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Mrs. Spelman: The Minister is giving an important explanation of how the legislation will work in practice. Is there any system of penalties if, as the Minister suggested, the Government can no longer tolerate the actions of a local authority in relation to the indicators?
Mr. Hutton: Yes, and those new powers are contained in the Local Government Act 1999. If there is a serious and persistent failure on the part of the local authority to deliver effective social services to its local community, the Government have a range of measures that they can use to ensure that performance is corrected. We will not hesitate to use those powers if that is the right thing to do. So a remedy is available, but we wish to promote and encourage good practice by local authorities in several ways. One way is through the development of new local charters in relation to the "Better Care, Higher Standards" programme, now under way, under which local authorities will fix their own local charters in relation to performance in social services and related areas. That, too, will help to ensure that local authority performance is improved. It will be improved primarily because carers will have access, at a local level, to the information contained in the charters and will be aware of what buttons they need to press to ensure that the services are delivered appropriately and promptly.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde also referred to amendments Nos. 4 and 5. If we were to incorporate those provisions, we would do a substantial disservice to carers, because the effect of accepting the amendments would be to place a duty on local councillors to take account of the last carers assessment under section 1 of the Carers (Recognition and Services) Act 1995, even if the circumstances of the carer and/or the person being cared for had changed since that assessment was carried out. There is no logic in tying the hands of the local authority to an out-of-date assessment. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon would accept that.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde, I have come to the conclusion that the amendments should not be accepted. They would not improve the Bill and I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon will withdraw them.
Mr. Dismore: I have listened closely to the cogent arguments put forward by my hon. Friends the Minister and the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: The amendment stands in the names of three Members, and as the hon. Gentleman's is the first, and as he is the promoter of the Bill, I did him the courtesy of calling him. However, I now call the hon. Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis instead.
This is a small but practical amendment, and it is close to the hearts of many carers. The amendment has two purposes. First, it would ensure consistency with the Carers (Recognition and Services) Act 1995. Secondly, it would narrow the definition of a carer.
Clause 1(3) is similar to the provision in the 1995 Act in that it ensures that only informal carers will have access to the rights in the Bill. Specifically, the Act states that anyone who undertakes care as part of their employment or as a volunteer cannot access those rights. The current drafting of the Bill differs in one respect from the previous Act in that it uses the word "carer" in the first line of the subsection rather than the term "individual". The first purpose of the amendment, therefore, is to ensure that the Bill is consistent with the carers Act by changing the word "carer" to the word "individual" in line 17.
The amendment's second purpose is to ensure consistency of definition. Using the word "carer" automatically suggests that the two groups not entitled to the provisions under the Bill could be considered to be carers in other circumstances. The two groups are people who are employed as care assistants and those who provide care as volunteers.
This is a relatively minor amendment, but it is very important philosophically. No legislation other than the 1995 Act refers to a "carer". The National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990 refers to private carers, and the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986 refers to carers by describing the activities that they perform. The Care Standards Bill, which is concerned with regulating care assistants, does not use the term "carer" to mean people who are employed. Instead, it uses the term "social care worker".
Some people do not like labels, but carers who are happy to be labelled as such become very distressed when other groups of people, such as care assistants and care workers, are labelled as carers. That is not because they do not value the work of those who are paid carers, but because they value what the term carer means to them and their families. It is a recognition of the role that they play and the work that they do, albeit unpaid.
Of course, colloquially, many people continue to refer to care assistants as carers. The amendment will not change that, but it will keep the legal definition as simple and consistent as possible. That would also be desirable as community care law is already so complex. I propose therefore that we consider this simple and practical amendment.
Mr. Pendry: Thank you, Sir Alan, for giving me pole position in relation to the amendment, but as the diligence and persistence of my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis persuaded the Minister and me to go along with it, I thought that she should have the opportunity to shine. I am grateful to her for that. The amendment would clarify further the distinction between informal carers, who provide or intend to provide a substantial amount of care on a regular basis, and care workers and volunteers.
It would be wrong for the Bill to use the term "carer" loosely to include care workers and volunteers, although I accept that that is standard parlance. I am sure that the Minister will want to respond to the amendment, so having said those few words, I congratulate my hon. Friend.
Mr. Hutton: The amendment would safeguard the definition of a carer and make clearer the distinction between an informal carer who cares for a relative or friend, and a paid care worker or volunteer. The amendment would certainly strengthen the definition, and the Government are happy to support it. I urge the House to accept it.
'and "volunteer" means somebody who may receive out of pocket expenses but not paid remuneration in relation to caring responsibilities.'.
My comments on the amendment need only be brief, as it follows from what I said on amendment No. 38. I want the Bill to make it clear that volunteers helping family members with their caring responsibilities could receive help towards any expenses, such as travel expenses, that might be incurred. Such volunteers would not receive paid remuneration under the Bill, but the amendment would ensure that they could receive help with out-of-pocket expenses.
'and they both agree it is to be so delivered'.
'without the consent of the person cared for'.