Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Amendment 1

Part of Coronavirus Bill - Committee – in the House of Lords at 12:30 pm on 25th March 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Bethell Lord Bethell Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 12:30 pm, 25th March 2020

My Lords, I start by welcoming this amendment, which in its spirit and intention is utterly sensible, thoughtful and right. I would like to speak on it in a way that reassures the House that the intention of the amendment and the many speeches in the Chamber today are exactly aligned with the way government is thinking and in which we have sought to build the Bill.

I also echo the many noble Lords who have mentioned the speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson. Who could not have been moved by both the emotional way in which she explained herself and the very real and tangible anxiety of people—particularly in the disabled community, but anyone who depends on local authority services—who must feel incredibly vulnerable and worried that their affairs may not be given the priority they deserve, and may feel exposed and anxious about the future? That testimony was incredibly powerful and moving. It was taken to heart.

I also say a big thank you to all those who have engaged with us as we have drafted the Bill at pace, both at a senior level from major organisations such as the LGA and smaller ones and stakeholders. I assure the House that we absolutely are listening to groups that have concerns about provisions for their stakeholders. We have our ears open. The Government’s whole “protect life” strategy is shaped around an absolute priority of trying to save the lives, affairs and futures of the most vulnerable in our society. These provisions are here not because we want to leave anyone behind but because we want to enable local authorities to make the decisions they need to in order to make a fair, pragmatic and sensible distribution and prioritisation. It is our hope that these provisions will never come into play and that the commitment of resources we have made into the local authority area will see a generous and sensible provision for all those most vulnerable in society.

I will take just a moment to outline a few provisions that are in place, to reassure the House that we are not in any way removing all safeguards. For instance, I assure noble Lords that the Care Quality Commission will continue to provide independent expert regulation of health and care providers. It has already announced arrangements for a proportionate approach to ensuring standards of care over the coming period. We have published an ethical framework to provide support to ongoing response planning and decision-making. This sets out a clear set of principles and behaviours when challenging decisions on how to redirect resources where they are most needed and how to prioritise individual care.

We are working closely with the sector on additional guidance to ensure that procedures and prioritisation of needs operate in the best way possible during this period. The emergency Coronavirus Bill also contains provisions allowing the Secretary of State to direct local authorities to comply with the guidance we issue.

Legislation underpinning our crucial safeguarding arrangements to protect vulnerable people from neglect or abuse remains in place. That was a point that many noble Lords made very well yesterday. We are leaving all statutory duties relating to deprivation of liberty safeguards fully in place.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Hussein-Ece, Lady Thornton and Lady Uddin, all raised the question of carers. I assure the House that we totally agree with the intent of the amendment. We need to ensure that users and carers retain a clear voice in the coming period and are able to make their concerns known. Our guidance on the Care Act changes will cover this. A national steering group is leading the sector’s preparations for Covid-19; it includes both user and carer representatives.

The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, quite rightly raised the question of commitment to democracy and oversight. I assure the House that we absolutely embrace the ongoing functioning of Parliament. While I cannot speak for the House authorities and their arrangements for Parliament, I can speak for the health department. We are introducing technology there, such as video data and home-working, at pace. We are seeing a generational transformation in working practices in the last fortnight. These arrangements have been embraced, and I expect them to be embraced in other parts of the workings of the House.

We will also continue to report on the eight-weekly cycle. The noble Baroness, Lady Watkins, and others emphasised the importance of monitoring. We will put in place structures for providing the correct kind of monitoring.

The noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, rightly emphasised the importance of civil society, which is absolutely key, while the noble Lord, Lord Hain, emphasised the importance of volunteers. I reassure the House that the Bill contains extensive arrangements for a volunteer army to be recruited in a safe, orderly and accountable way and for funding to be put in place for volunteers. The Chancellor has announced generous and important provisions for charities; the noble Lord, Lord Hain, is entirely right that they have seen their donations dry up. They need support and provision if they are to play an important role against this contagion.

I completely understand the intent of the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Scriven. We have spoken offline about his concerns, which I have taken back. I reassure him that we have worked closely with the LGA and, in its dialogue with us, its emphasis has been on financial commitment rather than changes in the law. We have made a substantial £1.6 billion commitment but we will keep the question of legal changes under review.

The noble Baroness, Lady McDonagh, mentioned PPE, which although it lies to one side of this amendment is of concern to us all. I reassure the Chamber that a massive global procurement programme is in place. Distribution of existing PPE stocks is happening via the Army. A hotline has been issued to all front-line workers in the NHS and social care. We are moving fast and impactfully on that situation.

Lastly, we should not overlook Wales. The Welsh parliament has considered every question of this Bill and has signed off its legislative consent Motion. I am extremely grateful to Vaughan Gething, the Minister for Health and Social Services in the Welsh parliament, for his support.

For those reasons, I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.