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Residential Homes

Volume 171: debated on Tuesday 1 May 1990

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3.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will bring forward proposals requiring the disclosure of criminal convictions by persons who are, or intend to become, proprietors, managers or care staff in private residential or nursing homes.

18.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will bring forward proposals requiring the disclosure of criminal convictions by persons who are, or intend to become, proprietors, managers or care staff in private residential or nursing homes.

Registering authorities should ask an applicant for registration to provide details of any previous criminal convictions. We plan to strengthen that by requiring applicants to declare previous criminal convictions when the regulations made under the Registered Homes Act 1984 are next revised.

That appears to be progress. It is clear that hon. Members and many people outside the House do not understand why there are different criteria—that which applies to children's homes and those who work in them and that which applies to the elderly and the handicapped. They are all vulnerable groups and they need protection. I hope that what the Minister has said will be enacted quickly.

I am most sympathetic to what the hon. Gentleman has said. We are already having discussions with the Home Office. He will be aware that work has started to ensure that criminal records are available for those in the public sector who look after children. There is a new development in voluntary child care, which will be an additional area of activity.

My hon. Friend knows that anxiety about criminal records is felt on both sides of the House. Does she agree that a valuable step in controlling that sort of abuse will come from both the operation of contracts and the work of care managers? Does she further agree that if that is done properly it should make a big difference?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is knowledgeable about these matters. There is no doubt that our community care proposals will enhance the safeguards for individuals who are the subjects of community care—not only the contracts, but making complaints procedures freely available. Those additional safeguards for the frail and the vulnerable, whom we all seek to help, have been written into the Bill.

Is the Minister aware of the case of Olive Wareing, who is in prison for the latest in a string of criminal convictions against elderly people in her care in old people's homes? Does the Minister share my concern that when Olive Wareing leaves prison she can set up an old people's home again and avoid registration provided that there are fewer than three residents in her care? Will the Minister act to plug that dangerous loophole in the law?

The hon. Lady frequently mentions names in her questions. The name in the minds of many Conservative Members is Nye Bevan lodge. Whether in the public or the private sectors, standards must be maintained and protected. As the hon. Lady well knows, during our discussions on the Bill we sought to find a way to introduce controls over smaller homes which did not come within the scope of the Bill. We have made it clear that we are seeking a legislative opportunity to ensure that there is some control over the smaller residential homes.

May I refer my hon. Friend to the report that the Select Committee on Home Affairs published last week about the National Identification Bureau? The report makes a number of recommendations to improve the availability of criminal records, which is rather haphazard at present—there certainly seems to be no uniform policy. No doubt my hon. Friend will wish to discuss with my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary just how those proposals could help to monitor those who have access to individuals, whether through care homes or in any other part of the Health Service, particularly those dealing with children and elderly people? Will she also take care to ensure that, whatever standards are set, the private sector is not discriminated against?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I shall certainly study the report to see what further progress can be made. Those responsible for frail and vulnerable people are concerned that such people should be protected. Those responsible for them are in a position of trust. I fully endorse my hon. Friends comments. We seek a mixed economy of care whether in the private, public or voluntary sector. We want high standards of care, with dignity and choice for the elderly.