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Belfast Agreement

Mr. McNamara: To ask the Prime Minister what response he has made to the request of the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights to be consulted about the structure and scope of bodies established as part of the Belfast Agreement. [56298]

The Prime Minister: I refer my hon. Friend to the reply I gave to him on 2 November 1998, Official Report, column 403.

LORD CHANCELLOR'S DEPARTMENT

Legal Profession (Recruitment)

35. Mr. Sheerman: To ask the Minister of State, Lord Chancellor's Department, what targets he has set to broaden recruitment within the legal profession. [56139]

Mr. Hoon: Recruitment to the legal professions is primarily a matter for the professions themselves. Both the Bar Council and the Law Society have adopted policies designed to ensure that entrance to the profession is based on merit alone. This is something which the Government strongly support.

Rights of Audience

36. Dr. Cable: To ask the Minister of State, Lord Chancellor's Department, when he proposes to grant solicitors full rights of audience; and if those rights will be extended to barristers who have left private practice and are now employed. [56140]

Mr. Hoon: The Government published a consultation paper in June which set out our plans to extend the rights of audience both of solicitors in private practice and of

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employed barristers and solicitors. Extending rights of audience will require primary legislation, and I hope we will bring proposals before Parliament at an early opportunity.

Law Centres

37. Mr. Mitchell: To ask the Minister of State, Lord Chancellor's Department what proposals he has for establishing law centres in areas which do not at present have them. [56142]

Mr. Hoon: Yesterday 2 November 1998, my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor outlined our proposals for a Community Legal Service, which will aim to ensure that every area will have access to a comprehensive network of legal service providers, of consistently good quality, so that people with actual or potential legal problems are able to find the information and help they need. I hope Law Centres will play a full part in the Community Legal Service. A consultation document on the detail of our proposals for the Community Legal Service will be published early next year.

Judiciary (Criminal Investigations)

38. Mr. Mackinlay: To ask the Minister of State, Lord Chancellor's Department, what is his Department's policy on the suspension with pay of members of the judiciary, pending criminal investigations. [56143]

Mr. Hoon: Each case must be considered on its own merits. However the Lord Chancellor would not normally consider it appropriate for a judge who was the subject of serious criminal proceedings to continue to sit pending the outcome of the case. Where the salary of a judge in such a position is protected by statute (as with Circuit Judges) salary must by law continue to be paid in full throughout this period. Such salary protection which prevents the salary of serving judges from being reduced or withheld whilst they continue to hold office is a vital part of securing the independence of the judiciary. Judges may be removed from office only in limited circumstances and subject to the relevant statutory provision. The Lord Chancellor may remove a Circuit Judge only on the grounds of misbehaviour or incapacity.

Ministerial Meetings (Law Society)

39. Mr. Jack: To ask the Minister of State, Lord Chancellor's Department, how many times in the last 12 months he has met representatives of the Law Society; and what was discussed. [56144]

Mr. Hoon: In the last 12 months I have met representatives of the Law Society in a formal capacity on 7 occasions, to discuss conditional fees and legal aid, small claims, standard fees, the legal aid reforms, legal aid remuneration and the proposed changes to ancillary relief.

Family Law Act 1996

Mr. Leigh: To ask the Minister of State, Lord Chancellor's Department if the first six information meeting pilots on the Family Law Act 1996 have been completed; and if he will place in the Library his Department's assessment of the success of the pilots. [56949]

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Mr. Hoon: Three of the first six pilots closed in March 1998. Independent research relating to these and later pilots is still continuing.

Marriage Support Services

Mr. Leigh: To ask the Minister of State, Lord Chancellor's Department what initiatives his Department has taken to assist marriage support services. [56950]

Mr. Hoon: The Lord Chancellor's Department currently provides core funding to six marriage support and research organisations. For the financial year 1998-99 further funding has been given to eight pilot and research projects. Nearly £3 million has been allocated this year. The Lord Chancellor has commissioned an independent review of the Department's funding of marriage support. Details will be announced shortly. The results of the review will assist the Lord Chancellor in developing a strategy for the effective allocation of resources to marriage support services.

SCOTLAND

Economy

11. Mr. Jack: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what studies his Department has made of the effects on the Scottish economy of the lower growth assumptions for the UK economy in 1998-99. [56111]

Mr. Dewar: The most recent independent forecast from Business Strategies Limited, published last month, suggests that growth in Scottish GDP will be slightly below UK growth in 1998 but will exceed UK growth in 1999. Unemployment in Scotland continues to fall, and employment to rise.

Incomes

13. Mr. David Marshall: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland how many people he estimates in Scotland have household income below half of the national average; and what steps he is taking to alleviate the impact of poverty. [56114]

Mr. Macdonald: We estimate that some one million people in Scotland have incomes below half the national average. The Government are determined to tackle poverty and promote social inclusion and we are doing so by a range of policies which are designed, first, to support families; secondly, to provide opportunities for all who can to work; and thirdly, to provide security and protection for the most vulnerable.

Bankruptcy

14. Dr. Lynda Clark: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what plans he has to review the operation of bankruptcy law in Scotland. [56115]

Mr. McLeish: The Scottish Office is considering responses to a consultation paper on Apparent Insolvency which proposed amendments to the Bankruptcy (Scotland) Act 1985; and has recently held a follow up consultation on Protected Trust Deeds.

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Government Spending

15. Mr. Blunt: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what estimate he has made of total per capita Government expenditure in Scotland in 1999-2000. [56116]

Mr. Dewar: The latest available estimate for Government spending per capita in Scotland is for 1995-96. The figure in that year was £6,010.

Scottish Parliament

16. Mr. Swayne: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what plans he has to ensure that Scottish service men are able to vote in the elections to the Scottish Parliament. [56117]

Mr. McLeish: Scottish service men and women are already provided for under existing legislation. We see no need for this to be amended. Provided that they have made a service declaration to appear on the register in Scotland they will be eligible to vote by proxy no matter where in the world they will be at the time of the elections to the Scottish Parliament.

17. Mr. Nicholas Winterton: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what assessment he has made of the impact of the future Scottish Parliament on his accountability to hon. Members. [56118]

Mr. McLeish: The establishment of the Scottish Parliament will alter the range of issues for which the Secretary of State for Scotland is responsible. The Government intend to submit evidence to the Procedure Committee for its inquiry into the procedural consequences of devolution shortly.

27. Mrs. Gorman: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what estimate he has made of the cost of establishing a Scottish Parliament. [56130]

Mr. McLeish: The estimated construction costs of the building at Holyrood will be around £55 million, including site acquisition costs and demolition costs but not including fees and VAT. The actual cost will depend on the final design, and the price of construction, which will be determined by competitive tender.

The annual running costs of the Scottish Parliament will depend on a number of factors yet to be settled including the hours of operation. The current estimate is around £30 million.


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