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25 Jan 2006 : Column 2155W—continued

Departmental Staff (Disciplinary Actions)

Bob Spink: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs how many disciplinary actions against civil servants employed in her Department (a) were commenced and (b) resulted in a sanction being applied in each of the last five years. [43500]

Ms Harman: My Department has a conduct policy and supporting procedures which have been brought to the attention of all staff via the departmental intranet, internal publications and induction and management training. There is a range of sanctions which can be applied in cases of misconduct, up to and including dismissal. Dismissal might be justified for instances of gross misconduct for a first offence or for repeated instances of serious or minor misconduct.

Data for the number of employees against whom disciplinary action has been commenced, or in respect of whom disciplinary sanctions, short of dismissal, have been applied is only recorded on individual files. These are retained for the appropriate period before removal and destruction in compliance with the Department's obligations under the Data Protection Act. It is therefore not possible to obtain this information without incurring disproportionate costs. The number of employees who have been dismissed on disciplinary grounds in the past five financial years is as follows:
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External Consultants

Mrs. Villiers: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs how much her Department has paid since 2004 to external consultants who had previously been employed by the Department in any capacity within the previous five years. [41202]

Ms Harman: Although there have been instances in which former civil servants have been re-employed directly by the Department, no information is held centrally about any who may have been engaged as external consultants—either directly or via independent consulting firms and could only be obtained at disproportionate .

Fixed Penalty Notices (Postal Codes)

Joan Walley: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs which postal code areas are dealt with by the Central Finance Unit at Rugeley in respect of fixed penalty notices. [45039]

Ms Harman: The Central Finance and Enforcement Unit at Rugeley serves all postal code areas within Staffordshire. The postal code areas are:-

Freedom of Information

Peter Law: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs if she will make a statement on the operation of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 during its first year in force; and what estimate she has made of the cost of its implementation to (a) central Government and its agencies and (b) local government. [41489]

Ms Harman: I am confident that the Freedom of Information Act is working and working well. It is estimated that in the first year of its operation, major central Government bodies alone received approximately 36,000 FOI requests. In the third quarter of 2005, for those bodies whose performance is monitored by DCA, 67 per
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cent. of resolvable requests resulted in the full disclosure of information. For local government and the wider public sector, anecdotal evidence also suggests that there has been a large number of valuable releases of information on issues that matter to the public.

My Department has made no estimate to date of the cost of the implementation of FOI to either (1) central Government or its agencies, or (2) local government.
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Legal Aid

Mr. Bone: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs what the change in criminal legal aid rates has been over the last 10 years. [45426]

Bridget Prentice: There are different rates prescribed for the many separate schemes across a variety of services provided within the criminal defence service (CDS). The changes to the prescribed basic legal aid rates for work in the criminal courts are set in the following table.
Defence legal aid rates Changes to the prescribed rates: Magistrates court proceedings, Crown court and Court of Appeal (Criminal) Proceedings

1995Solicitors' rates and counsels' Crown court standard fee rates increased by 2 percent.
1996Solicitors' rates and junior barristers' rates increased by 1.5 percent.
1997Nil uprating.
1998Nil uprating.
1999Nil uprating.
2000Nil uprating.
2001Magistrates court—General Criminal Contract launched with an overall effect of an overall increase of 7.25 percent., though the increase in rates varied between classes of work.
Criminal higher courts—Remuneration changes in October with the introduction of a common graduated fee scheme by the Department for Constitutional Affairs and the Crown Prosecution Service for advocates in all trials lasting up to 25 days in the Crown court. The effect of those changes was to raise total remuneration for one to 10 day cases by about £3.2 million and to leave the level of remuneration for 11 to 25 day cases broadly the same. These changes also included changes in the graduated fee scheme to allow for some payment for conferences and the attendance fee for plea and directions hearings was increased from £75 to £100.
2002Contract mileage rate under the General Criminal Contract increased to 45p
Nil remuneration uprating.
2003Nil uprating.
2004February—telephone fixed fee implemented for police station advice and assistance. £30.25 national/£31.45 London.
October—Duty Solicitor. Serious offences rate introduced for police station advice and attendance at £80 per unsocial hour and £60 per hour at other times. Overall impact to introduce £3 million new money.
Criminal courts—Remuneration changes in August to the Very High Cost Criminal case contract rates and Criminal Graduated Fee schemes. The effects of the changes were: to reduce bureaucracy for the Bar by taking some 50 percent., of VHCC cases into an extended graduated fee scheme, which now covers cases up to 40 days; raising the graduated fee rates for 11 to 25 day cases to the level which was expected in 2001 when the scheme was introduced and carrying those rates through to the 40 day extension; all Category 4 VHCC cases will be paid at the same rates as Category 3 VHCC cases; substantially increasing refreshers so that the same rate is now paid for Category 2 and 3 cases as for Category 1; moving terrorism cases into Category 1; moving under five-year advocate call rates to over five-year call rates. This settlement was a package to the Bar worth approximately £17 million. £11 million came from changes to the VHCCC scheme, and a further 6 million from the changes made to the 11 to 25 day graduated fee scheme where we made good the unintended shortfall that had occurred since the scheme was extended to 25 days on October 2001.
2005October—Cuts in rates paid in some graduated fee and Very High Cost Criminal case contracts (to both advocate's and litigator's rates). Extension of the existing graduated fee scheme for cracks and guilty pleas. Estimated savings in RAB terms from these additional measures, excluding Cracks and Guilties, are £5.1 million and £20.8 million for 2005–06, 2006–07 respectively. The extension of the Cracks and Guilties schemes is anticipated to increase savings by an estimated total of £20 million over 2005–06 and 2006–07.

National Mediation Helpline

Mr. Amess: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs if she will make a statement on the National Mediation Helpline. [41746]

Ms Harman: The National Mediation Helpline is a departmentally funded scheme that has been set up to help court users and the general public settle their disputes, and where appropriate refer the caller to a low cost mediation.

Since the Helpline started at the end of November 2004 it has received over 2,600 calls, and in the past five months, records show there have been over 6,000 visits to the supporting website (

At the end of 2005, the Helpline had arranged 81 mediations with a total of 71 settling on the day or within 14 days of the mediation—a settlement rate of 87 per cent.

The Helpline is being piloted for a further year, and progress will be reviewed in autumn 2006.

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