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The study found, as a top line, that 342,000 people over the age of 66 are victims of one form of abuse or
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another. I am talking about things such as fraud or theft; psychological or emotional abuse; assault, including the use of restraint, ranging from physical restraint to the use of chemical restraints; and even rape. When we drill down into that figure of 342,000, we find that 105,000 people suffered 10 or more instances of neglect and that 42,500 people were the victims of sexual abuse. Furthermore, if we look at how the research was done, we see that it excludes everyone in care homes and anyone in the community with dementia. So although the figure is disturbing—342,000 people over the age of 66 suffer from abuse—it is not the complete picture. More of our fellow citizens suffer from abuse than the survey suggests. That is why there is an urgent need to move from a system of voluntary guidance to one in which there are legal protections for vulnerable older people.

The case that I am making is not new. That compelling case has been made for over a decade. It was made in 1995 in a Law Commission report, in 2004 by the Select Committee on Health, and this year by the Joint Committee on Human Rights. I have a concern about the Bill in the Queen’s Speech, but I hope that, even at this stage, we can use it to deal with three serious gaps. The first is a need to close the loophole in the Human Rights Act 1998 that means that private and voluntary sector-run care homes are outside the scope of the Act. Secondly, we need to give the new commission that is to be established under the legislation the power to investigate individual complaints; there is uncertainty about that. Thirdly, there should be an accessible and effective statutory procedure that protects vulnerable adults at risk of abuse.

To take the last of those three points first, the Law Commission made proposals to close the protection gap back in 1995. It said that it had no confidence in the adult protection procedures that existed at the time. The problem is that there has been no change since then. It also proposed that social services departments be given powers to protect vulnerable adults similar to those that exist for protecting children: a duty to investigate; powers for magistrates courts to issue entry warrants, temporary protection orders and removal orders; and an offence of obstructing officers acting on behalf of the court. I do not understand why, in 10 years, such sensible proposals by the Law Commission have not been enacted. The Court of Appeal acted to fill the vacuum. In 2000, the Court expressed grave concern about the obvious gap in the legal framework. Lord Justice Sedley said that the Court had to

That led to the creation of a new procedure for protecting vulnerable adults called the declaratory relief, but the courts did not intend it to be a substitute for action by Parliament. That is why the Queen’s Speech disappoints; it is yet another Queen’s Speech that misses the opportunity to act to close the gap.

It may seem odd that much clearer legislation should be needed to make it obvious that regulators of our care homes should investigate complaints about the services that they regulate, but it does appear that such legislation is needed. The Commission for Social Care Inspection said that it does not believe it has the power to investigate complaints, yet complaints are surely a
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critical part of ensuring compliance with standards through the system and of ensuring that we drive standards up, rather than accept standards below those for which the House has legislated. The Commission for Social Care Inspection is moving from a two-inspection-a-year system to a system in which there is self-assessment most of the time and in which most care homes will have an inspection once every three years.

The commission says that the responsibility for investigating individual complaints rests not with it but with local authorities. However, local authorities do not have the power to do the job that the commission says they should be doing. In particular, people who self-fund—those who pay for their care and are not funded by local authorities—seem to be excluded from any recourse.

The complaints gap leaves frail, vulnerable people with no one to turn to when things go wrong and they need to complain, except for the people who run the home. The Joint Committee on Human Rights was right to say that complaints should be investigated by an independent third party. That is what I hope the proposed legislation will ensure when it comes forward. That is one reason why I am so disappointed with the Queen’s Speech.

Finally, there is a rights gap. It is absurd that vulnerable older people in private and voluntary sector-run care homes are not within the scope of the Human Rights Act. That gap was identified by the courts five, six or seven years ago. The Act should apply in all circumstances, but it does not. It applies to council-run care homes, but if the council pays for care in a private or voluntary sector-run home, the writ of the Human Rights Act does not run once someone has crossed the threshold.

Ten years after the Government came to power, and despite the compelling case for tackling the scandal of elder abuse, we do not have a legislative framework that is fit for purpose. The Government responded to the Climbié case, which convulsed and led to a change in the child protection system, but we should not have to wait for an older person to become a victim of the tragic circumstances that led to the convulsion of that system to achieve the necessary changes to protect our seniors. The reality is that someone who is the victim of abuse at the age of 80 will probably be dead before justice is done, which cannot be right. It is surely time that Parliament did what the Law Commission recommended 10 years ago, and legislated to provide the safeguards that older people need. I hope that that is what will happen when the Queen’s Speech turns into legislation.

8.56 pm

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West) (Con): Mr. Deputy Speaker—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. The hon. Gentleman is very lucky, as I have not called his name. However, I intended to do so.

Mr. Swayne: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sorry for pre-empting you.

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We saw some extraordinary effrontery from the Prime Minister this afternoon in that great moment of theatre when he leaned across the Dispatch Box and demanded that the Leader of the Opposition intervene and answer his question. I shall paraphrase, because I have not had an opportunity to secure a copy of the report for greater accuracy: if the Leader of the Opposition came to power after the Prime Minister ratified the treaty, would he give the people of this country the referendum that the Prime Minister certainly would not give them before he ratified the treaty? Essentially, that was the question he asked, thus drawing attention to the great hole in the Queen’s Speech: the missing referendum Bill that we were promised on the European treaty by every single political party—or the three main political parties—before the last general election.

The Prime Minister’s question may have to be answered at some stage. We may have to cross that bridge if we come to it, but our focus must remain on the here and now—on the Queen’s Speech and securing a referendum in this legislative programme—and not on answering a question about what might happen if we fail, thus introducing a note of defeatism and allowing the Prime Minister off the hook by concentrating on something that may never happen. The Prime Minister is deeply embarrassed about the fact that he is not going to hold a referendum, although he said that he would and he knows that many people want one.

That goes to the heart of our problem as a political caste. I was once a schoolmaster. Boys hung on my every word and gave me respect—their grades at A-level depended on it. I moved on and took up a career in banking. Rather more than is the case these days, people had some respect for bankers and their opinions—after all, their loans might depend on it. Now, as an elected representative and a member of the professional political class, I find that I am held in utter contempt by most people whose doors I happen to darken. They turn round and say, “You’re all the same. It doesn’t matter who gets in, you break all your promises.” We cannot complain because we know that they are right to some extent. It is their perception that politicians promise all sorts of things that they have no intention of delivering, and that goes to the heart of their loss of faith in politicians. The people were promised a referendum, and now they will not have one.

In my view, a sacred principle is at stake. It was best enunciated by a former Member of this House, Tony Benn, who said that we do not dispose of power of our own in this Parliament but are merely stewards of the power of the people, which we should hand back to the people intact at the end of our sojourn. By introducing a treaty that hands over power that we cannot then return to the people of this country after we have disposed of it is to break that principle. When one contemplates breaking such a principle, it is absolutely necessary to seek the consent of the people in a referendum before doing so.

Simon Hughes: I respect many of the hon. Gentleman’s views, but he is wrong on that point, as he would discover if he were to look at the treaty. One of the interesting and important things that the treaty
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does is expressly to allow for the first time the right of a signatory country to leave the European Union, which is exactly not what he is arguing. The treaty would allow power to be taken back, if a country were to decide to take that course.

Mr. Swayne: Indeed, but at what cost? To use a simile, we are in the same position as the leaseholders of a small block of flats who think that they have a share of the freehold as well as being leaseholders but suddenly discover that, by whatever legal device or trickery, they do not have the freehold and the freeholder is about to sell the building. In that case, we might go to all sorts of lengths to announce our determination to buy back the freehold when we have the means, but that would depend on the freehold being for sale, which we cannot guarantee.

We cannot guarantee that we can reverse the provisions in the treaty, because it will require the unanimous agreement of the other members of the European Union. It is all very well saying, “There is a nuclear option. You can go,” but the British people might not want to go—they might want the status quo ante, which is an option that should be offered to them and which was pledged to them in a referendum.

We had a debate earlier in the evening, when there were rather more of us. As an aside, a number of hon. Members looked across at the expanse of green leather on the Government Benches and said how shocking and awful it was that there was no one there to speak on the Queen’s Speech, but then they went on at such great length that it might explain the expanse of green leather on the Government Benches.

Leaving that aside, when we debated the referendum the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) agreed with the Liberal Democrat position and said that the matter should be properly addressed, not by the promised referendum on the treaty but by a referendum to reaffirm our commitment to and membership of the European Union. The argument was put that the decision to join was taken a generation ago and that no one who is currently under 50 had that opportunity. I recall having that opportunity—it was my first electoral experience—and campaigning and voting in the referendum. As it happens, I campaigned and voted to withdraw from what was then the Common Market, but I accepted the decision entirely.

My son is now 18, and it is perfectly possible that he wants to reaffirm those arrangements—we cannot bind generations that follow us—but I have not detected any great enthusiasm on his part or that of his generation to reopen that question. I receive a considerable number of letters demanding that the issue be reopened, but they do not tend to come from my son’s generation—they come from rather older people who claim that they were robbed and that the whole thing has turned out to be something other than what was described. I am in the fortunate position of being able to reply that it has turned out pretty well as we said it would during that campaign.

A referendum on the whole European question poses a danger, because it takes the heat off this particular issue. We were promised a referendum on this treaty, and a referendum in which people are invited to
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reaffirm their commitment to the entire European enterprise is a very different thing. That presents a danger, because a vote for the European Union in such a referendum, which is the likely outcome, would be used to railroad all sorts of additional changes to European Union structures in the direction of ever greater union and the ever greater federalism of the European model that has developed in the past 30 years. I suggest that a much healthier check on that process would be to have a referendum on any new treaty and any increment to the arrangements.

Let us briefly examine the history of the referendum commitment that we were given. Until mid-2004, the Government insisted that the treaty was of such little consequence—only of administrative concern—that no referendum was required. Notwithstanding that, they had already negotiated the red lines; there is nothing new about the red lines. Abruptly, the Government changed their opinion, and I have no doubt that that was to take account of the likelihood of a general election in 2005 and to deny Opposition parties a campaign on the issue of the referendum.

So it was that we were promised a referendum. Of course, given the votes in the Netherlands and France, it became unnecessary because the whole process was, apparently, dead. Of course, it has turned out not to have been as dead as we had expected. Now the referendum pledge has been withdrawn because the new treaty is, apparently, so different from the previous one. We all know what Giscard d’Estaing and almost every European leader has said about the identity of the two treaties, but the Government argue that we do not need a referendum because the treaty is different for us and we have our red lines. However, the Government had their red lines when they offered us a referendum in the first place—they insisted then that the issues were not of great consequence and that they had guarantees in the form of red lines, but said that we could have a referendum anyway.

The arguments do not hold. The people of this country were promised a referendum at the last general election; now that the treaty has been negotiated, there should be a referendum Bill in the Queen’s Speech. That there is not is a gross betrayal of trust.

9.7 pm

Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): I am grateful for this opportunity to contribute to the first day’s debate on the Queen’s Speech. A number of themes have run through the debate; one has been about the nature of devolution and the constitution.

There are worrying aspects to how the devolution settlement is working. I have worked for devolution for years, but only on the basis that it would sustain and strengthen the Union. However, as we look towards the north of the UK, we see a Government determined for independence and separation. I find that tendency dangerous; it would be damaging not only for Scotland, but for England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

In Wales, I see an appetite for further powers to be devolved to the Welsh Assembly, and I hope that they are. However, I see no appetite for independence. It will be interesting to see whether the discussions in Scotland show an appetite for independence.

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Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): The hon. Gentleman refers accurately to the appetite or lack of it for independence in the various regions of the United Kingdom. Does he accept that recent opinion polls indicate that although the political establishment in Scotland may be moving in a particular direction, the people of Scotland do not seem to be following that lead?

Mr. Williams: I accept the hon. Gentleman’s point. Opinion polls in Scotland and Wales show little desire or appetite for breaking up the United Kingdom.

I wish to say a few words reflecting our concerns about emissions. The Queen’s Speech lacks a clear green vision for the United Kingdom and for Wales. For Welsh Liberal Democrats, it is also lacking in terms of action on social justice and devolving more powers to the Welsh Assembly. This Queen’s Speech, arguably more than any other, should have been a green Queen’s Speech, but it has all the hallmarks of a tired and faded Brown Queen’s Speech. As the Government climb down on their existing renewables targets, the announcement of the draft Climate Change Bill, while welcome, is in danger of ringing hollow. A year ago, the Environment Secretary told us that the Government were committed to generating 20 per cent. of electricity from renewable sources by 2020; now we are told that the real figure is likely to be between 10 and 15 per cent. When the Government treat their targets with such flippancy, how can we have faith in them to deliver a meaningful Climate Change Bill? The Bill proposes five-year targets which are not legally enforceable. That was criticised for not being tough enough by the Committees that reviewed it. If we are to see real action to reduce carbon emissions, the Bill must introduce measurable and tough annual targets, and Ministers must work with the Governments in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast to ensure that every nation and region of the UK can make its full contribution.

The Minister for Competitiveness (Mr. Stephen Timms): I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of tackling climate change, but in his comment about the renewables targets he confused two different things. The target for renewable generation of electricity is one thing, and our commitments on that stand, but he is talking about the likely proportion of all energy renewably generated, which is rather different.

Mr. Williams: I thank the Minister; I probably did not express it as eloquently as I could. However, it is still disappointing that the Government have reduced the target for the total amount of energy that will be generated by renewable sources.

Simon Hughes: We can have party political debates about these things, but out there in normal Britain, where people are concerned about these things, there is genuine disappointment and anger about that change of ambition. People who are environmentally conscious—not necessarily green activists but those who thought that there was a different mood—feel terribly let down by a Labour Government who have backed off from what was the right long-term strategic energy commitment.

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Mr. Williams: Indeed. Citizens throughout the nation are intent on playing their part in contributing to the control of carbon emissions, and when they see the Government backing down on their targets they feel that they have been let down.

The Government have been forced by the High Court to consult twice on the energy White Paper, and environmental groups still have major concerns about the second consultation document, which has been accused of misleading the public over radioactive waste. By the time that the two Welsh nuclear power stations are fully decommissioned, they will have generated 150,000 cu m of radioactive waste in Wales alone—enough to fill 60 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Decisions will have to be made on where to store all that waste. Nuclear power is still unproven as regards waste disposal and whether it can be brought on quickly enough to combat climate change. It is a waste of money when compared with genuinely sustainable and clean forms of electricity generation. Putting millions of pounds into new nuclear power stations will stifle the growth of renewables, in which we need to see greater investment. We want an energy Bill that gives Wales a chance to say no to nuclear. The National Assembly should have the power to decide on new power projects and the Government should listen to the requests of the Assembly and have the courage to devolve that power to it. The Assembly should also have the power to put in place tougher building regulations in Wales to ensure that all new build must be built to higher levels of energy efficiency. I look forward to seeing such provisions in the Bill when it is published.

The Queen’s Speech presented many other opportunities to devolve power to the National Assembly, but sadly it looks as though the Government plan to ignore them. The planning reform Bill is one such opportunity. As I understand it, the Bill will take planning decisions on major developments, such as new power stations and large-scale renewable energy developments, away from UK Ministers and put them in the hands of an infrastructure planning commission. The commission is likely to have two or three members from Wales, but decisions will still be made outside the country by an unelected, appointed body—a quango. Labour in Westminster has effectively ignored the request from the Assembly to devolve decisions on large energy projects. Where is Labour’s commitment to devolution and local decision making?

Yet again, it is a major disappointment that there is no marine Bill in the Queen’s Speech. We have been promised a Bill since 2002, and it was a manifesto commitment in 2005. Ministers finally published a White Paper in March, and progress is painfully slow. Labour has had plenty of time to get a Bill ready for the Queen’s Speech, but it looks as though, yet again, we will see only a draft Bill, rather than the real thing. A marine Bill could devolve marine planning to the Assembly, creating a single spatial planning system so that Wales can make full use of its offshore energy potential and unique areas such as Cardigan bay get the environmental protection that they deserve.

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