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8.15 pm

We shall have to wait until next week to find out whether the comprehensive spending review will provide a true idea of exactly what sums will be allocated to such matters. Time will tell, but I fear that we might have to wait until the White Paper is published, I hope, at the end of the month.

If the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge decides to press the motion to a Division, we shall support him. New clause 4 proposes an entirely right and proper structure in which the Government should discharge their responsibility to produce minimum standards. The House should have a clear role in scrutinising those standards. Its role should involve much more than approving a statutory instrument under the negative procedure. The affirmative procedure should be used, so that we can consider not only the regulations, but the details behind them. I hope that the Minister will be able to respond positively.

Mr. David Amess (Southend, West): I do not want to fall out with my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns), but I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond) on his skilful drafting of new clause 4. I found his arguments entirely convincing and hope that the Minister will accept new clause 4.

The Minister will know from our deliberations in Committee, that I feel very strongly about such matters. There are a huge number of residential and nursing homes in Southend. That should be no surprise because it is well known that Southend is the finest seaside resort in the country and elderly people are flocking to the town because the movement of the Thames estuary is extremely good for people's breathing. That is why our residential and nursing homes are so popular, especially those in Southend, West. I regularly visit those homes and I am in constant contact with the people there.

The Minister takes a different view, but of course Conservative Members support national minimum standards. That is well understood, but he is saying "Trust the Government." I, for one, do not trust the Government. I am very concerned about those standards. As the Minister knows only too well, this is not about the curtains, the en suite facilities or similar matters, but about the love and care that many elderly people in those homes

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are given by the home owners. I baulk at using the expression "running their business", but it is not good enough for the Government to expect the owners of those homes to do whatever the Government want without proper and due consultation.

I take my hat off to the Minister; he was kind enough to invite the Committee to 79 Whitehall to look at the different rules and regulations on which he was consulting. However, I ask him to consider new clause 4 carefully because it would be a tremendous fillip to all our residential home owners if it were accepted. He knows only too well that the Independent Healthcare Association, Leonard Cheshire, the National Care Homes Association, Help the Aged, William Laing and others have all been somewhat concerned about the overall tenor of the minimum standards.

Perhaps the Minister will tell us that he has managed to placate those concerns in the past few days, but the magazine, "Caring Times" carried out a survey to discover the effects of "Fit for the Future?". That survey should be of concern to the Minister because more than 50 per cent. of respondents said that they could be obliged to close due to bankruptcy.

We all know from our constituencies that the national health service is in crisis. My goodness, I experienced that myself at St. Thomas's accident and emergency unit in the wee hours of the morning on Monday, learning at first hand how the NHS is in great difficulty. Many of our constituencies are experiencing bed blocking. We have 56 people in hospital at the moment--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman's remarks are wide of the new clause; he may want to return to discussing it.

Mr. Amess: Of course, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

A residential home proprietor in the north-east said of minimum standards:

A nursing home proprietor in Scotland said:

That is why we need the Minister's reassurance that there will be due and proper consultation. For that reason, I am an enthusiast for new clause 4. The Scottish proprietor continued:

That is another concern.

I do not want to cause controversy in Southend, West, but when I go round residential nursing homes and see chintzy curtains and plush facilities, I am not taken in for a minute. I am concerned about the quality of care. I have first-hand experience because next door to me is an excellent residential nursing home called Cherry Croft, and I pay tribute to the loving care and nursing that it gives to many of my constituents. However, I also have first-hand experience of another nursing home outside the area that I represent, although I shall not go public on that

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as I am trying to deal with the matter tactfully at the moment. One would think that the home is the cat's whiskers, but I happen to know that the care and attention that it provides are somewhat disappointing to say the least and there have been unfortunate outcomes.

Recently, I had the privilege of visiting a small home with only eight beds in my constituency. It is struggling, and it told its Member of Parliament that it is struggling because it is concerned about minimum standards. It is looking for certainty, as it wants to plan for the long term. The people there love their residents, but they think that, unless there is the certainty that new clause 4 would provide, the home may have to close, adding to the 50 per cent. of homes that believe that they will have to close.

A residential home owner in the midlands said:

That is happening right this minute in the midlands. Linda Nazarko, the director of the Registered Nursing Homes Association, said:

That is a different argument, but we should not completely reject the points that she has made.

A residential home proprietor in the south-west said:

Another residential home proprietor in the south-west said:

Recently, I attended a reception at which home owners gathered to debate the national minimum standards and I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge that I found them overwhelmingly enthusiastic about the proposals in new clause 4.

I have received a letter from the Norfolk Residential Care Homes Association, which is very concerned about minimum standards. It says:

and that is

with their loved ones. I have also been contacted by the Brighton and Hove National Care Homes Association. It, too, is very concerned and I am advised that 17 of every 20 care homes for old people in Brighton and Hove-- 85 per cent.--will close as a result of the minimum standards. The councillor dealing with this matter said that the Conservatives were scaremongering and that the closure rate would be only 30 per cent. That is no comfort to the good people of Brighton and Hove.

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I ask the Minister to consider carefully the arguments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge. I support minimum standards--they are desperately important to the living standards and living conditions of elderly people--but where is the measure for the love, care and devotion that many home owners give to residents? An overwhelming number of residents have no relatives and might have lived in a home for 10, 15 or 20 years. They may not have en suite bedrooms or rooms that meet the standard that the Minister has in mind, but none of that is important to them. They do not regard home owners as wicked capitalists. In fact, morning, noon and night, they put their hands in their pockets to make sure that standards for residents are decent and they also celebrate residents' birthdays and provide all sorts of entertainment. None of that is recognised in the minimum standards.

I know that the Minister has the best intentions, as he showed in Committee, but we need to be convinced that the minimum standards are in the best interests of residents. I hope that he will reconsider new clause 4.

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