HC Deb 09 February 1993 vol 218 cc540-1W
Mr. Cousins

To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, pursuant to the answer to the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) of 18 November,Official Report, column 225, what improvements to court procedures for debt recovery are to be made; how they will be implemented; and by what date.

Mr. John M. Taylor

Both the Lord Chancellor and I are committed to a programme of reforms aimed at simplifying and streamlining debt recovery procedures. In my answer to the hon. Member for Leeds, Central on 25 January, I described many of the initiatives that have been introduced to date. These include the establishment of a computerised summons production centre in 1990 and of the county court bulk centre in March 1992. A package of more general measures was implemented in July 1991. This package included changes to the rules where cases may be commenced, provision for replies to summonses to be sent directly to plaintiffs and the devolution of some formerly judicial functions to experienced administrative staff. These and other reforms introduced in July 1991 are currently being evaluated and any improvements to procedures as a result of the evaluation will be implemented later this year. Most recently, in October 1992, reforms were made to the small claims procedure.

Further changes are planned. For example, it is recognised that the small claims limit, doubled to £1,000 in July 1991, is still relatively low. The limit will, therefore, remain under review with the intention to propose an increase as soon as practicable. Changes to the way in which administration orders are dealt with will be implemented in April 1993 and improvements to oral examination procedures are planned for later in the year. In addition to a forthcoming series of leaflets which explain the various methods of enforcement, it is intended to introduce a guidance leaflet which focuses specifically on the recovery of business debts through county courts.

Before the implementation of any significant changes to court procedures, there is always wide consultation. Courts, court user organisations, the judiciary, the legal profession and others are all given the opportunity to comment and their responses are carefully considered before any changes are introduced. Court staff are provided with training about the changes before they are introduced, and publicity material explaining the changes is produced for court staff and court users.