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24 Feb 2004 : Column 377W—continued

Ministerial Travel

Bob Russell: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he last used a train in connection with his ministerial duties. [154696]

Mr. Blunkett: I regularly use trains in the course of my ministerial duties.

All ministerial travel on official business is undertaken fully in accordance with the rules set out in the Ministerial Code and Travel by Ministers, copies of which are in the Libraries of the House.

Unaccompanied Children

Jonathan Shaw: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether the piloting of removals of unaccompanied children will involve their detention. [155444]

Beverley Hughes: There are no plans to detain unaccompanied children who will be removed under the returns programme. Unaccompanied children are only ever detained in the most exceptional circumstances and then normally only overnight while alternative care arrangements are made. Arrangements for return will be planned in partnership with Local Authorities; this will include an assessment of the child/young person's suitability for return and whether return is in their best interests.

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Jonathan Shaw: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what provision he intends to make to ensure that appropriate reception arrangements are in place for unaccompanied children who are removed under the new pilots. [155445]

Beverley Hughes: The returns programme for unaccompanied asylum seeking children who have been refused asylum is still in the early stages of development. We are currently exploring the kinds of reception arrangements that could be put in place. Before any child or young person was returned under the programme we would need to be confident that the arrangements put in place were of an acceptable standard and that the person's return was not in breach of our international obligations.

Work Permits

Mr. Baron: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many work permits were awarded to health workers to work (a) in the UK National Health Service and (b) the non-NHS sector for each of the last 10 years. [154602]

Beverley Hughes [holding answer 12 February 2004]: Due to the structure of the Work Permits (UK) database a breakdown of the number of work permits awarded to health workers by employer type i.e. in NHS or non-NHS employment, can be obtained only at disproportionate cost.

NORTHERN IRELAND

Devolution

Mr. Rosindell: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what the cost to public funds of setting up devolved government in Northern Ireland was. [154398]

Mr. Paul Murphy: It is not possible to determine the cost of setting up devolved government in Northern Ireland. However, any costs incurred by the Departments of the Northern Ireland Administration have been absorbed within the Northern Ireland block, which was not increased specifically as a result of devolution.

Agreed Behaviour Contracts

Lady Hermon: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many agreed behaviour contracts (ABCs) have been issued in Northern Ireland since their introduction; and what assessment he has made of the effectiveness of ABCs in tackling anti-social behaviour. [153853]

Mr. Spellar: Acceptable behaviour contracts (ABCs) have not been introduced in Northern Ireland. They form part of the current consultation on measures to tackle anti-social behaviour. In considering proposals for consultation I have been informed by Home Office Research in England and Wales, which found that ABCs were effective in reducing anti-social behaviour by those young people subject to them.

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Batteries

Mrs. Iris Robinson: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what assessment he has made of the dangers to the environment from batteries containing mercury and other toxic metals, being dumped in local waste dumps in Northern Ireland. [155506]

Angela Smith: The potential adverse environmental impacts from mercury are universally accepted. However, the EC Scientific Committee on Toxicity, Ecotoxicity and the Environment recognises that there is no methodology to assess the long-term risks of leachate from landfills.

Industry voluntary measures introduced in 1985 and EC legislation since 1991 have gradually reduced the amount of mercury in batteries, resulting in a reduction in landfilled mercury across the UK from an estimated 4.4t in 1994 to 0.028t in 2000; over time this amount will effectively fall to zero.

Other current EC legislation will increase the collection and recycling of spent batteries and ban the co-disposal of hazardous and non-hazardous waste at landfill sites.

Cross-Border Bodies

Mr. Rosindell: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what plans he has to increase the number of cross-border bodies. [154842]

Mr. Pearson: I have no such plans at present.

Dental Health

Mrs. Iris Robinson: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the standard of dental health of the Province's population. [154591]

Angela Smith: There has been a gradual improvement in the standard of oral health in adults in Northern Ireland over the last 10 years. However, the general level of oral health here is still considerably worse than in Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland, particularly among children.

The Chief Dental Officer has recently established a Steering Group to develop a new Oral Health Strategy, which will set the oral health agenda for the next 10 years. This new Strategy will identify the oral health needs of the population here, determine desired outcomes and identify areas where oral health can link into the wider health agenda.

EU Regulations

Mr. Nigel Dodds: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many European Union regulations relating specifically to Northern Ireland have been published in each year since 1997. [155579]

Mr. Paul Murphy: EU regulations have general application. They are binding in their entirety and are directly applicable in all member states.

Based on the records in the Official Journal of the European Union (copies available in the House Library) we assess that the number of EC, ECSC and Euratom regulations made was as follows.

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Number
19972,339
19982,852
19992,802
20002,882
20012,600
20022,125
20032,176

European Year of Disabled People

Mr. Dodds: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what action was taken in Northern Ireland to support the United Kingdom theme for the European Year of Disabled People to promote rights and participation. [154156]

Mr. Spellar: A Northern Ireland Regional Steering Group, representing a wide range of interests, was established to promote and develop a successful programme of activities within Northern Ireland consistent with the UK theme for the European Year of People with Disabilities 2003 of promoting rights and participation. It organised a range of events which also included Ministers.

A NI Grant Scheme resulted in 22 organisations in Northern Ireland collectively receiving £100,000 for projects which promote rights and participation. This adds to the £222,000 awarded to 12 other Northern Ireland projects from the UK fund for the year. A new award scheme was also launched by the Employers' Forum on Disability aimed at acknowledging best practice among employers who do most in Northern Ireland to promote employment of people with disabilities in the workforce. An awareness raising media campaign entitled "Think for a Change: It's Time for Change", highlighted disadvantage experienced by people with disabilities in terms of lower income, education and employment.

A two-day Conference entitled "Breaking the Barriers" recently took place aimed at exploring how services can be improved to take account of the needs and rights of people with disabilities. The European Year of People with Disabilities has since been extended to 31 March 2004 in Northern Ireland.

Orthopaedic Surgeons

Mrs. Iris Robinson: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what plans he has to increase the number of consultant orthopaedic surgeons in Northern Ireland. [154592]

Angela Smith: The number of consultant orthopaedic surgeons increased to 41 by December 2003, representing a 37 per cent. increase in five years. In recognition that there is a need to further increase the number of consultants, the number of specialist trainees has also been increased to the current level of 23, an increase of over 50 per cent. in five years.

Pension Books

Mr. Dodds: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what the average length of time taken

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to replace pension books when they expired was in Northern Ireland in the last year for which figures are available. [154411]

Mr. Spellar: Unfortunately the information requested is not available.

Renewal pension books are issued automatically three weeks in advance of the date of the first order in the new book.

Mr. Dodds: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many pension books were issued in Northern Ireland in each of the last five years. [154412]

Mr. Spellar: The number of pension books issued in each of the last five years is shown in the table.

Number of pension books
1999196,000
2000194,000
2001191,000
2002189,000
2003166,000

Mr. Dodds: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what assessment he has made of the impact of the introduction of automated credit transfer for payment of pensions in Northern Ireland. [154413]

Mr. Spellar: At December 2003, just over 34 per cent. of Pensions customers were paid by Direct Payment. Between April 2003 and January 2004, the Social Security Agency has contacted 159,000 pensioner customers asking them to convert to Direct Payment. Seventy nine thousand customers have provided account details and these will be activated as the current order book expires. A further 23,000 customers have responded positively to Agency correspondence.

A customer satisfaction survey was carried out in September 2003 for customers who had converted to Direct Payment and the results were very positive. A further survey is to be carried out in April 2004.


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