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Mr. Hammond: Is not the most likely explanation of a social services department's decision not to provide services simply the fact that it does not have the resources available? Are not people likely to find that an unsatisfactory explanation, as it reintroduces the concept of a lottery into the question of who does or does not receive care?

Mr. Syms: My hon. Friend makes an important point. I was about to come to that problem, because we have an assessment system that creates expectations. Although this is a private Member's Bill, I suspect that the Government may well smile on it, and there will be financial implications for local authorities. If people are not to be disappointed once the Bill is enacted, there will have to be planning and further resources to assist local authorities.

As I said earlier, it is a false economy not to do something for carers. If the straw breaks the camel's back, many more people will look to the state, so there will be much more expense. From the caring and financial points of view, it makes sense to focus on the problems of carers.

The Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation expressed concern about the potential problems arising from the direct payments provided for in clauses 5 and 6. Although RADAR has welcomed the introduction of direct payments for disabled people aged 16 and 17, it notes that there is a danger that a conflict could arise between the carer and the person to whom the care is being provided. It argues that it is crucial that there should be clear policy guidance about how such conflict would be resolved and that local authorities should uniformly apply the guidance.

The Council for Disabled Children and the Local Government Association seek clarification on how to ensure that a proper balance is reached between parents'

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and young people's wishes and feelings, which was the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond) in his intervention. Parents might need respite care for their own survival, but a young person might not wish to use available services.

Clause 7 deals with charging. The Carers National Association believes that the clause is the most problematic part of the Bill because it gives local authorities the power to charge carers for services provided to them. At present, only the user can be charged for services. The association is opposed, on principle, to charging for non-residential community care. Carers already devote their time and money to caring, so why should they pay for a service that helps them to continue caring? Many people will refuse services because of their inability to pay. That is a knotty problem.

I turn now to respite care. I served for several years on the Wessex regional health authority, and I remember being impressed by doctors and others at a seminar who talked about the benefits of respite care. As a nation, we have not made enough provision for that over the years. Respite care is important because of the burdens on carers and the long hours that they put in. Mencap is concerned that the Bill does not give carers a right to respite care and that no resources are allocated for it in addition to those that have already been announced.

We know that many social services departments are hard-pressed, and there will certainly be a great deal of pressure on them to provide respite care. We know also that there may be differences, which affect benefits, between respite care provided by the national health service and that provided by social services. When local respite care is provided by the NHS, it is judged to be hospitalisation, so many people find that they lose benefit when their loved one goes into respite care for a few days. That, too, is a knotty problem. There is sometimes an artificial division between social services and the national health service.

I broadly welcome the Bill. There are many matters that need to be sorted out in Committee, and I hope that that will be done, but many carers throughout the country will give the Bill a big cheer. The Government have a responsibility in this matter. After all, the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde is to some extent following the strategy outlined by the Government. As the Bill proceeds, they have a responsibility to answer questions and look kindly on some of the Bill's resource implications.

It would be a great pity if, carers' expectations having been raised by the intoduction of a Bill that recognised their needs, life remained difficult for many local authority social services departments. We all know that, despite the funding discussed in yesterday's local government debate, many of those departments remain hard-pressed and have to juggle the serious demands made on them.

10.13 am

Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge and Chryston): I welcome the general tone of the speech made by the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Syms). Some of his detailed points may have momentarily depressed my hon. Friend

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the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry), who has much more experience of the House than I have. However, when I sought to pilot through the House what is now the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986, such specific questions about my Bill remarkably vanished when, on the eve of Third Reading, Mrs. Thatcher said, "There isn't anything here that we can't deal with." I hope that my hon. Friend will feel comfortable with that assurance.

I regarded clause 8 of the 1986 Act as precious, and it was supported by my hon. Friend. I warmly congratulate him on his good luck in achieving a high place in the ballot, but more importantly on his good judgment in choosing such an important and relevant subject.

The Bill adds to the Carers (Recognition and Services) Act 1995, introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North (Mr. Wicks). I shall not make political points. I was shadow spokesman on community care for a number of years and led for the Opposition in proceedings on the Children Act 1989. Although we had difficulties in implementing the 1995 Act, there was a basis of agreement on both sides. What matters today is what mattered in previous years: the political will to see the Bill through the House and to recognise the will of Parliament.

Not only has my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde achieved that in presenting his Bill for Second Reading, but he has under his belt a firm Government commitment in the money resolution. That is the response to the points made by the two Conservative Members who have temporarily left their seats. Not every private Member's Bill has that commitment. With that start, my hon. Friend will get a fair wind, and we want to support him in that spirit. I am glad that I seem to have given good news even to the hon. Member for Poole, for whom I have great respect.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde is providing a focus on an idea whose time has come. We all know from our constituency experience of the problems of the many carers. My hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Poole mentioned that there are about 5.7 million carers. It is difficult to define the role of informal carers, but if those people--men and women, young and elderly--did not demonstrate the dedication that they do, the strains on the Treasury would be untenable. When my hon. Friend's Bill is enacted, as I hope it will be, his wise proposals will not save the Treasury money, but even so, we have a responsibility to carers and those for whom they care which my hon. Friend is admirably addressing.

I welcome my hon. Friend's specific proposals. The vouchers are workable and realistic. My local government experience leads me to think that they will be welcomed by local authorities, a point raised earlier by the hon. Member for Poole.

One of the Bill's most inviting features is the measure to make direct payments to 16 and 17-year-olds. When the Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), was acting for the then Government and I was speaking for my party, there was no difference between us on the principle of direct payments. Local authorities were urging us to introduce them, and they were right. We had doubts about how many groups direct payments should cover and how they would work.

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We are in a stronger position today to assess the success of direct payments. I wonder whether my hon. Friend the Minister will have time to expand on the statement made by the Minister of State, Home Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng), on 8 February 1999 and whether the Government think that in time such payments could be extended further. We are concerned about the over-65s and those with learning difficulties. We who are involved with disability issues as members of the all-party group on disability have always accepted that many of the measures we want must be evolutionary in nature--they cannot be achieved overnight. The step forward represented by my hon. Friend's Bill is extremely welcome.

With the provisions on direct payments, my hon. Friend has addressed one of the most serious issues that I have encountered during my years travelling about the United Kingdom--including Scotland, although the Bill does not apply to Scotland. He will know that one of the greatest worries of parents of young people with learning disabilities and physical disabilities is what will happen to their offspring when they leave formal education. If the provision for 16 to 17-year-olds is implemented, the future of those young people will be much clearer; that will be far more reassuring to their parents than anything we have so far achieved. That is a wonderful step forward, which will be welcomed by the 19-plus groups throughout England and Wales and by parents. The impact on carers of the Bill, coupled with previous measures and the Government's positive approach, will be profound. The time is right.

We have all encountered in our constituencies people who have become more frail with age, dealing with offspring who have learning and physical disabilities, who have, over time, become bigger and heavier and more difficult to cope with. The hon. Member for Poole raised questions asked by several organisations, but I am sure that he acknowledges that they support the Bill none the less. My hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde can reply to those organisations, by saying that, if we do not deal with the stresses and strains imposed on carers in those circumstances--elderly people trying to cope with adult offspring--we will find, with increasing frequency, the relationship between carer and person cared for breaking down, ending in two people becoming institutionalised. If my hon. Friend's Bill prevents such occurrences, it will both be socially right and save local authorities, the NHS and the Treasury money that can be usefully spent elsewhere.

I congratulate the Library on preparing an excellent research paper, which, referring to the national strategy for carers report, states:


My heavens, that is real dedication. Are they not entitled to the support of the House as well as the sort of support that my hon. Friend's Bill offers? There is great demand for the services that carers supply. Even though they are often motivated by sheer love and affection, they need the sort of practical support that the Bill offers. We must address a variety of circumstances: carers help sick people, disabled people and people with mental illness.

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As a result, carers themselves often experience huge psychological and emotional stress. We all want to relieve that stress, as do local authorities, which have told us that that can be achieved by providing modern, up-to-date home care, day care and, above all, respite care. People who have not left for longer than two hours the person for whom they have cared for five years are entitled to a bit of help--enough time to enable them to do a bit of shopping and anything else they need to do to recharge their batteries.

My hon. Friend's Bill admirably addresses the social inequalities experienced by disabled people and their carers. Of great importance is the fact that it will help the many children who are carers for adult disabled people. The Library paper states:



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