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19 Mar 2003 : Column 976—continued

Jacqui Smith: Various groups have taken various positions on this, but I reiterate my view that the Bill is about ensuring that those older people who are currently not getting the deal that they deserve can get a better deal. That is why I do not believe that we have anything to gain from delaying implementation for a whole year. Indeed, as I was saying, we have something to lose. The Secretary of State announced on Second Reading, having listened to the concerns of people—particularly those in local authorities who had the responsibility of providing those alternatives in relation to community care—that, in addition to the doubling of the real rate of increase of social services funding, we would also make a transfer from the NHS to social services budgets. If implementation were delayed for a full year, councils would not receive any additional funding in 2003–04. If it were delayed for six months, and councils received £50 million for that period, they could invest that money during the first part of the year and be able to invest in the staff or services that they needed, in order to avoid reimbursement charges when the scheme is implemented.

Mr. Burstow: Will the Minister share with the House the conclusions that the Government had reached about how they would have distributed the £100 million? Would it have been targeted at those authorities that

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were doing least well in facilitating discharges from hospital, or those that were being the most effective? What decisions had the Government taken on that?

Jacqui Smith: Depending on the progress of the Bill, we hope to be able to issue for consultation our decisions on how that would happen. The whole point of the investment is that it should facilitate the necessities contained in the legislation. The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about one of the disadvantages of the considerable investment—in the form of the building care capacity grant—that has been distributed to local authorities during 2001–02 and 2002–03. We took the decision—rightly, I believe—to focus that investment on particular hot-spot authorities. That was characterised by some local authorities—wrongly, in my view—as rewarding failure, or rewarding those authorities that had not properly tackled the problems of delayed discharge. That bears heavily on our consideration of how—given the successful passage of the Bill—we should distribute the money that is being transferred from the NHS. That will be part of our consideration.

Mr. Bercow: I am extremely grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. She knows the high esteem in which I hold her, but I am bound to say that she has not persuaded me, she has clearly not persuaded the House and it seems uncertain whether she has yet managed to persuade herself of this argument. How many individuals or organisations have written to her to express their opposition to the idea of an implementation date of April 2004? She said that there was a miscellany of different opinions: how many, and who?

2.45 pm

Jacqui Smith: Nobody has written to us to oppose an implementation date of April 2004. Having said that, nobody—so far as I am aware—has written to us to oppose an implementation date of October 2003 either. People recognise that the Government have proposed a sensible delay of six months, which would maintain progress rather than stymieing it and kicking it into the long grass—as Conservative Members want to do—to the detriment of the older people who will benefit from this legislation. We must maintain the momentum, so as to build on the good progress that has been made. If we do not, the older people who are trapped in acute beds will continue to suffer.

Conservative Members have attempted to introduce a variety of ways of wrecking this legislation, aided by their colleagues in another place. The first was to delay the implementation. The second is represented by amendment No. 47, on which I also urge my colleagues to disagree with the Lords. It is effectively a sunset clause, under which the part of the Bill that puts in place the necessary incentives would cease to have effect after five years. This is an entirely inappropriate use of a sunset clause. They are generally used only in Acts that are passed because of national emergencies or are restrictive of civil liberties. Clearly this is not such a Bill. It is, however, a Bill that the Opposition are trying to limit in every way that they can, by delaying the start and limiting its life.

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The argument for this amendment in the other place appeared to be that, because the provisions in the Bill would make a difference, it was necessary to limit their life. Certainly under this Government, the majority of Bills—in fact, all the Bills that we introduce—contain elements of policy that are new, because they are intended to bring improvement and changes. Of course, all policies should be evaluated and monitored—how else can the Government ensure that they are successful, and improve them if necessary? However, we already have reliable and well-established procedures and monitoring systems in place to monitor the impact of particular policies.

In the unlikely event that the Bill does not work in the way that we want it to, we would want to act well before the end of five years. If, on the other hand, as I expect, it drives action on delayed discharges to the point at which hardly any charges will be changing hands at the end of the five-year period, why do we need a sunset clause? Although I suspect that the good practice around planning and assessment underpinned by the Bill would continue, with or without legislation, there would be little additional activity moving funding around. However, one would not want to repeal the Act, since the possibility of charging would remain to ensure that performance on delays did not drift again. As we have heard in the interventions that have been made today, the two amendments are clearly about wrecking and limiting the effects of the Bill. On that basis, I hope that hon. Members will disagree with the Lords.

Mr. Burns: May I say from the outset that the Conservatives would like two separate votes on Lords amendments Nos. 5 and 47 at the appropriate time?

However loveable the Minister might be, one has to admire her sense of humour and her nerve in trying to convince the House about certain issues today. I want to deal briefly with two of them. One is the ongoing battle over the question of fines. To her credit, the Minister has found every word in the thesaurus to try to describe the main thrust of the Bill, except the one word that describes it completely. That word is "fines". It is to the Minister's lasting annoyance that her Secretary of State—

Mr. Dawson: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Burns: No, I will not.

It is to the Minister's lasting annoyance that her Secretary of State caught her out in his statement after the Budget, when he described his own legislation as "fines". Finally, on Report, the Minister herself had the honesty to use the F-word.

Mr. Dawson: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Burns: I will, although I am slightly surprised that the hon. Gentleman has spoken as he has. I, too, read Ceefax a few days ago, when he announced to the world in bold terms that because of the Government's policy on Iraq he would not support the Government—his Government—in any Divisions on any matter.

Mr. Dawson: That just goes to show that you should not believe all you read in the press. I am proud to support the Government on this, and on many other aspects of their legislative programme.

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As the hon. Gentleman may recall, we have been around the block before. Will he put himself in the position of a nursing home owner looking after a person who need not remain in the home because his or her needs have changed, who is faced with all the costs of having to care for that person? Is not the use of the word "fines" entirely misplaced? We are talking about a charge for services. When the hon. Gentleman next goes to a hotel, will he expect to pay, or will he complain to the proprietor that he has been fined?

Mr. Burns: I know that there will be a reshuffle shortly because of losses on the Government Front Bench, but I must tell the hon. Gentleman that regardless of whether I believe what I read in the press, the press know what he said. I do not want to disappoint him, but I think that as a result of what he said he will not be considered by the Whip who is currently on duty, or by her colleagues, in the forthcoming reshuffle. As for his narrow point on fines, "fines" is his own Secretary of State's terminology for what the Government are doing. By all means let the hon. Gentleman be a help to the Government from the Back Benches, but let him at least be consistent with his Secretary of State.

Let me deal briefly with a point of fact. The Minister challenged my hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) about the number of detailed discharges, saying that when my Government left power in May 1997 the figure was just over 6,000 and that since her Government came to power the figure had always been lower and falling. I remind the Minister—for I too have the facts—that in 2001–02, four years almost to the day after this Government came to power, the figure was 6,361, and that in the second quarter it had risen to 7,065. She really must not try to confuse the House with spin that is not based on factual reality.

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