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House of Lords

Monday, 30 June 2008.

The House met at half-past two: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham.


Lord Blaker asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Lord Bach: My Lords, it is clear to the world that the so-called election last Friday was a complete sham and that, as African observers have already said, it did not reflect the will of the people. It is not surprising that Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC felt that they had to withdraw, given the horrendous levels of violence and intimidation. We will continue to press for a resolution that reflects the political choice of the people as they voted on 29 March.

Lord Blaker: My Lords, there are so many threads in this picture that it is difficult to know which ones to pick up but I shall briefly mention three. The first is that support is flowing away from Mugabe. He has been criticised by Mandela, two archbishops, the Secretary-General of the Security Council, the G8, the EU, SADC observers, which is significant, and the African Union, which is also significant. Therefore, it is a case of Mugabe against the world. The second is the position of Mugabe’s military, which played a very big role in the terror over the past weeks in return for Mugabe giving up his idea of retiring. Finally—

Noble Lords: Question!

Lord Blaker: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that it is important that we should not play too big a role in this scene and that it is for the Africans to deal with?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I agree with everything that the noble Lord said. We should not play too big a role, and it is important that the Security Council, the African Union and SADC work together on this. However, we do have a role and a strong view on this, and anything that we can do to help to resolve this outrageous position, we will do.

Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, in the light of the fact that the second presidential election in Zimbabwe was held beyond the 21-day limit legislated for in the constitution and that it appears that the MDC and its allies have an overall majority of about nine in the Zimbabwean Parliament, is there any possibility of the Parliament being able to exercise any practical pressure on Mugabe and his henchmen, who usurp power in that country?

Lord Bach: My Lords, the noble Lord’s points are good ones. There is no doubt that in the legitimate elections held in March the MDC won a majority in Parliament and the opposition candidate for president certainly got more votes than President Mugabe. I pay tribute to the bravery shown by MDC opposition politicians over a long period and to those who voted for them last week. Whether the politicians who make up a majority in the Parliament will feel able to take a stand is very much a matter for them, but we need to understand the appalling situation that exists in that country in terms of the number of people who have already died and the violence and threats that made up the election that was supposed to take place last Friday.

Lord Trimble: My Lords, in view of the point made in the previous question that the run-off election was outside the due time under the Zimbabwean constitution and that in the legitimate elections Mugabe was beaten

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both in the presidential election and in the parliamentary election, why do the Government not just simply withdraw recognition of the regime?

Lord Bach: My Lords, it is extremely tempting to do so, but we have to think very carefully whether that is sensible at this time. All options are possible. We recognise states, not governments, and Mugabe is not a legitimate president. However, 14,000 or so British citizens live in Zimbabwe. At present, we believe that it would be wrong not to have some representation for those people, especially given the very difficult circumstances that I have tried to outline.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, are we ready to tighten the screws on the ZANU-PF elite, for example, by halting the three-times a week flights by Air Zimbabwe from Zimbabwe into Gatwick and by persuading the Germans to halt the printing of bank notes, which have fuelled the 9 million per cent inflation? As it will be impossible to send Zimbabwean asylum seekers back there in the near future, will the noble Lord answer the question which has been put to him by my noble friend Lady Williams about allowing Zimbabwean refugees in this country to work, particularly in activities that will contribute to the rebuilding of their country when they are able to go home?

Lord Bach: My Lords, on asylum, I make it clear that we have no current plans to enforce returns to Zimbabwe and will not do so until the current political situation is resolved. On the work position, as my noble friend Lord Malloch-Brown, who, as we speak, is at the AU meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh, said last week:

Lord St John of Bletso: My Lords—

Lord Morris of Handsworth: My Lords—

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My Lords, it is the turn of the Labour Benches.

Lord Morris of Handsworth: My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the England and Wales Cricket Board. I welcome the decision to stop Zimbabwe’s cricket team playing bilateral matches with England. Are there any plans to stop the Zimbabwean cricket team visiting England for the Twenty20 World Cup next year? If not, what will the position be if England meets Zimbabwe in the finals?

Lord Bach: My Lords, there are no sporting sanctions as such on Zimbabwe. However, international sport should never be a way for dictators to publicise their misrule. As my noble friend says—I am grateful for his comments—we have made it clear that we do not want the bilateral tour to go ahead and that we will do all in our power to prevent it from going ahead. We have

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also—I hope this answers the question—asked the ECB to represent to the International Cricket Council our serious concerns about the situation in Zimbabwe and ask the ICC to reconsider its inclusion in the Twenty20 World Cup.

Lord St John of Bletso: My Lords, can the Minister please elaborate on what measures can be taken to allow duly elected MDC Members of Parliament to take their seats?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I wish I could. Given the state of government in Zimbabwe at present, anything I said on that would have every prospect of not being accurate. One hopes that those properly elected Members of Parliament will be allowed to take their seats and to exercise their powers in the proper way. We hope for so much for that country, and so far we have seen so little.

Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords—

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, we are in the ninth minute. The noble Lord must sit down.

Mental Health: Section 136 Facilities

2.45 pm

The Lord Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, we have good reason to believe that the extra resources that have been made available for investment in adult mental health services are being used to develop a growing number of dedicated Section 136 facilities. However, the Government do not hold information centrally for the total number of such facilities.

The Lord Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. In Nottingham, all detained under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act, other than those requiring physical health needs urgently to be addressed in A&E units, are taken to a police station as a place of safety. I appreciate that Her Majesty's Government have allocated money to build suitable assessment units in psychiatric hospitals, but what assurance can the Minister give that facilities will not fail to open due to a lack of staff? How will Her Majesty's Government monitor the availability of these suites to help patients in need?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate for his questions, which are entirely reasonable. The capital funding allocated by the Department of Health in 2006 included £1.35 million for Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust to build a new eight-bed unit, including a Section 136 facility. Indeed, a condition of the funding was that Nottinghamshire met the revenue costs. There really

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is no reason why NHS bodies locally, in partnership with other relevant agencies, should not provide appropriate facilities and arrangements.

On the right reverend Prelate’s second question, we have given some thought to monitoring in respect of Section 136. The primary responsibility for ensuring effective and appropriate use of Section 136 lies with the responsible local agencies. However, our revised code of practice to the Mental Health Act makes it clear that locally agreed policies must include arrangements for effective monitoring of how, in what circumstances and with what outcome Section 136 is being used locally.

Baroness Meacher: My Lords, the fact that severely mentally ill people still spend many hours languishing in police cells reflects a much wider failure to invest sufficient resources in in-patient units and services. The result is that the current risk is unacceptable. Will the Minister seek from strategic health authorities an assurance that they will review the levels of risk and the quality of services in in-patient units as well as the availability of Section 136 suites and that they will spend sufficient money to ensure that there is an acceptably low risk?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, I am very happy to revisit this question, but we have made it clear in our revised code of conduct that police stations should be used only exceptionally as a place of safety under the Act. There is clearly much to do, as they are used much too often. The code stresses that it is preferable for people to be detained in a hospital or other healthcare setting where mental health services are provided.

Lord Elton: My Lords, does the noble Baroness realise how encouraging it is to hear that she is aware of this as a problem that the Government must tackle earnestly? Does she also realise how much that pleases me, given that, when I was a Minister in the Department of Health and Social Security in 1982 and, later, when I had responsibility for the Prison Service, I was faced with exactly the same cries about insufficient secure beds in NHS services for the number of people who needed them? The result is treatment that is not acceptable.

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, the noble Lord is correct: we are driven by a desire to prevent and minimise people with mental disorders coming into contact with police and being detained by them. He is absolutely right that we need to improve access to healthcare.

Baroness Murphy:My Lords, I shall expand a little on what the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, asked because I think she was trying to get a rather broader response. What are the Government doing to ensure that mentally ill people can and want to access emergency and in-patient services, with confidence that they are of such a quality that they do not have to deteriorate to the point where a Section 136 is necessary—so they can get in early? What are the Government doing to ensure that services are of an acceptable quality that people want to use?

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Baroness Thornton:My Lords, the noble Baroness will be aware from experience that the Government have made the provision of services to those with mental illness a priority, which has included an additional £130 million capital funding to the NHS in England to assist with the development of dedicated healthcare-based facilities, including for people detained under Section 136, but not only for them.

Baroness Barker: My Lords, will strategic health authorities monitor the provision of acute mental health services in rural areas? It is evident that in some rural areas police stations are overused as places of safety because of a lack of facilities.

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, I need to repeat what I said earlier: monitoring is a local responsibility. However, the Independent Police Complaints Commission is expected shortly to publish findings on the use of police stations under Section 136, which will include rural facilities. The Royal College of Psychiatrists working group is developing an agreed approach to recording information about the use of Section 136. Both those things will help to take this forward.

Earl Howe: My Lords, will the future Care Quality Commission have a role in setting and monitoring standards in this area?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, the noble Earl is aware that it will. I hope that the CQC will take this up very seriously.

Office of the Public Guardian: Lasting Powers of Attorney

2.52 pm

Baroness Gardner of Parkes asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, since October 2007, the Office of the Public Guardian has seen a significantly higher than predicted number of applications to register lasting powers of attorney. A strategy to deal with the high volume has been implemented, and improvements are starting to be seen. I expect further progress to be made over coming months.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Does he accept that it is now taking four months to set up a lasting power of attorney where it took only a month to set up the old one, that costs have risen fourfold to more than £1,000 a time and that relatives now have to complete two forms, each of 25 pages, compared with a single four-page document previously? Is any consideration being given to reducing those 25 pages?

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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I think that the cost must refer to the cost of lawyers, which is a question between the client and the lawyer. Some of the time built into the new system is because of the safeguards that were deemed to be necessary and were thought to be absent from the previous system. I have copies of both forms, which were carefully prepared in consultation with stakeholders. However, I am sure that over the next few months there will be an opportunity to take account of the comments made by the noble Baroness. We are committed to reducing the time for the overall process to the absolute minimum.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, does the Minister accept that one of the problems with lasting powers of attorney is that people who enter into them are often ill and frail? Filling out 25-page forms is not the easiest thing for them to do, and they may be subject to influences. What would the Minister do to publicise the benefits of people entering into a power of attorney of this nature when they are relatively in charge of themselves and understand all the implications?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I understand the point that the noble Lord raises. The problem has arisen because the number of applications per month reached 6,000 last month against an estimate, when the new policy was enunciated, of around 2,600 a month. That suggests that, notwithstanding the short-term problems with the timetable, the message about the importance of the lasting power of attorney is getting through to potential donors. I entirely understand the point that he makes about the forms, and I am sure that, as part of the review after 12 months of the operation of the new system, that matter will be looked at carefully.

Baroness Greengross: My Lords, when there are delays and when money from the person’s account is needed—for instance, to pay care home fees—what provisions are there to enable access to funds prior to registration?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I assume that the noble Baroness is referring to a situation where a person has not yet become registered. Clearly that will depend on the circumstances of the individual. Under Section 5 of the Act, there are provisions to enable a person to act on behalf of an individual on that basis. Ultimately, application can be made to the Court of Protection.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, is absolutely correct. Difficulties are being experienced by people in precisely those circumstances. Will my noble friend undertake to look at that matter specifically and perhaps write to us?

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