The Minister for Housing and Planning (Yvette Cooper): I would like to make the following statement with regard to the progress of the Government's review of Disabled Facilities Grant. This is an interdepartmental review being conducted jointly between the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, the Department of Health and the Department for Education and Skills.
As part of that review an independent report of the DFG programme was commissioned from the University of Bristol. This is now complete and I am pleased to announce that it is being published today. Copies will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses and sent to all local authorities. The report emphasises the importance that an effective housing adaptations service can play in helping disabled people live independent lives and confirms that the current programmes of Government assistance are making a very valuable contribution in this respect.
However the report also makes a large number of recommendations for change. The Government will consider these further over the next few months and will issue during the early part of 2006 a consultation paper which responds to these recommendations and sets out our proposals for change.
One of the important recommendations which the report makes is to remove the means test for DFG applications from families with a disabled child. This change has already been made in Northern Ireland and Wales. There has also been considerable public and parliamentary support for this change. I have therefore decided that this should be implemented in England as soon as the necessary secondary legislation can be made. I hope this can be brought forward to come into effect in December 2005.
In making the change I have to be certain that local authorities have adequate resources available to meet the additional demand. The Bristol report estimates that to exempt these cases from the means test will create an extra annual resource burden of £12 million on local authorities. However, we announced in September that the ODPM's ring-fenced budget for DFG would be substantially increased from the beginning of 200607. I am therefore satisfied that this increase will be sufficient to accommodate this important change.
I hope that the whole house welcomes this important enhancement to the DFG programme which will bring much needed relief to all those families who are struggling to support a disabled child.
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In April 2003, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister issued a consultation document, Satellite Dishes and Other Antennas, on possible changes to the planning regulations for all domestic antennas except TV aerials. This document proposed a number of options for change to the permitted development rights for buildings in England. We received a wide variety of responses, which we have since been considering.
Householders have a general permission, known as permitted development rights, to make certain modifications to their property. We intend to amend these regulations to take account of the wide variety of antenna technology now available, so that all types of microwave antennas, whether they are satellite dishes, MESH antennas, wireless antennas, or any other type of antenna, will be subject to the same permitted development regulations. This will make planning regulations consistent with the requirements of technological neutrality in the Electronic Communications Act 2003.
The changes will also make it easier for householders and businesses to access both digital or satellite television and wireless broadband services. However, these changes to the planning regulations are balanced to ensure that any adverse environmental impact is kept to a minimum, particularly in designated areas. Accordingly, there are restrictions as to the number, the size, and the location of antennas.
It is a condition of installing an antenna under both the current and revised regulations that it be sited in such a way so that it minimises its impact on the external appearance of the building. Furthermore, antennas no longer needed for reception or transmission purposes should be removed as soon as practicable.
The regulations for designated areas are more restrictive. Designated areas are those listed under Article 1(5) of Schedule 1 of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development Order) 1995 (the GPDO). These areas are: the National Parks; Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty; conservation areas, and the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads. In these areas, as well as the number, size, and siting restrictions made according to the height of the building, antennas should not be both facing and visible from a road or a broads waterway.
If a local planning authority considers an antenna is poorly sited and could reasonably be positioned less conspicuously, they can ask the owner to re-site the antenna at their own expense. If such a request is refused, the planning authority may then require an application for planning permission for which a charge is payable, or serve the householder with an enforcement notice requiring the siting of the antenna to be altered in a specified way.
The Secretary of State for Health (Ms Patricia Hewitt): The NHS Improvement Plan gave a commitment that by December 2008 no one will have to wait longer than 18 weeks from general practitioner referral to hospital treatment.
Between January and July 2005, 24 NHS Pilot sites worked with the Department of Health in a consultative exercise focusing on the patient, operational and information implications of the 18-week commitment, identifying the challenges in achieving this, and defining the delivery planning process. Clinical, managerial and technical specialists in the NHS all participated, providing valuable ideas on achieving the 18-week commitment.
Work has been identified for preparing a detailed delivery plan by early 2006. The next task is to obtain the views of the NHS and other stakeholders on the proposed principles and definitions around this delivery plan.
The Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety (Hazel Blears):
Today I have published Police Performance Assessments 200405 for individual forces in England and Wales. This publication has been brought together by the Police Standards Unit (PSU) and Her
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Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) to improve and integrate their assessment regimes to make performance information understandable and accessible. The Police Performance Assessments have replaced the previous police performance monitors, which were first published in February 2003. Copies will be placed in the House Library.
Tables have been introduced to provide an understandable summary of performance for a force across seven key performance areas. Forces are judged firstly against their peers using the clear judgments "excellent", "good", "fair" and "poor". A second judgment is made against their previous year's performance using the terms "improved", "stable" and "deteriorated". The publication is complemented by comprehensive information (including data and technical definitions) available via the internet.
The police performance assessments use the set of national measures for policing performance published in the National Policing Plan 200407. The assessments will undoubtedly develop in the future, for example, as we develop better ways of assessing performance in tackling anti-social behaviour and investigating organised crime. However, as the first assessment of this kind, the publication sets a benchmark for future policing performance. It will enable local communities to understand the performance of their force thereby promoting accountability and responsiveness. It will also allow forces with their police authorities to identify strengths and weaknesses thereby reducing the need for external inspections, reviews or other interventions.
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