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Rev. Martin Smyth: The Minister will remember that I pleaded that the standards should be not the lowest common factor, but the highest common denominator.

Mr. Hutton: Yes, I remember the hon. Gentleman saying that. However, he should remember that this will be the first time that we have attempted to set national minimum standards throughout that important sector. That is a significant step forward, which is necessary if we are to tackle the quality of care being provided in residential settings. I know that some people do not like that idea, and I intend to address those concerns in a few minutes.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport made a particularly good speech, in which she explored some of the wider principles that could, or should, guide our approach in future, as well as the detailed points arising from the royal commission. She will know that, today, we are not making final announcements about all the royal commission's recommendations on funding long-term care. I am sure that she will continue to take a close interest in those matters, and we certainly look forward to hearing her further contributions.

My hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer) expressed his concern about the need to avoid compulsory house sales to fund long-term care. I am sure that he will be glad to hear that, as the Secretary of State made clear, that is one of the six areas to which we are giving particularly detailed attention.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. Browne) made an interesting speech. I tried to follow it closely, but I am afraid that I missed most of it, and I have some sympathy with the Hansard reporters. I wonder what they will make of his contribution. He told me that he had taken the precaution of sending them in advance a copy of his speech, and I am sure that that will make all the difference.

The hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) made one of his characteristically interesting speeches. He struck me as being a fan of the old poor laws, and some

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of his terminology harked back to those desperately grim times. If I have done him an injustice, I am sure that he will correct me whenever he wants to.

Many hon. Members have expressed their concerns about the present system of providing long-term care. It is clear that, if we are to address those concerns in a sensible and sustainable way, we will need long-term solutions. That is certainly the Government's approach, and one that my right hon. Friend spelled out clearly in his speech earlier this afternoon. However, we need to recognise that finding those solutions will not be the responsibility only of social services or the NHS. The issues raised are for our society as a whole to face and resolve. As my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis made clear, old age will, inevitably, touch us all, either in our own lives or the lives of those around us. It was Francis Bacon, in 1625, who rightly said:

We live in an ageing society. Over the next 40 years, the number of people aged 85 and over will double. People are entering care later--the average age is already 84. When older people enter residential care, they are more likely to be frailer and in need of more intensive care and support. As the hon. Member for Meriden said, as patterns of family life are changing, so too are the networks of care and support for older people. There are therefore big challenges ahead of us if we are to respond effectively to those trends, and in so doing, lay the foundations for a better and more secure environment for our older people. Those are issues on which I hope we can all agree.

First and foremost, we have to ensure that we maintain and promote the independence of older people. All hon. Members who have spoken in the debate have expressed their strong support for that aim. People naturally want to stay for as long as possible in their own homes, where they feel most comfortable and content. We all would want to have that option and to be able to exercise it.

That means providing the necessary support that older people need at home, at the time that it is needed. It also means helping their informal carers to do their vital job more easily, and giving them the support that they need. That is why we are making significant additional resources available in both those areas over the next three years. We are providing £140 million for our carers strategy and £750 million in new local authority grants.

Secondly, when people need to enter residential care, they need reassurance that the quality of care will be of the highest standard, in conditions that respect their privacy and dignity at all times. That is why we are developing, in consultation with providers and all other interested parties, new proposals for national minimum standards for residential care homes so that the public at large can have full confidence in the system.

Those standards must be realistic and affordable. They must give providers a sensible time scale in which to make any necessary changes. The new independent national care commission will need to be up and running before they can be properly implemented.

Clearly, the present arrangements are not good enough. They do not provide a level playing field between the public and the private sector, nor do they guarantee proper consistency across the country. Those are both crucial if any inspection and registration scheme is to be effective

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and satisfy proper public confidence. There are too many loopholes and problems in the existing scheme, which mean that some homes are not inspected at all, and poor quality homes are not easily closed down.

Our new proposals will deliver a more effective and efficient system. The principle of independent regulation has been widely welcomed by the industry. The care standards Bill, which will be published tomorrow, will contain the details of the new arrangements and I am sure will be considered in detail in the House and in another place. I hope that our announcement today that we are broadly accepting one of the two main recommendations of the royal commission by establishing the new national care commission will be welcomed by hon. Members.

Mr. Hammond: I thank the Minister for giving way. Will he clarify whether the care standards Bill will contain the details of the standards, or only the details of the framework? If the latter, can he assure us that the standards will be available to us to consider in parallel with the Bill?

Mr. Hutton: Let me correct any misunderstanding that I may have caused the hon. Gentleman and the House. The Bill will not contain the details of the national minimum standards--I hope that that is clear. It could not contain such details, for the simple reason that we have not yet decided what the national minimum standards will be. We are still consulting on that, and the end of the consultation period has been extended to 21 January, because of the concerns about accessing and having the document available for people to read and digest. We have had more than 10,000 copies of the document prepared, given the extensive interest in its contents.

I want to reassure the hon. Gentleman and several of my hon. Friends who have raised concerns about "Fit for the Future?" that we are consulting. No decisions have yet been taken in relation to the detail of those standards. That would be quite improper while the consultation was under way. The consultation period will finish on 21 January, and we hope to settle the final national minimum standards thereafter.

As I do not know the Committee timetable in the House for the care standards Bill, I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the absolute assurance that he wants that the standards will be available by the time that the Standing Committee meets to discuss the Bill. We shall try our best to make sure that that is possible, but I cannot give the absolute assurance that he seeks from me today.

Improving the quality of long-term care will require us to look further than just the buildings in which residential care is delivered. Improving the training of the social care

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work force will be vital. The social care work force as a whole is now more than 1 million strong, and yet 80 per cent. of the work force have no social care qualifications of any kind.

We must improve the situation as a matter of urgency. That is why the Government have established a new national training organisation for personal social services. We are currently consulting on a draft national training strategy, which has been prepared in consultation with the employers and providers. We are providing an additional £120 million through the training support grant to improve social care training.

Thirdly, the system of funding long-term care must be fairer, not only between the taxpayer and the individual, but across the generations. Any changes must be sustainable over the longer term. That is why it makes sense for decisions in this important area to be taken as part of the spending review that is currently under way and will be completed by next July.

My right hon. Friend identified six issues raised by the royal commission which we are examining in particular detail and which reflect many of the concerns expressed during the debate today. That shows that the Government are taking these matters seriously and are moving forward as quickly as we can.

The way in which long-term care is funded is an important part of the debate, but it would be a mistake to overlook the importance of the quality agenda and the need to give people real and effective choices about where their care is delivered. Making changes to the funding mechanisms without tackling those two related issues would undermine our efforts to find a genuinely long-term solution.

Today, the Government laid out the clear timetable that we are following in responding to the royal commission's recommendations. We have set out the principles that underlie our approach to making the system fairer and better. I am grateful to all hon. Members for their contributions to this important debate, which I am sure will continue both in this place and outside. There are big challenges ahead. We have made it clear that work is in progress. The Government will respond fully and comprehensively to each of the challenges.

It being Seven o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

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