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Limitations of Actions

Volume 447: debated on Tuesday 13 June 2006

21. When the Government plan to implement the recommendations in the Law Commission’s 2001 report on limitations of actions. (76561)

Those are recommendations from the Law Commission’s report that the limitation period—the time within which one person may bring a civil action against another—ought to be made more flexible. The Government announced their acceptance in principle of the recommendations in 2002, subject to further consideration of some aspects of the Law Commission’s report. That work is now well advanced and it should end shortly. We will then seek a legislative opportunity to reform the law.

Four years is a long time to wait. My constituent, Kevin Young, was repeatedly sexually abused by a prison officer while he was in a youth offender institution 29 years ago. He wants the terms of the Limitation Act 1980 changed to make it easier for people like him to claim compensation. In a letter to me in March, Baroness Ashton said that it might be possible to use the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, if it is passed by Parliament, to change the law more quickly by statutory instrument. Will the Government will look into that?

Yes. It is correct to say that there is a fast-track provision in that Bill to introduce non-contentious recommendations by the Law Commission by statutory instrument, and that could be used to fast-track these proposals. I am very sympathetic to my hon. Friend and his constituent. People who suffered sex abuse when they were children and did not appreciate its impact until much later often find themselves outside the limitation period, and therefore suffer injustice. We will certainly look at using that Bill to bring such a proposal forward; otherwise we will seek an early legislative opportunity.

The Minister referred to the four years since the Government basically accepted the Law Commission’s recommendation. Would it help to produce parliamentary encouragement for the Government if a list of all the outstanding Law Commission recommendations was published each year, outlining what progress is being made and what blockages there are to fulfilling those steps towards greater justice?

I am sure that from time to time we do indicate the progress that is being made on Law Commission proposals, and of course the hon. Gentleman can, and will, ask questions of the Department about precisely that. The recommendations went far wider than the concern raised by my hon. Friend the Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley), as they also related to matters such as time limits on squatters’ rights, corruption, insolvency applications and compulsory purchase orders. A great deal of work has had to be done across a number of Departments, which explains the delay. My noble Friend Baroness Ashton, whose portfolio this relates to, and the Lord Chancellor are particularly keen to get on with implementing this change.