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Written Statements

Volume 406: debated on Tuesday 10 June 2003

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Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 10 June 2003

Deputy Prime Minister

Local Authorities (Code Of Conduct) (Local Determination) Regulations 2003

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister
(Mr. Christopher Leslie)

On Friday 6th June I laid before Parliament new regulations providing for local standards committees to consider allegations of councillor misconduct. These regulations form an important part of the framework for promoting high standards of conduct in local government, complementing the work of the Standards Board for England and the Adjudication Panel for England.New codes of conduct for councillors were introduced in November 2001, and have applied to members of all local authorities in England, and of police authorities in Wales, since May 2002. It is open to anyone to make an allegation to the Standards Board for England that a member has breached the code of conduct and the Standards Board can require an Ethical Standards Officer to investigate an allegation.The Ethical Standards Officer may find that there is no evidence of a breach of the code, or that no action need be taken. He may also find that the matter should be referred to the Adjudication Panel for England, which could then impose against the member sanctions of up to five years disqualification.It is also open to the Ethical Standards Officer to refer a matter to the monitoring officer of the relevant local authority. These new regulations concern the procedures to be adopted when a matter is referred to the monitoring officer.The regulations require monitoring officers to arrange for any matters referred to them by an Ethical Standards Officer to be considered by a meeting of the standards committee. They include provisions relating to the conduct of a hearing by the standards committee, and allow the committee to impose sanctions of up to three months suspension.The regulations allow a member who has been the subject of a hearing by the standards committee to seek leave to appeal against the committee's findings to an appeals tribunal drawn from the Adjudication Panel for England.These new regulations will allow standards committees to play a more active role in promoting high standards of conduct within their authorities. They have been prepared following extensive consultation: a summary of the consultation responses is available on the website of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and in the Libraries of both Houses.


Depressive Illness (Children And Adolescents)

Following interest in both Houses about the issues surrounding the safety of selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs), including Seroxat, this statement informs the House of new advice from the Committee on Safety of Medicines (CSM) against the use of Seroxat in children under the age of 18 for the treatment of depressive illness.New data from clinical trials in children and adolescents were received by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) at the end of May 2003. These new data have been reviewed by an expert working group on SSRIs and the CSM. These data do not demonstrate efficacy in depressive illness in this age group and show an increase in the risk of events including episodes of self-harm and potentially suicidal behaviour in the Seroxat group compared to placebo. Various analyses suggest that the risk of these events is between 1.5 and 3.2 times greater with Seroxat compared to placebo. On the basis of these data, CSM has advised that the balance of risks and benefits of Seroxat is unfavourable when used to treat depressive illness in this age group. CSM has advised that Seroxat should not be used in children and adolescents under the age of 18 years to treat depressive illness. Ministers have accepted the Committee's advice.Seroxat is not and never has been licensed for use in those under 18 but it is used in this age group outside its licensed indications where prescribers make a judgment on their own responsibility that it is the right treatment for a particular patient.SSRIs, including Seroxat, have been under close continuous review by the MHRA and the CSM for a number of years with the CSM issuing advice in 2000 and 2001. The product information for SSRI antidepressants already contains advice that suicidal thoughts and behaviour are likely to increase in the early stages of treatment of depression (as with all antidepressants) and patient information leaflets already contain advice to seek medical advice urgently in the event of such symptoms.The recent concerns expressed by patient groups and in the media over the safety of Seroxat have been taken very seriously. In response to concerns of an association of Seroxat with withdrawal reactions and suicidal behaviour, a new expert working group of the CSM has been convened to further review the safety of SSRIs and to ensure the advice in the product information for both patients and prescribers is optimal for the safe use of these products. This group will be incorporating the experiences of patients in its safety evaluation.Communications to patients and prescribers are taking place today. The expert working group of the CSM, convened to look at the wider issues relating to the safety of SSRIs, will examine urgently what implications, if any, these new findings have for the use of Seroxat in adults and for other SSRIs. The benefits of taking Seroxat are well established and patients over 18 and patients who are benefiting from Seroxat should not be frightened into stopping their medication. Patients who are experiencing any side effects or are concerned about their treatment should discuss these with their doctor.The Government are committed to ensuring that the wider aspects of suicide prevention remain at the top of the agenda and the National Institute for Mental Health in England has made suicide prevention one of its core policy programmes.

Work And Pensions

Incapacity Benefit Green Paper

On 18 November 2002 I laid before the House a consultation document entitled "Pathways to Work—Helping People into Employment".I am pleased to announce the publication of the Government's response to this public consultation today. This document gives an overview of the responses received and summarises the issues raised through the consultation on each of our proposals. I have arranged for copies of the response document to be placed in the Library and to be available to Members from the Vote Office.Over 140 responses were received from individuals and organisations representing many different areas of expertise. The proposals were, in general terms, positively received and we will be pressing ahead with most of the recommendations. Key proposals are based around:

More skilled personal adviser support and help to return to work.
Easier access to existing employment programmes plus new work-focused rehabilitation programmes.
Improved financial incentives to move into some form of employment.
Additional help for those having to move across from incapacity benefits to Jobseeker's Allowance.
Engagement of other key stakeholders—notably employers and Gps.

As I previously announced in written statements on 26 March, Official Report, Col 11–12WS and 5 June, Official Report, Col 26WS, seven pilots will run in the Jobcentre plus districts of Bridgend, Derbyshire and Renfrewshire (from October 2003) and Essex, East Lancashire, Gateshead and South Tyneside and Somerset (from April 2004). The pilots will run until April 2006.

Home Department

Charity Commission Report

I am today announcing the publication of the Charity Commission's spring departmental report for 2003. Copies of this Report are available in the Library.

Crime Reduction And Drugs

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department
(Mr. Bob Ainsworth)

I am pleased to announce that we are putting in place a single, flexible crime fighting fund to help local agencies better tackle crime and drug-related crime. The new Building Safer Communities fund brings together into a single funding stream funding that was previously provided through three separate crime reduction programmes: the Communities Against Drugs Programme (CAD), the Safer Communities Initiative (SCI) and the Partnership Development Fund (PDF).Funding for these three programmes in 2003—04, and hence for the new single fund, formed part of the package of funding to tackle crime and drug-related crime, amounting to £190.2 million in total, announced by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on 21 January 2003. Ninety four million pounds of this funding was for use by the 376 Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships (CDRPs) and Drug Action Teams (DATs) across the country to help them tackle crime and drugs in their communities. £82.3 million of this is now being made available to CDRPs under the Building Safer Communities Fund and the remainder, separately, to DATs.In announcing the new funding for CAD, the SCI and the PDF in January, the Home Secretary indicated that he wished to consult with local groups—those at the sharp end, including CDRPs, DATs, voluntary groups and national bodies concerned with crime reduction—about whether they wished to see a merger of these programmes in order to reduce the bureaucratic burden on them, thereby allowing them to concentrate on delivery rather than paperwork. There was clear support for the idea of a merger and a "single pot" of funding but a strong wish to ensure that the level of drugs spend was maintained.Practitioners have been aware for some time that plans were being drawn up for this new fund, and activities are already well under way to spend the money, with many already drawing down grant and progressing their work. My Department will today be issuing administrative guidance on how the new fund will operate and formal conditions of grant.This is a three year funding programme and CDRPs can expect to receive the same levels of funding in 2004–05 and 2005–06. My officials are devising monitoring procedures to ensure that accountability at CDRP level for their spend, including that on drugs crime, is fully preserved, and that the balance of spend between the different aims of the CAD programme is maintained.


Public Statistical Analyses (Corrected Tables)

The Treasury is today re-issuing the tables for public expenditure by country and region that were released in Chapter 8 of Public Expenditure Statistical Analyses (PESA 2003), published on 6 May. These tables are being re-issued in order to correct for errors in the estimates of spending per head by country and region arising from the use of wrong population data.

PESA 2003 was published as a Command Paper (Com 5901). The revised tables are being re-issued, and laid before Parliament, as a corrigendum to Cm5901. The revised tables have also been placed on the Treasury website.