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Eye Surgery

Mr. Robert McCartney: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what is his policy with respect to providing the radial keratotomy procedure in the health service; what assessment he has made as to its efficacy; and if he will make a statement on its acceptance in respect of police appointments. [11197]

Mr. Moss: Radial keratotomy is not routinely available in the health and personal social services in Northern Ireland. The procedure is often viewed as cosmetic since short-sightedness can be corrected with glasses or contact lenses. It would be a matter for health and social services boards and general practitioner fundholders to decide whether or not to purchase this procedure based on the health needs of their population.

A person who has had radial keratotomy is not regarded as acceptable for recruitment to the Royal Ulster Constabulary or the Reserve, as is also the case for most UK police forces and the armed forces. This advice has been included in recent medical guidelines circulated to the police service by the Home Office.

Targeting Social Need Policy

Mr. Worthington: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what (a) policy and (b) discussion papers he has issued since the "targeting social need" policy was adopted by the Government; how this policy was to be implemented; and what were the reasons behind that approach. [10940]

Mr. Ancram: The "targeting social need" initiative has sought to direct resources towards Northern Ireland's most disadvantaged areas and people, objectively defined as being in greatest need, irrespective of community background. A major effect of this should be to reduce socio-economic differentials between Protestants and Catholics. This approach was taken because of statistical evidence of greater levels of deprivation among Catholics than among Protestants, though socio-economic disadvantage exists on both sides of the community.

The targeting social need approach has been reflected in a range of strategy documents and discussion papers published by Northern Ireland Departments in recent years on their social and economic policies. Examples include the Department of Economic Development's publication "Growing Competitively", May 1995, and the Department of the Environment's "Making Belfast Work" strategy document, March 1995. Published research papers on patterns of disadvantage and community differentials have also helped in applying the initiative.

22 Jan 1997 : Column: 658

Further Education Initiative

Mr. Worthington: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland which further education colleges are being considered for initiatives under the private finance initiative; and what procedures are being followed in respect of such initiatives with particular reference to the Government's plans to incorporate the colleges. [10943]

Mr. Ancram: Procedures under the private finance initiative are currently being applied to major capital needs at the North West and Belfast institutes of further and higher education. These procedures will be unaffected by the planned incorporation of further education colleges in Northern Ireland.

School Closures

Mr. Worthington: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what (a) powers and (b) duties he has in relation to school closures and amalgamations. [10945]

Mr. Ancram: The Department of Education's powers and duties in relation to the closure or amalgamation of controlled or voluntary schools are contained in article 14 of the Education and Libraries (Northern Ireland) Order 1986.

In addition, the Department has powers and duties under articles 80, 81 and 82 of the 1989 Education Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 in relation to the closure, withdrawal of grant and winding up of a grant- maintained integrated school.

Legislation Programme

Mr. Worthington: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what plans he has to introduce legislation on (a) further education, (b) nursery vouchers, (c) education and library boards and (d) race relations. [10980]

Mr. Ancram: The legislative position is as follows:

Action for Community Employment

Mr. Worthington: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the operation of the action for community employment scheme. [10979]

Mr. Ancram: Responsibility for the subject in question has been delegated to the Training and Employment Agency under its chief executive, Mr. Ian Walters. I have asked him to arrange for a reply to be given.

22 Jan 1997 : Column: 659

Letter from Mr. Ian Walters to Mr. Tony Worthington, dated 22 January 1997:

Higher Education (Research Support)

Mr. Worthington: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what factors underlie the changes in the Northern Ireland arrangements for research support in Northern Ireland higher education. [10986]

Mr. Ancram: The maintenance of law and order as the Government's top spending priority in Northern Ireland and the decision to concentrate resources within the education service on schools, and in particular the classroom, were the main factors underlying the reductions which will be made from 1997-98, inter alia, in the levels of research support to be provided to the two Northern Ireland universities.

Gallaher Ltd.

Mr. Pendry: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when (a) he and (b) officials from his Department last met representatives of Gallaher Ltd.; what was discussed; and if he will make a statement. [11164]

Mr. Ancram: My right hon. and learned Friend last met representatives of Gallaher Ltd. on 13 November 1995 when he was principal guest at the Gallaher businesswoman of the year awards ceremony. Officials of the industrial development board last met representatives of Gallaher Ltd. on 29 November 1996 to discuss the company's plans to rationalise cigarette production in the UK.

22 Jan 1997 : Column: 660

Youth Service Budget

Mr. Worthington: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what is the budget for the youth service in cash and constant price terms for 1996-97 and 1997-98; what consequences this will have for the provision of services; and if he will make a statement. [10981]

Mr. Ancram: The budget for the youth service for 1996-97 is £15.5 million.

Funding for the youth service is provided by education and library boards within their block grant allocations and by the Youth Council for Northern Ireland. Each board decides on the resources which should be allocated for its youth service, and their proposals for 1997-98 will be submitted to the Department for approval by 31 January.

The Youth Council and the education and library boards will not have had sufficient time to determine the full effects of the expenditure reductions in the youth service. However, it remains the Government's priority that services should be focused on those most in need, and whenever possible, service provision rather than service support be protected.

The Government also provide additional matching funding for youth organisations under the European Union special initiative for peace and reconciliation and will continue to provide additional funds to meet up to 25 per cent. of the total cost of projects funded under this initiative.

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