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22 Nov 2006 : Column 87Wcontinued
Mr. Hollobone: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs what the outcome has been of discussions with United States authorities on the non-appearance of US military personnel at coroners inquests. 
Ms Harman: I had a useful meeting on 20 November with David Johnson, US deputy ambassador to London, concerning attendance of American service personnel at the inquests of British soldiers killed in friendly-fire incidents in Iraq. Mr. Johnson has agreed to report back on the Governments concerns and we have agreed to meet again shortly.
Mr. Galloway: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs if she will meet the delegation from the Council of Europe investigating the British electoral system. 
Bridget Prentice: We will, of course, be happy to meet the Council of Europes delegation, to explain the changes we have made to the system of postal voting.
It is disappointing that the original motion in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe failed to mention the steps that have been taken to strengthen the security of postal voting in the UK. We consider these steps will make the introduction of any monitoring procedure wholly unnecessary and unwarranted.
Mr. Galloway: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs what evidence her Department has made of the extent to which the rules on postal voting have affected the number of votes cast in local and national elections; and if she will make a statement. 
Bridget Prentice: My Department has not made any assessment on changing turnouts based solely on the rules governing postal voting. There may be a number of reasons, both national and local, for changing turnouts between particular elections.
The Electoral Commission is responsible for reporting on national elections. Its report, Election 2005: Turnout, contains figures on the overall turnout at the 2001 and 2005 general elections, and the percentage of postal voters at these elections.
Central Government do not hold figures on the number of postal voters at local and regional elections prior to 2006.
Mr. Galloway: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs whether she has received the new draft code of conduct on postal voting produced by the Electoral Commission; and if she will make a statement. 
Bridget Prentice: The Government have not received a revised code of conduct on postal voting for the May 2007 local elections.
Mr. Galloway: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs what assessment she has made of the adequacy of the period of time candidates and electors are permitted in order to compile evidence and enter an electoral petition challenging the validity of an election; and if she will make a statement. 
Bridget Prentice: The Government believe that the 21-day time limit to enter an electoral petition is sufficient. Extending this limit could lead to prolonged uncertainty about election results.
In addition, when there are allegations of fraud at a particular election, as a result of new rules introduced through the Electoral Administration Act 2006, the police are able to carry out investigations into such allegations for up to two years following the result of that election.
Anne Milton: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs how many cases referred to the Information Commissioner have not been dealt with; what the average waiting time is for cases received by the Commissioner; what steps the Commissioner is taking to reduce waiting times; when the Commissioner expects to clear the backlog of cases; and if she will make a statement. 
Vera Baird: The Information Commissioner is an independent body created by statute. On 31 October 2006, 1,291 freedom of information cases were in the process of being investigated. The average age of a freedom of information case when closed in 2006-07 is 135 days. On 26 October 2006 the Commissioner laid before Parliament a report describing his progress in eliminating the freedom of information case backlog and setting out his future plans.
To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs what factors were taken into account in the decision to transfer to new suppliers the
IT contracts for the (a) Local County Court, (b) ARAMIS and (c) Libra systems; what costs are of each transfer; and what the expected effect is of each transfer. 
Vera Baird: The main reason for transferring to new suppliers was that IT contracts for LOCCS, ARAMIS and Libra systems expire during 2007 and 2008. The Department has just completed a two year procurement (the DISC Programme) to award new contracts. Contracts with the new DISC suppliers were signed on 23 October 2006. Transfer costs are included within the Programme Business Case. Overall, these new contracts are forecast to deliver cost savings of more than £100 million over the next seven years on comparable IT services and will ensure more efficient, effective and joined-up services to DCA clients and staff.
Dr. Cable: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs who provided IT services to her Department under the (a) Libra, (b) ARAMIS and (c) LOCCS contracts up to 26 October. 
Vera Baird: The IT services are provided under (a) the Libra contract by Fujitsu, STL and Accenture; under (b) the ARAMIS contract by Liberata UK Ltd., and under (c) the LOCCS contract by EDS. The existing IT services will continue to be provided until the transfer to the new suppliers is completed during 2008.
Dr. Cable: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (1) what the expected cost is for the transition of IT services under the (a) Libra, (b) ARAMIS (c) LOCCS contracts to other suppliers; 
(2) what the expected completion date is for the transition of IT services under the (a) Libra, (b) ARAMIS and (c) LOCCS contracts. 
Vera Baird: Project plans are currently being developed so I am unable to provide the hon. Member with this information.
Dr. Cable: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs how she plans to choose the new provider of IT services under the (a) Libra, (b) ARAMIS and (c) LOCCS contracts. 
Vera Baird: The new providers have already been selected through the DISC Programme, which was a major procurement exercise run by the Department. Contracts were signed on 23 October 2006. Atos Origin has been appointed as the Infrastructure Services supplier. LogicaCMG has been appointed as the Application Services supplier.
Mr. Burrowes: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs how many representations have been received by her Department following the implementation of the means test for criminal legal aid; and how many have expressed support for the new arrangements. 
Vera Baird: Since 2 October my Department has received approximately 10 letters from MPs on behalf of solicitors and a further 29 representations directly from solicitors. There is support for means testing in principle. Many correspondents have raised practical concerns about the operation of the new means test and I have announced a range of changes which are intended to meet these concerns.
Mr. Grieve: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs what assessment she has made of the likely impact on the legal aid budget of the reduction in the number of criminal cases going through the courts; and to what extent this reduction has informed the Departments proposals for legal aid reform. 
Vera Baird: In forecasting future demand for legal aid my Department and the Legal Services Commission take into account prevailing trends across the justice system.
Bob Spink: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs what her assessment is of the effect of regional government on democracy in the UK. 
Vera Baird: In establishing the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly we have met the aspirations and desires of people in Scotland and Wales to be governed and to govern themselves. This is evident in the successful working of the devolution settlement which has, since 1998, increasingly strengthened the UK democracy. Furthermore, the Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Bill will pave the way for the restoration of the devolved institutions in Northern Ireland on 26 March 2007.
The creation of the London Assembly and Greater London Authority in 2000 has allowed more effective local decision-making. However, there is not at present, a strong desire among people in England for further devolution of powers at a regional level.
Lady Hermon: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs what plans she has to make provision for the televising of court proceedings in Northern Ireland; and if she will make a statement. 
Bridget Prentice: The Government have no plans to televise court proceedings in Northern Ireland.
Lady Hermon: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs what assessment she has made of the merits of the televising of court proceedings in England and Wales. 
Ms Harman: The Government published a consultation paper on broadcasting courts in November 2004 and a summary of the responses to that paper was published in June 2005. My right hon. and noble Friend the Lord Chancellor has subsequently been considering the appropriate way forward in the light of the consultation responses.
Mr. Meacher: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what information is available closest to that asked for in the question answered on 6 November 2006, Official Report, columns 916-17W, on benefit disqualification. 
Mr. Plaskitt: The information is not available as the Department does not recognise the term able-bodied.
Mark Pritchard: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many cases of benefit fraud in the last five years have been linked to the financing of suspected terrorists. 
Mr. Plaskitt [holding answer 21 November 2006]: The information is not available.
Mrs. Maria Miller: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will publish the report on the policy and implementation issues that arise from Sir David Henshaw's first report Recovering Child Support: routes to responsibility; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Plaskitt: We are currently developing plans for introducing a new system of child support. As part of this we are considering the most effective way of moving to, and administering, the new system.
We are carrying out an intensive programme of work to determine the way forward and plan to publish proposals in a White Paper, later this year.
Mr. Laws: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what employment rates were in the UK in (a) 1997 and (b) the latest year for which figures are available; and if he will make a statement. 
John Healey: I have been asked to reply.
The information requested falls within the responsibility of the National Statistician, who has been asked to reply.
Letter from Karen Dunnell, dated 22 November 2006:
As National Statistician, I have been asked to reply to your parliamentary question about employment rates in (a) 1997 and (b) the latest year for which figures are available. (102261)
The attached table gives the annual employment rates by gender for the twelve months ending in December 1997 and nine months ending September 2006.
Estimates are taken from the Labour Force Survey (LFS). As with any sample survey, estimates from the LFS are subject to a margin of uncertainty.
|Employment rates( 1) for people of working age( 2) by gender, 1997 and 2006United Kingdom, seasonally adjusted|
|Twelve months ending December each year||All persons||Men||Women|
|(1) People in employment as a percentage of all persons in the relevant age group.|
(2) Men aged 16 to 64 and women age 16 to 59.
(3) Nine months ending September 2006.
ONS Labour Force Survey (LFS)
John Austin: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport whether his consideration of the case for concessions for residents of Dartford and Thurrock using the Dartford Crossing extends to residents of (a) Bexley and (b) Greenwich; and if he will make a statement. 
Dr. Ladyman: No decisions have been made about whether or not to offer resident discounts for using the Dartford-Thurrock river crossing. The Government announced on 19 November 2006 that they would be consulting on proposed changes to the charging regime at the Dartford-Thurrock river crossings and it will be through this process that we take account of views about the proposals we have put forward.
Mr. Hayes: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport under what powers the bulk carrier Hyok Sin 2 was banned from entering UK ports; why it was banned; what it was carrying; where it was boarded; and how many other vessels of that flag have been refused entry in similar circumstances. 
Dr. Ladyman: The Hyok Sin 2 was subject to a Refusal of Access (banning) Order under Regulation 7B of the Merchant Shipping (Port State Control) Regulations 1995, as amended. These regulations incorporate the provisions of Article 11.6 of the EU Council Directive 95/21/EC. This requires member states to refuse access to their ports to certain classes of vessels if they have a poor detention record, and are flagged with flag states on the Paris Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) Black List.
The Hyok Sin 2 was boarded by Maritime and Coastguard Agency surveyors at Tees Dock on 11 April 2006 for a Port State Control inspection. The vessel failed the inspection with serious corrosion and wasting problems and was detained on safety grounds. The vessel arrived in ballast and had loaded a cargo of steel which was then discharged following the detention.
Besides the Hyok Sin 2, one other Democratic People's Republic of Korea flagged vessel, the bulk carrier Abdulrahman, is currently banned from EU ports on account of its detention history. This vessel was banned by the Portuguese authorities in December 2005.
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