HC Deb 21 January 1974 vol 867 cc1199-201
45. Mr. Clinton Davis

asked the Attorney-General if he will make a statement concerning the operation of the small claims arbitration procedure in the county courts.

46. Mrs. Sally Oppenheim

asked the Attorney-General how many small claims have been brought under the small claims arbitration provisions in the county courts since their inception.

The Attorney-General (Sir Peter Rawlinson)

During the first three months of the operation of the arbitration scheme to 28th December, 1973, 426 cases were referred for arbitration by the court and 137 of these were disposed of. In many other cases requests for arbitration are made by plaintiffs or defendants but do not fall to be considered because a default judgment is obtained or the case is disposed of summarily on a pre-trial review.

Mr. Davis

I thank the Attorney-General for those figures. Is he aware that there are complaints which fall into three categories about the initial operation of the scheme? The first is that some courts are applying the rules of evidence too rigidly and too formally. Secondly, it is complained that some people who wish to go to arbitration under the scheme are not given the requisite attention in certain courts and court offices. The third complaint is that some courts are refusing to operate the scheme.

The Attorney-General

I shall bear in mind the points which the hon. Gentleman has raised and I shall pass them on to my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor. I have not heard of the last of the three points which the hon. Gentleman has raised. If he is prepared to give me particulars, I shall see that they are examined.

Mrs. Oppenheim

Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that the numbers are disappointingly low? Does it not appear that an insufficient number of people are availing themselves of the scheme? Will he say at what point he will draw any conclusions as to whether the scheme is a success so that my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Trade and Consumer Affairs can consider an alternative method of small claims arbitration?

The Attorney-General

I share my hon. Friend's disappointment, perhaps, about the numbers. There was some difficulty about publicity in that the Stationery Office booklet was delayed until the end of October. My right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor is being supplied with the figures and is receiving a sample based on the monthly reports. He then proposes to hold a conference of registrars to discuss and examine the position. I shall bear in mind what my hon. Friend has said.

Mr. S. C. Silkin

The Attorney-General referred to the Stationery Office booklet which was delayed to some extent. What steps have been taken to ensure that the booklet is disseminated to all those who might make use of this procedure so that they are aware that it exists?

The Attorney-General

One proposal which has been put forward is that in appropriate cases hon. Members might care to mention the scheme to their constituents and give them an explanatory leaflet when they attend their surgeries. I think that that suggestion would be useful and I shall see that it is carried out.