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Euro

49. Mr. Allen: To ask the President of the Council to ask the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire, representing the House of Commons Commission, what provision has been made in the accounting procedures of the House for the use of the euro; and if he will make a statement. [25065]

Mr. Kirkwood: The accounting procedures used by the House follow those generally used in central Government Departments, and are based upon Treasury guidance. The accounting systems of the House (in common with most modern systems) have multi-currency capabilities. The House accounts for all transactions in sterling.

Pre-Legislative Scrutiny

50. Fiona Mactaggart: To ask the President of the Council if he will make a statement on his plans for pre-legislative scrutiny of bills. [25066]

Mr. Stephen Twigg: I refer my hon. Friend to the answer to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mr. Lazarowicz) on 4 December 2001, Official Report, column 165W.

Oath of Allegiance

51. Hugh Bayley: To ask the President of the Council if he will bring forward proposals to reform the Parliamentary Oath. [25067]

Mr. Stephen Twigg: I refer my hon. Friend to the reply I gave earlier to the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton).

Electronic Voting

52. Mr. Ben Chapman: To ask the President of the Council if he will make a statement on his proposals to the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons about the future use of electronic methods of voting. [25068]

Mr. Stephen Twigg: Used appropriately, electronic voting could have advantages for Members by reducing the time spent on divisions rather than debate. The Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons may wish to consider my right hon. Friend's proposals.

Question Time

53. Miss McIntosh: To ask the President of the Council if he will make a statement on his proposals to reform question time. [25069]

Mr. Stephen Twigg: The Procedure Committee is currently conducting an inquiry into parliamentary questions. We look forward to their recommendations.

Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards

Peter Bottomley: To ask the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire, representing the House of Commons Commission, when the Commission agreed to pay the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards for four days a week; when the Commission first understood the average days worked was five days a week; and when, why and how it decided to offer the next term at three days a week. [25148]

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Mr. Kirkwood [holding answer 9 January 2002]: The Commissioner for Standards was initially offered the post on the basis of three days a week. The Commission agreed to increase the salary to one based on employment for four days, but this was done in response to representations made by Mrs. Filkin and was not based on any re-assessment of her likely workload. The Commission was told by the Chairman of the Committee on Standards and Privileges on 10 December 2001 that the Commissioner for Standards was in fact working for about five days a week. As for the decision to advertise the next term as likely to be for three days a week, I refer the hon. Member to the answers I gave on 23 November 2001, Official Report, column 484W, and 28 November 2001, Official Report, column 871W.

Peter Bottomley: To ask the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire, representing the House of Commons Commission, what policy the Commission has adopted in relation to the correction of information concerning the recent letter from the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. [25533]

Mr. Kirkwood [holding answer 9 January 2002]: If the hon. Member is able to be more precise about the events he has in mind, I will endeavour to reply to his question.

House Facilities

Mr. Simon Thomas: To ask the President of the Council what proposals he plans to make to the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons for improving the facilities for families in the House. [25060]

Mr. Robin Cook: Responsibility for improving facilities for Members in the House rests with the Accommodation Committee.

However, I understand that some work has already been carried out in improving the facilities in the Families Room and the Refreshment Department. An experimental play scheme last summer adjournment was successful and we hope to repeat it. If any Member has further proposals, I would be happy to consider how best to take them forward.

LORD CHANCELLOR'S DEPARTMENT

Rural Magistrates Courts

34. Mr. Grogan: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department if he will review policy on the closure of rural magistrates courts; and what assessment he has made of the findings of the Auld report on this subject. [25048]

Mr. Wills: No. The Government's policy is that decisions concerning the number, location and future of magistrates courts are for magistrates courts committees to determine, in consultation with its local paying authority.

In answer to the second part of my hon. Friend's question, we will consider this carefully, taking account of responses to Sir Robin Auld's Review Report. The assessment will be made after the period for public comment closes on 31 January.

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Magistrates

35. Mr. Stephen O'Brien: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department if he will make a statement as to the role of magistrates under the proposals in the report of Lord Justice Auld. [25050]

Mr. Wills: Sir Robin Auld recommends retaining magistrates in their present summary jurisdiction and recommends a new role for magistrates alongside professional Judges in a new intermediate District Division. The Government welcome views on these proposals. The period for public comment runs until the end of January.

CAFCASS

36. Paddy Tipping: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, when she last met the Chairman of CAFCASS to discuss its progress. [25051]

Ms Rosie Winterton: I met the Chairman of CAFCASS yesterday to discuss the progress of the organisation.

Courthouses (PFI)

37. Bob Russell: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department what progress has been made in building new court houses by means of the private finance initiative. [25052]

Mr. Wills: The Court Service is currently supporting 12 local authority and three Court Service PFI schemes. Of these, four contracts have been signed and new courthouses have opened in Kidderminster, Hereford, Hull, Beverley and Bridlington. This is the start of a steady steam of new and refurbished court buildings being delivered that will provide a better and more efficient service to court users in modern user friendly and secure surroundings.

Charges Against Property

38. Mr. Gardiner: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department if he will review the process of recording a charge against property. [25053]

Mr. Wills: The Land Registration Bill now before Parliament and rules to be made under it will modernise and simplify the law relating to charges (including charges created by electronic means) over registered land in England and Wales. The Government are also considering the recommendation made in the report of the Company Law Review Steering Group published in July last year that the Law Commission should be asked to examine the system for the registration of company charges and security and "quasi-security" generally over property other than land.

Public Guardianship Office

40. Mr. Kidney: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department what customer-friendly policies the Public Guardianship Office has developed since its creation. [25055]

Ms Rosie Winterton: Since the PGO was created on 1 April 2001 several significant customer-friendly policies have been developed and are progressing well. These

15 Jan 2002 : Column 171W

include the launch of a new website with downloadable forms, an extension to the opening hours of the Customer Contact Centre, the introduction of a text phone, and the establishment of a system of regularly surveying our customers' views. The PGO has also introduced the following initiatives:









Mr. Lidington: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department what target she has set for the Public Guardianship Office to respond to letters from hon. Members. [27111]

Ms Rosie Winterton: The Public Guardianship Office has a Key Performance Measure which applies to letters from hon. Members as well as from the general public. It currently requires 85 per cent. of letters to be responded to within 15 days of receipt. In the period 1 April to 30 November 2001 this target was exceeded and 91.9 per cent. of letters received a response before the target date. However, it is very unfortunate that the hon. Member's letter of 14 November was answered outside of this target, for which the PGO offers it sincere apologies.

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Mr. Lidington: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department when the Chief Executive of the Public Guardianship Office intends to reply to the letter from the hon. Member for Aylesbury of 14 November 2001 about his constituent Mr. A. B. Clarke. [27112]

Ms Rosie Winterton: I have been informed that the Acting Chief Executive replied to the letter on 11 January 2002. I take this opportunity to apologise, on behalf of the Public Guardianship Office, to the hon. Member for the unfortunate delay in responding to his letter. The PGO is currently re-evaluating the way it deals with complaints, including letters from MPs, and plans to introduce a new, tighter and more effective handling system by April 2002.

Mr. Lidington: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department what assessment she has made of whether the Public Guardianship Office is continuing to meet the standards of responsiveness to inquiries from members of the public implied by its Chartermark. [27110]

Ms Rosie Winterton: The Public Guardianship Office does not yet have the Chartermark. It does have a key performance measure that requires 85 per cent. of letters to be responded to within 15 days of receipt. In the period 1 April to 30 November 2001 this target was exceeded and 91.9 per cent. of letters received a response before the target date. However, it is very unfortunate indeed that a recent letter from the hon. Member was dealt with outside the target, for which the organisation offers its sincere apologies. A response has now been given. The PGO is currently re-evaluating the way it deals with complaints, including letters from hon. Members, and plans to introduce a new, tighter and more effective handling system by April 2002. The PGO is also introducing and rolling out team working throughout the Client Service area, with the aim of improving the service it offers to customers.


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