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Mr. Burns: I did not say that.

Mr. Hutton: Sorry. I stand corrected, but the standard is nearly 30 years old. It was introduced by the hon. Gentleman's party. It was never properly seen through, so there is an issue that we need to address.

I am not saying that that will be the final standard that we set, as that would be inappropriate, but it is wrong of Conservative Members to give the impression that the reference to a 10 sq m standard has been pulled magically out of thin air; that it will come as a complete surprise to everyone in the care home sector; and that everyone is putting their hand in the air and saying, "What on earth is going on?"

Mr. Burns: What I actually said was that things may have moved on. The fact that something was set down 30 years ago does not mean that, 30 years later, it is still relevant or the right thing to do.

Mr. Hutton: That is true, but if the hon. Gentleman is arguing that the 10 sq m standard is too high, that will be an interesting argument. I have not heard any Conservative Member say that 10 sq m is too high a standard.

Dr. Brand: It may be that 10 sq m has been the aspiration, but I know that local authorities have had local guidelines that have varied from that. I have enormous sympathy for people who have invested heavily in meeting local standards which may not now meet the national standard.

Mr. Hutton: I agree. That is exactly the issue that we are trying to address with the Bill. As the Secretary of State said, at the moment, in relation to residential care homes, there are 150 different regulatory units. That is a recipe for chaos, as he rightly said. The guidelines to which he referred have come not from us but from local authorities. It is the care home sector itself--the point has totally escaped Opposition Members--which has asked us to introduce greater consistency and to have a proper level playing field that will ensure for the first time that good care home providers are not undercut by poor providers. That is precisely what we are trying to do with the Bill. That will become clearer to Opposition Members as they find out a little more about what we intend to do.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield made an important speech and asked a number of specific questions. He started with a specific concern about the inspection process that the National Care Standards Commission will oversee. Others have raised similar concerns. The commission will deliver its services through a network of locally based teams involving lay

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inspectors drawn from local communities, so it is absolutely our intention that, as the commission takes on that responsibility, it will keep a local focus and draw on local expertise.

Several hon. Members, including my hon. Friend, referred specifically to Ofsted's role in the new arrangements to be introduced under the Bill. I know that, in the Standing Committee, where those issues will be looked at in more detail, the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Ms Hodge), will be more than happy to respond to some of those technical and detailed points, but I make it clear that the Government's proposals have been generally welcomed by the sector. Ofsted's duties in relation to the Children Act 1989 are clear. The focus on care, welfare and development of the child cannot and will not be played down by the new statutory responsibilities that we want to give Ofsted.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West referred specifically to the transfer of staff. It is our intention that local authority staff who do that work will transfer to Ofsted. My hon. Friend might be interested to know that, if those staff do transfer to Ofsted, it will more than double in size, so I do not believe that she should seriously entertain any concern that an education culture will dominate that part of its work. She can be reassured about that.

My hon. Friend might also be reassured by some good news. I am informed that the National Childminding Association asked its 40,000 members to tell it of their concerns about the Government's proposals. The good news is that the members of the association unanimously supported the Government's proposals. The only slightly bad news is that only two replies were received. Therefore, we probably need to think carefully about what the response means. However, as I said, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment will certainly be prepared to entertain a further, more detailed discussion about all those proposals.

One other matter that arose repeatedly in the debate--in all the speeches by Labour Members, and in some of those by Opposition Members--was a request to me to clarify in a little more detail the Government's intentions on future regulation of daycare services. In another place, my noble friend Lord Hunt made it clear that we intend to use clause 39 to extend the regulatory framework to include daycare centres. There is therefore absolutely no question about that--it will happen. My noble Friend said that, one year after the National Care Standards Commission is up and running, we want it to be able give us advice on how to extend the framework.

I think that that is an entirely sensible way of going about the matter. We have to take advice from the commission on its ability to take on that new and important additional responsibility, which has never been attempted before. We have to ensure that we get that particular part of the process right.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud): Will my hon. Friend also investigate the implications for sheltered units, and

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particularly very sheltered units, some of which have contacted me to say that they are unsure how developments on registration will affect them?

Mr. Hutton: My hon. Friend has made a very good point, and we shall certainly most carefully consider those matters as we develop our proposals.

The hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) expressed his long-standing concern about adoption. He knows--he and I have spoken at length about adoption issues--that the Government take those issues very seriously indeed. The hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends can be reassured and quite confident that we intend to produce our new proposals in the very near future.

The hon. Member for New Forest, West made a characteristic contribution to our proceedings. Although I do not want to dwell on his speech--it would probably be better if we drew a veil over most of it--he made two points that were absolutely extraordinary for someone of his views, which he is obviously very careful about articulating. Effectively, he was arguing for a substantial increase in the amount of social care expenditure provided to local authorities, which was quite bizarre. Perhaps he and Opposition Front Benchers will tell us how much more they want to spend on social services in the future. I am sure that we shall return to that issue.

Conservative Members, but most particularly the hon. Member for New Forest, West, seemed to argue against the very principle on which the Bill is based, which is that it is not possible to drive up quality standards, as he and other Conservative Members desire, by relying on the market alone; we have been down that road, and we know absolutely that that approach would fail. The market itself is not able to deliver the high-quality standards provided for in the Bill.

Mr. Swayne: The hon. Gentleman, as a Minister, represents the taxpayer--who, overwhelmingly, is the greatest purchaser of those services. If the taxpayer puts his faith in certain standards, he should be prepared to pay a premium for them--as they are doing in Blackpool, as the hon. Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) said. Such a premium, much more than any regulation, would be the most powerful engine in driving up standards.

Mr. Hutton: Absolutely; of course that has an important role to play. However, to say that that is the only way in which we can ensure improved care standards in an important sector shows a complete misunderstanding of the situation and of the history of the evolution of the service.

The Bill, which delivers another of the Government's manifesto commitments, will improve both the quality and the consistency of the vital care services used by hundreds of thousands of people. It will close the gaps and loopholes created in our regulatory system by Conservative Members when they were in office. Those deficiencies protected the poor provider at the public's expense.

The Bill will help foster higher standards among the social care work force--80 per cent. of whom have no recognisable qualification of any type--who do some of

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the most important jobs in our society. It will establish new and powerful safeguards that will better protect vulnerable people from the risk of abuse.

All of those are important objectives, which is why the Bill has received strong support from a wide variety of organisations and interests, and why I ask my hon. Friends to support it today. However, the Bill goes much further than that. Behind it lies a clear view of the importance of higher-quality public services, the need for effective and better regulation, and the need for improved public confidence in our system of inspection and registration--a confidence that has been severely shaken by a succession of appalling scandals of which right. hon. and hon. Members will be very aware.

The present arrangements are out of date and inadequate for the new challenges that lie ahead. That was recognised most recently in the Waterhouse report on child abuse in care homes in north Wales. Those challenges are in part the consequence of demographic changes. They are also in part the result of rising public expectations about the standards required from service providers and the need to ensure better protection for children and vulnerable adults. In future, the public interest must be better served in all those key areas. The Bill has the public interest at its heart and will make a positive contribution in maintaining confidence in all the services covered by its provisions.

The Bill proposes a radical redesign of the registration and inspection systems. A new independent organisation, the National Care Standards Commission, will be established in England. Similar arrangements will be put in place for Wales. The commission will have important new powers to promote consistent quality standards in all care homes, including children's homes. The loophole in the Children Act 1989 that allowed small children's homes to avoid any effective supervision and registration requirements will be closed. The commission will also have the power, for the first time, to regulate domiciliary care services, protecting people in their own homes from poor standards and inadequate care.

Private health care will also fall within the scope of the commission--an important extension of patient protection and safeguards. The new General Social Care Council, which has been widely welcomed by Labour Members, will work to raise the standards of the whole social care work force. As many of my hon. Friends have argued, the establishment of such a body is long overdue.

Those are only some of the main changes that the Bill will bring about. The others include: new institutions to develop a new emphasis on higher-quality services; a level playing field for the first time as between public and private sector providers; greater consistency and an end to the current variation in care standards; better protection; and improved public confidence. The Bill complements the Government's wider initiatives to improve the standards of other key services such as education and the national health service. We believe in public services and we want their performance to be improved. The Bill provides further support for our programme of modernisation and reform.

The Bill sets a new course and a new purpose. It brings an end to the sterile and damaging ideology of the past. For the Conservatives, the only question that mattered was who provided the service. After two speeches from the Opposition Front Bench, we are none the wiser about their

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policy. They remain stuck in the comfort of their collective memory of how things used to be. In the mean time, the public have moved on and have left the Conservatives behind. For the Government, the issue is the quality of service. That is where the Bill makes a significant step forward.

There will be many beneficiaries of our new approach to raising quality standards. Children in care homes will be better protected. Older people in care homes or being cared for at home can be more confident that they will receive the best possible care. Bringing together the regulatory systems for child care and nursery education will result in an improvement in the quality of early-years services, benefiting young children and their parents. Part VI provides important additional protection to vulnerable adults who require residential or home care services. Care providers will benefit from a streamlined and consistent regulatory system--something that providers have been seeking for a long time and that the Conservatives conspicuously failed to deliver.

Above all, the public will benefit from the Bill, because their wider interests are clearly being advanced. Judging by their contributions to the debate, the Opposition have nothing positive to offer. Their position today has been a depressing mix of cynicism and willingness to sacrifice higher-quality standards to commercial interests, finished off by an astonishing attempt to rewrite their record in office. That response is not credible and not good enough.

The Government's approach is different. In voting for the Bill, my hon. Friends can be sure that they will be serving the best interests of all their constituents.

Question put, That the amendment be made:--

The House divided: Ayes 120, Noes 274.


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