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Lord Simon of Glaisdale: My Lords, as your Lordships are here concerned with a convention and not a rule of law, is it not the fact that it is relevant only in so far as it is constitutionally required? Is not that a matter for your Lordships and not for the Government to decide? Further, perhaps I may venture a third question: should not this matter be shortly debated again?
Baronesses Jay of Paddington: My Lords, in due deference to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, I say only that I was asked to comment on this matter. I was in no way suggesting that the Government were in any sense doing more than simply reflecting the established position. Of course, matters of procedure in your Lordships' House are for the House as a whole.
The noble and learned Lord asks me to comment on the constitution. I do not know whether he regards Dicey's Law of the Constitution as being an appropriate authority, but perhaps I may quote directly from it:
Lord Denham: My Lords, I am most grateful. I remember a time when a Labour opposition took a lot of convincing that the Salisbury/Addison convention applied to them as well as to a Tory opposition. Over the years, the convention has gradually evolved to suit the circumstances of the time. The noble Baroness the Leader of the House will realise--will she not?--that there has been a rather substantial change in the balance between the two Houses which must lead to a substantial revaluation of the Salisbury/Addison convention.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: No, my Lords, I am afraid that I cannot accept that. The Conservative hegemony--I use the words of my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer when he replied to a similar debate last week in your Lordships' House--in this House has been altered. As I hope that I suggested in my reply to the original Question from the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, the Salisbury/Addison convention is based on the relationship between the two Houses. It has nothing to do with the relative party strengths in this House.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I agree with most of what the noble Lord has said. This matter is about business management, as I hope I made clear when I quoted the words of the then Lord Cranborne in 1945. However, it also concerns the political imperative of the elected party's manifesto commitments. Therefore, it goes a little beyond expediency and can concern the important political principles of the programme which is laid before the electorate.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I understand that some of the allegations to which the noble Baroness refers are under police investigation. It would therefore be inappropriate for me to comment further on these. As regards NHS services for older people we are determined to ensure that these are of the highest quality, including the issues of food and drink.
Baroness Knight of Collingtree: My Lords, is the Minister aware that over 60 cases of maladministration against elderly patients in National Health Service hospitals are now under investigation by the police? The Minister indicates that he is aware of that. How long has he known about that? How does he react to the allegation that food and drink are deliberately being withheld from these people because a dead patient means an empty bed? As the police are taking a long time to investigate these matters, will the Minister consider issuing an immediate instruction to NHS hospitals that such treatment will simply not be tolerated?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I cannot comment on the specifics of the police investigation. It would, of course, be quite wrong to have--and we would utterly condemn--circumstances in which older people were deprived of food and drink.
Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, has my noble friend, or any of his ministerial colleagues, discussed with elderly people's organisations the Call for Action report co-ordinated by Age Concern and, in
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I have seen the recommendation of Age Concern. I make it clear to noble Lords--I have already said this to the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington--that discrimination of any kind in the National Health Service is totally unacceptable. I believe that rather than legislation, the best way forward is effective management of the National Health Service, for which we are responsible. I have already intimated that the Commission for Health Improvement as one of its first priorities will focus on inspecting services for older people in the NHS. The national service framework on services for older people which will be developed next year will, as part of its remit, consider these issues to make sure that the services we provide for older people are of high quality.
Baroness Young: My Lords, thank you. Leaving aside the question of those patients who are the subject of police investigation, is the noble Lord aware of the extreme urgency of this situation in hospitals? Only this last weekend a terrible case was brought to my attention which concerns a relative of a friend of mine who died of starvation after three weeks in hospital. Is the noble Lord aware that it is not good enough to say that he will await the results of an investigation or an inspection? Does not he agree that this urgent matter requires attention today, not some time in the future?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I can only reiterate that I cannot comment any further on the specific cases which are being investigated at the moment by the police. I have already made it clear that we, as a government, would find it wholly indefensible for food and drink to be withdrawn from older people in the way that has been alleged by noble Lords. Our position is abundantly clear, and clinicians, who ultimately have to make clinical judgments, are well aware of that position.
Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, I direct the Minister to another recommendation of the extremely important Age Concern report mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Morris. It recommended that there should be a full inquiry into the treatment of older people within the NHS in view of the facts that were
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I have just made clear that the Commission for Health Improvement will be given as one of its first priorities the responsibility of inspecting services for older people in the NHS. I have already made it clear that the national service framework, which, as the noble Lord knows, is an important and fundamental way of developing policy in the future, will be producing work over the next 12 months. I reiterate that we are determined that older people in the NHS receive a first-class quality service. We are opposed to discrimination of any kind. Although older people form 14 per cent of the population, they use 40 per cent of NHS resources.