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Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 8 October 2008

Children, Schools and Families

Watling House

The Minister for Children, Young People and Families (Beverley Hughes): It is the normal practice when a Government Department proposes to make a gift of a value exceeding £250,000, for the Department concerned to present to the House of Commons a Minute giving particulars of the gift and explaining the circumstances; and to refrain from making the gift until 14 parliamentary sitting days after the issue of the Minute, except in cases of special urgency.

Watling House opened in early 1999 and was a fully operational secure children’s home until it closed in June 2007. Capital grants totalling £3.6 million were paid by the Department of Health to Staffordshire county council for the building and development of the home. In 2003, as part of a machinery of Government change, the policy responsibility for children’s homes (secure and non-secure) transferred to the present Department for Children Schools and Families. The Exchequer interest in Watling House is estimated to be £1.224 million.

Section 82(3) of the Children Act 1989 gives the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (with the consent of HM Treasury) the power to recover, in whole or in part, any capital grant (made under section 82(2)) with respect to secure accommodation, where the grant is not used for the purpose for which it was made or the accommodation is not used as, or ceases to be used as, secure accommodation. Government accounting rules require that the sum to be recovered is based on the exchequer interest in the grant(s) awarded.

Staffordshire county council, which owns the home, are proposing to transfer the home to Staffordshire police authority. The home will then be converted into custody provision. The Secretary of State is content to agree the request from Staffordshire county council to waive the exchequer interest in Watling House as the change of use proposed for the site would mean that it would continue to be used for the benefit of the wider national interest.

Treasury consent has been given, in principle, on the conditions that: the site is retained and used for custody provision for a minimum of nine years; and, should the site cease to be used for these purposes the Department retains the right to cancel the waiver and reclaim the remaining Exchequer interest adjusted for elapsed time.

The Treasury has approved the proposal in principle. If, during the period of fourteen parliamentary sitting days beginning on the date on which this Minute was laid before the House of Commons, a Member signifies an objection by giving notice of a parliamentary question
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or of a motion relating to the Minute, or by otherwise raising the matter in the House, final approval of the gift will be withheld pending an examination of the objection.



The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. John Hutton): The House will recall the successful deployment of the 2nd Battalion, The Rifles (2 Rifles) to Kosovo during June as part of our existing commitment to the NATO/EU shared pan-Balkans Operational Reserve Force (ORF). This commitment will last until the end of 2008.

Following a review of the security situation in Kosovo and our wider military commitments, the Foreign Secretary and I have agreed that the UK contribution to the ORF will cease on 31 December 2008. The major milestones in Kosovo’s independence have passed without incident and the security situation in Kosovo is stable, if fragile. Against this backdrop, and with over 15,000 personnel currently in theatre, NATO remains well placed to deal with any potential security incidents.

The deployment of the UK ORF battalion demonstrated again the professionalism of our Armed Forces. It also confirmed our commitment to the security of Kosovo during a politically sensitive period. The UK will continue to make a significant contribution to Kosovo’s security through the provision of key intelligence capabilities, support to the stand down of the Kosovo Protection Corps and wider security sector reform and capacity building. Moreover, the UK will continue to assist with mobilising international support for Kosovo on key political, governance and economic issues.


EU Cross-Border Healthcare

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Dawn Primarolo): The Government have today published a consultation paper and partial impact assessment on the Commission of the European Union’s proposal for a Directive on the application of patients’ rights in cross-border healthcare. The consultation will run until 3 December. The consultation paper has been placed in the Library and copies are available for hon. Members from the Vote Office.

Paroxysmal Nocturnal Haemoglobinuria

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Dawn Primarolo): Over the summer, Ministers received advice reflecting the deliberations of the National Commissioning Group (NCG), the National Specialised Commissioning Group (NSCG) and strategic health authority chief executives about taking a national commissioning approach to the paroxysmal nocturnal haemoglobinuria (PNH)
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service, including the issue of Eculizumab’s availability on the NHS. We have given these complex issues very careful consideration.

The Government can now confirm that Ministers have decided that the NHS should nationally commission the PNH service for clinically eligible patients from 1 April 2009, through the National Commissioning Group. In taking this view, Ministers have taken account of the following key points:

The National Specialised Commissioning Team will now make arrangements with NHS stakeholders to ensure that arrangements for the national commissioning of PNH services are in place for 1 April 2009. They will also be considering with the drug’s manufacturer and with the local NHS any transitional issues that need to be managed over the next six months.

Prescription Charges

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Dawn Primarolo): The Government had previously announced its intention to hold a consultation on prescription charges (Official Report, 23 July 2007, col. 44ws), subject to any changes to the system being cost neutral for the NHS.

Many representations have been received from patients and their representative groups about the current system of prescription charging—some calling for extension of the list of medical exemptions, others for the abolition of charges. Having listened to these representations, we have decided to move away from the constraint of cost neutrality. The Government have, therefore, decided to exempt cancer patients from prescription charges with effect from 1 April 2009, and will move towards exempting patients with long-term conditions over the next few years.

These changes are an additional cost to the NHS, which the Government believe are necessary to ensure that we remove concerns about affordability of medicines for patients who rely on their medicines to allow them to continue their day-to-day activities.

The Government will also establish a review of prescription charges, led by Professor Ian Gilmore, President of the Royal College of Physicians. We have asked Professor Gilmore to report to Ministers in summer 2009, taking into account the views of patients, the public, patient representative bodies, clinicians and healthcare organisations on effective implementation to exempt those with long-term conditions.

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EU Transport Council

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): I will attend the first Transport Council of the French presidency, which takes place in Luxembourg on 9 October.

The Council will be asked to agree conclusions following the Commission’s recent communications on the greening of transport, the strategy for the internalisation of external costs in transport and the reduction of rail noise on existing rolling stock. I expect to be able to agree to the conclusions.

In land transport, there will be a policy debate on the proposal for a directive on cross-border enforcement in the field of road safety. The UK supports the principle of cross-border enforcement, to address the issue of non-resident drivers escaping financial penalties for infringements committed in other member states. But there are practical and legal difficulties that will need to be overcome. Legislation must be practical, workable and effective in the way that it addresses these issues and robustly based in law.

The UK was pleased to see that the directive on the inclusion of aviation in the EU emissions trading scheme was agreed by the European Parliament in July. The October Council will be asked to agree conclusions on the participation of third countries. I expect to be able to agree to the conclusions.

The Council will be asked to adopt a decision authorising the Commission to open negotiations towards a Euro-Mediterranean aviation agreement with the Republic of Lebanon. The UK supports the mandate which is line with others given to the Commission recently to negotiate comprehensive aviation agreements with a number of Mediterranean countries.

The final part of the aviation agenda relates to the SESAR programme for the technical implementation of the single european sky (air traffic management). The Council will aim to achieve a general approach on a regulation amending Regulation 219/2007, establishing a joint undertaking. The Council will also be asked to adopt a resolution launching the development phase of the SESAR programme. The UK supports the priority given by the French presidency to making progress on the single european sky, including the Council Resolution. Our priority on SESAR is to establish suitable governance structures, clarity on funding and robust reporting processes.

The French presidency is keen to achieve political agreement on proposals for directives on the responsibility of EU flag states and the insurance requirements of shipowners. Following extensive negotiations, the presidency is seeking agreement at the Council on a member state’s statement, and political agreement on substantially amended versions of the flag state and civil liability directives. However, it is our view that agreement on these proposals may be premature while there are ongoing negotiations with the European Parliament on the six proposals that have already achieved political agreement.

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