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Mr. Denham: The information has been provided by the Chief Constable of Lancashire (Mrs. Pauline Clare, CBE). I am told that it is not possible to provide the number of police officers in the Ribble Valley as the constituency is split between the central and eastern divisions and these divisions each cover other areas as well as parts of the constituency. Police numbers for both divisions are provided.
The table sets out police and civilian support staff strength for the force and for the central and eastern divisions for 31 January 2002. Lancashire constabulary had 69 more officers in January than in March 1997 and strength was at record levels.
|Number of police officers(14)||Number of civilian support staff(14)|
(14) Strength figures are full-time equivalents
(15) Civilian staff numbers are the latest available and are as at 30 September 2001
Mr. Denham: The latest available information on police numbers is for 31 January 2002 when there were 128,748 officers. This is 3,066 more than in March 2001 and is a record number of police officers.
The increase in police strength reflects the impact of the Crime Fighting Fund (CFF), which is enabling forces in England and Wales to recruit 9,000 officers over and above previous recruitment plans in the three years to March 2003.
John Austin: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what action he has taken to ensure that keys are not taken out of HMP Belmarsh; what the cost was of the recent incident when keys left the prison; and if he will make a statement. 
Hilary Benn: The Director of High Security Prisons has instructed the governor of Belmarsh, as well as the governors of the other high security prisons, to review the operation of their key management systems including the recently introduced key fob alarm system so as to ensure they prevent the removal of any keys from their prisons. Governors have been asked to report any possible deficiencies in the system, in order to enable required remedial action to be taken as soon as possible. The governor of Belmarsh has commissioned a disciplinary investigation into the recent incident at his prison.
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The cost of replacing the locks necessary as a result of the key being taken out of Belmarsh would normally have been approximately £55,000, but as the specification for the key has been upgraded since original installation at Belmarsh, the opportunity was taken to install the upgraded key at this time. This work incurred an additional cost of approximately £18,000, bringing the total cost to £73,000.
Mr. Wilshire: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the delay in signing the contract for the building of a privatised prison at Ashford (Middlesex). 
Hilary Benn [holding answer 2 July 2002]: There has been a delay in signing the contract for the new prison at Ashford due to problems arising from insurance. Discussions are continuing between the contractor and the Prison Service with a view to solving these problems.
Phil Sawford: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department how many courts he expects will (a) close and (b) be downgraded as a result of the proposals to modernise the civil courts; and which courts will be affected. 
Yvette Cooper: Under the Courts and Tribunals Modernisation Programme the Court Service is developing new ways of delivering services to users. The current proposals involve introducing hearings in 37 locations which currently do not have a county court and closing one county court, Shoreditch.
The purpose of this programme is a strategic consideration of the existing network of courts to increase the number of places where cases are heard. The effect of this will be the establishment of primary hearing centres as the principle venues for hearings supported by a network of full and part-time local hearing venues ensuring access to justice across England and Wales. All those courts which will operate as local hearing venues will continue to provide hearings for their local communities. Detailed plans are still being developed, and will depend on the funding available following the Government's spending review. They will also be subject to public consultation.
The tables included in our report on "Modernising the Civil and Family Courts", show the detail of our proposal for the civil and family court network of the future. The report was published on 23 May and copies are in the Libraries of both Houses.
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Yvette Cooper: Under the Courts and Tribunals Modernisation Programme the court service is developing new ways of delivering services to users. This includes a strategic consideration of the existing network of courts. Current proposals involve holding part-time hearings at 37 new venues and closure of only one county court, Shoreditch. Detailed plans are still being developed, and will depend on the funding available following the Government's spending review. They will also be subject to public consultation.
Details of the emerging strategy for the court estate were published in the "Modernising the Civil and Family Courts" report which was published on 23 May 2002 and placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department what further timeliness targets have been identified; which criminal justice departments are involved in this activity; and when an announcement will be made concerning the timeliness targets. 
Yvette Cooper: We are working with the Home Office, Crown Prosecution Service and Youth Justice Board on targets for all adult defendants in the magistrates courts and for all defendants in the youth court, charged with crime. When these are settled an announcement will be made.
Yvette Cooper: The Lord Chancellor wrote to all youth panel chairs in May 1997, encouraging them to scrutinise all request for adjournment by questioning and probing the reasons advanced in support. In response to the call from Government to speed up case management in our courts the Magistrates' Association produced a training course on effective case management entitled "Can We Get On Please". The Youth Court Bench Book issued in September last year to all youth justices includes a section on case management, an adjournment guide and check list. Sample surveys of cases in the youth court suggest that the proportion of defendants who had the case against them adjourned fell from 78 per cent. in 1997 to 74 per cent. in 2001.
Yvette Cooper: My Department has been involved in an interagency review of measures to reduce delay in the magistrates courts generally. One of the outcomes of this review was that last year the Justices' Clerks' Society and the Law Society both reminded their members of the need to draw to the attention of defendants the fact that in
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Ian Lucas: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department what estimate she has made of the additional cost of holding an all-postal ballot in a nationwide election or referendum. 
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