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Specified Risk Materials Controls: Charges

Lord Grenfell asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Donoughue: We have carefully considered the cost of enforcement of these controls. We have reluctantly concluded that we can no longer defer the introduction of charges to the industry to cover these costs and that they must be transferred from taxpayers to the industry from 29 March 1999.

SRM controls are in the fundamental interest of the industry since, by protecting animal and public health from the risk of BSE and related diseases, they enhance consumer confidence and so bolster demand for meat and meat products.

Interested parties are being consulted on the details of the necessary legislation and a copy of the consultation package has been placed in the Library of the House. Comments are required by 12 February 1999.

Withdrawn Produce: Supply to Schools

Lord Beaumont of Whitley asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Donoughue: The Intervention Board Executive Agency has recently issued an explanatory information sheet to schools, charities and other institutions such as schools inviting applications for formal registration as potential recipients of withdrawn produce.

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Once applicants have been registered, the board will attempt to arrange for growers who withdraw produce to deliver to applicants in the area. The minimum weight requirement is set at approximately the weight of one pallet in order to encourage participation by growers. There is no reason why a number of schools could not group together nor why a local authority could not apply on behalf of a number of its schools.

In addition, the Government support a proposal currently with the Council of Ministers to allow for transport costs to be paid to growers who deliver such produce to schools. This will further encourage such actions.

Orchard Rehabilitation Grants

Lord Beaumont of Whitley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many applications for grants to farmers for the rehabilitation of old orchards have been refused in the last two years for lack of available funds; how much money would have been required to make the grants; and what steps they propose to take to enable such grants to be made in future.[HL258]

Lord Donoughue: Grants for the rehabilitation of old orchards are available under the Countryside Stewardship and Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESA) schemes. No ESA applications have been refused in the last two years (1997 and 1998). The information in the form requested could only be provided for the Countryside Stewardship scheme at disproportionate cost. Of the 118 applications received for the Countryside Stewardship scheme where orchard rehabilitation was the main objective, 38 could not be accepted for reasons of lack of funding. The average cost of all Stewardship agreements approved this year was £5,200.

The Government have taken steps to increase the funding for new agreements under the Countryside Stewardship scheme, which will rise by £1 million from the £6.5 million available in 1998 to £7.5 million in 1999. This will increase the potential to offer more agreements for the range of landscapes eligible under the scheme, including old orchards, where applications meet the scheme's targets and provide good environmental value for money.

Systemic Lupus Erythematosus

Baroness Brigstocke asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the training of Benefit Officers includes a proper appreciation of systemic Lupus Erythematosus and the disabilities it can cause.[HL413]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Baroness Hollis of Heigham): The training of Benefits Agency staff is a matter for its Chief Executive, Peter Mathison. I have asked him to write to you.

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Letter to Baroness Brigstocke from the Chief Executive of the Benefits Agency, Mr. P. Mathison, dated 19 January 1999.

I am replying to your recent parliamentary Question asking whether the training of Benefit Officers includes a proper appreciation of systemic Lupus Erythematosus and the disabilities it can cause.

The training given to Benefits Agency adjudication officers administering Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and Attendance Allowance (AA), includes guidance on the most appropriate sources to gain the information they require to determine eligibility. The Disability Handbook, prepared by doctors in the Department of Social Security Medical Policy Group, contains advice from the Disability Living Allowance Advisory Board on a wide range of disabling conditions. It contains a chapter on Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE). This includes general background, care needs and mobility considerations. It also states that, because SLE is relatively uncommon, it is usually advisable to obtain a hospital factual report from an occupational therapist, physiotherapist, or community psychiatric nurse.

Their training also includes sessions from doctors about the effects of disabling conditions on a person's need for help with personal care and/or mobility. Once trained they also have direct access to doctors working under contract to the Benefits Agency from whom they can seek formal or informal advice.

In the case of other benefits (e.g. Incapacity Benefits, Industrial Injuries Benefit, or Severe Disablement Allowance) the qualification decisions are informed by input from medical practitioners.

I hope you find this reply helpful.

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Older People: Policy Initiatives

Earl Russell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What information or policy commitment was announced for the first time in Building a Better Britain for Older People.[HL445]

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Building a Better Britain for Older People describes some of the major initiatives the Government have already introduced to improve lives for older people and sets out our priorities for effective cross-government action in the future. The publication is an important contribution to the debate started by the Inter-Ministerial Group on Older People with older people and the groups that represent them.

NHS Hearing Aids

Lord Sefton of Garston asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether hearing aids provided by the NHS are of at least the same quality as any available in the private sector.[HL485]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Hayman): The National Health Service supplies from a robust range of high quality hearing aids to any patient with a clinical need. This range of hearing aids has been substantially updated over the last three years, and now has 22 models which cater for the full range of hearing impairment from mild to profound loss. "In the ear" models have been introduced, as have high frequency aids, mini aids and aids in different colours. In addition, alternative aids are available, and can be prescribed, to meet a clinical need in the NHS. Aids which are more complex or expensive, such as those available from the private sector, are not necessarily more effective.

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