Down Syndrome Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:14 pm on 4th February 2022.

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Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox Conservative, North Somerset 12:14 pm, 4th February 2022

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. It will not surprise him to hear that, as a committed Unionist, I will come back to that. We need to consider the quality of life of all citizens in the United Kingdom, not just those for whom we are directly legislating today.

I turn to the second element of precedent-setting changes that we made to the Bill in Committee. As we move to the new integrated care structure in the health service, we will have a named individual on the integrated care boards responsible for the application of this legislation, should it receive Royal Assent. That really matters, because those who have Down syndrome, their parents, their families and communities will know who in the new structure is responsible for ensuring that the guidance issued by Ministers is given effect on the ground. I think that even the direct application of ministerial guidance—as it would have had—and parliamentary scrutiny would not have been not quite enough to guarantee the effect of the Bill’s provisions where it really matters.

That is precedent-setting. I doubt very much whether this will be the only occasion on which my hon. Friend the Minister has to consider representations for named individuals to take responsibility, but I take great pride in the Bill being the first, because I think it is a major step change from what we have had. It will give the new integrated care plans the idea of responsibility for their application to named individuals, which gives us a point of pressure in the system that did not otherwise exist.

Finally, I turn to the Bill’s application to one part of the United Kingdom. At the beginning of the legislative process, we had a choice. We could have set out a United Kingdom Bill and challenged the Governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland for legislative consent orders. We could have said, “We dare you not to have the same provisions.” However, that would have become a debate about devolution, not Down syndrome, and I passionately wanted the Bill to focus on the needs of those with the condition and not become an argument about Government process or our constitutional relationships.

Having said that, I completely take the view that a person with Down syndrome should not have fewer rights in one part of this United Kingdom than in any other. The Bill is making speedy progress through the House. I hope that it will make speedy progress through the other place and that, hopefully, it can get to Royal Assent before World Down Syndrome Day on 21 March, at which point we would be the only country to have legislated for it. That is important for our concept of global Britain, which cannot be just about trade, defence or economies; it must also be about our values, and I can think of no clearer signal to send than to legislate on this point.

I say to those in charge of the legislative programmes in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland that it is unthinkable that people with Down syndrome living in those parts of the United Kingdom should have fewer rights, or rights applied at a later date, than those in England, for whom we are legislating today. When it comes to health, it is the duty of all those who run those devolved parts of the United Kingdom to ensure that everybody in the UK, irrespective of where they live, gets the same access at the same time to the changes to which we are giving effect today.

This Bill began with great intentions, and ends now as a landmark Bill. It recognises that, in the provision of services, whether in health, education or long-term care in this country, Parliament will give not only rights, but applicability and enforceability of those rights in our systems. That is a change in the whole way in which we think about such legislation in this House.

I am very proud to have been the mover of this Bill; as the mover of the Bill, I am also very moved by the support that has come from every party in the House of Commons and from the Government. I thank all my colleagues and, with your indulgence, Madam Deputy Speaker, I may be able to thank some others who have been instrumental in the progress of the Bill a little later.