Stephen Metcalfe debates involving the Ministry of Justice during the 2019 Parliament

Fri 17th Mar 2023
Wed 1st Mar 2023
Fri 9th Dec 2022
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Prisoners (Disclosure of Information About Victims) Bill
Commons Chamber

2nd reading & 2nd reading: House of Commons & 2nd reading & 2nd reading: House of Commons & 2nd reading

Oral Answers to Questions

Stephen Metcalfe Excerpts
Tuesday 28th March 2023

(11 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con)
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2. What steps he is taking to help prisoners develop new skills.

Stephen Metcalfe Portrait Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con)
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17. What steps he is taking to help prisoners develop new skills.

Damian Hinds Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Damian Hinds)
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Among other things, we are renewing the prisoner education service, establishing an employability innovation fund, and ensuring that skills acquired match business need through close work with employers.

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Damian Hinds Portrait Damian Hinds
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In relation to the probation service, which I think the hon. Gentleman is asking about, we are investing in increasing staff numbers and ensuring that those staff have the right support, and we have seen those staff numbers grow. It is also important, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State just said, that we learn from when things go wrong or have gone wrong in the past and ensure we respond appropriately.

Stephen Metcalfe Portrait Stephen Metcalfe
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Getting prisoners with substance abuse issues into meaningful skills training first requires getting them off drugs. Can my right hon. Friend tell the House what he is doing to help prisoners and to tackle drugs in prisons?

Damian Hinds Portrait Damian Hinds
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My hon. Friend is quite right; that is a crucial part of the jigsaw, together with maintaining family ties. In a major new initiative, we are creating up to 18 new drug recovery wings so that prisoners can focus on achieving abstinence not only from illicit drugs, but from prescribed substitutes. We are also increasing the number of incentivised substance-free living units and have been investing strongly in prison security to stop drugs getting in in the first place.

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Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
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I wholeheartedly agree with the hon. Gentleman that this is a serious new category of threat to women. The forensic capabilities are there, and the practice is clearly already illegal, so it is just a question of gathering the evidence to bring cases to court. Police referrals, CPS charges and Crown court receipts in adult rape cases are all up by around 100%.

Stephen Metcalfe Portrait Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con)
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As my right hon. Friend will know, my private Member’s Bill reforming the process of creating lasting power of attorney passed through this place two weeks ago and is now in the other place. Assuming all goes well, when does he expect it to receive Royal Assent?

Mike Freer Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mike Freer)
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While I cannot determine the date of Royal Assent, I reassure my hon. Friend that once the Bill passes through the other House, we would expect it to complete its passage here before the end of the Session.

Powers of Attorney Bill

Stephen Metcalfe Excerpts
Stephen Metcalfe Portrait Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con)
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I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I am delighted not only to take my Bill through its Third Reading but to be here on the auspicious occasion of the passing of the Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill, which is an important and valuable piece of legislation. If I have had any small part to play in that, I am very grateful.

Let me begin by thanking the Public Bill Committee, which met on 1 March to consider the Bill in detail. It was absolutely fantastic to see so many of us share the same goal of making it easier for people to create a lasting power of attorney with better protections, and to put in place a more sustainable process for the Office of the Public Guardian. I am delighted to confirm that my Bill passed Committee stage unamended. I am hopeful that the spirit of cross-party support that has remained since Second Reading will continue throughout the process until the Bill passes.

As I have said before, I believe that a lasting power of attorney is an incredibly powerful and useful document. It lets someone choose people they trust to support them and make decisions for them if they lose the mental capacity to make their own decisions in future. I make no apology for repeating the point that I have made at previous stages of the Bill. Modernisation is no longer an option but a necessity. I was grateful for the support of my hon. Friends the Members for Bracknell (James Sunderland) and for Broadland (Jerome Mayhew) on that matter on Second Reading.

However, I am aware that some people have concerns about modernisation. Since my Bill was introduced on 15 June last year, I have met organisations that wished to discuss the importance of increasing accessibility while improving safeguards and, practically, the concerns about continued access to paper routes. The latter was also raised in Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson), and I would like to reassure everyone that I am aware that some people are unable to use a digital system and will continue to need a paper version. The new system facilitated by my Bill will provide for a paper route to create a lasting power of attorney. It will be updated with the safeguards that are mirrored in the digital version that the Bill will create.

My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Danny Kruger) reflected on Second Reading on the fact that as a society we are moving more and more towards cashless transactions. I do not wish to open up the debate about the future of cash, as that is for a separate day. For now, if we accept that more and more transactions are online and digital, concerns were raised about how that would affect the elderly and possibly lead to their abuse. Because of the importance of that, I repeat that the Bill provides for a paper channel to continue to be available. In fact, it will go further and introduce a fluid system in which donors, attorneys and others involved can use the channel, digital or paper, that best suits their skills, confidence and access.

I am also acutely aware of the need for protections against abuse, especially for older people who are the main group making LPAs. My Bill will enhance safeguards in multiple ways, for example with the improvements to the notifications and objections process; by restricting applications to the donor; and through the introduction of identity verification.

As the hon. Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) mentioned on Second Reading, there is a burden on the Office of the Public Guardian because of the high volume of paper LPAs it processes. Combined with the effect of the pandemic, error rates due to confusing paper forms and logistical problems in the application process, that has resulted in a backlog. I am confident that the provisions in the Bill and the changes it will facilitate, such as automated checks, will build resilience into the process for the OPG. That should significantly reduce the chances of backlogs forming in the future.

The Bill includes provisions to enable chartered legal executives to certify copies of powers of attorney. I am grateful for the support in this House for that initiative. The legal services market has evolved over the last half century since the current legislation was introduced. The Bill will bring the process for certifying copies of a power of attorney in line with modern realities in legal service provision. Consumers will also benefit from the increase in choice in accessing those services, which will plug any current unmet demand.

I thank the Minister for his support during the passage of the Bill. I know he agrees with me that these changes are urgently needed, so that LPAs and powers of attorney can continue to provide the support that people need. As I said, these are powerful documents, and the Bill will help to improve their sustainability, reliability and access.

I would also like to extend my gratitude to those who have raised questions and points during this process and to all the external organisations that have expressed interest in and support for these measures. I hope my Bill continues to progress well once it passes to the other place, so that an improved system can be implemented and delivered for the benefit of those we serve as soon as possible.

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Nickie Aiken Portrait Nickie Aiken
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Again, I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend. One of the reasons I support the Bill is that I think it will do that. It will give the reassurance we all need as human beings about what will happen at the end of life, or if things go wrong and we end up in hospital without the capacity to make a decision on ongoing treatment. These days, everything in our lives is done digitally, whether it is banking or insurance, and this Bill will enable our partner, a family member or a close associate to get into our bank account, if we are incapacitated for whatever reason, to look after our financial affairs so that our family’s lives can go on.

Stephen Metcalfe Portrait Stephen Metcalfe
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for supporting my Bill and being so eloquent in her explanation of some of its effects. She had just moved on to the digital aspect. One of the Bill’s effects is to create a digital record of lasting powers of attorney—a digital truth—that will be accessible for those wanting to check LPAs. Those are powerful documents, but there may come a point when someone wishes to take back that power, as the donor, from one of their attorneys and give it to someone else. At the moment, that record would exist in paper form. In future, there will be a digital version, which will be bang up to date. That is an important safeguard.

Nickie Aiken Portrait Nickie Aiken
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I agree with my hon. Friend, who is responsible for the Bill. Everything we do with it has to improve the situation for those at the heart of the LPA and those who are caring for them. Of course, life changes and someone may be incapacitated from a health point of view but then recover, as we would hope. They could then take back that power. It is so important to have the flexibility and protection in future, so I absolutely agree with the point he makes.

I will now conclude, as I think I have been speaking for long enough. [Hon. Members: “More!”] I could speak for so much longer on this subject, but I know that other Members wish to support the Bill. I believe it does get things right, I support it and I hope to see it become law shortly.

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Simon Baynes Portrait Simon Baynes
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I think it is for the Minister to comment on that point, and I would not wish to tread upon his territory. However, from what I saw when I held the position, I am sure that the OPG is chasing the backlog with the greatest efficiency it can muster. One problem, which goes to the heart of the Bill, is that when people work from home, as they did at the OPG during covid, a paper-based system creates huge delay and problems. People can work on a digital system on their laptop at home, whereas with a paper-based system they really need to be in the office. The delay is perfectly fair and understandable in the light of the covid pandemic, which had a particularly acute effect in this case.

Stephen Metcalfe Portrait Stephen Metcalfe
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I should apologise for not mentioning my hon. Friend in my speech, because I am very grateful for his help and support with my early work on the Bill last summer. I was very impressed by the knowledge and experience that he had gained in such a short time.

When my hon. Friend was the Minister, was he as surprised as I was while researching the Bill by the sheer volume of paper with which the Office of the Public Guardian has to deal? The forms are cumbersome, with many pages, and the number of applications runs into thousands daily. With 11 tonnes of paper floating around, it is not surprising that there is a backlog. I hope that the Bill will not only help to alleviate that backlog, but prevent it from happening ever again.

Simon Baynes Portrait Simon Baynes
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I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. Yes, I was surprised, but, as he said, it is a cumbersome paper document to fill in. Clearly, the necessity for lasting powers of attorney was increased by the covid pandemic. The fact that people were not able to see somebody in person exacerbated the situation. The forms are also not easy to fill in. The problem that the Office of the Public Guardian has, which is not its fault at all, is that if a form is not filled in correctly, it has to send it back again for changes to be made. Although we can say that that is just bureaucracy run wild, it is not at the end of the day, because this is a vital legal document. The care and support for vulnerable people that it provides means that this has to be done properly, so I fully agree with my hon. Friend.

The modernisation provides the opportunity to update the protections provided by the LPA to align with the new world and the ever-increasing move towards the use of digital technology. There are new opportunities to improve safeguards against fraud, abuse and undue pressure. At the same time, there is the opportunity to make the OPG more sustainable through increased efficiency, and make lasting powers of attorney more widely accessible through multiple channels of creation. Accessibility and safeguards are very important parts of that.

I have two other points to make, then I will call it a day. The consultation received 313 responses and the overall response to the proposals was positive. I am pleased that, as a result of the feedback, the Government feel confident that they can build a modernised LPA service. I take on board the point that some hon. Members have made that creating a new digital service can be quite complicated technologically. There are cases in which there is not a great precedent for that, but this is something that we need to do. Other systems have been created in local councils and central Government, so I am sure that it cannot be that difficult to do it. None the less, the retention of both a digital and paper channel is vital.

I wish to finish by referring to comments made by Stephanie Boyce, the president of the Law Society. My hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (James Wild) also referred to her in his excellent speech earlier. She 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 be the loss of all their assets, being put into a care home against their current or past wishes, or even their premature death.

We welcome the MoJ’s commitment to improve the speed and accuracy of making an LPA, as well as to continue to provide a paper service. Many people—such as those in care homes or people with learning difficulties—will continue to need to make an LPA via a paper process.

We are pleased the Government is looking at proposals to improve support for those who will struggle with using digital channels, as more needs to be done to ensure the reforms do not negatively impact vulnerable, disabled or older people.”

That is clearly an authoritative voice in support of the Bill tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock and sums up very well how I and, I suspect, many other people here today feel about it.

In conclusion, I wish to thank my hon. Friend again and pay my respect to him for introducing the Bill and for improving the performance of LPAs to the benefit of many vulnerable people, across the whole of the United Kingdom, at a very difficult time in their lives.

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Stephen Metcalfe Portrait Stephen Metcalfe
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With the leave of the House, I will say a final few words. It has been an absolute privilege to take the Bill through the House. I am sure that we all wish it well on its journey into the other place, where I am sure—or I hope—that it will receive the same level of support.

As we have heard, with only a small number of clauses, the Bill is relatively narrow in scope, but it is none the less an important Bill that will do some important things. It will put the Office of the Public Guardian on a sustainable footing, create a digital channel for the creation, registration and checking of lasting powers of attorney, and allow chartered legal executives to have a role in that process.

I thank all those who have helped to get the Bill to this point, particularly the Minister and the shadow Minister, and, of course, all the officials and those from outside organisations who have offered help and advice. I thank, of course, my colleagues from both sides of the House, including the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) and my hon. Friends the Members for North West Norfolk (James Wild), for Guildford (Angela Richardson), for South West Hertfordshire (Mr Mohindra), for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken), for Clwyd South (Simon Baynes), for Heywood and Middleton (Chris Clarkson) and for Southend West (Anna Firth). I will not go through why they have all made important contributions to the debate, but—needless to say—I give a big thank you to them for their support, and to all those who served on the Committee, which allowed us to get to this point.

I look forward to the Bill’s becoming law in due course and making the system of creating and maintaining lasting powers of attorney more sustainable and more deliverable in future.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

Powers of Attorney Bill

Stephen Metcalfe Excerpts
None Portrait The Chair
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With this it will be convenient to consider the following:

Clauses 2 and 3 stand part.

That the schedule be the schedule to the Bill.

Stephen Metcalfe Portrait Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Murray, I think for the first time. I also give my huge thanks to all the Members who have turned out to help with this short but important Bill.

Clause 1 will facilitate three things: first, improvements to safeguards in creating a lasting power of attorney; secondly, a simpler process for making and registering an LPA, increasing access for all involved; and, thirdly, making the Office of the Public Guardian more sustainable.

My Bill will increase access by allowing LPAs to be made and registered electronically, while—I emphasise this—also facilitating a new paper process. It is important not to overcomplicate the service, to ensure that everyone who wants an LPA has access to make one. In the new system, donors, attorneys and others involved will be able to use the channel—digital or paper—that best suits their needs. It will be a fluid system.

The new system must be balanced against the need for suitable safeguards, which my Bill also provides for through the introduction of identity verification; changes to the objection process, to ensure a more straightforward process aligned with the system that the Public Guardian operates now; and restricting who can apply to register the LPA to just the donor.

Finally, to ensure the sustainability of the Office of the Public Guardian, it is vital to reduce its reliance on paper. My Bill allows for a future system in which the LPA will be registered as an electronic document, and that electronic document will be used as evidence of registration, while still allowing physical proof for those who need it. The combination of changes realised by the schedule will enable the development of an easier but more secure process for people wishing to make and register a lasting power of attorney.

Clause 2 amends section 3 of the Powers of Attorney Act 1971 to enable chartered legal executives to certify a copy of a power of attorney. The process to certify a copy of a power of attorney does not require specialist legal skills, yet, under the existing legislation, chartered legal executives—lawyers who provide mainstream legal services—are not included among those who are able to do that. That does not make any sense and is not in line with the evolution in the legal services sector that has allowed chartered legal executives to carry out many of the same functions as solicitors. Indeed, during the pandemic, the Land Registry used its discretionary powers to accept copies of lasting powers of attorney certified by chartered legal executives.

For clarity, clause 2 extends to Scotland and Northern Ireland. The Government’s position is that no legislative consent motion is needed as the changes are consequential to the legislation in England and Wales. By amending the current legislation and enabling chartered legal executives to certify copies of powers of attorney, we will remove the barrier facing chartered legal executives in the provision of this service, increase the channels through which consumers can certify a copy of a power of attorney, and promote consumer choice and generate competition in the legal services market.

Clause 3 confirms the Bill’s short title, makes provision for the Bill to come into force and sets out its territorial extent. Clause 2, relating to chartered legal executives, will come into force two months after the Bill receives Royal Assent, while the remaining provisions, which relate to modernising lasting powers of attorney, will come into force by regulation.

Clause 1 and the schedule extend to England and Wales, save in respect to evidence of registration, dealt with by paragraph 8 of the schedule, which extends to Scotland and Northern Ireland. That relates to what can be accepted as evidence of an LPA registered in England and Wales and so aligns the new provisions for evidence with the territorial extent of the existing provisions of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 that are being amended.

Clause 2 also extends to Scotland and Northern Ireland, because it is about the acceptance of certified copies of powers of attorney made in England and Wales and therefore has the same territorial extent as the provision in the Powers of Attorney Act 1971 that is being amended.

Overall, the Bill relates to the process of making and registering an LPA in England and Wales. It will not affect the making of LPAs in Northern Ireland and Scotland, as they have their own mental capacity legislation, which makes similar provisions in those territories.

I will now talk in detail about each of the changes set out in the schedule, which fall loosely into five categories: simplifying the process of applying to register a lasting power of attorney; changing how people are notified that a lasting power of attorney has been submitted for registration; introducing identity checks; streamlining how objections to the registration of an LPA can be made; and providing for electronic evidence of the LPA, alongside physical evidence.

To make the application process simpler for donors, I am introducing three changes. My Bill removes the ability of an attorney to apply to register an LPA, thus maintaining donor control of the process. In the future, the donor will apply at the point they execute the document, and the signatures of other parties will be co-ordinated through the Office of the Public Guardian. The Bill also allows the fee to be taken at a different point. In combination, these changes will facilitate a hybrid system that allows different actors to use different channels and will therefore improve access to LPAs.

My Bill makes a small but necessary change to the notification process by requiring the Public Guardian, instead of the donor, to notify named persons, donors and attorneys when a completed LPA is ready to start the registration process. That simplifies the process for those applying to register their LPA and means that the Public Guardian can be certain that notifications have been sent to all parties so that they have the opportunity to raise any objections. That is a key safeguard. In exceptional circumstances, the Bill will allow the donor to ask the Public Guardian to disapply the notification requirements.

The change that will have the biggest impact on enhancing safeguards for the donor is the introduction of identity verification. My Bill gives the Public Guardian the ability to conduct identity checks on individuals involved in making, or who are named in, the lasting power of attorney, as a condition of its registration. If the identity cannot be verified, the LPA must not be registered without a direction from the Court of Protection. Regulations will set out the detail of who will be checked, when and how. I am confident that this will reduce the chances of any fraudulent LPAs being registered, and ultimately increase user confidence in LPAs and the system as a whole.

The Bill also strengthens safeguards through changes to the objection process. To simplify the process and to avoid discouraging genuine objections, I am introducing three changes. My Bill will allow anyone with an objection to register it. All objections will be directed to the Public Guardian in the first instance to be triaged and investigated where necessary. That formalises the process that the Public Guardian already operates. Additionally, third parties will now be able to lodge an objection from the time the Public Guardian is aware of the donor’s intention to make an LPA. Conditions for that will be set out in regulations. These changes will strengthen safeguards for the donor, particularly against abuse and undue pressure, by providing a clearer and more streamlined process for anyone objecting to the registration of a lasting power of attorney.

Peter Gibson Portrait Peter Gibson (Darlington) (Con)
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I commend the work that my hon. Friend is doing on this important Bill. I declare an interest as a former solicitor. Having prepared many hundreds of lasting powers of attorney, I strongly welcome the changes that the Bill will make in terms of safeguards and improvements in processes.

However, I recently met Age UK, and I share some of its concerns about keeping access to paper-based systems for those who are digitally disadvantaged or not familiar with digital processes. Could my hon. Friend reassure us that those systems will remain accessible? I would also be failing in my duties as a lawyer, with my years of experience, if I did not put on record the recommendation that legal advice should, wherever possible, be taken to look at these documents.

Stephen Metcalfe Portrait Stephen Metcalfe
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. He makes two important points. On the first, I emphasise that there is no intention at all—in my Bill or in any other thinking—to do away with the paper-based system. People will still be allowed to apply for an LPA using the paper-based system. However, the Bill introduces an electronic system, which will hopefully streamline the process and reduce the paper burden on the Office of the Public Guardian, making it more sustainable in the long term.

On my hon. Friend’s second point, seeking legal advice is a sound recommendation in many areas, but, particularly when creating something as powerful as a lasting power of attorney, it cannot be a bad idea to seek the advice and guidance of someone with professional qualifications and experience. For many people involved in making a lasting power of attorney, it may well be the first time they have done anything like it. Seeking the advice of an expert is sensible.

Finally, as we all know, LPAs are currently paper documents. To reduce reliance on paper, the schedule provides that all future LPAs will be electronic documents accessed through electronic means, as well the paper channel. The effects of that change will be increased efficiency, accessibility and confidence for users in the new system.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab)
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I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his Bill, which is an example of the much-needed modernisation of legal processes and—as he said—the efficiency and ease of access that digitalisation can bring. Does he agree that in addition to maintaining the paper route and providing efficiency and ease of access through the digital route, it is important to put greater emphasis on increasing digital literacy, particularly for under-represented groups?

Stephen Metcalfe Portrait Stephen Metcalfe
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend—I say that deliberately, because she is—for her intervention, and I completely agree. We are moving to a digital world, but we are not all moving at the same pace, so it is important that we all promote digital awareness and digital accessibility where we can and help people to become digitally aware who have not had the opportunity before. We should always be thinking about how we can make people more aware of the services they could access if they had basic digital skills. This is an example of where, with digital skills, we can streamline the process, and that is important.

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Mike Freer Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mike Freer)
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It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Murray. I will try not to detain the Committee for long. I want to express my wholehearted support for the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock, and I thank him for introducing it.

It is my privilege to be the Minister responsible for mental capacity, and I am particularly aware of how necessary these provisions are. A lasting power of attorney, or LPA, ensures that a person’s wishes and preferences can be considered and reduces the stress and burden on families when capacity is lost unexpectedly. However, despite the intention, the reality is that a lot of people find the current paper process for making LPAs stressful, confusing and bureaucratic. Having had experience of trying to put an LPA in place for both my mother and my mother-in-law, I can testify to how confusing, bureaucratic and difficult the process can be.

It is ever clearer that modernisation is no longer just an option, but an absolute necessity. It will help the Public Guardian to respond to changing societal needs and ultimately make the process for making and registering LPAs safer, simpler and more accessible. No doubt the introduction of a digital channel and an improved paper route will help to make an LPA more accessible for more people. The hybrid approach will provide flexibility between digital and paper channels to create a single LPA. However, it is the changes to the application process that my hon. Friend explained, such as removing the ability for anyone other than the donor to apply to register an LPA and allowing the Public Guardian to co-ordinate the completion of the document, which allow for that flexibility.

My hon. Friend outlined that in the new system, the LPA will be registered as an electronic document and accessed digitally; therefore, proof of an LPA can be provided and accessed instantly. Of course, as my hon. Friend also mentioned, physical proof of an LPA can still be requested for those unable to access a digital service. More generally, chartered legal executives will also be able to certify copies of any power of attorney, including LPAs, which they are unable to do under the current legislation. That will remedy an anomaly in the process that allows Chartered Institute of Legal Executives lawyers to participate in the creation of a power of attorney, but then renders them unable to certify as genuine a copy of the same document. Along with modernising the LPA, that will help to make sharing and using all LPAs, whether old or modernised, easier in the future.

As my hon. Friend covered, those measures relating to evidence of the LPA or power of attorney are the only sections of the Bill that extend to Scotland and Northern Ireland. I therefore want to take the time to affirm that it is the Government’s position that no legislative consent motion is needed, as changes are consequential to the legislation in England and Wales. I take the point the hon. Member for Glasgow North made, and if he wishes to contact my hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock or myself afterwards, we will see if we can address any specific concerns he may have about the application in Scotland.

So far, I have spoken about the benefits of the Bill for the access and use of LPAs and powers of attorney generally, but digitisation will also help the Public Guardian to become more sustainable. Digitisation reduces the Public Guardian’s burden to scan, process and store enormous volumes of paper—11 tonnes at any one time. Manual checks can be automated and happen earlier; I am confident that that will create a speedier process, help to reduce errors in the LPA that prevent registration and ensure the Public Guardian is fit for the modern world.

As my hon. Friend has so eloquently explained, the Bill will guarantee access to a system that is simple to navigate and easier to complete. However, that must be balanced against the need for suitable safeguards. That is partly achieved through changes made by the Bill to notification and objection. Currently, the Public Guardian trusts that the applicant has notified people of their ability to object. Having the Public Guardian inform parties means it can be certain that notifications have been sent, increasing the protection provided.

What is more, the Bill simplifies the objection process by providing a single route for all objections, starting with the Public Guardian and ending at the Court of Protection. If required, the Court of Protection can step in. I share my hon. Friend’s view that formalising the existing process will increase protections for donors, due to clarity about where and how to express concerns about the registration of an LPA.

I am also delighted to see the introduction of identity verification for certain parties. That will help to protect donors and wider society from unauthorised access to people’s assets by reducing the risk of fraud. It is a significant increase in safeguards. The introduction of identity verification, alongside the changes to notification and objections, is a driving factor in why the Government support the Bill. It will embed robust safeguards throughout the process for making an LPA.

In closing, I reiterate my thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock for sponsoring this important Bill and confirm the Government’s continuing support for it. This may not be a long Bill, but its impact is far-reaching. It is therefore vital that we support the measures, and I am grateful to the Committee members who have spoken so helpfully. I look forward to engaging more as the Bill progresses through Parliament.

Stephen Metcalfe Portrait Stephen Metcalfe
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I will add a few thanks to the Minister’s, in particular to my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington and the hon. Members for Newcastle upon Tyne Central and for Glasgow North for their contributions, and to all Members for their attendance and support. I thank the Minister for his positive support, all the officials who helped to bring the Bill to this stage, and you and your team, Mrs Murray, for keeping us all on track.

As the Minister and I have said, this is a relatively small and short Bill. It is tight in its provisions and scope, but it will have a huge impact on people’s ability to make a lasting power of attorney and it will introduce some particularly welcome safeguards. I am grateful for the support, and I hope that everyone will continue to support the Bill as it moves through the House.

My final thank you is to all the external organisations that have been in contact with me throughout the process of sponsoring the Bill. I thank them for their advice, their views and their general support for what we are trying to do.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 1 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 2 and 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule agreed to.

Bill to be reported, without amendment.

Oral Answers to Questions

Stephen Metcalfe Excerpts
Tuesday 21st February 2023

(1 year ago)

Commons Chamber
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Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
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I thank the hon. Lady. Of all the public servants I have worked with in my time as a Minister and an MP, none command greater respect than prison officers. I understand the huge job they do, which in the pandemic in particular was difficult. We are not going to revisit the retirement age issue, but I am always willing to discuss matters with prison officers and in particular the POA, and my door is always open.

Stephen Metcalfe Portrait Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con)
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T4. Does my right hon. Friend agree that getting prisoners off drugs is a critical part of reducing reoffending? Can he therefore set out the work his Department is doing to ensure that prisoners leave prison drug free?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
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My hon. Friend is right about this. It is one of the crusading missions we have, along with getting offenders into work. That is why we are increasing the number of incentivised substance-free living units from 25 in 2022 to 100 by March 2025 and investing in drug recovery wings. The big thing is not just to stop illegal drugs getting into our prisons, but to wean offenders off heroin and opiate substitutes such as methadone.

Powers of Attorney Bill

Stephen Metcalfe Excerpts
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.

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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).

Oral Answers to Questions

Stephen Metcalfe Excerpts
Tuesday 18th October 2022

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Jack Lopresti Portrait Jack Lopresti (Filton and Bradley Stoke) (Con)
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3. What steps his Department is taking to help offenders find employment following their release from prison.

Stephen Metcalfe Portrait Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con)
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5. What steps his Department is taking to help offenders find employment following their release from prison.

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Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We want to get more prisoners the skills and qualifications that they need to get into employment and have the chance to contribute to society, which cuts crime and grows the economy. I am delighted that the first apprentices have now started work. We are planning a roundtable to encourage a wide range of employers, particularly in the UK hospitality and construction industries, where there is a lot more that we can do.

Stephen Metcalfe Portrait Stephen Metcalfe
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I welcome my right hon. Friend’s commitment to building links with employers to ensure that prison leavers go into sustainable employment. Will he assure me and the House that his Department will support that ambition with appropriate funding?

Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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Yes. My hon. Friend makes an important point. We are investing in new roles, such as prison employment leads and a head of education, skills and work, to give our prisoners the support that they need to get into jobs. We are also funding new infrastructure such as employment hubs. This investment will cut crime and help prisoners to get work-ready, which will mean a better, safer society and a healthier community.

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Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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As the hon. Lady rightly says, that report has been published. We are considering it and we will respond in due course.

Stephen Metcalfe Portrait Stephen Metcalfe  (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con)
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T3.   I was pleased by my right hon. Friend’s announcement at the party conference that more criminals will be closely monitored through GPS tagging. Can he assure me that the funding for that is available, so that my constituents can have the confidence that they will be safer on their streets?

Injunction to Protect the M25

Stephen Metcalfe Excerpts
Wednesday 22nd September 2021

(2 years, 5 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Kit Malthouse Portrait Kit Malthouse
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What a splendid idea, not least as we learnt from the television this morning that one of the leading organisers of this group has yet to insulate his own home, despite urging the rest of us to do so. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the Government are investing significant amounts of money—more than £1 billion this year alone—on encouraging people to take green measures in their own homes, to help us with the fight against climate change. As for putting some of those individuals towards that effort, I am more than happy for them to come to have a look at the insulation in my roof, which could always do with some improvement—I think that is a jolly good idea.

Stephen Metcalfe Portrait Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con)
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My constituents have had their lives hugely disrupted over the past week by the actions of these now so-called “morons on the motorway”. They are doing more harm than good by creating congestion, impacting air quality and driving up pollution in an area that already has poor air quality. Does my right hon. Friend agree that if we are to meet our net zero commitments, we need to win the hearts and minds of the whole country to make the changes that are needed? Actions such as this are counterproductive and have seen the potential to divide us on this issue of climate change, rather than unite us, which is what we need.

Kit Malthouse Portrait Kit Malthouse
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I could not have put it better myself; my hon. Friend is absolutely right on that. I know from his own history that one of the key things we have to do is engender in the British people the same enthusiasm for science and technology as he has shown in his parliamentary career, because that is the key way in which we will solve this challenge of climate change. This kind of blunt instrument—selfish behaviour—sets that cause back by years.

Oral Answers to Questions

Stephen Metcalfe Excerpts
Tuesday 16th March 2021

(2 years, 11 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Robin Millar Portrait Robin Millar (Aberconwy) (Con)
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What plans he has to reduce the rate of reoffending.

Stephen Metcalfe Portrait Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con)
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What plans he has to reduce the rate of reoffending.

Stuart Anderson Portrait Stuart Anderson (Wolverhampton South West) (Con)
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What plans he has to reduce the rate of reoffending.

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Kit Malthouse Portrait Kit Malthouse
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right that maintaining strong family links has a significant impact on the likelihood of reoffending for people who have been in the secure estate. We are committed to trying to retain those links as much as we possibly can both to families and to the communities from which offenders are drawn. We have made good progress on the Farmer review in embedding that as part of our work, and we will be looking at innovative approaches to offender management in the future.

My hon. Friend may be interested to know that, any minute now, we will be rolling out sobriety tagging in the rest of England; it is already operational in Wales. The critical thing about this disposal is that it does not mean that somebody goes to prison. Nevertheless, it does mean that their offending is managed in a way that we know now sees enormous compliance—90% compliance. This means, critically, that they can maintain their job and maintain their connections with the family in the community, and that is the kind of innovative approach that we want to look at in the future.

Stephen Metcalfe Portrait Stephen Metcalfe [V]
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I thank my hon. Friend for his previous answer. What are those innovative approaches, and how are he and his Department bringing them to the reducing offending challenge?

Kit Malthouse Portrait Kit Malthouse
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It is no surprise that my hon. Friend, with his background and interest in science and technology, can see the potential for the use of technology in particular for managing offenders. As I say, alongside our sobriety tagging programme, we are going to be rolling out GPS tagging for those convicted of acquisitive crimes—burglary, robbery and theft—so that when they are released on licence, we can put a tag on their ankle meaning that, 24 hours a day for up to a year, they will know that we know where they are. We think that will be an enormous deterrent to reoffending and in particular, if there is any offending, it will allow the police to make much swifter detection. It is all part of our plan to revolutionise the management of offenders in the future, and I would welcome my hon. Friend’s ongoing interest and input.

Prisoners (Disclosure of Information About Victims) Bill

Stephen Metcalfe Excerpts
2nd reading & 2nd reading: House of Commons
Tuesday 11th February 2020

(4 years ago)

Commons Chamber
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Stephen Metcalfe Portrait Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con)
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Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me so early in this important debate.

I warmly welcome today’s Second Reading and the introduction of a Bill that will place a statutory obligation on the Parole Board to take into account an offender’s non-disclosure of certain information when making decisions about the release from prison of certain prisoners. It is right, proper and decent that the Parole Board should be required to take into account the failure of a prisoner to disclose the whereabouts of a victim’s body, or the identity of a child victim in indecent images.

I want to focus my remarks on non-disclosure about murder victims. The Bill has been a long time coming, and at times I was concerned that we may never see it come forward. It is most welcome because this is not some technical law change; it is about real people, real victims, real families, and real hurt and anguish. This is about Helen McCourt and her family. It is about my constituent Linda Jones and her family, and her murdered daughter, Danielle Jones. It is about all the families who have been denied the opportunity to put to rest a loved one who was killed or murdered in the most distressing way. The number of families involved in the non-disclosure of victims’ bodies may be small, but however small the cohort is I am sure we can all understand the pain and hurt caused by withholding the whereabouts of a loved one’s body. This legislation is welcome, but, unfortunately, Helen’s law comes too late for some.

I believe that Marie McCourt is watching these proceedings. Together with my hon. Friend—I will call him that—the Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn), she has campaigned for many years for the introduction of such a Bill. They will have to live with the fact that for Marie this comes too late. Despite pressure on the Parole Board, attempts at a judicial review and an application for reconsideration from the Justice Secretary, all of which were unsuccessful, the Parole Board stuck to its original decision and a few days ago Helen McCourt’s killer, Ian Simms, was released, having never disclosed the whereabouts of Helen’s body. I can only imagine how distressing it must be for Marie to hear us talking about those tragic events, and to know that Simms has been released must be heartbreaking. I can only express my personal sorrow that this legislation did not come earlier and that we were not able to stop Simms’ release.

I do hope that Marie will take some comfort from knowing that her dedication to this cause, her steadfast belief that the law should change and her determination not to give up is what has brought us here today, and that it will provide some comfort and hope for other families affected by the cruel and heartless actions of those who refuse to reveal the location of a victim’s remains. On behalf of all the families and victims, I thank you, Marie. I thank you on behalf of Linda Jones, the mother of Danielle Jones, who was last seen alive on 18 June 2001.

First, the police thought that Danielle had been abducted. I do not wish to go into all the details of the case, for fear of causing renewed distress, but I can say that ultimately the investigation became a murder inquiry. On 14 November 2001, Danielle’s uncle, Stuart Campbell, was charged with murder, although her body had not been found. At the ensuing trial, in December 2002, Campbell was found guilty of both abduction and murder, and sentenced to life imprisonment for murder, to run concurrently with a 10-year sentence for abduction. The High Court later ruled that Campbell should serve a minimum of 20 years before being considered for parole, meaning that in November 2021, despite never revealing the location of Danielle’s body, Campbell could be considered for release.

The loss of a child—the murder of a child—would be hard enough, but to never have the opportunity to say goodbye and know where they are must be an intolerable burden for Linda and the family to bear. Although this Bill will not bring Danielle back, I hope it will encourage Campbell and others who withhold such information to reconsider their actions and give families some small comfort by revealing the location of victims’ remains. If they do not, I, for one, believe—and I am sure others agree—that parole should be denied. With all the caveats that we have heard from the Justice Secretary, if the victims have to live with the indeterminate pain of not being able to get some form of closure, I see no reason why the perpetrators should be able to move on. This welcome Bill goes some way to achieving that. It will therefore receive my full support, and I hope the support of the whole House, so that Helen’s law can stand as a memorial to all the victims, their families, and, in particular, Marie’s tireless campaign to see justice done.