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Lord Laird asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The investigations or reports are all those commissioned by the then Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland from 1995. "Disproportionate cost" meant that preparation of a full Answer would have entailed the disruption of normal duties for a number of staff for many hours and would have cost well in excess of £500 in staff time.

Lord Laird asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: Following the 1996 Comprehensive Spending Review, Northern Ireland Office Ministers decided that, in allocating the resources available within the Northern Ireland Block, top priority should be given to health, education and law and order services. Nevertheless, over £20 million of additional funding was made available for Northern Ireland Railways over the three year period 1999/2000 to 2001/2002, including provision to fully fund the operating deficit that NIR were then predicting.

Lord Laird asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: Gross programme expenditure on the Roads Service, Railway Services

24 May 2000 : Column WA101

and Road Passenger Services (public bus transport) for the years 1999/00--2001/02 is set out in the following table. The figures provided for 2001/02 are subject to revision under the 2000 Spending Review, which will set out plans for the years 2001/02--2003/04. The figures for railway services are also subject to change pending the report of the railway task force.

1999/002000/012001/02
ProvisionalPlansPlans
Outturn
Road Service96.7115.4134.4
Railway Services14.015.9*23.2
Road Passenger Services20.421.121.1

*A further £6 million has been earmarked in ministerial correspondence.


Lord Laird asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the Northern Ireland Department for Regional Development's Transportation Unit is in charge of public transport; whether it is wholly funded, managed and directed by the Roads Service Agency; and, if so, whether this is in the best interests of public transport.[HL2487]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The Department for Regional Development's Transportation Unit is not in charge of public transport. It is part of and wholly funded by the Roads Service Agency. In fulfilling its role of contributing to the development, and promoting implementation, of overall transportation policy in Northern Ireland, it also takes direction from the Deputy Secretary responsible for transport strategy and public transport in the department.

The department has recently set up a Regional Transportation Strategy Division outside Roads Service and located in the core of the department. The division has responsibility for developing a 10-year transportation strategy for Northern Ireland.

I am satisfied that the current structure serves best the interests of overall transport policy implementation in Northern Ireland at the present time.

Northern Ireland: NHS

Lord Laird asked Her Majesty's Government:

    In the light of the allocation of £10 million of additional National Health Service funding for Northern Ireland to community care, what additional resources are to be allocated to health care in Northern Ireland to ensure that it receives the same percentage allocation of resources to health care as in the rest of the United Kingdom.[HL2304]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: Northern Ireland received its share, £53 million, of the extra National Health Service Funding announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in March. Mr Howarth, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health in Northern Ireland, consulted a broad cross-section of health and personal social services interests in deciding how the additional funding would be allocated.

24 May 2000 : Column WA102

After careful consideration, it was decided to allocate £11 million specifically to community care in 2000-01 and the balance to meet a range of hospital, community care and other pressures. However, because of the integrated nature of health and personal social services in Northern Ireland, it is inappropriate to make direct comparisons with the funding of the NHS in England.

Lord Laird asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Why some of the additional resources allocated to the National Health Service have been used to write off health trust overspending in England and Wales and not in Northern Ireland.[HL2305]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: Having consulted a broad cross-section of health and personal social services interests, Mr Howarth, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health in Northern Ireland, decided to direct the additional £53 million for health this year towards improving the provision of specific services, such as community care, hospital and cancer services, children's services etc. £38 million of this money is to be allocated to health and social services boards, and it will be a matter for boards to decide how the additional resources will actually be used, based on local priorities.

Northern Ireland: Nurses

Lord Laird asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What urgent steps they propose to take to fill the shortage of qualified nurses in Northern Ireland.[HL2306]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety is currently reviewing the number of places it commissions on the three year Diploma Course at Queen's University Belfast.

Up-to-date information from both the public and private sectors on recruitment and retention difficulties and the level of unfilled vacancies for qualified staff is presently being assessed with a view to increasing the planned number of student places.

Northern Ireland: Trainee Teacher Grant

Lord Rogan asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Why the £6,000 grant to trainee teachers by the Teacher Training Agency does not apply to Northern Ireland.[HL2416]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: This incentive scheme is being introduced in England from September 2000 to boost recruitment to teaching by attracting more applications from graduates for initial teacher training. Northern Ireland has not experienced the same shortage of graduates applying to become teachers and there are therefore no plans at present to introduce similar incentive arrangements.

24 May 2000 : Column WA103

Northern Ireland: Shipbuilding

Lord Blease asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What was the outcome of consultations, and what decisions have been made, about the future employment at Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast and in related shipbuilding industries in Northern Irleand.[HL2441]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: Harland and Wolff, following announcement on 10 May 2000 of a conditional order for up to six Roll-on/Roll-off passenger vessels, are currently reviewing levels of employment in the shipbuilding division which will apply during the interim period until major work can commence on that project early next year. The extent of redundancy to be introduced after the consultation expires on 7 June is a commercial matter for the company and will be dependent upon the amount of in-fill work which the company can secure in the interim and in the light of the projected forward workload at that time. Ministers and departments in Northern Ireland remain in close contact with the company in relation to these matters.

Act of Union: Bicentenary

Lord Patten asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have any plans to celebrate the bicentenary of the United Kingdom in 2001; and, if so, whether they will list the events to be undertaken.[HL2330]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I refer the noble Lord to the answer I gave on 9 May 2000 to the noble Lord, Lord Laird (Official Report, col. 1364-1365). We have no plans formally to commemorate the 1801 Act of Union. We will consider any proposals put to us to mark the bicentennary, including whether it is appropriate to support them in any way.

"Tony's New Boy Network"

The Earl of Northesk asked Her Majesty's Government:

    On whose authority the Strategic Communications Unit issued a memorandum recommending that Ministers should not participate in the Channel 4 programme "Tony's New Boy Network"; and[HL2376]

    Whether the memorandum issued by the Strategic Communications Unit recommending that Ministers should not participate in the Channel 4 programme "Tony's New Boy Network" is consistent with their policy on freedom of information; and[HL2377]

    Further to the Written Answer by Lord Falconer of Thoroton on 28 March (WA 62-63) that "The Government welcome the opportunity to explain their policies and programmes to the public through the media", whether the memorandum issued by the

24 May 2000 : Column WA104

    Strategic Communications Unit recommending that Ministers should not participate in the Channel 4 programme "Tony's New Boy Network" is consistent with this approach.[HL2378]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: It is a matter for Ministers to decide, taking account of advice from officials, whether or not to accept a particular invitation from the media to give an interview. It is also the case that successive Governments have co-ordinated their response to media bids made to several departments or Ministers. The e-mail referred to was issued on this basis and nothing in it has any bearing on the Government's policy towards freedom of information or my own stated view that such opportunities are welcome--even if from time to time I or my colleagues choose to turn them down.

Prime Minister's Question Time: Briefing

The Earl of Northesk asked Her Majesty's Government:

    To what extent, if at all, (a) the Strategic Communications Unit and (b) the Prime Minister's official spokesman are involved in preparing briefing for Prime Minister's Question Time; and upon whose (a) initiative and (b) authority a memorandum seeking to improve such a briefing was issued.[HL2535]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The preparation for Prime Minister's Question Time is the responsibility of the Prime Minister's Private Secretary (Parliamentary Affairs). As under previous administrations the routine memorandum was issued on the authority and the initiative of the Private Secretary.

The Earl of Northesk asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, in the light of the recent memorandum seeking to improve the quality of briefing for Prime Minister's Question Time, the performance of the Strategic Communications Unit in co-ordinating the message of Government is satisfactory.[HL2536]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: Yes.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: Document

The Earl of Courtown asked the Leader of the House:

    Whether she has yet agreed to the placing in the Library of the House the document referred to by Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank at col. 926 of the Official Report of 7 March.[HL2380]

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington): I have not seen the document referred to. I am not therefore in a position either to place it, or to decide whether it should be placed, in the Library of the House.



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