HC Deb 14 October 1996 vol 282 c462
31. Mr. Cohen

To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department what plans he has to make the small claims court more efficient and accessible to people on low incomes. [37958]

Mr. Streeter

The National Audit Office's report on the small claims procedure, published in March, disclosed that most people who had pursued small claims had found the procedure cheap and easy to use. Considering the NAO's finding, the Committee of Public Accounts made a number of recommendations aimed at improving the efficiency and accessibility of the small claims procedure. The Department has responded to the Committee's conclusions in the minutes of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, a copy of which has been placed in the Library.

Mr. Cohen

I welcome the Minister's answer, but as cuts in legal aid will damage the legal rights of those on low incomes, is it not incumbent on the Government to improve the efficiency of the small claims courts? Should not the Department be introducing measures immediately to increase financial limits, to improve the representation of those using the courts and to achieve a faster throughput of cases with swifter judgments?

Mr. Streeter

The hon. Gentleman is, uncharacteristically, out of touch. At the beginning of this year, we increased the limit for small claims from £1,000 to £3,000. We are monitoring that measure carefully. The hon. Gentleman is right: we want a small claims system that is cheap and easy to use. We believe that we have that, but we will monitor it carefully.

Mr. Harry Greenway

Does my hon. Friend agree that some people, who succeed in gaining awards through the small claims courts, do not obtain them because procedures are not enforced? Can something be done urgently to improve that?

Mr. Streeter

As usual, my hon. Friend makes a good point. We are considering a range of ways in which to improve the enforceability of judgments so that people who obtain a judgment in the courts are guaranteed to receive the money. We will report in due course.