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12 Sept 2005 : Column 2248W—continued

Courthouse (Colchester)

Bob Russell: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs pursuant to the answer of 7 June 2005, Official Report, column 179W, on courthouse (Colchester), when she plans to publish the business strategy for the Court Service in Essex, and whether it remains her intention to build a new courthouse in Colchester. [15516]

Ms Harman: When my Department has finalised its investment plans and developed a national business strategy for Her Majesty's Courts Service, now expected by autumn 2005, an announcement will be made shortly thereafter.

Although the priority of individual schemes in the court building programme will vary, at this stage there is nothing to suggest that the component parts of the Essex PFI scheme will not be included in future investment
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plans. As stated in my previous answer, the Essex magistrates court scheme, of which Colchester is part, continues to be within the programme of new court projects.

Election Communications

Sarah Teather: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs, what regulations govern the content of election communications distributed by the Royal Mail. [15520]

Ms Harman: Section 91 of the Representation of the People Act 1983, currently provides that material used in election addresses should relate to the election only. As a matter of principle, the Government do not believe that it would be appropriate to prescribe too closely what candidates may or may not include in their election communications, and believe that the Representation of the People Act 1983, along with the existing laws governing publications and copyright, already cover any possible complaints that may arise about the contents of election addresses.

The Royal Mail publishes guidance for candidates on what the law allows to ensure that election addresses adhere to the electoral, publication and copyright laws.

Election Voting

Mr. Djanogly: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs pursuant to the answer of 12 July 2005, Official Report, column 868W, on election voting, whether any Commonwealth country has reciprocal measures in place with the United Kingdom to allow British nationals, when resident in that country, to vote in (a) local and (b) national elections. [14327]

Ms Harman: There are no reciprocal arrangements with any other Commonwealth country. As I stated in my answer of 12 July 2005, Official Report, column 868W, decisions about voting rights of British citizens resident in other Commonwealth countries are for the individual countries concerned.

Electoral Administration Bill

Mr. Heald: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs, what elements of the Electoral Administration Bill the Government intends to implement in time for the 2006 local elections. [15113]

Ms Harman: The implementation of the proposals in the Electoral Administration Bill will depend on when the bill is introduced into Parliament and the passage of the bill through each parliamentary stage. However as outlined in the Electoral Administration Policy Paper, the Government does intend to implement as many changes as possible for the May 2006 local elections.

Equality and Diversity

David T.C. Davies: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs how much the Department has spent promoting equality and diversity in each of the last five years for which figures are available. [14671]

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Ms Harman: My Department is fully committed to the equality and diversity agenda and have policies and processes in place to ensure that there is no unfair discrimination on any grounds.

My Department has a dedicated corporate diversity team. The aim of which is to ensure that my Department reflects the community, which we serve. Some of our recent initiatives include:

Figures available for the corporate diversity team's budget are as follows:

Figures are not available before 2003–04

In addition to the above, my Department spends money on promoting equality and diversity in the legal profession and the judiciary and in many other parts of our activities.

Freedom of Information

Pete Wishart: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs how many Freedom of Information Act 2000 requests have been answered by the Department; and in how many cases (a) information was wholly exempted, (b) information was partly exempted and (c) the requests were answered in full. [14964]

Ms Harman: The Department for Constitutional Affairs is committed to publishing quarterly updates in relation to departmental performance under FOI, including information on both the volume and outcomes of requests. These reports cover all Departments of State.

The first of these updates, covering the period January to March, was published on 23 June 2005 and can be found on both the DCA website at and in the House Library. The next bulletin is due in the autumn of this year. An annual report is also to be published in early 2006.

Travellers (Legal Aid)

Mrs. Spelman: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs what the estimated cost of legal aid to Travellers has been in each year since 1997. [15218]

Bridget Prentice: It is not possible to identify individual grants of legal aid to Travellers and Gypsies in most categories of law because the Legal Services
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Commission (LSC) does not collect data about the ethnic group or lifestyle of recipients of legal aid. The LSC collects figures for legal aid for Travellers where the category of law or action arises out of their Traveller status.

The Community Law Partnership has held a contract with the LSC to provide publicly funded services since January 2000. It has held a contract with the LSC since April 2002 to provide telephone advice to Gypsies and Travellers on housing matters, including eviction and planning enforcement actions. Its grants for this financial year and previous years have been as follows:
April 2002-March 2003131,675
April 2003-March 2004131,675
April 2004-March 200555,000
April 2005-March 200655,000

The Ormiston Children and Families Trust and the Fenland Citizens Advice Bureau has received a Partnership Initiative Budget grant to pilot the provision of information and advice services on social welfare law specifically to Gypsies and Travellers in Cambridgeshire. LSC funding amounted to £5,050 in 2003–04, £21,700 in 2004–05 and £9,000 so far in 2005–06.

Legal representation at planning applications and appeals is generally outside the scope of legal aid. However, since April 2000, funding can be made available in exceptional cases under section 6(8)(b) of the Access to Justice Act 1999, when the relevant criteria are satisfied, for example, where the case concerns the applicant's home. This protects the applicant's fundamental rights and ensures a fair hearing. It is not
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possible to give a precise figure for total costs but, since April 2000, the LSC has spent the following amounts (excluding legal help costs) on planning applications in relation to Traveller encampments.
April 2001-March 2002(1)14,600
April 2002-March 2003(1)7,000
April 2003-March 20040
April 2004-March 2005(1)23,644
April 2005 to date(1)5,525.35

(1) Plus VAT

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