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Written Statements

Thursday 6 March 2008


The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): 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

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord McKenzie of Luton): 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

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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

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord McKenzie of Luton): 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

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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; and

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.

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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.


The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Darzi of Denham): 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

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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; andthe 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

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Darzi of Denham): 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

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews): 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.

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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

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department (Jacqui Smith) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

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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

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews): 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.

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