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The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): I am today announcing a package of measures, which will help achieve better value for money in the legal aid system while ensuring that help continues to go to those who need it most.
A consultation paper has been published today on the Criminal Defence Service (CDS), Delivering Value for Money in the Criminal Defence Service, which sets out a range of proposals to ensure that CDS expenditure is targeted on those areas where legal aid can best advance and protect a client's interests. Copies of the consultation paper have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
A further consultation paper, Proposed Changes to Publicly Funded Immigration and Asylum Work, has also been published today. This sets out proposals to ensure that we obtain more effective controls of costs and quality in legal advice given to asylum seekers. Copies of this consultation paper have also been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
I can also announce that we are setting up a project to consider the likely supply of and demand for lawyers over the coming years and to establish what remuneration rates may be necessary. This will provide an evidential basis for decisions to ensure a sufficient supply of lawyers of the right quality prepared to undertake legal aid work in the coming years.
Finally we are fully implementing the scheme for contracting very high cost criminal cases. These are cases which last (or are estimated to last) over 25 days at trial, or cost more than £150,000. This scheme will ensure better value for money, help the aims of better and earlier case preparation and give the professions greater certainty about payment for work.
Since 1 January 2002, 484 Northern Ireland Questions for Written Answer have exceeded the 14-day deadline. However, I hope that the noble Lord will understand that the suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly and transfer of powers to Westminster has added a considerable burden of work to the Northern Ireland Office.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: The Northern Ireland Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure has been receiving copies of the minutes of the Board meetings of the Ulster-Scots Agency since August 2001. The minutes are used to inform the department about the activities of the agency.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: The Answer given on 30 April 2003 (WA 101) provided exact set-up cost details for Waterways Ireland. This figure (£195,000) differed from the response given on 25 March 2003 (WA 72) (£200,000) as the figure in that Answer had been rounded up.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): On 27 February the Home Office issued a consultation paper on the reform of the disclosure process to seek the views of registered bodies and others on how best to take forward a number of the recommendations of the independent review team (Official Report, column 33-36WS). The consultation period closed on 25 April; 570 responses were received. We have today placed in the Library of the House an analysis of those responses. We will consider carefully the views expressed in response to the consultation before deciding how best to proceed.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: Each year, to comply with a requirement in the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, the Government present to Parliament statistics relating to scientific procedures using animals in Great Britain. The statistics, based on data collected from those conducting licensed programmes of work under the Act, are published as a Command Paper and placed in the Library.
For some while suggestions have been made, from different quarters and in various contexts, as to how the statistics might be improved, both as regards the information provided and the way it is presented. More recently the statistics have been the subject of recommendations by the House of Lords Select Committee on Animals in Scientific Procedures, in its report published last July.
In the government response to that Select Committee, we stated we would have the statistics reviewed to see how their content and presentation might be improved. This is to inform the House that Bob Ainsworth has today written to the chairman of the Animal Procedures Committeethe independent advisory body set up under the 1986 Actasking for that committee to carry out a thorough review.
The review is to take into account all the views and recommendations already put forward on the statistics, and to involve widespread consultation with stakeholders, other interested parties and the wider public. The expected cost of any recommended changes, especially in terms of any additional burden on the scientific community would have to be fully justified by the likely benefits.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I have today placed in the Library of the House a copy of the Criminal Records Bureau's corporate and business plan for 200304. After a difficult first seven months of operations, the business plan builds on the steady improvements in performance since last autumn. The average number of disclosures issued each week since October stands at 40,000 compared with 24,500 a week last August. Turnaround times have reduced from over eight weeks to under five and the number of aged applications over six weeks old (and not awaiting further information from the applicant) has been reduced from a peak of 76,000 to under 10,000.
For 200304, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has set the CRB challenging but realistic service standards which take into account the experience of the first year of operating. The CRB will now seek to process 90 per cent of applications for a standard disclosure within two weeks and 90 per cent of applications for an enhanced disclosure within four weeks.
As a result of the service improvements in recent months, the CRB is able to increase its capacity to 60,000 disclosures a week and consequently it can now commence criminal record checks on care workers postponed last November (Official Report, 1 November 2002, cols. WA 48-50)
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health has today issued a consultation paper on the necessary amendments to the Domiciliary Care Agencies Regulations 2002, Nurses Agencies Regulations 2002 and the Care Homes Regulations 2001.
The lower volume of throughput, as a result of the slower introduction of checks on the key groups mentioned above and the deferment of basic disclosures, together with other factors have resulted in higher unit costs. The costs for 200203 have been met by the three key departments, namely the Home Office, Department of Health and Department for Education and Skills. The business plan develops a costing regime retaining free checks for volunteers and a new full-cost recovery plan with full effect from 2005.
The Government made it clear when the current £12 fee was announced (Official Report, 2 April 2001, col. WA 92) that it was our intention that the bureau would be self-financing in the medium term. That remains our objective. However, in the short term, the costs of the CRB will continue to be met by a combination of fee receipts and contributions from the Home Office, the Department of Health and the Department for Education and Skills. As we move towards full-cost recovery, it is necessary to increase the disclosure fees. From 1 July the fee for a standard disclosure will be £24 and that for an enhanced disclosure will be £29. Volunteers will continue to receive free disclosures. The necessary amendment to the Police Act 1997 (Criminal Records) Regulations 2002 has been laid before Parliament today.
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