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Mental Capacity (Amendment) Bill [HL] - Committee (3rd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:45 pm on 22nd October 2018.

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Photo of Lord O'Shaughnessy Lord O'Shaughnessy The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care 8:45 pm, 22nd October 2018

I am grateful to the noble Baronesses and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for tabling amendments in this group. I am very aware of the complexity of this issue. For a lay person such as me, some of the terminology can be confusing. I will do my level best to be as clear as humanly possible, but if I fail in that endeavour I will write to noble Lords and explain better what I am attempting to explain now.

The effect of Amendment 83, as the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, said, would be to confirm in law that a donee of a lasting power of attorney or a deputy appointed by the Court of Protection was unable to consent on a person’s behalf to a deprivation of liberty. If they could provide such consent, the person would not be considered to be deprived of their liberty and no safeguards would need to be provided.

The Law Commission report stated that it was already the position in law that a donee or deputy could not consent to a deprivation of liberty. We confirmed in our response to the Law Commission’s report that the Government agreed with its view on the current legal position, and the Bill does not change the current situation. While the Bill creates a duty to consult with any donee of the lasting power of attorney or a deputy, it does not enable a donee or deputy to consent to the deprivation of liberty on behalf of the cared-for person. In other words, under this Bill the cared-for person would still be deprived of their liberty in those circumstances and would still need to be provided with safeguards to satisfy Article 5, which is of course the whole purpose of DoLS and liberty protection safeguards. In that sense the amendment, with which we agree, would serve only to duplicate existing legislation and is not necessary. I hope I have provided an adequate explanation to noble Lords, but obviously I am willing to set out in more detail exactly why we believe the current situation is not changed by the Bill as it stands.

I turn to the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay. Amendment 83ZA would require the Office of the Public Guardian to provide documentation, which may be in electronic form, to identify the donor and donee or donees of a lasting power of attorney and to recall the documentation if the donee’s power is revoked. As the noble Baroness pointed out, this is designed to make it easier for attorneys to provide proof of the existence of a registered LPA. It is right that there ought to be a robust system of proving that there is a valid power. My understanding is that the Ministry of Justice and the Office of the Public Guardian are actively considering how to offer a digital means of providing evidence of a valid LPA, and we expect to bring forward proposals in due course. I am happy to pursue that further with colleagues in that department and that office to understand greater details of their plans and to share those with noble Lords if they are forthcoming, which I hope that they will be.

Amendment 87E, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, would allow the donee of a lasting power of attorney to nominate someone to replace them if they were no longer able to fulfil their duties—I think that means if the lasting power of attorney was no longer able to fulfil their duties—while Amendment 87G would allow a replacement attorney to be nominated by the donor at the time of registering the LPA to take over the power if the donor decides to remove the power from the donee.

I do not need to reiterate to noble Lords just how critical it is to get the law and the rules in this area right; as the noble Baroness, Lady Watkins, pointed out, the rules around this would not apply only to this Bill. It is worth pointing out that there is provision in the original Mental Capacity Act to allow a person making a lasting power of attorney to nominate a replacement in the event that their attorney is unable to continue, but I think the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, was getting at is that there is a slight chicken and egg situation here: at the point where they no longer have capacity but the person whom they have previously appointed is no longer able to fulfil their role or the cared-for person no longer wants them to do so, they cannot go back in a time machine and appoint someone else—in other words, they cannot know what they do not know. I have just made things really clear by getting all Donald Rumsfeld about it all.

Having said all that, I want to consider if there is a way of unlocking that paradox, but clearly the implications of that would go well beyond the remit of what we are discussing here. I do not want to make any promises that it is not in my power to keep. I would appreciate the opportunity to explore this further so that we can consider how to give the donor more opportunities to have a sense of choice and agency as they think ahead to the future. I would have thought that we must be able to provide for that without creating extra complications. I look forward to taking that up with the noble Baroness and other noble Lords who are interested in the topic. On that basis, I hope the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.