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26 Feb 2004 : Column 533W—continued

Equitable Life

Mr. Sarwar: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on the matters he referred to the Serious Fraud Office in respect of Lord Penrose's report on Equitable Life. [156233]

Ruth Kelly: It would not be appropriate to refer to the content of Lord Penrose's report on Equitable Life in advance of publication.

Individual Savings Accounts

Sue Doughty: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will amend the regulatory requirements on transfer of mini cash ISAs between account providers to speed up transfer time; and if he will make a statement. [156402]

Ruth Kelly: The ISA regulations state that a transfer of an ISA between account providers must take place within the time stipulated by the investor. However, providers are given a reasonable business period (not exceeding 30 days) to allow for the practical implications of making the transfer.

Inland Revenue

Mr. Hoyle: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many people are employed by the Inland Revenue in (a) Lancashire and (b) Chorley. [156131]

Dawn Primarolo: Within the North West Government Office Region (excluding Merseyside) the Inland Revenue employed 8,534 people at 1 April 2003. Of these 76 were employed in Chorley.

Management Consultants

Mr. Flight: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what the cost to his Department of using management consultants has been in each of the last five years. [148025]

Ruth Kelly: The information requested could be provided only at disproportionate cost; HM Treasury does not hold data specifically on the costs of management consultants. Data on the total costs to HM Treasury for external consultants was given in my answer of 31 March 2003, Official Report, column 562W.

Stress Audits

Mr. Laws: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many stress audits were carried out in his Department in each of the last five years; what the cost of each audit was; what assessment of the effects of the audits has been made; and if he will make a statement. [156590]

Ruth Kelly: A stress audit was carried out in 2000 at a cost of £20,000. The audit drew attention to several problems and a staff group was set up to assess its recommendations and to take forward an action plan. To measure progress against the 2000 stress audit, a follow up well being survey was carried out in 2003 at a cost of £15,000. Generally the results of the survey were positive: levels of stress had decreased since the 2000 stress audit. However there remained scope for improvement and a new staff group has been set up to focus on what more should be done.

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Access to Legal Advice

Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs what steps his Department is taking to ensure that the same levels of legal advice and support are available to people throughout England. [155034]

Mr. Lammy: Our aim in providing legal advice and support is to provide common levels of provision across the country, taking into account local needs. This is done through the Legal Services Commission, which is responsible to the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs for maintaining and developing the Community Legal Service (CLS). The key aim of the CLS is to provide greater and more easily accessible civil legal advice services to people within England and Wales. Regional Legal Services Committees and CLS Partnerships are responsible for co-ordinating the delivery of local legal and advice services in their area and, through an analysis of priority legal needs at a local level, can ensure that resources are targeted more effectively to those most in need.

In addition, the Commission has put in place a number of initiatives to improve access to advice that go beyond the traditional model of legal aid provided by solicitors from their offices, including the 'Just Ask!' website and telephone advice services. A national telephone advice service will be available from summer 2004 following a successful pilot.

Magistrates Courts (Closure)

Mr. Oaten: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs if he will list each magistrates court that has closed in the last two years, broken down by (a) parliamentary constituency and (b) date of closure. [155954]

Mr. Leslie: The responsibility for the number and location of magistrates courts in England and Wales falls to individual Magistrates' Courts Committees (MCCs) to determine, in consultation with their local paying authority. A paying authority that is aggrieved by a determination of an MCC has the right to appeal under section 56(3) of the Justice of the Peace Act 1997 to the Secretary of State for Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA) within one month of receipt of the written notice of determination.

However, MCCs are not required by statute to inform the Department of proposed courthouse closures that are not subject to an appeal. The following table shows the closures of magistrates courts in England and Wales in 2002 and 2003 compiled from the information that is available to my Department:

CourtParliamentary constituencyDate of closure
BridgenorthLudlow31 January 2002
LeominsterLeominster31 January 2002
FakenhamNorth Suffolk1 May 2002
Tunbridge WellsTunbridge Wells2 June 2002
BeaconsfieldBeaconsfield1 July 2002
BuckinghamBuckingham1 July 2002
EveshamMid Worcestershire30 November 2002
ThameHenley31 January 2003
DroitwichMid Worcestershire21 March 2003
MachynllethMeirionnydd Nant Conwy31 March 2003
Chester le StreetNorth Durham31 March 2003
RugeleyCannock Chase31 May 2003
LampeterCeredigion9 June 2003
TenbyCarmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire30 June 2003
CamberleySurrey Heath30 June 2003
TrowbridgeWestbury30 September 2003
WhitchurchNorth Shropshire03 October 2003
Long SuttonSouth Holland and The Deepings31 October 2003
CaistorGainsborough31 December 2003
HorncastleLouth and Horncastle County31 December 2003

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Mr. Todd: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs what representations he has received concerning delays in confirming probate on settlements relating to the estates of deceased mineworkers; and if he will make a statement. [155594]

Mr. Lammy: None, although I am informed that the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has received representations on this issue. Officials at the DTI are working with solicitors on an indemnity form to ensure grants of probate will not be required on low-value offers. However, all the parties involved are aware of their legal obligations to guarantee that compensation is granted to the right individual.

Small Claims Track

Vera Baird: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs what guidance is given to district judges about how to manage cases in the small claims track in which one party is represented and the other not. [155381]

Mr. Leslie: Judicial training is the responsibility of the Judicial Studies Board (JSB), an independent body chaired by Lord Justice Keene. The JSB provides written guidance to district judges on the conduct of small claims cases in its Civil Bench Book and on the particular needs of litigants in person in its Equal Treatment Bench Book. Both publications are publicly available via the JSB's website. They are supplemented by a video on the needs of litigants in person. The video is used as a an aid to syndicate discussion on the Civil Continuation Seminar. All district judges attend a Civil Continuation Seminar at three-yearly intervals.

Vera Baird: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs what guidance is given to the management of the small claims track about the availability of free legal advice to litigants in the court building. [155385]

Mr. Leslie: In 2001 all civil and family courts in England and Wales gained a Quality Mark under the Community Legal Service (CLS) scheme. This confirms that those courts are committed to improving public access to quality information and legal services, by promoting the services of the CLS.

This involves as a minimum, active signposting and referring people to the CLS directory, but many courts go much further by including reference to the CLS helpline and the 'Just Ask!' Website in leaflets, posters

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and court correspondence. The allocation questionnaire (a form prescribed by rule) that seeks case management information from the parties currently does not specifically refer to the CLS. In addition a small claims leaflet is sent with the hearing notice, but again there is no reference to free legal advice or where it can be obtained.

The Court Service is working in partnership with the Legal Services Commission and work is already under way to improve public awareness as to where they can obtain free legal advice. That work includes a full review of computer-produced documentation and forms and two pilot schemes. One pilot is providing from court premises up to 30 minutes FREEFONE access to solicitors and advice agencies and the other is establishing an improved and more pro-active level of information service under the CLS scheme.

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