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Free TV Licences

Mr. Gale: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport when he expects the computer system necessary for the pensioners' free TV licence scheme to be in place; upon what date he expects that the scheme will commence; when he expects to publish details of the scheme, with particular reference to terms for refunds for those reaching the age of 75 years within the duration of a licence; and if he will make a statement. [107181]

Janet Anderson [holding answer 27 January 2000]: My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in his pre-Budget statement on 9 November 1999, Official Report, columns 883-91, that people aged 75 or over will receive their television licence free of charge from this autumn. The Government intend to announce shortly the precise starting date and details of how the scheme will operate.

Farmers (Tourism)

Mr. Fearn: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport what discussions his Department has had with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food concerning farmers diversifying into tourism. [104919]

Janet Anderson: We were, of course, consulted when the UK's Rural Development proposals were being prepared. We fully support the proposals of my right hon. Friend the Agriculture Minister to introduce a radical redirection of support for agriculture. This initiative will give new help to farmers wishing to diversify into other activity, including tourism, through a significant increase in expenditure on rural development measures, including the environment and diversification. We are now involved in discussing how this programme of measures, when approved by the Commission, can best contribute to sustainable tourism in rural areas--to the long-term benefit of farmers and visitors alike.



Mr. Wyatt: To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many children who have been diagnosed dyspraxic have been refused treatment by the Thames Gateway NHS Trust in North Kent since May 1997. [104862]

Mr. Hutton: The information requested is not available. However, no children with verbal dyspraxia have been refused speech and language therapy services. For motor dyspraxia all urgent referrals are seen. These children are assessed and given an activity programme to do at home and their progress is reviewed every three months.

Long-term Care

Sir Geoffrey JohnsonSmith: To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) what assessment he has made of the impact of his proposed regulations on the number of businesses in the long-term care industry; and what percentage of the available long-term beds these businesses account for; [106378]

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Mr. Hutton: The new National Care Standards Commission will regulate care services and private healthcare. The Commission will ensure that services meet the finalised minimum standards. The proposals in "Fit for the Future?" are aimed at promoting better quality care and helping to prevent abuse by grounding practice on the principles of dignity, choice, privacy and respect.

The Department did not carry out research into the impact of each of the standards proposed. However, Laing and Buisson were commissioned to work on a cost-benefit analysis of the standards to ascertain the likely burden on providers nationally. Additional information was gathered from Heads of Inspection regarding the current standard of provision. Information from these studies was published in "Fit for the Future?" along with a regulatory impact appraisal.

We will be issuing a revised regulatory impact appraisal with the published standards later this year.

The Department has not conducted any specific research into the impact on the National Health Service of the proposals concerning ratios of qualified nurses to other staff in nursing homes. However, we are funding a major study by Kings College, University of London, tracking the careers of 3,000 new entrants to nursing. Although not the focus of the research, this will help assess the demand for nurses, including from the private sector. We are also actively considering models for assessment of nursing needs which would allow levels of qualified nurses to relate more flexibility to assessed needs.

Christie Hospital, Manchester

Mr. Brady: To ask the Secretary of State for Health when a Minister in his Department will next visit the Christie Hospital in Manchester. [106692]

Mr. Hutton: I visited the Christie Hospital on Friday 21 January.

Nursing Homes

Mr. Rowlands: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what (a) guidelines and (b) regulations are in force concerning the rights of elderly residents in nursing

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homes who may be forced to leave those homes as a result of a change in registration by the owners of such homes. [106924]

Mr. Hutton: Residential care homes are currently required to give reasonable notice to residents of any intention to terminate arrangements for accommodating them. Nursing homes are not currently under the same statutory obligation. This will be remedied in the new arrangements for regulating care, through the regulations and national standards we are introducing.

None the less we regard it as good practice that any decision to close a home or part of a home is handled as sensitively and appropriately as possible. When a home does have to close or beds are redesignated, the essential thing is that there should be proper arrangements made for the safe and satisfactory transfer of all residents to other suitable homes. Adequate time should be allowed for this to be done and in a way that allows both residents and their relatives a choice in where they are to move to, and which creates the minimum possible discomfort to all concerned.

Audiology Services

Mr. Swayne: To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) what recent representations he has received on age discrimination in applying the 'needs test' system with respect to the provision of digital hearing aids; [107058]

Mr. Hutton: We have not received any representations about age discrimination for the supply of digital hearing aids. A project will start in England later this year to trial digital hearing aids for National Health Service patients. This project will help inform our plans to modernise hearing aid services. Detailed proposals for the scheme are being developed, but we anticipate that the project will cover 20 hearing aid departments and that an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 patients will benefit from the scheme. The project is intended to lead to improvements for all NHS patients.



Mr. Dalyell: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will place copies of the correspondence between his Department and Mr. Radonur Putnikovich in the Library. [106872]

Mr. Vaz [holding answer 25 January 2000]: I would be happy to place copies of this correspondence in the Library.

General Affairs Council

Mr. Hood: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what was the outcome of the General Affairs Council held in Brussels on 24 to 25 January; and if he will make a statement. [107150]

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Mr. Vaz: The General Affairs Council in Brussels on 24 January adopted the A points listed in document no. 5443/00 and noted the resolutions, decisions and opinions adopted by the European Parliament in its sessions of 1-2 December in Brussels, listed in document no. 12794/99, and 13-17 December in Strasbourg, listed in document no. 13877/99. Copies of the documents listing the A points and the resolutions will be placed in the House Libraries as soon as they become available.

Open Debate: European Security and Defence Policy

The Portuguese Presidency put forward their programme of work. Discussion focused on how to take forward the remits from the Helsinki European Council on European security and defence policy, in particular progress on improving military capabilities, and relations between the EU and NATO, including the role of non-EU Allies and others in any new arrangements in the EU.

Follow up to Helsinki European Council

(A) IGC. The Presidency described its plans for organising the first stage of negotiations in the IGC.

(B) Enlargement. The Presidency and Commission set out the work programme for the next six months and confirmed their commitment to continued progress in negotiations for all countries and to differentiation (each country proceeding on merit at its own speed), including the possibility that countries starting negotiations this year might catch up with those already in negotiations.

Lisbon European Council Preparation

The Presidency presented a framework document on preparatory work towards the Lisbon Special Council on employment, economic reform and social cohesion. It set out the key objective of making the EU over the next 10 years the world's most dynamic and competitive knowledge-based economy, able to boost economic growth levels with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion.

Middle East Peace Process

The Council received a report of the Presidency and High Representative's visit to the region and discussed prospects for the Peace Process.

President Arafat attended lunch and briefed Ministers on developments on the Palestinian track. The Council welcomed recent reforms to the Palestinian Authority's procedures for financial management and called for further reforms in support of good governance and respect for human rights.


The Council welcomed the democratic conduct of the Duma elections and the smooth transition of power after President Yeltsin's resignation. It emphasised its wish to develop the long-term strategic partnership between the EU and Russia.

The Council reiterated the EU's deep concern about continuing violence in Chechnya and condemned the indiscriminate use of force by the Russian authorities. While it did not question Russia's right to preserve its territorial integrity, the Council emphasised Russia's great responsibility to respect its obligations under international humanitarian law. The EU would continue to press for de-escalation of the violence, a rapid ceasefire and a political solution to the crisis.

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The Council welcomed the action taken to follow up the Declaration of the Helsinki European Council, including the revision of the Presidency's work plan for the EU Common Strategy on Russia. The Council invited the Commission to refocus the TACIS 2000 programme on core areas directly promoting democratic values, and agreed that the EU should respond firmly to any infringements of Russia's trade obligations under the Partnership and Co-operation Agreement.


The Presidency and Commission outlined plans for implementing the Helsinki European Council conclusions on Turkey.

Western Balkans

The Council welcomed the agreement of the Serbian democratic opposition of 10 January and their call for early elections in Serbia. The Council made it clear the EU was willing to offer substantial political and economic support to a democratic Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY). It invited the Commission to prepare a proposal to extend the Energy for Democracy programme.

The Council stressed its continuing support for the democratically elected government of Montenegro, and invited the Commission to submit further concrete proposals to address Montenegro's most urgent needs.

On Kosovo, the Council agreed that urgent action was needed to address the continued violence against minorities and the growing threat of organised crime in Kosovo. It recognised the urgent need to reinforce the international police presence, particularly through specialists in organised crime and drug trafficking. It took note of UNMIK's worrying financial situation and agreed to address the problem without delay.

The Council welcomed the democratic outcome of the recent parliamentary elections in Croatia, and looked forward to the presidential elections and the formation of the new government. The Council emphasised the need to meet the conditions necessary for a closer relationship with the EU and looked forward to helping the new government achieve early progress. The Council agreed to establish rapidly the Joint EU-Croatia Consultative Task Force and invite Croatian Prime Minister designate to the General Affairs Council on 14 February.

The Council called for early and comprehensive implementation by Bosnia and Herzegovina's Joint Presidency of the New York Declaration. It urged the Bosnian parties to pass the Permanent Election Law and legislation on the Statute of the Council of Ministers incompliance with the constitution.

The Council adopted the negotiating directives for a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Macedonia, and invited the Commission to make preparations to open negotiations in March 2000.

The Council examined the Commission's feasibility study for a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Albania. It invited the Albanian government to present a plan of action for addressing the weaknesses identified in the study. The Council reaffirmed the EU's readiness to support the reform process in Albania.

Aid to Venezuela

The Council approved a Commission document on EU aid efforts in Venezuela following last month's flooding.

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EU Africa Summit

The Presidency described its plans for a possible EU/Africa Summit in April.

EU/South Africa

The Presidency briefed the Council on contacts between the Commission and South Africa on the implementation of the EU/South Africa Trade, Development and Co-operation Agreement.

Oil Tanker Safety

The Council agreed that the safety of oil tankers was a matter of great concern to the EU. The Commission will produce a Communication in time for the next Transport Council on oil tanker safety, concentrating on oil tankers most at risk, re-examining the system of classifying tankers, phasing out single-hull tankers, reviewing liability and compensation and promoting transparency in the maritime world.

Association Council with Tunisia

The Association Council with Tunisia covered a range of political and economic issues. The Presidency raised Tunisia's human rights record and stressed the importance of the political dialogue between the EU and Tunisia. EU support for economic reform in Tunisia was discussed, with Tunisia looking forward to continued co-operation in support of progress towards the free trade area foreseen under the Barcelona Process.

Co-operation Council with Moldova

The second EU-Moldova Co-operation Council took place on 25 January. Discussion focused on the positive progress made under the EU-Moldova Partnership and Co-operation Agreement over the past year, and on Moldova's desire to further strengthen its relationship with the EU. There were also discussions on the internal political situation in Moldova (including Transdniestria), Moldova/Russia relations, and Moldovan participation in regional co-operation.

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