Commissioner for Older People (Wales) Bill [HL]

– in the House of Lords at 4:59 pm on 14 June 2005.

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Photo of Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Government Whip, Government Whip 4:59, 14 June 2005

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

One aspect of the Bill will cause controversy, particularly in your Lordships' House: the Bill sets the threshold for "older person" at 60. As I cast my eyes around the Chamber, they alight on the Chairman of Committees, the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara. Is it possible that in one year's time he will be regarded as an "older person"? Certainly not. He is now and will be, as will many noble Lords, in the first flush of youth.

The Bill is another first for Wales. Wales was first to establish a children's commissioner. The Bill will create the first commissioner for older people. However, there is another controversial matter that I should deal with at the outset—timing.

As noble Lords will be aware, the Bill was published as a draft for consultation on 22 March, before the general election. It will not have escaped the attention of the House that the closing date for that consultation is today. I should add that the National Assembly is not due to debate the Bill and the report prepared on it by the Assembly's Health and Social Services Committee until tomorrow.

Let me attempt to address the concerns of those who may feel that we are jumping the gun by bringing the Bill forward at this time. Had the general election not intervened, we would of course have followed normal practice in subjecting the Bill to the full range of public and parliamentary scrutiny before introduction. The general election caused an inevitable reconsideration of the legislative programme. An early opportunity arose to introduce the Bill in your Lordships' House, and we felt that it was a sufficiently important measure that we should grasp that opportunity.

The Government recognise that the early introduction has meant that the Bill is not as polished or complete as we would normally expect. Indeed, we have already identified amendments that we intend to table before the Bill is considered in Committee. We recognise that the public consultation, the brief consideration by the Welsh Affairs Select Committee, the report of the Assembly subject committee and the Assembly itself may well give rise to further suggestions for amendments.

To help the process of consideration in this House, we shall make available tomorrow in the Printed Paper Office copies of all the responses to the public consultation. That will give noble Lords time to prepare questions and amendments, if necessary, for consideration in Committee, when we shall be happy to debate them. We will consider them with an open mind. It should be borne in mind that the measures have been the subject of a number of stages of consultation, and we are confident that new issues are unlikely to arise. I can say that, as of this morning, almost 80 responses had been received to the consultation, all but three of which had been totally supportive of the Bill. However, should detailed consideration of the consultation responses suggest further improvements to the Bill, we shall also address those before Committee.

I shall summarise what we have done so far and what we intend to do before the start of Committee stage. The Bill was published in draft on 22 March, allowing 12 weeks for responses. That period ends today. We shall make copies of responses available to Members of the House tomorrow. We shall also make available copies of the reports of the Welsh Affairs Select Committee and the Health and Social Services Committee of the National Assembly.

I hosted a meeting last week with the Wales Office Minister, Nick Ainger and the Assembly's Deputy Health Minister, John Griffiths, to provide further information on the Bill to Members of the House. The Assembly has brought forward to tomorrow its consideration of the Bill, which will take account of the report of its HSS Committee, and we will make a copy of its conclusions available at least a week before the start of Committee. The group of minor amendments that the Government have identified to improve the Bill will also be tabled at least a week before the start of Committee.

I shall now turn to the Bill. The developed world is facing major demographic change. Life expectancy is rising, and fertility rates are falling. Some 22 per cent of people in Wales are aged 60 and over, compared with 20 per cent in England. In 20 years, those figures will increase to 28 per cent in Wales, compared with 25 per cent in England. Over the same period, the number of people in Wales aged 85 and over will triple to 85,000.

People are living longer and healthier lives, but that longevity brings significant social and other changes that require effective planning and new approaches. In Wales, the Assembly has developed a strategy for older people, based on UN principles on ageing—independence, participation, care, self-fulfilment and dignity. It was developed following extensive consultation through a number of stages. At each of those stages, it received overwhelming support from older people, their representative organisations and others.

The Bill is the next logical step in the implementation of the Assembly's strategy for tackling the far-reaching social and other implications of an ageing population. The strategy was launched in January 2003 and provides a structured basis for the Assembly and other public bodies in Wales to develop future policies and plans that better reflect the needs of older people. It turns from seeing old age as a problem and older people as a burden, to a model of engagement and citizenship for all older people. Age stereotyping and discrimination will be tackled and positive images of ageing promoted.

That is where the Commissioner for Older People will have a significant role. Research undertaken while developing the strategy indicated that, although steps had been taken to tackle issues arising from it, for some older people in Wales poverty was still a genuine problem, exacerbated by perceptions of age as stigmatising. People generally felt that older people were discriminated against in a number of ways.

The commissioner will have powers and duties that are at least comparable to those of the Children's Commissioner for Wales, while taking into account the different situations and needs of older people. The commissioner will have three important functions: tackling age discrimination, promoting positive images of ageing and giving older people a stronger voice in society.

The responsibilities of the commissioner will include influencing policy and service delivery; being a source of information, advocacy and support; safeguarding, enforcing, enhancing and promoting rights; and investigating complaints. As the Children's Commissioner does for children in Wales, the Commissioner for Older People will speak up on behalf of older people in Wales, helping to raise the profile of older people and increase awareness about their needs. The commissioner will be independent of government and the Assembly. He or she will also help older people to influence the way in which public services are managed and delivered in Wales, the better to meet their needs.

The commissioner's general functions to assist older people in Wales will include promoting awareness of their interests; encouraging good practice in their treatment; promoting the provision of opportunities for them and the elimination of discrimination against them; and keeping under review the adequacy and effectiveness of law affecting them. The commissioner will be able to review and monitor the arrangements for dealing with complaints, whistle blowing and advocacy of bodies that provide services directly to older people. In addition, he or she will be able to review the discharge of functions of bodies—for example, the Assembly, local authorities and the NHS—whose policies may have an impact on the lives of older people. Where other avenues of redress have been exhausted and wider matters of principle are involved, the commissioner may examine individual cases and, in certain circumstances, support individuals in making a complaint or representation.

Other powers will include discretion to undertake research; to issue guidance on best practice; and to make reports to the Assembly on the exercise of his or her functions. The commissioner will be able to make representations to the Assembly about non-devolved matters relating to the interests of older people in Wales. The Assembly will decide whether to pursue them.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales, Peter Hain, has made clear his willingness to meet Peter Clarke, the Children's Commissioner for Wales, to discuss any non-devolved matter on which he may wish to make representations. We intend that the same arrangements would be available to the Commissioner for Older People.

As I said, the Bill defines an older person as one of age 60 or over. That encompasses those who are entitled from age 60 to receive winter fuel and pension credit benefits, women aged 60-plus, who will continue to receive state pension until 2013 and those in the National Assembly's free swimming and bus pass schemes, which also start at age 60. We consider that that strikes the right age balance. A lower age limit would have significant implications for the commissioner's workload. If it were higher, we would miss an important and growing section of older people.

The National Assembly will fund the office of the commissioner. It is not possible now to make accurate predictions, but we are working on the assumption that the commissioner will consume similar resources to the Children's Commissioner. Start-up costs, we think, will be of the order of £500,000 and, with a staff of about 30, there will, we think, be annual running costs of around £1.5 million. Should it turn out in practice that costs are higher, those, too, will be met by the Assembly with no new money from Westminster.

I said earlier that we intended to table some minor amendments to the Bill before Committee. We will table those amendments and provide all the other information that I mentioned earlier at least a week before the start of Committee. That will give noble Lords the opportunity to reflect on them and prepare for a full debate in Committee.

We intend to table amendments to clarify the commissioner's ability to work jointly with other commissioners and ombudsmen, so as to avoid duplication and to enable the commissioner to share information with them.

We wish to correct a discrepancy in the Bill that was drawn to our attention by the Welsh Affairs Committee. It concerns the commissioner's ability to assist an older person who has been placed for care or treatment in England in pursuing a complaint with the placing authority in Wales, such as a local authority or NHS body. Minor amendment is also required to enable the Assembly to issue directions, if necessary, requiring the commissioner to establish an internal complaint procedure.

Should we decide that further amendments resulting from the consultation and from this Second Reading debate would improve the Bill, we shall aim to have those tabled in good time for discussion in Committee also. I assure the House that we are fully prepared to consider any and all suggestions for improvements to the Bill. If any noble Lords have questions about any aspect of the Bill, the policy that underlies it or the detail of how we envisage the arrangements working, I shall be happy to discuss them or to provide a written reply before Committee.

This is an important Bill that has attracted huge support in Wales from older people and their representative organisations and from all parties in the National Assembly. I hope that we in this House can achieve similar consensus on the principles of what is a ground-breaking proposal to benefit older people in Wales. I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Evans of Temple Guiting.)

Photo of Lord Roberts of Conwy Lord Roberts of Conwy Spokespersons In the Lords, Wales 5:13, 14 June 2005

My Lords, most of your Lordships would agree that, celebrating my 75th birthday next month—as I hope to do, God willing—I am reasonably well qualified to talk about the elderly and comment on the Bill.

Cicero, one of the great conservatives of the Roman Republic, wrote a treatise on old age when he was about the same tender age as the Minister, which brings me, circuitously, to the key point underlying the Bill. We can now all expect to live longer and so many of us do that the proportion of the population aged over 65 has increased dramatically and will continue to do so, barring another Black Death or some other calamity.

I must confess a liking for the Prime Minister's positive—indeed, spirited—approach to this,

"unprecedented change in the fabric of society", as he describes the growing proportion of elderly in our communities in his foreword to the Government publication, Opportunity Age—Meeting the challenges of ageing in the 21st century. The Prime Minister writes:

"An ageing society is too often and wrongly seen solely in terms of increasing dependency. But the reality is that, as older people become an ever more significant proportion of the population, society will increasingly depend upon the contribution they can make".

I am glad that the Minister has caught the Prime Minister's mood in that foreword. The thrust of the entire document is that we must change our ideas about retirement and ageing and seize the positive opportunities. Out goes the early retreat to the golf club and in comes a stay at work to do what we can to pass on our skills and experience, if any. I am told that a million people already work beyond retirement age. I must say that it is an impressive document, but delivering its policy content across the Government and to the public at large will not be easy. I think that the Prime Minister would acknowledge that.

A great deal of thinking and discussion about ageing population problems has been going on in Wales, too—and with good reason as, as the Minister said, 22 per cent of our current Welsh population is aged more than 65. There was a report from an advisory group on a strategy for older people titled When I'm 64 . . . and more, which I think owes a little to the Beatles' song. That was published three years ago and last year, there appeared a second report by the Welsh Assembly Government's advisory group on a commissioner for older people in Wales.

Among the recommendations at the end of the second chapter of that first report is the earliest mention that I have found of the proposed appointment of an older persons' commissioner. The designation of a Minister as older people's Minister with an overall responsibility for strategy is another possibility mentioned there. But it is the commissioner proposal that has pride of place, probably because, as the report notes, in Chapter 2 paragraph 9:

"There is considerable evidence . . . that all is not well for older people. There are problems of poor housing, poverty, poor nutrition, lack of opportunity for employment, education and leisure, inadequate transport services and dissatisfaction with health and welfare provision. People perceive an imbalance of power and influence and a lack of respect. Age is seen as stigmatising and it is perceived that older people are discriminated against".

In short, there are painful inadequacies and regrettable but preventable defects in the existing system of care and provision for the elderly that require urgent attention before more positive policies can be successfully pursued.

I detect behind the proposal for an independent Commissioner the strong feelings and influence of organisations such as Help the Aged and Age Concern, which have long been engaged with the plight of the elderly and to which we should be deeply grateful for their solicitude. So we now have a Bill to establish the office of Commissioner for Older People on much the same protective and authoritative lines as the Children's Commissioner. Thirty years ago, we might have established some kind of agency to achieve the same goals, but quangos are no longer in favour or fit for any purpose except fuelling bonfires. Commissioners are now the flavour of the month.

A similar proposal was put forward for England in Private Members' Bills last year and the year before, but the Government have yet to accept it. They would prefer to rely on stronger central government co-ordination, with leadership from the Department for Work and Pensions, a powerful commission for equality and human rights, a forum led by the Chief Scientific Adviser to harness science and technology to the challenges of ageing, and assessment by the Audit Commission of local authorities' performance. The Audit Commission, the Commission for Healthcare Audit and Inspection and the Commission for Social Care Inspection are reviewing the National Service Framework for the Elderly and will report soon.

All in all, the United Kingdom Government's paper contains a substantial programme to give a lead to a wide range of players. Noble Lords may wonder why the Assembly Government do not adopt a similar leading role rather than foist the responsibility on a commissioner. Why do they not appoint a vigorous young Minister to safeguard the elderly and promote their interests across the devolved areas of Assembly government? Why should that not suffice? I cannot answer that question fully but it is significant that there is a strong body of opinion among the voluntary organisations that there should be a commissioner, independent of all existing authorities, as the Minister said, and with the right critically to examine them, the Assembly Government included, if they fail to discharge their functions or give rise to complaints. Those organisations call for a champion to defend the rights and promote the interests of the elderly, which suggests that such considerations have not always been foremost in authorities' minds.

The second of the reports to which I referred stresses the need to ensure that,

"the successful candidate has a real understanding of, and empathy with, the life of older people in Wales", and that the selection and appointment process,

"should meaningfully involve older people".

There is there a real cri de caur-cri o'r galon, , as we say in Welsh—that the commissioner's first loyalty should be to those whose interests he represents. Some attempt to reflect that appears in the Bill.

With regard to the detailed provisions, we are grateful to the Minister for accepting the situation whereby we already face government amendments. The Bill broadly follows the pattern set in the legislation that established the Children's Commissioner. Noble Lords participated in the passage of that legislation and are familiar with it. I shall note only the differences between the two pieces of legislation as I see them.

First, more of the detail in the Bill, such as the terms and duration of the commissioner's appointment, is left to the National Assembly to sort out in secondary legislation. That increased scope for, and reliance on, secondary legislation is novel and may not find favour with all Members of your Lordships' House or the other place. It leaves a lot of loose ends that we could well tie up here. I hope that the Assembly has taken to heart the Richard commission's criticism of its scrutiny, or lack thereof, of secondary legislation and that it will discuss thoroughly such legislation as arises under the Bill and not pass it on the nod. I hope, too, that the Assembly will see sense in an initial appointment for five years, renewable for a further five, subject to high quality performance. The Minister will recall our debate on that point during the Public Services Ombudsman (Wales) Bill in the previous Session.

Secondly, I note that the commissioner for older people will have the same powers as the High Court in respect of the examination of witnesses and the provision of information under Clause 9(7). If he is obstructed or treated with contempt, as described in Clause 10(2), he may issue a certificate to that effect to the High Court, which will deal with the matter appropriately. We had to fight for that procedure in the case of the ombudsman. I wonder what caused the Government's change of attitude.

There may be some argument about the definition of an older person as a person aged 60 or over. The UK Government's paper refers repeatedly to "50 plus" and so do European studies on ageing problems, primarily because the difficulties of finding alternative employment seem to begin at that age. But I am inclined to leave that disputation until the Committee stage—similarly, the additional costs of setting up the commissioner's office, amounting to £2 million in the first year. Much could be done for the elderly with such a sum if it were spent directly on meeting their needs.

We are reassured that the Bill has been generally welcomed in Wales but I cannot say more because the Assembly will not discuss the Assembly Government's Motion in support of it until tomorrow. I am assured that it will have Conservative support but I cannot anticipate the views of Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats, which have tabled amendments to the Assembly's Motion. Coupled with the fact that consultation on the Bill does not end until today and we do not have the Government's response to that consultation, our debate is a little premature, as the noble Lord acknowledged. But he has put the best face on it, and I accept that. The Bill promises to improve the lot of the elderly in Wales, of which I am one, and that is to be welcomed. It seems right for our times and for our circumstances in Wales.

A Noble Lord:

My Lords, not all of us.

Photo of Lord Roberts of Llandudno Lord Roberts of Llandudno Spokesperson in the Lords, International Development, Spokesperson in the Lords, Welsh Affairs, Whip

Indeed, my Lords, not all of us. We wish that we did not have to declare such an interest but, unfortunately, the years pass by uncontrollably.

We welcome the opportunity to discuss ways of helping older people in Wales. The Assembly Government have done wonderful things already. Free bus travel was introduced for over-60s when the Lib-Lab coalition was in power in Cardiff. We also have free sports facilities, such as swimming pools. Free bus passes have not only helped older people but kept bus routes alive, so everybody has benefited.

If the proposal for a commissioner for older people is realised it will be the first, not only in Europe, but in the world. As a proud Welshman I should possibly vote for it without any thought of suspicion or objection. We have an older population. In Conwy, where the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, is from, and in my area nearly 27 per cent of the population is of that age group—and, of course, it is advancing over the years.

I know that the Minister has explained to some extent why we are discussing the Bill prematurely but surely there is a massive lack of foresight. It is a mystery to me. The consultation process finishes today, and the plenary session of the Assembly will discuss and vote on the matter tomorrow. We seem to be in some strange area. I hope that we will have the results of the consultation tomorrow in the Printed Paper Office and that we will have the full results and the Assembly's decisions before Committee.

We are also concerned that many matters in the Bill will be decided by regulations. An explanation is required from the Minister on when they will be available in draft. Will they be available in draft in Committee, or will there just be a statement of policy intent? We would like to know exactly where we stand on that.

There was a time when, if anyone in Wales reached the age of 90, we put up the flags, called out the village band and had a massive tea party. It was wonderful. We would say, "Mrs Jones is 90 years of age". Now, it is not even a cause for comment. If someone reaches 100 years of age, we might put a note in the newspaper, but that is about all. Our people are living longer.

It is possibly tremendous to look forward to living longer, but it brings its problems. Families are more sparse and perhaps there is no one to support the older person—for example, his or her partner might have died. So much is a disadvantage as one reaches the upper limits of that age range. People are living in isolation, which is a big problem. The families and contemporaries of a person may have gone and he or she is left alone. There is also the struggle to preserve dignity and a sense of well-being.

We read of some instances of people in nursing or residential homes who are not well cared for. My experience is that most of those places do a first-class job. There are few cases of poor or cruel treatment. We hope that the commissioner may be in a position to look into those incidents. However, if I am right—the Minister can explain or clarify this—in Clause 4 the definition of a public service, whose functions are subject to review, is a body half of whose expenditure is met directly from payments made by the Assembly. Will any provider of residential services fall outside the scope of the commissioner's power of investigation? We would like clarification on that.

Would the appointment of a Commissioner for Older People achieve its stated aims? If in any way it will, we must support it. If it will succeed where others have failed, it will have our support. The crucial question is whether the lives of the older people of Wales will be improved by this appointment. Could she or he act where the public services ombudsman cannot? Would extending the remit of the ombudsman, without establishing a whole new office, be just as effective?

A few months ago Parliament amalgamated three ombudsmen in Wales so that there would be no confusion. People would be able to take their problems to a one-stop shop and not have to try here and there. Is the establishment of a commissioner likely to increase uncertainty and confusion? We would like an answer to that. What will be the relationship between the ombudsman and the commissioner? What will be the relationship between the commissioner and the proposed new Commission for Equality, due to start in 2006? What impact will the commissioner's work have on the Human Rights Act 1998 as it relates to older people? I am sure that the Minister will clarify those points. What will be the relationship between the commissioner's powers and the investigative duties that are already the responsibility of the Association of Directors of Social Service? That is another area that we need to be clear on.

The cost of creating this new post, which is made up of 30 appointments, will initially be £0.5 million. Then it is estimated to be £1.5 million every year. Is that the best way of using that money? As the Minister has told us, the sum will come from the existing Assembly budget. There will not be an extra penny from the Treasury. Could that money be spent more effectively on providing other services for the elderly? Noble Lords will know of the Liberal Democrat aim to provide free personal care for the elderly, as provided in Scotland. Of course, £1.5 million will not meet that. But could some services that are not free at the moment be made freely available to the elderly?

Could the money support voluntary organisations which are in the front line of working for the elderly—for example, the WRVS, Age Concern, local organisations for older people and carers' organisations, which, in my home area, are this week facing cuts in grant support? We know how the CAB has often struggled for financial support. Are we satisfied that the money could not be better spent in that way? Are we completely convinced that the present training courses and facilities for those who care for the elderly are as good as they could be? Would a bit more funding improve those courses?

A big problem is that the commissioner will be able to deal only with areas of responsibility that are devolved to the Welsh Assembly. We have been told by the Minister that there will be an informal arrangement, which will make it possible for the non-devolved areas also to receive the commissioner's attention. We want more clarification on that. This could be a massive stumbling block when we come to vote on the Bill. Many of the complaints that older people have are about pensions, benefits and non-devolved matters. The CAB told me that last year, throughout the UK, there were 1.5 million complaints about pensions and benefits. Is it not crucial that the commissioner's remit include the ability to deal with those questions?

We want to see a clear mechanism for the commissioner to contact Whitehall and Cardiff and a formal process of response. We would like the Assembly to be required to give a public response to any inquiry from the commissioner. Experience has shown that the informal mechanisms in place for the Children's Commissioner have not proved entirely satisfactory.

We welcome the power of the commissioner to promote the development of effective and comprehensive advocacy, complaints and whistleblowing arrangements. However, we are concerned that the commissioner will have no powers to enforce any recommendations. We would like to see more protection for those whistleblowers reporting on practices which perhaps are not against criminal law, but which deny older people dignity—for example, the unacceptable treatment of an older person in a care home. There is now no protection in the Bill in an unregulated setting for the whistleblower.

Finally, although we understand the impact that there would be on other legislation, if the definition of older people is changed to a younger age—say 50 or 55 years old—the advantage of having some flexibility would allow the commissioner where necessary to assist folk who are under the age of 60, perhaps regarding employment matters, health matters or people who have taken early retirement. For instance, in Wales, for many years we battled for rights for people who suffered from pneumoconiosis. If a commissioner is appointed—for example, as regards Alzheimer's, dementia and physical disability—is there not a case for him to have flexibility to deal with those instances?

There are many questions to be answered. The Minister agrees that in Committee we will have our work cut out to discuss the amendments needed to make the Bill one that, in its essence, will make the lives of the older people of Wales more fulfilling and satisfying. We on the Liberal Democrat Benches look forward to further discussions and hope that the Bill will be of the sort that we will be happy to support.

Photo of Lord Rowlands Lord Rowlands Labour 5:39, 14 June 2005

My Lords, this Bill prompted me to reflect on more than 30 years of constituency experience and how the issues of the elderly were represented to us as Members of Parliament. Generally speaking—I hope that this does not sound complacent—in the constituency that I represented, I found that the voice and interests of the elderly were very powerfully represented in many cases through a wonderful variety of organisations and agencies that have worked with older people. I am thinking not only of Age Concern and Help the Aged, but also of the national Pensioners Movement, a powerful organisation capable of mobilising considerable support for its various causes. In no way should we consider this Bill as a measure which reflects badly on those agencies and organisations that carry out such a powerful job in representing the interests and wishes of older folk in our communities.

I wondered why we would need a commissioner, but during the course of the debate the Minister has made a good case for the importance of the post. But what has convinced me to support the Bill is that the organisations I so admire because they represent and reflect the wishes of elderly people are fully in support of it. If that is what the consultation process has shown, I, too, can give the Bill my support. By the end of his speech I remain uncertain whether the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, is in favour of it, but no doubt we will learn more in the course of our further debates.

Rather than dwell on the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, on the Liberal Democrat Front Bench, on the context of the Bill, I want to ask a few questions about certain issues in the Bill that are not yet quite clear.

First I turn to a point made by other noble Lords and referred to briefly by my noble friend on the Front Bench when he said that amendments are to be brought forward to this effect. How far does the commissioner's writ run? I refer not to the issues covered by the devolved government, but to the non-devolved areas of responsibility. Clause 2(3) empowers the commissioner to consider and make representations about any matters relating to the interests of older people. That is a pretty sweeping and general brief which presumably goes beyond the scope of the powers that have been devolved to the Assembly; that is, the commissioner can rove beyond those areas. But if he does so, what will it mean? For example—and here I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Roberts—will the commissioner have the responsibility to consider or make representations on issues such as pensions, welfare, war pensions and the entire world of benefits? If he or she does, what will be his or her power in this respect? Will he be able to draw attention to these issues? Will the writ run in any effective way beyond the areas of devolved government?

If so, that is a serious issue because these are UK Government matters covered by UK departments following UK policy as laid down at Westminster. Although the commissioner might offer a commentary on those policies, surely difficulties could arise if a commissioner entirely funded by the Assembly were to have some kind of extra-judicial or extra-territorial power over government departments which are accountable to the UK Government and Parliament. This point raises quite serious issues regarding areas of responsibility and accountability.

Secondly, I turn to the question of the power to examine cases. I want to reinforce the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts: that of the relationship between this commissioner and the recently established ombudsman. For example, if the commissioner considers a case where an elderly person has been ill treated or has suffered as the result of an act of maladministration, who would pursue it? After the previous Bill we passed, I would assume that it would be a matter for the public ombudsman and not necessarily one for the commissioner. How is this to be defined? I gather from an observation made by my noble friend that the point is to be further delineated. Equally, I refer to the equality and human rights commission, a United Kingdom body, which will have the power to deal with issues of age discrimination. The relevant Bill is about to come before the House. Again, how will that relationship work?

Thirdly, I turn to the appointment of the commissioner, a matter left entirely to regulation. While I support strongly the structure and framework of this Bill, and while it may seem that I am seeking the best of both worlds, I question leaving the appointment of the commissioner entirely to Assembly regulation. I do so for only one reason. The commissioner will have the right to scrutinise the National Assembly for Wales itself. If the Assembly is to conduct the process of appointment and ultimately make it, how can we ensure that that process will be safeguarded and consistent with the idea of the absolute independence of the commissioner? We had interesting debates on this point on the establishment of the public ombudsman, and the question arises again in the context of the Bill. I hope that during our deliberations on the Bill both in this House and in the other place, we will be given some idea of the Assembly's thinking on this issue and perhaps receive an assurance on the independence not only of the process of appointment, but also on the commissioner's subsequent position. That is well worth considering.

Clause 14 provides the power for the commissioner to report and make recommendations. Will he also have the power to recommend a remedy in a case of the ill-treatment of an elderly person? If so, what kind of remedy is envisaged and what power will the commissioner have in responding to such a case? Again, the issue of overlap with the ombudsman and others arises here.

These questions tumble from the Bill for one simple and basic reason. It is rather different from the Bill to establish the Children's Commissioner for Wales and I welcome it for that reason. In this respect I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Roberts. The Bill for the commissioner for children provided much greater detail on the functions and role of the post, but the Bill before us is much more a piece of framework legislation. Here we are maximising the right of the Assembly to make regulations and to fill out the Bill in ways that previous legislation did not.

Does this Bill foreshadow the kind of legislation we are likely to see as a part of the further development of the devolution settlement? I say that because one of the fundamental recommendations of the Richard commission, set out in chapter 13 of his report, suggested that the United Kingdom Government and Parliament should draft Bills in a framework way so as to allow the maximum degree of legislative competence to be bestowed on the Assembly. I should declare an interest as a member of that commission and a passionate support of chapter 13. I believe that it is one of the most sensible ways of further developing the legislative process of the devolution settlement. Given that, I shall forgo the kind of detailed arguments we would normally have about what should be set out in the Bill if I can be assured that it does foreshadow the kind of framework legislation we are going to see. If that is the case, I shall certainly give it my fullest support. As I have said, I am a passionate supporter of that process. I believe that we will create a more effective and developing legislative partnership between both Houses in this Parliament and the Assembly. We would have a democratic legislative trinity: the Commons, the Lords and the Assembly.

We will also be able to utilise and develop the scrutiny skills of Members of the other place and of this House, as well as the scrutiny skills that are developing, as the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, said, in the Welsh Assembly. We can maximise the democratic resources available to us to ensure that we get the best possible legislation. If that is the case, and this is the kind of Bill that we will see in future, I shall give it my strongest support.

Photo of Baroness Gale Baroness Gale Labour 5:50, 14 June 2005

My Lords, I am pleased to be taking part in this Second Reading debate, partly because the Labour Party included the establishment of a Commissioner for Older People as a commitment in its manifesto for the 2003 elections to the Welsh Assembly. Through the Assembly, we have seen that the people of Wales want the commissioner.

When the Bill for the Children's Commissioner for Wales was debated in your Lordships' House, we felt that it was good to be able to say that Wales was the first country in the UK to have such a commissioner. The Children's Commissioner for Wales was so well received that we now have children's commissioners in the rest of the United Kingdom. We can be proud of the fact that children's commissioners started in Wales and are such a good thing that everybody wants one. I am sure that that will happen when we establish our Commissioner for Older People.

We had a briefing meeting last week in which my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Wales Office, Nick Ainger, said that the Commissioner for Older People would be the first in the UK and probably the first in the world. That is why we are finding our way on a number of issues. There is no model: we are developing our own in Wales. We can all feel proud of the fact that Wales is once again leading the world.

A number of noble Lords have said that Wales has an ageing population. A higher proportion of the population in Wales is over the age of 60 than in the rest of the UK, and the number of people over the age of 85 is about one-third higher. With people living longer, there will be a need for care and support services to enable older people to lead independent lives as far as possible. As other noble Lords have said, we have particular problems in Wales. Research has shown that, for some older people in Wales, poor housing, poverty and poor nutrition are particular concerns. But, as noble Lords have also said, on the plus side, people are living longer, and that is something about which we can all rejoice.

With a Commissioner for Older People, we will be able to deal with many of the issues relating to older people and assist them to lead independent lives. In the briefing last week, the Deputy Minister responsible for older people in the Welsh Assembly Government, John Griffiths, said the commissioner would be,

"A champion and a strong voice for older people"

We used a similar remark when we were debating the Children's Commissioner, who has proved to be a champion and a strong voice for the children of Wales. If the Commissioner for Older People can be seen in that light, it can only be for the good. The Bill has much support in Wales from the charities and voluntary groups that provide for older people.

Noble Lords have already spoken about the definition of what it is to be old, and we could debate it for some time. In the context of the Bill, the definition of "older person" is someone aged 60 or more. We know that sometimes the age can be as young as 50 or as old as 75. I can understand the difficulties of determining when one become an older person as far as the Bill is concerned. I am sure that all noble Lords have received the same briefing from the Law Society. It says:

"A more pragmatic definition should be adopted to allow the commissioner discretion to help people aged 50 and over".

It gives the reason that,

"This would be particularly relevant in employment matters for people who have taken early retirement, and in health matters, for example those suffering the early onset of dementia and physical disability".

As other noble Lords have mentioned, we have precedents in Wales for defining older people as 60, such as the free bus pass and free swimming schemes. There are also a few other precedents that the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, mentioned. I am sure that we will discuss the matter later in Committee. Can the Minister say why older people are defined as those over the age of 60 and whether any thought has been given to having some flexibility in the definition?

There are concerns that there could be some overlap with the Commission for Equality and Human Rights, which will be established by the Equality Bill that will have its Second Reading in your Lordships' House tomorrow. With that new commission dealing with age discrimination, the roles of the two bodies will need to be clearly defined. As we go through this Bill and the Equality Bill, we may be able to work out what the overlap is and how we can clearly define matters. I hope that, if there are any difficulties, we will be able to resolve them.

I would like to raise Clause 12(1)(a) with the Minister. Concerns have been raised about it by Help the Aged in Wales. The clause provides that the commissioner will have the power to,

"enter any premises, other than a private dwelling, for the purpose of interviewing an older person accommodated or cared for there".

It is not clear whether the term "private dwelling" includes care settings owned and operated by the independent or private sector or refers specifically to the individual older person's private residence. If the Minister could clarify that the definition of "private dwelling" meant the individual older person's private residence, it would help to alleviate the concerns expressed by Help the Aged in Wales.

We all understand that the Bill is modelled on the legislation for the Children's Commissioner. When the Children's Commissioner was appointed, children were involved in his appointment, as the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, said. I believe that children interviewed the candidates and said who they thought was the best one. I know that we are in the early stages of this Bill, but does the Minister think that it would be a good idea for that model to be used and for older people in Wales to have a say in the appointment when the interviews take place? It would be great if that could happen.

We have the makings of a good Bill, even though, as some noble Lords have said, it is bit premature. Nevertheless, it is to be welcomed. It has been welcomed throughout Wales by the charities and voluntary groups that support older people. Like other noble Lords, I look forward to reading the analysis of the consultation, which ends today, that the Welsh Assembly has been conducting on the Bill. I am sure that that consultation will assist and inform us during the passage of the Bill through your Lordships' House.

Photo of Lord Prys-Davies Lord Prys-Davies Labour 5:58, 14 June 2005

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his lucid explanation of the Bill and for arranging the helpful meeting with the Welsh Assembly Deputy Minister and officials last Thursday. I also wish to express my appreciation of the speeches to which we have listened this afternoon. They were very thoughtful contributions.

I warmly welcome the Bill. It is of considerable importance to a great many people in Wales. As we have heard, it is also a unique development. It is therefore not surprising that the Bill is of interest far beyond Wales.

The Bill is important for a number of reasons. The first and most obvious reason is the fact that there are about 620,000 older people in Wales. Secondly, it will help to safeguard the dignity of the older citizen and enhance his or her standard of life by ensuring that services are readily and equally available to every older person who needs them.

The third reason, although this may not be so obvious at first sight, is that in many households the Bill should also bring help to the members of the family who care for a very elderly parent. Sometimes the carer himself or herself can also be helped. In such cases the Bill will help the whole family.

For those reasons alone the Bill has caught the public eye. There is a wide measure of agreement in Wales in favour of a Bill along the lines of the present one, but it would, of course, have been the cause of some concern if the Minister had claimed that the Bill was perfect. Happily, the Bill does not raise any major political or philosophical question, subject to the very important point about non-devolved services to which my noble friend Lord Rowlands referred.

Like the Children's Commissioner, the commissioner cannot directly pursue with Whitehall departments issues which call for a solution by those departments. There are many such issues, for example, in regard to social security benefits, employment regulations, the Inland Revenue, the DVLA and others. If the commissioner attempted to raise any of these issues with a Whitehall department he would be stopped dead in his tracks by Clauses 2(2), 9(2)(a), 13(2)(a) and 14(2). This is a fundamental point that has been raised on many occasions in your Lordships' House. I believe that there is a genuine difference of opinion which is symptomatic of a difference in philosophy.

We heard from the Minister that the estimated annual running costs will be about £1.5 million. That is not a very large sum. I am slightly worried at the starkness of the advisory group's analysis of the scale of the problem—which is quite clearly with us in Wales for the present and, indeed, for the foreseeable future—yet the funding is limited to £1.5 million annually. I want to be fair to the Minister—I am bound to accept that that is the estimate put forward by the advisory group—but, given that the client group, if I may use that phrase, is very large, is there not a real risk that the office may not be adequately resourced to meet the demands on it? The Minister touched on this issue in his opening speech and has given us certain assurances.

The commissioner will discharge many functions, but it seems to me that he will be primarily concerned with safeguarding and enhancing what is described in the Bill as,

"the interests of older people in Wales".

These words appear in about six different subsections throughout the Bill. Their meaning is defined in Clause 18 in these terms:

"In considering, for the purposes of this Act, what constitutes the interests of older people in Wales, the Commissioner must have regard to the United Nations Principles for Older Persons adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 16 December 1991".

I warmly welcome the fundamental duty defined in Clause 18. I recall how we endeavoured in vain to introduce a similar duty in the Children's Commissioner for Wales Act 2001.

I should now like to add to the questionnaire my noble friend will answer when he comes to wind up. My questions seek clarification and are designed to strengthen existing clauses.

We must bear in mind that this Bill was requested by the Welsh Assembly. It is our duty to facilitate the passage of a Bill that has been so requested. Therefore, some of the questions which have today been addressed to my noble friend on the Front Bench should be addressed in the National Assembly and answered by National Assembly Ministers. It is not for us to question the fundamental principle of the Bill.

In what circumstances will Clause 9 operate? Under the clause, the commissioner may examine individual cases of particular persons. Will he be acting on a reference to him by the elderly person himself or herself? If so, is there not a risk that his role and that of the public services ombudsman will be blurred? On the other hand, if the commissioner acts on his own motion, what preliminary hurdle will have to be surmounted before he will exercise this function? In other words, what is Clause 9 intended to cover? What is it aimed at? I invite my noble friend to explain the kinds of cases which may be examined and the circumstances in which the examination may be made.

I turn now to Clause 12, which has been referred to by a number of speakers today. The clause defines the commissioner's right to enter premises and of interviewing in private. The clause excludes the right to enter a private dwelling. I confess that it is the subject of slight unease on my part. One day a real problem will arise where the commissioner will think that he ought to visit and interview an elderly person living or being cared for in a private dwelling house, who is deeply in need or thought to be in need of his advice, and who may not be able to express himself or herself on paper. I am concerned that in those circumstances the elderly person may not have recourse to the commissioner's help.

I readily recognise that this may be quite a difficult problem. The Minister may confirm that the answer can be found in another statute. If so, it would seem that there is no difficulty.

I welcome Clause 11, which empowers the commissioner, after consultation, to produce guidance on best practice. The case for a code of practice has, by now, been well made. But I note that the guidance does not have to be examined and approved by the Assembly before it is issued. I wonder whether that is wise.

There are two other difficulties. First, in the Bill as it stands, the guidance will be without any legal significance. Secondly, the commissioner will not be empowered to monitor compliance with it. The guidance on best practice is potentially a very good device for helping the commissioner to bring about improved standards of service. It would be powerfully reinforced if it were to be given some legal significance, such as providing for the guidance to be taken into account by a magistrate or judge trying a civil or criminal case. The guidance would also be powerfully strengthened if it were backed by giving the commissioner power to monitor compliance with it. To my mind, those are worrying omissions. Unless they are addressed I feel that the guidance will fail to meet the high hopes that are placed in it.

I have spoken for more than 10 minutes, which seems a very long time for a contribution meant essentially to say that I support the Bill. But the Bill did stimulate a few suggestions for strengthening the office and which the Minister may or may not wish to consider.

Photo of Lord Livsey of Talgarth Lord Livsey of Talgarth Spokesperson in the Lords, Welsh Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords (Agriculture), Environment, Food & Rural Affairs 6:11, 14 June 2005

My Lords, we have had a very interesting and informative debate and I certainly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, that it has been very thoughtful indeed. He has looked very hard at the legal implications—or lack of them—in the Bill and I pay tribute to him for that. I have no wish to repeat what the noble Lord has just said, but the Minister should take due account—as I am sure he will—of his comments that some aspects of the legal force of the Bill do not appear to be adequate.

As my noble friend Lord Roberts of Llandudno said, the Liberal Democrats welcome the Bill in principle. Some 660,000 people—22 per cent of the population—in Wales are over 60. As others have said, demography will change and in a very short time, 25 per cent of the population of Wales—in the region of 800,000—will be over 60. We have heard the forecast that that will go up to 28 per cent.

There is no doubt that in principle the Commissioner for Older People is a very good idea. However, when one examines the Bill, comparison with the Children's Commissioner is not wholly sustainable. As have many have said in this debate, many UK policies impact directly on older people on a UK basis. That is especially the case with pensions, benefits and employment. In that respect, the Bill differs significantly from the Children's Commissioner Bill. There is more involvement of UK government departments.

Pensions, benefits and employment are not within the scope of the Assembly or the Welsh Assembly Government. Those functions are crucial to the well-being of older people in Wales, yet the commissioner will have very little or no impact. That was said very forcefully by the noble Lord, Lord Rowlands, whose excellent speech brought out many of these points.

These points lead to other comments about the powers of the National Assembly combined with the timing of this Bill. I accept wholeheartedly the Minister's generous apology and the way that he has sought to correct the problem and let us have more information. It is clearly good that we are debating the Bill early in this Parliament, but the Welsh Assembly Government were not expecting to have this Bill coming here so early in the Session. Why is that? Reference was made to the public consultation not being quite finished, but we will get some of the information. However, it is a pity that we did not have before us today many cogent comments which, I am sure, have been drafted by many in Wales. The timing issue has, for the reasons stated, complicated this debate.

However, surely the Welsh Assembly Government ought to be able to initiate and legislate by itself. It cannot do that because of weaknesses in the Government of Wales Act 1998 which did not give the Assembly primary powers to legislate. Primary powers would achieve a logical progression of the process, better informed debate in the Assembly and therefore better legislation. The issues of non-specific statutes in the Bill and a lot of regulation are not entirely satisfactory. I was interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Rowlands, said about the framework issue and that it may be a new way of going forward. We must remember that paragraph 13 in the Richard commission report is really a halfway house. We should ask whether we would get into a significant tangle in the legislative process if there were a government with a different complexion in Westminster.

The whole area of pensions, benefits and employment is vital. Speaking as a former MP, the amount of work done sorting out the problems of the elderly, as many noble Lords will know, is massive, working especially with CABs. The plight of pensioners is often financial. Indeed, injustices are sometimes legion as well. I certainly found that, especially in relation to women who had employment breaks. Sadly, many pensioners often end up very poor indeed. These are huge issues to do with the welfare of pensioners. For example, I can quote someone who was with the 8th Army in El Alamein who is now 85 and is suddenly confronted by not one but a multiplicity of benefit forms issued by the Inland Revenue.

I also know of a widow with a pension, whose case I came upon, who, back in time, worked in an explosives factory during the Second World War and had her fingers blown off. She never received any compensation. We constantly have problems of that kind.

The benefits hurdle is an obstacle course and many millions are not claiming entitlements yet are living in poverty. That is a huge problem which I am sure the commissioner will want to address. One knows of many cases of people in that situation; people who are not able to fill in the forms. Even though assistance is available, they are not actually connecting.

In my own experience, having been put out of work at the age of 56, employment for older people is not an easy experience. Certainly, I did two years and then had to reapply for my own job because the body was privatised. I had to undergo a psychological test, which many people in the Chamber may agree that I needed. However, it was not a pleasant experience, I can assure you. Indeed, it was discrimination in one sense because I was awarded only short-term contracts all the time and I never knew when the sword of Damocles was about to fall, which it eventually did.

Where is the commissioner's place within these problems, which are the purview of Whitehall departments—pension rights, benefit rights and employment rights?

I declare an interest in several sectors in the state of the elderly. I belong to an organisation called Prime Cymru which helps people between 50 and 65 to start up businesses. We have a target of 40,000 businesses out of a population of 250,000 in Wales and we have created 1,000 new businesses in three years. I will not go into all the details, but they are absolutely fascinating, like finding one's own Welsh roots on the Internet and so on.

There are problems, particularly within the care sector, where different standards operate, for example in local authority and private care homes. The commissioner will be able to address problems in local authority care homes, but in some instances councils have turned them over to BUPA, which has paid lower wages and asked for longer hours. As a result the quality of care has gone down. I am not singling BUPA out—the same is true of other bodies.

The financing of private homes is very difficult because it is dependent on benefit and many homes have closed. In some instances couples have tragically been parted as a result of a sudden closure of a home. These are all issues which we hope the commissioner will be able to investigate. There are big problems within the elderly sector and in many cases the voluntary sector is picking up the pieces and doing extremely well. But the finance for the voluntary sector is very difficult as the funding is very often being reduced every year. I know that from experience through my involvement in various areas, in particular with a disabled club that has many elderly people. Dial-a-ride services, for example, are very difficult to keep going in rural areas.

The commissioner should be able to get involved in many of these intractable problems. He needs investigative and enforcement powers to ensure that these measures are taken. We will judge this Bill in its final form, when we will take a decision—I hope a constructive one—on whether to establish a commissioner for the elderly. But we would like free care for the elderly, and we would like council tax to be replaced by a local income tax, which would reduce the poverty levels of the elderly. We believe that these policies would improve their quality of life.

The key question is whether the creation of the commissioner will improve the quality of life for the elderly. If so, we certainly will support the Bill. If not, then we will have to have a think about it.

Photo of Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Government Whip, Government Whip 6:24, 14 June 2005

My Lords, I start by echoing my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies and thanking and congratulating everybody on the level of contributions that we have had to this debate in the past hour or so.

It is an indication of how interesting the debate has been that so many questions have been asked. Listening to the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, I felt question overload developing; I stopped counting at the fifteenth question. As it is a beautiful evening and as people will not wish me to speak for 40 minutes to answer all the questions that have been raised—and I can hear my noble friend Lord Rooker saying "Thank goodness for that", as he is waiting to deal with three orders—I plan to go quickly through the contributions and then write to everybody with detailed answers to the very many questions.

I thank everybody who has spoken in this debate. The contributions have been both terrifically helpful and extremely interesting. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, gave a typically polished contribution, welcoming the Bill and raising a number of issues that we will return to in Committee. We discuss the period of office yet again—perhaps we could just agree now that it should be the same as we agreed for the ombudsman and get something out of the way. The discussion raised some interesting questions which we will come back to.

The noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, asked so many questions that I lost count—as did the people in the Box—but we have answers to all of them. He was asking about regulations and in addition to the memorandum that we will be submitting to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, we shall make available before Committee stage a note on the intentions of the Assembly in respect of the exercise of subordinate legislation powers in the Bill. The noble Lord asked why so much of the detail is being left to regulations—he will see that the draft regulations and the Bill's provisions relate to an area of law which is devolved to the National Assembly for Wales. It is therefore appropriate for the powers to make delegated legislation to be vested in the Assembly. All subordinate legislation subject to this procedure is debated in plenary and not taken, as in the Commons, to a Standing Committee.

The noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, asked if any provider of regulated services will fall outside the scope of the commissioner. The providers of regulated services are subject to the remit of the Care Standards Inspectorate for Wales. The purpose of the commissioner is not to duplicate the work of the inspectorate. Private providers could not be added to the list of persons in Schedule 2 as they are not public bodies. The noble Lord asked if it would be better to extend the remit of the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales. The focus of the ombudsman is to deal with maladministration. The focus of the commissioner is much wider; he will be a champion with much wider powers.

The noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, and others asked why is there no commissioner for England and why we need one for Wales. The UK Government do not want, at present, to establish a UK commissioner for older people. There will be a new powerful UK Cabinet sub-committee on ageing policy which will be chaired by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. Its remit will be to drive forward the UK ageing strategy as described in Opportunity Age.

A number of questions have been asked about the funding and the costs. We will return to these in Committee where I hope we may have some more accurate information. The size of the relevant client groups is similar for both commissioners. There are 674,600 people aged 60 and over in Wales and there are approximately 700,000 people under 18. The functions and powers proposed for the Commissioner for Older People closely mirrors those of the Children's Commissioner for Wales. It therefore makes sense that this proposed level of funding represents an appropriate estimate and that is why we are comparing the two costing centres.

The noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, asked how we will ensure that the commissioner can follow up on issues on which he has issued guidance to ensure that the bodies concerned comply with it. The commissioner is empowered to issue best practice guidance under Clause 11. Using his supplementary powers the commissioner would also be able to publish this guidance, thus making it widely available to service users and interested parties. This in turn will help to raise expectations and drive up standards.

Finally—that is, finally as far as I am concerned, but not as far as the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, is concerned—the noble Lord asked the question of how we ensure that joint working is enabled with the CEHR and duplication is avoided. I have a six-page answer to that question which I have absolutely no intention of reading out. I shall pass it on to the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, after the debate.

My noble friend Lord Rowlands welcomed the Bill, for which I am extremely grateful. He asked a number of questions, and was praised by the noble Lord, Lord Livsey of Talgarth, for the perspicacity of those questions. Briefly I shall deal with one or two of them.

The noble Lord asked, as my noble friend Lady Gale did, about the appointments procedure. The Assembly Government's Commissioner Advisory Group felt strongly about that. It considered that the model of involving children and young people in the appointment of the Children's Commissioner represented good practice, and that it ought to form the basis for the procedure to be adopted for the selection and appointment of the Commissioner for Older People. It recommended that the appointment process,

"should ensure that the successful candidate has a real understanding of, and empathy with, older people in Wales".

The group also recommended that it should meaningfully involve older people in the selection. We can give reassurance on that point.

My noble friend Lord Rowlands asked about the relationship of the commissioner with directors of social services. Local authorities appear in Schedules 2 and 3. The commissioner will be able to review the way in which social services directors discharge their functions and the arrangements that they make for advocacy, complaints and whistle-blowing.

My noble friend also asked about non-devolved matters. We recognise that a range of reserved issues are important to older people in Wales, including pensions, taxation, law and order and benefits. The commissioner will therefore be able to make representations to the National Assembly for Wales about any matter relating to the interests of older people in Wales, whether it is a devolved or non-devolved issue. The commissioner will be able to issue guidance on best practice,

"in connection with matters raised relating to the interests of older people in Wales".

That position is entirely consistent with the current constitutional context and mirrors the current arrangements for the Children's Commissioner. Using this Bill to bring about changes to the devolution settlement would be outwith its scope and entirely inappropriate.

I am extremely grateful to my noble friend Lady Gale for speaking so warmly in favour of the Bill. She raised the question of how it was decided that an older person was one who had reached the age of 60. The Assembly advisory group was undecided about what the definition of older people should be. It saw merit in setting the age for qualifications for the commissioner's help at 65, or 50, in line with the strategy for older people, and recommended that those two options and a compromise of 65, with discretion to help those aged over 50, should be put to public consultation. It was put to public consultation, and the listening assembly decided to set the age at 60. That pragmatic solution was agreed.

My noble friend Lady Gale also referred to the briefing of Help the Aged. Clause 12 sets out the commissioner's powers of entry. That power would enable him or her to enter any premises other than a private dwelling to interview an older person accommodated or cared for there in connection with carrying out his function of review or discharge of function.

I believe that we are all grateful to my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies for his contribution. He raised a number of issues which I shall deal with well before the Committee stage. He expressed concern that the commissioner cannot pursue with UK departments issues that are not devolved. We recognise that a range of reserved issues are important to older people in Wales, including pensions, taxation and benefits. The commissioner will therefore be able to make representations to the National Assembly for Wales on matters relating to the interests of older people in Wales. I mentioned in my opening remarks the arrangements made between the Wales Office and the Children's Commissioner; I reiterate that those arrangements will apply in this case too.

My noble friend also asked about the funding question, and whether £1.5 million is adequate. We shall be looking very carefully at that over the next few weeks and will hope to come to Committee with some more positive figures, although they will be linked to the cost of the Children's Commission, as we believe is appropriate and sensible.

My noble friend also asked what Clause 9 was intended to cover. The Assembly will make regulations to allow the commissioner to examine the cases of particular older people in Wales in connection with his functions. The commissioner's power can extend to examining the case of someone who is no longer an older person in Wales—that is, somebody who has passed away before the Bill comes into force. The commissioner may also make payments to persons who attend or provide information, explanations or assistance to him in his examinations.

My noble friend also asked in what circumstances Clause 9 would operate, and whether it would require a reference from the older person. A complaint will need to be made to the commissioner to initiate an examination. However, when the older person is not able to make the complaint, it may be made by someone on his behalf. That will be dealt with in regulations.

That was a quick run-through of some of the questions that I have been asked. However, as I said at the start, I am conscious that there were a huge number of questions, all of which will be answered promptly. I am grateful to all noble Lords for their constructive approach to this Bill, and for not giving me a hard time—as they might well have done—on the basis that we are having a Second Reading of this Bill on the day before it is discussed in National Assembly for Wales.

Photo of Lord Rees Lord Rees Conservative

My Lords, I wish to trouble the Minister with one further question, which he may want to deal with by letter rather than answering it tonight. The definition of older person in Wales says that that person is, "ordinarily resident in Wales". Here I declare a personal interest, which may be one that other noble Lords may want to declare. In other fields of law, a person can have dual residence; would that be so in this case, and what would the consequences be?

Photo of Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, that is an extremely interesting question from the noble Lord, Lord Rees. I shall have to write to him about it, but I can promise him a prompt answer, as people always get from the Wales Office.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Grand Committee.