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Official Meetings

Mr. Matthew Taylor: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will list the organisations which he met in his official capacity during November, indicating the number of occasions on which he met each organisation. [142538]

Miss Melanie Johnson: My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer had a number of meetings with representatives from a range of organisations.

Equitable Life

Dr. Cable: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on the performance of the FSA in regulating the insurance sector, with particular reference to Equitable Life. [143169]

Miss Melanie Johnson [holding answer 18 December 2000]: The Government have noted the statements from the Financial Services Authority (FSA) and Equitable Life on 8 December that Equitable Life would close to new business with immediate effect. We welcome the fact that the FSA and the Society are working closely together to protect the interests of policyholders.

The FSA intends to prepare a report on the events leading to the closure of Equitable Life to new business. The report will cover both the FSA's role as prudential regulator and its exercise of its functions under the Financial Services Act 1986. The report is likely to take some months to complete and will be published.

Office of Government Commerce

Mrs. Lawrence: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if the review of the Office of Government Commerce, including the quinquennial reviews of the Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency and Property Advisers to the Civil Estate, has been completed; and if he will make a statement. [143687]

Mr. Andrew Smith: The review of OGC which I announced on 12 July 2000, Official Report, column 595W, which also encompassed the quinquennial reviews of CCTA and PACE due by the end of this year, has now been completed, and its recommendations have been agreed by Ministers after endorsement by the OGC's Supervisory Board.

The objective of the review was to recommend an organisational structure which would best align the resources of OGC and its three executive agencies--

19 Dec 2000 : Column: 162W

CCTA, PACE and The Buying Agency (TBA)--to deliver successfully its vision and strategies. It involved an extensive consultation with Departments and other customers, as well as with suppliers and other stakeholders including staff and trade unions. The review proposes a more cohesive organisation, with a greater focus and capability for working with Departments to achieve substantial value for money improvements in the Government's procurement budget.

From 1 April 2001, OGC will incorporate PACE and a number of CCTA functions, to provide a more unified organisation, working to a common purpose. In addition, there will be a single trading fund, and executive agency of OGC, based on TBA together with the catalogue and managed services activities in CCTA. This will mean ending the executive agency status of CCTA and PACE, and incorporating some CCTA functions within TBA. To reflect this, subject to the laying of the necessary resolutions before this House, TBA's name will be changed to "OGC" from 1 April 2001.

The result will be a more efficient and effective organisation which, while building on current strengths, will add and support new capabilities to meet Ministers' and Departments' requirements. It will also have the flexibility to respond to new requirements. This more unified organisation will improve OGC's ability to lead and support the procurement community.

TBA's financial year, which currently runs from 1 January until 31 December, is being brought into line with OGC. For this year only, TBA will operate an extended 15 month accounting period ending on 31 March 2001. Thereafter, they will operate on an April to March financial year. The Agency's financial target has been extended to cover the 15 month period, and it will be expected to achieve a return on capital employed at an annual rate of 8 per cent. over the full 15 month period.

I have arranged for copies of the review to be placed in the Library of the House, and the review is also available on the OGC website


Trial by Jury

32. Mr. Clappison: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department what assessment he has made of the change in the work load of (a) magistrates and (b) judges as a result of the proposal to restrict trial by jury. [141595]

33. Mr. Leigh: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department if he will make a statement on the effect on the administration of the court system of restricting trial by jury. [141596]

Mr. Lock: The proposal to restrict trial by jury will increase the magistrates' current work load of nearly 2 million criminal proceedings a year by about 14,000. The work load of the Crown court will consequently decrease significantly, even if account is taken of a number of appeals on mode of trial and an increase in appeals against conviction from defendants previously electing for trial in the Crown court.

19 Dec 2000 : Column: 163W

Enforcement Procedures Review

34. Mr. Illsley: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department what representations he has received regarding the report on the first phases of the Enforcement Procedures Review. [141597]

Mr. Lock: I have had representations from the debt advice sector and some Members regarding charging orders. The proposal was, of course, subject to public consultation, but now some new points have been raised. Following these representations, I will be looking at this proposal in more detail and will be consulting further before any changes come into effect.


35. Mr. Gardiner: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department for what reason his Department's proposals for the introduction of commonhold do not make commonhold the default tenure for all new-build apartments. [141598]

Mr. Lock: Commonhold will be a new way of owning property in England and Wales. We believe it would be irresponsible to force buyers into commonhold before the new market has had a chance to develop and prove itself.

Access to Justice

36. Mr. Luff: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department if he will make a statement on access to justice in Worcestershire. [141599]

Mr. Lock: The Lord Chancellor's aim is to provide a fair, swift and effective system of justice. There are five magistrates' courts in Worcestershire, four county courts and one Crown court.

The Department is currently supporting Private Finance Initiative schemes to provide new magistrates courts at Worcester and Kidderminster and to refurbish the courthouse at Redditch.

At Worcester combined court £1.1 million has been spent over the last four years, the majority of this expenditure on roof repairs.

The Community Legal Service Partnership has been formed in Worcestershire and there are now 104 firms of solicitors and advice agencies in the latest Community Legal Service Directory.

Proscribed Drugs

37. Mr. Clifton-Brown: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department what guidance she has issued on sentencing policy for those dealing with intent in proscribed drugs. [141600]

Jane Kennedy: I refer the hon. Member to the written answer I gave him on 25 July 2000, Official Report, column 538W.

Sentencing is a matter for the courts. Parliament lays down the parameters within which sentencers must work. It is then for the courts to decide on the sentence in the light of the facts of the case and after taking into consideration the circumstances of the offence and the offender. The Government cannot issue guidance to sentencers as it is a fundamental principle that the Executive does not interfere with judicial discretion.

19 Dec 2000 : Column: 164W

Magistrates Courts

38. Mr. Chope: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department what representations she has received about her proposals to change the funding regime for magistrates courts. [141601]

Jane Kennedy: In response to the consultation document outlining proposed changes, the Lord Chancellor's Department received responses from 39 Magistrates courts committees (of the 42 Committees which will exist from 1 April 2001) and from 21 of the local paying authorities. Comments were also received from the magistrates courts representative bodies and Local Government Association.

Judges' Lodgings

39. Mr. Dismore: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, if she will make a statement on the cost and usage of judges' lodgings. [141603]

Jane Kennedy: As my hon. Friend is aware, an internal review of judges lodgings is currently taking place which encompasses both cost and usage. It will:

The Lord Chancellor has already begun consultation with the Judiciary on the review. When he makes his decisions, which will be as soon as possible, he will publish them along with the review.

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