§ Mr. Waller
To ask the President of the Board of Trade when the Arbitration Act 1996 will come into force; and if he will make a statement. 
§ Mr. Lang
I am pleased to announce that, before the House rose for the Christmas recess, I made an order to bring the main provisions of the Arbitration Act 1996 into force on 31 January 1997. I have decided not to bring sections 85 to 87 of the Act, which make certain special provisions for domestic arbitration agreements, into force. A draft order to repeal these sections will be laid before both Houses as soon as is practicable.
The new Act will apply to all arbitration proceedings which are commenced on or after 31 January, no matter when the agreement to arbitrate was made. The only exception is the provision at section 46(1)(b) of the Act, which enables the parties to agree that the dispute can be decided in accordance with provisions other than the law. This provision will apply only to new arbitration agreements made on or after 31 January 1997.
The commencement order which brings the Act into force makes certain transitional arrangements to deal with situations where applications in respect of arbitral proceedings are made to the courts around the time the Act comes into force.
Arrangements are being made to have new rules of court in place on 31 January to complement the new Act.
At the same time, I have laid before both Houses an order under section 91 of the Act to set at £3,000 the amount below which a consumer arbitration agreement will be considered unfair. The order will apply to England and Wales and Scotland. Apart from its provisions on consumer arbitration agreements the Act does not apply to Scotland. A similar order is being made for Northern Ireland.395W
The departmental advisory committee on arbitration law produced an excellent commentary on the Arbitration Bill in February of last year. A supplementary report is being prepared which will bring the commentary on the project up to date.
My Department is in the process of preparing a brochure on the Act which is being written with the needs of small business and consumers specifically in mind.