Second Reading
13:22
Stephen Metcalfe Portrait Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con)
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I beg to move that, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Powers of attorney are important legal arrangements that allow people to appoint others—the donees of the power, known as attorneys—to act on their behalf. The powers normally relate to financial matters, and the attorney must act on instructions from the donor of the power—the person who made it.

Lasting powers of attorney, or LPAs, are a specific type of power of attorney with even wider scope. Such arrangements allow someone to appoint another to act on their behalf after the donor has lost the mental capacity to make their own decisions and give instructions. LPAs can apply to not just financial decisions but health and welfare decisions too.

Powers of attorney generally, and lasting powers of attorney specifically, are incredibly powerful and useful appointments. They allow people to retain control over aspects of their lives, in circumstances where they might not otherwise be able to make decisions or take actions. LPAs, in particular, ensure that people have the opportunity to make provision for a future where they may no longer have the mental capacity to understand what is happening to them and therefore to make decisions about the things they care about.

With the prevalence of dementia increasing and our population ageing, these documents will become ever more important in ensuring that people can continue to live the lives they want to. They will be even more important in protecting people who might otherwise be the target of fraud, scams and abuse. I have seen that in my constituency and on a personal level. These are powerful documents, and they need to be used carefully.

Lasting powers of attorney are part of the toolkit to ensure that people can live the lives they want to. That is why I am delighted to bring forward this Bill in my name. It delivers two important changes to legislation around powers of attorney. First, it will reform the process of making and registering a lasting power of attorney to make it safer, easier and more sustainable. Secondly, it will widen the group of people who can provide certified copies of powers of attorney to include chartered legal executives.

Before I get into the detail of this Bill, I will set out the history of these documents and the problems that have arisen as a result. Under the Power of Attorney Act 1971, the power of attorney is a formal appointment whereby one party, the donor, gives another party, the attorney or donee, the power to act on their behalf and in their name. Power of attorney, in contrast to appointing an agent, can only be created and valid where certain legal formalities are observed, and they must be granted by deed. The ordinary or general power of attorney is for when the donor only needs help temporarily, for example when people are in hospital or abroad and need help with everyday tasks such as paying bills.

Ordinary powers of attorney are common in the commercial world, where they may be used in a number of ways, most typically to enable another person to execute documents on the donor’s behalf or in a transactional context. Another use is in appointing a power of attorney to manage financial or property matters in a donor’s absence. However, there were issues with these powers of attorney, as the power ceases to have effect when the donor lost mental capacity to make decisions and give instructions. As the Law Commission pointed out in 1983:

“at a time when the assistance of the attorney has become for the donor not merely desirable but essential, the attorney has no authority to act.”

This resulted in the introduction of the Enduring Powers of Attorney Act 1986. As the name suggests, enduring powers of attorney endure past the loss of mental capacity, allowing an attorney to continue acting on a donor’s behalf. Individuals concerned about their ability to control their own lives in future could now ensure that the people making those decisions were the people they had chosen and that they trusted.

Peter Gibson Portrait Peter Gibson (Darlington) (Con)
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My hon. Friend is making an important speech and highlighting the legislation that brings us to today and his important Bill. I just put on record the importance of those enduring powers of attorney that predate the current lasting powers of attorney and to highlight to the House the necessity for people to register them when capacity is lost. Many mistakenly believe, where an enduring power of attorney is in place, that there are no steps to take in order for it to be used.

Stephen Metcalfe Portrait Stephen Metcalfe
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his clarification. Obviously, he knows considerably more about the history of this than I have perhaps been able to gain during my research. In the 1990s, there were greater concerns about the abuse of enduring powers of attorney. I am told there was concern that between 10% and 20% of enduring powers of attorney were potentially being used in an abusive way. To resolve that, and following extensive work by the Law Commission, the Mental Capacity Act was passed in 2005. Enduring power of attorney was replaced by lasting power of attorney, or LPA, in 2007.

New safeguards were introduced—primarily the requirement for the LPA to be registered by and with the new Public Guardian and their office, the Office of the Public Guardian, before it could be used, whether before or after a loss of capacity; and the role of the certificate provider, who must confirm that the donor understands their LPA and that there was no fraud or undue pressure.

Fifteen years on, the system is in need of an update. The Government’s 2021 consultation on modernisation clearly set out the issues, and media coverage over the past year has further emphasised the need for reform. First, people wishing to make LPAs struggle to understand the system and to complete their LPA accurately. Guidance can be overwhelming and full of jargon such as “donor”, “attorney”, “certificate provider”, “execution” and “jointly and severally”. This is specifically daunting in urgent circumstances—for instance, due to a recent diagnosis of dementia or terminal illness.

The reliance on paper also makes it more complicated than necessary. The legislative framework and operational process involved mean that, even where the LPA is filled in online, each LPA has to be printed off and signed on paper in five places in a specific order by at least three people to be valid. The possibility for error to creep in is high, and the Office of the Public Guardian indicates that as many as 11% of LPAs sent to the OPG cannot be registered because of signing mistakes. Donors cannot understand why the LPA process does not make use of technological improvements since 2007. They want to use a digital system to fill in, sign and submit documents. As the Government set out in their consultation, that would allow a speedier process, reduce the administrative burden on people and help to reduce or even remove many of the errors in the process.

Secondly, the OPG is drowning in paperwork, and that does not allow the OPG to deliver the service that its fee payers expect. Many in this place will know about the media reports on the backlog in registrations. The OPG reports that it is taking up to 20 weeks on average to process an LPA application, against its target of eight weeks. Others will be receiving letters from constituents asking for assistance, as they are left unable to support their loved ones because an LPA is currently sitting in that backlog.

We all agree that this situation is unsustainable. The OPG carries out manual administration checks. It stores 11 tonnes of paper at any one time, and LPA applications are generally increasing, with the number of LPAs submitted for registration more than doubling between 2014-15 and 2019-20. That is creating an ever increasing need for staff, equipment and storage space. The ability to use a digital channel—alongside, I stress, a paper route—to make and register an LPA would help to resolve some of those issues. Most of the current manual checks could be automated. Physical storage requirements could be reduced and, critically, it would increase the OPA’s resilience to backlogs caused by the disruption of paper processing.

The third point, and probably the most important one, is that while a digital channel is desirable for donors, attorneys and the OPG, it must be balanced against the need for suitable safeguards. The risk of fraud is small, but it is a real risk. The BBC Radio 4 programme “You and Yours” reported last year on the case of Marie—not her real name—who was a victim of LPA fraud when someone took out an LPA in her name and attempted to sell her home. Concerns about undue pressure and abuse are also common. Earlier this year, in parallel with another report by “You and Yours”, a debate was held in the other place on LPAs and the economic abuse of older people.

I firmly believe that LPAs are a positive way for people to control what happens if they lose mental capacity. They are an insurance policy that people should take out to appoint people they trust to make decisions in their best interests, should the worst happen. But I cannot ignore that there must be protections in the system to reduce the chance of it being manipulated by those who intend ill will towards others.

James Sunderland Portrait James Sunderland (Bracknell) (Con)
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I am not a lawyer—heaven forbid!—but my understanding of the Bill is that it will do a number of really important things. It will provide much better safeguards on financial and property issues, and it will provide safeguards where there is loss of mental capacity and against abuses of power. It will also make the process a bit more streamlined, as we will not be so dependent on expensive lawyers now that legal executives can do this. My question for my hon. Friend is, will it be any cheaper?

Stephen Metcalfe Portrait Stephen Metcalfe
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My hon. Friend asks a very good question. Although I cannot guarantee it will be cheaper, I can say that it will be no more expensive. We need to make the system sustainable and the relatively straightforward reforms in my Bill will allow that to happen, while keeping the price competitive, as it is at the moment.

My hon. Friend has hit upon the point at which I am going to describe some of the detail of the Bill and how it resolves some of the issues to which I have alluded. It makes a number of changes to the Mental Capacity Act 2005, specifically to schedule 1, which covers provision for the making and registration of LPAs. The most crucial change is that the Public Guardian will verify the identity of certain parties as part of the registration. It is important to strengthen safeguards in that way on a document that can confer such wide powers on access to savings, investment and property. The Government’s consultation indicated that these proposals were well received by respondents, including the public, as a necessary safeguard. This will be a key protection against the horrible position Marie found herself in, by increasing confidence that the people named in the LPA have actually been involved in the process of making it. This provision is even more important now, with identity fraud on the rise and perpetrators making use of ever-more sophisticated methods for targeting their victims. Removing loopholes in the system before they can become further exploited and other members of the public are put at risk is one reason I chose to take this Bill through Parliament.

The second main change is on the requirement for the application to register, requiring the donor to apply and changing what must accompany the application—currently, the instrument intended to create the LPA and the fee. This will facilitate a flexible system, so that instead of just a paper channel or a digital channel, each actor, whether they are the donor, the attorney or the certificate provider, can use the method that best suits their needs to complete a single LPA. This will reduce the administrative burden on donors and attorneys, while automated and early error checking will help to reduce the potential for signing and other errors that prevent registration.

Changes to the notification system will also facilitate this flexibility. The system requires that people the donor named in the LPA are informed by the applicant when the LPA is sent for registration, so that they can raise any objections. In the future, the Public Guardian will send these notifications. This change is made for three reasons. First, the Public Guardian can be certain that the notifications have been sent, increasing the protection provided. Secondly, it removes the administrative burden from the donor. Thirdly, the Public Guardian will be co-ordinating the execution of the document, so is best placed to send these in a timely manner.

That links to changes to the process for objecting to the registration of an LPA. The current process is complex, with different routes for different people, depending on the type of objection. People and organisations not named in the LPA do not even have a formal route to raise objections. That group currently includes organisations such as local authorities, which have a statutory safeguarding duty but no formal way of raising related concerns about an LPA’s registration with the Public Guardian. Although the Public Guardian currently processes these objections, because it is the sensible thing to do and offers the best protection for the donor, the scope of the current legislation is limited and creates ambiguity. To rectify this issue, the Bill introduces a single route for all objections, starting with the Public Guardian and ending at the Court of Protection, if that is required. It applies to all individuals and organisations, even if they are not included in the original LPA. So there is more clarity about where and how to raise concerns about the registration.

Let me turn to increased protection for donors. Finally, to modernise LPAs the Bill changes the evidence of registration of the LPA. As I said, LPAs are currently paper documents. That means that if there are changes—for instance, if an attorney is removed because of abuse—the Public Guardian needs to amend the paper documents. As I am sure the House can imagine, why would someone who has been removed from an LPA because of abuse want to return it to the Office of the Public Guardian? The LPA will therefore be registered as an electronic document. That will create a single source of truth that can be accessed in real time by third parties, but more importantly, updated in real time by the Public Guardian without requiring the paper to be returned.

I recognise, however, that some individuals and third parties will remain unable to use an electronic system. For that reason, the Bill also provides for other methods of physical proof. I believe that those will be set out further in regulations.

As I stated, my Bill seeks not only to modernise LPAs, but to amend section 3 of the Powers of Attorney Act 1971 to enable chartered legal executives to certify copies of a power of attorney. That Act sets out how a copy of a power of attorney can be made and who can certify or sign copies, stipulating that only

“the donor of the power…a solicitor, authorised person or stockbroker”

can sign or certify

“that the copy is a true and complete copy of the original”.

The Bill seeks to include chartered legal executives among those who can certify a copy of a power of attorney.

We have come a long way since 1971; it is more than half a century since that Act came into force. Chartered legal executives are allowed to provide legal services under the Legal Services Act 2007 and now provide many of the same legal services as solicitors. It is therefore completely right that chartered legal executives have the ability to certify copies.

I am conscious of time, so I will draw my remarks to a close. I have outlined a number of specific changes that the Bill will make. It is a relatively straightforward piece of legislation, but is important none the less. It will make the Office of the Public Guardian more sustainable; streamline the process; increase the number of people who can authorise copies of lasting powers of attorney; and introduce some important safety checks. I very much look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say. I thank him and his Department for working with me to bring the Bill to this stage and I hope that, after today’s debate, we can take it further forward. I commend the Bill to the House.

13:43
Alex Cunningham Portrait Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab)
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I congratulate the hon. Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe) on promoting this private Member’s Bill and on introducing it today. He made his case very well; this is a matter of great importance that can affect so many of us.

Last year, I wrote to the then Justice Minister overseeing this portfolio, the hon. and learned Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk). I had several concerns, particularly regarding the lack of training and awareness on the limits of power of attorney, that had been brought to my attention by a number of practitioners. The then Minister’s response was reassuring and I am glad that the agenda in this area is moving forward with Government support, but there is still much to be done to improve the system beyond the Bill’s parameters. That said, Labour supports the Bill’s aims and welcomes the modernisation of the process for making and registering lasting powers of attorney.

It is of cardinal importance that donors are protected. If technology can provide more effective ways of strengthening those protections, we should make full use of it. Furthermore, although I understand that the strain on the Office of the Public Guardian has reduced in recent times with the recruitment of more caseworkers, the staff there are still stretched and delays are still being experienced. I hope that the modernisation process provides the necessary streamlining to ease the burden on the Office of the Public Guardian.

We welcome the Bill’s amendment to section 3 of the Powers of Attorney Act 1971, which the hon. Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock mentioned, which will enable chartered legal executives to certify copies of powers of attorney. It is good to see that particular matter addressed. However, there are several areas on which I would welcome the thoughts of the hon. Member or the Minister to inform my understanding of why they have been omitted from the Bill. One notable absence from the Government’s response to the consultation was the Law Society’s recommendation that certification should expressly include consideration of the donor’s capacity. This seems like a sensible proposal to me, and I am interested to hear why the Bill has not taken it on.

While LPAs are one important mechanism by which it is possible to support the exercise of legal capacity, as Alex Ruck Keene KC notes in an article on his excellent website about mental capacity law and policy, it is certainly not the only mechanism. He notes that it would be possible within the same zone of endeavour as this Bill

“to flesh out the provisions of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 to secure that a person is recognised as being able to make their own decisions in more situations than is currently the case.”

Should we expect further legislation that would provide for wider reforms, or is this Bill the extent of the Government’s ambition for legislative work in this area? I ask with genuine interest, as we are looking forward to working with the Government, and the hon. Member, on introducing reforms in this important area.

I was pleased to read in the Minister’s foreword to the consultation response that

“it remains for me to emphasise again the importance of us modernising LPAs in a way that is right for donors. They are the ones who choose their attorneys, they are the ones that should set the scope of the powers they wish to confer under an LPA, and they are the ones whose rights and freedoms must be protected and facilitated through this service. It therefore remains the case that their needs are paramount and must come before those of any other party as we seek to make changes.”

We very much agree with this sentiment and are looking forward to scrutinising and potentially improving these measures at Committee stage.

13:47
Holly Mumby-Croft Portrait Holly Mumby-Croft (Scunthorpe) (Con)
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I thank my hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe) for bringing forward this private Member’s Bill. If I may, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would also like to thank you, as the right hon. Member for Doncaster Central (Dame Rosie Winterton). I carried out some research before I came today, as I have worked on lasting powers of attorney in a previous life, and I note that you have done an awful lot of work in the background on this subject. I want to put on record my thanks for that work and what that has brought about today.

I wholeheartedly support this private Member’s Bill. I absolutely understand and have seen first hand the need for the measures in it. I would like to put on record my thanks on behalf of this side of the House. I wish my hon. Friend well with his Bill.

13:48
Jerome Mayhew Portrait Jerome Mayhew (Broadland) (Con)
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I aim to be as brief as my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Holly Mumby-Croft). I want to put on record my support for this Bill. Often in Friday sittings we talk about photogenic furry animals, but this is very different. This is an important Bill that will affect us all. To take the example of just one disease, it is estimated by Alzheimer’s Research UK that there are 944,000 people in this country suffering from dementia. The estimate is that one in three children born this year will develop and suffer from dementia in the future. This is an issue that affects us all now or will do in the future.

I want to highlight the importance of lasting powers of attorney and point out that there are not one but two different types. There are the ones that affect property and affairs and there are, crucially, the ones that affect welfare and health. From personal experience as an attorney in this area, I found the current system surprisingly complex, and that was as a qualified barrister. To be using only paper is surprising in this day and age. The complexity of sequential signatures was also surprising, and the identity checks relying on witnesses are frankly inadequate in modern times. I welcome the intention of the Bill, which is to make it easier to create LPAs, using digital facilities where appropriate. I recognise that about 25% of those over 65 do not have easy access to the internet, although on many occasions it will be younger family members whom they will be appointing as attorneys, and in those circumstances many of that 25% will be given assistance to use digital access as well. However, it is important that a paper alternative continues to be provided, and I am glad that is recognised in the Bill.

My final point is that it is great that the Bill contains increased protections from abuse, particularly in paragraph 7(2) of schedule 1, which makes reference to the process for objecting to registration for third parties. That is a useful addition, and I thoroughly welcome this Bill.

13:50
Peter Gibson Portrait Peter Gibson (Darlington) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to be called to speak for the third time this day; I draw the House’s attention to my entries in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. As a solicitor, I have prepared many hundreds of lasting powers of attorney for both health and welfare and property affairs and, before their advent, many enduring powers of attorney. I still act on a regular basis to take care of the affairs of individuals who have appointed me as their attorney, often in circumstances where they had no family to act for them or they did not want to entrust such responsibility to a family member. Indeed, I know I have many more future nominations that will require me to act.

I welcome the steps the Bill takes to update the process of preparation for LPAs, which have been around for well over a decade, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe) on bringing it forward. An LPA is a very powerful document, and we should always be aware, in making changes to them, that they can, in the wrong hands, be open to abuse.

In my personal opinion, the engagement of a legal professional to assist in the preparation can be invaluable, but not essential. My own uncle, always keen to save a bob or two, especially in order to avoid legal bills, recently prepared powers of attorney and decided to do it himself, which in actuality involved him making many telephone calls to me while he filled the forms in. Sadly, his forms were rejected by the Office of the Public Guardian and he had to start all over again. At the end of the saga, he concluded that he wished he had gone to a lawyer to get the job done in the first place. I welcome the measures in my hon. Friend’s Bill, which would certainly have streamlined the process for my uncle.

My final point is about we are with powers of attorney in respect of the high street financial institutions. There seems to be a great lack of training among our high street banks on how to engage with people who have been appointed as attorneys and the security measures involved. They make it almost impossible to deal with them in a co-operative way as an attorney, and I would welcome the Minister’s comments on that. I wish my hon. Friend well with his Bill and, should he require assistance on his Bill Committee, I would be delighted to serve.

13:49
Danny Kruger Portrait Danny Kruger (Devizes) (Con)
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I will be brief: I completely agree with the purpose of this Bill and will be supporting it, but I want to speak briefly in recognition of the great significance of LPAs. I quote from Stephanie Boyce, the President of the Law Society, who has said:

“LPAs are arguably one of the most important legal documents that a person will make because they delegate such wide-reaching powers over their life…the consequence of an attorney making a poor decision could result in the loss of all their assets, being put into a care home against their current or past wishes, or even their premature death”.

It is death that is on my mind, because of my role as chair of the all-party parliamentary group for dying well, which campaigns against a law for assisted dying in this country. The problem of elder abuse is sadly endemic in our society, and I am afraid that ensuring that we get the signature or the verbal assent of an elderly person is not always enough to protect their interests. We must always hold to the essential dignity of a person in old age. The more dependent they are, the more dignity they need.

I spoke yesterday about my concerns about the drift towards a cashless society. We are moving towards a paperless society as well. That may well be a good thing for older people, but it can also become more bewildering and expose us to greater potential for abuse. I think we need a grand review of the effects of digitalisation in our society, on our communities, on vulnerable people and on liberty.

13:54
Mike Freer Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mike Freer)
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I thank my hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe) for promoting this vital Bill. I look forward to supporting him as the Bill completes its journey and, I hope, makes its way on to the statute book.

My hon. Friend did an effective job of laying out the provisions of the Bill and its purpose. It is immediately clear both from his words and from the contributions of Conservative colleagues—I will turn in a few minutes to the question raised by the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham)—that we all recognise that a lasting power of attorney is a vital resource and how important it is to ensure that the process has sufficient safeguards, while remaining accessible and efficient.

It is a deed that gives peace of mind and assurance to individuals, should there be a time when they lose mental capacity to make decisions for themselves. It gives them peace of mind that there is a pre-selected loved one or professional there to help them, whether to provide support and make decisions about managing their financial affairs, or to make decisions relating to their healthcare. A lasting power of attorney ensures that a person’s wishes and preferences can be taken into account, and reduces the stress and burden on families when capacity is lost unexpectedly.

My hon. Friend rightly highlighted in his opening remarks that we are living in a society with an ageing population. One of the implications of this is that we are likely to see an increase in people who lack mental capacity due to age-related conditions. For example, as my hon. Friend the Member for Broadland (Jerome Mayhew) mentioned, the Alzheimer’s Society says that there are currently around 900,000 people with dementia in the UK. That figure is projected to rise to 1.6 million by 2040, meaning an increase in the number of families who will find themselves faced with the reality of needing to make critical decisions about their loved one’s finances or welfare.

I know that those can be difficult decisions, talking about and preparing for the worst-case scenarios, including preparing for loss of capacity. It can be harrowing for people, their friends and their family. However, preparing early is the key to ensuring that life can continue in the way the person wanted. Putting in place a lasting power of attorney gives family and friends an insight into a person’s wishes and preferences and who they would like to make decisions on their behalf when they are unable to do so. Given the importance and significance of the document, and the gravity of the power it confers, it is absolutely right that we look at how we can make the process for making and registering a lasting power of attorney safer, simpler and more accessible.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock for setting out so eloquently the problems that exist in the current system. Members of this House will be aware that the Ministry of Justice has consulted on potential solutions to some of those challenges, and I am delighted that the Bill promoted by my hon. Friend reflects and builds on the Government’s response to the consultation.

Turning to the question raised by the shadow Minister, in terms of the capacity issue, the Government remain committed to the principle of supporting decision making but believe that that is provided best by the Mental Capacity Act 2005. The proposals in the consultation were carefully considered by the Government, but we still have concerns that a formal framework may be unnecessarily legalistic and would overlap with other provisions, such as advocacy.

I want to give a commitment to the House that we are seeking to ensure that the system is as simple and easy to navigate as possible. My hon. Friend talked about the current backlog in the Office of the Public Guardian, which is leading to longer waiting times for LPA registrations. That has been exacerbated by the limitations arising from the current legislative framework and the operational practice it requires. My hon. Friend explained that all LPAs are currently made on paper, which creates a huge logistical burden on everyone involved. It is also not reflective of the needs of users in today’s society, but I take on board the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Danny Kruger) about ensuring that, as we embrace technology, we must also ensure that there are sufficient checks and balances for those who may be vulnerable to abuse.

Frankly, people expect Government services to be available online, while also having the option to do things on paper when they prefer to. I am pleased that the Bill will create a digital channel to make an LPA, while also improving the paper channel for those who need or choose to use paper. A digital route will make LPAs more efficient and realise many benefits. It will allow for a speedier process, reduce the administrative burdens on individuals and automate many checks that should reduce the risk of errors in the paperwork that often delay registration and therefore the ability to use the LPA.

The Bill goes further than simply the digital and paper channels. By facilitating a more flexible system, the ability to move between the channels to create a single LPA will provide a far more flexible service and far more benefits to a wider group of people. Even those who want to use paper will benefit from others using digital elements in the process. The challenges faced by the OPG cannot be solved without reform, which is why I am grateful for the improvements that the Bill seeks to facilitate. I am confident that by introducing a digital process and automated checks and reducing some of the burdens on the organisation, we will build resilience into the process, meaning that people will be able to register their LPAs more quickly. It should also significantly reduce the chances of backlogs forming.

I assure the House that the vast majority of LPAs—there are currently more than 6 million on the register—are used properly to provide the support they are intended for. However, we know that LPA fraud and abuse takes place, and steps must be taken to address it. In 2021-22, the OPG investigated 2,408 LPA cases in response to concerns received. Of those, the OPG took remedial action in 649 cases. Such action can include an application to the Court of Protection to remove an attorney or revoke an LPA, as well as working with the attorney to provide education and guidance on how they should carry out their role.

Although the matters I have outlined apply to a very small proportion of the LPAs registered by the OPG, the impact on the individuals who experience abuse can be significant, which is why I am pleased that the Bill includes provisions to make the process more secure, especially for the donor, and lays the groundwork for further changes to be made in regulations.

In line with the Government’s consultation response, the Bill introduces identity checks as a requirement of registration. This is an important safeguard that will assure the OPG that those who claim to be involved in the LPA are who they say they are and reduce the risk of fraud by false representation. Regulations will support the change by specifying who will be subject to checks—the donor and the certificate provider—as well as how those checks will be carried out and which documents will be acceptable. I am committed to providing a wide range of options as soon as possible, given that the average age of a donor is currently 74 and most are over 65.

Provisions are being made to streamline and improve the objections process so that it is easier to lodge a concern with the OPG. That is a vital safeguard that will include those with a legitimate concern—such as local authorities, care workers and even the police—who previously did not have a formal route through which to express their concern.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock pointed out that the Bill gives us the levers to make further changes in regulations that will improve other protections, including the role of certificate providers. By having the certificate provider take on the role of witness, we are strengthening safeguards. In addition to this increase in safeguarding, by combining the roles of certificate provider and witness we will also reduce the burden on the donor.

I am pleased that the Bill also addresses the role of chartered legal executives. It cannot be right that a chartered legal executive—a legally qualified Chartered Institute of Legal Executives lawyer—who legitimately participates in the creation of a power of attorney should be rendered unable to certify as genuine a copy of the same document that they were instrumental in creating. The Bill will address that anomaly.

In closing, I reiterate how vital the improvements in the Bill are to support individuals to make a lasting power of attorney and to certify copies of such important documents. The efficiency savings will ensure that donors and attorneys have a better system, with the savings made reinvested to increasingly improve the service, so it is an all-round benefit.

Finally, I reiterate my thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock and thank my hon. Friends the Members for Devizes, for Darlington (Peter Gibson), for Scunthorpe (Holly Mumby-Croft) and for Broadland for their contributions.

14:04
Stephen Metcalfe Portrait Stephen Metcalfe
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With the leave of the House, I will draw together some final remarks. This has been a short but interesting debate. The scope of the Bill, as I expressed, is relatively tight, but it will make some important changes. It will improve access to lasting powers of attorney through a new technical and digital route while—I stress—maintaining a paper route. It will put in some additional checks on identities to ensure that those claiming the powers are who say they are. As we have heard, there will be a better route for raising objections when we think such powers are being misused and a simplification in the process of applying for an LPA by making it quite so onerous in timing and the order of signatures. In addition, there is the increased and enhanced role for chartered legal executives.

As I said, the Bill is relatively straightforward. I am grateful to have heard support from both sides of the House, including from the hon. Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham). I look forward to taking that further as we go into Committee. I am also grateful to my hon. Friends the Members for Scunthorpe (Holly Mumby-Croft), for Broadland (Jerome Mayhew) and for Devizes (Danny Kruger), and I am particularly grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson) for offering to serve on the Committee. If any other Member wishes to serve on the Committee, please do feel free to volunteer.

It has been an enjoyable debate, and I look forward to the Bill moving on to the next stage. I place on record my thanks to the Minister, the officials and all those involved in helping get it to this point. I also thank the Whips, and especially my neighbour, the Comptroller of His Majesty’s Household, my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris). I would not live it down if I did not mention that.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time; to stand committed to a Public Bill Committee (Standing Order No. 63).