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Ministerial Travel

Mr. Burns: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills how many times Ministers in her Department have travelled abroad at taxpayers' expense since March 2001; what countries they visited; and what the total cost of each visit was. [47118]

Mr. Ivan Lewis [holding answer 10 April 2002]: I refer the hon. Member to the reply given by my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister on 11 April 2002, Official Report, column 552W.

Statutory Instruments

Mr. Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, pursuant to her answer of 25 February 2002, Official Report, columns 722–3W, on

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statutory instruments, what assessment she has made of the cost effectiveness of each of the statutory instruments listed in the document placed in the Library. [50017]

Mr. Ivan Lewis: Costs associated with regulatory proposals are considered at the policy development stage. A Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA) is completed for regulatory proposals unless there are no or negligible costs, and sets out the impact, in terms of costs, benefits and risks of the proposed regulation which could affect businesses, charities or the voluntary sector. RIAs are available from the Libraries of the House.

Departmental Underspend

Mr. Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, pursuant to her answer of 3 December 2001, Official Report, column 81W, regarding end year flexibility, if the remaining sum was spent in 2001–02. [50333]

Estelle Morris: £530 million of the underspend remained available on 3 December 2001. £130 million of this amount has been drawn down for use in 2001–02 and the remaining amount will be carried forward for use in 2002–03 or later years.

NVQ Level II Funding

Mr. Burstow: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, pursuant to her answer of the 26 March 2002, Official Report, column 902W, regarding NVQ level II funding, what steps her Department has taken with the Department of Health to ensure that all those individuals who qualify for (a) grants and (b) funds have knowledge of and access to them; and if she will make a statement. [50564]

Mr. Timms: This Department and its partners such as the Learning and Skills Council, education and training providers, local authorities and the Connexions Service take a wide range of steps to ensure that individuals have knowledge of, and access to, grants and funds to pursue education and training at all levels. Examples include: local marketing strategies developed by partners to reflect local needs and priorities; national leaflets on financial support while studying; other national and local marketing and careers material; advice and guidance from the Connexions Service and other information and guidance services; and the national learndirect telephone help-line.

The Learning and Skills Council and other partners are working with the Department of Health, the Training Organisation for Social Care (TOPSS) and social care employers to ensure that the maximum number of care staff receive supported NVQ training.

Mr. Burstow: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, pursuant to her answer of 26 March 2002, Official Report, column 902W, regarding NVQ level II funding, what (a) funds and (b) grants are available to individuals over the age of 24 years to obtain NVQ level II. [50560]

Mr. Timms: The Government provide 75 per cent. of the standard national course costs to the Learning and Skills Council to pass on to colleges. Additionally, students in further education can seek financial help towards the additional costs associated with study, ie transport, fees, books and equipment, and exam costs

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from the discretionary Access Fund, if they can demonstrate particular need. It also helps with short-term child care and, to a limited extent, emergency payments for living expenses. The Childcare Support Fund offers help to lone parents and others who are on low incomes with the cost of registered child care while studying. Career development loans are also available to individuals undertaking vocational courses, to cover the cost of fees and associated costs which are not supported from other sources. However, colleges at their discretion may remit some or all of the tuition fee for adults where there is financial hardship or they may offer access to a college hardship fund.

LORD CHANCELLOR'S DEPARTMENT

High Court Judges

Lady Hermon: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department what measures are being taken in Northern Ireland to ensure that more women and more members of the ethnic minorities become High Court judges. [46368]

Ms Rosie Winterton: Arising from recommendations in the Northern Ireland Criminal Justice Review, the Lord Chancellor, in December of last year, appointed Mr. John Simpson as Commissioner for Judicial Appointments for Northern Ireland. The Commissioner will oversee the development of a strategy of equal opportunity and outreach designed to broaden the pool of potential applicants for judicial office. Particular emphasis will be placed on the introduction of measures designed to encourage applications from sectors of the community that have been historically under-represented or where applications have been disproportionately low. All appointments, however, will continue to be made on merit and merit alone. The Commissioner will publish his first annual report to the Lord Chancellor early next year.

Marriage and Relationship Support

Bob Spink: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department how much money was awarded under the Government's marriage and relationship support programme to (a) National Marriage Week, (b) the Family Matters Institute and (c) the Lesbian and Gay Foundation, in the two most recent annual rounds. [48859]

Ms Rosie Winterton: Total funding under the Marriage and Relationship Support Grant Programme was £4.5 million in 2001–02 and is £5 million in 2002–03.

National Marriage Week 2001–02 was supported through the grant of £31,500 paid to Oasis Media (the PR company employed by Futureway Trust). Oasis Media and Futureway also received advisory support and guidance from officials in the Lord Chancellor's Department. The bid for 2002–03 did not score sufficiently highly against the published grant criteria to receive funding.

The Lesbian and Gay Foundation was supported for the first time in 2002–03 with a grant of £48,000.

Family Matters Institute has never received funding from the Marriage and Relationship Support Grant. It applied this year, but did not score sufficiently highly against grant criteria.

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Court of Protection

Mr. John Taylor: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department if she will make a statement about delays at the Court of Protection; whether they derive from the recent re-location of that service; and whether its filing systems have been affected by the move. [48734]

Ms Rosie Winterton: The Court of Protection, which is the Judicial 'arm' of the PGO, continues to deal with any work that it receives very speedily. In 2001–02, over 90 per cent. of submissions received from the PGO were processed within five working days. However, there have been recent delays in the PGO (which provides the administrative support to the court) which have impacted on the overall service delivery received by the court's clients.

It is correct to say that the recent relocation of the court and the PGO, which is now complete, has been a contributing factor to the cause of the delays. The PGO is very conscious indeed of the need to improve its services and reduce delay and much work is being done to address this.

All 25,000 plus case dossiers were moved from the PGO's old location to Archway and the new filing system has taken some time to bed down. A pilot of an electronic file scanning system, using bar codes, is about to start which it is hoped will considerably improve the ability to manage records more effectively. This will be a precursor to the development and implementation of the new electronic case record management system ('MERIS') which is due to be operational within the next 18 months and will ultimately reduce reliance on paper dossiers.

Press Office

Mr. Burns: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department what the total cost of running the Department's press office was in (a) 1996–97 and (b) the latest year for which figures are available. [46810]

Mr. Wills: The Lord Chancellor's Department's communications functions were incorporated into a new group in 1998. The annual costs for arrangements before 1998 are no longer available. The total cost of press office activity for FY 2001–02 which includes indirect costs to 31 December 2001, salaries and other staff costs, and expenditure on press office services is £503,135.

This figure does not include the costs of any work undertaken in other parts of the communications group on publications, internal communications and the staff journal, the LCD website and general administration activities.


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