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24 Jan 2006 : Column 1942W—continued

National Mediation Helpline

26. Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs how many people are employed at the National Mediation Helpline

Bridget Prentice: The Department has funded one full-time operator to work on the National Mediation Helpline for a year. Up to three other trained operators are available, on a part-time basis, to handle calls at peak times.

Judicial Appointments

27. Keith Vaz: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs when the Secretary of State last met the Chairperson of the Judicial Appointments Commission to discuss judicial appointments; and if she will make a statement. [44691]

Bridget Prentice: The Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and the Chairman of the Judicial Appointments Commission last met to discuss judicial appointments on 17 January 2006.

Regarding a statement, I refer the hon. Member to the written ministerial statement made yesterday by my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State. The Chairperson of the Judicial Appointments Commission and the Lord Chief Justice have both agreed this statement.

Legal Aid

28. Jim Cousins: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs if she will estimate the effect on legal aid costs of the Government's respect agenda. [44692]

Bridget Prentice: The legal aid implications of all new Government policy initiatives are assessed as part of the regulatory impact assessment process. This will apply to the range of policy initiatives departments will be ringing forward as part of the respect agenda.

Devolved Administrations (Ministerial Visits)

30. Mr. Wallace: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs whether agreement to overseas visits by Ministers from devolved Administrations is sought from her Department. [44694]

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Bridget Prentice: Such visits are a matter for the devolved Administrations, therefore agreement is not sought from my Department.

Cohabiting Couples' Rights

Barbara Follett: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs what assessment she has made of the merits of strengthening the rights of unmarried, cohabiting couples. [44689]

Bridget Prentice: The Department is funding several research projects on the legal rights of cohabitants and a review by the Law Commission. The Law Commission is considering how the law affects cohabiting couples on the termination of their relationship by separation, or death, and the merits of providing greater legal protection.

Council Tax Valuations

Mrs. Spelman: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs what (a) information and (b) data the Land Registry has provided to the Valuation Office Agency for council tax valuations. [39495]

Bridget Prentice: HM Land Registry has provided property data to the Valuation Office Agency to enable it to verify the information underpinning the revaluation of properties. The data has been supplied solely for the purpose of validation of council tax and non-domestic rating valuations. Most of the property information provided is already in the public domain (for example the title number of the property, and the name of the registered proprietor).

Criminal Justice (Statistics)

Judy Mallaber: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs why the Department has not published in 2005 under the provisions in section 95 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 statistics on women and the criminal justice system. [38369]

Fiona Mactaggart: I have been asked to reply.

Since much of the information in the section 95 publication for women is available from other sources, we have not published a separate volume in 2005. Relevant information is included in a number of statistical bulletins and regular briefs published by the Home Office which are all available on the Home Office website.

We are presently looking at ways of making it easier for users to access this information by creating an area of the website focusing on women that provides links to the most recent data and research. This will allow users to select the most relevant data for their purpose.


Parliamentary Questions

36. Ben Chapman: To ask the Leader of the House whether he has made an assessment of the systems of tabling parliamentary questions during recesses operated by other parliaments. [44677]

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Nigel Griffiths: No. However, he continues to remain open to representation from Members on this issue.

Regional Affairs Committee

37. Andrew George: To ask the Leader of the House what arrangements he is making for the Standing Committee on Regional Affairs to meet. [44678]

Nigel Griffiths: Appointment of the members of the Standing Committee on Regional Affairs under Standing Order No. 117 is under consideration.

Ministers' Speeches (Time Limits)

John Bercow: To ask the Leader of the House if he will ask the Select Committee on the Modernisation of the House of Commons to consider the merits of imposing a time limit on ministerial speeches. [44672]

Nigel Griffiths: This matter was considered by the Procedure Committee in the last Parliament. My right hon. Friend has no plans to raise it again with the Modernisation Committee.


Parliamentary Education Unit

Barbara Follett: To ask the hon. Member for North Devon, representing the House of Commons Commission, what progress has been made towards implementing the recommendations of the Select Committee on the Modernisation of the House of Commons to improve the facilities available to the parliamentary education unit and send a new voters' guide to all young people on their 18th birthday; and if he will make a statement. [44679]

Nick Harvey: In response to the Modernisation Committee's recommendations, the Commission authorised the recruitment of dedicated outreach officers, two of whom were recruited to start work in the education unit in September 2005. Since their appointment they have been meeting other organisations involved in promoting and teaching citizenship to identify how Parliament can most effectively contribute to the teaching of political literacy. Over the coming months they will be travelling to local education authorities and schools around the country to gather ideas on how the services of the education unit can be delivered to young people who are currently unable to visit Parliament. This fieldwork, along with a draft outreach strategy, will be completed before the summer recess.

In October 2004 the Commission authorised the extension of the education unit's autumn visits programme. Room A in 1 Parliament street has been equipped for presentations to school groups, in addition to the use of the Macmillan Room in Portcullis House, while an allocation of tickets in the public gallery has increased the opportunity for visiting groups to see the work of the House. To enable the unit to increase the number of school parties it can support on a daily basis, a new visits officer was appointed earlier this month with a second due to start in April. These changes will allow a further 20,000 young people each year to visit and learn more about the work of Parliament.
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The House authorised the Commission to take forward work on a guide for new voters in January 2005. Since then qualitative research with groups of young people has been undertaken by an external agency in order to find out what kind of guide would be most effective. Following a competitive exercise an external creative agency was then appointed to produce the guide. Draft versions of the guide are going to be presented to groups of young people—again, by an external agency with expertise in the field—to test their effectiveness and see how they can be improved. A revised draft guide will be produced in the light of that research and will be made available to the Modernisation and Administration Committees for comments. The Commission hopes to agree a final version of the guide soon, so that from the second half of 2006 the guide can thereafter be sent to young people on or around their eighteenth birthday. The guide is intended to encourage more new voters to make sure they are registered to vote and to use their votes in the next general election.

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