Baroness Brinton (LD) [V]
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Janke cannot be in her place today, so I am delighted to thank, on behalf of the Liberal Democrat Benches, the Minister for her remarks and all Peers who have taken part during passage of this Bill. I also want to thank the Minister’s officials, who have been very helpful. It was encouraging that the Bill is supported cross-party. It may be a short Bill, but we believe that its effects will be transformative to those individuals, and their families, who have to face a terminal illness and the financial shocks that go with it as they live the last few months of their lives.
We, too, decided not to table amendments, though we would have liked to, because we felt it was important that this Bill proceeded quickly. Prior to the Second Reading, we had discussions with Marie Curie and other organisations about whether the Government should review the impact of the legislation after a year and make an assessment as to whether the provisions of the Act have had a significant impact on reducing levels of poverty for individuals with a life expectancy of less than 12 months.
We draw the same parallel as the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, that in Scotland they deleted any reference to timeframes. I think this would help to give us a comparator once the Bill has been enacted and put into practice in England for a year.
I want to pick up also the point that the noble Baroness made about time for the processing of claims. I made this point at Second Reading, and I hope that for everyone it will be as speedy as possible. I was reassured the Minister said that moving it to 12 months would not slow the process down, but we remain concerned that for some people it is still not as fast as it should be, given the straits that they find themselves in.
At the Second Reading I raised the current anomalies in the rules for the benefits of severely disabled children aged under three, compared to those over three. The Minister kindly agreed to arrange a meeting with the relevant Minister for myself and Together for Short Lives. Unfortunately, I have been offered a policy officer to answer my questions by email, which, while being very kind—and I appreciate the offer—is not quite what the Minister said. As I said at Second Reading, this is a policy decision to treat seriously ill small children differently to their older peers, so please can I repeat my request for a meeting with the relevant Minister?
That aside, from these Benches we welcome this short but vital Bill and look forward in hope that it will ease some of the financial difficulties faced by terminally ill people and their families.