Social Security (Special Rules for End of Life) Bill [Lords]

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:42 pm on 8th September 2022.

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Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions 3:42 pm, 8th September 2022

The thoughts and prayers of the House and, indeed, the whole nation are obviously with those in Balmoral at the moment.

It is nevertheless a great honour to debate this extremely important—if quite short—Bill, and to hear, from all parts of the Chamber, very personal stories and a passionate desire for us to do what we can to make the welfare system better for those who are nearing the end of their lives. Like so many others, I myself have buried both my child and my mother, and I strongly believe that we must do everything we can to help people to achieve the best possible death. This Bill is part of that passion.

I want to pay tribute to some of the people who share the passion. We have heard from some of them this afternoon, and we have heard from others who are no longer in this place. I should include in that list the former Member of Parliament for Hastings and Rye, who felt very firmly that she wanted to initiate and engage with such a Bill. We heard a passionate speech from my predecessor, my hon. Friend Justin Tomlinson. He has done a marvellous job for years, and indeed this afternoon, when he responded to many of the points to which I would otherwise have had to respond, as the Minister who has been in place for only hours, not days.

We have also heard about the former Member of Parliament for Bridgend, and it is such a pleasure to see her in the Public Gallery this afternoon to witness the conclusion of many years of work and passion. Jessica Morden has carried on that work in this place, and it was good to hear from her as well. Drew Hendry, the Scottish National party spokesman and the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on terminal illness, has also worked very hard on issues relating to end-of-life care. It is good to feel consensus this afternoon, and I am really pleased to bring the Bill to this stage, although I feel slightly embarrassed, as others have been working in the area for so long.

I will touch very briefly on the questions that were asked in the course of this very short debate. They relate partly to time. It is important to get this right, and we had to consult. I say this as a new Minister: it is really important that we listen to both patients and clinicians. That always takes time. We have had a global pandemic in that time, but I agree that it is of course important for those who are dying that we roll out the rest of the policy as soon as possible. We are very much hoping that measures can be put in place and operational by April of next year.

Matt Rodda was kind enough to mention turnaround times. As a very new member of the Department, I am proud of the turnaround times. The fast-track approach means that there is a three-day average turnaround time in the special department that deals with the special rules. I think that is fantastic, and should reassure those across the House who are concerned about whether the system will have the capacity for these very special claims for people who are nearing the end of their lives. If I may use the words of the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey and change them a bit, I feel that there is an “computer says yes” attitude in that section of the Department. That is right and proper, and I will do all I can to ensure that that is maintained, and, yes, we will monitor the progress of the policy extremely carefully and it is right that we do that.

It is important that we listen to clinicians on the time limit. This is a difficult area. It is difficult for clinicians to have these conversations with patients and families, and it is difficult for them to know everything about the progress of a disease. As Ms Buck said, it is sometimes almost impossible to tell.