HC Deb 06 July 1978 vol 953 cc631-2
1. Mr. David Price

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what steps he proposes to take to make attendance at court as a witness less expensive, less onerous and less uncomfortable than it is at present.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Dr. Shirley Summerskill)

The rates of allowances which may be paid to witnesses in indictable criminal cases are increased periodically as appropriate. The police are advised to pay the same rates to prosecution witnesses in non-indictable cases.

With regard to comfort, if the hon. Member has any specific points in mind I shall be glad to have them examined.

Mr. Price

I thank the Minister for that reply. Is she aware that over the whole range of court attendance and court procedure the ordinary lay witness —I emphasise "lay witness"—receives the least consideration? Is she aware that that fact does not encourage members of the general public to come forward as witnesses? Will the Minister look at the matter again and try to improve conditions for witnesses?

Dr. Summerskill

I repeat that, if the hon. Gentleman can provide some specific information about specific courts, I shall look at it.

Mr. Edward Lyons

Is my hon. Friend aware that in the Crown Courts and in the High Court, since the Courts Act and the creation of many more judges, it is often the judges who have to stop work early—because there are so few cases in the lists—to prevent witnesses and jurors from hanging around too long? Is it not the fact that waiting time for witnesses and jurors has decreased substantially since the Courts Act 1971 was passed?

Dr. Summerskill

It is always difficult to assess the time any case will take in court. There is an unpredictable element, and witnesses cannot be warned how long they will need to be in court. I agree with the points that my hon. and learned Friend has made. With regard to expense and comfort, that raises the question of allowances and new buildings. I shall be happy to look at any particular case my hon. and learned Friend has in mind.