JCHR Press Notice 07-08 No 17

PRESS NOTICE

Immediate: Published at 11am Wednesday 6 February 2008

Health and Social Care Bill

The Government must tackle the issue of whether private organisations providing public services should have to uphold human rights laws, says the Joint Select Committee on Human Rights in a report published today on the Health and Social Care Bill.

In a report on the Bill, due for report stage in the House of Commons on the 18th February 2008, the Committee says it is disappointed that Government has not honoured its commitment to fill quickly the gap in protection offered to users of publicly funded services provided by private or third sector bodies following a number of recent court judgments. This affects elderly residents of care homes, as well as the tenants of social housing and children with special educational needs met in independent school settings. The Committee is also concerned that the legal position of private and voluntary sector providers of services in the criminal justice field, such as prisons and secure training centres, is unclear.

With public services increasingly contracted out to private or third sector bodies, the Committee has called for the Human Rights Act to be clarified to deal with this issue once and for all. The Government intends to address this issue as part of a lengthy consultation on a ’British Bill of Rights and Duties’, a move with which the Committee is “dissatisfied”. The Committee therefore says the Health and Social Care Bill should be amended to at least clarify the position of people in publicly funded places in care homes until action across the board is taken. It also says the rights of services users, as well as their “health, safety and welfare”, should be made central to the operation of health and social care providers.

Andrew Dismore MP, Chair of the Committee, said:

“Everyone using public services should be treated the same, no matter who is providing the service. The point of human rights legislation is that is ensures standards and protection for everyone using public services, irrespective of whether the provider of the service is in the public, private or voluntary sector. We have repeatedly drawn attention to the need to clarify the scope of the Human Rights Act so that it properly reflects what Parliament intended when the law was passed. The Government agrees with us, but its strategy for dealing with this problem has failed and it now needs to act quickly to clarify the law. In the absence of a satisfactory solution across the board we need a temporary solution for health and social care.

“We are ten years into the Human Rights Act, yet in a Bill covering health and social care services, areas where vulnerable people’s rights are most important, an important human rights issue is not currently included. This is unacceptable and I will be tabling amendments to make sure Parliament has the opportunity to debate this issue.”

The Committee calls again for the recommendations of its August 2007 report into Older People in Healthcare to be implemented. It publishes amendments to the Bill to give effect to those recommendations and ensure that health and social care providers put human rights at the heart of their work. /ENDS