HC Deb 04 July 1957 vol 572 cc1320-3

3.57 p.m.

Mr. Ronald Williams (Wigan)

I beg to move, in page 14, line 30, to leave out "one assessor" and to insert "an assessor or assessors".

The Deputy-Chairman

It would be for the convenience of the Committee if all four Amendments to Clause 9 were considered together.

Mr. R. Williams

It will also be for the convenience of the Committee if I refer at once to Section 88 of the County Courts Act, 1934, to see exactly the position in relation to assessors, apart from that in the Bill. Thus we shall be able to see clearly not only what we are doing in the Clause which we are now seeking to amend, but that we are bringing the law into line with experience which we have had on all sides of the Committee.

Section 88 of the County Courts Act, 1934, says: (I) In any proceedings the judge may, if he thinks fit on the application of any party, summon to his assistance, in such manner as may be prescribed, one or more persons of skill and experience in the matter to which the proceedings relate… (2) The remuneration of assessors for sitting as aforesaid shall be at such rate as may be prescribed and shall be costs in the proceedings unless otherwise ordered by the judge. (3) Where any person is proposed to be summoned as an assessor, objection to him, either personally or in respect of his qualification, may be taken by any party in the prescribed manner. It will be well known to hon. Members that the procedure has not been abused, but has been very useful in many cases. Indeed, for the judge to have sitting with him experienced men whose opinion he is not bound to accept, but who can be of great assistance to him in the technical questions which arise in workmen's compension, is particularly useful. It has resulted not only in justice being done, but in its appearing to be done in very many cases.

4.0 p.m.

In the Bill as it stands before the Committee today it is proposed in Clause 9 (4) that the county court judge, if no application is made on behalf of any party, shall himself have power to summon one assessor, but, unfortunately, the provision stops there. It does not go to the extent that Section 88 of the County Court Act does in envisaging that there might be circumstances in which it is desirable that there should be more than one assessor. In the particular cases which will arise under this Bill it must be self-evident that very often it will be highly desirable that a judge should have sitting with him not only a mining engineer, but possibly a surveyor, and that they should sit with him together.

We do not say that should be so in every case; we say it should be so in every case where the judge himself decides that such a course should be taken. If the judge himself were to decide, that would be the safeguard against frivolous applications. In fact, there need be no application if the judge himself were to decide.

We have to proceed by way of recommittal for the obvious reason that if as the Bill stood there was power to summon one assessor and now, were our Amendment accepted, there would be power to summon more than one, there would be an increase in expenditure. I put this to the right hon. Gentleman. In so tightly-drawn a Money Resolution for us to be able to provide for increased payment out of public funds and yet be within the terms of the Money Resolution is perhaps a strong argument in favour of something being done by way of amendment such as we have proposed. It would be an extremely difficult thing in so tightly-drawn a Money Resolution to pro- vide for any additional expenditure without falling foul of that Resolution.

As to the Money Resolution itself, it is my submission that we are within it, that we could, by this Amendment, give the judge that additional power which he could exercise in those cases where he considered it to be necessary. I may be wrong, but I was under the impression, when this subject was being discussed in Standing Committee, that the Government were not unfavourably disposed to the suggestion.

The Paymaster-General (Mr. Reginald Maudling)

As the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. R. Williams) said, this matter was discussed in Committee. I think that the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) made some reference to it. Since then, we have been considering the point with some care. As the hon. Member for Wigan said, it is a normal provision for more than one assessor to be available to a court at the instance of the parties, although, normally, I think that the costs fall on the parties and not on the State. In this case, provision is made for the assessor to be paid out of public funds because this was thought to be something assisting the small man.

It would seem unlikely in such cases that more than one assessor would be needed; in fact, I am informed that in no action which has taken place since the 1950 Act was passed have assessors been asked for or appointed. On the other hand, there is a lot in the point made by the hon. Member for Ince and reinforced by the hon. Member for Wigan. In all the circumstances, I am, therefore, prepared to accept this and the following three Amendments.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendments made: In line 37, at end insert "or assessors".

In line 38, leave out "an assessor is summoned" and insert: the court summons an assessor or assessors".

In line 40, after "assessor", insert "or assessors".—[Mr. R. Williams.]

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill reported, with Amendments; as amended (in the Standing Committee and on recommittal), considered.