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Residential Homes Bill Lords

Volume 977: debated on Tuesday 29 January 1980

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Order for Second Reading read.

Before I call the Minister, I remind the House that this is a straight consolidation measure, where all that can be discussed is the question whether the law should be consolidated by the Bill in question.

10.32 pm

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill consolidates certain enactments relating to the registration, inspection and conduct of disabled and old people's homes and residential homes for mentally disordered persons, and to the provision by district councils of meals and recreation for old people.

The Bill has been considered by the Joint Select Committee on Consolidation of Bills. In the Committee's fourth report, made to the House on 14 November 1979, the Committee said that it was of the opinion that the Bill, as amended, was pure consolidation and that there was no point to which the attention of Parliament should be drawn.

It follows from the fact, as reported by the Joint Committee, that this is pure consolidation and that it makes no change whatever in the existing law. It is a part of the continuing process of consolidation of the statute law carried out under the auspices of the Law Commission, as are the next two Bills on the Order Paper, on which I hope to say a word in a moment or two. I commend the Bill to the House.

10.34 pm

I want to speak against the consolidation by the Bill because it perpetuates an unsatisfactory situation. I think that there must be great disappointment on both sides of the House that the Bill is only a tidying-up measure.

There is a concern about private old people's homes which should, in my view, have caused the Government to bring forward not a consolidation Bill but a Bill that would institute much tighter controls over private old people's homes. I would like to quote from the last edition of The Sunday Times, which will illustrate the—

Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman was in the House when Mr. Speaker made his announcement. The only issue that may be discussed is whether the law should be consolidated by the Bill or whether it should be left to be expressed in a number of different statutes.

I appreciate the position, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Mr. Speaker did me the courtesy of explaining it to me personally, as I had indicated my wish to speak on Second Reading. Mr. Speaker explained the position to me in advance of his public announcement in the House.

I speak against consolidation because it will perpetuate an unsatisfactory situation. Surely that is a good ground for speaking against consolidation. If I can argue satisfactorily to the House that the present position is unsatisfactory, I hope that the Minister will think again about consolidation. I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will take the Bill away and return with a new measure that does not merely consolidate but deals with the issues that I intend to raise.

The hon. Gentleman cannot argue that the law should be changed. He can argue only that certain measures should be left on the statute book as at present.

It is my intention to demonstrate that by mere consolidation an unsatisfactory situation will be perpetuated. We should not agree to consolidation for that reason. If you listen to my argument, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I hope that you will find that the matters that I raise are in order.

It was alleged in the most recent issue of The Sunday Times that two of those running old people's homes under the present regulations that we are being asked to consolidate
"lied to local authorities about their London old people's home…to avoid registration and inspection."
Secondly, it is alleged that they
"kept patients in the home against their wishes and prevented friends and relatives from seeing them alone."
Thirdly, it is alleged that they
"posed as 'expert nurses', administered drugs…although neither of them has recognised medical qualifications."
The article continues:
"To some extent it was the weakness of the law on old people's homes, roundly criticised by the coroner last week".
That was the coroner dealing with the particular case to which I refer. If a coroner is criticising the present law and saying that it is unsatisfactory, surely it is wrong for us to go through the procedure of giving the Bill a Second Reading and consolidating measures that are manifestly unsatisfactory.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As the effect of not accepting this consolidation measure would be to leave existing measures unconsolidated, there does not seem to be much that anyone can do to remedy the matters to which the hon. Gentleman is drawing attention. Is there any point in listening to the hon. Gentleman's speech, however elegant and persuasive it may be?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that point of order. I have tried to explain to the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Foulkes) that the Bill does not change the law. It merely consolidates a number of statutes. The hon. Gentleman cannot now argue for a change in the law, and that is what he is attempting to do. However much he may wish to see the law changed, this is not the moment to advance that argument.

I crave the indulgence of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am saying that the Bill is taking the time of the House on Second Reading, and will do so when its later stages are considered, when that time could be spent dealing with an issue of extreme importance. If the Bill is withdrawn—that is what I am suggesting—and the Government introduce a measure that tightens up the regulations, I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will speed its passage. That would lead to an improvement.

In a written answer that I received today from the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security, which the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) also received, the hon. Gentleman stated that he could not usefully add to the reply given by his right hon. Friend to the hon. Member for Isle of Wight on 11 December 1979. That reply stated:
"The review of the arrangements for the registration and inspection of private and voluntary homes for old people, the disabled and persons suffering from mental disorders is continuing."
It says:
"I hope to be able to put forward proposals for consultation during the course of the forthcoming year".—[Official Report, 11 December 1979; Vol. 975, c. 579–80.]
The position is far too serious for us to wait. I hope that—

That may be, but it has nothing to do with the measure that we are discussing. The hon. Gentleman must stick to what is on the Order Paper and not argue for a change in the law, however desirable that may be.

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I hope that I have made my feelings felt. I hope that the Minister will take the opportunity to think about them and withdraw the Bill.

10.41 pm

I am concerned also about the Bill as a consolidation measure. We should not have a consolidation measure before us. We should consider the National Assistance Act 1948 and its application to the 21,500 who are presently in private sector old people's homes. We should consider ways of improving the law. The consolidation measure merely brings together the worst aspects of the present law.

The worst aspects are twofold: first, the aspects referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Foulkes) and, secondly, the real problem of the employees in residential homes who, on many occasions, have no proper trade union recognition rights.

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman. He is arguing the merits of a case and not whether the two statutes should be consolidated. That is the only matter that we are concerned with at the moment.

I am grateful for that ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is the last opportunity in this Parliament for the House to discuss a measure about residential homes. It is crucial that we discuss a measure that will change the law rather than consolidate it. That is why I support the view of my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire that the Bill ought to be withdrawn and replaced by a Bill that gives rights to trade unionists in residential homes and further rights to those who are incarcerated there, often in absolutely deplorable conditions.

10.43 pm

My hon. Friends, drawing on their experience, have drawn to the attention of the House certain failings in existing law. Obviously there are difficulties, within the rules of order, to canvass the issues that they would have raised on another occasion. They have made their points moderately, and the House should listen to them.

There should not be consolidation on this aspect of the law without, first, or at the same time, dealing with the matters raised by my hon. Friends. That is the matter in a nutshell.

Without in any way wishing to fall foul of your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, my hon. Friends have ventilated their grievances. They have brought to the attention of the House matters that they regard as important. It would facilitate business if there were an indication from the Solicitor-General that he will consider the matters that have been raised.

10.44 pm

With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I shall comment on those matters. In the short history of this Parliament I have already said more than once that it is a great pity that hon. Members do not know more about the process of consolidation. It is a self-contained and useful process. It is a process in which a committee of experts does a useful job for us, thus enabling us to implement this tidying-up process without any change in the law and at very small expense in terms of the time of the House.

Two of the hon. Members who have spoken have, I think, shown further evidence of that lack of knowledge, but perhaps that is forgivable in the case of new Members who take a little longer to find these things out. However, I was more surprised at the intervention of the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris). He knows that the only choice before the House is whether we should leave these provisions of the law spread about two separate Acts—and two separate parts of one of those Acts—or whether we should put them into one Act where, good, bad or indifferent, they can be ascertained more easily and speedily by those who are interested. That is the sole question before the House.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman must know that, just as he must know that I cannot deal with any other aspect of the matter. That is the question before the House. When the House faces the right question, I believe that it can come to only one conclusion, which is to give the Bill a Second reading.

10.46 pm

With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Iam sure that the Solicitor-General wants to assist the House. I also want to facilitate the business. But he must not come here and lecture my hon. Friends time after time when he is introducing consolidation measures.

If Conservative Members want to get home early, they must teach the Solicitor-General a lesson when they retire from the Chamber, otherwise there will be a series of occasions when they will be here for a very long time indeed.

Without being immodest, I can say that I have been here for several years, and I know the nature and the meaning of consolidation measures of this kind. However, the point that has been raised is whether on a particular aspect of law there should be consolidation at all.

I know that the Solicitor-General wants to help the House to get his hon. Friends home as early as possible. I know that he wants to get home as early as he can. Therefore, I hope that in future he will not come to the House in such a patronising manner and try to teach my hon. Friends lessons but rather will say sympathetically that their points will be considered by the appropriate channels and that in due course he will either be able or unable to deal with their points. With respect, that is a speedier way—not necessarily a better way—of ensuring that hon. Members get home early.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[ Mr. Newton.]

Committee tomorrow.