Absolutely, we do, and that is a real concern. The Opposition’s concern is that we do not want to end up with a flawed piece of legislation replacing another flawed piece of legislation, and then to have to change it again.
It is worth noting that until yesterday the Government had not even published an equality impact assessment, more than five months after the draft Bill was first presented. Before that, the Government’s only published impact assessment was concerned solely with the cost savings that the new system would bring. That initial impact assessment is now woefully out of date, given the number of amendments made to the Bill in the House of Lords—I understand that more than 300 amendment were tabled. I pay tribute to the work of many peers in the House of Lords, including my colleagues on the Labour Front Bench, who worked to try to improve the Bill, despite the hurdles placed in front of them by the Government. Nevertheless, fundamental problems with the Bill remain that simply cannot be rectified by amendments.
We cannot support the Bill in its current form because, quite simply, it proposes to replace one deeply flawed system with another. I will come onto the flaws in the Bill in due course, but, first, I wish to address the need for substantial reform of the Mental Capacity Act, which we accept. We recognise that the deprivation of liberty safeguards system is deeply complex and bureaucratic, as the Law Commission identified in its report last year. Concerns about the deprivation of liberty safeguards predated even the Law Commission’s report, and we know that a House of Lords Committee declared the DoLS not fit for purpose in 2014.
The scope of DoLS is too narrow, applying only in care homes and hospitals. Authorisations outside care homes and hospitals have to be done through the Court of Protection, which is costly and cumbersome. It is clear, as we have already heard in this debate, that the explosion in the number of DoLS applications after the Cheshire West judgment left the system struggling to cope. The latest figures, as the Secretary of State has said, show a backlog of 125,000 applications. That, of course, leaves the person subject to the application potentially unlawfully deprived of their liberty. If the Government want to resolve that backlog, as they profess to, then the way to do it is to provide local authorities with the resources they need to process all the applications they receive. The Government should not be trying to hide their failure to fund local government behind a streamlined process that does not protect vulnerable people.
Although the deprivation of liberty safeguards need reform, and I agree that they do, the Bill deals with none of the challenges that have been outlined and creates some new problems that cannot be solved simply with further amendments. I am afraid we feel that the Government cannot be relied on to make the necessary changes during the remaining legislative stages given the resistance that they showed to making important changes in the House of Lords. On the contrary, the transformative spirit of the Law Commission’s draft Bill has been squashed, and the measures that would place the best interests of the cared-for person at the heart of the new system have been reduced.
The Government should have enacted the Law Commission’s proposals in full through the 15-clause Bill that was drafted, but instead we have this five-clause Bill. Why did they not simply bring forward the Law Commission’s proposals? The inescapable conclusion that we have come to from reading the Bill is that the Government are more interested in cost saving than in the best interests of cared-for people. This is a crucial point, because there can be disastrous consequences when the best interests of cared-for people are not taken into consideration.