§ Mr. Gordon McMaster (Paisley, South)
I beg to move,That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for the coming into force of the provisions of the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986 relating to the appointment and rights of authorised representatives, the assessment by local authorities of the needs of disabled persons, and the procedures to be implemented when a person is discharged from hospital, and to make corresponding provision in respect of the Disabled Persons (Northern Ireland) Act 1989.
It is almost exactly 10 years since the private Member's Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) received an unopposed Third Reading. A few weeks later, the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986 was given the Royal Assent and passed into law. Yet a decade later, four major sections of that Act of Parliament have still not been implemented. Those provisions would have made a tangible difference to the lives of countless thousands of disabled people and people with mental illnesses.
The Government's continued refusal to implement the law of the land is an insult to those people and their carers. But it is more than that—it is an insult to the House, and to democracy itself. Surely it cannot be right for a Government stubbornly to ignore a law passed by Parliament. A Bill that is enacted and then not acted on cannot change anything for anyone. An Act that is not put into action is reduced to empty words and broken promises. Disabled people are disappointed—and, yes, angry—that that Act is still not being fully implemented; but they are not surprised.
It is not the first time that legislation designed to improve the lives of disabled people has been passed by Parliament and ignored by Government. For example, the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970, which was piloted through the House by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), has suffered the same fate. Many hon. Members, and countless thousands of disabled people throughout the country, deeply regret my right hon. Friend's decision not to seek re-election. The best tribute that we could pay him for his years of dedicated service to the cause of disabled people's rights would be to implement both his Act and the 1986 Act, in full and now.
Earlier today, along with hon. Members from both sides of the House, I attended the launch of a new campaign called Time to Care. Hundreds of people from all parts of the country came here to demand an urgent overhaul of care in the community. This Bill would be a significant step forward in that campaign, because it would give disabled people, people with mental illnesses and those with learning difficulties the right to have an advocate, the right to be consulted on their care, the right to be represented, and the right to have a proper assessment of their needs. A 30-minute meeting involving advocacy, could rescue someone from a lifetime of misery.
When my hon. Friend the Member for, Monklands, West drew first place in the private Members' ballot more than 10 years ago, he introduced a Bill that had the support of all parties in the House. The Health Minister 718 at the time described the Government's position as "sceptical neutrality". Following an intervention by the then Leader of the Opposition, Neil Kinnock, the day before the Bill was to be read the Third time, the Prime Minister—Mrs. Thatcher, as she was then—agreed to let it pass, subject to some redrafting.
My hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West then found a queue of Ministers at his door—Ministers who had refused to discuss the Bill with him during the preceding months. He worked with them through the night to redraft and amend the Bill, and the next day it had an unopposed Third Reading. That is what makes the Government's failure to implement the Tom Clarke Act all the more absurd. They are refusing to implement important sections of an Act that they had a hand in drafting.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister boasted in this Chamber about the Government's record on improving the lot of disabled people. I would challenge that claim, and so would millions of disabled people. How can they be full and equal citizens if they do not enjoy the fundamental and basic right to be consulted about the services delivered to them? How can their potential be maximised if they do not have the right to be represented, when, for whatever reason, they cannot represent themselves? How can services be targeted and tailored to suit their needs, if those needs are not assessed?
The Government place great emphasis on the citizens charter. We are told that it is all about empowering individuals. That is precisely what the 1986 Act is about—empowering disabled people, people with learning disabilities and those with mental health problems to have a say in their own lives, and, where they cannot have that say, to have an advocate speak for them.
It is not only plain wrong to impose care packages on people without giving them a say in what those packages should contain: it can also be wasteful. It can be costly to provide inappropriate community care—costly to the provider, the individual and the community. We all know of cases in our constituencies of people who have been discharged from long-stay institutions and have caused problems in the community. That is bound to happen when there is no proper assessment of need.
In a recent case in my constituency, someone was discharged and given a house in a community with which he had no connection and where he felt lonely and isolated and had no one to offer support. Almost inevitably, he drifted into a life style that caused problems for his neighbours, who came to my surgery to ask for my help. Coincidentally, the person they were complaining about came to see me later the same day. It took no more than a few minutes to establish that he had family support available in another area. Had his needs been properly assessed, and had he been consulted, the situation could have been avoided.
We all know of the two separate tragedies that occurred in lion's dens because of the lack of proper assessment before discharge. But each and every day, people are discharged from long-stay institutions and find themselves in a metaphorical lion's den because their needs have not been assessed. There are increasing numbers of mentally ill people in prisons across the length and breadth of the country because the courts have nowhere else to send them. Advocacy, consultation, and, above all, the assessment of needs before discharge, would do much to avoid that situation. 719 If we take a walk along the streets of any major city any night of the week, we see people that community care has failed. It has given them only cardboard homes and cardboard hopes. The nation is shocked at newspaper headlines about another murder or tragedy involving someone who has been discharged from a long-stay institution.
The natural reaction is to blame community care. That is wrong. It is not the concept of community care that is wrong, but the lack of support and assessment. It is a great disservice to the United Kingdom's 6.5 million disabled people, the hundreds of thousands with learning disabilities and the 7 million carers that they face this plight. It is also an appalling waste of the talents and abilities of hundreds of thousands of ordinary people, including young people, who would be willing to be voluntary advocates. They have been denied that opportunity of personal fulfillment.
All I am asking is that the examples of best practice that already exist in some places in the UK should become the norm for the entire nation. As my hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West said when he introduced his Bill in 1986, for too long disabled people have been "done unto". He was right. Disabled people craved independence then, and they still crave it now.
If the Tom Clarke Act was right and necessary in 1986, it is right and even more necessary in 1996. I call on the House to remove a blemish from its reputation, and to deliver this aspect of civil rights to our disabled people. In that spirit, I commend my Bill to the House.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Gordon McMaster, Mr. Alfred Morris, Sir John Hannam, Mr. Gareth Wardell, Mr. Dafydd Wigley, Mr. Charles Kennedy, Mr. Dennis Canavan, Rev. Martin Smyth, Mr. John Hume, Mrs. Margaret Ewing, Mr. Peter Thurnham and Mr. Tom Clarke.