Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Thomas of Gresford: We regard the adversarial system as the centre of our criminal justice system. It requires examination and cross-examination of witnesses in order to discern the truth. That cross-examination has to come from a person who is fully informed of the case that he is seeking to put. If a defendant chooses to act in person he may or may not be more skilled than a lawyer, but he is at least fully informed of the case he wishes to put.

The problem with the imposition of a lawyer on an unwilling defendant is this. It throws askew the whole adversarial system to which we have been accustomed and which has grown up over centuries. It puts into the equation a completely unknown factor. It may be that there can be some justification for that in very special cases such as when children are involved or where there is a complaint of rape or other sexual offences. I can live with that. But the Bill envisages that this protection is to be extended to witnesses across the system. It can apply to any case and any witness. As the noble Lord just said, it can be applied not because the defendant is misbehaving himself in any way in defending himself or that he has overstepped any particular boundary or mark; it can be imposed on him because of the particular sensitivity of a particular witness. So in every type of case and with every type of witness there can now be a new, unknown factor introduced into a system which is balanced and which we believe has arrived at the truth, by and large, in the criminal cases heard in this country.

8 Feb 1999 : Column 27

We are stepping into completely uncharted waters. For the moment I seek leave to withdraw these amendments, but I shall return to them.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Hoyle: I believe that this is a convenient time to take the Statement. Before we move to the Statement on the National Strategy for Carers, I would like to take the opportunity to remind the House that the Companion indicates that discussion of a Statement should be confined to brief comments and questions for clarification. Peers who speak at length do so at the expense of other noble Lords. I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

National Carers Strategy

4.13 p.m.

Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat the Statement being made in another place by my honourable friend Mr. Paul Boateng. The Statement is as follows:

    "With permission, Madam Speaker, I would like to make a Statement about the publication today of the Government's National Strategy for Carers.

    "The Prime Minister announced plans for a National Strategy for Carers, which he asked me to lead, on 10th June 1998.

    "The Government believe, as the Prime Minister himself said last June, that carers play a vital role in the community and also in supporting families. Without them, the NHS and social services could never hope to provide that which they contribute to the care of the sick and vulnerable. The Government are determined to see that carers get the support they need.

    "The Prime Minister said that the national strategy should bring together existing initiatives into a single package for the first time. We have done more than this. As I shall explain, we are today announcing a substantial new policy package for carers.

    "The work on the National Strategy for Carers has involved a large number of organisations: not only Government departments, people from the National Health Service and local authorities, but also individual carers, representatives of carers' organisations, and of more specialised voluntary organisations which help, for example, people with mental health problems. We are grateful to all of those who joined working groups and to those who attended a major consultative conference on the strategy held last November.

8 Feb 1999 : Column 28

    "The policies of a large number of Government departments impact on carers. The document published today involves all of them. We held for the very first time two meetings of a Ministerial Group specifically established to consider carers' issues.

    "People who provide care for their relatives or friends who are disabled, vulnerable or frail can devote large parts of their own lives to looking after others. Many of them are also in paid work. The majority of carers are women. All of them need some help and support. Our National Strategy for Carers describes what we have been doing. It describes what we are going to do. Carers will have better information. They will be better supported. They will be cared for better themselves.

    "Two-thirds of carers of working age are in paid employment. For many of them, combining work with caring can be difficult. The Government's family-friendly employment strategy will help them. We will give carers the right to time off to deal with a family emergency. A carer might need, for example, time to take his or her elderly parent to hospital following a fall. The Second Reading of the necessary legislation, the Employment Relations Bill, is scheduled for tomorrow.

    "We have also considered those carers who cannot combine paid work with caring. For those of working age, many of them would like to do so. Even more would like to be able to return to work when their caring responsibilities come to an end. We will consider the scope for extending the New Deal to help carers to return to work. We will publicise the benefits--to employers, as well as to carers--of flexible, carer-friendly employment policies. We will consider our own position as a major employer and make sure that we set the highest standards for carers working in the public sector.

    "Carers also need support from the statutory services. This does not just mean social services. All services need to provide carers with information and to involve them in the planning of services. Only in this way can services be more responsive to carers' needs.

    "The National Health Service has an important role here. First, it must help carers to maintain their own health. Half of all carers in a recent study said they had suffered from a physical injury since they began to care. Half said that they had been treated for stress-related illnesses. The Government's National Priorities Guidance to health and local authorities will require those authorities to help carers to maintain their health and emotional wellbeing.

    "The National Health Service must also provide information to help carers to care. They need to know about the health needs, treatment and medication of the person they are caring for. Of course this can only be done with the consent of the patient. But sometimes doctors do not ask whether the patient agrees. We believe that doctors should always do so.

    "We have already announced an extra £750 million for local authorities over the next three years to help them promote independence, especially through

8 Feb 1999 : Column 29

    greater partnership with the health service over prevention and rehabilitation. People who need care, and their carers, will benefit from this.

    "We are providing additional funding, from within the Comprehensive Spending Review plans, of £140 million for England over the next three years specifically to help carers. This will be a new ringfenced special grant. It will go to local authorities to extend the range of services they provide to give carers a break from their caring responsibilities. The research evidence shows that carers who have a break are better able to cope and that their own health suffers less. The new special grant will total £20 million in 1999-2000, £50 million in 2000-2001, and £70 million in 2001-2002.

    "We also intend, when parliamentary time allows, to introduce new legislation to extend the powers which local authorities have to address carers' needs directly. At the moment, the focus of most of the legislation is on the person needing care. We want carers to have more control over the form and timing of the services which they need. This is especially true of services designed to give them a break from caring.

    "The national carers' strategy will also help some specific groups of carers. First, we are announcing today that there will be a reduction in council tax for some disabled people. People who live in accommodation which is valued at band A and which has an extra room, which they need because of their disability, or enough floor space to allow them to move around in a wheelchair, will receive a reduction in council tax similar to that which is given now for the other bands. This change will be made from 1st April 2000.

    "Secondly, we have particular concerns about young carers. The Government are taking extensive action to offer new help to children and young people. We are placing particular emphasis on supporting the most disadvantaged children and their families. Children who have to provide personal care to a parent may not realise that they are carers. But their attendance at school can suffer. They can also have difficulty doing their homework. Often they have no time for leisure, for play, or to meet their friends. The Government will promote awareness of the needs of young carers. We will encourage schools to make sure there is someone to support them. This need not be a teacher--it could be someone else with the right skills and time to develop special expertise. Children who are carers may need help to contact professionals in the health service, the social services, or a local project worker specifically for young carers.

    "There is also a group of children who need more care themselves than other children of the same age. Their parents are particularly in need of help and support. They may feel unable to spend enough time with the rest of their family. We are increasing the help and support that we provide to parents with a disabled child. We have already announced new objectives for children's services, which require local and health authorities to work together to meet the

8 Feb 1999 : Column 30

    needs of disabled children. Social services will get an extra £375 million to help them to meet the needs of vulnerable children. We are also introducing new children's nursing teams, in memory of Diana, Princess of Wales, to support those children who have life-threatening health problems. These will cost £2 million a year initially, and we are establishing 10 teams around the country.

    "Many carers need help and support in the neighbourhoods where they live. In general, we believe that this is best provided by voluntary organisations. Carers' centres are one example. These already exist in a number of areas. We want to make sure that all carers have access to a support service near to where they live. The national strategy report also describes how we intend to make sure that carers get a high quality service from such carers' centres.

    "The National Strategy for Carers contains a great deal of information about carers and their needs. But in some cases we lack information. This is why we will be introducing a new question about carers in the 2001 census. The results of this new question will tell us, for example, how many carers there are in each local authority area. The information will allow local authorities to plan much better how to provide services for carers to meet their needs.

    "The Government believe that what carers do should be properly recognised and properly supported. We--the Government and the whole country--should take pride in carers. The Government are determined to make sure that carers can feel proud of what they do and of a society which recognises the debt of gratitude that we owe them for doing it."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4.23 p.m.

Earl Howe: My Lords, the House will be particularly grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement, which contains much that we can welcome. The proposals highlight a very sizeable group of people in our society whose daily work is as vital as it is unsung. We are at one with the Government in their wish to give them the recognition for their efforts that they deserve. We hear much nowadays about the supposed breakdown of family life and of the disappearance of the sense of duty and the sense of responsibility accompanying it. However, it is the carers in our society who, thankfully, belie that rather depressing image. They are people who voluntarily shoulder a heavy burden of responsibility and often, in the process, a heavy emotional burden, sometimes from a young age and sometimes for a period of many years' duration. As the Statement says, if we did not have such people, it would be hard to imagine how the NHS and the social services would be able to fill the gap anything like adequately.

We welcome the additional funding that has been earmarked and ring-fenced to enable carers to take breaks from their responsibilities. However, I have two questions for the Minister in that respect. First, can the noble Baroness say how much of that money is newly announced money; and, secondly, can she tell us what

8 Feb 1999 : Column 31

kinds of respite care the Government envisage? As the Minister will know, the availability around the country of regular respite care for the elderly is very variable and often involves the elderly person having to be moved out rather than someone coming to the house from outside to take the carer's place. Can the Minister confirm that it is the latter type of arrangement that the Government wish to encourage? Can she also say what emphasis the Government are placing on involving the voluntary sector in these initiatives? I mention that particularly because of the reduction in funding to voluntary groups which has been forced upon local authorities by changes in the distribution of local government grants. Indeed, in some areas, the changes have led to cuts in social services. Therefore, one cannot help feeling that this announcement, at least in part, is a case of the Government giving with one hand and taking away with the other.

The Statement rightly calls attention to the need for better information about the services currently available to carers, as well as those which are proposed. Is there anything more the Minister can tell us as regards the Government's ideas on the matter? One extremely important aspect is the need to raise awareness of training opportunities for carers, especially in terms of first aid and health and safety. Does the Minister agree with that and, if so, can she say what sorts of opportunity for training the Government would like to see provided?

We welcome moves to augment the pension entitlement of carers. But, again, I am afraid that it is a case of the Government giving with one hand and taking away with the other. As the Minister will know, it is the Chancellor of the Exchequer's targeting of pension funds and the poorest small savers which is set to yield very substantial inflows into the Treasury in the years ahead. I welcome further details of the Government's pension proposals. However, does the Minister agree that the carers of today are equally deserving of the benevolence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer? Will she seed the thought in the mind of her right honourable friend of the merits of a transferable tax allowance for single-earner married couples to ease the burden on such couples where one partner gives up work to take on the responsibilities of a carer?

The extent to which these proposals have a real impact on the lives of carers depends, critically, on the way in which they are developed at local level. Can the Minister tell us what specific initiatives the Government wish to see taken by local authorities? Equally, can she say what concrete proposals the Government have to encourage carer-friendly employment policies both in the public sector and in the private sector, as opposed to the inevitably more generalised approach adopted in the Employment Relations Bill? Given the structure of the Government's New Deal, can the Minister say what provision is to be made by the Government for carers who are either unable or unwilling to return to work because of caring commitments?

As I indicated earlier, we welcome these initiatives and look forward to following their implementation in practice over the months and years ahead.

8 Feb 1999 : Column 32

4.28 p.m.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page