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Mr. Heald: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs what assessment she has made of the reasons for the differing levels of compliance with the 20-day deadline under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 by central Government Departments during the last three months of 2005. 
Ms Harman: Divergence is due to the number of information requests that Departments receive particularly where they relate to complex policy issues. Departments are allowed to extend the deadline to consider the public interest and it is appropriate that they take the time necessary to reach the correct decision. That is to protect information that is legitimately exempt and to ensure the release of information where the balance of the public interest lies in its disclosure.
Mr. Heald: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs pursuant to the answer of 11 July 2006, Official Report, column 1732W, on Freedom of Information, how many complaints (a) are outstanding and (b) have been outstanding for more than (i) three months, (ii) six months and (iii) over six months. 
(a) On 30 June 2006 1,204 FOI complaints were outstanding.
(b) The Information Commissioners Office measures processing times in terms of calendar dates rather than months.
(i) Of the 1,204 complaints outstanding on 30 June 2006 946 had been outstanding for more than 90 days.
(ii) Of the 1,204 complaints outstanding on 30 June 2006 688 had been outstanding for more than 180 days.
(iii) The answer to (iii) is the same as the answer to (ii).
Mr. Heald: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs what steps she is taking to improve compliance with the 20-day response deadline under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. 
The Department for Constitutional Affairs has established a regime to monitor central
government performance under the legislation. Throughout the first year of implementation of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, my Department refined this monitoring regime to ensure that a robust system was in place to collect data.
Central Government performance improved significantly during 2005. Across monitored bodies in the first quarter of this year 90 per cent. of requests were answered within the 20-day response deadline.
Mr. Heald: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs what the average cost has been of answering (a) a Freedom of Information request and (b) a request under the Environmental Information Regulations. 
Ms Harman: Over 100,000 public authorities are subject to the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOI) and the Environmental Information Regulations (EIR). We do not have the average cost of answering FOI or EIR requests across all these authorities.
Simon Hughes: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (1) how many solicitors in the London borough of Southwark provide publicly-funded immigration work; and how many provided such work in (a) 1996, (b) 2001, (c) 2004 and (d) 2005; 
(2) what assessment she had made of the impact of the change in the number of solicitors in the London Borough of Southwark who provide publicly-funded immigration work on those seeking specialist immigration advice; 
(3) in which (a) (i) London and (ii) Metropolitan borough, (b) county and (c) unitary authority there has been a (A) reduction and (B) increase in the number of solicitors who provide publicly-funded immigration work since (1) 1997 and (2) 2001. 
There has been a significant reduction nationally, as well as in Southwark, in the number of firms of solicitors carrying out publicly funded immigration
advice over the last two years. There are a number of reasons for this including firms withdrawing from the work as a result of a significant reduction in the number of people requiring advice and the LSC terminating contracts because of concerns about the quality and/or cost of the work being carried out. However the LSC remains convinced that there is sufficient provision to meet the demand for services and that the main reason that people are unable to access legal aid is because they do not satisfy the statutory means and merits criteria.
Changes in the number of solicitors providing publicly funded immigration work since 2001 by LSC bid zone is shown in the table below. It is not possible to show earlier figures as before 2000 the LSC did not have contract arrangements with legal aid service providers.
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