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Yesterday in Parliament, Owen P mentioned the nearly 9 million pounds spentby DEFRA on outside law firms from  2002 to end September 2004
Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire) (Con): The Minister is not being straight with us. This morning, I talked to Dr. Ivor Davis, chairman of the British Beekeepers Association. He is adamant that pollination, which as the Minister says, and ADAS confirms, is worth 120 million to British agriculture, is jeopardised by the proposed cut, which would reduce the number of inspectors. Will the Minister confirm now that the programme and the number of inspectors will be maintained in full?

If I may help the hon. Gentleman, I point out that he could find 250,000 by making a modest saving from DEFRA's astonishing annual travel budget of
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2,224,000 or from the incredible 8,959,406.49 spent on only three outside law firms, as revealed in written answers in February.



 Departmental Expenditure

Mr. George Osborne: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs how much the Department spent on lawyers in each year since 1997; how many (a) actions, (b) settlements and (c) court cases there were in each year; and what the costs were of each settlement. [206462]

Alun Michael: The following reply is based on the assumption that this question is seeking information about amounts spent in relation to civil litigation.

Defra conducts the majority of its litigation in house with other cases being dealt with on its behalf by the Treasury Solicitor's Department and by external solicitors. Defra came into existence in June 2001 and therefore has no records prior to that date. Defra's centralised records since that date relating to the information requested show only the number of new files it has handled in each year. The information indicates the number of new files opened in each year is as follows:
1991-92 449
1992-93 359
1993-94 283
1994-95 165

This will usually correspond to the number of new actions/cases but not necessarily so. The number will include arbitrations and other ADR resolution and also claims which were resolved prior to the issue of proceedings and did not in the event proceed to court. Information about the number of actions is therefore approximate. Defra does not hold information in a centralised readily accessible format as to the number of settlements, number of court cases and the costs of each settlement, because collectively such information would involve disproportionate effort and it is not clear that it would help performance.

Treasury Solicitors have records for the number of files for matters concerning Defra on which they have worked in any one year and the total sums billed to Defra including disbursements. The figures for the number of matters do not represent new cases or even new files because it is only matters on which work has been done and so some new cases will be worked on in the following (and possibly subsequent) years. The figures are as follows:
2001-02 74 779,074.11
2002-03 57 606,608.30
2003-04 56 440,277.52
2004-05 40 64,097.21

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Treasury Solicitors do not hold in centralised and readily accessible form information about the number of court cases and the costs of each settlement. To obtain this information would involve disproportionate effort.

Defra retains external solicitors to provide some litigation services. The same caveats as above apply in relation to the number of matters they have acted upon.

Firm 1:

The total number of matters they have acted upon for Defra for each year is:
Number of matters
2001-02 175
2003 71
2004 28

The total legal fees paid to them for the period from 2002 to end September 2004 is: fees 4,252,987.50, disbursements 558,981.54, and VAT of 837,543.42 totalling 5,649,512.46.

Firm 2:

This firm has handled 23 matters for the Department since 2001. Its total fees as at December 2004 including disbursements and VAT amount to 2,043,309.

Firm 3:

This firm has handled seven matters for the Department since 2001. Its total fees to date amount to 1,029,341 plus disbursements of 48,752.67 and VAT of 188,491.36.

We do not hold centralised and readily accessible information about the number of court cases and the costs of each settlement in relation to the matters handled by the external solicitors. To obtain this information would involve disproportionate effort.