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Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

Investigatory Powers

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): I think the Ayes have it.

Hon. Members: No.

Division deferred till Wednesday 10 July, pursuant to Order [28 June 2001].

Investigatory Powers

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I think the Ayes have it.

Hon. Members: No.

Division deferred till Wednesday 10 July, pursuant to Order [28 June 2001].

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With permission, I shall put together motions 5 and 6.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

Local Government Finance

Question agreed to.

4 Jul 2002 : Column 504

Public Trustee (Liability and Fees) Bill [Lords]

Motion made,

Hon. Members: Object.


Water and Sanitation

7.12 pm

Ms Julia Drown (South Swindon): I am pleased to present a petition, which was signed by about 300 people in my constituency, that states that safe and affordable water and adequate sanitation are an essential part of ending world poverty.

The petition states:

To lie upon the Table.

The Wilson Hospital

Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden): The petition has more than 4,000 signatures and states:

To lie upon the Table.

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Care Homes (Kent)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Pearson.]

7.14 pm

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald): I am very grateful to have this opportunity to raise an issue of supreme importance for my constituents in Kent, where 236 care beds and 17 care homes have closed in the last year alone.

I am not seeking to make specific party political points in this debate. The Minister may or may not be aware that in 1990 I led a rebellion—very unlike me, of course—against the then Government on a similar issue in respect of a constituent, Florence Smith, who I believed under regulations that then existed, but which were changed, was not getting a fair deal in her care home. Today it is a widespread phenomenon for people who are in care homes to face eviction through closure.

In that debate in March 1990, when I raised the case of Florence Smith, I was supported by the now Leader of House. He said:

Tonight, I ask exactly the same question. The Government, through the care standards regulations, are assessing not the degree of care, attention and love that should be given to the elderly and the vulnerable but the extent of the physical facilities. That is causing untold hardship.

The new minimum care standards will impose a considerable cost burden on the new care homes and on their owners. It is not good enough for the Prime Minister to say, as he did when answering questions yesterday, that some of these regulations will not take effect until 2007. Some of them take immediate effect, and I shall refer to one of them specifically, but even if others do not have to be introduced for a few years, we must remember that things cannot be introduced overnight: preparations must be made now, money must be found now, plans must be made now, and an immediate financial burden results from all of that. We end up with a complete nonsense whereby married couples are unable to share a bed.

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Jacqui Smith): Rubbish.

Miss Widdecombe: I will give the exact case. Further examples include sisters separated by fixed screens, and en suite facilities that are never used because residents are incapable and need to be escorted to specially adapted bathrooms. All that regulation has not been backed up with the funding to meet it. Care home owners are therefore being driven out of business because they cannot afford the provision of the facilities now laid down as required.

For example, I have received a letter from an elderly constituent who until a few weeks ago was resident in a home that has now closed. She said:

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Regulations have led not only to homes closing but sometimes to their tottering on the brink of closure, thus creating uncertainty and tensions for some of the most vulnerable people for whom they are caring.

Under the Care Standards Act 2000, it has become an offence to run a home that is not financially viable, yet homes now have to meet huge extra costs to meet the regulations. If that means that they cannot break even, they risk prosecution if they continue to function. Precisely because of that, two homes in my constituency have closed. I submit that that is not just an unsatisfactory but a profoundly cruel state of affairs.

Let us consider the case of Hawkhurst Castle in Kent. It has become another casualty of the ongoing crisis in the care home sector. Because it does not come up to specifications, it has failed to win placements from social services, and that has led to a decline in the number of residents. Kent is not exactly generously treated under the revenue support grant settlement. Kent gets for a granny in Kent only a third of what a granny in Islington would get, and it finds it difficult to meet the current standards. It is certainly not able to fund the new standards that are required. Sadly, as a result of that, Hawkhurst Castle will close on 14 August.

One resident who has been in the home for 20 years says that she would like to spend the rest of her life in what has naturally become her home. Not only does she say she is happy, but her friends who visit her say objectively that even when they arrive unannounced they find that she is well cared for, happy and content. In that same home is a man with Down's syndrome. His sister has said that the home is wonderful and the staff devoted and that the family has no idea how it will find another home.

I now turn to the case of the Greenbank residential care home and will develop the comment that caused the Minister to heckle "rubbish" at me. The proprietor of Greenbank is concerned about standard 23.11, which is due to come into force on 1 April 2007. The standard stipulates that existing homes must provide 80 per cent. of places in single rooms. Greenbank currently has 15 rooms, 13 of which are single and two double—so 86 per cent. of its rooms are single, but only 76 per cent. of the places are in single rooms. The home thus falls below the standard.

The problem is not even ridiculous. The owner says that, if a double room is converted to a single room, the cost will be about £16,000 per annum. That is the hard money involved. And what about choice? A husband and wife who had been together for 50 years would have to be split up. Even if a room that could take two people were available, it could not be used because it would take the home below the standard 80 per cent. of places. The choice should be left with the residents whom the decisions will affect. Indeed, the proprietor of Greenbank says that we are talking about counsels of perfection. It is simply not possible to meet all the requirements.

The Salvation Army care homes in the London and south-east division also raise major concerns. The sheer costs of refurbishment and staffing to bring them up to

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the new standards will only exacerbate what is already a bad situation caused by gaps in local authority funding. In the three care homes that the Salvation Army runs, it faces an estimated deficit of £340,000 for this financial year, and that is even before all the new regulations take effect. Of course, it will now be an offence to run a home that is not viable.

Refitting the Salvation Army's homes will make hundreds of thousands of pounds of new work necessary. The Salvation Army—like other care home owners to whom I have spoken, residents and the Conservative party—accepts that a Care Standards Act is, in principle, a good thing and that there is no possible objection to minimum standards. However, practicalities must be taken into account and sensible commonsense standards applied.

Probably worst hit of all are the religious orders, which now cannot even nurse their own members, because the standards cannot be met. Iden Manor in my constituency, which closed recently, was run by Roman Catholic nuns. They used to care for drug and alcohol-dependent women, a rare service to which it is not easy to find alternatives. As they told me when I visited them last weekend, they had to close because it was illegal to run a home that was not viable. With the new regulations and requirements, there was no earthly way their home would be viable.

Where will those women dependent on drugs and alcohol go now? It is not only the elderly who are affected by the present situation. It is a sad state of affairs when a devoted nursing order, which has run Iden Manor for years and years, to the huge benefit of individuals, has to close its doors simply because the physical requirements do not match up. That is God's work being destroyed by the wisdom of bureaucrats.

What is the answer to the problem, not least given that NHS beds, which are urgently needed, are occupied by people ready for discharge but who have nowhere to go? The Government should suspend the implementation of the minimum standards and follow our suggestions in the new clause 4 that we tabled when the 2000 Act was discussed. The Government rejected that new clause. At the time, we argued that while we accepted the need for minimum standards, we also needed to ensure that they did not become counter-productive. Therefore, we needed an extensive consultation period and then to subject all the standards to proper parliamentary scrutiny.

New clause 4 also suggested other safeguards to try to ensure that the minimum standards that would be imposed on those essential services would be reasonable and achievable, and that did the job of ensuring proper quality of care without making it impossible to provide that very care. The feeling in Kent, in Greenbank, Iden Manor, Hawkhurst Castle and other homes that are tottering on the brink but are not quite over it, is that the minimum standards as currently laid down—I have given the House only a selection tonight, because I could not go into full details if I wanted to hear the ministerial reply—spring from an Alice in Wonderland world in which the Mad Hatter rules. Sadly, the elderly, the sick and the vulnerable are the victims.

I ask the Minister today for the application of some common sense, before more care homes close, more residents have nowhere to go and more people are stuck

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in hospital through no fault of their own, occupying desperately needed beds. We need sensible standards and proper funding for local authorities and, at the same time, a recognition that it is the care, love and attention received, and not the presence of a fixed screen and an en-suite lavatory, that decide whether someone is happy in old age,

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