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Planning

The Minister for Housing (John Healey): On 2 April 2009 the Government informed Parliament about the review into the extent and impact of housing development on garden land. This explained that the review would be carried out in two stages.


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I can today confirm that we received 127 detailed responses from local planning authorities to stage 1 of the review, and that stage 2 is being carried out by Kingston University, London. I have asked them to consider the following:

Our aim is to conclude the review and make a further announcement and publish summary findings and evidence to Parliament after the summer recess.

The purpose of the review is to establish whether there is a clear and genuine problem with the extent of housing development on gardens. And, as we have previously confirmed, the Government are committed to considering action if the evidence confirms a problem, provided that any changes should not have the effect of undermining our objectives on housing.

Planning Policy Statement (Coastal Erosion)

The Minister for Housing (John Healey): I am today publishing a consultation on proposals for new Planning Policy on Development and Coastal Change, and I am placing copies of the consultation in the Library of the House.

Coastal communities have historically adapted to the changing coastline as sea levels have risen steadily since the end of the last ice age. However, on the basis of the latest projections provided by UKCP09(1), climate change is likely to exacerbate erosion and coastal flooding with rising sea levels and a potential increase in the intensity, severity and frequency of coastal storms over the next 100 years.

Government are committed to managing the impact of coastal erosion and flooding in a sustainable manner, and this includes ensuring that our spatial planning policies support communities that are resilient to the risks presented by climate change.

Strong planning policy to manage coastal flooding is already in place through planning policy statement 25. However, currently planning decisions in relation to coastal erosion risks are made with reference to planning policy guidance note 20, which adopts a strongly
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precautionary approach, restricting any development in areas at risk of coastal erosion. This means that even appropriate development that would support the economic and social viability of a coastal town or village is unable to go ahead.

To deal with this, the proposed development and coastal change policy aims to strike a better balance between economic prosperity and the need for further defence of the coastline, alongside reducing the consequences of coastal change on communities.

The draft policy promotes a strategic risk-based approach to managing future physical changes to the coastline, so that long-term adaptation of communities can be planned while allowing necessary development that is appropriate and safe. It will also introduce a more co-ordinated approach to planning and investment at the coast, ensuring that spatial strategies to deliver regeneration and sustainable economic development take proper account of the impact of physical processes affecting the coastline and decisions regarding the planning and management of coastal defences.

This consultation forms part of a wider package of actions being taken forward to deliver the Government’s sustainable flood and coastal risk management approach set out in the “Making Space for Water” strategy. The “Coastal Change Policy” framework, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs announced for consultation on 15 June, provides a package of policy measures to help coastal communities and local authorities manage and adapt to the increasing risk of coastal flooding and erosion.

The proposed changes I am setting out today will play a part in assisting coastal communities in adapting to the impacts of climate change and facilitating economic activity in coastal areas. The consultation closes on 12 October 2009.

Defence

Haslar Hospital Site

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Kevan Jones): The Royal Hospital Haslar is an important historical site. It opened to patients in 1754 and formally ceased to be a military hospital in 2007, although it continued treating NHS patients until July this year when clinical facilities and Defence Medical Services personnel were transferred to the Queen Alexandra Hospital, Cosham, and elsewhere.

The future use of this site, which extends to some 23 hectares and comprises around 75,000 square metres of buildings, 13 of which are Grade II listed, is clearly an important issue locally and nationally. Accordingly, in 2008, the Ministry of Defence commissioned an Enquiry by Design led by the Princes Regeneration Trust and the Princes Foundation for the Built Environment. The enquiry concluded that alternative uses should include new enabling development and that every effort should be made to retain some medical and health care presence on the site.


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An expressions of interest campaign was undertaken earlier this year and a number of bids were received by the closing date. I am announcing today that Our Enterprise, a community interest company that brokers and delivers bespoke commercial partnerships between charities, social investors, commercial operators and the public sector to deliver large-scale integrated regeneration projects, has been chosen as our preferred bidder for the site. Our Enterprise has been chosen as our preferred bidder for the site in accordance with Government policy on the disposal of historic buildings. We expect to exchange contracts with the purchaser and complete the transfer by the autumn, if not earlier.

Our Enterprise has a vision of promoting the quality of life for both individuals residing on the site and for Gosport as a whole and will continue social and health care on the site by providing a “Veterans Village”, student accommodation, community health care and a commercial centre as well as residential uses. I believe that the choice of preferred bidder for Haslar is good news for the local community, and will preserve the heritage and visual aspects of this important site.

Energy and Climate Change

UK Strategy for Radioactive Discharges

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Mr. David Kidney): My noble Friend the Minister of State for Energy and Climate Change today made the following statement.

Health

Regulation of Social Care

The Secretary of State for Health (Andy Burnham): The General Social Care Council (GSCC) is the professional regulatory body for social workers in England and has statutory responsibility for investigating complaints against social workers. In June, the Department of Health became aware that a backlog of conduct referrals had developed at the GSCC and liaised with GSCC to determine the scope and nature of the problem.

On 2 July, Ministers were alerted as the GSCC had identified a backlog in the management of 203 complaints against social workers registered with it. Ministers were very concerned about any risk to the public and met the
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Chair and Chief Executive of the GSCC on 6 July to seek reassurances from them. The Council reported that there were 21 cases where the allegations, though unproven, suggested that there could have been an ongoing risk of harm to members of the public.

Ministers asked the Council to ensure that urgent action was taken to address any potential threat to public safety that could arise if these individuals were continuing to work as social workers, by establishing their whereabouts, to ensure that any who were still in employment were being safely and appropriately managed while the allegations were investigated. GSCC has been working to ensure that any employers of these individuals are aware of the allegations made and to ensure that the individuals concerned have not sought employment elsewhere.

On Friday 17 July, the Department received information from the GSCC regarding all 21 cases. The GSCC confirmed that either the individuals concerned are employed as social workers by known employers who are aware of the allegations that have been made and are managing any risks or, as far as the Council can ascertain, they are not currently employed as social workers.

In the light of Ministers’ concerns around public safety, my officials facilitated a team to work with GSCC to ensure that all cases in the backlog were reviewed to determine if any were high risk. Following this review, a small number of other cases have been identified which are being investigated. Ministers are seeking urgent further assurances that every possible step has now been taken to ensure that none of these individuals present a current risk.

In all cases where the GSCC has assessed that there may be a potential ongoing risk, panels are scheduled to have met by Friday 24 July to consider the imposition of an interim suspension order on the individual in question pending the outcome of the GSCC’s investigations.

The fact that a backlog of conduct referrals, some of which had not been adequately risk assessed, has built up is a matter of extreme concern. We understand that GSCC has therefore suspended its Chief Executive while it looks into how the issue arose.

As an interim measure, Paul Philip, currently Deputy Chief Executive at the General Medical Council, is joining GSCC as acting chief executive.

The Department of Health is today commissioning the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence to carry out a wide-ranging review of the governance and performance of the GSCC. The purpose of the review is to establish what further action is needed to ensure that Ministers, Parliament and the public can have confidence that the GSCC is effectively carrying out its statutory duties to promote high standards of conduct and practice in order to protect the public. The GSCC supports the review, which will report to Ministers by the end of September.

NHS Access (Foreign Nationals)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Ann Keen): Since the publication of the cross-government immigration enforcement strategy “Enforcing the rules: a strategy to ensure and enforce compliance with our
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immigration laws” the Department of Health and the Home Office have been working together to review the rules on charging non-UK residents for access to National Health Service services in England.

The House will wish to know that the joint review has concluded and the Government are today able to outline its conclusions.

The National Health Service was founded over 60 years ago. Sixty years on this Government remain committed to their founding principles; a national health service for the benefit of the people of the United Kingdom, free at the point of delivery and funded by general taxation.

However, it is neither feasible to operate the NHS without proper controls over access, nor fair, in an age of mass global travel and movement, to ask the taxpayer to fund unrestricted access to non-UK/EEA nationals. It is the Government’s responsibility to protect NHS resources from exploitation or inappropriate use.

That is why, in concluding the review, the Government are today announcing measures to support a clearer and fairer system of access to NHS services—a transparent system that will maintain the confidence of the public by preventing inappropriate access.

The Government have decided to maintain the current system of charging non-residents for most secondary care (hospital) services. Treatment in an accident and emergency department, and treatment for specified infectious diseases that could create a public health risk, will remain free to all. The Government also propose limited extensions to the current range of exemptions from charges for hospital treatment for certain non-residents.

Persons seeking refuge or asylum are already exempted from charges for the duration of their application including the full appeal process. The Government have not been persuaded that this full exemption should be extended to all of those whose application has failed but have not yet left the country. It has however recognised the case for those whose claim has been refused but who are being supported by the UK Border Agency because they would otherwise be destitute, have children and or because it is impossible to return them home through no fault of their own. It is therefore proposed that an exemption from charges is extended to this group.

The Government also propose to exempt from charges all unaccompanied minors, including those in local authority care, while clarifying the principle that the accompanying parent or guardian of a non-resident minor is responsible for the cost of their NHS treatment. Together with the exemption for victims of human trafficking that was introduced from April this year, these changes reinforce the protection and rights to health care of the most vulnerable groups, regardless of their residential status.

While maintaining the principle that other visitors or irregular migrants who are not specifically exempted should be charged for their treatment, and that, in non-urgent circumstances, treatment will be withheld if the costs are not paid, the Government remain firmly committed to the requirement that immediately necessary and other urgent treatment should never be denied or
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delayed from those that require it. We are currently engaging with key stakeholders to ensure that guidance to the NHS in this respect is clear and comprehensive.

The principles of providing immediately necessary treatment must always be applied to any maternity care, to ensure that the health of the mother or baby is not put at any risk. Maternity treatment therefore must never be delayed or denied. However, the Government have not been persuaded that charges should be abolished in relation to non-exempt patients for maternity treatment. There is clear case evidence that a small number of visitors enter the United Kingdom specifically to use NHS maternity services.

In relation to HIV treatment, the Government recognise that clinical evidence on treatment, including their role in prevention, is developing constantly. Moreover, HIV is a major global problem, the control of which creates significant financial as well as human costs. We will therefore undertake further analysis of the latest medical and public health evidence together with consideration of how the current policy on treatment aligns with the Government’s wider international aid strategy for HIV. This analysis will inform a future decision on whether the current treatment policy (that only initial diagnosis and counselling is offered free of charge to non-UK residents or individuals who are not otherwise exempt) should be revised.

The Government also propose that the period of absence for current residents that can be disregarded for the purpose of determining continued eligibility for free NHS hospital treatment in England is extended from three to up to six months. This proposed change reflects the increasing tendency towards longer periods of travel overseas for some people, and will protect the rights of British citizens who travel abroad while still residing substantively in the United Kingdom.

The Government acknowledge that general practitioners are well placed to take account of the health care needs of their local communities. GPs also play a pivotal role in the provision of public health services (in which they are currently at the forefront of our response to the threat of pandemic swine flu). Since the inception of the NHS GPs have had the responsibility of determining whether a particular individual should become a patient of their practice. This applies to all patients and while the discretion we give to GPs is limited, for example, decisions must not be discriminatory, we do not believe that any specific changes are required in respect of foreign nationals. Where an individual is refused registration, a GP is able to offer routine treatment on a private fee paying basis, but must provide any immediately necessary treatment free of charge.


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