Report (7th Day) (Continued)

Part of Health and Social Care Bill – in the House of Lords at 4:15 pm on 13th March 2012.

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Photo of Lord Wills Lord Wills Labour 4:15 pm, 13th March 2012

I understand that fundamental point. That does not argue against the Minister rejecting this amendment in principle. If he believes that that point in itself will create uncertainty, it is very open to the Government to redraft the amendment and specify it more precisely. I would be very content to support this amendment if the Minister said precisely that-that he would accept the amendment, subject to revising and clarifying that particular point. There will always be some areas of ambiguity in any legislation. That is why the courts exist and that is how the noble and learned Lords in this place have made their careers. That does not concern me very much. I would be perfectly content if the Minister stood up and said he was content to accept an amendment along these lines, subject to clarifying what the noble Lord and the noble and learned Lord have already identified as an issue.

I also understand that the Government are worried that they may be pre-empting the role of the Care Quality Commission and that this amendment may be unnecessary because of the protections that have been offered by that. Of course it has a role to play but that role should never substitute for the fundamental protections offered to the individual by human rights legislation.

As we have already heard, there is a serious problem of flagrant human rights abuses of older people. They need the protections offered by the Human Rights Act, but it is not just a question of the sort of brutal abuses that we have already heard described today. There are protections against those anyway, but I ask the Minister to consider this: the protection of the Human Rights Act offers fundamental dignity and respect to elderly and often very vulnerable people. I think here of the case of an elderly couple who had been together for 60 years or so but were about to be separated by a local authority. From memory, one of them had dementia and the local authority wanted to provide care for that partner in a specialist facility for dementia care, while the other partner went into more mainstream residential care. They had no protection against that. They were not being refused care. They certainly were not being abused in any of the ways that we have heard about already, but they wanted to spend their remaining years together. The Human Rights Act was the only protection that they had. The case was taken to court. They won and were able to spend their last years together. That is the sort of dignity and respect that elderly, vulnerable people are owed. That is the protection that the Human Rights Act offers them, and that is what this amendment seeks to extend.

Even then, there is a further benefit from extending the protection of the Human Rights Act in the way that this amendment wants to do. Important work that was carried out for the EHRC two or three years ago by the noble Baroness, Lady O'Loan, and Professor Klug at the EHRC showed how basic human rights principles of dignity and respect can help transform the culture of public service delivery. The Government could signal the importance that they attach to this by accepting this amendment today.

Throughout the long passage of this Bill, the Minister has been notable for his willingness to listen to and engage with argument and, where he has felt able, to change course. I hope that he will not now seek refuge by pushing this off to the forthcoming White Paper on social care. If media whispers are to be believed, No. 10 does not want that to see the light of day any time soon. Even if it appears, there is no guarantee that this issue will be satisfactorily addressed. Even if it is, it could then be years and years before any appropriate legislative vehicle could be found to make the necessary changes.

I also hope that the noble Earl will resist the seductive invitation from the noble Lord, Lord Lester, to leave this to the Commission on the Bill of Rights. Distinguished as it is, and diligent as its endeavours have been, if we believe the Daily Telegraph, it is already split three ways on many of the issues that it has to address. I hope that the Minister will consider that he would not be wise to leave this important decision to a commission whose outcome is, at best, not yet certain.