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Written Statements

Volume 639: debated on Tuesday 24 April 2018

Written Statements

Tuesday 24 April 2018


Bilateral Loan: Ireland

Her Majesty’s Treasury has today provided a further report to Parliament in relation to the bilateral loan to Ireland as required under the Loans to Ireland Act 2010. The report relates to the period from 1 October 2017 to 31 March 2018.

A written ministerial statement on the previous statutory report regarding the loan to Ireland was issued to Parliament on 7 November 2017, Official Report, column 45WS.


Health and Social Care

Sodium Valproate Regulation

My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Lord O’Shaughnessy) has made the following statement:

The EU review into the safety of sodium valproate has now been completed and has recommended that a contraindication for valproate should be introduced in pregnancy and in girls and women of child bearing potential unless they are enrolled in a pregnancy prevention programme.

Valproate is a very effective treatment for epilepsy and bipolar disorder. For some women with epilepsy it may be the only effective treatment. Use of valproate (Epilim, Depakote and other generic brands) in pregnancy is associated with a 40% risk of persistent neurodevelopmental disorders and a 10% risk of physical birth defects. Clear information on the risks of valproate in pregnancy is failing to reach patients, and the warnings issued over the last four years have not had a significant enough impact on valproate prescribing in women of childbearing age. Despite repeated communications on this risk, it is estimated that 400 women in the UK took valproate during pregnancy in 2016.

Following the completion of the EU review, the UK healthcare system will now be making changes to ensure that girls and women of childbearing potential are only taking valproate if there is no other suitable treatment, and that the woman is enrolled in a pregnancy prevention programme. This programme will ensure that every girl or woman knows about the risks of valproate in pregnancy, that where appropriate she is on effective contraception, and that she has a review by her specialist prescriber at a minimum once a year, when a risk acknowledgement form will be discussed and signed by both prescriber and woman herself.

There are approximately 27,000 women of childbearing age receiving prescriptions for valproate in primary care. Within the coming months, GPs should identify all relevant women and girls on valproate in their practice, check that they are on effective contraception as appropriate, and refer them for specialist review unless they have already had a review in the last year.

Specialist prescribers should assess whether treatment with valproate is necessary for women of childbearing potential referred to them, namely that there is no suitable alternative treatment. If continued treatment is necessary, the woman must be enrolled in the pregnancy prevention programme, be on effective contraception, and understand the need to avoid pregnancy.

Pharmacists will ensure the medicine is dispensed in packs which will include the new pictogram and the warning statement. Pharmacy professionals will also make sure that the GP has discussed the risks in pregnancy with female patients and where this has not happened advise them to make an appointment with their GP to have this discussion at the earliest opportunity.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency has been working in partnership with professional bodies and the healthcare system to bring together a package of measures to support healthcare professionals in implementing these important changes. Educational materials for healthcare professionals and patients are being sent to GPs and specialist prescribers. NICE has updated its guidelines which mention valproate to reflect the new regulatory measures. GP electronic system providers have provided a search and audit function to facilitate the identification of women of childbearing age on valproate and are updating the alerts for valproate.

The MHRA will be closely monitoring the effectiveness of the new measures for avoiding prescribing of valproate to women of childbearing age and in preventing pregnancies from being exposed to valproate. Relevant data will be published and there will be ongoing follow up to ensure progress is being made.

I would particularly like to thank the families involved the Valproate Stakeholder Network who have shared their experiences and expertise. Their dedication, support and altruism will help to keep future generations of children safe.



Port Connectivity: England

I am today publishing the Government’s report on port connectivity, entitled “Transport infrastructure for our global future: A Study of England’s Port Connectivity”.

This country’s ports are a modern success story. At present around 95% of all goods entering and leaving Britain are moved by sea and the port sector directly contributes £1.7 billion to the UK economy. Once factors such as supply chains are considered, the port sector’s economic contribution to the UK is estimated to be £5.4 billion per annum.

The role ports play in facilitating trade and driving economic growth is only likely to increase. As an island our ports are fundamental to our global success as an outward-facing trading nation.

Ports are investing many billions of pounds in their own infrastructure to ensure larger ships and volumes can be accommodated, and so that England continues to be a key destination for global trade. It is therefore vital there is appropriate capacity on our inland transport network, to and from our international gateway ports, to meet demand.

As part of a wider commitment, Government are making investment totalling over £60 billion in this Parliament alone to improve our transport networks as a whole, including freight connectivity.

This connectivity supports the movement of everything to and from our ports which are vital to our everyday lives from providing fuel to our power stations to generate electricity for our homes, to transporting the produce to our supermarkets so we have food to eat.

“Transport infrastructure for our global future: A Study of England’s Port Connectivity” sets out our vision for how we can continue to grow a thriving English port sector1 and how collaboration and innovation by Government and industry can enhance the trade, economic and productivity benefits delivered by ports.

The report has been developed with input from Network Rail, Highways England, the port and wider freight industry, and its customers. In doing so the study has looked at the current challenges and opportunities for port and freight connectivity, and makes specific recommendations which the Government and industry can work together to achieve.

A copy of the study has been placed in the Library of both Houses and is also available on, together with the supporting regional case studies report on connectivity.

1 Ports policy is fully devolved to the Scottish and Northern Ireland Governments. In Wales, responsibility for fishing ports only was devolved to the Welsh Government but from 1 April 2018, powers in the Wales Act 2017 will saw further devolution to include all ports wholly in Wales, other than reserved trust ports (Milford Haven is the only one of these) for which the UK Government retain responsibility. An overview of Milford Haven’s connectivity is included in the supplementary case study document for information, but the recommendations are not intended for implementation in Wales.


Work and Pensions

Financial Guidance and Claims Bill

Later today I will place in the Library of the House the Department's analysis on the application of Standing Order No.83L in respect of the further Government amendments tabled for Commons Report stage for the Financial Guidance and Claims Bill.


Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council

The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council met on 17-18 April 2018 in Sofia, Bulgaria. DWP officials represented the United Kingdom at this informal Council.

The agenda consisted of presentations from experts and panel discussions among experts, member states, the presidency and the Commission.

The first day focused on how member states and social partners can deliver upon principle one of the European Pillar of Social Rights: education, training and life-long learning. Following an opening plenary, a number of speakers presented on themes including early childhood development, and the implementation of the Council recommendation on upskilling pathways. Panellists then reflected on how to best provide upskilling opportunities for adults.

The second day centred on delivering on principle four of the European Pillar of Social Rights: active support to employment. The Commission first took stock of progress against the Council recommendation on the integration of the long-term unemployed into the labour market and the youth guarantee. A presentation was then provided by Eurofound on the remaining challenges with regard to integrating young people and the long-term unemployed into the labour market. Panellists then discussed domestic measures being taken to address the challenges.

The informal Council concluded with remarks from the EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills, and Labour Mobility, and Dr Biser Petkov, Minister of Labour and Social Policy of the Republic of Bulgaria.