Written Answers to Questions

Tuesday 23 May 2006

Northern Ireland

Asbestos Removal

Mrs. Iris Robinson: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how much public money was spent on the removal of asbestos from buildings identified as unsafe in each of the last three years in each parliamentary constituency in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement. [69653]

Mr. Hanson: In the last three years some 97,000 Work Orders were issued for Maintenance, Minor Works and Major Capital Refurbishment Projects at Government buildings, totalling approximately £174 million in respect of estimated work value. Asbestos removal work would be an item on many of these orders. It is not possible to determine the full extent of any asbestos removals with any degree of accuracy without incurring disproportionate costs.

Asbestos was, in the past, routinely used in construction by the building industry and as such, many of the older properties in the Government Estate contain this material.

In late 1987, a plan of action was instigated to prepare Asbestos Registers for many properties within the Government Estate. Asbestos Surveys commenced from 1988 onwards, involving over 1,000 properties, many of which are currently known to contain Asbestos Containing Materials (ACMs). Each Asbestos Register records the precise location, use, type and condition of all ACMs known to be present.

In the intervening years, these Asbestos Registers have been maintained through various programmes of inspections, including the introduction of effective management and control procedures. These actions have maintained Government properties in a safe and occupiable condition, ensuring that any recorded ACMs present at each location do not present any significant risk to the health and safety of staff employed there or the visiting public.

The Health and Safety Executive (NI) advises that asbestos is dangerous only if fibres are released into the atmosphere. There is no requirement to remove such ACMs if they are in good condition and unlikely to be disturbed. The HSE (NI) further advises that, where possible, ACMs should be left undisturbed, but that their presence should be effectively managed. Where ACMs are deemed in poor condition and require removal, such action is undertaken by specialist Asbestos Removal Contractors accredited by the HSE (NI), using a recognised and legislatively compliant safe system of work. Such work is also notifiable to the HSE (NI).

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Government Departments do not, therefore, have a general plan to remove asbestos from their buildings, but will remove such materials where regular inspections dictate such a recommendation.

Asbestos removals, where not deemed necessary through regular inspections, i.e. as a result of planned disturbance, are normally carried out as an integral part of ongoing Maintenance, Minor Works or Major Capital Refurbishment Projects.

BBC Northern Ireland

David Simpson: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what meetings he has had with the Controller of BBC Northern Ireland. [34562]

Mr. Hain: I must apologise to the hon. Member for the delay in responding, owing to an administrative error with the Department. Steps have been taken to prevent a recurrence.

I have met the Controller of BBC Northern Ireland on two occasions since becoming Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Child Sex Abuse

David Simpson: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland pursuant to the answer of 19 April 2006, Official Report, column 723W, on child sex abuse, in what way the new database will trace offender clusters; how it will alert the authorities to the appearance of offender clusters; in what way offender clusters have traditionally been monitored; and how many people have been identified by way of offender clusters in each of the past three years for which there are records. [69245]

Paul Goggins: As stated in the answer to the hon. Gentleman of 23 March 2006, the Police Service of Northern Ireland is continuing to monitor the development of a new database by the UK’s Police Information Technology Organisations. They have confirmed that neither this system nor the Case Administration and Tracking System will be able to identify offender clusters as they are both victim based systems.

The National Intelligence Model currently uses the Integrated Crime Information System to monitor offender clusters. This model delivers the intelligence and analysis to enable audits to be conducted on all crime related issues and to identify and determine any response to offender clusters.

No records are available for the number of people identified by way of offender clusters.

Coeliac Disease

Lady Hermon: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what steps he is taking to ensure that general practitioners receive more appropriate training and support to enable them better to recognise and more accurately to diagnose coeliac disease. [72512]

Paul Goggins: A range of assessment tools are employed, by the Northern Ireland medical and dental training agency (NIMDTA), to determine the continuing
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professional development and training needs of general practitioners. The Department is issuing the recently published CREST guidelines for the diagnosis and management of coeliac disease in adults to health professionals in the HPSS and all GPs including locums, to assist with better recognition and more accurate diagnosis of the disease. NIMDTA will take account of the relevance of this work in identifying the future training needs of GPs.


Dr. McCrea: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what assessment he has made of the effect of (a) the cost of electricity and (b) industrial de-rating on the competitiveness of the Northern Ireland economy. [71309]

Maria Eagle: The Cost of Doing Business Survey published by the Economic Research Institutefor Northern Ireland (ERINI) in December 2005 concluded that, on balance, business costs in Northern Ireland are relatively competitive when compared to GB and the Republic of Ireland. While some elements such as energy and insurance costs were found to be higher in Northern Ireland than in GB, these ‘uncompetitive’ costs together make up only a small proportion of business turnover.

Industrial de-rating should not add significantly to the cost burden of manufacturing. In 2004 turnover in manufacturing was around £13.7 billion and even if rates liabilities had to be met in full (which is not due to happen until 2011) this would represent less than0.4 per cent. of this level of turnover. In addition, the revenues raised will enable significant investment in priority public services, which will benefit the economy. A policy review of industrial de-rating will take place in 2007 which will look at both its impact on manufacturers and also the implications for budgets and future levels of planned public expenditure.

Departmental Communications

Mr. Gregory Campbell: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many and what percentage of communications from members of the public to the Northern Ireland Office were made by (a) post, (b) telephone and (c) email during 2004. [34446]

Mr. Hain: Information regarding telephone calls and emails is not held centrally however the NIO Departmental Report 2005, Appendix 1 Six Service Standards for Central Government sets out details of letters received from the public during 2004 as shown in the following table.

Number of letters received

NIO Core


Northern Ireland Prison Service


Forensic Science Northern Ireland


The Compensation Agency


Public Prosecution Service


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Disabled People

Tom Levitt: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on his Department's progress in fulfilling its statutory obligation as a public body of promoting the rights of disabled people. [66011]

Mr. Hain: As a general principle the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) fulfils its statutory obligation as a public body for promoting the rights of disabled people through its equality scheme set up under Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 which has disability as an equality category. The Department is presently reviewing its Equality Scheme and is in consultation with the Disability Commission to determine what if any additional measures need to be incorporated to meet the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act 2005.

At a practical level the NIO has developed it arrangements to support disabled people.

A textphone service is available in the Department to allow people with hearing or speech disabilities to make contact with us.

Arrangements for disabled people attending NIO events (e.g. Hillsborough Garden Party) have been reviewed recently in accordance with best practice guidelines on making events accessible.

We are committed to widening the diversity of the people who sit on NIO public bodies: attracting and appointing more disabled people is a key element of this aim. Public appointment opportunities are circulated to 140 community groups and 1,400 individuals who have expressed an interest in applying for public appointments in Northern Ireland.

The NIO participates in the Employment Support Scheme, run by the Department of Employment and Learning, which gives people whose disabilities would make it difficult for them to compete for and retain jobs in the open labour market the opportunity to work alongside non-disabled people.

Within the Department a number of initiatives have concentrated on better facilities for staff with disabilities which include:

Dissident Republican Paramilitaries

David Simpson: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, pursuant to the answer of 19 April 2006, Official Report, column 724W, on dissident republican paramilitaries, whether the publication of the eighth report of the independent monitoring commission provided him with information on dissident republican paramilitary recruitment of which he had not previously been in possession. [70461]

Paul Goggins: In his answers of 27 February, 16 March 2006 and 19 April 2006, my right hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Woodward) advised that the recently published IMC report indicated that there is evidence that dissident republican groups are attempting to recruit members. Mr. Woodward based his information on the eighth IMC report which was published on 1 February 2006.

David Simpson: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, pursuant to the answer of 19 April 2006, Official Report, column 724W, on dissident republican paramilitaries, whether the independent monitoring commission had access to security sources in preparing its eighth report that he does not have. [70489]

Paul Goggins: The role of the independent monitoring commission is to help promote the establishment of stable and inclusive devolved Government in a peaceful Northern Ireland. It reports to the Government on inter alia activity by paramilitary groups and the normalisation of security measures. My right hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Woodward), based his assessments on the IMC reports.

Female Prisoners

Mr. Gregory Campbell: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many female convicted prisoners there were in Northern Ireland on 1 January (a) 2001 and (b) 2006. [65925]

Paul Goggins: On 1 January 2001 there were nine female sentenced prisoners. On 1 January 2006 there were 10 female sentenced prisoners.

Invest Northern Ireland

Mr. Gregory Campbell: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland pursuant to the written statement of 10 May 2006, Official Report, column 20WS, on Northern Ireland (Future Garrison Structure), whether Invest Northern Ireland plans to take steps to promote employment opportunities in the East Londonderry constituency. [72623]

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Maria Eagle: Invest NI’s role is to increase competitiveness in its client companies by helping them become more entrepreneurial, innovative and capable of operating in export markets. Investment in business competitiveness leads to greater wealth-creation and better employment opportunities for all. This was seen, for example, in last year’s reinvestment by Seagate where Invest NI worked in partnership with the company to create 300 additional jobs in the area. The agency will continue to pursue all such opportunities within its client base.

Since 2003 Invest NI has secured over £240 million of investment into the North West promoting over 1,100 new jobs. During the last financial year the Agency secured agreements for three new Foreign Direct Investment projects to be based in the North West generating further investment of £1.5 million in the region. These projects will promote 50 new jobs and contribute approximately £700,000 to the local economy through annual salaries.

Increasing the number of new business starts is another key source of job creation and, through partnerships with local stakeholders, Invest NI is also actively promoting enterprise and business start-ups in the area. Since the Agency was established in 2002, 574 new businesses have been assisted in the East Londonderry constituency. These new businesses are forecast to create over 700 additional jobs.

The first phase of the North West Action Plan has been successfully delivered. This has resulted in additional total investment in the area of over £60 million. The second phase of the plan is currently being prepared and we will build on the success of phase 1, working with a wide range of interests, to further increase employment opportunities in the area.

The Department for Employment and Learning will support employers who are expanding their work force or creating new jobs by providing job brokering services and suitable training programmes where appropriate. The Department will also provide advice and support for all employees who lose their jobs as a result of redundancy. Staff from the local jobs and benefits office will provide advice on alternative job opportunities and access to training courses and will also ensure that those who have lost their jobs are able to access advice on a range of other issues such as benefits and taxation.

Ministerial Travel

Bob Russell: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on how many occasions since 7 July he has used the London Underground in connection with his official duties. [35331]

Mr. Hain: I must apologise to the hon. Member for the delay in responding, owing to an administrative error with the Department. Steps have been taken to prevent a recurrence.

I have used the London Underground but not in connection with any of my official duties.

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Personal Protection Weapons

David Simpson: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what plans there are to re-possess on-loan personal protection weapons in Northern Ireland. [68983]

Paul Goggins: The Chief Constable plans to withdraw on-loan personal protection weapons as the current firearm certificates held in respect of each of them expires. Those who continue to be authorised to possess a personal protection weapon will then be required to purchase their own firearm.

The Army state that Army Department PPWs issued to army personnel will be withdrawn from PPW holders on or before their last day of service. There is currently under way a review to determine whether the circumstances still remain extant for each of the present PPW holders to retain their weapons.

Prison Service staff who have been issued with a PPW under the General Threat Due to Occupation category will in future be considered under the Specific Threat Criteria when their Firearms Certificate falls due for renewal.

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