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Lord Kingsland: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for her reply. Clearly, in the case of Miss Laurence there was a complete breakdown between those who were supposed to be reporting on her care and those who were supposed to be providing her with her money. So, while I entirely accept the noble Baroness's reservations about my amendment, at the same time she must surely agree that the status quo is unacceptable and that, if my scheme is not a suitable way forward, then the obligation must be on the Government to come forward with an alternative scheme which will work.
As I understand it, at the centre of this Bill is the notion of carethe quality, suitability and relevance of care to the vulnerable person. The picture portrayed by the noble Baroness is one that we need to convert into black letter law, so that we can be sure that the person, the client, comes first. I should be most grateful if the noble Baroness would be prepared, between now and Report, to talk to me about the appropriate way forward. I am perfectly happy to withdraw the amendment, but I should not be happy for the Bill to be silent on the issue.
Baroness Andrews: Yes, I give the noble Lord that assurance and my noble friend and the chief executive of the PGO would be delighted to meet him to discuss those concerns. One thing that I did not say is that the Bill introduces a new provision, so that visitors will be able to visit donees and deputies, not just the client, as is the case at present. It will be possible to use that as a way to engage with those responsible for making decisions. That is a definite step forward, but we would be very pleased to discuss those issues, and any other concerns of the noble Lord.
"THE BOARD OF PUBLIC GUARDIANSHIP SUPERVISION
(1) For the purposes of this Act, there is to be a non-executive board, to be known as the Board of Public Guardianship Supervision.
(2) The Board is to be appointed by the Lord Chancellor.
(3) The Board is to consist of no fewer than 9 members, of whom at least three shall be a registered medical practitioner and at least three shall be a certified or chartered accountant.
(4) It is the duty of the Board to supervise the Public Guardian
(a) in the exercise of his functions with regard to this Act, and
(b) on any matter relating to or arising out of the exercise of those functions.
(5) The Public Guardian must make monthly reports to the Board on matters which the Board thinks are relevant and must provide the Board with such other information as the Board may reasonably require.
(6) If the Board has a concern about any aspect of the Public Guardian, including his discharge of his functions, the Board may make a special report to the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chancellor must publish that report unless requested not to do so by the Board.
(7) The Board must prepare an annual report on its activities and that report must be included in the annual report laid before Parliament under section (Annual report)."
The noble Lord said: The amendment would create a new institution that I have chosen to call the board of public guardianship supervision. I hope that your Lordships will accept that I have the highest admiration for the noble and learned Lords, Lord Irvine and Lord Falconer, successively Lord Chancellors. Although I have had many political disagreements with them, I have admired the way that they have both carried out their work as heads of department.
Because they have so many preoccupations, it came as no surprise to me that the PGO came rather low on the list of their priorities. That was very much reflected in my dealings, especially with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine, throughout the early and middle stages of the saga of Miss Laurence. Gradually, I formed the view that, although constitutionally the Lord Chancellor was politically responsible for the PGO, in effect, the political distance between the LCD and the PGO was just too great. There needed to be some intermediate institution, more focused on the work of the PGO with members of relevant experience.
That is by no means rocket science. We can all think of a large number of regulators in the United Kingdom that have a general responsibility to a particular department and a chief executive but a non-executive board between the two. I think, for example, of the regulation of much of our competition law. That seemed to me to be a suitable model for the new relationship between the LCD and the PGO.
So, in my Amendment No. 196EA, I have chosen to intermediate the board of Public Guardianship supervision, a non-executive board of no fewer than nine members of whom at least three should be registered medical practitioners and at least three should be certified or chartered accountants. I think
8 Feb 2005 : Column 779
that the noble Baroness can see what I am getting at by the compositionit is my idea of integrating the care function with the trusteeship function.
The Public Guardian will have an obligation to make reportsmonthly, I sayto the board on matters that the board thinks are relevant and must provide the board with such other information as it may reasonably require. If the board has any concern about any aspect of the Public Guardian, including the discharge of its functions, it may make a special report to the Lord Chancellor who must publish that report unless requested not to do so by the board.
The board is the product of my experience of dealing, on the one hand, with the LCD, and on the other, through Lord Iliffe, with the PGO, in relation to one particular case. But it is clear from the report of the ombudsman that what happened to Miss Laurence had happened, to a greater or lesser degree, to 100 other people. In my submission, the Government will have to think up some very cogent arguments to dismiss this amendment. I beg to move.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: I am grateful to the noble Lord for his comments about my noble and learned friend. To borrow a word from the noble Lord's dictionary, I shall be "telegraphic" in my response.
I hope that, during our meeting to look at the issues, we might cover the noble Lord's proposal in more detail. My noble and learned friend has overall responsibility for the PGO, but as one of his junior Ministers I take some responsibility. It is very high on my list of priorities.
I recognise what the noble Lord seeks to do. Some of the elements of his amendment are already catered for in our work with our advisory board, which includes non-executive directors who bring direct business expertise. The board meets quarterly; it reviews performance; and it has a robust monitoring scheme, which is very important. It also has a business plan, an annual report against the performance targets, and an audit committee, chaired by a non-executive director who is an experienced accountant, and including representatives from the National Audit Office. At the moment I think that we should recreate that body in some form for the new office.
I accept completely the need for external expertise of a non-executive nature. I agree completely that we need financial expertise in particular on audit and accountancy. I agree that we need regular monitoring. I disagree, perhaps, on whether we need to set up a separate board, with all the costs involved, which ultimately would be borne by the clients, and on whether monthly rather than quarterly reporting is an appropriate use of resources.
Having listened carefully to the noble Lord's points, I ask him to withdraw his amendment. I hope that before Report we can discuss whether my proposals meet the noble Lord's underlying concerns, in order for him to feel reassured.
Lord Kingsland: I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for the manner in which she has responded
8 Feb 2005 : Column 780
to my proposal. I will be very happy, before Report, to discuss this proposal and her suggestion of an alternative model that tries to achieve the same objective. In those circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The Lord Chancellor must lay an annual report before Parliament on
(a) the discharge of the Public Guardian's functions;
(b) the extent to which, in his opinion, the objectives of the office have been met; and
(c) such other matters as the Board of Public Guardianship Supervision may from time to time direct."
The noble Lord said: The amendment would give Parliament an opportunity, at least once a year, to debate the affairs of the PGO and to make sure that the legislation in this House and another place, whatever its final form, is properly respected. It is a vital part of the chain of accountability, and I commend it to the Committee. I beg to move.
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