Select Committee on Public Administration Second Report


Submitted by the Lord Chancellors's Department

Thank you for your letter and enclosures of 9 June.

I will comment on the Lord Chancellor's Department's 'blocking' answers to Parliamentary Questions in the order that they appear on the Table Office's list.

I do not accept that this is a 'blocking' answer. The Minister provided Mr Wigley with a full and detailed response explaining the different responsibilities that the Lord Chancellor's Department has for the different levels of court. The responsibility for taking decisions on the location and number of Magistrates' courts lies with the local Magistrates' Courts Committee under section 56 (1) of the Justices of the Peace Act 1997. These Committees are independent of the Department. The Lord Chancellor is involved only if an appeal against closure is lodged. The answer was a correct statement of the factual position.

Again, I do not accept that this is a 'blocking' answer. The answer provides as much information as is consistent with the long established convention that the Queen's Speech should not be pre-empted. All Members of Parliament will be aware of this convention. This question was a round robin asked to a number of departments and it received similar answers from other departments.

This answer correctly identified an issue of legal privilege. The detail of the legal fees agreed between a lawyer and his client in individual cases is privileged information which the Department cannot collect centrally. I accept that this answer did not provide Sir Nicholas with the information that he was seeking on insurance products for conditional fee arrangements. At the time of the question, however, this part of the insurance market was expanding rapidly and it would have been difficult, without incurring disproportionate cost, to provide a comprehensive list of any accuracy.

Sir Nicholas tabled a follow-up question, number 81146, which asked the Minister to publish such details of insurance products to support the use of conditional fees as were available to him. This was answered on 20 April 1999, Official Report, column 534 and details were provided of 8 insurers. Sir Nicholas tabled a further follow up, number 82472, which asked for written materials to be placed in the library of the House. The answer on 30 April, Official Report, column 276 and the materials requested were placed in the library of the House.

I hope that these explanations are sufficiently full to assist the Committee.

28 June 2000

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