Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Greengross: I would like to make one point about when an advocate might be available; that is, when residential or nursing care is paid for by the family, but the local authority is involved in placing the person. Currently, if the advocate is available only for someone who has no befrienders, this provision would not necessarily cover those people. It is very important that they do have an advocate. Very often that is the group who miss out on the advice that they need. Therefore, someone has to plead their cause.
1 Feb 2005 : Column 209

The Minister made it clear that an elderly couple trying very hard to get through the whole establishment, but who do not really know where to go, could do with the help of an advocate. It is too narrow to say that there will be an advocate only when there is no one at all befriending them. In that sort of decision, people need help. They need someone to make their case loud and clear.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: I do not wish to put on the same gramophone record again. Of course, I accept what the noble Baroness has just said and what the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said about unbefriended people. Unfortunately, there are unbefriended people, even in the category of those whom I represent.

One accepts that if a genuine advocate can be found for them and can be helpful, that is a thoroughly good thing. In respect of the example that the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, gave of the family that came back from abroad to acquire the assets of someone who was in hospital, I repeat what I said in earlier Committee proceedings. In answer to a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Christopher, I said that the people who I represent are most unlikely to have assets that would attract their less than honourable family members in that way.

Earl Howe: I do not want to add to this debate unduly. A tremendously important point was made by the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross. This is an important set of amendments. I have added my name to many of them. I should like to make it clear that I will not move Amendment No. 139.

I know that the Minister is receptive to the thrust of these amendments. It is a question really of how much she will be able to tell us today. But, at the very least, I hope that she will go away with a sense of the importance of those issues.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: I say to the noble Earl immediately that I have a real sense of the importance of those issues. In a sense, that is very reassuring. The debates that we are having in the Chamber today are reflected in the debates that I have had with lots of different groups and, indeed, with those who, like me, are struggling to make all this work effectively in a legislative framework.

I should say to the noble Lord, Lord Rix, that if he is the understudy and the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, is the chorus line, God knows what I am. The role I have always fancied is one in film making rather than in the theatre, that of the key grip. I do not know what it is, but I have always thought that I ought to be one.

Lord Rix: Best boy.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: No, I shall not go that far. Also, to the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, the days of gramophone records are gone. Now it is whether you have your i-tunes downloaded to your iPod. With those comments to prove that I am up to
1 Feb 2005 : Column 210
speed, let me turn to the substance of what has been said and try to address the issues raised rather than go through the amendments one by one.

The noble Lord, Lord Rix, is concerned about the funding. I know that he appreciates that the £6.5 million is additional money to the support given through local primary care trusts, health bodies and local authorities to some 800 organisations all over the country. I accept that he would like to see more funding, but I hope that he will accept that this is a substantial increase which needs to be spent wisely and well in order to make the case for more. As I have already indicated, we shall have about half of that money available beyond the initial phase.

I accept completely the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, about the term "unbefriended". If the noble Baroness or any other noble Lord can come up with a better word that works in law, they may be my guest. I would be delighted to consider it, but this term is the best we could do after a lot of searching. All suggestions will be gratefully received.

I shall come back to the questions on training put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Rix, but in this vein I shall make one or two further points. On many occasions I have discussed at length with the Making Decisions Alliance how to define in the Bill the groups of people who might need help. In a sense the unbefriended, bizarre though the term may be, covers a very clear group. Difficulties arise when one tries to refer to "horrible families", if I may put it that way. There is no way to define them. Equally, when talking about the elderly couple I described who might need support is to confuse them with other elderly couples who do not. So the only reason we have not expanded this in the Bill is that we cannot do so. We have tried; parliamentary counsel has tried, but it does not work without capturing people we would not wish to include or expanding into areas where we are not convinced that the resources would be best used.

However, we are committed to exploring with all those interested and with organisations that have worked for so long to bring forward the Bill the development of this service. Although half of £6.5 million may not seem like very much, it will go a long way to supporting other groups of people. That is an important point.

We are keen to ensure that we build on and support existing advocacy services as well. For example, we are considering whether further guidance should be issued to provide advice to local authorities and the National Health Service to help them work out how they can enhance the independent advocacy services already in place to help deliver what we intend for these groups of people.

We are also looking to support the development of a national framework of standards for advocacy, which would be welcomed by a number of organisations. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Rix, has raised the point. We need to look at what that would mean in terms of training and support. We also intend to ensure that the code of practice reflects accurately the expanded
1 Feb 2005 : Column 211
groups of people, and that independent advocacy is supported in the most appropriate ways. We are building on services by adding to them and providing support rather than trying to create something so separate and distinct that it does not benefit from the best of what we have already. In my view that would be a foolish waste of resources. This is about trying to develop the service as effectively as possible. I hope that that allays the concerns expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Rix.

I shall look at the work of my noble friend Lady Pitkeathley in defining needs for advocacy. I am sure that it will be extraordinarily helpful. However, I should make it clear that there are many other groups in our society way beyond the scope of this Bill who have advocacy services, so I want to ensure that we get it right. We are keen to ensure that we get the advocacy service right and, as I have indicated, I shall bring forward amendments to do so. This debate will serve to inform those amendments.

10 p.m.

I turn to Amendment No. 186, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, referred, and the whole question of permission. As the noble Baroness will know, certain people can apply directly to the court, including of course the person who lacks capacity. I understand what the noble Baroness seeks to achieve with her amendment. The Bill allows us to make the Court of Protection rules that extend the right not to seek permission to other categories of person or types of cases. It will therefore be possible to add independent consultees to the categories of people who do not need permission if, when we work through the practical details, that seems appropriate.

I will commit myself to looking at that issue to see how we will do that. It will not be on the face of the Bill because of the way we will do it. It is back, in part, to my lists question and making sure that we catch people appropriately through the way in which we develop the rules, and we will need to be fairly clear about how we will do it. In the context of the work that we are doing around this, I hope the noble Baroness will leave the matter with me to see what further we can do.

The commitment we make above anything is to develop this very important service in consultation with the organisations with which we have worked closely and with other organisations which have real expertise in this area. This is meant to build on, not detract from; it will also ensure that we support the most vulnerable. I have already indicated the reasons why we have this group defined and other groups not. There is an absolute commitment to this issue and I hope that on that basis noble Lords will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: In order to give the Committee some feel for the scale of the problem, can the Minister give some idea of the number of people who fall into the unbefriended or unsupported group, as it were? I refer to those people who are not in a
1 Feb 2005 : Column 212
position to receive the kind of support to which the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, referred earlier, who have loved ones and are supported by their families and friends. Does the Minister have any idea of the numbers involved? What data are there which might help us to have a better idea of how much we need by way of resources and what we need to do in shaping an amendment?

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page