is acceptable that it should continue.