Lucy Frazer MP column: Legislation Needed for Families of Missing Persons

In her weekly column for Ely News, MP for South East Cambridgeshire Lucy Frazer tells of a Private Members' Bill to enable a guardian to look after the affairs of a missing person.

On 18 March 2009 Claudia Lawrence, a chef at the University of York disappeared. On that day she returned home from work and that evening spoke to her parents by telephone making plans with her mother to spend Mother’s Day together. She has not been seen since. 

For the last eight years her father, Peter Lawrence, has campaigned vigorously alongside ‘Missing People’, a charity dedicated to bringing missing children and adults back together with their families, for a change in the law to deal with some of the practical difficulties that have arisen from her disappearance. 

4,000 people go missing every single year yet there is currently no mechanism under the law for anyone else to manage their property and financial affairs. Data protection and contract law prevent dialogue between banks, landlords, insurance companies, utility companies and so forth and any party other than the account holder. At a time when a family is going through unimaginable suffering and concern for their loved one, the last thing they need is the practical inability to deal with the day to day issues which need to be managed. There may be a need to ensure any dependents are provided for, mortgages are paid, and other bills are dealt with. 

This is why I am strongly in favour of legislation currently going through the House of Commons to enable someone with a sufficient interest in the property and affairs of the missing person to appoint a guardian. The Bill draws on systems used abroad and on the system for appointing deputies under the Mental Capacity Act 2005. It is a bill with cross party support, brought by way of a private members bill. I was privileged to serve on the Bill Committee last week which took this proposal to the next stage of the legislative process allowing it to proceed and hopefully shortly to become law. 

On a lighter note it was a pleasure to welcome local clergy to Westminster this week, a visit I was delighted to arrange with the Bishop of Ely. The group had the benefit of a tour of both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, exploring the Bishop’s robing room as well as following me through the lobbies to vote! I even learnt a few facts about the House of Lords that I never knew. The Bishop and I share a keen interest in matters of education and it was good to have a further opportunity to discuss current issues as well as to hear perspectives from the other clergy gathered on an array of other issues facing the community.