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Mr. Pickthall rose--

Mr. Bowis: I think that the tradition is to give way in Adjournment debates only to those who have previously agreed it with the Member who has obtained the debate and the responding Minister. I have given way to everyone who falls into that category.

Dr. Reid: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. How can we possibly have a debate when only one side of the argument is heard?

Mr. Robert Atkins (South Ribble): It is an Adjournment debate.

Dr. Reid: A debate, by definition, involves two sides of an argument. How can it be in order to have a debate where the convention is that only side of the argument is heard?

Madam Deputy Speaker: This is an Adjournment debate. By tradition, it involves the Member who raises the subject and the Minister who answers. Any other speaker is by courtesy of both.

Mr. Bowis: It is not unreasonable to expect adults who are able to make contributions for non-residential services to do so, but local authorities have discretion to make charges for non-residential services. They decide whether to make them, what level they should be at and on any exemptions or discounts for different categories of users. Any charges must be reasonable and affordable.

If people with learning difficulties in Lancashire are being charged, that is absolutely and entirely at the discretion and decision of the elected leaders of Lancashire county council and it has nothing to do with the Government. Nothing from the Government requires that such charges must be made. I hope that that message will go back to those people.

Extending choice means extending the range of services and improving their cost-effectiveness so that more and better services can be delivered. There is a flourishing

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independent sector for residential care and nursing homes and a growing range of day and domiciliary services provided by the independent sector. As my hon. Friend says, they offer the opportunity for local authorities to secure quality services at a competitive cost. All over the country, this opportunity is being seized but not, apparently, in Lancashire. I wonder why.

As my hon. Friend said, the Lancashire Homes Association has estimated that the county council could save £10.8 million a year if it made full use of the independent sector, such is the level of inefficiency in its own homes. Potential savings from the full use of the independent sector have been put at £14 million annually. That is money that could be invested in more care for more people. Some months ago, I went to the county council in Preston and put those figures to the leader of the council and the chairman of social services. To this day, they have not disputed or denied them. Instead of using all the means at its disposal to get more care for more people, the county council still, as we hear, gives first call to its in-house domiciliary and residential services.

Local authorities asked for and were given the responsibility for community care, for assessing the needs of individuals and for deciding on the appropriate services to meet those needs. They must now deliver, and local people will watch the way in which they are doing.

My hon. Friend has posed the question, reinforced by my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre, about what can be done. A lot can be done by publicising the decisions that are being taken--or not being taken. As a result of the concerns expressed in this debate today and generally, I intend to ask the chief inspector of social services to provide me with a full report on the position in Lancashire so that I can then decide whether further action by central Government is appropriate.

The primary responsibility for community care implementation lies with local authorities. They must answer to their local populations for their decisions and the results that those decisions have on the elderly and vulnerable people for whom they are supposed to care. The people of Lancashire will want to ask the elected leaders of their county council about the delivery of community care in their area. They will want to ask about choice, about value for money and about the way in which the authority is seeking to involve them, or not, to listen, or not, and to meet their needs, or not.

Mr. Hawkins: Will my hon. Friend ensure that in the inquiry, which all Conservative Members here are delighted he has announced tonight, evidence is taken from the senior and experienced general practitioners in our constituencies? They are aware of how often good, sensible decisions about the best place and the best way in which to care for the elderly and vulnerable are being contradicted by social workers who do not know what they are doing and who do not care.

Mr. Bowis: I shall look at that possibility. I hope that, in any case, my hon. Friend will ensure that the information that can come from the experience of general practitioners--I have heard some of it directly when I have been in Blackpool--is given to me so that it can be passed on to the chief inspector and his team.

The people of Lancashire will want to know why money is wasted on state provision when better and cheaper services are available from independent homes

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and agencies. They will want to know why Lancashire's councillors prefer to support the state sector so that less money is available for home helps, respite care and other services to support vulnerable and needy people. They will want to know what Lancashire has done with the £92 million that the taxpayers have given it for social services

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this year; the amount has been doubled since 1990-91. I, my hon. Friends here tonight and, much more importantly, the people of Lancashire want to know the answer to that question, and they have a right to be told.

Question put and agreed to.

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