HC Deb 23 July 1999 vol 335 cc1538-43
Mr. Forth

I beg to move amendment No. 7, in page 1, line 19, leave out 'two' and insert 'six'.

I hope that we can deal with this matter quickly. It is familiar territory for the House to give some consideration to a Bill's commencement period. In this case, I believe that it may be sensible to allow a somewhat longer period of time than is usual for commencement, simply to ensure that the mechanisms that the Bill introduces are firmly in place before it takes effect.

Undue haste in implementing the Bill is the last thing that we want, given that we are dealing with such sensitive and important matters. I accept that this matter involves a balance of judgment, but I thought it appropriate to facilitate a brief exchange on the commencement period to establish whether the Minister was completely satisfied that all the managers on whom responsibilities will be placed will have sufficient opportunity to put the required mechanisms in place.

That is the objective behind the amendment. It is an important detail, and one worth consideration even at this late stage in our proceedings. I hope that the Minister will reassure me that he is satisfied that those on whom the new responsibilities will fall will be ready for them within the relatively short commencement period specified in the Bill.

Mr. Swayne

I do not see any reason for this amendment. It should be rejected. No one could accuse us of giving this Bill peremptory treatment or implementing it too speedily. It is supported by 11 Scottish Members of Parliament, two of whom are also Members of the Scottish Parliament, which is in recess. Any reservation on their part would have been quite properly expressed.

It is quite appropriate for this House to proceed to enact the Bill without reference to any other Parliament or having to require authority from anywhere else. That is entirely within the spirit of the Scotland Act 1998. I do not believe for one moment that there is a Member of Parliament from Scotland in the House who would urge that we do anything other than reject the amendment.

2.15 pm
Mr. Macdonald

I hope that I can assure Members that two months is adequate time to gear up in the way that the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) suggests. It is the normal amount of time, as hon. Members know. It will allow all necessary guidance to be issued to hospital managers, and allow them to make all necessary arrangements to implement the Act.

The reason for the Bill is that the pace of the on-going move of people from hospital into community care in Scotland is picking up. So, over coming months, significant numbers of people will be affected by the anomaly that the Bill addresses. For that reason, we would not wish to delay the Act's implementation beyond two months.

Mr. Forth

I am grateful to the Minister. I readily accept his balance of judgment that the urgency of dealing with the number of cases outweighs any possible reservations about the speed with which the measures in the Bill can be implemented. Given his reassurance and balance of judgment, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Order for Third Reading read.

2.17 pm
Mrs. Irene Adams (Paisley, North)

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

We have reached the concluding stages of this Bill in its voyage through the House. On Second Reading, the winds were all favourable and excellent progress was made. In Committee, there was just a hint in the comments of the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) that there could be some squalls ahead. Indeed, on Report earlier today, the winds blew rather strongly.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) for their well-intentioned and well-drafted amendments and for graciously withdrawing them in the light of the comments of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. I am glad to say that the Bill has emerged unscathed into what I hope can be calmer waters.

I again pay tribute to the skilful piloting of the Bill through its earlier stages by my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Clarke). It is a great honour for me to assume the badge of temporary pilot during its remaining stages, but it is in my hon. Friend's direction that all the credit must go. We all wish him a speedy recovery.

This is not a large Bill. However, we know that good things often come in small packages and, despite its size, it has the potential to make a big difference to the lives of some of our most unfortunate and disadvantaged fellow citizens. It addresses the gap in the Mental Health (Scotland) Act 1984 which deprives a growing number of people of the benefits of their own funds when they leave hospital. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have warmly endorsed its passage so far. On behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian, I seek their further support in giving the Bill a Third Reading.

I commend the Bill to the House.

2.20 pm
Mr. McLoughlin

The Opposition welcome the Bill and commend those who have introduced it. I join the hon. Member for Paisley, North (Mrs. Adams) in congratulating and wishing a speedy recovery to the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Clarke).

The Bill is a classic example of a well thought out and sensible measure that commands support from both sides of the House, so it is properly suited to private Members' business. It has been carefully scrutinised as a result of the thoughtful amendments that have been tabled and considered this morning. The Bill, being so well drafted, survived that process exceptionally well.

By allowing hospital managers not only to receive money and valuables for a person who is liable to be detained and who is being treated in the hospital, but to continue to hold and spend such funds on such patients after they leave hospital, the Bill will ensure that such moneys can be used for their benefit and are not trapped when the patient starts to reside in the community. As care in the community is to be encouraged where feasible, it is obviously most desirable that this change should be implemented.

The Bill is also noteworthy because the House is legislating on a matter that became devolved to the Scottish Parliament on 1 July 1999—although the devolution rules did provide that legislation introduced before that date could complete its course through the Westminster Parliament. If there had been any resistance from the Scottish Parliament to our continuing to consider the measure, the official Opposition would have been reluctant to lend support to the Bill today. However, it is clear that MSPs of all parties, and the official bodies— such as the Law Society of Scotland—that supported the Bill initially, all want the Bill to complete its passage through this place and remove from the Scottish Parliament the burden of passing identical legislation later.

The Bill therefore stands as an example of post-devolution co-operation between both Parliaments. That fact makes it doubly welcome, and we are happy to give it our support today.

2.22 pm
Mr. Macdonald

My hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Clarke), ably assisted by my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, North (Mrs. Adams), has done an excellent job of steering the Bill safely to this point.

The Government have been delighted to support the Bill. It will make a welcome contribution to the welfare of a growing number of people who are unable, due to incapacity, to look after their own affairs after leaving hospital to live in the community. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian will be able to look back with no little pride on this piece of legislation, which we have come to know as the Clarke Bill, and which I hope will shortly become the Clarke Act.

2.23 pm
Mr. Forth

I echo the words of my hon. Friend the Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin) when he pointed out that this, in many ways, is a model private Member's Bill. It is a brief Bill. It covers a specific point. As the Minister pointed out, it has a degree of urgency about it. It has passed through its successive stages in the House in a proper manner. It came high in the ballot. It received a Second Reading and was considered in Committee, and we have given it a thorough examination on Report.

The hon. Member for Paisley, North (Mrs. Adams) was kind enough to acknowledge that the amendments that I and my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) tabled were designed either to improve the Bill or to get from the Minister the reassurances that, happily, we have got. We have now found out that one of the results of that will be the issue of a circular of guidance, which, in the Minister's view, will strengthen the Bill's provisions. I agree with him. Therefore, the net result of our deliberations, today in particular, has been to strengthen the Bill—as the Minister and the hon. Lady were kind enough to acknowledge. All in all, we can feel satisfied that the proceedings of the House have been properly conducted and have been productive and a force for good. That is as it should be.

Most of the reservations that I had about the Bill, on which I reflected briefly in Committee, have now been put to one side. In cases such as this we always hope that any fears that we may have had will prove groundless; that the additional burdens, if I may put it that way, or obligations that are imposed by this type of legislation, however limited it may seem in scope, can be handled by those responsible; and that it will enhance and protect the well-being of the group at which the legislation is aimed. I believe that on balance that is the case. We have heard from the Law Society of Scotland and from other organisations that have been involved, and it would be appropriate to give the Bill our final approval. We should then keep more than half an eye on the indications that the Minister has given that matters will be carried forward in a Scottish context.

I am delighted to see that the Secretary of State for Scotland is on the Treasury Front Bench to keep a close eye on us and to perform the bridging function that he told us recently he will be performing between what we have done in this place as perhaps a last goodbye to Scottish legislative matters, and the Scottish Parliament. All in all, I think that the Bill will represent an improvement. The House can be happy with it.

2.26 pm
Mr. Maclean

I am pleased to add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Clarke) on his early piloting of the Bill through the House. I congratulate also the hon. Member for Paisley, North (Mrs. Adams), whom I have already commended for her courage in her constituency and for the skilful way in which she has piloted the Bill today. It is important particularly that I congratulate the Minister. He paid tribute to his hon. Friends and to my right hon. and hon. Friends and me for the quality of our amendments, which is rather flattering. He was either making that up or it was in his notes from his officials, in which case I am glad that we were able to impress Scottish Office officials with the quality of our drafting.

Some of our amendments were designed as probing amendments, but I would genuinely have wished to see others of them inserted in the Bill. Given the Minister's assurances that matters were already in hand or that the matters we were raising were already covered somewhere in the Bill, or that he would take up our suggestions and issue guidance and codes of practice, for example, he persuaded us not to proceed with our amendments.

I hold out the Minister as an example to be followed by some other Ministers, perhaps from south of the border, who come to the House on Fridays and become rather impatient or intolerant when they do not get their Bills through in 10 minutes flat, without Members considering them in any detail. The Bills that have come before us today have been given proper consideration.

I hope that Labour Back-Bench Members will not get too annoyed with the rest of the Government when their precious Bills are ruthlessly destroyed by the Government in a few minutes' time. It is of great regret to me that we shall not be able to consider those matters properly, as we have considered the Bill. That is because the Government have given the poisoned chalice to those nice guys from the Government Whips Office, who have to kill off legislation that the Government find intolerable.

My right hon. and hon. Friends and I thought that the Bill was good and that is why we supported it. We thought that it could be improved slightly but we were willing to accept the guidance not only of the Minister, but of the Scottish Association for Mental Health, which welcomed the Bill. It said that it was a small improvement to an unacceptable situation. It spoke of the need for safeguards, and I thought that it was worth while pursuing that point. However, I was happy to back down in the light of the Minister's assurances.

The Law Society of Scotland is also in favour of the provisions of the Bill, stating that it will solve a problem that is affecting a substantial number of former hospital residents in Scotland. The society has urged Members to support the Bill. The Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland also welcomes the Bill.

In these circumstances, I am happy to see the Bill pass into law. I congratulate all who have been associated with getting it this far. I hope that the measure is successful in Scotland in the coming months once it is legislation.

2.29 pm
Mrs. Irene Adams

We have had a short but interesting debate and there remains little to be said. However, I am grateful for the positive contributions that have been made, and it is good to see all Members on both sides of the House supporting the aims of the Bill.

Incapacity is no respecter of persons. It behoves us all to do everything in our power to improve the circumstances of those who sadly find themselves in that situation.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.

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