23 Mar 2006 : Column 27WS

Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 23 March 2006


Election Guidance

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Cabinet Office (Mr. Jim Murphy): Guidance has today been issued to civil servants on the principles which they should observe in relation to the conduct of Government business before the forthcoming elections to local authorities in England.

The guidance sets out the principles on the need to maintain the political impartiality of the civil service and the need to ensure that public resources are not used for party political purposes.

The guidance will come into force on 13 April ahead of the elections on 4 May.

Copies of the guidance have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses and on the Cabinet Office website at:

www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/propriety–and–ethics/ publications/pdf/2006localelectionguidance.pdf


Children Act

The Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (Ms Harriet Harman): Further to the statement of 11 January made by my right hon. Friend Baroness Ashton of Upholland, I am pleased to announce the publication of the Cardiff university research into the operation of rule 9.5 of the Family Proceedings Rules 1991 that was commissioned by my Department. Copies have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses and may be accessed via the DCA website www.dca.gov.uk/majrepfr.htm

The Cardiff university researchers consulted with children and their families to obtain their views on being separately represented under rule 9.5 in Children Act 1989 court proceedings brought by their parents about future contact and/or residence. We wanted to understand the extent to which formal representation through a solicitor and guardian is meeting children's needs or whether there are other ways in which their needs can be met. The researchers focused on the features, both those which were beneficial and those which were adverse, of separate representation, alongside statistical evidence already in the public domain.

The research indicates that provisions for meeting children's needs could be improved. There are a number of important recommendations made in this research report. They include the need for the potential advantages of rule 9.5 to be secured earlier in proceedings; a call for greater judicial continuity in the hearing of cases; the proposal that children should have
23 Mar 2006 : Column 28WS
clear, reliable and age-appropriate information about their parents' separation/divorce from the beginning of proceedings; that children should have a "passage agent"—someone, apart from their parent(s), to support them through the court process; that there should be early identification of the features of the case which are likely to produce intractable behaviour on the part of parents; that the child should always be separately represented before making enforcement orders under the (eventual) Children and Adoption Act; and the need to implement changes to FamilyMan to record (i) if the tandem model was used (ii) who was appointed to represent the child and (iii) name of judge hearing the case.

The research report, alongside consideration of other research focusing on children's welfare and other statistical evidence, will be used to inform the making of rules of court under subsections 122 (1)(b) and (2) of the Adoption and Children Act 2002. In the meantime, existing provisions for the representation of children remain in force, which continue to offer a range of ways in which the courts may ascertain children's wishes and feelings.



The Minister of State for Schools (Jacqui Smith): The Secretary of State, in her response to Price Waterhouse Coopers' second annual evaluation report on the academies programme, announced proposals to align more closely investment in Academies with Building Schools for the Future (BSF). It has now been agreed that "Partnerships for Schools" (PfS) will have responsibility for the Academy building programme.

PfS is a non-departmental public body (NDPB) wholly owned by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) and managed and funded under a joint venture between the DfES and Partnerships UK (PUK). PfS was established in March 2004 to work with local authorities (LAs) and the private sector to rebuild or refurbish the secondary school estate. PfS is a national delivery vehicle for BSF, which is a government programme to renew all the secondary schools in England over a 15-year period. PfS ensures that secondary schools buildings are well-designed, built cost-effectively and on time, and that they are properly maintained. PfS does this by building strong Public Private Partnerships (PPPs), enabling the public sector to benefit from the best skills and expertise available in the private sector, and thereby achieving greater efficiencies and economies of scale.

Within the BSF programme education and design specialists from PfS work with LAs to create innovative and exciting learning environments for schools. In addition, the procurement and project management expertise which PfS provides also ensures that the programme is delivered effectively and that economies of scale are achieved, and that the BSF programme is delivered in the most cost-effective and efficient way. By including the delivery of Academy buildings within PfS's remit we will ensure that these aims and objectives are delivered for Academy buildings and ensure that
23 Mar 2006 : Column 29WS
academies are established as part of a strategic programme of investment for each LA. Closer integration of the two building programmes will also enhance the capacity of PfS to secure high standards and greater procurement efficiencies.

A standardised approach to procurement will both support these efficiencies and drive the creation of excellent educational environments which will make a major contribution to radically improving educational opportunities in areas of significant social and economic deprivation.

As a result of the closer integration of the academies building programme with BSF, there will be some technical changes to the way in which academy buildings are procured and constructed. The Department is currently working closely with PfS on the detail of how this closer integration will work. Our intention is to minimise any changes to the way PfS and LAs currently work together. The closer integration of the BSF and the academy building programmes will also support the sharing of good practice in building excellent learning institutions within both the Academies and BSF programmes.


Mental Health Bill

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Ms Rosie Winterton): I should like to set out the Government's plans for a Mental Health Bill.

Mental health legislation is about the circumstances in which people with a mental disorder can be treated without their consent, in order to protect them and/or others from harm; and the processes that have to be followed if someone is to be treated without consent. The majority of people with a mental disorder will not require treatment under mental health legislation. At any point in time, one in six of the population has a common mental health problem. At 31 March 2004, there were about 14,000 patients who were being detained and treated in hospital for a mental disorder.

Through sustained investment and ongoing service reform, the mental health system is progressively achieving success in many areas. However, it is important that the present mental health legislation is amended to keep pace with changes in service delivery, to provide safeguards for patients and to prevent harm to individual patients and to the wider public.

We have spent the last seven years consulting on, discussing and redrafting the Mental Health Bill. The draft Bill achieves many of our intentions but we have been reviewing its length and complexity. We have listened to the Joint Committee and our stakeholders, and have looked again at the arguments about amending the Mental Health Act 1983.

As a result, we will introduce a shorter, streamlined Bill that amends the Act. It will reflect the impact of service modernisation and will provide legislation that is easier to understand and implement. It will also help deliver our other objectives: to promote patient safeguards and to protect patients and the public from harm.
23 Mar 2006 : Column 30WS

The Bill to amend the 1983 Act will:

The Bill will be used as the vehicle for introducing the Bournewood safeguards, through amending the Mental Capacity Act 2005. These safeguards are for people who lack capacity and are deprived of their liberty but do not receive mental health legislation safeguards.

We will address safeguards for children treated on the basis of parental consent through the Children Act 1989. Children detained under the Mental Health Act will continue to receive the same safeguards as adults. We will also look at ways that we can continue to pursue other patient safeguards, such as advocacy, through other means.

We shall publish very soon a report on the outcome of the public consultation on Bournewood and the key features of our Bournewood proposals.

Next Section Index Home Page