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Exchange Rate

8. Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): If he will make a statement on the effect of the current exchange rate on business confidence in Scotland. [45578]

The Minister for Education and Industry, Scottish Office (Mr. Brian Wilson): I have frequent discussions with businesses in all sectors across Scotland and I am fully aware of the extremely competitive trading

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environment that companies face at home and overseas. However, the latest official data show that Scottish manufactured output rose by 7.7 per cent. in 1997.

Mr. Winterton: I am sure that the Minister is aware that exchange rates are influenced to an extent by the level of interest rates, and we have had about seven interest rate rises under the Labour Government. The House will be well aware of my particular concern about manufacturing and textiles. Is the Minister aware that many of his trade union colleagues are deeply concerned about the redundancies that are being declared in Scotland as a result of a range of factors--not least the exchange rate and the depressing state of the textile industry in Scotland, which is an important industry for the Scottish people?

Mr. Wilson: I recognise the hon. Gentleman's long-standing interest in the textile industry. I know that it is going through a difficult time and that, although there are many successful firms, others are suffering pressures which include the current level of the exchange rate. However, their interests and ours lie in the medium and long-term stability of the economy. If some hard decisions had been taken by the Tories in the last months of the previous Parliament, perhaps the textile and other industries would not be feeling so much pain now.

Mr. Frank Roy (Motherwell and Wishaw): On the question of business confidence, is my hon. Friend aware that I have asked for an inquiry into the running of Motherwell Enterprise and Development Company, whose board called in the liquidators a fortnight ago? Can the Minister give an assurance that local companies that find themselves victims of the MEDCO situation will receive all possible public help at this dangerous time?

Mr. Wilson: We are keeping in close touch with the MEDCO situation, as is the Lanarkshire development agency, which is our instrument of economic intervention in the area. Its first obligation is to ensure that the services and training provided by MEDCO are kept going, in the interests of my hon. Friend's constituents and the businesses in his constituency.

LORD CHANCELLOR'S DEPARTMENT

The Parliamentary Secretary was asked--

County Court Services

29. Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire): If he will make a statement on his policy towards the availability of county court services in rural areas. [45600]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): In considering the future of any county court, whether in a rural or an urban area, the Lord Chancellor must take into account a variety of factors, including accommodation; work load; the number of personal callers; the number of judicial sittings and costs. A further consideration is the alternative arrangements that could be made for court users after closure, as well as access to those facilities.

Mr. Luff: Does the Minister understand that in the Vale of Evesham there is real gratitude for his decision

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to grant a reprieve to Evesham magistrates court, but growing concern about the new proposal to close Evesham county court? Does he understand that the same arguments apply to both courts and that, whenever a rural court is threatened with closure, a rural community is threatened with losing its access to justice? Will he instruct the Court Service to withdraw the proposal immediately?

Mr. Hoon: Clearly, different principles apply as between magistrates courts and county courts, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that when, in March, the Lord Chancellor gave permission for public consultation on the future of Evesham county court, a careful process was started. A counter survey of users was carried out between 3 and 28 November and every single person attending the court was asked to complete a questionnaire. Some 246 questionnaires were completed and the results showed that the average daily number of personal callers to Evesham is 12. Of the 246 users, only 76 attended for court hearings and the rest made visits on business that could have been conducted over the telephone or by post.

Magistrates Courts Committees

(Devon and Cornwall)

30. Mr. Andrew George (St. Ives): What representations he has received on his proposals to amalgamate the magistrates courts committee in Cornwall with that in Devon. [45601]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): The Devon and Cornwall magistrates courts committees decided that a voluntary amalgamation of their two committees was desirable. Consultations took place in April, and 14 responses were received to their proposals. Those responses formed part of the MCCs' submission to the Lord Chancellor requesting an amalgamation. I should also mention that I have received one letter on the matter from a Member of Parliament--not the hon. Gentleman--and my officials have received one letter on the matter from a member of the public.

Mr. George: Does the Minister accept that, under the previous magistrates courts committees amalgamation proposals and the current proposals, although a case can be made for appropriate collaboration and partnership on a professional level, bringing together the magistrates courts committees will involve a great deal of travel and will remove magistrates from their local community, which might favour male and older members in taking up the magistracy and work against younger females?

Mr. Hoon: I do not accept any of that. The Government will be concerned to ensure that any amalgamation will result in a more efficient and effective service in the area in question while clearly retaining those aspects of the previous administration that will best serve the new committee. It is the Government's policy that an alignment between criminal justice agencies will lead to a greater consistency of approach throughout the country. Aligned magistrates courts committees, police forces and Crown Prosecution Service areas will assist in the speedier consideration and implementation of national criminal justice policy.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield): Does my hon. Friend understand--I say this in the kindest possible way--

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that what he has said about Cornwall echoed similar things said by his predecessor in a different Administration? However, in Cornwall, or even in the area that I represent, the result will be less justice delivered locally. I thought that a Labour Government would start turning back some of these so-called efficiencies and drives to better regulation so as to put justice back where it belongs, which is locally, in local communities.

Mr. Hoon: With the greatest possible respect to my hon. Friend, who indicated that he would be kind to me, may I be equally kind in response and say that I do not accept that any of our proposals are likely to lead to less justice delivered locally? We are considering the administration of the magistrates courts. By more effective administration of these courts we may be in a position to save money and thereby preserve local justice.

Terrorism

31. Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): What documents in relation to terrorism have been passed to the Lord Chancellor in the proper form under the Great Seal of the Realm. [45602]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): None.

Mr. Dalyell: Among the documents, is there the Organisation of African Unity's resolution of last night, to which I drew the Lord Chancellor's attention, which emphasises that non-compliance is in line with the judgment of the International Court of Justice and is also based on the fact that the resolutions violate paragraphs 3.33 and 36 of article 27 of the United Nations charter? In those circumstances, does my hon. Friend accept that because international law is involved it is not sufficient just to pass by on the other side of the road and say, "This is a matter for the Crown Office or for the Foreign Office lawyers"? The whole Government are involved. Would they therefore ask independent international lawyers, possibly in universities, for an opinion? It seems that our country is violating international law.

Mr. Hoon: I am sure that the document to which my hon. Friend has referred will be studied with great care by my colleagues in Scotland and in the Foreign Office. I emphasise to my hon. Friend that relevant Security Council resolutions require the Libyan accused to be surrendered for trial either in Scotland or in the United States. At the moment, the resolution to which my hon. Friend refers is not strictly consistent with the relevant Security Council position.

I emphasise also that the evidence in the Lockerbie case has been considered by four Lords Advocate from two different Administrations. Each of them has independently concluded that the evidence justifies the current proceedings.


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