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Mr. Robathan: To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) how many times Ministers in his Department have sought the advice of the permanent secretary under the circumstances envisaged in paragraphs 118, 121 and 123 of the Ministerial Code; and on which occasions such advice was sought; 
Mr. Hutton: The Department has received over 1,000 responses to the Green Paper "Reform of the Mental Health Act 1983" and we are considering them all carefully. We will be making an announcement on the next stage of this reform process in the near future.
Dr. Cable: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what standard procedures exist to initiate police investigations and search operations in cases where children go missing from children's homes. 
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Mr. Hutton: Part III of the Children's Homes Regulations 1991 requires the authority responsible for children's homes to draw up written procedures to be followed when children go missing from children's homes.
In order to improve practice in this area, in January 1998 the Local Government Association and the Association of Chief Police Officers issued guidance to local authorities on procedures and good practice when children go missing from care. Social services and police forces were advised to develop locally agreed protocols to cover the circumstances in which initial reports should be made to the police and to act on any report of a child going missing from care immediately. The Department was represented on the working party which produced this guidance. We intend to publish further good practice guidance later this year aimed at helping statutory and voluntary sector staff identify potential runaways and will suggest preventative measures which they can take. The guidance will reiterate the need for inter-agency planning and provision of services for runaways.
Dr. Cable: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what the capacity of children's homes was in each year from 1992-93 to 1998-99; and what the average percentage utilisation of these homes was in each year. 
|Total capacity of homes (places)||10,892||10,869|
|Number of children||6,600||6,400|
|Average occupancy rate||61%||58%|
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In addition, a further 3,800 and 4,000 children were accommodated in children's homes during the years ending 31 March 1996 and 1997 respectively, under a series of short-term placements. It is not possible to estimate how many of these were in residence at the end of the year.
Mr. Hutton: The Children's Homes Regulations 1991, made under the Children Act 1989, provide that children's homes should have appropriate facilities for children to meet privately with parents, relatives, friends and others, and for children to be able to make and receive phone calls in private. The Children Act guidance on residential care makes it clear that homes should recognise the need for privacy. There are no particular provisions in respect of uncensored mail.
Dr. Cable: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what steps are being taken to ensure that qualified former residents of children's homes are fully represented on the short lists for the post of Children's Rights Director on the National Care Standards Commission and among the Director's staff. 
Mr. Hutton: The appointment of staff to the National Care Standards Commission will be a matter for the Commission itself once legally established in 2001. The Department will, however, define the role of the Children's Rights Director and suggest a model structure for their Directorate.
Mr. Hutton: I refer the hon. Member to the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales on 15 February 2000, Official Report, column 784-87, when he presented Sir Ronald Waterhouse's report "Lost in Care" to Parliament. Our response to "Lost in Care", published on 29 June 2000, acknowledges that the awful events in North Wales are not unique and that the abuse of children in the public care system across the United Kingdom has been a source of shame for all.
Anyone who has been the victim of a criminal act is entitled to seek compensation. For victims of child abuse, we realise that this can be a particularly difficult process to see through. However, it must be for individual people to decide if they wish to seek redress through the Courts or the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority. Each case will need to be judged on its own merits.
Dr. Cable: To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many residents of children's homes were officially recorded as missing in the period 1992-93 to 1998-99; and how many of these have subsequently been traced. 
Mr. Hutton: Data supplied by local authorities show that during the period 1 April 1992 to 31 March 1999 there were an estimated 1,700 occasions when children being looked after in children's homes in England absconded for more than one week. In 1,500 of these
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cases, the child concerned subsequently had a further period of care with the same local authority. Where no further period of care with the same authority is recorded these children may have been traced but not subsequently looked after or the responsibility for the care may have transferred to another authority.
Mr. Chope: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what percentage of correctly presented bills were paid by his Department in (a) 1998-99 and (b) 1999-2000 within 30 days of receipt of (i) goods and services, (ii) a valid invoice and (iii) other agreed payment terms. 
Ms Stuart [holding answer 11 July 2000]: I refer the hon. Member to the answer given by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to my hon. Friend the Member for Elmet (Mr. Burgon) on 23 July 1999, Official Report, columns 679-80W. Departments and their agencies are currently collating this information for 1999-2000 and this will be made available to the House shortly.
Ms Stuart: The National Research Register (NRR) provides a systematic record of research projects supported, undertaken or of interest to the National Health Service. The NRR contains currently over 57,000 records. It is freely available on-line to the public at the Department of Health Research and Development website: www.doh.gov.uk/research.
The NRR can be accessed both from the Research and Development home page and the "Information from Research" section on the Research and Development pages. Access from the Research and Development home page to the NRR was recently disrupted by a technical fault. During this time, the NRR remained accessible from the "Information from Research" section. The fault has now been rectified.
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