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25. Mr. James Wray (Glasgow, Baillieston): What recent advice she has given on legislation relating to euthanasia. [2603]

The Advocate-General for Scotland (Dr. Lynda Clark): I give legal advice on a range of matters as and when required. The Government have no plans to introduce legislation relating to euthanasia. In Scotland the matter is devolved to the Scottish Executive, and I understand that they have no plans to introduce legislation relating to euthanasia, either.

Mr. Wray: There is much confusion in Scotland with regard to euthanasia. Neither Ministers in Scotland nor the Cabinet Office at Westminster understand where responsibility lies. It is not dealt with, along with surrogacy and abortion, under the part of schedule 5 to the Scotland Act that covers health and medicines, so the rule of thumb is used, in case of biotourism. As the criminal law, including the law with regard to murder, is devolved, is not euthanasia, too, a devolved matter?

The Advocate-General: My hon. Friend is correct. The criminal law, including that with regard to murder, is devolved, and in certain circumstances the taking of

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human life will be murder—or it could be culpable homicide. Euthanasia, as defined by Scots law, is not acceptable and is contrary to law. That is a devolved matter for the Scottish Parliament.


The Parliamentary Secretary was asked—

Asylum Seekers

29. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): What assessment she has made of the adequacy of legal representation available to asylum seekers. [2608]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Ms Rosie Winterton): The Legal Services Commission and the community legal service partnerships continually monitor and assess the adequacy of legal service provision available to asylum seekers, including legal representation. We believe that there is now generally adequate provision throughout England and Wales, but will look to meet any local difficulties that may arise.

Ann Clwyd: I welcome my hon. Friend to her new position, and wish her a long and happy life at the Dispatch Box. However, I have to disagree with what she has just said, because my experience in visiting Cardiff prison recently and talking to asylum seekers suggests that their legal representation is extremely inadequate. I had intended to ask the Department whether, as so many asylum seekers are being dispersed outside the London area, any progress had been made in building up a network of specialists in asylum law throughout the United Kingdom. Certainly asylum seekers in Cardiff prison are inadequately represented.

Ms Winterton: I know that my hon. Friend is extremely concerned about the situation in Cardiff. I read the powerful points that she made in her recent Adjournment debate, and I agree that the Government must ensure that asylum seekers, wherever they are, have proper legal representation. We have taken on board her suggestion that there should be a network of advisers throughout the country. One of the recent improvements that we have made is to ensure that only legal advisers who are specialists in asylum law can give advice to asylum seekers. We have also increased the number of immigration practitioners throughout the UK, looking particularly at areas to which asylum seekers have been dispersed where there may not have been a tradition of such legal advice. There were particular problems in Cardiff prison, and a number of changes have been made following a visit from the Legal Services Commission—but if my hon. Friend believes that problems are still outstanding, she should write to me and I shall look into them myself.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet): I, too, warmly welcome the Minister to her new post and wish her well.

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Bearing in mind the Government's policy of firmer, fairer and faster reception of asylum seekers, is it better that initially and temporarily, they should be held in prisons or reception centres?

Ms Winterton: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind welcome.

Asylum seekers are held in prison only as a last resort. We believe that the changes that we have made will assist in speeding up the process.

Putting people in detention centres as soon as they arrive, as the Conservative party suggests, is unworkable and unaffordable. However, we hope to lessen the number of those who are detained in prisons when other centres open later in the summer.

Immigration Appeals

30. Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): How he plans to deal with the backlog of immigration appeals; and if he will make a statement. [2609]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Ms Rosie Winterton): Immigration appeals have benefited from the significant resources that the Government have invested in improving the appeals process. Waiting times in the Immigration Appellate Authority have reduced considerably from more than 40 weeks at the end of March 2000 to less than 20 weeks at the same point this year.

Officials from the Immigration and Nationality Directorate, the IAA and the Lord Chancellor's Department continue to work closely together to ensure that there are no undue delays in dealing with immigration appeals.

Fiona Mactaggart: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer and welcome her to her new post.

I am pleased to hear the extent to which the processing of immigration appeals is being speeded up. However, the same cannot be said about asylum appeals. What progress is being made in dealing with the 65,000 asylum cases that are being moved into the appeals system?

Ms Winterton: I thank my hon. Friend for her kind remarks. She is right that immigration and asylum appeals should be tackled as quickly as possible, and that immigration work should not suffer through increased asylum appeals. The latest assessment shows that in approximately 52,000 asylum cases, an appeal has been lodged with the IND, but they remain in the appeals system. In the past year, we have taken several steps to tackle that problem and ensure that asylum and immigration appeals move through the system quickly.

First, we have increased the number of courtrooms. Secondly, we have more than doubled the number of asylum adjudicator sitting days. We have also increased the number of staff in the IND who prepare and present appeals, and the number of interpreters.

I hope that my hon. Friend will welcome the fact that those measures mean that average waiting times for asylum and immigration appeals have more than halved

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in the past year. However, I assure her that we shall continue to consider all options for tackling appeals quickly.

Human Rights Act

31. Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire): If he will make a statement on the impact of the Human Rights Act 1998 on the future of magistrates courts. [2610]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Mr. Michael Wills): As the hon. Gentleman knows, implementation of the Act is at an early stage. It came into effect only in October last year. It would therefore be premature to draw any firm conclusions now. However, magistrates courts committees have provided data for the period between October 2000 to March 2001. That shows the Human Rights Act has had no significant impact on the work load of the courts or the infrastructure required.

Mr. Paterson: I welcome the Minister to his new post, and I hope that he will not emulate the inept complacency of his predecessor, who flatly refused to take on board the imminent catastrophe that faced magistrates courts after Human Rights Act was passed. In Oswestry, £350,000 of taxpayers' money was spent on modernising the magistrates court over five years. Now, £197,450 will have to be spent to make it comply with the Human Rights Act, which deems it an infringement of human dignity to be seen in any public part of the court in handcuffs. Does the Minister agree that if central Government cause a problem, they should provide the funds to solve it?

Mr. Wills: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words of welcome. I am afraid that I have to disagree with almost everything else that he said. Briefly—

Mr. Paterson: Tell me what is wrong, then.

Mr. Wills: I will, if I may, tell the hon. Gentleman precisely what he said that was wrong. First, he was wrong about my distinguished predecessor, in whose footsteps I am very proud to follow. Secondly, there is no imminent catastrophe—

Mr. Paterson: There is!

Mr. Wills: If the hon. Gentleman really wants to be reassured—

Mr. Paterson: Come to Shropshire.

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) must calm down.

Mr. Wills: Mr. Speaker, I am trying extremely hard to bring some comfort to the hon. Gentleman, but he is obviously determined to get over-excited about this. I accept his kind invitation: I would be delighted to come to Shropshire, because I would be able to explain to him in situ—he obviously does not want to listen to me here—that there is no imminent catastrophe as a result of the

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Human Rights Act. There is no evidence of such a catastrophe and, on the Labour Benches, we believe in proceeding on the basis of evidence.

Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and West Devon): I welcome both the new Ministers to their appointments and I congratulate the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Jane Kennedy), on her promotion. I would also like to pay tribute to the former Member for Wyre Forest, who was a conscientious and knowledgeable Minister.

The Government commissioned Bristol university to produce a report entitled "The Judiciary in the Magistrates Courts", which was published in December last year. For what purpose did the Government commission that research? Do the Government have proposals for the lay magistracy and, if so, what are they?

Mr. Wills: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words, and for those—by contrast with those of the hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson)—about my predecessors. He will be aware, with his distinguished background in the law, that we are awaiting publication of the Auld report. It would be premature to say too much until my colleagues and I have read it, as it may well have implications for the future of the lay magistracy. We have made it very clear, as has Lord Justice Auld, that we see a valuable role for the lay magistracy, and we expect that to continue.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston): I do not know what happened in Shropshire, but in the adjacent county of Cheshire there was a very welcome and sophisticated programme of training for magistrates before the introduction of the Human Rights Act. May I seek my hon. Friend's assurance that that training will also be available to newly appointed magistrates? It would take additional time and resources, and would need to be like that provided for existing magistrates.

Mr. Wills: My hon. Friend is quite right—he so often is. The catastrophe that the hon. Member for North Shropshire is so keen to predict has been avoided because we have prepared extremely carefully and made sure that everyone involved got proper training. I can assure my hon. Friend that we will continue to provide whatever training is necessary.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): May I add my congratulations to the two new Ministers on their appointments? The Parliamentary Secretary, the hon. Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton), has been promoted from being a Parliamentary Private Secretary, and the other Parliamentary Secretary, the hon. Member for North Swindon (Mr. Wills), was previously our Minister for patriotism. I am not sure whether he regards his change of role as a promotion or not. In any event, we welcome him to his Department.

The closure of magistrates courts in every county is something for which the hon. Gentleman and his Government have to take responsibility. It is not good enough for him to say, as his predecessors did, "It is up to local magistrates courts committees." He must recognise that the courts are closing, precisely as my hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) said, because they are being told that they cannot afford

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the cost of the modifications resulting from the Human Rights Act. Courts round the country have to be modified and, because the Government will not pay for the modifications, those courts will close. Such closure is the denial of local justice by stealth. Will the Minister address that problem which his Government have created?

Mr. Wills: Again, I suppose that I should be grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his words of welcome. I should add that he will continue to hear from me on national identity.

Clearly, the hon. Gentleman has some difficulty understanding how the system operates and I look forward to educating him a little more about how it works over Question Times to come. Of course, as the hon Gentleman knows extremely well, the provision of justice through magistrates courts is a matter for local magistrates courts committees. I am glad that he mentioned money, because we are proud of our record in funding the modernisation of the court service. We are proud of what we have done to ensure that magistrates courts deliver the system of justice to which the public are entitled.

The hon. Gentleman may be interested to know that, in the past four years, we have increased by 12.8 per cent. the money available to magistrates courts to modernise. He keeps referring to the closure of magistrates courts. Of course some magistrates courts committees will decide that, in the interests of an efficient, effective and secure system of justice, some magistrates courts will close. That is inevitable and we make no apology for it. What matters is the service that the public receive and we shall ensure that they get the service that they deserve.

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