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15 Jan 2003 : Column 751—continued

Mrs. Calton: I thank the Minister for tackling some of the issues that I mentioned. Perhaps this was just an omission, but I am concerned that she did not mention our proposal that a named person should co-ordinate the patient journey. The Government have said that they would be in favour of that in other respects and it would be useful if it were a part of the Bill.

I am also concerned that the opportunity to provide for joint planning on how to use payments or fines to encourage a whole-system approach has also been missed. I accept what the Minister says about the preparation of a written discharge plan and I am pleased if that is already expected. Clearly, we think that it is important.

On the assessment for carers, I agree that carers can already request a separate assessment, but all too often that does not happen and the Minister should have some regard to the question of ensuring that it does. It is clear from reading all the evidence from carers that they are not being consulted and assessed every step of the way as they should be.

The Minister said that the Bill would strengthen partnership. In one respect, I think I can agree that it may do so in the sense that it provides a common enemy. Sometimes, a common enemy in the form of the Government may well be what is needed to bring organisations together when they are warring with each other.

Mr. Kevin Hughes (Doncaster, North): Will the hon. Lady give way on that matter?

Mrs. Calton: I have almost finished. That remark was made with tongue in cheek; I hardly think it needs to be taken too seriously.

We would have liked to press the new clause to a vote, but, with your permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, we will withdraw it, as we understand that time is limited this afternoon and we expect our arguments to be revisited in the other place.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Government amendments Nos. 26 to 34 agreed to

Clause 4

Liability to make Delayed Discharge Payments

Mr. Burns: I beg to move amendment No. 7, in page 4, line 30, at end insert—

'(10) The amount prescribed under subsection (4) shall not exceed—
(a) #120, in the case of a social services authority in, or adjacent to, Greater London, or
(b) #100, in any other area.'.

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Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 8, in page 4, line 30 [Clause 4], at end insert—

'(10) The amount prescribed under subsection (4) shall not exceed—
(a) #12, in the case of a social services authority in, or adjacent to, Greater London, or
(b) #10, in any other area.'.

4.45 pm

Mr. Burns: I want to make it clear at the outset that although I will speak to both amendments in the group, I will press only amendment No. 8 to a Division. Before the Minister has fun at my expense, let me make it clear that the reason why both were tabled is, first, that I do not have the advantage of having the Government's lawyers and draftsmen at my disposal and, secondly, that those in opposition never know in advance which amendments will be selected. To be frank, I thought that even though amendment No. 8 is far more important and relevant to local authorities throughout the country, it would be pushing my luck to presume that it would be selected. You cannot imagine my unbridled joy, Mr. Deputy Speaker, when I noticed yesterday evening that it had been selected.

The nub of the Conservatives' opposition to this nasty and unnecessary Bill is the concept that the Government are introducing fines on local authorities—fines that are across the board in their application, regardless of whether there is any justification for them. As we said in Committee, circumstances will quite frequently arise in which for various reasons it will not be a local authority's fault that a person does not leave a hospital bed and go to either domiciliary or residential care, whichever is the most appropriate, yet the Government are to impose fines of, we understand, #120 per day for those living in London and the south-east, and #100 for those living elsewhere.

We believe that that is wholly the wrong way to try to overcome the problem of bed blocking. Like many outside the House, we believe that the Bill will set the national health service against social services and vice versa, and undo the great strides forward accomplished in the past decade or so in terms of those agencies working together to provide a seamless service for patients. Regardless of the announcement made by the Secretary of State on 11 December of extra money for three years, we believe that the legislation will result in local authorities being penalised financially. Anyone who asks social services departments in England for their estimate of the potential cost to them of the fines will be given a figure that far exceeds the #100 million that the Government are making available.

The departments' estimate also far exceeds the results of the calculations done on the back of an envelope by the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow), who is no longer in his place. All of us who know the Liberal Democrats know that they never let a fact get in the way of a XFocus" or a press release, especially if that press release can be got into a national newspaper by conning some journalist who does not want to do the research himself—after all, the Liberal Democrats,

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with their clipboards and their anoraks, are the font of all accuracy in surveys and calculations of a mathematical nature.

Claire Ward (Watford): There is a man who has been scarred.

Mr. Burns: Too right, I have been scarred. I have had to deal with that party for 10 years. Fortunately, the people of West Chelmsford saw through the Liberal Democrats long ago. From getting within 378 votes of capturing Chelmsford in 1983—I might add that that was before I was the candidate—they are now a very poor third behind Labour. The clipboard experience has disappeared from our streets.

Mrs. Calton: I can only think that a figure like 25 per cent. is making a difference. Would the hon. Gentleman like the Liberal Democrats' support for the amendment? I think that it would be useful and perhaps entertaining for us to know.

Mr. Burns: I shall answer the hon. Lady in two ways. First, on the mathematics, the hon. Lady has proved my point, although I may be arguing unwisely in a way, given that Liberal Democrats can never get any mathematical calculation right. The hon. Lady said 25 per cent. The Government say 20 per cent. I think that the hon. Lady meant 20 per cent. rather than 25 per cent.

Secondly, the hon. Lady asks whether the Conservatives want the hon. Lady's support on the amendment. The Conservative party, for reasons that I am outlining, has produced a first-rate amendment to minimise the damage that the Government can do to social service departments with their fines. I would advise not only Liberal Democrat Members but Members of any Opposition party—and any Labour Member who has listened carefully to their social services department, although given those Members who are in their places, I suspect that they have not—to join us in seeking to help social service departments and other organisations throughout the country so as to ensure that we minimise the damage that the Bill would do to social service departments.

Mr. Kevin Hughes : The hon. Gentleman may recall that on Second Reading I produced the figures for Doncaster, which has been working really well on this issue and has an extremely good record. These matters start at the front end, not the back end. Instead of trawling round social service departments looking for negatives, the hon. Gentleman might be better trawling round looking for positives, and asking what will be done to ensure that our constituents receive the treatment that they deserve in hospitals and get out when they no longer need medical treatment.

Mr. Burns: If the hon. Gentleman were correct in his assumption, his point would be valid, but I can assure him that I did not trawl social services departments for bad news stories. Instead, and at random, I telephoned social services department after social services department. Amazingly—or not amazingly, given the

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damage that the Bill will do—they all had the same complaint, which was that there would be a problem with fines to some degree.

As for the hon. Gentleman's second point, he is absolutely right. We all want a system whereby people do not have to remain in hospital for a day longer than they otherwise should. Unfortunately and regrettably, owing to a number of circumstances including the crisis in long-term care—the closure of more than 60,000 beds and of 2,000 homes since 1997 and the fact that in certain areas there are not enough beds available—there are bound to be some delayed discharge cases.

None of us wants that. Of course social services departments and the national health service have been seeking to minimise delayed discharges for a considerable time. However, factors beyond their control have thwarted them in achieving anywhere near a 100 per cent. success rate in eliminating the problem. I am saying, as my party is saying—

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