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In March, the Government formally launched a much-delayed review of the housing revenue accounts subsidy system. I have been talking to the chair of the Sutton
Federation of Tenants and Residents Associations, Jean Crossby, about the subject. She is working very hard with tenants in the borough and with tenants organisations around the country to challenge this iniquitous tax. She has pointed out that the Government are failing to engage seriously with tenants as part of the review. For example, I understand that here in London a handful of tenants will be involved in the review process. Surely more must be done to ensure that tenants can have a real say about the future financing of public housing. I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will be able to give the House some assurances about the extent to which the tenants voice will truly be heard in this process and, at the very least, will pass on those concerns to the Minister for Housing.
Finally, I want to raise my continuing concern about the arrangements we have in this country for the protection of vulnerable adults and older people. Over the past 10 years, I have drawn to the attention of the Government and the House the mounting evidence of the abusive and inappropriate prescribing of anti-psychotic drugs to older people with dementia in care homes. In doing so, I have often outraged some care home owners, but I think that it is right to raise these concerns because it is right to draw attention to the academic research evidence, which is becoming compelling.
At any one time, about 100,000 older people in care homes are on those drugs, which are not licensed for the treatment of dementia, have adverse side effects, increase the risk of strokes and even bring on premature death. The prolonged use of those drugs on some of the most vulnerable people in our society is nothing less than restraint by chemical straitjacket.
Change is long overdue. The Department of Health, medicine licensing authorities, the care regulator, the General Medical Council and care providers all have a part to play in rooting out bad practice and protecting the vulnerable. Elder abuse is a serious matter in this country. Government-funded research found that 342,000 people over the age of 66 are victims of one form of abuse or another, including fraud, theft, psychological or emotional abuse, and assault, including the use of restraint. High hurdles had to be clambered over in order to register as a victim of abuse in the study, and many people were excluded altogether, such as those in care homes or those with dementia who live in the community. They were not approached or included in any way in the result.
It must be likely that the studys figures are a conservative estimate of the scale of the problem and the challenge that we still have to confront. It is a challenge that the Law Commission asked us to confront in 1995. It said that it had no confidence in the adult protection procedures that existed at that time, but although there have been a number of welcome piecemeal adaptations to the system since then, they are not sufficient to meet the concerns that the Law Commission flagged up so long ago.
The Law Commission proposed that social services departments should be given powers to protect vulnerable adults similar to those that exist for child protection and a duty to investigate; that powers should be granted for magistrates to issue entry warrants, temporary protection orders and removal orders; and that an offence should be created of obstructing officers acting on behalf of the courts. Rather than acting on those recommendations, the Government chose to go down the guidance route.
In 2000, they issued guidance called No Secrets. The evidence is that No Secrets has failed to gain the necessary traction and acceptance in local authorities and other agencies, and as a result its implementation has been piecemeal and patchy.
Protection of Vulnerable Adults work is currently supported by the No Secrets guidance which has Section 7 status but no ring-fenced finances. This has hampered efforts to develop Protection of Vulnerable Adults policies, procedures and systems consistently and coherently. Many of the inconsistencies in practice and procedure highlighted throughout this report can be attributed directly or indirectly to its perceived lack of status, and the lack of priority in the NHS.
The report went on to recommend that the protection of vulnerable adults be placed on a statutory basis equivalent to that for child protection and domestic violence. The report and its recommendations were produced in March 2006. The fact that the Government funded the research in the first place was welcome, but it took two years for them to come back and announce, as they did in March, that they will have a review of No Secrets that will consider the case for legislation. I suppose that that should be welcomed, but it has taken 13 yearsand that is not good enough.
When the circumstances surrounding the death of Victoria Climbié emerged, they convulsed the child protection system and galvanised the Government to legislate and to work with others to drive change in the child protection system. Although no system in which humans are involved will ever be perfect, there has been significant improvement in this countrys child protection system. It should not take a similar shock to the adult protection system to achieve long overdue reform and action. I hope that legislative time will be found to enact the Law Commissions proposals or similar ones. Thirteen years is far too long to wait.
In conclusion, the future of the Henderson hospital is in limbo as a result of a dysfunctional funding system. Council tenants in my constituency are paying 37p of every pound of rent as a tenant tax to the Treasury. The frail and the vulnerable are protected by a system found to be unfit for purpose more than a decade ago. The message from my constituents to the Government is that it is time for dither and delay to end. It is time that the Government put those things right. Although I enter into the spirit of things by wishing all colleagues a good Whitsun recess, I hope that the Government will take advantage of the fact that they do not have business in the House next week to reflect on the concerns held by me and my constituents.
Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab):
Before I come to the main issues on which I want to detain the House, I want to associate myself with the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones) about the late Tom Burlison, a Member of the other place, who has passed away. I want to couple that with a reference to the late Lord Billy Blease, who is worthy of mention in this House. He was one of only two people,
as far as I can make out, who represented the voice of Labour from Northern Ireland in Parliamentand not just in one House.
For a long time, the late Billy Blease headed up the Irish Congress of Trade Unions in Northern Ireland in the most difficult times and circumstances. He trod the fine line of trying to bring together people of different traditions in the trade union movement and he did that with great dexterity. For a long time, he served my partythe Labour partyin the House of Lords, despite the fact that the Labour party then foolishly had a policy of not allowing anybody from Northern Ireland to join it. He had to use enormous dexterity to get around that. I want to place on the record my appreciation for the political life and work and work for the trade union movement of Lord Billy Blease, who also passed away recently. The House and those people who worked hard for successful reconciliation in Northern Ireland should acknowledge his great contribution, albeit it was a discreet one.
There is never a right time to bring up the matter about which I want to detain the House. I am somewhat nervous about doing so. All too often, Members from all parties acquiesce by their silence in a slow undoing of our human rights and civil liberties in this country. We are not sufficiently zealous in fulfilling our role of probing those areas that the establishment in this country would not like us to dwell on. I am referring particularlyas I did earlier, during business questionsto our security and intelligence services.
I think that it is a thundering disgrace and an abdication of our responsibility in this House that there is no parliamentary oversight at all of the security and intelligence services. That is a severe deficiency and a flaw in our democratic institutions. Most of the great democracies have parliamentary committees charged with probing and overseeing their security and intelligence services, but that system does not exist here.
I have challenged successive Ministers about the matter, including the current Prime Minister. They have dismissed my questions by referring to the Intelligence and Security Committee, which is hand-picked by the Prime Minister of the day from parliamentarians with whom he or sheand, more importantly, the security and intelligence servicesfeels comfortable.
One Minister told me, Mackinlay, this is a distinction without a difference, but I disagree. Who clerks the ISC? It is clerked by a spook, a member of the security and intelligence services, and not by the Clerk of the House of Commons. When does it meet? We do not know. We do not know the parameters of its jurisdiction, as the term security and intelligence services is a generic one: does it include the special branch of the Metropolitan police and other forces, or does it involve just MI5, MI6 and GCHQ? We do not know.
That is a serious abdication on our part, and it is time that it was remediedwith some expedition, as Whips are already coming to me to talk about this business of the 42 days. I have told themI shall paint it on their eyelidsthat there is no way that I am going to support that proposal. There are many reasons for that, but a particular one is the fact that there is no parliamentary oversight of our security and intelligence services.
Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk) (Con):
I enjoy the hon. Gentlemans robust contributions. He is a credit to this House, but will he acknowledge that there
is some parliamentary oversight of the security and intelligence services, albeit not enough? Under the National Audit Act 1983, the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committeewho, by convention, is a member of the Oppositionhas certain statutory responsibilities for auditing them.
Andrew Mackinlay: I am grateful to hear it. I do not mean to be disrespectful as I think that that is good, but it is barely a fig leaf. I make no apologies for saying that this place is abdicating its responsibilities, at a time when civil liberties are at stakeand, as I intend to go on to share with the House, when the role of this place is being undermined.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I do not want to interrupt his flow when he gets under way again, so I want to get my point in now. Will he shoot, as it were, a particular fox before it gets up and running? This House is a democratic Chamber, and all sorts of people get elected to it. Among its hundreds and hundreds of Members over many years, there might have been some who were genuinely a subversive danger. Does he accept that there must be some form of screening of the members of any parliamentary committee that has oversight of secret organisations and access to information that properly is held to be secret? Otherwise, the secret organisations will not make secret information availableand they shall be right not to do so.
Andrew Mackinlay: The answer to the hon. Gentleman is yes, I do accept that, but it is not the issue. The issue is that successive Labour and Tory Prime Ministers have said that there shall not be any parliamentary oversight, and I believe that they have done so because they are weak and craven before the security and intelligence services. The point that the hon. Gentleman raises is addressed in the US Congress, which has a very powerful committee to oversee security and intelligence matters. It does not appoint suspect people, but the pride of Congressand of this placeis that parliamentary institutions should be able to make judgments of that sort.
Andrew Mackinlay: I had not realised that I was going to rattle so many cages today, but I should like to finish my thought process on this point. The fact is that the US Congress, Frances National Assembly, Canadas House of Commons and Australias House of Representatives all address this subject: it is a matter of pride for them. They find ways to ensure that the members of their respective committees are suitable and appropriate, but they are appointed not by the head of the security and intelligence servicesthat is, by each countrys equivalent of the Prime Minister or the head of the CIAbut by their Parliament or Congress.
Mr. Jones: Does my hon. Friend agree that the idea that Members of Parliament cannot be trusted with what is called secret information is sometimes used as an excuse? I have been a member of the Defence Committee for the past seven years, and my experience is that we get access to far more classified information when we go to the USto an extent that would give civil servants at the Ministry of Defence apoplexy.
Andrew Mackinlay: I was going to save the story that I am about to tell for my memoirs. They will be the mother and father of all memoirs, and will actually be interesting. When the late Robin Cook was Foreign Secretary, he had to instruct a man called C to meet the Foreign Affairs Committee. I did not know that there really was a guy called C; I thought that such things were confined to films, but there really is one. I remember going down to the MI6 building, and the Committee was made as welcome as people with bubonic plague. It was clear that the then incumbent C deeply resented the fact that the Foreign Secretary had instructed him to see the Foreign Affairs Committee. Frankly, the meeting was not very productive, as the House can imagine.
Mr. Evans: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I encourage him to bring out his autobiographyeverybody else seems to be doing so, and now would be timely. He has intimated that other Parliaments seem to get around the problem without threatening security. Will he be a little more constructive and suggest how we might change the custom by which the Prime Minister makes appointments to the ISC?
Andrew Mackinlay: Okay. First of all, it should be a parliamentary committee. No doubt, there would always be discussions through the usual channels about the method and modus by which people are selected.
Andrew Mackinlay: I shall come to that in a moment, but appointments to the committee would be a matter for Parliament. I think that people would emerge about whose qualifications all parties were confident. Achieving the sort of committee that I have described really is not rocket science.
Importantlyand this is not merely a shibboleth of minethe committees secretariat should be provided by the Clerk of the House of Commons. At present, as the House knows, the Clerk does handle confidential papers. Without going into too much detail, there are occasions when, rightly, items that require some discretion and security have to be held in this building. Therefore, that is not a problem.
The problem is that there is a cosy consensus among the people who run our political parties. I will not sign up to it, but they are craven before the security and intelligence services. No one is allowed to ask any questions at all, and I shall give an illustration of that very serious problem in a moment. I dismiss the idea that it cannot be resolved, and think that we should pursue it.
As I noted earlier, the parameters of what comes under the generic term security and intelligence services are not quite clear. I want to emphasise that I have no doubt that some very dedicated and brave men
and women work in those services, as I do not want anything that I might go on to say to be used against me. I will not accept any suggestion that I do not acknowledge the professionalism, bravery and patriotic dedication of the people who work for our security and intelligence services. However, what I do question is the arrogance of the culture surrounding those services that leads them to believe that they should be exempted from any oversight whatsoever of anything that they do, even when that stuff is almost a matter of history.
Soon after we return from the recess, the question of the 42 days will come before the House, but for me it is a matter of trust. Far too many things lately have caused me to reflect about whether I can trust what are described as the security and intelligence services. I regret that, but in any event it is certainly the mood of the very many people in our society who are asking the same question.
I will give one illustration to buttress my argument. I am one of the Members of Parliament who joined in a court caseLord Alton of Liverpool and others v. the Secretary of State for the Home Departmentand my interest in this matter is registered. It went to the Proscribed Organisations Appeals Commissionthe POAC is of the status of the High Courtwhich found against the Home Secretary. In that judgment, it said the Home Secretarys action in relation to what is known as the Peoples Mujahedeen Organisation of Iran was perverse. A lawyer friend tells me that the use of the term perverse by a court is the nearest that it gets to being rude to one of the parties in a case. The Home Secretary is a bad loser. Off she trots to the Court of Appeal. After a long deliberation by the Court of Appeal, including days when the hearing was in camera and special advocates had to be appointed, the judgment, headed not by a mere judge but by the Lord Chief Justice, was conformation that the action of the Home Secretary was perverse. He went on to say that all that having sat in secret for two or three days did was to reinforce his view that the Home Secretarys action was perverse.
I want to be generous to the Home Secretary. The Home Secretarys view was framed byguessthis countrys security and intelligence services, which peddle a line, quite confident and arrogant, that nobody is ever going to question their judgment. However, on this occasion they did, and not just Members of Parliamentincluding Lord Waddington, Baroness Boothroyd, Lord Russell-Johnston, a former Conservative Lord Advocate and many Members of this Housebut a court of the level of the High Court and the Lord Chief Justice of England. That is a slight victory, but when there is the damning judgment that the attitude being pursued by Her Majestys Government was perverse, that shows the need, in my view, for people to be able to explain their position more fully before the high court of Parliament, and to be accountable for their stewardship.
Mr. Evans: I do not want the hon. Gentleman to move too far away from this point, but has he been given any indication since that ruling was made of when the PMOI will be removed from that proscribed list, as the Lord Chief Justice has asked?
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