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Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for giving way. What he has not dealt with is the question whether the human rights committee to be set up shortly--I am not sure what "shortly" means in government terms--will have the power to review the compatibility of secondary legislation with convention rights. Nor has the noble Lord dealt with my point about the giving of reasons for statements of compatibility so that we are able to act as watchdogs and scrutineers in the public interest. The Minister said very little about the role of Parliament but a great deal about the role of the Government and the courts. Perhaps he will address the following two questions. Is there to be a special committee as recommended by the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Alexander, to look at the compatibility of secondary legislation with human rights? Are we to have statements of reasons for compatibility in advance of debates so that those reasons can be scrutinised?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for again raising those points. I wish to reflect further on what he said. I shall write to him to elucidate our position. I think it likely that the joint committee will want to look at secondary legislation in the context of where legislation is going generally. However the important point--I made it earlier--is that we would expect Ministers in debate in any event to seek to deal with compatibility issues with secondary legislation. I am happy to give the matter further consideration.

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I turn to points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford. He made contact with our department this afternoon. I cannot give the noble Lord an answer this evening. However, I am grateful to him and we shall take up his point. I shall write to the noble Lord and share the contents of that correspondence with your Lordships. I shall of course write to noble Lords on other points I have not covered in my responses.

In conclusion, I stress that the Government are taking preparations very seriously indeed. They affect all public authorities and are wide ranging. Departments are engaged in a review of their legislational processes. It cannot be a one-off matter. It has to be a continuing, everyday part of the public service of this country that we approach matters in this way. We are trying to establish a change of culture across government; and to create a culture where human rights considerations are very much at the heart of public service work. I believe that to be the importance of the legislation and the way in which it affects processes. We all have a real and important part to play in that culture change. Parliament has a clear interest in the compatibility of new legislation. We seek to ensure that the Government's views on compatibility are made clear to Parliament wherever it is necessary to do so. The debate today has enabled us to focus on that real and genuine issue. I am most grateful to the noble Lord for raising these important issues and for providing us with the opportunity to explain our general approach.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, the noble Lord has now spoken for 17 minutes. One of the most important points raised by my noble friend Lord Marlesford, and the noble Viscount, Lord Colville or Culross, was about the powers of entry of officials. This has gone much too far. In the words of the Dunning revolution, the power of the Crown is increasing, has increased, and should now be reduced. The power of the Crown to appoint people to go into people's houses is far too wide. The Minister has not addressed that point in his answer to this House today.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, in a sense I think that I have. The point I sought to make is that all secondary legislation which provides for powers of entry will be subject to a compatibility test. Each department needs to review it. Of course, powers of entry are important. In some instances they can appear draconian. But all governments and legislation have relied on powers of entry for important enforcement. I am sure the noble Earl will agree that the power of entry is an important tool in enforcing well intentioned and well directed legislation.

Care Standards Bill [H.L.]

8.33 p.m.

House again in Committee.

[Amendments Nos. 26 and 27 not moved.]

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Clause 7 [General duties of the Commission]:

Lord Rix moved Amendment No. 28:

Page 4, line 30, at end insert ("; and

( ) the provision of services for particular categories of service user").

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 28 is grouped with my Amendment No. 75, and Amendments Nos. 69 and 77. At the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, Amendments Nos. 47, 48, 76, 121 and 147 have been added. There is a difference between the needs amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, and my amendment which refers to particular categories of service users, although they could lead to needs of a special kind.

Without wishing to make the general duties of the commission too specific--it seems to be overburdened already--I should welcome reassurance that the duty to keep the Secretary of State informed will include information on the provision of services for particular categories of service users. Noble Lords will not be surprised to hear that my concern lies with the common care experiences of people with learning disabilities although the same principle applies to the common care experiences of autistic people, older people or mental health service users. One would expect problems affecting particular groups and good practice to be drawn to the attention of the Secretary of State in the drive to improve quality for service users.

On Amendment No. 75, in my previous comments on Clause 7 I stressed the importance of the commission having the power to take a strategic look at the way services affect particular groups of service users. Consistent with my earlier comments is my view that the national minimum standards should be derived from particular groups of service users. People with learning disabilities cover a wide range of intellectual impairment; and they often have other disabilities too, but there is a strong case for devising distinctive standards based on common need.

It would be wholly inappropriate to apply the best care standards for older people to 19 year-olds with a learning disability or indeed vice versa. Yet national minimum standards need to be specific if they are to be meaningful. Perhaps the Minister will clarify that there is nothing in the legislation to preclude the formulation of national minimum standards for particular categories of service users. I beg to move.

Lord Astor of Hever: I support the noble Lord. I speak also to Amendments Nos. 74 and 77. They are probing amendments to clarify whether the Government will adopt autism-specific standards for registration of residential services. The noble Lord, Lord Rix, has already touched on autism.

Some noble Lords may have watched on television the disturbing Macintyre report on care homes. If so, they will remember the distress of Richard, a man with autism. There is no doubt that minimum standards

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were absent in that establishment. Anyone with an understanding of autism could recognise Richard's responses to his maltreatment.

Autism is a complex developmental disability which affects the way people communicate and relate to those around them. I declare an interest as the father of an autistic daughter. That is why I speak from the Back Benches. There are approximately 500,000 people on the autistic spectrum in the United Kingdom, many of whom will be in residential care homes. With a greater awareness of autism, and more successful early diagnosis, there will be a significant increase in demand for residential care by those with this devastating disability.

Autism manifests itself differently in each individual. Common requirements for care are an emphasis on structure, consistency, reduction of disturbing stimuli and a high degree of organisation. The absence of these considerations in standards for residential care results, often, in high levels of anxiety for autistic individuals. To help them to reach the greatest level of independence, the environment must be tailored to meet their individual needs.

Standards of delivery need to include autism awareness. Current arrangements whereby standards for learning disability were set locally have resulted in over-prescription in many cases and positive harm to those service users with autism.

That point is illustrated by a case study from a National Autistic Society residential service. A young man with autism had a particular need for space and an absence of clutter in his bedroom in order to sleep. Any furniture, other than a bed, caused him extreme anxiety. However, the local authority inspection unit standards required that every adult with a learning disability should have a room with a wash basin. Service managers tried to explain the distress which that would cause, as well as the fact that it would not be used. However, the fixture was insisted upon. Within 24 hours the young man had ripped the fixture off the wall and thrown it out of his room. There can be no justification for such inflexibility, coupled with ignorance of the nature of autism.

In order to prevent such incidents, the National Autistic Society has pioneered the development of autism specific standards. Indeed, initial funding came from the Department of Health. I therefore hope that the Government will build upon such expertise to raise standards overall.

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