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Mr. Richard Benyon (Newbury) (Con): Obviously, our primary concern has been the needs and worries of victims, but may I give a perspective as an ex-member of the security forces who spent several years in Northern Ireland? What I and other people in my position found so offensive about the Bill is the degree of equivalence that it gave current and former members of security forces and terrorists. If the Secretary of State undertakes this process in future, will he consider the fact that, when we in the House send troops or ask the police to play a role in such a difficult environment, we are sometimes asking a nearly impossible thing? An 18-year-old soldier, Private Ian Thain, in the sister regiment to the one in which I served was convicted of murder in the 1980s, when he had to take an instant decision but took the wrong one. There must be an understanding that what we are asking the security forces to do in those circumstances is incredibly difficult. There must be that caveat if the Secretary of State or the Government wish to take this matter further.
Mr. Hain: The hon. Gentleman puts his finger on a very important part of the Billas I said in response to the hon. Member for Aylesburybut we cannot have one-sided justice. Those in Sinn Fein wanted one-sided justice. They did not want the security forces to be covered by the Bill, but I insisted that they should be, and then what transpired, transpired. Equally, I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman says about a degree of equivalence. What we are trying to do is to draw a line under the past. If people committed criminal offences, even as members of the security forcesthe hon. Gentleman mentioned the difficult circumstances, the instant decisions and all the rest of itand although they might have acted in good faith, some would say that they must account for that. Under the Bill, that would have applied to former terrorists as well. As part of the process of bringing Northern Ireland together to face the future together, we must have some give and take; otherwise, we will find that one set of victims are passionately angry and that the others are reconciled. That cannot be the basis on which to proceed.
Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh) (Con):
As one of many Opposition Members who was genuinely angered by the introduction of the Bill, may I genuinely welcome the
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Secretary of State's decision to withdraw it, which will be as popular with victims' families and the military as it has been throughout the House this afternoon? He has eventually done the right thing. May I press him on the talks? Does he accept that the history of our nation, not least of the House itself, demonstrates time and again that appeasement does not work? Will he bear that in mind in the inevitable brokering role that he will undertake on behalf of the British Government when all parties are brought around the table to try to find a way forward?
Mr. Hain: May I, first, thank the hon. Gentleman for what he said about the withdrawal of the Bill? I am not so sure that all members of the military will be cheering in the streets, because the very few of them who may be convicted of offences in the future will have no protection as a result of the withdrawal of the Bill. However, I caution him about using terms such as "appeasement". That is the language of the past. The Conservative Government under Margaret Thatcher and certainly under John Major, to give them their due, started the process of talking to republicans and negotiating with the IRA. He may call that appeasement, but it has produced the circumstances in which the IRA has now given up its war and the negotiations that followed. Northern Ireland is now more stable, more peaceful and has more prosperity and more jobs than ever before in its history, and the hon. Gentleman ought to give some credit to the Governments and politicians who have shown courage in bringing that about.
Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): May I pay tribute to the Minister of State, who conducted himself with dignity and honour in Committee? I did not realise that 27 hours were spent in CommitteeI thought that it was perhaps a bit longer than thatbut I am pleased that the Government have finally adhered to all the arguments advanced in Committee.
The Secretary of State referred to South Africa. I bow to his senior knowledge on the subject. I visited the place very recently and learned about the truth and reconciliation process, and it is clear that there was some form of closure for the victims. I am afraid that the Bill
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did not go anywhere near that for the victims in Northern Ireland: all it provided was simply a get-out-of-jail-free card for the terrorists themselves.How does all this leave the Bloody Sunday inquiry, which I understand has cost the taxpayer about £300 million?
Mr. Hain: I do not think that that is the cost, but the Bloody Sunday inquiry must proceedof course, it mustas must other inquiries. I agree that my hon. Friend the Minister of State behaved with dignity and honour. Many of those who passionately opposed the Bill have echoed that. The hon. Gentleman must take account of the South African situation, where people suffered many times more than even during the darkest times in Northern Ireland and in greater numbers. They have found a way to reconcile their past together, and it has involved forgiveness and coming together, which must occur in Northern Ireland, too.
Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): May I also welcome the Secretary of State's change of heart? Regardless of the route to his conversion, we all welcome the fact that he is now doing the right thing, as he describes it. Of course, for people in Northern Ireland, the right thing would have been never to introduce the Bill in the first place. Does he know whether the Irish Government intend to withdraw their proposals for on-the-runs in their jurisdiction? Will he indicate whether or not it will be a requirement for participation in the Government of Northern Ireland that, to use his own words, there is unequivocal support for the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the rule of law?
Mr. Hain: I was not trying to set a new precondition for anything; I was just saying that, to govern effectively and for self-government to operate effectively, elected representatives and, indeed, Ministers must respect the rule of law. We must have that and, indeed, great progress has been made in that direction.
As for the Irish Government, I was talking to the Irish Foreign Minister yesterday and discussing these matters. I speak for a number of different responsibilities in the House, but one of them is not the Irish Government.
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Mrs. Nadine Dorries (Mid-Bedfordshire) (Con): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Today, the Secretary of State for Education and Skills has made a written statement to the House about children and vulnerable adults. Would it not have been more appropriate for the Secretary of State to come to the House to give an oral statement about how and why a sex offender was allowed to work with vulnerable children?
Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Clearly, whether the Secretary of State chooses to make a written or an oral statement is up to her. I understand that there are Education questions tomorrow and perhaps the hon. Lady may wish to raise the matter then.
Mr. Jim Murphy, supported by Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Secretary Straw, Mr. Secretary Darling, Mr. Secretary Hutton, Bill Rammell and Jane Kennedy, presented a Bill to enable provision to be made for the purpose of reforming legislation and implementing recommendations of the Law Commission, the Scottish Law Commission and the Northern Ireland Law Commission; to make provision about the exercise of regulatory functions; to make provision about the interpretation of legislation relating to the European Communities and the European Economic Area; to make provision relating to section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972; and for connected purposes. And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed [Bill 111].
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Human Rights Act 1998 to extend the definition of public authority to include any body that is regulated under the Care Standards Act; to provide for clear nutritional standards to apply in all establishments providing care for older people; to place certain duties on the Food Standards Agency; to make provision in relation to mentally incapacitated persons; to confer new functions on local authorities in relation to persons in need of care or protection; and for connected purposes.
I suspect that the name Victoria Climbié will be well known to hon. Members on both sides of the House, but the name Margaret Panting may not be so well known. What is the difference between them? Victoria's tragic death convulsed the child protection system, resulted in two criminal prosecutions, led to the Laming inquiry and the Children Act 2004. Margaret's death did not even result in anyone being charged for the 49 injuries on her body, including razor blade cuts and cigarette burns. The difference between Victoria and Margaret was 70 years.
The purpose of my Bill, first and foremost, is to safeguard vulnerable older people from abuse and neglect. My Bill comes in three parts. Part 1 seeks to close a loophole in the Human Rights Act 1998. Thanks to the way in which the courts have interpreted the meaning of "public authorities" under section 6 of the Act, when someone crosses the threshold of a privately run care home the writ of the Human Rights Act does not run. Quite simply there is a protection gap, and it is the old and the vulnerable who are falling through the gap.
When older people are neglected or mistreated in a care home, when relatives are told they cannot visit because they ask awkward questions, when a married couple are told that, against their wishes, they cannot stay in the same care home and when an older person is evicted from a care home, it is rarely seen as a human rights issue, but often a case of poor practice or standards. Yes, of course standards matter, but first and foremost those are violations of a person's human rights. Such a restrictive interpretation of the Act is not what Parliament or the Government wanted, yet that is what has happened.
As many as nine out of 10 care homes are operated by private organisations. Two thirds of people living in those homes are paid for by local councils. Despite the legal duty on public authorities under the National Assistance Act 1948, the Human Rights Act does not apply. Privately run care homes are not public authorities. The rights of people who pay for themselves are even more at risk. They do not even have the possibility of a vigilant local authority using its contracting muscle to safeguard their dignity and welfare. The Joint Committee on Human Rights concluded more than two years ago that the courts should be interpreting the Human Rights Act more widely. It said:
"We urge the Government to intervene in the public interest as a third party in cases where it can press the case for a broad, functional interpretation of the meaning of public authority under the Human Rights Act."
Two years on, little has changed. The Government have not stepped in to put matters straight. They have not tried to amend the Act. As the law stands, two people can receive broadly the same serviceone in a council home and the other in a private homeyet not enjoy equal protection under the law. My Bill would ensure that there would be such equal protection.
Part 2 of my Bill deals with nutrition in care homes. It is a scandal that in the 21st century, elderly people in care are starving to death. The facts speak for themselves. One in 10 care home residents lose up to 5 per cent. of their body weight within a month of being admitted to a home and 10 per cent. of their body weight within six months of admission. Much malnutrition goes undetected, but it is clear from even the available research that malnutrition in care homes is at epidemic levels. According to research by The British Association for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition, more than one in five residents in care homes are malnourished, which means that there are 44,000 older people who are the victims of malnutrition today in England alone.
The personal cost of such poor treatment is incalculable and unacceptable. The cost to the taxpayer of treating malnutrition in long-term care has been estimated at £2.6 billion a year, which is a shocking waste. According to figures from the Commission for Social Care Inspection, almost one in five care homes in England fail to meet the most minimal of national standards for meals and mealtimes.
Since publicising my intention to bring in the Bill, I have received many messages of support from residents and the relatives of residents who have been neglected in care homes, care home cooks who have experienced bad and good care homes and have offered help with menu ideas, and health professionals who have shared their concerns about patients who have been starved in care homes. One lady reported that her mother was nearly starved to death while she was a resident in a care home. Like many of the other residents at the care home, the elderly lady suffered from dementia and needed help with feeding, but none was provided. Residents were left to fend for themselves and relatives were banned from the dining area. When news came that the care home was to be closed, conditions deteriorated further. Residents were forced to live on a diet of Angel Delight and beans on toastsometimes pilchards on toast. Residents were left for up to 16 hours between meals because the cooks went home at 4 pm. When the manager was asked what the residents could eat at night, he told relatives that there was a pot of fish paste in the fridge. Fortunately, when the lady moved to a new home, the care that she received was so much better that she put on a stone in a month.
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Unlike the standards that are to be introduced in schools, the standards for care homes say next to nothing about nutrition. The Government have rightly decided to implement nutrient-based standards for school meals and it is time that they did the same for care homes. My Bill would put in place such nutrient standards.
The third and final part of my Bill would give local authorities the task of investigating alleged abuse and the teeth to protect vulnerable adults. The Health Committee reported on elder abuse in 2004. It struggled at that time to get an accurate fix on the scale of the problem because official figures simply do not exist. However, the Committee heard evidence that there could be as many as 500,000 elderly people being abused in the UK at any one time. What do I mean by abuse? I am talking about theft, imprisonment, mental and physical torture and even rape. I am talking about care homes misusing drugs to make managing older people easier due to a culture in which the convenience of staff comes ahead of the needs of residents. I am talking about maltreatment and neglect that denies vulnerable older people their dignity and sometimes even their lives.
More than a decade ago, the Law Commission said that the law to protect vulnerable people who were at risk of harm was outdated and ineffectiveit still is. My Bill would place a duty on local authorities to investigate when they have reason to believe that a vulnerable person is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm or serious exploitation.
The House must not wait for an elder abuse scandal to hit our national headlines. It is essential that we have action now on basic rights, proper nutrition and protection from harm. They are essentials, not luxuries, so I commend the Bill to the House.
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