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Animal Procedures Committee

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Andy Burnham): On behalf of the Home Secretary and the Minister for the Department of Health and Social Services and Public Safety for Northern Ireland, I am very pleased to announce the appointment of Ms Sara Nathan to chair the Animal Procedures Committee from 1 February 2006 for a four year term. Sara Nathan currently occupies several other non-executive positions with public bodies and is a member of Ofcom, the Criminal Injuries Compensation Appeal Panel and the Regulatory Decisions Committee of the Financial Services Authority. She is a former member of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority.

I also wish to thank the Reverend Professor Michael Banner, who stands down as chairman of the Animal Procedures Committee on 31 January 2006 for his work on the Committee. The Animal Procedures Committee has an important role providing advice to the Home Secretary, and the Minister for the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety for Northern Ireland, on matters concerned with the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 and their functions under it, having regard both to the legitimate requirements of science and industry and to the protection of animals against avoidable suffering and unnecessary use. Under Michael Banner's skilful chairmanship the Committee has significantly expanded its role and has produced valuable and thoughtful advice on a number of issues relating to the use of animals in scientific procedures. This included the completion of a wide-ranging review of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. Ministerial colleagues wish to record our gratitude to Michael Banner for his excellent personal contribution to the work of the Committee over the last eight years.

Zimbabwe (Immigration Removals)

The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality (Mr. Tony McNulty): On 27 June my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for the Home Department made a statement on the return of failed asylum seekers to Zimbabwe and on 6 and 18 July he updated the House on that issue. I would like to provide a further update on returns to Zimbabwe.

On 18 October the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal issued a determination in relation to the treatment of failed asylum seekers whose return to Zimbabwe was enforced. The Tribunal found that the particular way we were enforcing returns of failed Zimbabwean asylum seekers from the United Kingdom to Harare airport put them at risk of mistreatment. The Tribunal has refused permission to appeal their determination so we will be
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seeking permission to appeal from the Court of Appeal. In the meantime, as we made clear at the time of the Tribunal determination, we will not be enforcing returns of Zimbabweans to Zimbabwe whilst we work to resolve the concerns identified by the Tribunal.

On 16 November, the Tribunal issued a further determination. They concluded that the effect of the earlier determination is that any Zimbabwean citizen who will not return there willingly is a refugee even though the method by which we enforce returns is being reviewed. We strongly disagree with this conclusion and will also be seeking permission to appeal this determination or others which rely upon it. We shall continue to take decisions based on the individual merits of the claims.

In its 18 October determination the Tribunal did not find that Zimbabwe was unsafe generally for failed asylum seekers or that those who return voluntarily are at risk. Voluntary returns to Zimbabwe are possible and are continuing. We therefore expect failed asylum seekers to return voluntarily to Zimbabwe and will assist them in doing so through the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

The Government remain deeply concerned about the political and economic crisis in Zimbabwe, in particular its appalling human rights situation, and continue to work with international partners to press for an end to abuses.


Northern Ireland Departments (Priorities and Budget 2006–08)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Angela E. Smith): My hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Northern Ireland Office (Lord Rooker) has made the following ministerial statement:

"Following consultation on the Government's 'Draft Priorities and Budget for Northern Ireland', which was launched on 25 October 2005, the Government are today setting out its priorities and spending plans for Northern Ireland Departments for the years 2006–07 and 2007–08. In reaching final decision on the allocations for the next two years, the ministerial team has considered carefully the views expressed during the consultation period on the draft proposals.

Our vision is for a world class Northern Ireland, and the 'Priorities and Budget' we are publishing today represents key steps towards achieving that aim. To turn this vision into reality, we need to direct resources to support new initiatives; to fundamentally reform the way services are managed and delivered to get the best value for money; and to raise more money to pay for local services.

Underpinning this vision, and providing a framework for the detailed spending plans, are the key strategic priorities of:

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These priorities will be taken forward by action across all Departments, supported by targets across a number of important areas, where the proposed outcomes will deliver the changes needed to ensure the achievement of the vision for Northern Ireland.

In overall terms, Northern Ireland has benefited from massive increases in investment in public services in recent years and that growth will continue over the next two years. By March 2008 we will be spending in excess of £16 billion a year on public services in Northern Ireland. However, public expenditure per head in Northern Ireland is higher than any other region in the UK, while revenue raised from the domestic rating system is only around half the equivalent figure for the rest of the UK. This is unsustainable if we are to continue to improve public services here in Northern Ireland.

There is the need to continue to invest resources wisely in areas that will help transform society and the economy. We are committed to investing in those services which make a difference in people's lives including—health and education; children and young people; promoting long term economic growth through investment in training and skills; and in protecting the environment through research and development of new sources of renewable and clean energy.

As a key step in taking forward work in priority areas, we have established three new ring fenced priority funding packages, worth some £48 million in 2006–07 and £58 million in 2007–08 and underpinned by a further £15 million and £34 million capital investment in those years.

Children and Young People

For children and young people some £28 million and £33 million will be available to ensure every child has the best start in life. This will include driving forward our policies in areas such as pre-school and extended/out of hours school based activities, childcare and Sure Start, along with measures to foster their health and wellbeing. This will be a distinctive allocation of funding that will be used to make good the shortfall in provision for these key areas of support for families. A fundamental aspect of all of this will be the integrated delivery of programmes and activities to ensure real and effective joined up thinking and working by the key Departments and agencies involved.

Skills and Science

Beyond school age, around 24 per cent. of our working population has no qualifications whatsoever, compared with 15 per cent. in the UK as a whole. We are already committed to significant investment in skills and training programmes for employment. And we recognise the critical importance of ensuring a secure foundation for lifelong learning and employment. It is for this reason an additional £15 million next year and an additional £20 million the year after will be allocated to tackle economic inactivity and to promote greater investment in skills and science training leading to employment—alongside investment in research and development. Our working age population must have the skills to allow us to prosper in the new, more competitive, and highly skilled international markets that will dominate all our futures.
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Environment and Energy

The quality of life in the future will also depend on our children continuing to enjoy the same clean and healthy environment that we do. That means we need to take action now to support the development and use of renewable forms of energy.

An extra £5 million in each of the next two years will be allocated to encourage the research and development of renewable forms of energy. £10 million and £30 million over the next two years will also be available for capital investment in renewable energy. This will enhance the security and diversity of our energy supply and minimise the environmental impact of energy generation. Finally, capital investment of £5 million in 2006–07 and £4 million in 2007–08 will be available to ensure the 'Warm Homes' scheme in Northern Ireland can be extended to match the commitments made for central heating for pensioners in England, as set out in the Chancellor's recent pre-Budget report.

The funding for these three priority packages comes from additional resources received in the course of the Chancellor's March 2005 Budget, and recent pre-Budget report, and from revenue raised as a result of a planned 19 per cent. increase in the domestic regional rate in 2006–07. For other areas, because this was not a Spending Review year, there were no additional resources available for allocation, compared to the position established last year. Therefore, to allow extra money to be allocated to the top priority services of health and education, the spending in lower priority areas has been reduced by 3 per cent. in 2006–07 and 4 per cent. in 2007–08.

This approach provides for increases in health of 7.5 per cent. in 2006–07 and 6.4 per cent. in 2007–08, with education receiving increases of 4.2 per cent. in 2006–07 and 3.9 per cent. in 2007–08.

Alongside the improvements in the financing of our public services, it is important that the management and delivery of those services is also improved. We are continuing to push forward the reform agenda initiated by the former Northern Ireland Executive and by the ministerial team since devolution was suspended.

In the health service in Northern Ireland, as in the rest of the UK, there is the need to ensure that increased resources are matched by reform and improvement to ensure services are delivered both effectively and efficiently. The recent Independent Review of Health and Social Care Services completed by Professor John Appleby of the King's Fund made recommendations for creating more effective performance management across HPSS. These, together with recommendations on the funding of the health and social care sector and the new structure put forward by the RPA, will need to be considered.

In education, programmes and actions are being developed to reduce the overcapacity and duplication of education provision, with the Investment Strategy for Northern Ireland playing a major part in reshaping the schools estate to contribute to the removal of surplus places.

The Northern Ireland public sector will continue to push forward with the efficiency plans announced in last year's 'Priorities and Budget', with the reallocation of resources, released through efficiency improvements, to priority front line services. The plans include targets for
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the public sector to deliver efficiency gains of 2.5 per cent. each year over the period 2005–06 to 2007–08. During the same period the administration costs of civil service departments being held flat over the next three years and civil service numbers will reduce by 2,300 across all departments, thus reducing bureaucracy and releasing resources to priority areas.

This 'Priorities and Budget' builds on the real growth in public expenditure that has occurred in recent years, and that will continue over the next two years. It provides the necessary investment, underpinned by reform, to equip Northern Ireland to move towards a better and brighter future.

I have placed copies of the 'Priorities and Budget 2006–08' document in the Library."

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