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Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Lady has been here long enough to know the difference between an intervention and a speech.

Alan Johnson: I agree with my hon. Friend, who made an eloquent point. This is a modest proposal, which seeks to build on something that we initiated in 1997, which has become extremely popular with employers. It adds a new dimension to opportunities for lifelong learning, which were a manifesto commitment. We have met many employers' concerns and we shall look back—even Opposition Members will—in five years' time and wonder what all the fuss was about. I hope that the House supports the amendment.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords amendments 59, 60 and 61 agreed to.

Schedule 2

Statutory Dispute Resolution Procedures

Lords amendment: No. 62.

Alan Johnson: I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to consider Lords amendments 63 to 74.

Alan Johnson: Schedule 2 contains the text of the statutory dispute resolution procedures, which are the cornerstone of part 3, and have naturally attracted much discussion both here and in another place.

During and after the Committee stage, I said that we were prepared to look further at two aspects of the statutory procedures in response to points made by hon. Members—whether the statutory procedures could refer in some way to the need to investigate complaints, and whether they could refer to the right to be accompanied. We have since considered those issues in detail, and the Government introduced amendments in the other place, which deal adequately with those concerns.

Valerie Davey (Bristol, West): In that further consideration, is the issue of bullying at work taken seriously by the Government?

Alan Johnson: I can assure my hon. Friend that it is. A private Member's Bill has been introduced on bullying, and we are pursuing the issue with the Health and Safety Executive, which is the right forum for tackling the problem.

We considered the issues in detail, and the Government introduced amendments in the other place which deal adequately with Members' concerns. In addition, their lordships raised new issues about the statutory procedures, to which we responded with amendments to the schedule. For example, they expressed concern that the procedures may inadvertently interfere with employees' rights to make protected disclosures about wrongdoing.

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I shall describe in a little more detail the changes to be made by the amendments. First, Lords amendments Nos. 62, 63, 66, 67, 71 and 72 ensure that where the statutory procedures require the parties to write to each other, they can do so by sending either a copy or the original of the written communication. Previously, the schedule required them to send a copy on all occasions. That is a sensible change, which removes the possibility that parties may accidentally fail to follow the procedures. Lords amendment No. 68 is a technical amendment, which removes inconsistent wording from the standard grievance procedure. Where the statutory procedures require parties to meet, they refer to the holding of "a" or "the" meeting. However, the text of step 2 in the standard grievance procedure refers to the holding of "at least one" meeting. That was unintended, and the amendment ensures that meetings are described in a consistent fashion across the procedures.

Lords amendments Nos. 64, 65, 69 and 70 deal with investigations, and all arise from the many debates during the passage of this Bill about investigations. We have resisted the idea that the statutory procedures should refer to the investigatory process. The procedures are written as a series of concrete and verifiable actions. The investigatory process cannot be described in similar terms or in a way which would generally apply to many different cases and circumstances. None of the amendments therefore uses the word "investigations". Instead, we have approached the issue from a different angle. Our amendments refer to the outcome of the investigatory process—the information or evidence which it typically uncovers. Accordingly, the amendments place obligations on the parties to disclose the information on which they initiated their action against the other. The requirement to assemble and convey such information would in practice be a strong encouragement to the parties to ensure that an investigation occurs.

It being Seven o'clock, Mr. Deputy Speaker, pursuant to Order [this day], put the Questions necessary to bring proceedings on the Lords Amendments to a conclusion.

Lords amendments Nos. 62 to 95 agreed to [some with Special Entry].

Mr. Don Foster (Bath): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You may be aware that today the Government published their consultation paper entitled "Local Government Finance Formula Grant Distribution". There was coverage of that document in today's media, which is hardly surprising, as 40 copies of the document were sent last night to various local newspapers. However, no copies of the document were available to Members of Parliament this morning in the Vote Office, and only by lunchtime today were four copies of the document available in the Library.

Since the document is 194 pages long, it is clearly difficult for the 659 Members of Parliament to have photocopied versions of their own. The only way that I was able to obtain a copy was by sending a member of my staff to sit and camp at the doorstep of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. Can you advise me whether it is appropriate for such a document to be made available to the press, but not made available in sufficient quantity to Members of Parliament, who have a real interest in this vital subject?

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Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): The hon. Gentleman will understand that I have no immediate answer to that matter, beyond pointing out that it is a consultation document at this stage. I am sure that his point has been heard and that the matter will be remedied as soon as possible.

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Opposition Day

[17th Allotted Day]

Care Homes

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): We now come to the debate on the Opposition motion. Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

7.2 pm

Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford): I beg to move,

Society, and each and every one of us, has a duty to ensure that the most vulnerable groups in our community are properly looked after and that they are entitled to a high quality of life, with dignity and proper care. One of the most vulnerable groups in our society are the elderly—many of them frail or infirm, often alone, sometimes confused and frequently worried about their ability to cope and look after themselves.

Society owes a debt of gratitude to the dedicated people who spend their time and energies looking after those highly vulnerable members of our community, and who devote their lives to enhancing the quality of life of the elderly, and ensuring that they receive the best quality care available and that their homes are indeed "home from home."

That is why it is so distressing that the Secretary of State for Health expressed the Government's contempt for care homes and the excellent care that they provide when he referred in the House on 26 March to the elderly being "banged up" in care homes. It is deeply offensive and callous for the Secretary of State to denigrate their work in such a demeaning way. Elsewhere, the Government frequently use the language of blame, accusing the elderly of being bed blockers. We in the Opposition are sick and tired of Ministers blaming everyone but themselves for the problems that they cause.

The Secretary of State and his Ministers may be in a perpetual state of denial, but the sad fact of life is that care of the elderly in this country is in crisis. As the Coalition for Care recently said:

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The care home sector has lost more than 2,000 homes—nearly 15 per cent.—and more than 8 per cent. of its capacity since 1997, and there is no sign of care home closures abating. Meanwhile, despite Government promises to help the elderly to live independently, the number of people receiving care in their own homes has declined by 12 per cent. over the past five years.

The Minister of State, Department of Health, the hon. Member for Redditch (Jacqui Smith), seems to disagree. I remind her that the number of people receiving domiciliary care has declined, although the hours that they receive have increased. Ironically, as the supply of care is dramatically reduced, demand is set to increase radically. We are approaching the stage where families might even have two generations needing care. That reflects the fact that the number of elderly people in Britain is growing rapidly.

In particular, the number of very elderly—the over-85s, who require the most care—is rising the most rapidly. In 1952 there were 500,000 people over 85. This year there are 1.2 million, and in the next decade the number of over-85-year-olds will increase by a further 250,000.

One of the greatest threats to long-term care has been the dramatic closure of homes. Both residential and nursing homes have been hit heavily. Indeed, there were more than 2,000 fewer care homes in 2000 than in 1997, with areas such as the south-west and London and the south-east being particularly badly affected.

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