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The Advocate-General was asked--

Football Transfer Fees

25. Mr. Jim Murphy (Eastwood): If she will make a statement on representations she has received on the European Commission's proposed reform of European law relating to football transfer fees. [146204]

The Advocate-General for Scotland (Dr. Lynda Clark): I have received no such representations. However, I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport is actively involved in this area.

Mr. Murphy: I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that answer, which will no doubt fill the football fans and football players of Scotland with a great sense of reassurance.

Despite the excellent efforts of Craig Brown, Scotland currently lies 25th in the FIFA world rankings, a mere four places above Trinidad and Tobago. The FIFA general secretary said today that a new deal on transfer fees will be announced within weeks. I ask my hon. and learned Friend to use her influence so that, when asked for a legal interpretation, she will ensure that football's unique position is respected. In that way, we can ensure that Craig Brown and the Scotland coach have a generation of young talent for years to come. If we abolish transfer fees, my fear is that up to 10 Scottish clubs will go bankrupt or part time within the next five years.

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The Advocate-General for Scotland: If someone beats a path to my door seeking my advice, I will do my best to give a legal opinion, if appropriate. So far as giving help, comfort and support is concerned, I think that the Prime Minister and other Members the Government have already made it plain that they support a system that will assist smaller clubs, promote the development of young players, stabilise the sport and encourage those in it. The junior clubs in my hon. Friend's constituency will, I am sure, be very grateful for his support in this matter.


The Secretary of State was asked--


3. Mr. Mohammad Sarwar (Glasgow, Govan): When she next plans to visit Govan to inspect projects which have attracted EU regional aid. [146182]

The Minister of State, Scotland Office (Mr. George Foulkes): I hope to have the opportunity to visit my hon Friend's constituency to see projects that have benefited from EU structural funds, especially the national science centre, which was awarded a grant of £20 million--the largest single award in the west of Scotland from structural funds.

Mr. Sarwar: I join my colleagues in congratulating my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Scotland Office on their appointments. I pay tribute to their predecessors, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, North and Bellshill (Dr. Reid), now the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson), now the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, for their support in securing Govan shipyard and the shipbuilding industry on the River Clyde. They will always be welcome in my Govan constituency.

As my hon. Friend the Minister points out, the Glasgow science centre received £20 million from EU development funds. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State visit the centre at the earliest opportunity?

Mr. Foulkes: The Secretary of State and I will both be happy to do so. My hon. Friend offered congratulations on the work of our predecessors--and rightly so--but he, above all, deserves a great tribute for his excellent work as a constituency Member. During my 21 years as a Member of the House--do not say that it is too long-- I have rarely seen such an active and well organised campaign as that run by my hon. Friend. He deserves great tribute. It is thanks to such campaigns that unemployment is the lowest it has been for 25 years and employment is the highest it has been for 40 years. That bears constant repetition to Opposition Members.

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The Parliamentary Secretary was asked--

Magistrates Courts (Derbyshire)

26. Mr. Mark Todd (South Derbyshire): What the (a) original estimate was and (b) latest estimated cost is of modernising Derbyshire's magistrates courts. [146207]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Jane Kennedy): I understand that my hon. Friend is referring to the private finance initiative contract for new courthouses in Derbyshire that is currently being negotiated. The original estimate of the procurement costs in 1997 was £500,000. It is now £1.5 million.

Mr. Todd: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. The cost of that bloated project will increasingly be levied on the council tax payers of Derbyshire. Those in my constituency will measure up the increased bill that they receive against the fact that the local courthouse in Swadlincote will be closed and they will face a bus journey of more than an hour to reach the new super-court in Derby. How does my hon. Friend suggest that that should be explained to them?

Jane Kennedy: As my hon. Friend is aware, the Derbyshire magistrates courts committee made a determination to close the courthouse at Swadlincote and to transfer the work to Derby. As for work on the new court in Derby and the cost of the project, neither officials of the Department nor those of Derbyshire county council or Derby city council believe that work on the shire hall, which is to be brought back into use, could have been undertaken at a lesser--or no--cost. It is a grade 1 listed building of great antiquity. English Heritage strongly advocates its re-use for courts. On occasions, Mr. Speaker, I feel that I cannot win on any account.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): I am sure that you, Mr. Speaker, will agree that the hon. Lady brings tremendous diligence and skill to her brief. Some of us believe that she wins every time. Will she assure the House that she will bring to the administration of the magistrates courts of West Sussex the same diligence and skill that she applies in Derbyshire?

Jane Kennedy: I thank the hon. Gentleman and can give him that assurance.

Sentencing Standards

27. Mr. Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington): If he will make a statement on the application of common sentencing standards in England. [146208]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Mr. David Lock): Sentencing is a matter for the courts. Parliament lays down the parameters within which sentencers must work, but it is then for the courts to decide on the sentence in individual cases. Sentencing guidelines are laid down by the Court of Appeal and the Government have set up the sentencing advisory panel to provide advice for the Court of Appeal when it proposes

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to lay down such guidelines. Additionally, the Magistrates Association publishes guidance to assist magistrates with sentencing.

Mr. Brake: I listened carefully to that response. The hon. Gentleman may be aware of a case in my constituency in which someone was found guilty of indecently assaulting a young girl but received no prison sentence. In considering those guidelines, will he look again at common sentencing standards across England to ensure that such crimes receive suitable punishment?

Mr. Lock: I am not aware of the individual case to which the hon. Gentleman refers. It would clearly be inappropriate to comment on the sentence imposed and, if there is an appeal, the matter must be referred to the Attorney-General. However, the Home Office is assisting the Magistrates Association to achieve greater consistency by supplying it with figures for each bench showing the sentencing patterns for selected offences and how they vary by petty sessional area. It is hoped that that will be a further inducement to magistrates to maintain consistency--while, of course, recognising the features of the individual cases that come before them.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): Is not it a fact that a large proportion of crimes is committed by a small number of people who commit crimes over and again, yet the "three strikes and you're out" legislation that the Government enacted has not been applied in a single case? If the judges will not apply the law, will the Government reconsider it? What is the point of passing laws when judges are so evidently out of touch with what is required?

Mr. Lock: It does not come well from the hon. Gentleman's lips to criticise judges, who, by and large, do an extremely good job. Neither is it fair to say that the courts are too lenient in sentencing. Most people base such comments on what appears in the press; they do not have the benefit of hearing all the evidence or reading the reports. It is interesting to note that, when members of the press were asked to look at a case study and reach a sentence in a recent exercise, they arrived at a range of sentences somewhat more lenient than the courts would have imposed in those cases. I invite the hon. Gentleman to be extremely careful when criticising judges for being too lenient.

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