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15 Jun 2005 : Column 382W—continued

Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation

Lady Hermon: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the (a) funding and (b) provision of drug and alcohol rehabilitation in Northern Ireland. [3490]

Mr. Woodward: The information requested on funding for drug and alcohol rehabilitation is not available centrally.

Rehabilitation is an integral part of all drug and alcohol treatment whether community or in-patient based. The cost of this generic rehabilitation cannot be disaggregated from the total costs of such programmes. The majority of drug rehabilitation can and does take place in the community as part of an overall community care and rehabilitation programme and provision exists within each board area to refer individuals to rehabilitation centres outside Northern Ireland if deemed to be clinically appropriate.

I will write to the hon. Lady about provision within the non-statutory sector as soon as the information is received from Health and Social Services Boards.

Environmental Protection Agency

Lady Hermon: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what plans he has to create an independent environmental protection agency in Northern Ireland. [3569]

Angela E. Smith: In May 2004 a coalition of environmental non-governmental organisations launched a report for public consultation, by Professor Richard Macrory, entitled Transparency and Trust: Reshaping Environmental Governance in Northern Ireland. In October 2004 the coalition published an analysis of the comments received and indicated that the majority of respondents were in favour of the establishment of an independent environment protection body in Northern Ireland.

I met with the coalition on 2 November 2004 and agreed that the Department of the Environment would explore in detail with the coalition the possible terms of reference for such an inquiry. Those discussions are continuing.

Fuel Poverty

Mr. Dodds: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what discussions he has had with the Scottish Executive on measures to tackle fuel poverty. [4152]

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Mr. Hanson: None, however officials within the Department for Social Development are in regular contact with their colleagues in other parts of the UK to monitor developments in their fuel poverty strategies and their steps to tackle fuel poverty.

Health Policy (Strangford)

Mrs. Iris Robinson: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will set out, with statistical evidence relating as closely as possible to Strangford constituency, the effects on Strangford of health policies implemented by his Department since 1997. [3664]

Mr. Woodward: There have been improvements in the number of deaths and in life expectancy of the residents of the Strangford parliamentary constituency since 1997:

Literacy Teaching

Lady Hermon: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what plans he has to initiate a review of literacy teaching in primary schools in Northern Ireland. [3473]

Angela E. Smith: Under the School Improvement Programme, a Literacy (and Numeracy) Strategy is in place. The Literacy Strategy is updated annually, in consultation with Education and Library Boards, to ensure that it is meeting the needs of pupils and schools.

Multiple Sclerosis (Beta Interferon)

Mrs. Iris Robinson: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many multiple sclerosis sufferers are receiving Beta Interferon in each health board; how many were waiting for the drug in each board in each of the past three years; and if he will make a statement. [4103]

Mr. Woodward: The number of people in each Health and Social Services Board area receiving disease modifying treatment for multiple sclerosis (beta interferon or glatiramer acetate) is as follows:
Health and social services boardNumber receiving treatment
NI total573

Figures include 22 patients who have started a course of treatment but are currently on a break from treatment.

Information about waiting lists for disease modifying treatments was not routinely collected prior to May 2004. The number of patients waiting for treatment in May 2004 and May 2005 was as follows:
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Health and social
services board
Number waiting to begin treatment at 31 May 2004Number waiting to begin treatment at 31 May 2005
NI Total73106

The Department remains committed to improving access to specialist drugs which offer the potential for significant improvement in patient care. Disease modifying treatments for people with multiple sclerosis have been available in Northern Ireland since the mid-1990s. In recent years, substantial additional funding has been made available to Health and Social Services Boards for a wide range of specialist medicines, including beta interferon. Funding has also been provided to support the infrastructure for the provision of disease modifying treatment for people with multiple sclerosis.

NHS Employment (Foreign Nationals)

Mrs. Iris Robinson: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many foreign nationals have applied for employment within the national health service in Northern Ireland over the last three years, broken down by type of employment. [4073]

Mr. Woodward: Information on the nationality of applicants for employment is not held.

Pension Rights

Lady Hermon: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will amend the Northern Ireland Local Government Officers' Superannuation Committee regulations to allow partners of deceased pensioners the same pension rights as widows and widowers of deceased pensioners. [3483]

Angela E. Smith: There are no plans to introduce such benefits at present, other than those required for civil partners under the Civil Partnership Act 2004.

The Northern Ireland Local Government Pension Scheme Regulations, administered by the Northern Ireland Local Government Officers' Superannuation Committee, in common with those in Scotland, maintain broad parity with the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) Regulations in England and Wales.

The possibility of further extending survivor benefits in the LGPS in England and Wales to include same or opposite sex partners, other than spouses or civil partners was one of the propositions included in the consultation document Facing the Future", published by the Office for the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) in October 2004. The consultation document is available on the ODPM website at The Deputy Prime Minister has recently established a committee comprising employer, trade union and ODPM representatives to consider and negotiate the long-term future of the LGPS.
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Planning Applications

Lady Hermon: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many retrospective planning applications were (a) approved and (b) rejected in Northern Ireland in each of the past three years. [3502]

Angela E. Smith: The Planning Service does not record separate information on retrospective planning applications, as these applications are dealt with in the same way as standard planning applications. As this information is not routinely collected, it could be obtained only at disproportionate cost to the Department.

Planning Policy

Dr. McCrea: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will give a date for the publication of the draft retail planning policy document for Northern Ireland. [3291]

Angela E. Smith: It is hoped that draft planning policy statement 5—Retailing, Town Centres and Commercial Leisure Developments will be published shortly.

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