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Open Government

Helen Jackson: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department if he will make a statement on promotion of open government. [55928]

Mr. Wills: With the Freedom of Information Act 2000 we have legislated to give to the people of this country, for the first time ever, a general statutory right to know. The timetable we have announced will ensure that full implementation of this new right is completed 11 months before the statutory deadline set out in the Act itself. The publication scheme provisions of the Act will be implemented first, on a rolling programme, starting with central Government in 2002. This roll out will be completed in June 2004 and the individual right of access to information held by all public authorities will be implemented in January 2005.

This approach will give public authorities the time they need to put into effect the change of culture necessary to ensure the legal rights are delivered in practice. It also aligns with the 2004 target for the completion of the Government's electronic records management. This initiative will enable the fast retrieval and accurate creation and storage of records that will be necessary to meet the demands of the Freedom of Information Act.

In his annual statutory report to Parliament in November 2001, the Lord Chancellor reported on the progress that had been made towards the implementation of the Act. In particular, he said that each Department had appointed a senior official to 'Champion' freedom of information within their Department and to lead culture change from the top of the organisation. Crucial developments are already taking place in the area of records management and Departments are preparing to meet the targets for the 2004 target for full electronic management of records. The Information Commissioner has already set up five pilot publication schemes with central Government organisation and I look forward to seeing similar pilots in local authorities and the police in the near future.

The report also announced the formation of the Lord Chancellor's Advisory Group on Implementation of the Act. The group includes members from representative organisations from across the public sector and independent representatives to advise the Lord Chancellor on what users will need in order to take advantage of their rights under the Freedom of Information Act. It has already met twice and the next meeting will take place in July.

A seminar for Ministers was held in March of this year, where Ministers were reminded of their key role in delivering compliance with the Act and a new culture of openness. In particular, we noted that there should be a Minister in each Department with responsibility for

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implementing freedom of information in that Department, its agencies and sponsored non-departmental public bodies; and those Ministers should take an active interest in the delivery of the Act within these Departments.

I have recently completed a series of road shows around the country to raise awareness of the Act at a senior level in public authorities. These events were attended by around 1,000 officials from across the public sector and officials in my Department intend to run a series of workshops in the autumn to follow-up these road shows.

This year's report, to be published in November, will contain further details of developments in all these areas. In the same month, publication schemes will come into force for central Government and other bodies already applying the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information. These schemes will provide greater access to information for all members of the public.

Officials from the Freedom of Information and Data Protection Division in my Department have undertaken awareness-raising seminars and will continue to do so. These have been held in a wide range of Departments including: the Cabinet Office; the Home Office; the Department of Health; the Northern Ireland civil service as well as in my Department. Officials also speak at the civil service college course on freedom of information and have spoken on courses and conferences arranged by other organisations. In these sessions, officials are reminded of the requirement to comply with the existing Code of Practice on Access to Government Information when answering requests for information until the Freedom of Information Act comes fully into effect in January 2005.

More information about the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information and the Freedom of Information Act 2000 is available on the Department's website at

Court Buildings

Mr. Wray: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, how many court houses have closed since 1997; and how many have had improvements made to them. [54208]

Mr. Wills: There have been 77 magistrates' court houses closed since 1997 in England and Wales, as set out in the table. Of the 404 magistrates' courts in England and Wales currently in operation, almost all have had improvements made to them in one way or another, for example, improvements to environmental systems or enhancements to enable compliance with the Disability Discrimination Act or Health and Safety legislation, including security provisions.

The Department is currently funding an ongoing programme of building works on magistrates' courts throughout England and Wales. It received a £100 million capital grant allocation during the current Spending Review 2000 period for maintenance and other building enhancements. This is funding priority maintenance and improvement works such as facilities for victims and vulnerable witnesses, as well as Disability Discrimination Act and Security facilities. The grant provides 80 per cent. of the funding with a further 20 per cent. being provided by the local authority. There is also a public private partnership programme for the provision of new courts to

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meet the needs of a 21st century court system. £210 million national credit approval (NCA) has been allocated over the CSR 2000 period.

There have been 15 county court closures since 1997 in England and Wales, as set out in the table. There are two county court closure proposals (Gravesend and Gateshead) under consideration, both of which have gone out to public consultation.

There have been no Crown court closures in England and Wales since 1997. There is, however, currently public consultation on the proposal to close the Crown court at Knutsford. Consultation commenced on 10 April and will run until the end of May.

There are 78 Crown court centres and 218 county courts (permanent) in England and Wales; many have had various renovation works undertaken. The nature of works covered varies but they include items such as health and safety works, security work, Disability Discrimination Act compliance and environmental improvements. In most instances these works have been undertaken within the scope of major maintenance schemes.

MCCMagistrates' courthouseClosure date
BedfordshireAmpthill1 January 2000
BedfordshireBiggleswade1 January 2000
BedfordshireDunstable1 January 2000
BedfordshireLeighton Buzzard1 January 2000
CambridgeshireMarch31 December 1998
CheshireWarrington Patten Hall1 April 2001
CheshireMacclesfield Park Green1 April 2001
CumbriaKeswick30 April 2000
CumbriaAppleby31 May 2000
CumbriaWindermere31 May 2000
CumbriaWigton31 May 2000
DerbyshireAlfreton1 January 2001
DerbyshireAshbourne1 January 2001
DerbyshireBakewell1 January 2001
DerbyshireMatlock1 January 2001
Devon and CornwallBideford30 April 2001
Devon and CornwallExmouth30 April 2001
Devon and CornwallKingsbridge30 April 2001
Devon and CornwallSouth Molton30 April 2001
Devon and CornwallTeignmouth30 April 2001
Devon and CornwallTavistock30 April 2001
Devon and CornwallAxminster4 May 2001
Devon and CornwallTiverton4 May 2001
Devon and CornwallNewquay30 June 2001
DorsetChristchurch31 March 1999
DorsetGillingham30 September 2001
DurhamBarnard Castle31 December 1998
EssexSaffron Walden31 December 1998
GloucestershireStow on the Wold30 June 1999
Greater LondonMarlborough Street31 March 98
Greater LondonClerkenwell31 December 1998
Greater ManchesterLeigh31 March 2001
Greater ManchesterMiddleton31 March 2001
Hampshire and Isle of WightSouthampton (Commercial Road)31 August 2001
HertfordshireBishop's Stortford31 March 1998
HertfordshireHatfield31 March 1998
HertfordshireHitchin31 March 1998
HumbersideBridlington9 November 2001
HumbersideBrough9 November 2001
HumbersideDriffield9 November 2001
HumbersideHull (Guildhall)9 November 2001
HumbersideHull (Lowgate)9 November 2001
HumbersidePocklington9 November 2001
HumbersideWithernsea9 November 2001
KentSheerness31 December 1998
KentWest Malling31 December 1998
KentGravesend9 June 2000
LancashireLytham31 December 1998
LeicestershireLutterworth31 July 1998
LincolnshireMarket Rasen31 March 1998
NorfolkDiss31 December 1998
North WalesCorwen31 December 1998
North WalesAbergele31 December 2000
North YorkshireMalton6 February 1998
North YorkshireRipon1 August 1998
StaffordshireLichfield31 March 2000
StaffordshireLeek31 March 2001
StaffordshireWomborne1 September 2001
SuffolkFelixstowe31 December 1998
SuffolkHaverhill31 December 1998
SuffolkSaxmundham31 December 1998
SuffolkStowmarket31 December 1998
SuffolkNewmarket31 December 1998
SurreyChertsey31 March 1998
SurreyFarnham31 March 1998
SurreyOxted31 March 1998
SussexArundel1 December 2001
Thames ValleyAbingdon31 March 1999
Thames ValleyHenley on Thames31 March 1999
Thames ValleyWindsor31 March 1999
West MerciaWorcester31 March 2001
West MerciaBridgenorth31 January 2002
West MerciaLeominster31 January 2002
West YorkshireMorley31 March 1999
West YorkshirePudsey31 March 1999
West YorkshireKeighley1 April 2000
WiltshireWootton Bassett2 October 2000

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County court Closure date
Rochdale7 September 1998
Holywell7 September 1998
Camborne and Redruth24 December 1998
Hemel Hempstead24 December 1998
West Bromwich24 December 1998
Loughborough31 December 1998
Corby1 March 1999
Bridgwater20 December 1999
Great Yarmouth31 January 2000
Grays Thurrock31 January 2000
Lichfield3 July 2000
Caerphilly30 November 2000
Workington2 January 2001
Chepstow1 April 2002
Monmouth1 April 2002

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