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Baroness Jay of Paddington: My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health has today written to the Haemophilia Society explaining that, after lengthy and very careful consideration, we have concluded that haemophiliacs who have been infected with hepatitis C through National Health Service treatment should not receive special payments.
Government policy is that compensation or other financial help to particular patients or groups of patients is only paid out where the NHS or individuals working in it have been at fault. The needs of people whose condition results from inadvertent harm are met from benefits available to the population in general. On that basis, we have decided not to make an exception to the general rule in the case of haemophiliacs infected with hepatitis C.
While the society makes a special case for haemophiliacs because the infection comes on top of a pre-existing serious long term medical condition, the same considerations apply to other individual patients and groups of patients, whether inadvertently infected with another illness or harmed as a result of another medical or surgical procedure, who can only obtain compensation if there has been negligence. The society also argued that, as government provides financial help to haemophiliacs infected with HIV, this scheme should be extended to cover people with hepatitis C. However our view is the circumstances were different: the stigma around HIV at the time the original decision was taken, the fact that it was generally considered a sexually transmitted disease and that haemophiliacs could inadvertently infect their partners were all important considerations which do not apply to hepatitis C.
The society was particularly concerned that young people were fearful of the possibility of passing on hepatitis C. That is a concern we share. The department is therefore working with the society to develop a project aimed at helping young people with haemophilia and related disorders who are infected with hepatitis C to understand their condition and so improve their future health, education and employment prospects. We will help with funding for this project.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Baroness Hayman): In March we welcomed the establishment by the Construction Industry Council, the Local Government Association and the Association of Corporate Approved Inspectors of a steering group to draw up recommended standards and monitoring arrangements for building control.
We have concluded that harbour pilotage services should continue to be provided by harbour authorities but increasingly integrated into their overall safety systems. These systems need to be reviewed as a whole if the highest standards are to be achieved.
We therefore propose to develop with the industry and other interests a "Marine Operations Code for Ports". We aim to set a national safety standard, and to create a guide for harbour authorities to prepare detailed safety policies. We look to them to consult local users and other interests in this process and to publish the resulting plans.
We intend the Right to Buy scheme to continue, and that eligible tenants should continue to buy at substantial discounts. At present, however, tenants get up to £50,000 discount. The annual cost of Right to Buy is currently around £400 million a year.
We plan, therefore, to introduce lower limits to discounts, which would take account of local authority property values in each Government Office region. Details are in our consultation paper Secure tenants' right to buy; proposals to change the maximum discount limit on right to buy and other home ownership
Subject to consultation, we propose later this year to substitute a new regulation for the Housing (Right to Buy) (Maximum Discount) Order 1989, SI 1989 513, to bring the new discount levels into effect.
Around 200,000 people in England have bought a council flat. These are mainly council tenants who bought under the Right to Buy scheme, and research shows that the great majority see this as good value for money. But a small proportion of buyers are in difficulty with high service charges, and some are unable to resell their flat on the open market: either they cannot find a buyer, or mortgage lenders refuse to give a loan.
Local authorities have powers to buy housing, but their resources are limited and they have many other people needing help. So we propose to offer them a financial incentive. We plan to reduce the amount they have to set aside from their capital receipts from council house sales by 25p for every £1 they spend on buying back an ex-council property. This would effectively cover 25 per cent. of the cost of the buy-back. They could use this incentive to buy back houses as well as flats.
In addition to this incentive, the authority would regain a capital asset which, sooner or later, would be available for reletting. Moreover, it would reduce the cost of managing its leasehold property--which, in the case of someone in arrears or unable to resell, could be considerable. And in some cases--e.g., an elderly or vulnerable person in mortgage arrears--it would be helping someone whom it might otherwise have to re-house.
Local authorities are best placed to judge who is in greatest need and how they should use their resources to help them. So they would be free to decide whom to help, and on what terms. This could include someone who had bought under a local authority voluntary sale scheme.
We propose to set just two conditions. These are designed to ensure that the concession is only available for buying back properties from individual occupants who want to re-sell. The concession would therefore only apply where the repurchase is from an individual, not an organisation; and it is not done under compulsory purchase powers.
Copies of the consultation paper Buying back ex-council flats and houses are in the Library of the House. Subject to consultation, we propose to implement the change later this year by substituting a new regulation for regulation 104 of the Local Authorities (Capital Finance) Regulations 1997.
Baroness Hayman: The results of the study to monitor the implementation of the leasehold provisions of the 1993 Act have been published today. Copies of the report have been placed in the House Library. The findings support our proposals for a review of the enfranchisement process, which will be included in our forthcoming paper on leasehold reform.
Baroness Hayman: We have today together with my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales published the Planning Inspectorate's Annual Report and Accounts. Copies have been placed in the Library of the House.
The inspectorate has just completed the second of a three-year programme to restore appeal handling times to optimum levels. Although it has not yet met its timeliness targets, it has improved handling times significantly. We expect them to improve further during 1998-99.
The agency has also maintained the programme of development plan inquiries to a high standard, helping to create a greater certainty for all involved in the planning process as more areas are covered by up to date development plans.
The inspectorate's quality target was met and exceeded, with reduced numbers of justified complaints against decisions issued. Surveys have continued to show that its decisions are widely respected. It has also produced an outstanding financial performance during the last year. The inspectorate is very much involved in initiatives to develop the Government's proposals for the modernisation of the planning system. In the climate of a rapidly changing environment it is always ready to take on new areas of work in dispute resolution.
In December 1997 the inspectorate achieved Investors in People status--the first agency within the merged Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions to do so. We congratulate all its staff on the very substantial effort that this involved.
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