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Mr. Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam): I very much endorse the hon. Gentleman's remarks on the need for a comprehensive consideration of charging policies. I look forward to the Minister's comments on that point.

Does the hon. Gentleman share the concern of several organisations that the interaction of clauses 2 and 7--in relation to service provision and charging--could lead to a perverse outcome, whereby the carer is asked to pay for services for the disabled or elderly person? As a consequence, the carer's means rather than those of the cared-for person would be assessed.

Mr. Pendry: That issue has been raised with me. However, I am assured that that would not be the outcome. I accept that the matter causes concern, but we can iron out its ramifications in Committee.

Mr. David Maclean (Penrith and The Border): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on introducing the Bill. He has told us that it does not yet contain all the refinements that he wants; one understands that, given the processes of government, he may have had to dilute the measure slightly. I assure him that I am willing to put myself at his disposal, as I am certain is my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth). We have considerable experience of drafting amendments, which he may find useful.

Furthermore, the hon. Gentleman may be aware that, last year, during the proceedings on the Protection of Children Bill, the Minister expressed his gratitude to my right hon. Friend and I because we tabled some

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amendments to that measure, ensuring that it was satisfactory and efficient. We are willing to give that assistance again.

Mr. Pendry: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, especially as he achieved something that I failed to do--he got a smile from the Minister.

The point is well taken; we need to reconsider the matter. However, following the introduction of the strategy outlined in "Caring about Carers", the Government have made a special grant of £140 million over three years, to ensure that local authorities provide a wider range of services to support carers. We must acknowledge the Government's generosity in that regard.

Mr. Hammond: According to the hon. Gentleman's figures, there are about 1.5 million carers providing substantial care. Will he confirm that the Government's generosity would deliver about £50 or £60 a year per carer?

Mr. Pendry: The hon. Gentleman stuns me with his arithmetic. I shall reflect on that statement.

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. John Hutton): I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for allowing me to intervene on his excellent speech, and I hope that he will forgive me for doing so. While he is reflecting on the question posed by the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond), he may want to remind the House of how much special and specific grant was ever made available by the Conservative Government to benefit carers.

Mr. Pendry: With my all-party hat on, I deliberately tried to avoid such remarks--although such comments are allowed from my hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench.

I hope that this important Bill will be allowed to go to Committee and that it will speed its way on to the statute book.

10 am

Mr. Robert Syms (Poole): I welcome the introduction of this Bill by the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry). He is well respected by hon. Members on both sides of the House and has made a good start in his contribution to a Bill that is important to many people.

Carers have a very difficult task. As Members of Parliament, we all meet people in our surgeries who are struggling to look after relatives or other people. Carers sometimes feel that the welfare state and the structure of society do not take their needs into account.

As the hon. Gentleman said, the efforts of carers are not always recognised and they are certainly not always rewarded. Many say to me, as they say to all hon. Members, "If I didn't care for my relative and he became a burden on the state, think what it would cost you." We are all very much aware that carers save the state a lot of money and it is better that relatives look after relatives and partners look after partners. Anything that we can do to facilitate that role would not only save us a considerable amount of money, but would make people's lives much easier.

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The problem is very much a case of the straw breaking the camel's back. A little help, respite, support and care can make the carer's whole task easier and ensure that everyone who is cared for has a better deal. As Conservative Members have already made clear, we shall consider the Bill constructively, if not uncritically. We shall have to consider the detail in many of its clauses. The offer of my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) is helpful in the sense that he can crawl over a Bill, find snags and be helpful--when he wants to be. I am sure that he will do that.

Great Britain has an estimated 5.7 million carers. One in six--or 17 per cent.--of households contain a carer. That is a vast number of people, even it is aggregated out on a constituency basis. In the south-west, the area that I come from, 12 per cent. of the adult population are carers. The burden falls more on women than on men. I have met many women who look after their partners. They have terrible problems lifting their male partners and suffer from back and associated problems. In Britain, 58 per cent. of carers are women and only 42 per cent. are men. Although the latter figure is higher than I thought it would be, nevertheless the burden falls rather more on women. Nine out of 10 carers care for a relative. Those are pretty important statistics.

Many carers not only have to look after their loved one or partner, but 20 per cent. of them do so for more than 20 hours a week. In fact, 4 per cent. of carers have to provide care for more than 50 hours a week, which is a substantial amount of time. Those who live with the person for whom they care spend the most time on the task. Apart from that, carers try to lead ordinary lives. In addition to looking after a relative, they work, shop, catch the bus and have to deal with the problems of congestion and returning home. The burden on such people is substantial.

Representations make it clear that the Bill, particularly clause 1, gives a recognition to carers that perhaps did not exist in the past. The Bill is very much welcomed by most of the organisations that sent in comments. However, I hope that the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde will not mind if I focus on some of the concerns raised, rather than on the positive points, of which the Bill has many.

The Carers National Association expressed its disappointment that, under clause 1, parent carers--parents who care for disabled children under the age of 18--will not be able to benefit from the Bill. They will not be able to receive services in their own right, because clause 1 refers explicitly to people who care

At present, parent carers and their disabled children can receive holistic family services under the Children Act 1989. However, carers say that the child is the focus of such services and, although that is right, it overlooks the need of parents. The Carers National Association does not believe that it is the Government's intention to exclude parent carers and hopes that the issue can be resolved either by amending the Bill or by strengthening the guidance in the Children Act.

Clause 2 makes provision for a local authority to provide any service that it believes will help the carer. That service might involve direct contact with the person cared for, but the Bill states that the service must never be intimate. However, the Carers National Association points out that the Bill does not define what is meant

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by an "intimate service". Although the Bill provides for regulations to define an intimate service, it does not state when or whether they will be published in draft form for consultation first. It is important that the definition is published.

Concern has also been expressed that carers will be charged for services, and such concern is inevitable. The Carers National Association is concerned that carers will be charged for services that would otherwise have been provided to the disabled person. The crucial words are in clause 2(3), which states:

The problem is that there is a power to charge service recipients in section 17 of the Health and Social Services and Social Security Adjudications Act 1983. It gives local authorities the power to charge the person to whom the service is provided for non-residential, community care services.

Concern has also been expressed that clause 1 will give a local authority discretion to decide whether to provide a service. Many people believe that the burden should be on a local authority to explain why it is or is not providing a service. People who have been assessed and who expected some support would like a social services department at least to explain why it is not providing support if their application has been turned down. They would be a little more satisfied if they received an explanation.

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