Safeguarding Adults with Learning Disabilities — [Phil Wilson in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:33 pm on 17th October 2017.

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Photo of Jackie Doyle-Price Jackie Doyle-Price The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health 3:33 pm, 17th October 2017

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Wilson. I join everyone else in paying tribute to the dignified and passionate way in which Catherine McKinnell outlined her case. It is truly heartbreaking. Lee’s mother is watching today. She put her trust in the institutions of the state to care for her son, and we failed her. It should never have happened, and for that I am truly, truly sorry. I give the hon. Lady and Bev my commitment that I will take lessons from this. I hope the hon. Lady will act as my conscience in ensuring that I do so. The issues highlighted across the Chamber today need to be acted upon, to ensure that we do our best by all our constituents.

I was struck by the way that the hon. Lady talked more generally about people with learning disabilities. It is, frankly, the reason we all get involved in politics—we get involved in politics when we see the state failing and to make sure we do the best for everyone in society and for the people we can see being failed. I do not think that any group is failed more than people with learning disabilities. They have potential and the ability to live independently, but all too often they have been parked. My hon. Friends the Members for Henley (John Howell) and for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) outlined examples of where, with some support, people with learning disabilities can lead very productive lives, but it requires support and investment. Sadly, that is not always forthcoming, and without it, they are very vulnerable, as this tragic case all too clearly illustrates. We owe it to them and to ourselves, in order to make the best of society, to do all we can to help people with learning disabilities to live independent lives.

We need to do more to tackle the whole issue of prejudice. The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North said she has been very persistent in trying to secure this debate, but perhaps it is fitting that the debate is happening in the middle of National Hate Crime Awareness Week. That is the perfect backdrop against which to address her case. It is fair to say that we are still early in the day when it comes to hate crime prosecution. There is slowness in reporting all hate crime, and suddenly people have become more aware.

People with learning disabilities are generally victims of quite widely held prejudice. It is not just the fact that they are targeted because of their disability; the agencies that should support them do not necessarily give them the support they need because of their disability. We have seen across the board, in so many examples of abuse, that particular social groups who are not the best at representing themselves do not always get a fair deal at the hands of the organisations that support them. We should look at that under the umbrella of hate crime, but it is slightly different; it is about prejudice more generally that we can all help to tackle. It is a very real inequality that we are tackling.

Central to our job as Members of Parliament is supporting people who have been victims of maladministration and who are not getting enough support from the state. In many cases, that is people with learning disabilities. I have always found that some of the most rewarding work I do as a Member of Parliament is in supporting people with learning disabilities. It is also the most inspiring, and it is great to see the enthusiasm that my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon referred to.

Unfortunately the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, my hon. Friend Penny Mordaunt, is no longer in her place, but the fact that she was here is testimony to her support for this work. We are very keen that people with learning disabilities receive more attention. I give the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North that commitment, and we will continue to engage with her as this work develops.

I agree with the hon. Lady that people with learning disabilities are among the most vulnerable in our society, and it is the responsibility of all of us to protect them from risk. I will not pretend that we have got this perfect—there is a hell of a lot more to do. There has been significant progress in identifying and managing risk, but it is not consistent, and there are too many occasions when it just does not happen.

The hon. Lady articulated clear views on a specific case of hate crime. She will appreciate that that falls outside my bailiwick, but I will make a few observations, in so far as I can without treading on other Departments’ toes. As she said, the judge concluded that hate was not a factor in the motivation behind the crime. That is a matter for the courts, and it is for them to interpret, but I come back to the issue of prejudice. That case throws up a number of issues that we all need to be more vigilant about. We know that people with learning disabilities are very vulnerable to bad people, and bad people will find vulnerable people to prey on. I am aware that young women with learning disabilities are often preyed upon sexually, which is a real hidden issue that we need to think about. There is also the whole issue of modern slavery. People with learning disabilities are often subject to that. In this case, Lee was obviously being exploited financially by the people who murdered him.