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Mr. Burstow: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Spelman: I shall not, as I have only a couple of minutes left.

It seems to me that we have spent most of the last six hours walking round and round the main problem of long-term care--its funding--without a proper response from the Government. The promise of a White Paper is a poor substitute. What is the point of a comparison with other royal commissions on different subjects in the past?

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The present Government pledged to work out a fair system of funding. The royal commission said that change was imperative, and today we have missed an opportunity.

6.38 pm

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. John Hutton): The debate has been of a high quality. It may say something about the time that I have spent in the House of Commons, but I feel that it has been one of the best debates that I have heard.

We have had the benefit of some very strong opinions from my hon. Friends the Members for Stockport (Ms Coffey), for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) and for Halesowen and Rowley Regis (Mrs. Heal), largely based on their personal experience of that aspect of our society, and from the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe), who made an excellent speech on the basis of her long association with, and interest in, the subject, which certainly showed. The debate has given us a useful opportunity to discuss these very important issues.

After my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State had spoken, the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond) responded on behalf of the Conservatives. I am afraid that it struck me, and I suspect my hon. Friends, that he had used a speech that he had--obviously and rightly--prepared earlier, which failed to recognise the significance of some of the announcements that my right hon. Friend had made, and the clear timetable that my right hon. Friend had outlined for responding to the royal commission proposals. The hon. Gentleman made the interesting and intriguing remark that he felt that local authorities were inadequately funded. I am sure that the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude), the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, will want to query and question the hon. Gentleman about exactly what additional money he is asking to be spent in that area.

Mr. Hammond: For the record, I said to the Secretary of State that the much-vaunted increase in social service spending was not evenly spread geographically, as the Minister well knows. Counties in the south-east are suffering from underfunding of their social services because of the distribution to the north.

Mr. Hutton: All right. I am prepared to accept that the hon. Gentleman might have said that if that is what he thinks he said. We will all have the benefit of checking and reading Hansard in the morning. However, as the hon. Gentleman was speaking, I made a note of his reference to the inadequate funding of local authorities. I am sure that we will resolve the issue in the usual way.

Rather interestingly too, the hon. Gentleman referred to a breach of contract represented by the existing arrangements for funding long-term care. Generally, the debate has been marked by the absence of party rancour, and I do not want to spoil that. But--[Interruption.]--there is always a but--I have to point out to the hon. Gentleman that it was the Conservative Government who drew up the contract. If there has been a breach of contract, we know who is responsible and we know who drafted its terms. Some Conservative Members--not all, because others have approached the debate in a very

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responsible way--have been attempting to airbrush themselves out of any responsibility for the present mess--

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hutton: I will certainly not give way to the right hon. Lady. I have a great deal of respect for her, but she has not been present throughout the debate. I am happy to give way to hon. Members who have been part of the debate, but the right hon. Lady has not.

Mrs. Bottomley: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I think that it is a courtesy that, even if by implication an hon. Member has referred to another hon. Member, it is appropriate to give way. I understand that the time that the Minister was referring to was almost certainly the time when I was holding office and responsible for community care legislation. It is--

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord): Order. It is entirely a matter for the Minister whether he gives way.

Mr. Hutton: My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood made a good speech. She expressed her concerns about whether the new national minimum standards would be a voluntary, as opposed to a statutory, scheme. I can confirm that it will be a statutory scheme enforced by the new national care commission. Our proposals in relation to the national minimum standards will be set out in the Bill on care standards. My hon. Friend has not had the opportunity to read it because it has not been published. It will be published tomorrow, and she will be able then to read the details of our proposals.

My hon. Friend and several other hon. Members referred to their concerns about "Fit for the Future?", our draft standards for residential and nursing homes in England. I shall deal with their concerns later in my speech, because I want to reassure them about the proposals.

The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow) and other hon. Members wanted us to announce our final conclusions today in response to the royal commission. I must point out to the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) that both their parties have been asking for the debate so that the House might express its views before the Government announce their final decisions. It is rather remiss of the hon. Gentleman, and rather a cheap shot, to make the allegation that he did, given that his party has been pressing the Government for a listening debate, for an opportunity to discuss these issues before any final decisions have been made. With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I think that it is probably better if we all avoid that sort of cheap-shot approach to these important issues.

When the hon. Gentleman tried to expound his position on the royal commission, I think that he probably left most of us completely in the dark when it came towhether he was supporting its main recommendations. [Interruption.] I was listening to him. I think that the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) might have shot his fox because he announced his strong support for the main recommendations set out in the

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majority report. That left the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam slightly exposed. I am sure that we shall become aware of the position of the Liberal Democrats on these issues in due course. However, I am not confident that that will be before the Government have announced their final set of proposals.

My hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Mr. Hope) made a very good speech. He highlighted the need to develop better preventive and rehabilitation services in the national health service and local authorities. I am sure that he heard my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State make the Government's position on those issues clear: we strongly support such initiatives and developments. That is why we are making additional resources available.

The right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir J. Stanley) made an outstandingly impressive speech. Anyone who heard the strength and the depth of his concern for his constituent could not fail to have been moved; I certainly was. In particular, he asked whether I could announce the introduction of emergency legislation to amend section 43 of the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990. I am sure that he will not be surprised to know that I am not able tonight to confirm the Government's intention in that respect, but I hope that he heard the Secretary of State make it clear, when he opened the debate, that we are actively considering the implications of transferring to local authorities the funding and care management responsibility for people on preserved rights of income support. That may not be sufficient to satisfy the right hon. Gentleman's immediate concerns, and I understand that. However, I am always willing to talk in more detail with him about them. I should welcome such a conversation, because he obviously has very strong opinions on the subject.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Ms Squire) also, I am glad to say, welcomed the Secretary of State's announcement. She spoke strongly about her views on the subject, and we all respect the strength of her feelings. Her support for pensioners was made clear.

The hon. Member for Broxbourne clearly has a great deal of knowledge of the subject, and that certainly showed. She announced that she had seven principles on which she wanted to base any future reform. She has rather trumped the three principles that we announced today, but the broad thrust of the principles that she outlined was consistent with those that the Secretary of State announced. I look forward to her continuing support as we try to introduce fairer arrangements.

I particularly welcomed the hon. Lady's comments about carers, because they are an important part of the system. It is important that we try to build, if we can, a solid basis of support for any future changes, so that people know exactly where they stand and can make proper decisions about their own futures. I also welcome her support in principle for the idea of national standards for nursing homes. I hope that she can persuade those on the Opposition Front Bench about that, because they seem to oppose the idea.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge (Ms Shipley), who introduced and saw through the House the Protection of Children Act 1999, also made a very good speech. She raised the question of protecting vulnerable adults. I am glad to tell her that new provisions protecting vulnerable adults along the lines of those in

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that Act will be included in the Bill on care standards, which will be published tomorrow. I hope that she will be able to support those proposals.

My hon. Friend also raised the issue of new national minimum standards. They will be implemented by the national care commission, and I assure her that compliance with those standards will be a condition of continuing registration. She can be confident that those national standards will make a difference.

The hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) advised the Government to take time to get any new framework right; we certainly want to get it right this time. We now have an important opportunity and we want to make the most of it. We have set out a clear timetable for proceeding, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will think that that is the sensible approach. He asked whether national minimum standards will apply throughout the United Kingdom. My understanding is that there will be minimum standards for England, Scotland and Wales, but I am not sure what the position is with the new devolved Administration in Northern Ireland. That clearly will be a matter for that Administration.

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