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Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 9:31 am on 8th June 2000.

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Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat 9:31 am, 8th June 2000

Mr Sheridan has raised a number of points, which I hope I can cover. As I said in reply to Roseanna Cunningham, we invited conveners to be members of the committee because they are closely involved in the matter. If, for example, she felt that it would be helpful to include another SNP member of the Justice and Home Affairs Committee, I would be happy to talk to her about that. As for the conveners of the other two committees, I have yet to hear their responses—and I had better not prejudge what they will say to me.

Mr Sheridan also mentioned Euan Robson's point about providing advice to prevent people from getting into debt in the first place. That is important, and the problem of multiple debt and debt arrangement schemes should be considered by the committee in its wider review of diligence. That point was well made.

Mr Sheridan asked about the amendment on April 2000 that he and his sponsors have lodged. I repeat that we are committed to the abolition of poinding and warrant sales and to replacing that system with a modern, humane and effective diligence against movable property. It is self-evident that that alternative is not yet available. It is unlikely, if one is being realistic, that it will be available 10 months from now, as the working party will have to conduct the necessary consultation process and the legislation will have to be passed. We will therefore introduce legislation no later than parliamentary year 2000-02. Mr Sheridan's amendment will be debated properly at stage 2 of the bill, but I hope that members will agree that allowing the working party to complete its task is the best way forward. The working party should get under way this month and is expected to meet regularly, so there cannot be any foot-dragging on this matter.

The precision with which the maximum number of television sets or microwaves is decided will be reflected in the regulations and the relevant committees will have an opportunity to consider that.

As I said to Mr Gallie, there are regulations covering sheriff officers. They are officers of court and are subject to control of court and regulated by statutory instrument. All aspects of the diligence system will be considered in the review, including those regulations, and the role of sheriff officers will therefore be addressed.

Mr Sheridan will know that the Executive is already pursuing the recommendations of "It Pays to Pay—improving council tax collection in Scotland", which will ensure that people in financial hardship are not subject to poinding and warrant sales. We are trying to develop a new protocol covering working arrangements between councils and sheriff officers, which should be available later this year. It is important that councils gather information on people in debt before instructing diligence and should be in a position to offer debt management and counselling arrangements, including increased use of direct reductions from benefit. We will encourage councils to do that.