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20 Dec 2004 : Column 1421W—continued

Electrical Equipment

Mr. George Osborne: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many items of electrical
 
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equipment were used by his Department in the last year for which figures are available, broken down by (a) cost and (b) number of each type of item. [205731]

Mr. Pearson: A record is not kept of all the electrical equipment used by the Northern Ireland Office. The information requested therefore could only be provided at disproportionate cost.

The answer relates only to the Northern Ireland Office and does not include information in respect of the eleven departments of the Northern Ireland Administration.

Departmental Expenditure

Mr. George Osborne: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how much has been spent by his Department on (a) new furniture and (b) hired furniture in each year since 1997. [205611]

Mr. Pearson: The amount spent by the Northern Ireland Office on new furniture in each year since 1997 is detailed in the following table:
£
1997–98313,748
1998–99194,499
1999–2000172,724
2000–01115,954
2001–02189,094
2002–03266,556
2003–04330,689

The Department does not as a rule rent any furniture, but the exact expenditure, if any, since 1997 could only be identified at disproportionate cost.

This answer relates only to the Northern Ireland Office and does not include information in respect of the eleven departments of the Northern Ireland Administration.

Mr. George Osborne: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what the cost of refurbishments in his Department was in each year since 1997; and what the planned expenditure is for 2005–06. [205673]

Mr. Pearson: Records of expenditure on refurbishment are an integral part of records that cover many other items of building maintenance and repair. It would only be possible to identify those items that relate specifically to refurbishment at disproportionate cost.Next year's budget is set on the same basis.

This answer relates only to the Northern Ireland Office and does not include information in respect of the 11 departments of the Northern Ireland Administration.

Mr. George Osborne: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how much has been spent by his Department on lighting in each year since 1997. [205872]

Mr. Pearson: It has not been possible to extract the cost of lighting from the general electricity costs for the Department.

This answer relates only to the Northern Ireland Office and does not include information in respect of the 11 Departments of the Northern Ireland Administration.
 
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Ethnic Minorities

Keith Vaz: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what assessment he has made of the extent to which his Department's policies meet the needs of ethnic minorities. [205714]

Mr. Pearson: In compliance with its statutory duty under Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, the Department has due regard to the promotion of equality of opportunity between persons in nine specified categories, which include persons of different race or ethnic group. Both internal and outward focused policies and practices are screened to ensure they do not have an adverse impact on any of the nine categories, including those of different race or ethnic group.

The Northern Ireland Office aims to ensure that its staff are treated fairly and equally by promoting equal opportunities policies whereby no employee or job applicant is unfairly discriminated against either directly or indirectly on a number of grounds, including ethnicity. All staff are provided with a copy of this policy.

The Northern Ireland Office has in place a number of Positive Action initiatives. We have a number of Diversity Networks including one on ethnicity, which have been set up to identify workplace problems their members may experience and pursue solutions with the Diversity Champions, central services or local management. We are also involved in the Cabinet Office initiative and sponsor an Ethnic summer work placement opportunity for ethnic graduates/under graduates.

Additionally, in order to contribute to the Government's commitment to equality throughout Northern Ireland the NIO participates in the Northern Ireland Race Forum, is involved in a range of Promoting Social Inclusion Interdepartmental Working Groups and is considering in consultation with the Commission for Racial Equality the extent to which the NIO needs to make further provision to meet any outstanding obligations under the Race Relations Act.

Foreign Legislatures

David Burnside: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what discussions have taken place with the Government of the Irish Republic on participation of hon. Members in the lower house of the Parliament of the Irish Republic. [203702]

Mr. Paul Murphy: I understand the Irish Government has declared it is willing to support the taking forward of certain recommendations made by a committee of the Irish Parliament, including one by which hon. Members of this House representing Northern Ireland constituencies would be invited to a Committee of the Dail concerning Northern Ireland and the Belfast Agreement. This has not been the subject of negotiation with the British Government.

Health Funding

Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how much the Department for Health, Social Services and Public Safety has allocated
 
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to (a) general practitioner pay awards, (b) changes to consultant contracts and (c) agenda for change for (i) 2005–06, (ii) 2006–07 and (iii) 2007–08. [205025]

Angela Smith: The budget settlement for 2005–07 has not yet been agreed, a draft budget settlement is currently being consulted on. The amount of funding available for these pay reform initiatives will not be fully known until the outcome of the consultation has been finalised and the revised budget published.

Housing

Lady Hermon: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many people in receipt of housing benefit have been allocated accommodation in the private sector by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive in 2004; and what percentage of the total number of people in receipt of housing benefit this figure represents. [202883]

Mr. Spellar: The Housing Executive does not allocate accommodation within the private sector. There are, however, currently 55,892 private sector housing benefit claims in payment. This represents 42.6 per cent. of the total housing benefit caseload.

NHS Digital Hearing Aids

Mrs. Iris Robinson: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will permit public private partnerships to be established in the Province to provide access to NHS digital hearing aids. [202589]

Angela Smith: Exploratory discussions on public private partnerships are planned for early next year between RNID, who manage the partnerships scheme in England, and relevant professionals in the health service in Northern Ireland.

Paramilitary Prisoners

Lady Hermon: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what representations he has received from former paramilitary prisoners regarding perceived discrimination against their children in the employment market; and what steps are being taken to counter such discrimination. [204625]

Mr. Paul Murphy: My officials have had recent discussions with representatives of former paramilitary prisoners about a range of employment, and related, issues. These include perceived discrimination against their children in the employment market. Discussions continue; and careful consideration is being given to the complex issues involved, including in the context of the Review of Security Vetting in Northern Ireland, which I announced on 12 December 2002, Official Report, column 32WS, and on which my right hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Jane Kennedy) made a statement on 15 December 2003, Official Report, column 32WS.

Physical Punishment (Children)

Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what his policy is on the use of physical punishment of children by their parents in Northern Ireland. [205005]


 
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Mr. Pearson: The policy on the use of physical punishment by parents is being co-ordinated by the Office of Law Reform, which is part of the Department of Finance and Personnel. In October of this year I indicated my belief that children in Northern Ireland should not be treated differently to those in England and Wales. Following changes which now appear as section 58 of the Children Act 2004 it is my intention to introduce a similar provision in Northern Ireland.


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