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House of Lords

Monday, 10th February 2003.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Lichfield.

Protection of Vulnerable Adults

Baroness Greengross asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How they are ensuring that vulnerable adults in care homes and using domiciliary care receive the highest standards of care and are protected from abuse.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, we have issued guidance to the field on action to protect vulnerable adults from abuse. We have also established the National Care Standards Commission, which will work with providers to ensure that service users receive good quality care.

Baroness Greengross: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I feel positive about the actions being taken for the future but there is much to worry about now. Care standards are dependent on the quality of agency staff, but we hear of poor standards of training and competence. Many vulnerable adults are at risk because the Criminal Records Bureau is so over-committed that it is, quite understandably, concentrating on children. Does the Minister agree that vulnerable adults are at risk and that the protection of vulnerable adults list is a potent safety net?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I agree that we must ensure that protection of vulnerable adults becomes a part of the normal business of statutory and voluntary agencies at local level. As to domiciliary care services, we are committed to introducing a regulatory framework. Regulations will come into force shortly. We are aware of the problems that have arisen with the Criminal Records Bureau. However, I can assure the noble Baroness that pre-employment checks are carried out in the sector.

Baroness Pitkeathley: My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister agree that the establishment of the General Social Care Council, with its remit for ensuring that care workers are properly trained, is an important step forward? Does he further agree that the codes of practice for employers and employees developed by the General Social Care Council, which are currently in circulation, will also be of great importance?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend about the potential of the General Social Care Council, which will embrace not only qualified social workers but all staff within the social

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care sector. However, its remit should go wider than that and extend to the training curriculum of NHS professionals. The recently published national service framework for older people makes the point that training within the curricula needs to cover these issues.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, is the Minister aware that Age Concern is presently conducting an exercise to promote its work in the voluntary field? Would it not be a good idea to use voluntary workers from organisations such as Age Concern to inspect homes and places where elderly people are looked after? This would involve no extra expense but would provide much expertise.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, we have a statutory inspection agency—the National Care Standards Commission—but I agree that organisations such as Age Concern have a wealth of experience. I would certainly encourage the National Care Standards Commission to enter into dialogue with such organisations, both nationally and locally. My department is supportive of the organisation Action on Elder Abuse, which has a phone line available for older people and their relatives who wish to draw attention to specific issues of abuse. It is doing excellent work in this area.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn: My Lords, does my noble friend's department liaise with the appropriate government department to ensure that agencies and private homes are paying the minimum standard wage to people who work in such homes?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, this is an important point. The National Care Standards Commission is concerned not only with the physical standards in homes but with staffing levels and managerial and employment issues. There is a statutory requirement on such homes in relation to the national minimum wage.

Baroness Barker: My Lords, I declare an interest in that I work for Age Concern England. Was the decision to create a hierarchy of vulnerability between children and older people based on evidence? If so, what was that evidence? If the decision to prioritise children was based on resources, will the Government agree to review that within a specified timetable? Will the Government publish the Carter review of the shambolic operation of the CRB?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I assume that the noble Baroness is referring to the CRB, the question of checks and the priority given to children. In view of the pressures on the CRB, there can be no doubt that the Government took the right decision. Anyone reading the report of the noble Lord, Lord Laming, in relation to Victoria Climbie would come to the same conclusion. I do not underestimate the problems in relation to older people nor the impact of abuse upon them. We were right to ensure that pre-employment checks were introduced. We hope that the

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problems in the CRB will be cleared up as soon as possible. The noble Baroness knows that an independent review team has been appointed. Ministers will consider its report and make announcements in due course.

Baroness Howarth of Breckland: My Lords, will the Minister assure the House that the enormous strides that have been made by the National Care Standards Commission in developing good practice in inspection and in regulation generally will be protected when these responsibilities move to the new super-regulator, the commission for social care inspection. I declare an interest as the vice-chair of the National Care Standards Commission.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: Yes, my Lords, the National Care Standards Commission has made good progress. It has an enormous responsibility, covering a wide range of care homes and other parts of the care sector, including independent hospitals. We shall, of course, want to take through into the new organisation the good work that it has undertaken.

Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, will the regulatory framework extend to agencies? It appears that agencies are where most of the problems arise—there is no question about that—particularly in the area of domiciliary care. Will there be an inspection service for domiciliary care served by agencies?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I can reassure the noble Baroness that the regulatory regime does extend to agencies. When the legislation was before Parliament we were concerned to make sure that the agencies came under a regulatory framework. There had not previously been a national registration scheme. This will fulfil a very important function.

Baroness Strange: My Lords, is the Minister aware that we were all once vulnerable children and may all become vulnerable older people? Therefore, my noble friend's Question affects everyone in this country.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: And indeed, my Lords, Ministers answering Questions in this House also feel vulnerable.

RAF Fylingdales

2.44 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the cost of the decision to agree to the request of the United States to use Fylingdales will be paid out of the defence budget; and, if so, at the expense of what other part of it.

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Bach): My Lords, the cost of upgrading RAF Fylingdales will be borne by the United States Government. The station's running costs are borne by the Ministry of Defence, as is appropriate for a station staffed and controlled by the Royal Air Force, but the impact on these costs is expected to be minimal.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. Will the sum expended on running costs—indeed, the Secretary of State is reported in the Guardian as saying that there will be more to come—allow us to get rid of the weapons of mass destruction, the possession of which we so deplore in others?

Lord Bach: My Lords, the present annual operating cost of RAF Fylingdales is some 15.6 million per year. The introduction of additional security measures announced by the Secretary of State following the events of 11th September 2001—which have nothing to do with this proposed upgrade—means that this figure will rise to almost 18 million per year. This extra security should be sufficient for any increased protestor activity as a result of the upgrade. But I repeat what I said in my original Answer: the cost of upgrading Fylingdales will be borne by the US Government.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, when did the Government last report on the leasing arrangements for Fylingdales, Menwith Hill and other US intelligence bases in this country? The last time I checked, I was unable to discover any report on an exchange of letters extending the lease which went beyond 1970. I did discover an RAF press release dated October 2001 stating that RAF Menwith Hill and Fylingdales are,

    "made available under the NATO Status of Forces Agreement of 1951 and additional confidential arrangements".

Might it not be helpful to Parliament if the Government were to inform us as to the exact terms of the leasing arrangements? We should then know a little more about costs as well.

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