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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords—I keep saying “noble Lords” but it has really been noble Baronesses, so I will switch my language—who have both tabled amendments in this group and spoken to them.
Before I come to the substance of the amendments, I shall say two things. First, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, that there is an urgency. To use the words of the Local Government Association, “the current system is unable to ensure there is adequate protection for human rights”. That is the reality of the situation that we find ourselves in at the moment.
Secondly, views about the perfection or otherwise of the Bill will vary across the House, but I hope that in the two days of Committee prior to this one I was able to demonstrate that the department and Ministers are absolutely committed to improving the Bill in any way that we can during its passage through Parliament, especially in this House where there are so many experts. I really think we have made some progress. I realise that that will not be enough to satisfy everyone and there is clearly much more to come—care home managers are clearly a big area of work that we need to focus on—but we have made some progress. I encourage noble Lords to continue in that mindset because I think we can reach a good outcome that deals with the fact that, as Age UK says, the system leaves,
“many highly vulnerable older people languishing without any legal protection at all”,
something none of us can accept. We stand ready to undertake that work, as noble Lords know, and I know they do so too.
I turn to the amendments in this group. Amendment 55, tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Barker and Lady Tyler, outlines the circumstances in which an authorisation ceases to have effect, particularly noting that authorisations should end if they conflict with a valid decision of a court-appointed deputy or a donee of a lasting power of attorney. The amendment also states that an authorisation would not cease to have an effect if a person’s capacity fluctuated, and would create regulation-making powers to define what constitutes fluctuating capacity.
Section 6(6) of the Mental Capacity Act already provides that action cannot be taken that conflicts with a lasting power of attorney or a deputy’s valid decision, and I can confirm that the Bill does not change that. This means that an authorisation can only be given if it is accordance with a valid decision, so I hope I have provided reassurance on that front.
I can also confirm that if it emerges that an authorisation conflicts with a decision of a donee of a lasting power of attorney or by a court-appointed deputy, a review should be arranged under paragraph 31 of the Schedule. In particular, it will need to be considered if the attorney or deputy has valid and applicable powers to make this decision, and if the deprivation of liberty authorisation continues to be necessary. That means that in the event of such a conflict, the authorisation ceases to have effect. I hope that provides reassurance to the noble Baronesses on that point.
The noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, focused particularly on fluctuating capacity. I agree that an authorisation should not necessarily cease to have effect if a person’s capacity fluctuates and there are short periods of lucidity. That is currently the case under the DoLS system and I can confirm that it will continue under the liberty protections safeguards. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, brought to life, it is very difficult to define either “fluctuating” or “short”, particularly in legislation. For that reason, we do not think regulation-making powers are appropriate; we believe this would be better dealt with through a code of practice, which would allow for more detail and more regular updating but would also allow the use of case studies to bring examples to life. We plan to give much more detailed guidance in the new code of practice, and I reassure noble Lords that we will be working with the sector in order to produce it.
Amendments 56 and 58 from the noble Baronesses, Lady Barker and Lady Tyler, relate to the thorny issue of the interaction between mental health and mental capacity legislation. They would mean that an authorisation had effect in relation to arrangements that were not in accordance with mental health requirements. As noble Lords know, mental health requirements are conditions placed on Mental Health Act patients living in the community. Currently, DoLS authorisations no longer have effect if a person is subject to arrangements or conditions under the Mental Health Act and that authorisation would be in conflict. This means that the terms of a DoLS authorisation cannot conflict with those of, for example, Section 17 leave of absences. The Bill has been drafted to reflect the interaction that currently exists between the Mental Health Act and the Mental Capacity Act.
The review of the Mental Health Act has been mentioned in this debate. The review, chaired by Sir Simon Wessely, has been considering, among other things, the interaction between these two pieces of legislation. I know the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, has sincere concerns about the nature of that interaction and about why we are bringing forward this legislation now. My short answer is that urgent reform is needed for the reasons that we have set out, including the quotes that I have given. The contribution from the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, was helpful, and I have put in my notes that I need to speak to Sir Simon Wessely myself to understand his perspective. However, if I have understood correctly, regardless of the timing of his report, the process of implementing his proposals will take some time to do properly. In our view, it is not right to wait until that has been perfected before we try to deal with many of the issues under consideration in the Bill in the light of the current inefficiencies of the DoLS system. It is for that reason that we want to push ahead. As I have said, I will take it upon myself to speak to Sir Simon Wessely and get a real understanding of his expectations on timing, and to try to understand from his point of view the scale of the interaction between these two pieces of legislation so that we really know what is at stake.
I think the noble Baroness herself said that the amendments are essentially probing. She will know that the effect of them would be that two authorisations could be live at the same time. I am confident that that is not what she is proposing, not least because it would have the perverse effect of requiring people to be in two places at once, so I know she was using this as an opportunity to discuss this question. As I said, it is important that we move ahead for the reasons that we have discussed, notwithstanding that the Government will of course consider incredibly carefully the findings in Sir Simon Wessely’s report and what action is required to implement his recommendations.
On a couple of occasions the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, referred to the consideration of harm to others. I am told that harm to others can be considered under the current DoLS system, so what is proposed is not a change from the current system. However, I will pick that point up with her offline so that we can really get to the bottom of it and ensure complete clarity to a degree that satisfies her. I hope that on that basis, the noble Baroness feels able to withdraw the amendment, and I look forward to discussing more of these issues throughout the evening.