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NHS Cochlear Implant Services

Lord Clement-Jones asked Her Majesty's Government:

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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 Clement-Jones asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the statement by Baroness Hayman on 17 June 1999 (H.L. Deb., col. 447) that users should be "involved in the development of the new arrangements and have confidence in them", what are the arrangements to ensure potential and actual users of cochlear implant services and specialist mental health services for deaf people are consulted.[HL1092]

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.

NHS Specialised Services: Annual Reports

Lord Clement-Jones asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the statement by Baroness Hayman on 17 June 1999 (H.L. Deb., col. 447), when and in what form the first annual reports, to be published locally on the new regional specialised commissioning arrangements, will be made public; and what guidance has been given to commissioning bodies about what details the reports should contain.[HL1091]

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

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arrangements so that there is a comprehensive and readily accessible account available. A copy will also be placed in the Library.

Independent Living Fund: Client Contribution

Lord Morris of Manchester asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is currently the maximum weekly payment made for his or her care by any client of the Independent Living Fund who is in employment; and what weekly income he or she is left with after payment.[HL935]

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.

Learning and Skills Local Councils

Lord Woolmer of Leeds asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will announce their plans for the location of the local arms of the Learning and Skills Council.[HL1278]

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 announcement relates to England only. Letters giving details have today been sent to all MPs with English constituencies, the contents of which have been placed in the Library.

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Criminal Justice (Terrorism and Conspiracy) Act 1998, Sections 5-7: Review

Baroness Rendell of Babergh asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have appointed a reviewer for those sections of the Criminal Justice (Terrorism and Conspiracy) Act 1998 which are not already included in the existing review of anti-terrorism legislation.[HL1280]

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.

Asylum Decisions: Improvement of Procedures

Baroness Rendell of Babergh asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they are taking to address delays in the asylum decision-making process.[HL1281]

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.

Changes that have already been made include the following:

    In this year and the next two years, we are investing a minimum of £120 million in IND, including an extra £60 million on speeding up casework. Hundreds more staff are being

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    deployed as caseworkers. Output in the Integrated Casework Directorate (ICD) is improving and staffing levels remain under review to ensure that output targets are met. There has already been a significant increase in asylum productivity as our new recruits to asylum decision making gain experience, and we expect this to continue;

    Ports and the ICD are jointly taking forward the implementation of streamlined processes aimed at ensuring as far as possible consistency in the processes for handling asylum casework. A new Statement of Evidence Form has been introduced for use by both the ports and the ICD, where appropriate;

    Outside consultants are currently training existing staff and new staff in effective and efficient interview skills;

    All health and safety issues concerning interview rooms have been addressed and resolved. Safety alarms have been issued to all interviewing staff and guards are readily available; and

    Country policy advice is being systematically reviewed. There is a full library of country information available for the top asylum producing countries and short country background briefs are, additionally, being provided in a consistent format. A chief caseworker post has been created with particular focus on co-ordinating needs of asylum caseworkers for country policy advice.

We are also committed to achieving the targets set out in the White Paper published in July 1998 to deliver most initial asylum decisions within two months and most appeals within a further four months. The White Paper target is to do this by April 2001. For families with children we are already meeting the targets.

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.

Copies of the report dated July 1999 by consultants Vantagepoint (formerly called BDO Stoy Hayward) on the asylum decision-making process has been placed in the Library.

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