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13 Jan 2003 : Column 426W—continued

Higher Education

Mr. Boswell: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on participation in higher education by students with parental homes in Northern Ireland, broken down by socio-economic class in each year since 1990. [88329]

Jane Kennedy: The data, obtained from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), do not include all institutions in Northern Ireland. As a consequence, approximately 20 per cent. of NI-domiciled students are not captured.

The information for NI-domiciled accepted applicants to degree courses in the UK since 1993 is detailed in the table. Prior to the creation of UCAS in 1993, information on this basis was not available.

Social classProfessionalIntermediateSkilled: non-manualSkilled: manualPartly skilledUnskilledNot knownTotal

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While the overall number of NI-domiciled students has increased, the percentage of students from each socio-economic group has remained relatively constant. Over 30 per cent. of NI-domiciled students come from social class groups III, IV and V.

Hospital Waiting Lists

Mr. Hunter: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what measures he proposes to take to reduce hospital waiting lists in Northern Ireland. [88916]

Mr. Browne: A wide range of measures is being taken to tackle hospital waiting lists. These include the expansion of existing bed capacity, the development of protected elective facilities, the provision of additional in-patient procedures, the development of community provision as an alternative to hospital treatment and the validation and improved management of waiting lists. To support this action, #5.5 million has been allocated in the current year and the additional #17.4 million provided for acute services in next year's budget will also help to improve access to hospital services.

Housing Maintenance

Mr. McGrady: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what steps he will take to ensure sustained investment in housing in Northern Ireland (a) to tackle disrepair and (b) to reduce unfitness in the residential sector. [89602]

Mr. Browne: I fully recognise the need for sustained investment in housing in Northern Ireland. I will continue to argue the strongest case possible for the resources necessary to tackle disrepair and reduce unfitness.

Gross funding for housing has increased from #621 million in 2001–02 to #655 million in the current financial year, contributing to the maintenance and improvement of housing conditions, both in the public and private sectors. Included in the overall housing resources is some #43 million per annum allocated for grants to tackle unfitness in the private sector.

Industrial Rates Relief

Mr. Hunter: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make it his policy not to remove industrial rates relief before electricity prices in Northern Ireland are more in line with those in the rest of the United Kingdom. [88920]

Mr. Pearson: Arising out of the current Review of Rating Policy and as outlined in the recently published consultation report I have made a decision in principle

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to abolish industrial derating. What I am still considering is how best to achieve this without causing harm to business.

There are two ways I intend to approach this. Firstly, by phasing out derating gradually and secondly by providing a hardship scheme to minimise adverse impacts on vulnerable firms or sectors.

I do not think it would be right to use the tax base as a means of compensating for higher energy costs. Some sectors are affected much more than others and tariffs vary and are changing. We are looking at this whole area and it is my wish that the cost differential is brought down, well before the existing contracts expire.

The intention is to publish a policy paper early in the new year on this issue which will set out clearly a limited number of options for implementing change.

Maternity Hospital (Belfast)

Mrs. Iris Robinson: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when a decision will be made on the location of the new maternity hospital for Belfast. [82024]

Mr. Browne: I expect to be in a position to take a decision soon, after I have had an opportunity to consider the outcome of the current consultation process covering the trusts' proposals.

Ministerial Visits

Mr. Beggs: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what the purpose is of the planned visits by the hon. Member for Basildon (Angela Smith) to Scotland and Wales. [89441]

Angela Smith: The Secretary of State has asked me to respond to your question.

On 4 December 2002, I announced the requirement for massive investment in Northern Ireland's water and sewerage services and the need to find a long-term and reliable funding source to meet this investment need. In December 2002, I undertook a study visit of the water industry in Scotland and in Wales, to learn more about how water and sewerage services are financed and delivered elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Water and sewerage services are delivered by a public corporation in Scotland, whereas these services are the responsibility of a not for profit trust in Wales. These services are funded by water charges in both regions.

On 11 December 2002, my colleague Ian Pearson MP announced our intention to introduce self-financing arrangements for water and sewerage services in Northern Ireland. This will mean that in the future Northern Ireland households will have to make a direct

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contribution for the water and sewerage services they receive. I want to ensure that these services are delivered as effectively and efficiently as possible, so that the charges paid by Northern Ireland consumers offer value for money. Consequently, I wish to reflect on the best features of the financial and structural arrangements adopted by the water industry in Scotland and Wales when developing proposals for the introduction of self-financing arrangements for water and sewerage services in Northern Ireland.

I am committed to full and inclusive consultation on all proposals for the reform of water and sewerage services in Northern Ireland.

Navan Centre

Lady Hermon: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what plans he has to assist with the re-opening of the Navan Centre in Armagh. [88804]

Angela Smith: My officials have been exploring a range of options that might lead to the re-opening of the Navan Centre. In particular, they remain in close contact with both the current trustees and the representatives of a consortium that is interested in taking over the Centre. A business plan has been tabled, and this is at the centre of discussion.

A number of difficult issues remain to be resolved, but we remain committed to working with these interested parties to see if it is possible to have the Navan Centre reopened.

New Schools (Funding)

Mr. Hunter: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what criteria he takes into account when distributing capital funding for the development of new schools in Northern Ireland. [88917]

Jane Kennedy: The criteria for the allocation of capital funding for the development of new schools in Northern Ireland are based on educational need, prioritised as follows:

An economic appraisal has to be completed for each school and an appropriate stage of planning needs to have been undertaken. Where relevant, a scheme must have an approved Development Proposal.

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