Previous Section Index Home Page

Community Legal Service

Mr. Kidney: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department what research his Department (a) has commissioned and (b) intends to commission to assist him in evaluating the effectiveness of the introduction of (i) the new civil court rules and (ii) the Community Legal Service in widening access to justice. [130731]

Mr. Lock: Three research projects have been commissioned which fall within the first topic area: Monitoring the Rise in the Small Claims Limit; Cross- Jurisdictional Issues in Case Management; The Impact of Conditional Fees on the Selection, Handling and Outcomes of Personal Injury Cases. In addition, the Court Service conducts locally run customer satisfaction surveys at courts and tribunals in a two-year rolling cycle. The surveys identify trends and changes in customer requirements as well as providing information on delivery of service. The Department is currently discussing the possibility of commissioning a research project which might look at further improvements to case management and the use of joint experts in court proceedings.

18 Jul 2000 : Column: 157W

A project to examine Local Legal Need, which aims to measure the effectiveness of the Community Legal Service, is being undertaken by Legal Services Research Centre. Currently, there are no plans to commission further research on the Community Legal Service.

The Department carries out a review of its requirements in formulating its priorities for research in its annual programme of work. This is currently under way.

Dr. Kumar: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department if he will make a statement on the relationship between the community legal services and debt and money advice services. [131210]

Mr. Lock: The provision of debt and money advice will be an important part of the local networks of legal services we are developing, and which will be supported by local Community Legal Service Partnerships.

For example, there are 430 solicitors' firms and 171 not-for-profit agencies with contracts from the Legal Services Commission (LSC) to provide debt advice services. In addition, the LSC is running six pilot projects to look at alternative methods of delivering debt advice, including outreach services in Carlisle, Stoke-on-Trent and Birmingham, and telephone services in Sheffield, Norfolk and Northumberland.

Advisory Committee on Public Records

Mr. Cohen: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department what the current composition and role is of the Advisory Committee on Public Records; who appoints its members and for how long they remain on the Committee; how frequently the Committee meets and when it last met; who decides which matters are on its agenda; how its activities will be affected by the implementation of the Freedom of Information Bill; and if he will make a statement. [130686]

Mr. Lock: The current composition of the Advisory Council on Public Records is as follows:

18 Jul 2000 : Column: 158W

The role of the Council is set out in the Public Records Act 1958 s1(2), as being:

The Council's current terms of reference were set by the Lord Chancellor on 22 January 1998 and were published with the Council's annual report for 1997-98 in the Keeper's Report for that year (HC 840).

In accordance with the terms of the Public Records Act 1958, members are appointed by the Lord Chancellor. They normally serve for a three-year term, which is renewable once.

The Council meets four times a year, normally in February, June, October and December. It last met on 15 June 2000. Much of the Council's agenda is determined by the timetables for applications by Departments for the retention or extended closure of public records. Other items appear on the agenda at the request of members of the Council, of members of the public, or of the Keeper of Public Records. The agenda is approved by the Master of the Rolls.

The Freedom of Information Bill is expected to give the Council a statutory role in advising on the availability to the public of information in public records once they are more than 30 years old. This will be much the same function as it has exercised for the last 40 years in advising the Lord Chancellor on the operation of s5(1) of the Public Records Act 1958. The Bill currently before Parliament provides for extension of the Advisory Council's role by inserting S1(2A) as follows:

The Advisory Council's involvement in the release of information in public records will be set out in some detail in Part II of the Lord Chancellor's code of practice on the management of records under Freedom of Information, a working draft of which will be published shortly.

Royal Family

Mr. Cohen: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, what public records concerning (a) the Royal Family and (b) other matters, relating to events prior to the First World War, have not been made publicly available; and for what reasons. [130687]

18 Jul 2000 : Column: 159W

Mr. Lock: There are two public records concerning the Royal Family dating from before the First World War which have not been opened. These are both Treasury records. The first concerns the taxation and property rating of members of the Royal Family for the period 1899-1904 and is due for release in 2005; the second concerns Queen Alexandra's annuity and income tax in the period 1910-1914 and is due to be opened in 2015. (They are closed in accordance with Lord Chancellor's Instruments 5 and 6 respectively.) The guidance under which these records were closed for 100 years is currently being re-examined by the Cabinet Office and Public Record Office.

Records concerning other matters dating from before the First World War and not yet opened are as follows:

The decennial censuses of 1901 and 1911 are closed for 100 years in order to protect the confidentiality of the information given by the public. They are closed in accordance with Lord Chancellor's Instrument 12. There are approximately 65 items originating from the predecessors of the Crown Estate dating from 1900-1914 which are still closed. These concern leases or other property assignments which are still current. There are three records dating from 1876-1914 concerning activities of the Secret Service in Ireland and Irish terrorist organisations which are currently retained. The sensitivity of these records is currently being reassessed.

Legal Services (Teesside)

Dr. Kumar: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, what assessment he has made of the extent of the needs for assistance in respect of legal services in (a) Teesside and (b) Middlesbrough, South and Cleveland, East; and if he will make a statement. [131212]

Mr. Lock: The Northern Regional Legal Services Committee of the then Legal Aid Board carried out an assessment of the need for legal services in Middlesbrough, Redcar and Cleveland, Hartlepool and Stockton during the course of 1998. The results of this assessment were published by the Legal Aid Board in February 1999.

Following the launch of the Community Legal Service in April 2000, Community Legal Service Partnerships (CLSPs) have been formed in each of the four local authority areas. Further assessments of legal needs are being carried out as part of the work of these Partnerships. In Middlesbrough, the needs assessment has been completed and will be discussed by the Partnerships on 18 July 2000. In Hartlepool the needs assessment is currently underway and in Redcar and Cleveland and Stockton the needs assessment will be carried out later this year.

Dr. Kumar: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, what plans he has to create a community legal service partnership in the Teesside Region; and if he will make a statement. [131211]

Mr. Lock: Community Legal Service (CLS) Partnerships have been formed in Middlesbrough, Stockton-on-Tees, and Hartlepool. The Legal Services Commission is also looking to establish a Community Legal Service Partnership in Redcar and Cleveland, but this is still subject to further discussions with the local authority.

18 Jul 2000 : Column: 160W

We hope that Redcar and Cleveland will form a CLS Partnership by Spring 2001. If it proves possible to form a CLS Partnership in this area earlier, we would be delighted.

Next Section Index Home Page