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Mr. Dismore: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what change there has been in the number of looked-after children adopted since his Department issued adoption guidance and launched Quality Protects in 1998; and if he will make a statement. [104123]

Mr. Hutton: For the year to 31 March 1999, the initial estimate from local authorities of looked-after children adopted was 2,200, an increase of 200 over 1998 which represents an increase of nearly 11 per cent. The number of looked-after children placed for adoption was 2,900, an increase of 500 over 1998.

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These figures are encouraging: adoption is a priority within Government's Quality Protects programme to transform children's services. It is now essential to go further. As part of our Quality Protects programme, the Government will shortly publish the results of the Social Services Inspectorate's survey of all 150 local authority adoption services. SSI are also now undertaking in-depth inspections of selected adoption services. Additionally, we are developing rigorous performance indicators; improving statistical and management information; promoting the messages of recent research and undertaking new research on maximising adoption and minimising delay; considering with the Lord Chancellor's Department how court processes can best contribute to effective and timely decision-making; and supporting initiatives to increase the number of adopters, particularly from minority ethnic communities, including working with the Association of Directors of Social Services and the Commission for Racial Equality. The Department is supporting, with a grant of £50,000, the BBC series to promote interest in adoption and fostering to be broadcast in January.

"Adoption Now--Messages from Research", published in October, covers the planning and management of adoption services, monitoring of looked-after children, avoiding delay in placing children with new families, more robust and targeted recruitment programmes, greater collaboration with the voluntary sector, adoption by single people, the needs of older children and those from ethnic minority communities and the importance of listening to children.

The Government are determined that there will be lasting improvements in the adoption services. We must not fail these children.

Spinal Injuries

Mr. Doran: To ask the Secretary of State for Health which (a) health boards and (b) NHS trusts have funded referrals to the Spinal Foundation in Rochdale of patients suffering from spinal injuries in the last five years. [103764]

Mr. Denham: The information requested is not available centrally.

Mr. Doran: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what research he has undertaken into the clinical effectiveness of endoscopic laser-assisted foraminoplasty in relation to patients suffering from spinal injuries. [103765]

Mr. Denham: Endoscopic laser foraminoplasty was referred to the Safety and Efficacy Register of New Interventional Procedures (SERNIP) in July 1999. SERNIP found that the evidence presently available did not demonstrate safety and efficacy, and categorised the procedure as one that should be used only as part of a primary research programme, using appropriate methodology and registered with SERNIP.

Research Data

Mr. Mackinlay: To ask the Secretary of State for Health if general practitioners and NHS establishments

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are obliged to obtain patients' consent for the forwarding of anonymised computerised research data to the GPRO database at the Office for National Statistics; and if he will make a statement. [103480]

Ms Stuart: The Department is awaiting a Court of Appeal ruling on the existence and extent of any duty of confidentiality in respect of anonymised patient information. I will write to my hon. Friend once the ruling is known.

Primary Care Trusts

Helen Jackson: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what progress he is making on the development of Primary Care Trusts. [102262]

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Mr. Denham: Excellent progress has been made towards Primary Care Trust development with 68 Primary Care Groups proposing to make applications to become 63 PCTs in the year 2000.

Dispensing Appliance Contractors

Mr. Oaten: To ask the Secretary of State for Health when he plans to publish new guidelines governing the remuneration of dispensing appliance contractors. [R] [103093]

Ms Stuart [holding answer 20 December 1999]: A consultation document will be published in due course. It will set out options for change to appliance contractor arrangements and will invite comments.

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Wood Committee

Mr. Geraint Davies: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions when he expects to make regulations implementing the report of the 2nd Wood Committee. [104067]

Ms Armstrong: In September we broadly accepted the recommendations of the 2nd Wood Committee on the rating of plant and machinery in the prescribed industries. I have today published draft regulations which will implement that decision. The Government would welcome views on the draft regulations by Friday 28 January 2000.

We are considering whether the Committee's recommendation of a tools of the trade exemption for the power industry should be extended to generating plant and machinery in combined heat and power installations. We will make decisions on this shortly.

Mobile Telephone Masts

Angela Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what scope local planning authorities have to consider the proposed siting and appearance of mobile telephone masts. [104085]

Mr. Raynsford: Government planning policy for telecommunications is set out in Planning Policy Guidance note 8 (revised): Telecommunications, and the Department's Circular 4/99 "Planning for Telecommunications". These underline the importance of close consultation between operators and local planning authorities before an application is made to an authority to install a telecommunications mast.

The installation of any telecommunications mast in protected areas, such as National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Sites of Special Scientific Interest and conservation areas, and of masts above 15 metres in height elsewhere, is subject to a planning application for determination by the local planning authority. In the case of masts up to 15 metres in height, local planning authorities are able to consider the siting and appearance of such development by licensed telecommunications code system operators in accordance with the "prior approval procedure" under Part 24 of Schedule 2 to the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995 (as amended).

Under the prior approval procedure for ground-based masts, a local planning authority has the opportunity to say whether it wishes to approve, within 42 days, details of the siting and appearance of the installation. Following recent amendments to the Order, the procedure includes a requirement that the operator should erect a site notice to publicise the development proposed, in order to provide the public with a clear opportunity to comment to the local planning authority on the siting and appearance of the proposed mast. If an authority considers that the development will pose a serious threat to amenity, it is

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able to refuse approval, although authorities are advised to explore the scope for modifying its siting and/or appearance before doing so.

The Government's policy is to encourage mast and site sharing, where that is appropriate. Circular 4/99 makes clear our expectation that developers should provide evidence to local planning authorities that they have carefully considered the use of existing masts, buildings and other structures before seeking to erect any new mast, regardless of size. The authority may be justified in refusing prior approval or planning permission if it considers the evidence regarding the consideration of such alternative sites is not satisfactory.

The Government are aware of public concern about mobile phone systems and health and have set up an independent expert group to advise on possible risk to health. The group, chaired by Sir William Stewart FRS FRSE, is currently holding open meetings around the UK to take views.

The Government have consulted on a draft circular on land-use planning and electromagnetic fields and will finalise it as soon as practicable.

Environment Agency

Mr. Burgon: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions when he will announce the new Chairman of the Environment Agency. [104131]

Mr. Meacher: Sir John Harman will succeed Lord De Ramsey as Chairman on 1 January 2000. Sir John is currently Deputy Chairman of the Agency. The appointment will be for four years.

I am delighted that he has accepted our offer. The Agency plays a central role in protecting and enhancing the environment in England and Wales, and the Chairman must lead in determining the strategic direction, inspire the staff and ensure that it discharges its statutory duties fully.

I believe that in Sir John we have found someone who has the ability and vision which are needed to lead such a major public sector organisation, and to develop a successful relationship with the wide range of bodies that have dealings with the Agency.

I would also like to thank Lord De Ramsey for his contribution in bringing the Agency into being, and for steering it through the early days when it has sought to develop a single corporate approach from the multiplicity of organisations from which it was constructed. The Agency has come a long way since it began work in 1996, and the next few years will set the course for its continuing development.

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