Christopher Chope – 1986 Speech on Elderly Persons in Rest Homes

Below is the text of the speech made by Christopher Chope, the then Conservative MP for Southampton Itchen, in the House of Commons on 12 March 1986.

I am grateful for the opportunity to have a debate about the financial arrangements for people in registered rest homes for the elderly. I know that I am not alone among hon. Members in being concerned about the matter. My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) wishes me to associate his name with some of the concerns which I want to express.

I appreciate the keen interest which my hon. Friend the Minister has taken in the subject since taking over responsibility for it. May I thank him in particular for the way in which he has listened to the representations of my constituents? In January he visited Southampton and, after meeting several residents at the Brookvale care home, he had a discussion with other rest home owners, a consultant geriatrician, general practitioners and nurses about the problems of residential care for the elderly. Later the same day he opened a new rest home which I am pleased to tell him is prospering, although it is charging fees greater than those who are on supplementary benefit can afford. More recently, my hon. Friend had a follow-up meeting lasting about an hour with two registered rest home owners in Southampton. If he paid the same attention to every constituency, I do not think he would have time to do anything else. I am most grateful for his concern.

The Conservative Government have an excellent record in extending care in the community, and the expanding national network of residential and nursing homes in the private sector is testament to this. The passing of legislation to improve the standards of care in these homes has ensured that those who look forward to spending the later years of their life in residential care can do so with confidence. The national picture is fully reflected in Southampton and Hampshire. In Southampton, the success of the programme of extending care in the community is such that, despite increasing numbers of elderly, and particularly frail elderly, there are now fewer on the waiting list for long-stay hospital care. My hon. Friend will know, however, that one does not seek a debate on the Adjournment merely to praise the Government but to draw attention to particular problems.

The first problem to which I draw attention is the position of those who were in receipt of supplementary benefit in respect of their rest homes charges at 28 April 1985. When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State first proposed a new structure of national limits for the residential care and nursing home sector on 29 November 1984, he said,

“These new limits will be designed to reflect the varying cost of providing different types of care. There is no question, however, of elderly, handicapped or disabled people being moved out of their existing accommodation, and their position will be protected.” — [Official Report, 29 November 1984; Vol. 68, c. 1098–99.]

In circular LASSL 86(1), issued on 14 January 1986, there is confirmation that the level of charges being met in a person’s supplementary benefit before 29 April 1985 will be maintained indefinitely where the person is over pensionable age. I welcome that, but it does not meet the problem of rising costs and charges. Most residential rest ​ homes have had to increase their charges since April 1985 or, if they have not already done so, will soon have to.

Who is to pay the increased charges? The DHSS will not if the charges are already above £120. By definition, the residents do not have the means to pay the extra and even if they did this would be offset against their supplementary entitlement. I know of several proprietors of rest homes in Southampton who will have to take a crunch decision soon — next month is the crunch time—about whether to waive increased charges for the residents in the category I have described or ask those residents to leave. Surely if my right hon. Friend is to be consistent with his pledge to “protect the position” of such residents, he should be willing to allow increased supplementary benefit in line with the retail prices index. He should not rely upon the charity of the home owners, and should remember that because the residents do not enjoy security of tenure both they and their relatives are extremely worried about what may happen.

The second problem to which I draw attention is the position of those who were resident in rest homes at 28 April 1985 but who were paying privately and whose means subsequently fall to such a level as to cause them to qualify for supplementary benefit. Many of those who enter residential care use the capital released from the sale of their homes to meet the costs, but even £30,000 from the sale of a house pays for only three or four years in a rest home at £150 per week. These people expected that, once their capital was depleted, they would be in the same position as anyone else who qualified for supplementary benefit. Surely the pledge given by my right hon. Friend to which I have referred should extend unequivocally to these residents as well.

In this context I welcome the contents of paragraph 5 of the circular of 14 January, which states:

“For those claiming supplementary benefit after 29 April 1985 the new system of national limits applied straight away. But Ministers have decided to introduce a new provision to help some long standing residents in residential care homes who did not claim supplementary benefit until after 29 April 1985…Where application of the new limits could produce exceptional hardship the Secretary of State has the discretionary power to extend to an individual the benefit of transitional protection so that he could receive the same rate of benefit as he would have received had he claimed before 29 April”.

I hope that much greater publicity will be given to this very welcome concession by the Government, because I know that the problem has been a cause of concern to many. I have met many residents and their relatives who are still concerned, however, about what will happen when the money runs out. I doubt that the discretionary power will allay all their worries and concerns. I find it hard to contemplate a situation in which my right hon. Friend would choose not to exercise his discretion to extend transitional protection. If I am right in that, why cannot he go the whole way and guarantee that, in the situation that I have described, the transitional protection will be extended?

The third problem on which I seek my hon. Friend’s comments is the rigidity of the limit of £120 a week on supplementary benefit payments for residents in residential rest homes for the elderly. In most homes in Southampton this limit is well below the fees charged to those who pay privately. I imagine that £120 a week is probably too much for a pensioner who is up and about and fully in command of his faculties and who does not qualify ​ for attendance allowance. Such a person should not, perhaps, even be in a residential rest home—at any rate, not at the expense of the taxpayer.

However, at the other end of the scale there may be a nonagenarian who qualifies for the full attendance allowance, who is very frail and who is incontinent. For such a person, living in a centrally heated, single room with full board, 24-hour care and free laundry, £17 a day is a bargain. It is clearly far below the reasonable cost. One needs only to consider the cost of care in a long-stay hospital. It is £48 a day. Therefore, £17 a day is very much on the low side where a very considerable degree of care is required.

I do not underestimate the problems involved in having separate levels of supplementary benefit entitlement, depending on the extent of the infirmity and the degree of care being provided. But the present system, particularly now that the attendance allowance payments are taken into account and set off against supplementary benefit, discriminates against the very people that we should be most eager to help. My hon. Friend saw some such people on the occasion of his visit to the Brookvale care home in Southampton.

The fourth problem is the one of topping-up payments. If a person is below pensionable age and a home’s charges exceed the supplementary benefit limit a local authority is able to top up the balance above supplementary benefit. The same principle does not apply, however, to a person who is a pensioner. I am sure that many local authorities would much prefer to top up a payment rather than have to provide home help services and meals on wheels. A district health authority might also be willing to make a topping up payment because it thereby saves on district nursing services. In Southampton, in the light of a recent decision to remove payments for incontinent aids, it would mean a saving of between £40 and £50 per resident per month if a person moved into a residential rest home.

There is also a problem about topping-up payments by relatives. I hope that in his reply this evening my hon. Friend will spell out clearly what those rules are. I have spoken to the officials in the supplementary benefit office in Southampton. They are in a state of confusion. The result is that some of the decisions that have been handed down seem to be wrong. I understand that under the regulations it is possible for relatives to top up payments, but I do not believe that that is the general understanding. I look forward to hearing what my hon. Friend has to say about that problem.

The fifth problem concerns the inflexible arrangements which apply to the categorisation of residents. A nursing home resident can receive between £170 and £230 per week from supplementary benefit, yet I have had constituency cases of individuals who would clearly qualify for nursing home provision but who would prefer to stay in a residential rest home where they have already spent many years, where the environment is familiar and the standard of care is as high as they would wish or need. My hon. Friend wrote to me about one such case on 28 February. The 89-year-old lady has charges of £180 per week. When I wrote to my hon. Friend he suggested that, in view of her disabilities and the high degree of care she needs,

“it may be that she should now be accommodated in a nursing rather than a residential care home. The limit for a non specialist nursing home is £170 per week. This higher limit could not be paid for”—

this particular lady’s—

“present accommodation unless the home were jointly registered also as a nursing home.”

But joint registration of this home is not a practicable possibility. There are planning problems and the additional facilities which the owner would have to provide would only be worthwhile if all her residents were in need of the level of care provided in a nursing home. The owner does not wish to register as a nursing home and the resident does not wish to move to a nursing home.
If a pensioner resident suffers from disablement but had become disabled before reaching pensionable age, the maximum supplementary benefit payable is £180 rather than £120, provided of course that the home is duly registered for the elderly and physically disabled. Yet if a pensioner resident becomes frail and disabled in old age, the limit is fixed at £120.
Circular LASSL 86(1) explains:

“This distinction is intended to avoid ambiguity between those suffering from substantial and permanent disablement and those simply becoming frail in old age.”

That is Civil Service newspeak of the worst sort. If an 85-year-old bedridden amputee is frail and incontinent, he is disabled. Why should the cost of looking after him be deemed to be £60 a week less, if he was disabled at the age of 65 rather than 64? That is one of the worst anomalies.

There is a similar inflexibility in the assessment of those with mental disorders. Senile dementia is not apparently classified as a mental disorder, although its symptoms are often similar. The amount of care needed to look after someone with it is a great deal more than that for an ordinary old person. Yet supplementary benefit allowances are no different.

I know that my hon. Friend does not have responsibility for incontinent aids, but does he agree that it is desirable for health authorities to provide incontinent aids at no cost to residents in local authority, private and voluntary residential rest homes? I can understand why such facilities should not be provided to nursing homes because by their definition they are meant to provide full care and treatment, including all nursing services. But at a time when resident rest home owners are being pressurised from all sides, it is most unfortunate that in the Southampton health district the provision of such incontinent aids to residents in residential rest homes has been withdrawn by the health authority.

In a masterly understatement in a letter to me, my hon. Friend said:

“We do not regard the present arrangements as immune to change if the need can be shown.”

I hope that he will show that he has thought further about the possible ways in which the system can be improved and changed, and that he will not delay in putting right some of the present shortcomings which threaten to discredit an area of Government policy for which there should be only properly great praise.

Chris Chope – 2016 Speech on the European Convention on Human Rights

Below is the text of the speech made by Chris Chope, the Conservative MP for Christchurch, in the House of Commons on 9 May 2016.

I am most grateful to Mr Speaker for giving me the opportunity this evening to raise the issue of the UK’s membership of the European convention on human rights. I want to focus on the issue in the context of the referendum that will take place on 23 June—and let me say, as a Brexiteer, that it is good to know that a fellow Brexiteer will be responding to the debate.

I should, at the outset, set out my position on sovereignty and human rights. I want our Parliament to make the laws to which United Kingdom citizens are subject, and I want our independent judges to interpret those laws without fear or favour. I believe that if Parliament does not like a court’s interpretation of the law, Parliament should be able to change that law, prospectively but not retrospectively. I also believe that supranational courts should not be able to legislate for us by judicial means. If the wording of a treaty is to be changed, it should be changed by an amending protocol and not by judges.

That is why I support the European convention on human rights, but am very uneasy about the way in which it has been extended by judicial activism into fields that Parliament has never approved—a prime example, obviously, is giving votes to prisoners, an issue which the Prime Minister told us made him feel physically sick—and that is why I am so keen for the United Kingdom to take back control over the making and interpretation of our laws. Currently, 60% of our laws are made by the European Union, and they can be changed at will by the European Union against our wishes, because even if all United Kingdom Members of the European Parliament vote in one way, they can muster fewer than 10% of the votes in that Parliament.

I applied for this debate because I am very confused about Government policy on UK membership of the European convention on human rights. I read the speech delivered by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers on 25 April, entitled “The United Kingdom, the European Union, and our place in the world”. In that speech, my right hon. Friend set out what she considered to be the principles for Britain’s membership of international institutions. She said:

“We need…to establish clear principles…Does it make us more influential beyond our…shores? Does it make us more secure? Does it make us more prosperous? Can we control or influence the direction of the organisation in question? To what extent does membership bind the hands of Parliament?”

Having asked all those questions, she said that

“the case for remaining a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights—which means Britain is subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights—is not clear.”

She went on to say:

“The ECHR can bind the hands of Parliament, adds nothing to our prosperity, makes us less secure by preventing the deportation of dangerous foreign criminals.”

“If we want to reform human rights laws in this country, it isn’t the EU we should leave but the ECHR and the jurisdiction of its court.”

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)

If we want to have influence, we should bear in mind that tomorrow is the eighth anniversary of the imprisonment of seven Bahá’i leaders in Iran. They are prisoners of conscience, and were imprisoned as a result of their religious belief. That is an unquestionable violation of their human rights.

Outside Europe, the United Kingdom’s membership of the European convention on human rights sends a strong signal of our continued commitment to upholding and advancing human rights globally. Is there not a good reason for our being a member of the convention when we can do something for those Bahá’i leaders in Iran who have been violated and persecuted because of their beliefs? That is one example.

Mr Chope

The hon. Gentleman has made his point very well. However, I am concentrating on what the Home Secretary said. She seemed to be announcing a Government policy that the United Kingdom should leave the convention but stay in the EU. Her speech led to an urgent question, which was granted by Mr Speaker, and I—and other people who were present on that occasion—could not understand how we were going to be able to deliver the Home Secretary’s agenda on human rights if we remained in the European Union and subject to the EU charter of fundamental rights.

Questions were raised by Members during those exchanges, and it became clear that the Home Secretary—and, indeed, the Government—were indeed rather muddled about this. One of the questions that was asked was whether membership of the European Union required us to be a party to the European convention on human rights. The Home Secretary was not answering the urgent question. The Attorney General answered, as a Law Officer. He said:

“It is not…in any way clear that membership of the European Union requires membership of the European convention on human rights…there are considerable legal complexities”.—[Official Report, 26 April 2016; Vol. 608, c. 1291.]

My hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) then cited article 6.3 of the treaty on European Union, which states:

“Fundamental rights, as guaranteed by the European Convention…shall constitute general principles of the Union’s law.”

He went on to refer to the fact that the Commission had said that any member country of the European Union that sought to disengage from the European convention on human rights might have its voting rights suspended.

Then, as so often happens in this House, my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) asked a really pertinent question. He said:

“Can a country remain in the European Union and still come out of the convention? What is his legal opinion on that?”

The Attorney General replied:

“As I have suggested, the legal position is not clear.”

He went on to say that he did not

“have the time to go into all the ins and outs of that particular question now, but I suggest it would also be wrong to say that it is clear in the opposite direction.”—[Official Report, 26 April 2016; Vol. 608, c. 1301.]

So that was what the Government were saying about this particular matter.

This morning, I heard the Prime Minister chiding Brexiteers for having no clear comprehensive plan for life outside the EU, but that was a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black. As I have just said, the Prime Minister and the Government have no clear plan for life inside the European Union if there is a remain vote on 23 June. They do not know what will happen to their human rights agenda. There are many other examples beyond that.

It is a failure by the Government not to address this issue up front, and to leave it hanging in the air pending the referendum. We have had some quite clear advice from lawyers of great distinction. For example, Lord Woolf said:

“You can legally reconcile the doctrine of the sovereignty of Parliament with the European Convention on Human Rights. You cannot do that with regard to the European Charter, because the position there is that you can trump a statute.”

Lord Woolf was being quoted there in the House of Lords paper 139, which was published today. We now have a situation in which the Home Secretary seems to be arguing that we would be more secure if we left the convention on human rights but retained European law relating to fundamental rights.

I should like to give the House some examples of how EU law is undermining our security. In The Sunday Telegraph yesterday, it was reported that six Algerian terror suspects with links to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda were to be allowed to stay here after a 10-year battle in the courts. I think that the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) has made the point that the number of people fraudulently trying to gain entry into the United Kingdom has almost doubled in a year. That is because those people realise that we do not have the power to turn them away at our borders if they are waving a European Union identity document.

I was speaking at a conference on European freight security last week, at which it became apparent that we are not allowed to X-ray lorries in Calais to see whether they contain illegal migrants because it might be damaging to the human rights and health of those illegal migrants. That is another example of how human rights laws undermine our ability to keep our borders secure. Another example is that we are not allowed to take DNA samples from migrants who refuse to give their fingerprints when they enter the European Union, which is expressly prohibited by the Eurodac regulations.

Then we have the example, which came out a couple of months ago, of Abu Hamza’s daughter-in-law. We found out that she was his daughter-in-law only through a freedom of information request. An advocate-general in the European Court of Justice said that it was in principle contrary to European Union treaties to remove the lady from the United Kingdom, notwithstanding the fact that she had been convicted and sentenced to a year’s imprisonment. It was subsequently revealed that she had been convicted of attempting to smuggle a Sim card to Abu Hamza while he was in a high-security prison, but even that grave crime was insufficient to allow the courts to remove her from the United Kingdom because of the intervention of the European Court of Justice, which exercised its powers under the EU’s fundamental rights laws.

I cannot understand how the Home Secretary can consistently argue that we should stay in the European Union when the logic of everything she said in her speech was that we should be leaving the EU. It is potentially misleading for members of the public to think that they can have their cake and eat it by leaving the European convention on human rights while still remaining subject to the European Court of Justice.

Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con)

Perhaps all these complexities explain why so little progress is being made on our manifesto commitment to leave the European convention on human rights. When the Minister replies, I hope that he will make it clear that the Government have not gone cold on that.

Mr Chope

I hope that the Minister will be able to respond to that. We had a debate towards the beginning of this parliamentary Session in which the Minister made it clear that the Government intended to bring forward a consultation document on this sooner rather than later. I think he envisaged that that would be before Christmas, but it then became after Christmas and now it is after the referendum. They were talking about a consultation document, so why can we not have even a discussion? I fear that it has been kicked into the long grass on the instructions of No. 10, because it was realised that it would lead to lot of awkward questions. The Government have demonstrated throughout the course of the referendum debate that they are quite happy to ask hypothetical questions and complain when people are unable to answer them, but they are unwilling to respond positively to the questions that people are asking them.

Sir Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con)

I am sorry that I missed the first part of my hon. Friend’s speech; I very much look forward to reading it tomorrow. While the view of the general public is that infringements on the rights of Parliament are the result of the intervention of the European Court of Human Rights, will my hon. Friend confirm that even if we were to leave the European convention on human rights and remain in the EU, we would still be subject to the same kind of interference from the European Court of Justice?

Mr Chope

Yes. It would be not only the same type of interference, but graver. That is the conclusion of the House of Lords EU Justice Sub-Committee, the report of which I referred to earlier and came out today. The European Court of Justice has much greater powers and can effectively remove legislation from our statutes. The European Court of Human Rights is much more restricted and can deal only with individual cases, which then can be the subject of negotiation and we can ultimately exercise more discretion or have a greater “margin of appreciation”, to put it in legal language. As Lord Woolf was saying, the European convention on human rights may not be perfect, and we may not like the way in which it has been changed by judge-made law, but most people would agree with its actual wording.

The European charter of fundamental rights is anathema. You may recall, Mr Deputy Speaker, that when the charter was first brought forward and the then Labour Government were saying that it would have no application to the United Kingdom, the then Minister for Europe, the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), memorably said that it would have no more status in UK law than a copy of the Beano. That just illustrates the speed with which change comes about. One moment we think something has been passed which is not going to apply to us and now we find, on the highest authorities in the land, that we are indeed subordinate to the European Court of Justice and that the European fundamental rights agency and charter are supreme. My plea to the Minister is: can we get this sorted out? Will he confirm that the UK would be in an absurd position if it wanted to stay in the EU but denounced the European convention on human rights?