HC Deb 18 November 1996 vol 285 cc690-1
29. Mr. Llwyd

To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department what is the current position with regard to the evaluation of the Woolf report; and if he will make a statement. [2864]

Mr. Streeter

On 31 October, I placed in the Library a copy of the Lord Chancellor's strategy for implementing Lord Woolf s recommendations. It proposes that the major elements of the reforms—the fast track, the multitrack and the new cost regime—will be in place by October 1998. The new civil procedure rules to underpin the changes will also be in place in time for implementation.

Mr. Llwyd

I thank the Minister for that answer. Can he please assure me that there will be no further cuts in the availability of services in county court centres and trial centres in Wales? I have in mind in particular the Welsh language provision that is available in several county court centres; at present, we are on minimum cover, and any further cuts would be extremely damaging.

Mr. Streeter

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. It is not expected that our reforms to civil procedures will threaten county courts in Wales. I assure him that the Woolf reforms will build on the proposals for Welsh language provision in the civil justice system. He has probably already seen the literature, not only in English but in Welsh, that my Department has produced on alternative dispute resolution.

Sir Donald Thompson

Many small magistrates courts in market towns have disappeared, which has taken away a cadre of solicitors that was important to those towns. Will the Woolf report be used to re-establish some of those local centres?

Mr. Streeter

My hon. Friend is a champion of the interests of his constituents—now as he always has been. The Woolf reforms do not touch on the provision of magistrates courts. Decisions to close them are a matter for local magistrates courts committees, which always take soundings and enter into extensive consultation before taking any such decision.

Mr. Boateng

When will the Minister make public the costings of the Woolf report? What resources are to be applied to meeting its resource implications? Does he recognise that in the county courts, which will have to play a major part in its implementation, staff are being laid off and that there is widespread concern among district and county court judges? How can the country take his protestations seriously when ordinary people such as those mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) are not getting the justice to which they are entitled?

Mr. Streeter

I hope that the hon. Gentleman feels better now that he has got that off his chest. Every time he speaks, he appears to commit the Labour party to yet more spending. He may be assured that we will commit the resources necessary to implement the Woolf reforms. I also look to him to support the Civil Procedure Bill in due course.