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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: There are no current plans to amend the list of specialised services issued with previous guidance. The list is intended to act as a working brief for National Health Service regional offices to use in reviewing current service arrangements over time and does not preclude action being taken on any service if appropriate.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: Since the new commissioning arrangements were introduced in April 1999 there have been no major reviews by commissioners of either the cochlear implant service or the specialist mental health service for the deaf, but the Department of Health is in regular touch with the Royal National Institute for Deaf People and the National Deaf Children's Society.
The National Service Framework for Mental Health, published in September 1999, draws attention to the benefits of involving service users and carers in the planning and delivery of services. The new NHS Performance Framework, against which future service performance will be assessed, sets out six performance domains, the fifth of which is patient/user experience.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: The first annual reports on the new regional arrangements for commissioning specialised services will be published locally this summer and a full set of the eight reports will be made available in the Library. Advice has been given on the structure and content of the annual reports and, once finalised, a copy of the advice will be placed in the Library.
The National Specialist Commissioning Advisory Group, which deals nationally with some of the most specialised services of all, including specialised mental health services for deaf children, already produces an annual report in the autumn. This will be extended to cover national lessons emerging from the regional
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Baroness Hollis of Heigham): The highest known current weekly payment 1 is made by a client of the Independent Living (Extension) Fund who is contributing £275.26 towards the cost of the care package. The Fund's payment is £152.29 per week and the client's remaining weekly income is £219.67.
The changes to the earnings disregard which my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State announced on 27 January should improve the position of this client, and many others. Based on the current information held by the Fund, under the new rules the Fund's contribution would increase to £228.29 per week, while the client's contribution would reduce to £198.76 and the remaining weekly income increase to £296.10. Note: 1 Based on the 80 per cent of ILF customers for whom the relevant records are computerised and can therefore be scanned at proportionate cost.
The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): I announced in October 1999 the boundaries of the 47 local arms of the Learning and Skills Council. I am today announcing, subject to the passage of the legislation to set up the Learning and Skills Council, the location of the offices of the local councils. In reaching decisions, I have taken account of the need to get best value for public money by using, where appropriate, premises currently occupied by Training and Enterprise Councils, and of the need for locations that will facilitate effective operations of the LSC.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton): My right honourable friend the Home Secretary is pleased to announce that Mr John Rowe QC has accepted my invitation to carry out the annual review of Sections 5 to 7 of the Criminal Justice (Terrorism and Conspiracy) Act 1998, which deal with conspiracy in this country to commit criminal offences abroad.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: The Government are devoting great effort and substantial additional resources into the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) in Croydon to reduce the backlogs there and to deliver faster decisions as part of the commitment to delivering a fairer, faster and firmer immigration and asylum system. The asylum system we inherited required a radical overhaul to the processes used in making asylum decisions and the legislative basis for appeals to deliver these faster.
The Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, now on the Statute Book will help to achieve this. Its provisions will be introduced progressively, but a fairer and faster system cannot be delivered by legislation alone.
One of our actions was to undertake a thorough review of the asylum decision making processes. Vantagepoint was commissioned by the IND to help with its review of the asylum decision process. The aim of the review was to identify where there were delays in the procedures which might affect the ability of the IND and the Lord Chancellor's Department's to achieve the White Paper targets, and to make recommendations for change.
A number of ways in which IND could improve its procedures and introduce more flexibility into the asylum decision-making process were identified and are being implemented as part of a systematic overhaul of the asylum business.
We are taking measures to reduce the backlog of cases in IND dating from 1996 onwards. The rate at which we do this will be dependent on a wide range of variables, not least of which will be future application rates, but we remain committed to the White Paper target of reducing the backlog of initial asylum decisions to fractional levels by April 2001. We expect to make major inroads into this backlog by the end of the year.
Other actions taken include piloting new procedures in respect of both port and in-country asylum applications. Measures have been introduced which aim to obtain the maximum amount of information at the outset. These, together with enhanced computer links between ports and IND in Croydon, have reduced the stages and time in the decision making process.
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