§ Mr. Singh
To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department if he will make a statement on the take up among solicitors' firms of the new general criminal contracts being issued for criminal legal work by the Legal Services Commission. 
§ Mr. Lock
Solicitors firms will be invited by the Legal Services Commission to sign contracts in the second half of February 2001. The Lord Chancellor has just announced an overall increase in payments of 7.25 per cent. available to criminal practitioners in private practice who sign the criminal defence service contract, which will be introduced on 2 April 2001. There are some 3,300 solicitors offices which currently hold a crime franchise and provide criminal legal aid services throughout England and Wales which will be invited to sign contracts with the Commission.