Yes, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Of course, there have been reforms since the period that he has referred to. I am afraid to say, however, that although those reforms were introduced by the previous Government—I accept that—as far as I can see they are not bringing genuine change and genuine service to the public. The Office of the Public Guardian should offer genuine service to the public, but from the evidence of my dealings with it, I must say that it has certainly not done that.
It is significant that, in previously advising my constituent that she could apply to the court at her own expense, the Public Guardian did not advise her that it was also within his power to do so. Eight months after the promise of “a swift resolution”, the Public Guardian advised for the first time that the deputy was not accepting responsibility for the shared costs and that he himself was not prepared to act to remove the deputy.
In a separate letter of the same date, the Public Guardian said that he had considered the appointment of a panel deputy, but he also said that that would be too costly and—unbelievably—that it would delay the sale of the flat, after all the delay that there had already been.
Another 16 months on, we are no further forward. My constituent is considerably out of pocket. Seasons change and Governments come and go; regimes fall; media empires crumble; but still the “swift” progress promised by the Office of the Public Guardian has been slower than the progress of a glacier.
By February 2011, as the Minister well knows, we had a new Government in place; in fact, it had been in office by then for a period of nine months. In this new era, I wrote again to the Public Guardian. My constituent had had to shell out a few more thousand pounds in the meantime to prevent the property being embargoed. I asked the Public Guardian how it could possibly be in the interests of Mr F to allow this situation to continue. I pointed out that another buyer from the UK had been lost because they were not prepared to wait for all the paperwork issues to be resolved. I suggested that the inaction of the Office of the Public Guardian was tantamount to maladministration. I understand that Duncan Hames may already have taken a case to the ombudsman or that he has a case in progress with the ombudsman.