Report (2nd Day)

Part of Care Bill [HL] – in the House of Lords at 7:15 pm on 14th October 2013.

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Photo of Baroness Barker Baroness Barker Liberal Democrat 7:15 pm, 14th October 2013

My Lords, I support the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, particularly on Amendment 77 about powers of access and entry. She and I were both there at the birth of Action on Elder Abuse, which grew for a reason: people had identified and begun to codify the many different forms of elder abuse.

I absolutely sympathise with what the noble Lord, Lord Rix, is trying to do. Indeed, I had the same thought myself but I will defend the Bill by saying that other forms of abuse—physical, sexual, whatever—are set out in different pieces of legislation. What this Bill does is define financial abuse for the first time. That is really important because we know that very many older people are financially abused by relatives and until now the financial services industry has been pretty hopeless about dealing with it. That is why that is there.

A power of access is important precisely for the reasons identified by the noble Lord, Lord Warner. What we are talking about here is the right of a social worker with a police escort, having got permission via a legal document, to go into somebody’s house, where there is a suspicion that criminal activity may be taking place. That is the magnitude of what we are talking about.

That leads to my second point, which is that it is right for us to anticipate that, just as in Scotland where these powers have been put into law, they will be used very sparingly. There will not be many cases. However, these types of cases are awful, with people suffering truly horrendous abuse. Therefore, it is important that we act.

In the lead-up to this debate, at an earlier stage of the Bill, noble Lords argued against the proposals of the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, for two reasons. One was that we have legislation already in place that is sufficient, and that it is simply a matter of practitioners not knowing about it. That is not a defence of existing legislation. If it is ineffective and does not work, it should be redrawn and redefined.

The Minister said—I think in Committee—that the police know what they are supposed to do. They may well do, but members of the general public do not know what to do if they suspect that an older person is being abused. They probably do know what to do if they think that a child is being abused, but not if an older person is being abused. Therefore, that would be another benefit of having clear law on statute.

In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Patel of Bradford, said that people from mental health organisations were very much against the proposal to grant powers of entry because they believed that it would weaken the necessary trust between mental health service users and the staff with whom they work. We discussed this when community treatment orders were coming into being under the Mental Health Act. I understand those fears, but with older people we are talking about something different; we are talking about a third party, usually a relative or close friend, deliberately keeping other people out of somebody’s home in order to go on perpetrating abuse. That is a completely different situation from a mental health professional dealing with a client. Therefore, I support the amendments.

I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, who opposes Amendment 79, that the first time anybody talked to me about elder abuse—I was sitting in a hall with a bunch of colleagues—they impressed on us above all that there is carers’ stress and there is elder abuse, and that they are two completely different things. We are not talking about penalising carers who are stressed; we are talking about taking proper action against people who are perpetrating criminal abuse on vulnerable people. That is a wholly different thing. That is why the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, is right.