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Written Statements

Volume 699: debated on Thursday 6 March 2008

Written Statements

Thursday 6 March 2008


My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Bridget Prentice) has today made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Today we are announcing the Government's response to the Law Commission's paper on Cohabitation: The Financial Consequences of Relationship Breakdown.

The Law Commission published its very thorough and high quality report on 31 July 2007. It makes recommendations to the Government on certain aspects of the law relating to cohabitants. It considers the financial consequences of cohabiting relationships ending either by separation or death. It follows two years of work by the Law Commission.

The report has been carefully considered and the Government have decided that they wish to seek research findings on the Family Law (Scotland) Act 2006, which came into effect last year. This Act has provisions which are similar in many respects to those which the commission recommends.

The Scottish Executive intend to undertake research to discover the cost of such a scheme and its efficacy in resolving the issues faced by cohabitants when their relationships end.

The Government propose to await the outcome of this research and extrapolate from it the likely cost to this jurisdiction of bringing into effect the scheme proposed by the Law Commission and the likely benefits it will bring. For the time being, therefore, the Government will take no further action.

The decision has been reached because of the need for Government to obtain accurate estimates of the financial impact of any new legislation and the likelihood that we can obtain a view of financial impact by drawing on the Scottish experience of similar law reform.

EU: Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Councl

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (James Plaskitt) has made the following Statement.

The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council was held on 29 February 2008 in Brussels. I represented the UK. There were no health and consumer issues.

This was a straightforward council with the main agenda item being Employment Ministers' input to the spring European Council. Ministers adopted key messages, the Joint Employment Report 2007-08, the council decision on guidelines for the employment policies of the member states, the recommendation on the 2008 update of the broad economic guidelines, the 2008 joint report on social protection and social inclusion and the 2008 report on equality between women and men.

The policy debate which followed called for a greater social dimension to Lisbon and a greater focus on labour market reform, highlighting the need to do more on social cohesion, child poverty and skills. In my intervention I stressed the need to ensure that workers' skills matched the requirements of a changing labour market and supported a European skills review. I pointed out that more needed to be done to increase labour market participation, highlighting that a job remained the best route out of poverty but that further targeted actions were still needed for some groups. I suggested that local partnerships and adapting local services to individual needs could provide some of the answers.

The presidency confirmed that the tripartite social summit would discuss the Lisbon strategy and its new three-year cycle, as well as the impact on employment of the energy and climate change package. The presidency also reported that the social partners would inform the Commission of the progress in their negotiations on work/life balance.

The council also adopted a non-controversial joint Employment Committee and Social Protection Committee opinion on the Commission's communication on the single market review and a resolution on the situation of disabled people in the European Union.

Under other business, the council noted the annual work programmes of the Employment Committee and the Social Protection Committee for 2008, and the Commission gave a presentation on the implementation of the mission for flexicurity.

The discussion over lunch covered the future European social agenda, focusing on the Commission's mid-term review of the 2005-10 social agenda and beyond. The review is due to be published in June. The Government position was clear, that the social agenda provides the EU with an opportunity to reconnect with its citizens and that the focus of the review should be on issues which mattered to them. EU activity should add value and act as a catalyst for change providing analysis and evidence to inform reform programmes in member states. Themes for the future should include skills, improving mobility, tackling disadvantage and the social economy.

Financial Assistance Scheme

My honourable friend the Minister of State for Pensions Reform (Mike O’Brien) has made the following Statement.

On 17 December 2007 the Government announced a package of significant improvements to the Financial Assistance Scheme (FAS). This Statement is to inform the House of the significant progress being made in implementing those changes.

Consultation on Draft Regulations

We are today beginning consultation on a first set of draft regulations. These will increase the percentage covered by the FAS to 90 per cent of each qualifying member’s accrued pension and allow us to pay people from their normal retirement age, subject to a lower limit of age 60. This is the first key stage in aligning the calculation of FAS assistance to the calculation of compensation under the Pension Protection Fund.

The consultation will end on Maundy Thursday, 20 March. We have sought and obtained cross-party and key stakeholder agreement that a limited written consultation period is appropriate for these draft regulations. This will enable us to increase people’s payments as soon as possible.

In addition we are consulting on proposed changes to the annuity factors used when we need to calculate the approximate annual rates of pension that could be secured by cash sums taken from their schemes by members; for instance, as a lump sum. This is a technical area, but the revised factors we are proposing would result in an increase in FAS payments to individuals whose FAS payments are calculated by reference to these annuity factors.

The consultation documents are available on the department’s website at: Amendments)Regulations2008.pdf;; or alternatively via the FAS website

We will be issuing a second set of draft regulations later this month for a longer period of consultation. These will include provisions for early payment for those in ill health, the extension of the FAS to members of schemes wound up underfunded with a solvent employer, requirements on trustees to provide relevant data, and removal of the option to apply for reinstatement into the state additional pension for those eligible for FAS.

Reinstatement to the State Pension System

At present members of a qualifying FAS scheme may choose to use their remaining funds in their scheme to pay for reinstatement into the state additional pension (known as deemed buy back). Where this occurs the FAS calculates a notional pension to use as a base for the FAS payments.

The Young review made clear that the take-up of deemed buy-back has been low and its interaction with the FAS is potentially anomalous, and that removal of the ability to buy back into the state scheme could simplify the wind-up process.

We propose to remove the ability for FAS qualifying members to buy back into the state scheme by deemed buy-back. We will be seeking to make this change as part of the second set of FAS Regulations that will come into force in July, subject to passage through Parliament.

Some trustees will already have received information on the costs of buying back (known as “technical amounts”) from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC). HMRC will continue to process any applications subsequently received in respect of members for whom that information has been supplied. However, from today, HMRC will suspend action on requests for “technical amounts” pending parliamentary consideration of the proposed regulations.

Trustee Guidance Note

Today we are also issuing the first in a series of updates to the trustees of schemes which qualify for FAS which will set out our expectations of them as we move to full implementation of the announced package of improvements to the FAS.

Compromise Agreement Schemes

Regulations made last December extended the FAS to schemes which wound up underfunded as a result of a compromise agreement made by the trustees to prevent the sponsoring employer’s insolvency. Six schemes in this position have now qualified for the FAS and the FAS Operational Unit will be working with the trustees of those schemes to obtain the necessary data to ensure that payments can be made to their members as soon as possible. The schemes concerned are:

Dragon Cosmetics Pension Plan;

Expamet International PLC Group Retirement & Life Assurance Scheme;

Fredk H Burgess Limited Pension & Life Assurance Scheme;

J & D Wilkie Limited Pension Scheme 1982;

Lucas Yuasa Pension Scheme; and

Norman Butcher and Jones Holdings Limited Retirement and Death Benefits Plan.

The progress outlined above demonstrates the Government’s commitment to the speedy implementation of the announced changes to the FAS.


My right honourable friend the Minister of State, Department of Health (Dawn Primarolo) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is today announcing the outcome of its investigation into allegations that Glaxosmithkline (GSK) withheld relevant information gathered in clinical trials on the use of Seroxat in children and adolescents. A report has been placed in the Library and copies are available to honourable Members in the Vote Office.

The decision taken by Government prosecutors is that there is no realistic prospect of obtaining a conviction in this case, and that the case will therefore not proceed to prosecution.

The process of investigation has revealed weaknesses in EU legislation as it stood at the time, in terms of what safety information drugs companies were legally obliged to provide to the regulators. I have therefore asked that immediate steps are taken as follows:

to secure a strengthening of the law in this area; through changes to the EU directive and, in the mean time, amending the law as it applies in the UK;

to make it clear to all pharmaceutical companies that, notwithstanding the limitations that may exist in the law, they should disclose any information they have that would have a bearing on the protection of health. The MHRA is writing today both to GSK and to pharmaceutical industry bodies to stress this point. Copies of those letters have been placed in the Library; and

the MHRA will continue to monitor the risks and benefits of Seroxat and other selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and provide advice to clinicians and patients. The outcome of this investigation does not affect existing advice on the safety of these medicines.

Health: NICE Guidance

My right honourable friend the Minister of State, Department of Health (Dawn Primarolo) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Government have today laid before Parliament their response to the Health Select Committee’s report on the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) (Cm 7331).

The Government have responded to the recommendations made by the committee. The committee’s report makes a number of helpful recommendations relating to the way NICE operates in producing its guidance, how that guidance is implemented and how the Government can support NICE in its role. The Government welcome the committee’s support for and confidence in the work of NICE.

The Government’s response has been placed in the Library and copies are available to honourable Members in the Vote Office.

Housing: Home Information Packs

My right honourable friend the Minister for Housing and Planning (Caroline Flint) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

As was announced on 27 February 2008, (Official Report, cols. WS 77-8), I have now made a rating against the code for sustainable homes a required element of home information packs for all new homes. Regulations to be laid in the House today will amend the HIP regulations to bring mandatory code ratings into force from 1 May 2008.

The inclusion of information about the sustainability of new build properties adds to the information on environmental performance and energy efficiency already provided and will continue to enhance the value of the pack to all purchasers looking to buy a new home.

I will also be amending the regulations to extend the temporary provision, allowing the use of insurance cover where property searches data are unavailable, from 31 March to 31 December 2008.

This provision has played an important role in smoothing the introduction of HIPs. It has helped to ensure sufficient capacity in the searches market to cope with the surge in demand generated as a result of searches being required within HIPs at the front of the process. It has also helped to safeguard consumers in the event of missing data in their searches.

The Government are committed to open and fair competition in the delivery of property searches so that consumers benefit from good quality searches at competitive prices—we have already seen local authority search prices fall on average by £30. We have also published guidance for local authorities and personal searchers on access to search data, and we are consulting on future charging arrangements. Following this consultation, we will introduce new charging guidance which should fulfil the conditions for open access arrangements and the levelling of the playing field in the provision of searches. It will create the conditions for ending of the use of the insurance cover provision.

In extending the provision I expect private searchers to make every effort to obtain the necessary data, and resort to insurance cover only where access to required, data are denied or data are otherwise unavailable. They should also plan ahead for the ending of the provision. From April, we will publish information on local authority access arrangements to help consumers know the areas that provide open access to searches data.

We are also publishing today the final report of the area trials—I shall be placing copies of the report in the House Libraries. This shows that most participants were satisfied with their HIP, and that buyers were beginning to act on energy ratings. The report also highlights that more buyers would have liked to have seen their HIP, but packs were not being shown by their agents in many cases. The Government have already taken action to raise awareness of the consumers' right to see their HIP and estate agents' responsibilities to make them readily available.

The implementation of HIPs has gone smoothly and they are making a difference. Our early monitoring and analysis continues to show that HIP delivery systems are working well, delivering the majority of HIPs within 14 days, and the average costs of a HIP has steadied between £300 and £350. More than 370,000 HIPs have now been prepared and more than 440,000 energy performance certificates have been lodged.

Consumers are also beginning to benefit. First time buyers of one and two bedroom homes now get important information about their new home for free. With EPCs and the new rating against the code for sustainable homes all home buyers will benefit from information about the costs of running their home and their environmental impact.

I am committed to realising the potential of HIPs in making consumers experience of the home buying and selling process faster, more transparent, less stressful and more sustainable. Over the coming months I will continue to engage widely with stakeholders in consolidating the implementation of HIPs.

Identity Scheme

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department (Jacqui Smith) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The House will wish to know that the Government are publishing today an updated national identity scheme delivery plan 2008 and a document setting out our plans for introducing compulsory identity cards for foreign nationals. Copies of both documents have been placed in the Vote Office and the Libraries of both Houses.

Local Government: Unitary Councils

My honourable friend the Minister for Local Government (John Healey) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

On 18 December 2007, (Official Report, cols. WS 104-5), when announcing the Secretary of State’s decision to implement proposals for two unitary authorities in Cheshire, I explained that she also remained minded to implement the unitary proposal submitted by Bedford Borough Council, subject to there being a satisfactory proposal for the rest of Bedfordshire. I further explained that having previously invited the other councils in Bedfordshire to submit proposals for the remainder of the county area, and having received a joint proposal from Mid and South Bedfordshire District Councils, the Secretary of State would be launching a consultation exercise on that proposal.

Having now considered all the information and representations available to her, including the material she received in response to the latest consultation, the Secretary of State considers that there is a reasonable likelihood that either the proposal for a single unitary council for the county, or the proposals for two-unitary authorities based on Bedford Borough and central Bedfordshire (the area of Mid and South Bedfordshire District Councils) would, if implemented, meet the outcomes specified by each of the criteria set out in the invitation of 26 October 2006.

In line with the process for selecting from alternative proposals set out in the consultation document Means of Prioritising Proposals, issued in June 2007, the Secretary of State believes that, overall, the long-term outcomes around strategic leadership, neighbourhood empowerment and value for money and equity on public services, would be delivered to the greater extent by a two-unitary Bedfordshire. Accordingly, she intends to implement the proposals made by Bedford Borough and jointly by Mid and South Bedfordshire District Councils. I will today lay an order under Section 7 of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 giving effect to that decision.

Medical Profession (Miscellaneous Amendments) Order 2008

My honourable friend the Minister of State, Department of Health (Ben Bradshaw ) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

A consultation paper has been issued which asks for comments and views on a draft Section 60 order which makes a number of changes to the Medical Act 1983 and to the General and Specialist Medical Practice (Education, Training and Qualifications) Order 2003. The changes proposed in the draft order would implement two of the reforms set out in the White Paper: Trust Assurance and Safety—The Regulation of Health Professionals in the 21st Century. The draft order also provides an additional route to the specialist register for NHS consultants. All amendments relate to the functions of the General Medical Council (GMC).

The changes will take place under an order made under Section 60 of the Health Act 1999. That section provides for the amendment of Acts of Parliament and secondary legislation related to the regulation of healthcare professions, by means of an Order in Council subject to affirmative resolution parliamentary procedures.

Matters relating to these amendments are reserved to the UK Parliament. The draft order will cover three reforms as follows:

Education Committee

The transfer of the statutory functions of oversight of medical education from the Education Committee of the GMC to the Council of the GMC with amendments to the Medical Act 1983 to give effect to that transfer.

Licence to Practise and Revalidation

The Medical Act 1983 (Amendment) Order 2002 put in Part 3A of the Medical Act. However Part 3A of the Medical Act has not yet been fully brought into force. Part 3A provides for the GMC to make regulations for the issue and withdrawal of licences to practise and for the revalidation of medical practitioners. This Section 60 order would amend provisions relating to revalidation in the 1983 Medical Act to put in place a legislative framework that will support the commencement of revalidation, including the early piloting of the revalidation process. The provisions relating to licences to practise will then be commenced allowing the GMC to begin to issue such licences and enabling revalidation pilots to commence.

Specialist Register

Amendments to the General and Specialist Medical Practice (Education, Training and Qualifications) Order 2003 to allow the GMC to provide a mechanism to enable consultants who did not apply for inclusion in the specialist register at the time it was established to make a late application to the GMC. This will reinstate the powers the GMC previously had prior to September 2005.

This is an open consultation and we welcome all views and comments.

The document has been placed in the Library and copies are available to honourable Members from the Vote Office. It can also be seen at Responses can be submitted via the website, or by email to

Responses may also be sent to: Consultation on the Medical Profession (Miscellaneous Amendments) Order 2008, Department of Health, Room 2N12, Quarry House, Quarry Hill, Leeds, LS2 7UE.

National Audit Office

My honourable friend the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Angela Eagle) has made the following Written MinisterialStatement.

The Government welcome the fifteenth report of the Public Accounts Commission on the corporate governance of the National Audit Office that was published today (HC 402).

As public auditor, the NAO must command the respect of both Parliament and the diverse public sector it audits. It must remain independent so that it can report to Parliament impartially.

These sensible reforms will place it at the forefront of good corporate governance in the unique position it plays in British public life. The Government agree that the reforms will bring the governance of the NAO into the 21st century, giving it the moral authority it needs for the important work it does.

In line with the Prime Minister's undertaking made in November 2007, the Government will now come forward with draft clauses to give effect to those parts of the commission's conclusions which require legislation. These will then be put in the Constitutional Renewal Bill for introduction.

I should like to record the Government's appreciation of the commission's work, and of John Tiner's valuable advice to them.

NHS: Prescriptions

My right honourable friend the Minister of State, Department of Health (Dawn Primarolo) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

We will be laying regulations before Parliament to increase National Health Service charges in England from 1 April 2008. There will be an increase in the prescription charge of 25 pence from £6.85 to £7.10 for each quantity of a drug or appliance dispensed.

The cost of a prescription prepayment certificate (PPC) will rise to £27.85 for a three month certificate and to £102.50 for an annual certificate. PPCs offer savings for those needing more than three items in three months or 14 in one year.

Prescription charges are expected to raise some £435 million for the NHS in 2008-09. This figure excludes prescription charges collected by dispensing doctors, which is not collected centrally, but remains with primary care trusts.

Charges for elastic stockings and tights, wigs and fabric supports supplied through the by hospitals will be increased similarly.

The increase is below the current level of inflation.

Details of the revised prescription and appliance increases are as follows:

Proposed Increases In Charges From April 2008


Current Charges

New charge




12-month PPC



3-month PPC



Surgical brassiere



Abdominal or spinal support



Stock modacrylic wig



Partial human hair wig



Full bespoke human hair wig