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24 July 2006 : Column 932W—continued


Constitutional Affairs

1901 Census

Mr. Hancock: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs what income has been received from the release of sections of the Online 1901 Census in the last 12 months; and if she will make a statement. [86284]

Vera Baird: The National Archives has not released sections of the 1901 Census in the last 12 months.

The whole of the 1901 Census was released to the public in January 2002.

Adoption Placements

Annette Brooke: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs what average time was taken to obtain a court date from the time of application for an adoption placement order in (a) London and (b) other parts of England in the latest period for which figures are available. [87149]

Ms Harman: The average time taken to obtain a court date from the time of application in adoption cases over the last two financial years is as follows:

(a) London
Weeks

2004-05

4.65

2005-06

6.02


(b) Nationally
Weeks

2004-05

5.56

2005-06

5.71


Coroners

Keith Vaz: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs what steps she is taking to reduce delays in the coroners’ service. [84516]

Ms Harman: There are measures in the draft Coroners Bill which will assist coroners to operate more effectively, in particular the appointment of a Chief Coroner to provide national leadership and to introduce national standards, including on the timely hearing of inquests. The Chief Coroner will have oversight of the workload of coroners and, subject to the views of relatives and other interested parties and taking account of the requirements of the new coroners charter for bereaved people, he or she will be able to reallocate cases to reduce the length of time it takes for an investigation to be completed. The Chief Coroner will make an annual report to the Lord Chancellor on the performance of the coroner system and, in turn, the Lord Chancellor will ensure the report is laid before Parliament. A Coronial Advisory Council will also be appointed to provide advice, and make recommendations, to the Chief Coroner and Lord Chancellor on any matters relating to the operation of the coroner system.

Keith Vaz: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs what mechanisms are available to members of the public to make complaints about coroners. [84576]


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Ms Harman: In the event that a complainant is unable to resolve the matter with the coroner, a complaint about the personal conduct of a coroner can be made to the Office for Judicial Complaints. Coroners were brought into the remit of the disciplinary provisions of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 on 3 April 2006. Regulations made under the Act, entitled “Judicial Discipline (Prescribed Procedures) Regulations 2006”, set out the responsibilities of the Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice, and the Office for Judicial Complaints, with regard to the handling of complaints and the discipline of judicial office holders. Further information is available on the website of the Office for Judicial Complaints, at www.judicialcomplaints.gov.uk.

Where a member of the public wishes to challenge a judicial decision made by a coroner, this must be pursued through the court process. The draft Coroners Bill provides for new appeal arrangements which will make it easier for the public to seek review of coroners' decisions, relating to both an investigation and an inquest. The procedure for complaining about coroners' personal conduct will remain the same.

Correspondence

Mark Williams: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs when she expects to reply to the letter from the hon. Member for Ceredigion of 14 March 2006 to the former Foreign Secretary, regarding Mr. Toby Glaister. [86348]

Ms Harman: The right hon. the Baroness Ashton of Upholland wrote to the hon. Member on 28 April 2006 in response to his letter of 14 March 2006 to the Foreign Secretary. I apologise that the letter of 28 April omitted to say that the letter of 14 March was transferred to my Department for reply.

Courts Service

Mr. Chope: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (1) what the budget for 2006-07 is for the Courts Service in (a) Dorset, (b) Gloucestershire and (c) Wiltshire; and what changes will be made to the budget as a result of the restructuring in October; [87480]

(2) what consultation was carried out prior to the decision to amalgamate the Dorset Courts Board with the Wiltshire Courts Board and the Gloucestershire Courts Board from October; and what the effect of the restructuring will be upon the Courts Service in Dorset; [87481]

(3) how many people are employed by the Courts Service in (a) Dorset, (b) Gloucestershire and (c) Wiltshire; and how many jobs will be lost in each county as a result of the restructuring in October. [87483]

Ms Harman: The budget allocation for FY 2006-07 is: Dorset—£7.647 million; Gloucestershire—£5.644 million; and Wiltshire—£6.620 million. Re-structuring will not be completed until 31 March 2007 and no changes will be made to the FY2006-07 budget allocations for these three areas as a result of the re-structuring exercise. The appropriate budget allocation for the new amalgamated
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Dorset, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire area will be determined in due course as part of the annual financial planning cycle.

Under the provisions of the Courts Act 2003, Section 4, the Lord Chancellor may make orders altering the HMCS areas but, before doing so, must consult any Courts Board(s) affected. This process has been invoked and each of the existing Court Boards have been invited to express their views by 31 July 2006. It is anticipated that the separate Courts Boards for Dorset, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire will continue to operate in their current form until the end of FY 2006-07. Meanwhile, arrangements will be made to select members for a new single Courts Board which will correspond to the amalgamated Dorset, Gloucestershire, Wiltshire area. This will be done in close liaison with the Chairmen and Members of the existing bodies. Delivery of the service to court users in Dorset (as with Gloucestershire and Wiltshire) will not be affected by the re-structuring, and support to the judiciary at bench and court level will remain as it is now.

The number of people employed by Her Majesty’s Courts Service in the three areas (expressed as full-time equivalents) as at June 2006 is: Dorset—219; Gloucestershire—163; and Wiltshire—193. While the precise management structure for the amalgamated area cannot be determined until a new Area Director has been appointed in October 2006, it is likely that re-structuring will directly affect only a very small number of senior management posts and those more junior staff who directly support them, leaving the courts operational staff unaffected. It is anticipated that this will be achieved through a combination of redeployment, natural wastage and targeted voluntary redundancy. Trades Unions will be consulted, at every stage.

Departmental Staff

David Simpson: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs what percentage of the staff in her Department is (a) male, (b) female and (c) disabled, broken down by grade. [69032]

Ms Harman: The statistics requested are as at 31 December 2005 in the following tables. Declaration of a disability is voluntary and the statistics are therefore based on the number of respondents to a confidential questionnaire, which all staff are asked to complete, and not total staff.

Staff from the 42 former magistrates courts areas were transferred into DCA in April 2005. They operate different terms and conditions, including grade structures, which do not map into known government grades. For that reason figures have been shown separately and can only be presented as an overall figure.


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Table 1: DCA gender/disability broken down by grade (excluding magistrates courts)
Percentage
Government grade Female Male Declared disability

AA

62.84

37.16

4.95

AO

69.55

30.45

4.41

EO

68.47

31.53

3.50

EO(h)/HEO(l)

48.44

51.56

3.97

HEO

61.47

38.53

4.33

SEO

51.53

48.47

3.21

G7

49.38

50.62

3.53

G6

43.00

57.00

1.93

SCS

36.36

63.64

1.30

Grand total

64.57

35.43

4.13


Table 2: Magistrates courts gender/disability, all grades
Percentage
Government grade Female Male Declared disability

All

70.99

29.01

1.33


Digital Documents

Mr. Heald: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs what steps she is taking to ensure the long-term preservation of documents held in digital form. [88290]

Ms Harman: The National Archives is working with the Government’s Chief Technical Officers (CTO) Council to address the problem of the survival of electronic records with a mid and long-term value across Government.

The National Archives has implemented a Digital Preservation Programme to ensure the long-term preservation of documents held in digital form. It has established

Dr. David Kelly

Norman Baker: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs pursuant to her answer of 26 June 2006, Official Report, column 304W, on Dr. David Kelly, if she will list the occasions since 1 January 2003 when (a) the Lord Chancellor and (b) (i) Ministers and (ii) officials from her Department have met (A) the Deputy Coroner of Oxfordshire, (B) the Assistant Deputy Coroner of Oxfordshire and (C) anyone else responsible to the Oxfordshire Coroner. [83773]

Ms Harman: There has been one meeting between my officials and one of the newly appointed assistant deputy coroners of the Oxfordshire jurisdiction to discuss progress on the inquests into those who have died in the Iraq conflict.

Family Courts

John McDonnell: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs on how many occasions during 2005-06 parents involved in cases in the Family Court were informed of a delay to the reports required by the court. [86963]

Ms Harman: The information requested is not collected.


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Keith Vaz: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (1) what recent discussions she has had with the judiciary about the openness of family courts; [84554]

(2) when she last met the President of the Family Division. [84556]

Ms Harman: Since being appointed as Minister for Family Justice, I have discussed openness of the family courts with a wide range of stakeholders. Members of the judiciary included:

I have also visited Wells Street and Croydon family proceedings courts where I met a number of magistrates; and I have spoken at the President's Conference, which was attended by 97 members of the judiciary, and to the Greater London Family Panel, which was attended by 90 members of the judiciary.

I last met the President of the Family Division on 3 July 2006.

FOI Officers

Mr. Heald: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs what guidance she has issued to freedom of information officers to assist them in recognising the circumstances in which they should apply environmental information regulations rather than the Freedom of Information Act 2000. [88291]

Ms Harman: On 5 June 2006, my Department published guidance on examining the key differences between the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIR) and the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOI Act). This guidance was specifically designed to assist freedom of information officers in recognising circumstances in which they should apply the EIRs rather than the FOI Act. The guidance is called “EIR/FOI Boundaries Guidance” and can be found at www.foigov.uk. My Department and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs continue to provide advice and assistance to Departments on the interpretation of the FOI Act and the EIRs.

Gravestones

Mr. Hands: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs what response the Government have made to reports of the Local Government Ombudsman on the inappropriate (a) destruction and (b) moving of gravestones by local authorities. [88231]

Ms Harman: The Local Government Ombudsmen's special report on memorial safety in local authority cemeteries was a helpful and timely reminder to local authorities that it should normally be unnecessary to lay down large numbers of gravestones.

The Government are considering what further advice and guidance it may be appropriate to issue on this matter.


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