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2 Nov 2004 : Column 240W—continued

Health Service Data (Access)

Mrs. Iris Robinson: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what steps he is taking to increase access of patients and their next of kin to information within the Province's health service; and if he will make a statement. [194715]

Angela Smith: The Department and all health and social services bodies, including boards, trusts, agencies and councils, are preparing for the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, which comes fully into force from 1 January 2005. The Act covers information held by a public authority which includes those bodies listed above and information relating to the provision of services provided by general practitioners, dentists, opticians, optometrists and pharmacists. The Act gives everyone a general right of access to information held by a public authority. The Act also requires a response to a request for information, subject to exemptions set out in the Act, to be provided normally within 20 working days of the receipt of the request.

High Hedges

Lady Hermon: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when his Department's consultation on nuisance high hedges in Northern Ireland commenced; when it is expected to be completed; which parties have been consulted; what steps he has taken to publicise this consultation; and if he will make a statement. [191834]

Angela Smith: The consultation paper on nuisance high hedges in Northern Ireland has not yet issued. It was my intention that this consultation paper should issue in the autumn 2004. However, in light of workload pressures in the Planning Service and the need to focus resources on managing our unprecedented volume of planning applications, I have agreed that the consultation paper can be rescheduled and expect it to issue in September 2005.

Lignite Mining

Rev. Ian Paisley: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on his policy on lignite mining. [193601]

Mr. Spellar: Government policy generally in relation to lignite is reflective of the fact that the extensive reserves are of strategic significance to Northern Ireland. A considerable amount of data has been compiled as a result of exploration activity over the past
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two decades and this has led the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment to suspend the issue of any further prospecting licences for lignite in the Ballymoney area. The position will be reviewed in three years.

In the event of a company lodging an application for a mining licence or lease, it will continue to be necessary for that company to obtain planning and other statutory approvals, dependant on the nature of the operation, before a licence or lease would be granted. Planning Policy in relation to lignite mining seeks to balance the economic benefits with environmental effects. Applications would therefore be required to be accompanied by an Environmental Statement which details the likely significant effects of the proposal and mitigation measures.

Memorial Fund

Mrs. Iris Robinson: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland which groups and individuals have received grants from the Northern Ireland Memorial Fund through its multiple programmes; and what amounts were received in each case. [193696]

Angela Smith: The Northern Ireland Memorial Fund (NIMF), an independent charity, was established in 1998 in response to a recommendation in Sir Kenneth Bloomfield's Report "We Will Remember Them". Its aim is to provide practical help and support to victims and survivors of the Northern Ireland troubles.

Since then Government has allocated over £7 million in funding to the NIMF which, to date has paid almost £6 million in grants to approximately 7,000 applicants through eight schemes. The breakdown of expenditure by scheme is as follows:
Amputee Assessment Scheme156,000
Back to School Scheme411,000
Chronic Pain Management Scheme190,000
Discretionary Hardship Scheme71,000
Education and Training Scheme517,000
Short Break Scheme1,353,000
Small Grant Scheme2,983,000
Wheelchair Assessment Scheme148,000

The NIMF does not provide financial assistance to groups. Applications are accepted only from individuals. For reasons of client confidentiality the NIMF does not disclose details of individual awards.

MOT Testing

Lady Hermon: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what plans he has to bring Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the United Kingdom in relation to MOT testing. [193384]

Angela Smith: I have no plans at present to change the way that MOT testing is carried out in Northern Ireland. Despite recent difficulties, the Driver and Vehicle Testing Agency has a good track record of delivering a consistent, objective and independent service, providing value for money, and meeting key targets. Alternative arrangements have been considered
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previously, but each time the conclusion has been that the existing system best serves the needs of the people of Northern Ireland.

Planning Service

Rev. Ian Paisley: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many planning applications were lodged with the Planning Service, broken down by region in Northern Ireland in (a) 2001–02 and (b) 2002–03; and how many cases in each region have not to date been determined by the Planning Service. [193600]

Angela Smith: The following table sets out, by council area, the number of valid planning applications received and the number that have not been determined to date for 2001–02 and 2002–03.
Council area2001–022002–03Applications received 2001–02 which are still outstandingApplications received 2002–03 which are still outstanding
Newry and Mourne2,0662,3682585
North Down758758117

Public Appointments

Mr. Gregory Campbell: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many (a) Protestant, (b) Roman Catholic and (c) Non-determined appointees there have been to (i) the Child Support Agency in Northern Ireland, (ii) general service grades of the Civil Service in Northern Ireland and (iii) the Northern Ireland Housing Executive in the last 12 months; and what percentage of appointees this represents in each case. [190816]

Mr. Pearson: The Northern Ireland Civil Service publishes its recruitment figures in an annual report.

The report for the period 1 April 2003 to 31 March 2004 has been prepared but has not yet been published. These are the most recent figures available.

Northern Ireland Civil Service

These are overall figures for NICS and include appointments to the Child Support Agency.
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General service grades

Protestant1,0374 546239
Roman Catholic1,2405.46945.9

Child Support Agency

These appointments, included in the previous table, are identified as appointments to the Child Support Agency.
General service grades

Roman Catholic132595862
Non-determined1less than 122

Northern Ireland Housing Executive
General service grades

Roman Catholic22351

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