Mrs. Villiers: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs what the target level of employment expressed as full-time equivalents is in her Department by April 2008, in order to meet her Department's civil service workforce reductions target set out in the 2004 Spending Review. 
Bridget Prentice: The target level of employment in my Department by April 2008, expressed as full-time equivalents (FTEs) is 24,032 FTEs. This reflects a net headcount reduction of 1,100 FTEs from an April 2004 baseline of 23,332 FTEs. It takes into account increases to the Department's workforce resulting from the transfer of magistrates courts staff from local government into DCA.
Mrs. Villiers: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs what interim targets she has set for achieving (a) the agreed efficiency target for her Department and (b) the civil service workforce reductions targets for (i) gross reductions in posts, (ii) net reductions in posts and (iii) relocations for her Department, as set out in the 2004 Spending Review; what the baseline figures are against which these interim targets are assessed; on what dates they will take effect; and by what dates these interim targets are intended to be met. 
Bridget Prentice: All savings agreed by my Department, including both financial savings and headcount reductions, are to be delivered by 31 March 2008. My Department's relocation target, agreed under the Lyons Review, of 200 posts is to be delivered by 31 March 2010. No interim targets have been set, and progress towards achieving the Department's overall efficiency agenda will be reported both in our autumn performance reports and annual departmental reports.
To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs whether she plans to change
27 Feb 2006 : Column 112W
the statutory officer status of the officers within the coroner's system to allow them access to an employment tribunal should they be unfairly dismissed. 
Ms Harman: We have no plans to change the statutory office holder status of coroners. I expect to publish a draft Bill reforming the coroner service in the late spring, and there will be opportunity for scrutiny of, and consultation on, its contents before a Bill proper is introduced to the House when parliamentary time allows.
Mr. Djanogly: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs if she will make a statement in response to the National Audit Office's report on the effective use of magistrates court hearings. 
Ms Harman: The National Audit Office's report on the performance of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in making effective use of magistrates court trials and hearings points to areas where the courts can assist the CPS in making better use of its resources. HMCS is working with the CPS to improve the arrangements so that cases in the magistrates courts are dealt with speedily and efficiently with just outcomes. Speeding up summary justice is a priority for HMCS and there are pilot schemes in four areas to improve the effectiveness of hearings, increasing the number of cases where the defendant pleads guilty at the earliest stage and reducing the number of unnecessary listings before final disposal.
Keith Vaz: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs what the cost to the public purse was of abortive hearings in magistrates courts which did not go ahead as planned in each of the last five years. 
Ms Harman: The National Audit Office Report, 'Crown Prosecution Service: Effective use of Magistrates Court Hearings' (published 15 February 2006) estimated that £173 million was spent last year on trials and hearings in magistrates courts that did not go ahead as planned.
Ms Harman: Her Majesty's Courts Service, along with CJS partners, has introduced the Criminal Case Management programme to address abortive hearings in the courts. CCMP has tackled the root cause of the many different problems which lead to ineffective hearings such as defendants not turning up at court, witnesses also being absent, the prosecution and defence not being sufficiently ready and there being insufficient court time to hear a case. Additionally, HMCS and its partners are testing new approaches to case management with the aim of further reducing the number of abortive hearings at court.
To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs what the average time was from arrest to sentencing for cases leading to
27 Feb 2006 : Column 113W
conviction in (a) York magistrates court and (b) York Crown court (i) in 1997 and (ii) at the latest date for which figures are available. 
Ms Harman: Information on the average time from arrest to sentencing for cases leading to conviction is not held centrally for either the Crown and magistrates court and could be produced only at disproportionate cost.
Mr. Gale: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs how much was spent on her Department's public relations and information services in each of the last five years for which figures are available. 
|Expenditure on information services
Keith Vaz: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs how many times her Department has met (a) the Crown Prosecution Service, (b) the police service and (c) other criminal justice agencies in the last 12 months. 
Ms Harman: My Officials, both in the Department for Constitutional Affairs and in Her Majesty's Courts Service, and I meet regularly with the CPS, police and other criminal justice agencies. This is done formally through the National Criminal Justice Board and Local Criminal Justice Board meetings, but also at court and Local Justice Area level through regular and ad hoc Court User, Joint Performance and other meetings.
Sandra Gidley: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs what advice her Department has received from the Domestic Violence Advisory Group on domestic violence issues in the last 12 months. 
Ms Harman: The Department has received no formal advice. The Domestic Violence Advisory Group is a forum for the discussion, development and delivery of government policies on domestic violence. In the last 12 months, the group has commented on:
Ms Harman: The Government are concerned at the decline in participation in the democratic process by young people. It notes the recommendation in the independent Electoral Commission's report Age of Electoral Majority" (April 2004) that the minimum voting age should be kept at 18 for now, but that this should be reviewed again within five to seven years. The Electoral Administration Bill currently under consideration by Parliament includes a provision to reduce the minimum age of candidacy for elections from 21 to 18. The Government will keep the voting age under active consideration.
James Duddridge: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs what representations she has received on enabling voters to cast their vote from any polling station in their constituency; what plans she has to make this option available; and if she will make a statement. 
Ms Harman: In October 2005 the DCA issued a prospectus calling for applications to conduct pilots at the May 2005 elections. Ten local authorities applied to conduct early voting from alternative locations, of which seven of these have been approved. Early voting from alternative locations has also been piloted in 2000, 2002 and 2003. Work on some of these pilots will help explore the potential future use of the technology available to enable voters to vote from any polling station in their local authority area.
James Duddridge: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs what assessment she has made of the impact of postal voting on voter turnout; and if she will make a statement. 
James Duddridge: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs what assessment she has made of the impact on voter registration of rolling registration for electoral registers since its introduction; and if she will make a statement. 
Rolling registration allows names to be added to the electoral register at any time of the year and enables people who have moved home or otherwise been excluded from being registered to be included in respect of their current place of residence. The Office for National Statistics published on 23 February figures in respect of the size of the electorate as of 1 December 2005 following the annual registration canvass which revealed that for the second successive year there has been an increase in the number of electors included in the electoral registers in the United Kingdom.
27 Feb 2006 : Column 115W
James Duddridge: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs how many local authorities applied to take part in electoral modernisation pilots for the May 2006 local elections; how many were accepted; and what criteria were used in making the selection. 
Ms Harman: The Government received 34 applications from 32 local authorities to take part in electoral modernisation pilots at the May 2006 local elections. Of these, 16 were accepted following consultation with the Electoral Commission. The criteria used in making the selection was that issued to local authorities in our prospectus of 31 October 2005. A copy of which has been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
James Duddridge: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs if she will make a statement on the (a) current and (b) future status of the Co-ordinated Online Register of Electors. 
Ms Harman: The Co-ordinated Online Record of Electors (CORE) will provide a convenient single point of access to national users of electoral register data, including the political parties and the Electoral Commission.
The Department has been working with providers of electoral register software, and Electoral Registration Officers (EROs) with in house systems, to ensure each are able to output electoral register data to a future CORE system in a standard format. Quality assurance testing will be completed during February. The ability of each system to accept data in this standard format, which will support rolling registration, will be developed over the next quarter. The cost of this work is being met by the Government.
The Electoral Administration Bill currently before Parliament contains a number of clauses dealing with CORE. These clauses will allow for the implementation of the decisions that come from the discussion and responses generated by the consultation document.
Ms Harman: Last October, The Electoral Commission published its report Election 2005: turnout How many, who and why?", which provides a comprehensive analysis breakdown of data on turnout at the May 2005 General Election.
Bridget Prentice: The Government's internal review is desk-based, examining a range of existing publications and materials. These include, for example, the reports of the Independent Commission on the Voting Systems (the Jenkins report"), the Independent Commission on Proportional Representation (ICPR), and the Arbuthnott Commission's report on Boundary Differences and Voting Systems. Decisions regarding any next steps for the review will be taken in due course.
Mr. Austin Mitchell: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs why her Department's review of electoral systems is not mentioned (a) on the Department's website and (b) in the Department's autumn review. 
Bridget Prentice: The Government's review of electoral systems is an internal one. At this stage of the review, it was not considered appropriate to include this information on the Department's website, or in the Department's autumn report.