Corporate Accountability and Safeguarding of Adults from Abuse and Neglect

– in the House of Commons at 12:33 pm on 16th January 2013.

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Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

Photo of Paul Burstow Paul Burstow Chair of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party 12:34 pm, 16th January 2013

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to hold corporations criminally accountable for abuse and neglect in care settings;
to make provision to compel any person or organisation to supply information to Adult Safeguarding Boards;
and to introduce a new offence of corporate neglect whereby a corporate body can be found guilty if the way in which its activities are managed or organised by its board or senior management is a substantial element in the existence or possible occurrence of abuse or neglect.

I should like to begin with a quote:

“We as parents are there to protect our children and for whatever reason we failed to do so and it’s huge burden of guilt.”

Those are the words of Ann Earley, the mother of Steve Tovey. Steve has learning difficulties and was a victim of abuse at Winterbourne View hospital. Like everyone else, I was shocked and appalled by the events at Winterbourne View that were exposed by “Panorama” last year. The 11 perpetrators of those crimes rightly ended up in the dock and were punished. However, no stone should be left unturned when protecting vulnerable people.

My Bill proposes legislation that would see those who provide care and support held corporately accountable for abuse and neglect on their watch. In the words of Judge Ford, who presided over the Winterbourne View case, a “culture of ill-treatment developed” at the hospital that “corrupted and debased” the staff,

“all of whom were of previous good character”.

That statement goes to the heart of the reform that I am proposing. It reflects what many believe they witnessed at Winterbourne View: a care provider that betrayed those in its care and left unchecked a culture which, bit by bit, tolerated ever-more degrading treatment of vulnerable people, allowing a culture of cruelty to fester—and charged £3,500 a week for that. That is why, as the then Minister, I ordered the report into what happened at Winterbourne View so that we could make sure that lessons were learned, and it is why today I present this Bill to the House.

My Bill has two elements: to improve adult safeguarding and to close a loophole in the criminal law. It would amend the Health and Social Care Act 2008 to include a new offence of corporate neglect. This new law would act as a deterrent. It would force weak boards of directors to pull their socks up, visiting their services, talking to and, vitally, listening to the people who use those services and listening to and including the families of those whom they are caring for—and, yes, engaging with the staff, being interested in them and in their professional development. As the chief executive of care provider Care Management Group, Peter Kinsey, put it to me recently:

“If there is a systematic failure, as at Winterbourne View, then executives and ultimately the Board are responsible for not having measures in place to pick up concerns and failings in quality.”

That must be right. It is why good providers have absolutely nothing to fear from this Bill. Only those organisations that allow abuse and neglect to go unchallenged should be worried.

We would not be the first country to legislate on this issue; there are international precedents of this kind in law. For example, in Alberta in Canada care corporations face fines of up to $100,000 in such cases. Under my Bill, corporations found guilty of corporate neglect would face unlimited fines, remedial orders and publicity orders. That reflects the approach already enacted by this House in the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007.

When things go wrong—when terrible abuse and neglect take place—the public expect those who take the fee to be held to account. It is not just the public who think so; many in the care sector do as well. Introducing a criminal sanction has the backing of the charity Action on Elder Abuse and of the Voluntary Organisations Disability Group, whose members include the Carers Trust, Leonard Cheshire Disability, the Multiple Sclerosis Society, Mencap, the National Autistic Society, and Scope.

The second element of my Bill concerns adult safeguarding. The serious case review into the abuse at Winterbourne View uncovered a raft of missed opportunities and bad care. The authors of the review also uncovered a

“lack of financial transparency and co-operation” from Castlebeck, the company in charge. This meant that the review was not as comprehensive as it should have been—a blow to adult safeguarding in general and a barrier to those seeking to learn lessons from Winterbourne View. That is why my Bill proposes to amend the law to require any person or organisation to supply information to an adult safeguarding board—a provision that is already in place in relation to children’s and young people’s safeguarding in England. I know that the Government take very seriously their responsibilities with regard to protecting vulnerable people, but there is a gap in the law that needs to be closed.

Before Christmas, the Government, in their final report on Winterbourne View, pledged to consider how corporate bodies could be held to account for abuse and harm. That was incredibly welcome news and I was particularly pleased to hear the Minister of State, Department of Health, my hon. Friend Norman Lamb commit the Government to changing the way in which we care for adults with learning disabilities in this country, but there is still much to do. I am convinced that my Bill would help to drive up the quality of care, acting as another safeguard against abuse.

The author George Eliot said:

“Cruelty, like every other vice, requires no motive outside of itself; it only requires opportunity.”

At Winterbourne View, staff carried out horrific acts because of the opportunities a culture of cruelty created. This Bill would help to remove some of those opportunities, and I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.


That Paul Burstow, Hazel Blears, Jack Lopresti, Glyn Davies, John Pugh, Andrew Stunell, Tracey Crouch, Mr David Ward and Mr Michael Meacher present the Bill.

Paul Burstow accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 1 March, and to be printed (Bill 120).