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15 Jun 2005 : Column 385W—continued

Hoax Calls (Emergency Services)

Lady Hermon: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many telephone calls to the emergency services in Northern Ireland in each of the past 12 months were discovered to be prank calls; what penalties are in place for those caught making prank calls to the emergency services; and if he will estimate the cost in (a) monetary and (b) other terms of prank calls in that period. [3496]

Mr. Woodward: Information provided by the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS), Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS) and the Police Service Northern Ireland (PSNI) on the numbers of hoax calls in each of the past 12 months for which statistics are available is as follows:

(1) Police figure covers the period 1 June 2004 to 31 May 2005. A monthly breakdown is not available.

Under the Communications Act 2003, the maximum penalty for those caught making hoax or malicious calls is a fine not exceeding £5,000 and/or a term of imprisonment not exceeding 6 months.
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NIFRS, NIAS and PSNI estimate the costs of hoax calls at £141,250, £442,200 and £31,336 respectively during the reporting periods.

It is extremely difficult to quantify the indirect costs of hoax calls. However, the most serious cost is the potential for serious injury or loss of life if the emergency services are not available to respond to genuine emergencies or are delayed in responding because crews are deployed responding to hoax calls.

Speech Therapists

Mrs. Iris Robinson: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what steps are being taken to attract more speech therapists to the NHS in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement. [4106]

Mr. Woodward: The recruitment of staff, including speech and language therapists, is a matter for individual Health and Social Services Trusts taking into account factors such as service needs and available resources. The Department provided additional funding to increase by 10 the number of student places with effect from the 2001–02 academic year and by a further five places from 2002–03. These increased intake levels are being maintained and the annual commission is 40 student places. There are 152 students in training during the current academic year.


Lady Hermon: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how much funding was made available by his Department for suicide awareness campaigns and support groups for those affected by suicide in the last year for which figures are available. [3476]

Mr. Woodward: In 2004–05, the Department provided £350,000 to take forward the actions in the Mental Health Promotion Strategy including a specific campaign aimed at young men; £60,390 was paid to regional voluntary organisations, which provide counselling services, and £228,353 was paid to local groups providing counselling services which includes those affected by suicide.

University of Ulster

Lady Hermon: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what discussions he has had with senior management of the University of Ulster regarding the report of Sir Michael Buckley. [3479]

Angela E. Smith: As this is a matter for the internal management of the university the Department of Employment and Learning has not received a copy of Sir Michael Buckley's report. The Department has discussed the matters considered by Sir Michael with the university's authorities and has sought, and received assurances, that none of these matters presented a risk to public funds. It has reminded the university that any severance terms for the Vice-Chancellor should comply with established guidelines and should not be funded from the Department's grant.

Lady Hermon: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether his Department has been informed of the findings of Sir Michael Buckley's inquiry into senior management practice at the University of Ulster. [3481]

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Angela E. Smith: The Department of Employment and Learning has not received a copy of Sir Michael Buckley's report. It has been kept informed by the university's authorities of the issues being considered, so that it can assure itself that those issues relevant to financial management and accountability have been addressed.

Waste Dumping (Asbestos)

Lady Hermon: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what recent steps he has taken to eradicate cross-border illegal dumping of waste, with particular reference to asbestos. [3515]

Angela E. Smith: The Department of the Environment is aware of the scale and nature of illegal dumping in Northern Ireland, and all possible action is being taken to combat it. The Environment and Heritage Service continues to carry out investigations and prepare prosecution cases in incidents where waste is illegally disposed of in Northern Ireland, regardless of its origin.

Several cases, including those involving illegal disposal of waste from the Republic of Ireland, are due to be heard in the Crown court. These are the first cases relating to environmental criminal offences to be dealt with in a higher court, where there is potential for unlimited financial penalties and prison sentences. The Department has also taken over responsibility for Transfrontier Shipment of Waste, which will allow us to exercise tighter control.

The recently established Waste Task Force is exploring measures to strengthen still further the regulatory regime and I will be bringing forward proposals for new legislation as soon as possible.

Legislation is in place for the safe removal and disposal of asbestos and waste containing asbestos. District councils have the statutory responsibility for fly-tipped waste. However, EHS does work closely with the councils and the Health and Safety Executive for NI to resolve issues involving asbestos waste.



Daniel Kawczynski: To ask the Prime Minister what discussions he has had with the President of Belarus on increasing democracy and accountability; and if he will make a statement. [3653]

The Prime Minister: I have had no recent discussions with the President of Belarus.

G8 summit

Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Prime Minister what the outcome was of his recent meeting with President Bush regarding the G8 summit. [3801]

The Prime Minister: I refer my hon. Friend to the answers I gave at Prime Minister's Questions on 8 June 2005, Official Report, columns 1234–44, and to the press conference I held with President Bush, a transcript of which is available on the No. 10 website.
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Local Elections

Mr. Heald: To ask the Prime Minister for what reason responsibility for local elections has been transferred from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister to the Department of Constitutional Affairs. [3618]

The Prime Minister: I refer the hon. Member to the Number 10 press notice issued on 23 May 2005 on Machinery of Government changes, copies of which are available in the Libraries of the House.

Royal Prerogative

Mr. Allen: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list thepowers available to him under the Royal Prerogative. [2826]

The Prime Minister: The powers available to the Prime Minister under the Royal Prerogative have evolved over many years and it is not possible precisely to define them.

Mr. Allen: To ask the Prime Minister if he will bring forward proposals to make it a requirement for Parliament to be consulted on the use of his power under the Royal Prerogative to take the country to war; and if he will make a statement. [3342]

The Prime Minister: The Government recognise the desire for parliamentary scrutiny of decisions to deploy our armed forces, and has shown that it will provide opportunities for debate when this arises. A formal requirement to consult Parliament is, therefore, unnecessary and could prejudice the Government's ability to take swift action to defend our national security where the circumstances so require.

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