Powers of Attorney Bill Debate

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Department: Ministry of Justice
Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, who introduced the Second Reading of the Bill comprehensively, fairly and persuasively. As he said, the bipartisan nature of the Bill is both striking and very welcome. It was introduced by Stephen Metcalfe MP, of my party, in the other place, and is now being championed in your Lordships’ House by the noble Viscount, of a different political persuasion, and that is very welcome indeed.

The purpose of a lasting power of attorney is to provide support and protection to the donor in the event that they lose mental capacity and are no longer able to make their own decisions in the future. Like the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, I have some personal experience of this. My uncle Bernard, of blessed memory, who was childless, asked me to take on these responsibilities and appointed me with a power of attorney. Like the noble Viscount, I never had to use it in the end, but I remember him telling me that knowing it was there gave him comfort, because he knew that if decisions had to be taken, they would be taken by somebody who knew him and what he wanted. Therefore, the Bill’s modernising of the process and the system for effecting an LPA is very welcome.

LPAs were introduced, as the noble Viscount said, by the Mental Capacity Act 2005. In addition to supporting this Bill in an unqualified way, the other purpose of this very short speech is to say a couple of words about the Mental Capacity Act 2005, because it is now nearly 20 years old. In that time, our understanding of mental health and its many challenges have increased. Technology has also advanced in that time, and indeed one of the advantages of this Bill is to bring in a digital system, although, as we have heard, a paper-based system will be retained. I am delighted to see that a digital process is being introduced. This is but one example, I suggest, of how much of our civil justice system and processes—this is ultimately part of civil justice—can be brought online and digitalised. We need more examples of this going forward.

One of the remaining problems, as we have heard, is delays in the Court of Protection process. Let me be very clear: that is not the fault of the judges. The judges in that court—indeed, all our courts, but especially in this court—work extremely hard and deal with some of the most difficult cases our judges have to consider. They are literally dealing with matters of life and death on a daily basis. But the court does need more resources, and I know my noble and learned friend the Minister is aware of that.

I have one final point, which arises in relation to LPAs, as well as other matters arising under the Mental Capacity Act, such as child trust funds, about which your Lordships’ House has heard on a number of occasions. It is always very tempting to make things easy, or easier, for the person who needs the assistance, whether that is the terminally ill patient or the mentally incapacitated child. However, there is a balance to be struck. On the one hand, we want to provide assistance to the person in need, but on the other hand, we also need to ensure that there is sufficient protection for that person. This Bill strikes that balance extremely well, and I am very happy to support it.