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Lord Thurlow: My Lords, I should like to enter the dangerous ground of disputing fiscal fines but it occurs to me that perhaps I should have had the forethought to arrange for my twin brother to be here in my place. He is a lawyer and he might have been able to make a
I sense a sigh of relief in the House that we have come to the last speaker before the gap. I respectfully congratulate your Lordships on the speed with which we have got through business in the last hour. I shall conclude the speeches before the gap by drawing your Lordships' attention to what I believe to be the single most serious source of suffering in the community. That is, the continuing problem of care in the community for the mentally ill.
The noble Baroness, Lady Robson, has already covered some of the ground and I have no desire to go over it again. However, I remind your Lordships that it covers an immense number of people. I believe that at any given time in the country there are 250,000 cases of schizophrenia. Of those, a high proportion--something like one in 10--eventually commit suicide. Although there is no cure, some 20 per cent. return to health by natural means, but the remaining 80 per cent. are subject to what the noble Baroness rightly referred to as the "revolving door" syndrome. The puzzle that confronts all those of us who have an interest in this large part of the community is how, in the new context of care in the community, we deal with that revolving door syndrome. It is said to be clinically necessary for those who suffer seriously from schizophrenia to return for hospital treatment from time to time, to all the facilities of a residential hospital.
There is an area of statistical confusion. A notable and respected authority, Professor Wing, has worked out that we require 52,000 beds in hospitals for mentally ill patients. We are told from the government Benches that there are in fact 80,000 beds available in hospitals and in residential homes in one place or another. But nowhere is it stated that in all the places where those beds are alleged to be the necessary facilities are also available for dealing with the revolving door syndrome. I ask Her Majesty's Government to clarify this issue.
There is a certain semantic problem. We are quite used to talking about long-stay patients and about acute and urgent cases. But now we are told that there is also the very large requirement--a larger requirement than for acute and urgent cases--for medium-stay beds in hospitals. I have yet to learn how that kind of requirement will be met. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will clarify that matter. From these Benches, we do not raise the issue in a political way. We are all on the same side.
We are fortunate in having in this House the Minister responsible at the Department of Health. She has an enormous understanding and commitment. We know that she is working the whole time to improve matters, and that matters are improving. Great progress has been made in the past few years and we hope that it will continue. There is a problem of resources, as the noble Baroness said, and that perhaps overshadows everything else. Whichever complexion of government we have,
I ask that when in the course of this Session we deal with the Bill that is to be put before us, and which we welcome, there will be greater supervision of violent cases discharged from hospital; but that that should not mask what is in scale the far greater and continuing problem of how to provide the treatment, care, and care in the community conditions that we require.
Earl Russell: My Lords, for the second year in a row I rise to wind up in the debate on the humble Address immediately on the heels of the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, who has spoken on the disaster of care in the community. For the second year in a row I have to say that I agree with everything that the noble Lord has said. I have to ask therefore why nothing has happened.
I am reminded of an incident in 1628. The Hampshire militia were unpaid. The deputy lieutenants reported that there was the danger of a mutiny. They wrote to the Lord Lieutenant. The Lord Lieutenant, who happened also to be the Secretary of State, wrote back saying that there was no danger of a mutiny for the troops were too naked to be seen marching in public. I think that that is some part of the explanation as to why no action has been taken. But it is a misguided self-interest. I hope not to have to repeat this performance and achieve a hat trick in the debate on the humble Address next year.
We have had a real treat today. We have heard three maiden speeches of rare quality, of intellectual distinction, delivered with clarity and wit, based on real experience, and giving promise of many excellent speeches to come in future. I am delighted to have been able to listen to all of them. I look forward to the next speech from all three noble Lords.
We have also been privileged to listen to a most important speech from the most reverend Primate. I agree with a great deal more of it than the most reverend Primate might perhaps imagine. The difficulties created by what I think he called "the erosion of shared values" are deep and serious ones. We need to find ways of dealing with them, which we have not yet done.
The problem actually is an old one. It was first pin-pointed, so far as I know, by Henry Ireton in 1648. Henry Ireton had been weened on the doctrine of liberty of conscience. He was then faced with a man who claimed, on the grounds of liberty of conscience, freedom to commit murder and bigamy. Henry Ireton said:
But the problem is, I think, that we really cannot go back; whether it is desirable or not, the way is not open. The difference of values around society is getting wider, and will continue to do so. So what we really need to think about is ways of accommodating the difference. John Stuart Mill tried to find one. Whether there is now sufficient agreement about what constitutes harm to others is a problem, but it is a problem that I would like to think we will be thinking about in future.
I hope the Minister when he replies will answer the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, about why it is that the unemployment and employment figures are both falling at the same time. I would also like to know the answer to that question, and if the Minister can answer it I shall listen with very great interest.
I would like to share the general welcome in the House for the inclusion in the gracious Speech of Bills based on the reports of the Law Commission. I remember the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, last year; it was a very compelling speech. I hope that this is a precedent which will be followed by governments of all political complexions.
I am particularly pleased by the inclusion of the Law Commission Bill on domestic violence, and I hope the Minister will convey to the noble and learned Lord his namesake my thanks for the time that he has given to us in a meeting on that subject. It appears to have been fruitful, and I would like to thank him. But, to quote the pill inside the sugar, if there should be in this Session further measures taken against legal aid, that will deprive the concession of a very great deal of its value.
Equality before the law is a vital ideal, even if it has never quite been realised. If people do not go to law in civil cases, the alternatives are often worse. In some areas we are getting reports of people pouring petrol through each other's letter-boxes and setting them alight rather than going to law. One may wonder in that context whether legal aid is cheap at the price.
If the noble and learned Lord should consider placing regional cash limits on legal aid--which is an idea that I have heard discussed--I hope that before doing so his department will study the Social Policy Research Unit report from the University of York on the operation of the Social Fund. It has used that cash-limiting principle, and I think that before the noble and learned Lord's department considers using such a method it should consider the well-known difficulties it has run into in the only serious government attempt to operate it.
I would also like to welcome in principle the Bill to implement the Barber judgment on pension ages. It is an international obligation, and in one form or another that Bill must be passed. When it gets to the Committee stage, we shall be concerned with two points. One is the possibility of introducing some degree of flexibility into the retiring ages; the other is about strengthening the safeguards proposed in the Goode Report. Our view is that those safeguards, particularly where they concern the employee and pensioner trustees and the possibility of removing them, are not quite strong enough. We should like to see them strengthened.
Of course, there are matters that I should like to have seen in the gracious Speech which I did not see. I should like to have seen something on the peculiar difficulties which the young are now facing. I have drawn the Minister's attention to the report Teenagers at Risk, published by the Royal Philanthropic Society and the Trust for the Study of Adolescence. That is one report among a very considerable body of work. It found that young people are simply not managing to get through the transition from dependence to full independence. That is the sum of a whole series of related problems.
For people between the ages of 16 and 18 there is a real problem in the application of the law of majority. It is one that might be suitable for a future reference to the Law Commission. At this time of night I shall spare the Minister the problems of 16 and 17 year-olds and the benefits system. He knows my views on that matter and he will hear more of them. Part of the problem is training, about which we have heard much tonight. The youth training scheme is providing neither suitable training nor a means of subsistence. I shall look with care at the forthcoming Budget to see whether anything is done to increase youth training allowances or to increase the ridiculous £15 bridging allowance that people receive at the end of their youth training. That has not been up-rated since 1988. The sum of £15 is not a living wage.
At the heart of this subject is that the Government must take on board that young people who leave home very often do so because their parents have left them no choice. Let me give the example found by Crisis in its report on beggars in London. The young person wanted to cease to be a Jehovah's Witness. In a free country that was his right. He was thrown out of his home for it and he received no benefit. Five years later he was still begging on the London streets. I am not proud of living in a country where that happens.
I also regret very deeply that there is nothing in the gracious Speech about the Child Support Act. I appreciate that the Government need time to respond to the Select Committee. I do not believe that they were altogether surprised by what the Select Committee said. I hope that tonight the Minister will be able to give us some indication of what his response may be. I must say that if the Government go no further than the Select Committee, it will not be enough to procure the continuance of the Act. We on these Benches believe that the basic ideas behind the Act were sound but that almost everything in the drafting of the Act went wrong.
There are two items in the Select Committee report which may be of real value. One is the proposal to make allowance for capital settlements. Just a couple of hours ago I was listening on the telephone to yet another person who for years had been paying everything that the court ordered him to pay, and rather more as well. All that is simply to be wiped out and ignored. He could not see the justice in that, and neither can I.
The other valuable concession concerns travel to work. In that regard the Select Committee has taken away with one hand what it has given with the other. It says that it will not allow the cost of a car if any proportion of it is for private use. Many people cannot go to work without a car; it simply is not physically possible. But if those people once use the car to do the weekly shopping, they will not be allowed the car any more; then they will not be able to work and they will be forced onto benefit. I do not see the sense in that.
We also need changes which benefit both sexes. For too long the matter has been discussed as a war between the sexes. We have enough of that already; we do not need any more. We need allowance for expenses which people are legally compelled to pay, like debts and council tax. If a formula does not allow for those
We need second families to be treated on an equal footing with first families. People who have those families in good faith owe support to them under the same principles which apply to the first. The formula for housing costs in particular does not adequately allow for that. Above all, we need recognition of the fact that no formula can possibly foresee all cases. There must be an element of discretion for cases that the formula does not foresee. Without that I do not think that the Act can survive. And when the Minister considers the Act he should look at the remarks made earlier today by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, regarding the drafting of statutes. All those remarks apply with especial force to the drafting of that Act.
In relation to the jobseeker's allowance, I accept the principle stated by Mr. Frank Field that it is an implied contract that the state owes support to the unemployed and in return the unemployed owe the state an attempt to look for work. I do not believe that that is in issue between any parts of the House. But there are matters that worry me quite deeply in that Bill. If I understood the White Paper correctly--I shall be delighted to be told that I have not --it is envisaging a total disentitlement from benefit to people who are found not to be seeking work.
First, I have doubts about the use of starvation as an instrument of policy. Secondly, I have some concern about what people who are totally disentitled to benefit will do instead and about whether what they do instead will actually be cheaper to the Treasury than what they were doing before. Thirdly, I have a concern regarding the number of people on benefit who are suffering from undiagnosed mental illness and who cannot always be held fully responsible for behaving in a way which other people may not think rational.
In that context I see an uncomfortable conjunction arising between the jobseeker's allowance benefit and a new test for incapacity benefit. I shall not weary the Minister with arguments on that with which I know he is already familiar. But for me that test is not a test of incapacity to work; it is a functional test of physical disability. If I find that somebody has passed that test I will not therefore believe that he or she is fit for work. If in two years' time coming out of the tube station I see large numbers of people holding placards saying, "Denied benefit and unfit for work", then, subject to an expert medical opinion, I will have a predisposition to believe them. I am sorry to say that; but that is the position.
Fourthly, as usual the Government have found sticks; but though they were considering them during the summer, they do not seem to have found many carrots. There is a really unfortunate poverty trap in the interlocking between income support and family credit. I shall mention only income support disregards, passported benefits and the cost of travelling to work and ask the Minister to look at the citizens advice bureaux report published yesterday, In Work, Out of Pocket. We shall be hearing more about that report this
We have here a large collection of people found fit for work aged 16 and 17. There are the victims of care in the community; people in part-time work denied employment protection who are being, in effect, deprived of the protection of society and of the law. As soon as society deprives people of its protection, it always finds that it is spending money protecting itself against them. That is not only Tacitus' principle that it is proper to the human race to hate those whom we have hurt. People who have been on benefit and denied it do not simply cease to exist; they do something else. They may get ill. The cost of homelessness to the health service is formidable and I believe that there should be communication on that between the Department of Social Security and the Department of Health. After all, they do not have very far to go to make it. If such people do not fall ill, they may commit crime. I am not saying that that morally excuses them. I am not attempting to deny individual responsibility. But very few people in fact starve for choice.
If the Minister looks at the report from the Nottingham Young People's Benefit Campaign, Beg, Borrow or Steal, he will find there large numbers of people, mostly aged 16 or 17, stealing, as they put it, "to get money to live on". It found one person in Nottingham who was stealing in order to pay his poll tax. If that person had not been naturally law-abiding he would not have become a criminal. That is not where we ought to end up.
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