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Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 6 March 2008


National Audit Office

The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Angela Eagle): 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, 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 twenty-first 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.

Communities and Local Government

Home Information Packs

The Minister for Housing (Caroline Flint): As was announced on 27 February 2008 (Official Report, columns 77-78WS), 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
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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 only resort to insurance cover where access to required data is 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 Libraries of the House. 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. Over 370,000 HIPs have now been prepared and over 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.

Local Government

The Minister for Local Government (John Healey): On 18 December 2007 (Official Report, columns 104-105WS), 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
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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.


National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Dawn Primarolo): 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 hon. Members in the Vote Office.

Consultation on the Medical Profession (Miscellaneous Amendment) Order

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): 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
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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 health care 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 hon. Members from the Vote Office. It can also be seen at:

www.dh.gov.uk/Consultations/liveconsultations/fs/en. Responses can be submitted via the website, or by email to: Professionalregulations2@dh.gsi.gov.uk.

Responses may also be sent to:

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NHS Prescriptions and Appliances

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Dawn Primarolo): 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 3 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 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
ItemCurrent ChargesNew 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



GlaxoSmithKline (MHRA Investigation)

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Dawn Primarolo): 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 of the House and copies are available to hon. 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:

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