HC Deb 12 March 1999 vol 327 cc641-53

Question again proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

11.57 am
Mr. Russell Brown

When I was on my feet earlier, I wondered why so many people had come into the Chamber. I now realise why. Under normal circumstances, I would be upset at being interrupted in full flow, but I was delighted to be disturbed by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who came to the House to make such a positive statement for farmers and consumers.

Before the statement, I was going over some of the history of mental health provisions in Scotland. The 1983 amendments and the 1984 consolidation Act were not extensively debated in Parliament, so it is reasonable to say that the Millan commission has the opportunity to undertake the first fundamental review of the legislation for more than 40 years.

Since 1984, the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986 has been introduced. That was also a private Member's Bill, and was introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke) to improve the rights of disabled people, including people with mental disorders. However, significant sections of the Act were never implemented, including a statutory scheme for advocacy and a requirement for care planning for people being discharged from long-stay care.

The National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990 reorganised the health service, creating what we all now know as NHS trusts. That has, without doubt, complicated issues raised by the Mental Health (Scotland) Act 1984 relating to who bears legal responsibility for such matters as detaining patients and managing their funds. The Act also established new duties for local authorities to assess the needs of those who require community care, and to plan community care services.

In recognition of the fact that community care services for mentally ill people were underdeveloped, a mental illness specific grant was introduced, with the use of powers under the Act. Directions made under the Act established a new right for people requiring residential care to choose their care home. That is an important aspect of something that is happening in my constituency.

Although the Act did not introduce charging for residential care, the increasing use of community care rather than hospitals—especially in the case of elderly people—and budgetary constraints on local authorities led to more people being charged for residential and home care services. That includes services that people receive compulsorily, under, for example, mental health guardianship.

A number of other Acts deal with patients with mental health problems—for instance, the Access to Health Records Act 1990, the Mental Health (Detention) (Scotland) Act 1991, the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Act 1995, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 and the Mental Health (Patients in the Community) Act 1995. The list goes on.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)

Order. I am reluctant to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but the terms of the Bill are very narrow. The Bill concerns the ability of patients to gain access to private funds.

Mr. Brown

I accept that, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

There have also been important reports by the Scottish Law Commission on, for example, incapable adults and vulnerable adults.

What my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian described as a "wee Bill" will nevertheless confer major benefits on those whom it will touch. How would any of us feel if we were told that all our savings were locked away out of our reach, and that we could not have access to them without a cumbersome, lengthy, expensive and inappropriate court procedure?

Many of my constituents with mental health problems are moving out of institutionalised care. In Dumfries, the Crichton Royal infirmary, a well-known hospital for people with such problems, is due to close by 31 December this year. I can tell hon. Members that that timetable will not be achieved.

The intention is to move patients into the community. At an early stage, I spoke to the chief executive of my local community trust, and impressed on him that any move to relocate people in the community in and around Dumfries should take place on the basis that they should be located appropriately. I said that the relocation should not take place with the aim of meeting a deadline. When I met the chief executive again last week, I was delighted that he was able to tell me that the site could not be vacated by the end of the year, and that the process might take another three or six months.

People have been moved into a host of different settings—converted properties, and properties purpose built to house patients. It should not be forgotten that relocating patients means moving them into a different setting. Some of those people may have spent only 12 or 24 months in what is classed as institutional care, but, for many others, it has been their home for 40, 50 or even 60 years. Life will be very different for those people.

I was recently asked to visit a newly purpose-built property in my home town, which was to house four frail elderly ladies. Establishing such homes can be an anxious time not just for the people concerned and their carers, but for the communities in which the people will be placed. I am pleased to say, however, that communities are getting the message that people need more appropriate settings than institutional care.

In my area, 190 patients are in community trusts beds and subject to the incapax rule, 142 of whom have their funds managed by hospital managers; the funds of the other 48 are managed by curators. It is predicted that 75 of those 190 will move from health care into a variety of social care settings over the next 12 months. To date, around 40 people additional to those 190 have already left hospital within the resettlement programme, as it is being called. Some were incapax when in hospital. A small number, around five, have a curator in place.

In the area, a local working group was set up to produce joint health and social care guidance on supporting people who were incapable of managing their own financial affairs, especially after leaving hospital. In Dumfries and Galloway, we are running almost a unique system where we are endeavouring to assist people as they move out, but the issues are complex and we need to take into account whether patients have close relatives who will take responsibility, and whether patients have significant capital or income. The lack of a clear legislative framework has made the task of the group, which has done some sterling work, more and more complex.

One hospital—I will not mention any names, but it is obviously outwith the area—has taken a particularly clear and rigid line that it cannot in any circumstances transfer money. That money can still be accessed by patients and their care workers, but it is an infringement of human rights that their money is not more easily accessed. It is ridiculous that someone could be discharged back into their home area of Dumfries with their money still being retained more than 100 miles away.

Mrs. Irene Adams

Does my hon. Friend agree that life is often difficult enough for people who are making the transition from long-term residential care back to the community? Often, as he has said, they have been in care for 40 or 50 years and have enjoyed the little luxuries that their funds have bought them in recent years. When they are released back into the community without access to those funds, they are even further confused by the fact they cannot continue to enjoy those little luxuries.

Mr. Brown

My hon. Friend is exactly right. It comes back to the saying about the simple things in life being so pleasing to people with severe mental health problems.

The issue of arranging for people's money to be managed after their discharge has taken up hours and hours of the resettlement group's time in Dumfries. Banks and building societies are anything but helpful when people cannot sign for themselves to open an account. Arranging for a curator to be put in place is expensive and leads to inflexibility. It is a nightmare; it can be classed as nothing but that. The lack of legislation to provide a framework means that local authorities cannot agree arrangements to resolve that situation.

Ms Osborne

Does my hon. Friend agree that one aspect of community care can complicate matters in relation to the Bill? Many elderly people move from one part of the country to the other; many have moved to Ayrshire because it is such a picturesque part of Scotland. Does he agree that that aspect has to be taken into account as well?

Mr. Brown

My hon. Friend is exactly right. Ayrshire is a beautiful part of the country, but I have to say that Dumfries is equally beautiful.

As a society, we are moving towards discharging people back into the community, but the major anomaly in relation to how patients' finances are managed is an infringement of human rights. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg) said that she believed she had spent her money somewhat frivolously at the Monet exhibition yesterday. Frivolously or not, as we head towards the millennium, those who fall into the category of incapax patients also deserve to have that right in a civilised society.

The Bill will move things forward for so many vulnerable people and is a great credit to my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian—who, as hon. Members have already said, is a big man with a big heart. By choosing this issue above all those from which he could have chosen, he has also, once again, shown his true socialist credentials. I know full well that, first thing on Monday, he will grab a copy of Hansard to read all the compliments that have been paid to him today, and justifiably so. However, in the eyes of many of us, he will remain—as we say north of the border—a crabbit old devil at times.

The Bill is a major step forward. Once enacted, it will plug a loophole. The new Scottish Parliament will also be able to take on board the issue. I merely hope that all hon. Members will support my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian in promoting his Bill.

12.10 pm
Mrs. Rosemary McKenna (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth)

It is a pleasure to be called to speak in the debate. However, looking at the statistics that we were given today, I see that Lanarkshire, the Western Isles and Shetland have no one who would be affected by the Bill's provisions. I do not know why that is, although I shall certainly look into it. I hope that it is because the areas are very enlightened and have moved on in addressing the issue. Anything else that Lanarkshire, the Western Isles and Shetland might have in common is a completely mystery to me.

I am pleased to support my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Clarke) in promoting his Bill, and heartily associate myself with the words that other hon. Members have spoken about him today. His choice of issue to promote in a Bill tells us much about him. It tells us about the type of man that he is.

I shall use some of my hon. Friend's own words. He said that it was a "wee Bill". He should have said that, "It was a wee Bill that was needed for a wee while, but will make a great big difference to the lives of a lot of people in Scotland."

I should like to echo the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh (Dr. Strang), who spoke about the committee established by the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, my hon. Friend the Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith), under the excellent chairmanship of Bruce Millan. Although there is a huge task to be done by the Scottish Parliament, this small Bill will make a tremendous difference and help in that work. We want an early resolution of the matter, but it is important that time should be taken to get it right. The Bill will help the committee to address all the issues.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg) for her extremely amusing and telling speech, in which she demonstrated the importance to the House of having her as an hon. Member. She spoke with such conviction, authority and humour that it makes me look forward to the day when it is not a surprise to see in this place people who are wheelchair bound. She was right to say that language is crucial. My preferred option is to speak of "people with disabilities", as that puts people first, focusing on their abilities, not disabilities. We should be talking about people's capabilities.

I should like to mention a facility in my own constituency that, before passage of the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990, was created by people in the community. In the early 1980s, a partnership of local authorities in Cumbernauld and Kilsyth and in Strathclyde, the then Scottish Society for the Mentally Handicapped, the parents of handicapped people and local businesses established one of the first group tenancies in Scotland.

When the partnership was created, my very good and hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mrs. McGuire) was its chairperson—she had also been very much involved in its creation—and I was the local authority leader. The partnership solved a problem for the parents of the group home's residents, who had been extremely concerned about their children's future. Most of the people came from long-term institutions, but some of them were within the community. It was a real partnership and it worked extremely well. It was the first group tenancy in our town. There are now three in Cumbernauld and one in Kilsyth. They make a tremendous difference and have dramatically improved the lives of the people involved.

I mentioned that my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling was chair of the partnership. She will remember an incident involving Derek, who will not mind being mentioned by name. In fact, he will be absolutely delighted to see his name in Hansard. At the official opening, Derek, who was in his early 20s, asked my hon. Friend to intervene and tell his mother that it was his decision as to when he went to bed. Derek treasured being allowed to make that simple decision. My hon. Friend the Member for Stirling handled the situation very diplomatically.

Derek had come from a much-loved home where he was extremely well cared for, but going to live in the group tenancy gave him independence and a tremendous feeling of being part of the community. I treasure that, as does the entire community in Cumbernauld and Kilsyth. Group tenancies have enhanced the quality of life of the adults in the group, who go out for pub lunches and cause mayhem at local church dances. I should say that they are quite indiscriminate about the church dances. They love them all, and they are very welcome. They also go shopping in the town centre. They have enhanced the quality of life of the entire community. They are part of our community. Children grow up with such people in their midst and we gain as much from their presence as they do from having their freedom.

We should all support the Bill. Mention has been made of the concern of parents. I should like to raise another issue that is not directly related to the Bill, but involves people making decisions. As a local councillor, I once tried to deliver a letter to the local nursing home where there were about 60 geriatric patients. I asked to speak to the matron, who agreed to take the letters but said that they would make no difference. I said, "Don't you think they should know who their local Member is and who they should speak to if they have any problems?" She replied, "I decide that." That really worried me. I am also worried that they do not have proper access to voting—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I have allowed some leeway, but I cannot allow the hon. Lady to go so wide of the Bill and discuss polling facilities.

Mrs. McKenna

I was saying that everyone has the right to vote—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I cannot allow the hon. Lady to talk about the right to vote. She must restrict her comments to the contents of the Bill.

Mrs. McKenna

I appreciate that, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is a matter that I can pursue elsewhere, and I certainly will.

Society should be judged on how it treats its most vulnerable members. As the law has not been changed to reflect care in the community, we are all failing the most vulnerable people in our society when we deny them small items of comfort. It diminishes them and us, so I urge the House to support the Bill.

12.19 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Sam Galbraith)

I appreciate the choice of Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Clarke) and the elegant and persuasive way in which he spoke. He has received so many compliments today that I wonder whether he is the same person whom we know or his brother. I am happy to say that all the compliments were justified. As has been said, many hon. Members who have the chance of a private Member's Bill go for an approach that creates publicity and media attention and gives them a reputation. In keeping with his record in the Labour movement and the trade union movement, my hon. Friend has once again chosen an unspectacular route that will benefit a large number of people. He should be congratulated on that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Brown) said that my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian was crabbit. That is probably true from time to time, but it is only because of his frustration at being unable to enact his good measures. We forgive him for his crabbit behaviour, but we congratulate him on the Bill, which is a significant step forward that will be regarded as a small but important measure for the people concerned.

Before I deal with some of the issues in the Bill, I should like to refer to some of the points that have been raised. I thank the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) for his support for the Bill and the kind words that he passed on to my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian. He asked some important questions, including what happens if someone ceases to be incapacitated. As at present, the funds will be returned to the person from the control of hospital managers before or after discharge. He also asked about the meaning of benefit. There is no definition of the word in the Mental Health (Scotland) Act 1984, but courts would continue to look on the ordinary meaning of the word.

The hon. Gentleman was also concerned about expenditure and the right of redress. One or two other hon. Members have raised that. I may deal later with guidance on how those issues should be managed. There are no specific rights under the 1984 Act for an incapable patient to challenge expenditure by hospital managers. We shall consider that in the context of the incapable adults Bill to come forward under the new Scottish Parliament, but anyone who deals with a person's funds has an obligation to account for his actions. If he is negligent, that can be remedied under common law. I hope that I have answered the hon. Gentleman's queries on that, but if he has any other concerns I should be only too pleased to reassure him.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh (Dr. Strang) eloquently described the benefits of community care and the reason why we need the Bill. He has visited many former long-term hospital patients, particularly from Gogarburn, and seen their terrific success in the community. I endorse everything that he said on that.

The hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) welcomed and supported the Bill on behalf of her party. I am grateful to her for that. She raised several issues, including whether the hospital manager can hand over funds to someone else to be managed. The answer is no. That is why the Bill is necessary. Other arrangements, such as the appointment of a curator bonis, can be made, but they are very expensive and would not be appropriate for some of the amounts involved.

The hon. Lady was also worried about extra bureaucracy. We shall deal with that in the guidance that we shall issue if the Bill becomes law to ensure that there is no unnecessary bureaucracy. She asked whether the money would revert to the Crown following death. Normal laws of succession will apply, as they do to every patient—an incapable adult is no different. If the person has a will, it will be implemented; if not, the law of succession will apply. It is only if neither of those circumstances apply that the Crown would receive the funds under the doctrine of ultimus haeres. I hope that I have reassured her on that point.

My hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, North (Mrs. Adams) described extremely well the reasons for the Bill when she talked about John. What she outlined is exactly the problem that we face, and I am grateful to her for highlighting it. I am also grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, East, Nairn and Lochaber (Mr. Stewart) for describing the reasons for the Bill and the reality behind it. I am sure that all of us would find someone who is involved in such matters in our constituencies.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg) was right once again to mention that language is important. As a doctor, I always used to be upset when people were described as "a low back pain" or "a head injury". I used to try to inculcate my colleagues with the notion that such people were real people with dignities, realities and futures. We should always remember that. In my defence, I should say that such terms are legal ones—and my hon. Friend knows what lawyers are like. She is right that the medical profession must treat people with dignity. She also described some of the small activities from which we all benefit, and mentioned getting her hair done. That is not one of the benefits that I share, but I understand what she means.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Ms Osborne) talked about funding of community care. There is now more than £1 billion available for social work. We will increase that by £279 million over the next three years to address the very problem that she described.

My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman) asked some very specific questions on people in long-term care; bridging care before moving into the community; and re-provision at Larkfield. The folk involved in that re-provisioning are very confident that the contract for the new Larkfield unit will be signed very soon. He mentioned the mental illness specific grant. We have made it very specific, and a permanent fixture. It used to be temporary and considered each year, but it has been analysed and found to be useful, so will become permanent.

My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde also asked about guidance on managing the funds of incapacitated patients—not just in hospital but in the community—and mentioned the draft guidance that was published last year. We have received a number of responses to that, especially from the Law Society, the Mental Welfare Commission and local authorities. We are considering them, and hope to issue final guidance very shortly, which will go to all the usual statutory bodies, such as local authorities, health boards, and so on.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries talked about Crichton Royal. I am pleased to hear that the principles of community care are firmly followed there, and that nobody leaves hospital for the community until the right facilities are provided for them. There are no time scales for such things; facilities must be right for the patient. That must be the most important criterion, and I am pleased that it has been adopted at that hospital.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Mrs. McKenna) mentioned the review of mental welfare legislation and described the benefits of community care. In doing so, she did not only talk of the person involved, although that is very important. Indeed, such matters are the most important to those people; that is what we are all about. She is right, however, that the community often benefits and is enriched, too. I am grateful to her for her contribution.

The Government unequivocally support the Bill. As my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian said, it responds to a real and pressing difficulty caused by the inflexibility of section 94 of 1984 Act. As he so clearly described, the Act, which consolidated the Mental Health (Scotland) Act 1960, is of considerable antiquity and has not kept pace with changes in the way in which people are managed and treated in care. It was enacted when hospital care was seen as the right and proper way for society to look after people who were unable to care for themselves. Since then, developments have shown that individuals with mental disorders can, as my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, North described, live much more fulfilled lives in the community, given appropriate support.

The Government recognise the case for new comprehensive mental health legislation consistent with current practice. I am glad of the welcome from all parties for the review that I announced in December to be conducted under the chairmanship of the right hon. Bruce Millan, a distinguished former Secretary of State for Scotland. The review is now into its stride and the first meeting was held last week. I am certain that we will get a report that will lay the basis for enlightened mental health legislation fit for the new millennium.

That legislation will take time to go through the new Scottish Parliament. The 1984 Act in its present form does not allow hospital managers to release the funds of incapable patients when they leave hospital to live in the community. That would be an unacceptable situation even if only one patient was affected, but when, as we have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian, perhaps as many as 750 people could be in such a position by the end of the year, with more in the following years, we cannot allow the situation to continue. Action is needed, and that is why I am very grateful to my hon. Friend.

It might be helpful to the House if I say a little bit more about the management of the funds of people who, through mental disorder, are unable to look after their own affairs. The 1984 Act recognised the problem and, within the prevailing wisdom at that time, provided a helpful framework designed to ensure that the interests of patients and their resources are fully safeguarded. For example, the legislation allows local authorities to apply for the appointment of a curator bonis to look after the funds of people incapable of doing so for themselves, whether in hospital or in the community.

The Mental Welfare Commission, a body set up under the 1984 Act to exercise protective functions with respect to the mentally disordered, can also arrange a similar appointment but, as numerous hon. Members have mentioned, such arrangements can be extremely expensive and in many cases they are totally disproportionate to the sums held in the hospital.

Section 94 was enacted to allow hospital managers to receive, hold and expend the resources of patients in the hospital. The provision was conceived with the best of intentions, and indeed it still provides a perfectly adequate solution for the management of patients' funds while they are in hospital, with hospital managers ensuring that they get the optimum benefit.

Many patients now have the opportunity to move into the community, whether returning to their own home or moving into supported or nursing home accommodation. For many, whether young or not so young, that offers the best opportunity for a better quality of life than is possible in hospital: a life with some decency and dignity. That is not because long-stay hospitals are unpleasant places, although some are, but simply because care in the community, by its very nature, can offer the necessary security, protection and comfort in a more domestic and acceptable setting. I am sure that we have all been to see patients who used to be in hospital and are now living in the community, with all the advances and improvements that have been made. I have no doubt whatever about the benefits.

Before any patient is discharged from hospital, the social work department will co-ordinate a multidisciplinary assessment of the care and support needed in the community. Services can be provided by a range of statutory and independent sector agencies, ensuring that there is a package of support for everyone.

That package, to be put in place before the patient returns to the community, should include planning to ensure that resources accruing to the patient when in the community will be properly managed on his or her behalf by whatever means are appropriate. The difficulty, as I have said, is that resources already accumulated by patients while in hospital cannot move with them when they move into the community. That is simply a lacuna in the 1984 Act, which our predecessors in the House could not have been expected to foresee. My hon. Friend's Bill plugs the gap. It will also allow hospital managers to receive and hold interest accruing on moneys already held in the hospital, a point which has been made by the Law Society of Scotland. The Bill will have a dramatic effect in liberating funds trapped in hospitals and help to ensure that the persons concerned, while in the community, will secure the maximum ability to obtain the small things that make the difference, as described by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South.

Several hon. Members made the point that we need to ensure that reasonable and proper safeguards are in place to make sure that the resources are truly used in the patient's best interests when in the community. The hospital manager will retain responsibility for the funds, and will be responsible for authorising expenditure. There will need to be close co-operation between the new carer in the community and the hospital manager. I anticipate that the procedures, which will be put in place when the Bill becomes law, will enable the new carer to apply to the hospital manager for the release of funds, as the occasion arises, to be spent in the most appropriate way for the person's benefit.

I would expect each NHS trust, in such circumstances, to be satisfied that the proposed spend is appropriate and for the real personal benefit of the individual, and that consideration has been given to value for money in each case. I would emphasise that such spend will not replace expenditure on items or services that are the proper responsibility of the care facility, the NHS or the local authority. We must always remember that the moneys that we are speaking about today belong specifically to a particular patient and must be used for that person's individual benefit. To guarantee that, if the Bill is enacted, I undertake to ensure that further guidance is issued to those who will be required to operate the new provisions. The guidance will set out, for example, how money should be requested from hospital managers, and how hospital managers should consider such requests.

In his speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian said that he had no wish to see his Bill grow old in the same way as the 1984 Act has done, and he expressed the hope that wide-ranging, comprehensive legislation would be enacted in the Scottish Parliament that would modernise the arrangements for managing the affairs of incapable adults. Hon. Members will be glad to know that I share my hon Friend's views.

The report issued by the Scottish Law Commission on incapable adults as long ago as 1995 made proposals for a new legislative framework for managing the affairs of incapable adults. Following consideration of an extensive consultation on the commission's proposals, the Government made it clear last December that we fully accepted the need for reform of existing legislation in that important area, and set out the Government's views on the commission's proposals. It will be within the competence of the Scottish Parliament to legislate in that area and, while we cannot prejudge or pre-empt what the Parliament's legislative programme will be, it would certainly be my hope that legislative progress can be made in this deserving area at an early stage.

While legislation must await the new Parliament, we can take steps administratively to improve the current situation. That is why we consulted last year on draft guidance that seeks to address concerns about the arrangements for managing and protecting the finances, housing and other property of people who are incapable of managing their own affairs as a result of mental disorder. It provides guidance for health boards, local authorities and relevant independent sector agencies and seeks to clarify the existing legal options for the management and protection of incapable adults' resources. That point was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde. Many constructive responses have been received during the consultation, and we hope to be in a position shortly to issue the final guidance to the bodies that I have mentioned. The guidance will focus above all else on the needs of the individual. It will assert the primacy of private or family arrangements over institutional ones, with due regard to appropriate safeguards, and it will reaffirm opportunities to make best use of existing options for managing the financial affairs of incapable adults. This guidance, together with the Bill before the House today, will help to clarify current areas of doubt and ensure that people who suffer from mental disorders receive the best possible deal under the existing legislative framework.

I cannot emphasise enough the extent to which the Government view my hon. Friend's Bill as an important and necessary measure. All hon. Members referred this morning to cases where money has become entrapped and cannot be used for the future. We cannot allow that situation to continue. I hope—as does my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian—that the Bill will be an interim measure until a fully fledged modern legislative framework for managing the funds of incapable adults is introduced in the new Parliament.

I congratulate my hon. Friend once again. He has taken his time and used his resources and experience to do something positive for a group in society whom he is able to assist through his own direct action. In his conduct in the House and throughout his public and private life, my hon. Friend has always sought to use what powers he has to root out inequalities, deal with disadvantage and to produce a richer, fairer and more dignified life for as many people as possible in which everyone is free and more able to realise their potential. My hon. Friend has sought to do that in this measure, and I congratulate him on behalf of all hon. Members on both sides of the House.

Mr. Eric Clarke

With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not know what to say—everyone has been so nice to me. I am grateful to hon. Members for the welcome that they have given the Bill. I also thank the Minister—it is a mutual admiration society—and his civil servants who helped me behind the scenes. They encouraged me to produce this Bill and assisted me in drawing it up. I am very grateful to them.

I must also thank the Law Society and Michael Clancy, Adrian Ward and Ann Keenan. I have discovered that not all lawyers are crooks and that many care about society and want to correct anomalies. Those three people are in that category.

I must mention some of my hon. Friends specifically. My hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, North (Mrs. Adams) did an embarrassing amount of work behind the scenes. Another lawyer, my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. Browne), also did a tower of work on my behalf. I was also assisted by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Dowd)—who is from south of the border—and my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mrs. McGuire). The sponsors and supporters of the Bill have been absolutely wonderful. Bruce Millan told me on Saturday that I was doing a marvellous job, so he has endorsed the Bill as well.

I must declare an interest in the debate as I am a disabled person. It is correct to say that this is a small Bill which, as it currently stands, cannot hope to put right the problems that hon. Members have identified regarding the management of the finances of those who are incapable of looking after their own affairs because of a minor disorder. Indeed, the Bill does not attempt to do so. It aims simply to address one problem that, if not corrected, would seriously disadvantage the people concerned. As such, it represents one small but important step along the way to comprehensive legislation, which we all hope will be pursued in the Scottish Parliament. I hope—indeed, I am sure—that the support that I have received from my hon. Friend the Minister also demonstrates the Government's willingness to deal with this important topic.

Future action will be taken in the new Parliament in Edinburgh. In the meantime, we must take steps so that we can tackle this cumbersome problem. Accordingly, I commend the Bill to the House.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I have much pleasure in putting the Question.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of Bills).