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Lord McNally: My Lords, is it not time that we ended the anachronism of first-class compartments, particularly on short-haul commuter travel? Nothing more enrages the commuter than being jammed in against the door of an empty first-class compartment.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord is not speaking from bitter experience. It is for the train operating companies to judge whether they can raise sufficient revenue from their first-class provision. The noble Lord will recognise that the amount of such provision on commuter trains is limited. With the new rolling stock, it is likely to be even more limited, for the very factors that he identified.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Warner): My Lords, the Government have not initiated a review of the scientific validity of Munchausen syndrome by proxy and factitious or induced illness or the protocols by which these conditions are diagnosed. Our inter-agency guidance was published only in 2002, alongside the report of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. It sets out clear procedures for all agencies to follow and evidence-based decisions should be taken at each stage of the process by a multi-agency, multi-professional team.
Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, I very much regret the Minister's reply. We of course welcome the review of the care and criminal cases now being conducted, but the underlying cause of many of those injustices is a diagnosis of Munchausen syndrome by proxy. That has tragically deprived many parents of their children and led to parents being gaoled. Will the Government consider the more fundamental issue of whether that diagnosiswhich is still given credence in both Department of Health and Department for Education and Skills documentsis fundamentally flawed?
Lord Warner: My Lords, I draw the noble Lord's attention to paragraph 1.3 of the Department of Health's 2002 guidance, which I mentioned in my Answer. That will enlighten him on the fact that fabricating or inducing illness in children is referred to by a large number of names and that a variety of terms
Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, as the Minister will agree, this is an exceptionally difficult and sensitive issue. There have even been suggestions in press reports that Munchausen syndrome by proxy does not exist. I well recall, from my personal practice many years ago, that a child of four was referred to my neurological department in Newcastle, having been admitted to a hospital in Cumbria on six occasions for unexplained attacks of coma. It was only when he was able to tell us that, when he was noisy or naughty, his mother attached a tube to the gas pipe, put it in his mouth and turned on the gas until he had calmed down, that we realised that that was a case of Munchausen disease by proxy.
Regrettably, there are such cases, and their recognition depends on the most careful assessment by paediatricians and others. It is important to recognise that it exists and that the protection of children is one of the most crucial aspects of the problem.
Lord Warner: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his extremely authoritative remarks on the matter, to which we should all pay careful attention. As I said, the key is not what term we use to describe a wide range of different types of child abuse, but how we protect children. Paragraph 1.4 of the Department of Health's 2002 guidance makes that absolutely clear.
Earl Howe: My Lords, is the Minister aware that whether or not Munchausen syndrome by proxy exists, the guidelines issued by the Department of Health two years ago contain almost no reference to the serious risk of misdiagnosing that condition and the grave consequences that can ensueas evidenced by recent criminal cases? In view of that, is it not now appropriate for the Department of Health to review those guidelines?
Lord Warner: My Lords, the key point is how we protect our vulnerable children through the child protection procedures. The whole basis of those procedures is that we bring the evidence and information from a wide variety of professionals together into a case conference to discuss and produce the most appropriate response. The noble Earl raises a separate set of issues, but that does not undermine the basic fact that multi-agency, multi-disciplinary work is the key to success in child protection.
Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, is Munchausen syndrome, with or without proxy, classified as a personality disorder? What is the best means of treating it? Is it not important that a review is carried out on the whole subject?
Lord Blackwell: My Lords, does the Minister accept that, although the welfare of children must obviously come first, there is widespread concern in the country at large about the ability of designated experts to take decisions that affect children and parents, with little power for ordinary people to appeal in a sensible manner? Will he consider introducing an appeal process that involves lay people taking a view on what has been diagnosed?
Lord Warner: My Lords, I can speak from my personal experience of running a large social services department. As I said, the key is bringing the information together on a multi-agency basis in a case conference. That can often involve a lot of information about parents involved in those cases. The care proceedings always go through the courts, so that there is judicial involvement before children are removed from their parents.
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: My Lords, are the Government considering a new term to define that kind of child abuse, given the difficult position in which paediatricians find themselves when trying to protect abused children, when the people on whom they depend for a history are the very people who have probably perpetrated the abuse? A total of 451 cases have been described in 154 different psycho-social and medical journals recently, published in more than nine different languages. So this is a worldwide problem. Another term might be more helpful to define such child abuse in future, because of the difficult position for paediatricians.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Baroness Hollis of Heigham): My Lords, prospective pensioners are sent application forms four months ahead of their expected retirement date. Nationally, we are on target in meeting their claims. However, for complex or sensitive casesfor example, widows and divorcees approaching retirement, who may have issues concerning using their ex-husbands' national insurance records, and so on; or existing pensioners who become bereavedthere is a temporary backlog
Baroness Greengross: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reassuring reply, but it is obviously unacceptable for so many people to wait a long time for their state pension to be calculated. Why has the delay occurred? Are there people who are not now receiving the money to which they are entitled? Has the department notified advice agencies such as Age Concern about those problems?
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Baroness that it is not acceptable that people should have any worries about relying on payments that are due to themespecially if they have gone through difficult and fragile circumstances. We must certainly not add to that, so I entirely agree with the noble Baroness.
As I understand it, the reason for the delays has been that some worklargely, converting existing order books into direct payment methodswas temporarily moved out of the 26 regional pension centres to the main centre in Newcastle while the local centres were bedding-in pension credit. As that work will shortly return to regional centres and as we have employed an additional 100 staff in Newcastle, I hope and expect to overcome that problem within the next couple of months.
Lord Higgins: My Lords, has the Minister listened to the BBC "Money Box" programme, which apparently rang up the department and was told that the number of people not getting their pension on time was six times higher than it was two or three years ago. Currently there are something over 30,000 people not getting pensions on time. Will these people receive compensation? If not, will they receive interest payments, bearing in mind that some of them are being paid six months late?
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