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Older People: Abuse

11.28 am

Baroness Greengross asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, it is a very interesting report and confirms that there are serious problems to deal with. The Government are giving every consideration to measures which will effectively tackle the growing concern in our society on this matter. Older people and adults with disabilities have the right to expect that everything is done to minimise the risk of abuse.

Baroness Greengross: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that helpful reply. Does he accept that more than £2 million was reported, through one helpline alone, as having been stolen from elderly victims by their own sons and daughters? This is more important than the situation with carers because they are less likely to do this, apparently. We know that older people are very reluctant to report their own children, so the true picture must be dramatically in excess of that. Therefore, will the Government accept the recommendations of the Health Select Committee inquiry in 2004 that, first, the financial abuse should be a specific issue for adult protection committees; and, secondly, that the regulatory bodies of health and social care should increase their surveillance of financial systems, including powers of attorney and, in care homes, the use of residents’ personal allowances?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the noble Baroness is right that the data produced by Action on Elder Abuse come from an analysis of 470 phone calls that it received on its helpline, and that the breakdown of abuse was 53 per cent sons and daughters and 9 per cent carers and other paid workers. While that cannot be taken as statistically accurate in terms of the wider question, it is certainly cause for concern.

With regard to the Health Select Committee report and adult protection committees being asked to look at the issue of financial abuse, we do not believe there is anything in the current guidance that will prevent them doing so, but we will look at that. The regulatory bodies are independent, but I will ensure that the report is communicated to them so they can consider the point the noble Baroness has raised.

Baroness Barker: My Lords, the Minister, having recently been at the DWP, will recognise that in future the income of older people will come from a number of diverse sources and be more complex. In that case, does he accept that the lack of a clear definition of financial abuse itself leads to abuse? Does he also accept that there is a plethora of guidance available to different people—on the web, for example—but that some of it is conflicting, and that there is therefore a case for consolidated guidance that is available to

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private institutions such as banks, statutory authorities, family and informal carers, so that there is a common basis upon which to detect and prevent financial abuse of older people?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, financial abuse is defined in the No Secrets document, which is statutory guidance to local authorities. I accept that the definition used by ACE is wider. We are working to identify the scale of the problem, and we are using the ACE definition in that, but I will certainly ensure that we consider the question of definition.

We will consider the question of wider guidance in the context of the research now being undertaken into the scale of the problem. It is worth making the point, however, that we already have statutory guidance that local authorities should be following. I agree that there are a number of matters in the ACE report that need to be considered by other bodies such as financial institutions, and I hope they will do so.

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that we are talking about, in many cases, deception and theft? It is a simple matter of crime, which, in a domestic context, is extremely difficult to prove. Where complaints are received, will he urge the police to investigate vigorously?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, my noble friend makes an important point about some of the difficulties in pursuing cases. I agree with him, and I will ensure that the work being taken forward includes liaison with the police forces.

Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, last year this House agreed to establish a Commissioner for Older People in Wales to try to tackle some of these abuses. Is there any plan at all to consider such a commissioner for England, and possibly Scotland?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, we have a national clinical director in the Department of Health who is concerned with particular aspects of care for older people. My right honourable friend John Hutton is the champion for older people in the Government as a whole. Clearly I cannot give such a commitment, but we continue to look to give leadership in these important areas.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, does the Minister not agree that we have far too many commissioners as it is, and that we do not want any more?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: No, my Lords. The commissioners we have are doing a splendid job. I also endorse the work of the national clinical directors we have appointed in the Department of Health, who are collaborating closely with their clinical colleagues.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the increasing elderly population in this country and the concerns about end of life underline the importance of the retention in the hands of the medical profession of the decision whether patients should receive treatment or not for their end-of-life benefit, in the best interests of the elderly person in the same way as that should be decided in the best interests of the child?

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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the noble Baroness is inviting me to tread in rather dangerous waters in relation to the debates which your Lordships have had on the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, in the previous Session. The Government consider that this is an ethical matter on which Parliament must take the lead. I reflect that view today.

Leasehold Information Bill [HL]

11.35 am

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to amend the Land Registration Rules 2003 in relation to registered leasehold estates. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Bill read a first time, and ordered to be printed.

Business of the House: Debates Today

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in the name of my noble friend the Lord President on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the debate on the Motion in the name of Baroness Williams of Crosby set down for today shall be limited to three hours and that in the name of Baroness Linklater of Butterstone to two and a half hours.—(Lord Davies of Oldham.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Budget (Northern Ireland) Order 2007

Waste (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) Order 2007

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend the Lord President, I beg to move the next two Motions standing in her name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the orders be referred to a Grand Committee.—(Lord Davies of Oldham.)

On Question, Motions agreed to.

Further Education and Training Bill [HL]

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Adonis on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the amendments for the Report stage be marshalled and considered in the following order:

Clauses 1 to 28,Schedule 1,Clause 29,Schedule 2, Clauses 30 to 33.—(Baroness Crawley.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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11.36 am

Baroness Williams of Crosby rose to call attention to the responsibilities of the Attorney-General, other members of the Government and the Serious Fraud Office for compliance with the United Kingdom’s treaty obligations and the rule of law regarding the alleged bribery and corruption of foreign officials; and to move for Papers.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I begin this important debate with a short, true story. I apologise in advance to the House for being likely to consult my notes more frequently than I usually do, because it is also a very complicated story.

On 14 December last year, the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General came to this House just before it rose for the weekend to report the decision of the Serious Fraud Office to discontinue its investigations into BAE Systems Plc, concerning payments made in relation to the Al Yamamah contract with Saudi Arabia. He said that,

He told the House that the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Defence Secretary had been consulted. Continuation of the investigation, in their view, would cause serious damage to UK-Saudi security, intelligence and diplomatic co-operation. I quote him again:

The Serious Fraud Office believed also that there was no guarantee that its investigation, which would need to continue for a further 18 months, would lead to prosecution. The Solicitor-General said that it had decided that,

The Attorney-General agreed and indeed thought that the obstacles to a successful prosecution were such that,

In today’s Guardian, it is alleged that the Attorney-General was satisfied that the evidence was sufficient for a prosecution but was overridden, unconstitutionally, by the Prime Minister. In a long interview yesterday with the Financial Times, the Attorney-General reiterated that the decision was made by the Serious Fraud Office independently of his views.

In December 1998, the United Kingdom Government ratified the OECD Convention on Bribery, a key weapon in the global battle against corruption. The OECD recognised that corruption was not a one-way street, that those who offered bribes were as guilty of corruption as those who received them. Thirty-six countries, including all 30 members of the OECD, had agreed to the treaty. Under Article 5, signatories vowed

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that the investigation and prosecution of a foreign official would not be influenced by,

It was unprecedented—or not unprecedented, but unusual—for the chairman of the OECD’s working group on bribery to write to a member Government but, shortly before Christmas, Professor Mark Pieth, the Swiss chairman of the group, did indeed write to ask for an explanation of the Attorney-General’s decision. The OECD had already criticised the United Kingdom for lax implementation of the bribery convention. Its March 2005 report pointed out that not even one individual or company had been indicted or tried for bribery of a foreign official by the United Kingdom since the convention had been ratified. That contrasts with a number of such prosecutions brought in France, one of the major competitors of the United Kingdom for defence contracts. Furthermore, resources made available by the Government for investigation of potential bribery cases were based on an explicit expectation that “few” foreign bribery cases would be investigated. The OECD examiners also urged the UK authorities to amend the code for Crown prosecutors to bring it in line with Article 5 of the convention. Nearly two years later that has still not been done.

Professor Pieth, whose recent letter has not been made public, was concerned that the Attorney-General’s decision in the BAE case was in breach of Article 5 and could undermine the effectiveness of the 1997 convention. He went further, raising doubts about the dual role of the Attorney-General. He said:

In his interview yesterday with the Financial Times, the Attorney-General stoutly denied that there was any breach of the OECD convention. In that he was clearly at odds with the chairman of the working group on bribery of the OECD.

There were some strange anomalies in the Attorney-General’s original Statement to the House. He said that the security and intelligence services shared the assessment of the three Ministers consulted, one of whom was the Prime Minister but in his letter to the OECD, he referred only to the “benefit of their advice”, without disclosing exactly what that advice was. The Daily Telegraph reported on 19 January that John Scarlett, head of MI6, had refused to endorse the Government’s national security reasons for dropping the investigation. Although this was denied, no reference was made in the Attorney-General’s letter to the OECD to any such endorsement. Crucially, as far as we know, neither M15 nor M16 was ever asked for a risk assessment of the threat to national security mentioned by the Attorney-General and the Prime Minister.

Did the Serious Fraud Office decide to drop the investigation? On 18 January, in reply to a question from my noble friend Lord Garden, the Attorney-General declared:

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Maybe that was formally true, but the SFO had been vigorously pursuing the investigation for months. It had learned that BAE had two agencies to handle payments to foreign officials: Poseidon for Saudi Arabian officials and Red Diamond, based in Geneva, for other countries’ officials. Arrangements were made by a reputable British bank for the payments to go to personal Swiss or American bank accounts.

In September 2006, the SFO was granted access to the Swiss accounts for intelligence purposes only. The decision led to a hail of protests to No. 10 and the Attorney-General, from Saudi interests and from BAE. The payments, it was alleged, had been going on for many years, ever since the original Al Yamamah contract was signed in 1988, and the amounts were far from trivial. Indeed, that contract had led to an investigation by the National Audit Office, which reported in 1992. The Public Accounts Committee agreed not to publish its findings.

On 16 January, the working group on bribery met in Geneva. Feeling ran high among the members about the calling-off of the SFO investigation, especially among the American and French representatives, the main competitors for defence contracts with the United Kingdom. The other signatories to the convention expressed their serious concern about the Attorney-General’s decision, which was unusual for a body that works by consensus—and rightly so. The argument from national security threatens to destroy the OECD’s bribery convention by giving every member state a ready excuse for waiving its requirements.

If the UK was genuinely concerned about national security, the responsible way to address such concerns would have been for the company to go to the Serious Fraud Office and disclose precisely what had taken place, to pay the criminal penalties and help to identify the perceived security threats. The public interest in the rule of law would have been sustained and the public interest in national security protected. None of this happened.

What are the consequences of all this? First, the weakening of the battle against corruption, not just in the OECD area but in all those developing countries that we have been addressing in lofty tones about good governance. The double standards are glaring. Secondly, in an industry widely thought to pay huge bribes, where some companies have been working hard to improve their reputation, the Attorney-General’s announcement has done great damage. Thirdly, there are repercussions on the standards of our own Civil Service. It is hard to believe that senior officials at the Ministry of Defence and indeed at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office were not aware of what was going on. I give them the benefit of the doubt, but with considerable doubt. As for the role of the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General, I leave that to my noble and learned friends to pursue. I beg to move for Papers.

11.46 am

Lord Brennan: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, has raised a very broad and important question for our consideration: in what way does and should

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our country deal with international corruption? That is so important a topic that it would be a great disappointment if this turned into a debate based on personal criticism of the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General and, through him, the Government.

Clause 5 of the OECD convention makes it clear that general national interest shall not be the basis on which to excuse corruption. As I understand it, that was not the basis on which the decision about the Saudi Arabian investigation was taken; in fact, it was exactly the opposite, that of national security. I cannot imagine that a convention entered into using the phrase “national interest” must implicitly include national security in that phrase. I cannot imagine any ordinary citizen in this country thinking that it was irrelevant, or not vital, for a Government to consider national security in a situation like this.

If, as I understand it from recent material in the Financial Times, the director of the Serious Fraud Office not only took a decision based on his own judgment, having taken advice, but also consulted our ambassador in Saudi Arabia no fewer than three times, and if, as we know, the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General in his Statement in the House said that this was a decision based on national security, on what basis is it to be questioned? If the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General exercises his office on the basis of principles such as honesty and objectivity, and so does the director of the Serious Fraud Office, that satisfies me without further evidence or material.

I cannot imagine any Attorney-General or director of the Serious Fraud Office treating those obligations to their country in a fashion that would enable them to serve some short-term political interest. The Attorney-General’s office is garbed with a dignity which would soon be in tatters if those principles of honesty and objectivity were not followed. I refuse to take part in debates about the office that do not take that into account but if such debates take place, we should have regard to whether those principles have been applied and, without convincing evidence to the contrary, accept that they have. The office is more important than the holder and the constitutional position is more important than any passing Government or their own interest.

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