Community Care (Delayed Discharges etc.) Bill

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Mrs. Calton: I shall be brief, following the brief speech of the hon. Member for West Chelmsford, but I do not want the occasion to pass without mention of the Christmas tree or the skeleton bill. The Liberal Democrats share the concerns of Conservative Members—the official Opposition—about the impact that the negative resolution procedure will have. We would like the amendment to be passed, and we hope that the Government will listen to the concerns expressed.

4.30 pm

Having come recently from local government, I am surprised to see what happens here, because in local government, scrutiny is all. The Government promote scrutiny, as do Labour members of local authorities. When we come to this place, however, we find that scrutiny is not given the same standing as it has out in the rest of the country. I wonder why not. Surely it cannot be that the Government apply one principle here and a different principle in other parts of the country.

Jacqui Smith: You missed some interesting debate this morning, Mr. Conway, which the hon. Member for West Chelmsford has continued this afternoon. In a revealing conclusion to his speech, he invited us to ponder two potential future scenarios—one in which, at some distant point, a Conservative Government return, and another in which he is a Minister in that Government.

Mr. Burns: I am young enough.

Jacqui Smith: Given the hon. Gentleman's valiant attempts to hold himself up as the champion of Parliament today, I think that nothing short of Leader of the House will be suitable for him. He will be knocking on a bit by then; nevertheless, it would seem appropriate.

Let us get to grips with the problems involved in what Opposition Members are proposing. The amendment suggests that each time any community care service is removed from charging there should be a debate in Committee to discuss the reasons why. I do not agree, although that is not because we want to avoid scrutiny. We have a responsibility to ensure that our legislative programme does the right things at the right time, and treats different parts of legislation appropriately. There are already procedures for ensuring that any new financial burdens on local government are affordable. We made clear the purpose of the Bill well in advance of

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publication. The Secretary of State explained why the services are so important, and why charges would be removed from their provision. We set the reforms in the context of the overall expansion in community-based social care services and improved hospital discharge arrangements.

Therefore, a debate under the affirmative resolution procedure is not necessary, given that we have already shown responsibility in using that new power, making clear the intention behind policy at the outset, and satisfying the new burdens procedure. I will not repeat the arguments that I made this morning—

Mrs. Gillan rose—

Jacqui Smith: Or perhaps I will.

Mrs. Gillan: I am grateful to the Minister—she is very patient with the Opposition, although we obviously feel strongly about the issue. She is keen to make sure that matters are pursued in a timely fashion, and hence is deploying that argument in support of the negative resolution procedure. At a later stage in the proceedings on the Bill, would she consider including provisions for allowing consultation on the matters covered under clause 12? As I understand the matter, there are no provisions for consultation with anybody, other than through the mechanism that she described—the negative resolution procedure that we find so unsatisfactory. At what stage under the clause can consultation take place, either with hon. Members or with community care services?

Jacqui Smith: I think that I outlined in a previous debate some prior consultation on the definition of community equipment services and intermediate care services. Of course, we abide by the Cabinet Office guidelines on consultation periods. As I spelled out this morning, there will be ample opportunity for hon. Members and those outside the House who will implement the Bill to make their contribution.

Mrs. Gillan: I agree with the hon. Lady. If she will abide by the so-called Cabinet rules on consultation, what is her objection to saying so in the Bill? That seems a reasonable request when trying to improve primary legislation. We are not getting into the nitty-gritty of detail that, based on what she said earlier, we realise that she abhors on legislation. I would have thought that that safeguard could be added to the Bill. It would make people feel much more comfortable. Will she give it serious consideration for the later stages of the Bill's passage, so as to support her argument?

Jacqui Smith: No, because my earlier point was not that I abhorred the nitty-gritty of legislation. The nitty-gritty makes things different, which is why I have been willing to spell out some of the detail that we will put in place.

Certain things are appropriate in certain places. I shall return to a point that I made earlier today. Part of the difficulty of making provisions in primary legislation is that it is right that primary legislation should set the framework, but we do not want our

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health and social services to be ossified as a result of needing a new Bill every time we want to make a small change or development. That would be inappropriate for the flexible and dynamic system that we are putting in place, which will develop a relationship between primary and secondary legislation. For that reason, I reject the amendment.

Mr. Burns: I am disappointed by the Minister's response, so I want to press the amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 8.

Division No. 18]

Baron, Mr. John Burns, Mr. Simon Burstow, Mr. Paul Calton, Mrs. Patsy
Gillan, Mrs. Cheryl Waterson, Mr. Nigel Young, Sir George

Blackman, Mrs. Liz Fitzpatrick, Jim Linton, Martin Love, Mr. Andrew
Moffatt, Laura Munn, Ms Meg Smith, Jacqui Starkey, Dr. Phyllis

Question accordingly negatived.

The Chairman: Order. We may be getting a little demob happy, but it would make the Clerk's job of recording an accurate vote much easier if hon. Members' responses to him were clearer.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire): I beg to move amendment No. 40, in

    clause 12, page 7, line 41, at end add—

    '(6A) Before laying such regulations, the Secretary of State shall quantify the amount of money which local authorities will forego in revenue.'.

Clause 12 removes from local authorities the powers to charge, so it has implications for their revenue streams. My amendment seeks to oblige the Secretary of State to quantify the revenue that local authorities will forego. In the case that the Minister talked about, she explained from which services she proposed to remove the power to charge, and quantified the loss of charge income. Paragraph 54 of the explanatory notes states that £18.6 million in revenue will be lost for intermediate care and community equipment services.

If I read the clause correctly, however, powers could be used to go beyond what the Minister currently proposes. Subsection (4) states:

    ''The regulations may not require that any accommodation of the kind referred to in subsection (3)(a) is to be free of charge for a period exceeding six weeks.''

If we read the explanatory notes to find out what is covered, we find that community care services are primarily

    ''those services provided to adults and older people, including home care, residential care and respite care.''

Can the regulations be used to remove local authorities' power to charge for residential and nursing home care for a period of up to six weeks? If the Minister were to take that power, there would be substantial implications for local authorities, which would lose the revenue stream from people's first six weeks in residential or nursing home care. Perhaps she

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can explain whether the powers are as broad as I have outlined and whether she plans to use them in that way? If that is what she intends, will she quantify the revenue that local authorities will forgo?

This is a probing amendment, intended to find out how broad are the powers that Ministers are seeking. If the Minister gives a satisfactory explanation, I am sure that we can make good progress.

Mr. Burstow: The amendment gives us a helpful opportunity to probe further the Government's thinking and the pricing of their policies. It also allows me to return to a question that I asked the Minister earlier. She said that 500,000 additional pieces of equipment would be issued as a result of extra investment. She also listed several other large figures in the context of improvements to community services. Will she explain how those figures were arrived at, and what assumptions were made in constructing them? Perhaps she can do that today, or by placing the details in the Libraries of both Houses.

As regards the 500,000 pieces of equipment, what type of equipment was it assumed would be made generally available? Without that information, the numbers are meaningless. They can be bandied about in Committee, but they will have little substance.

Mrs. Calton: It has been the Government's practice over the past year or two—this is certainly true of the Department of Health—to publish regulations and guidelines after new procedures and commitments have been implemented. In the case of the golden hello scheme, eight months elapsed between the start of the scheme and the publication of the start date. There is also the case of certain special grants. Can the Minister reassure us that the regulations will be introduced in a timely fashion so that local authorities do not have to work retrospectively?

Jacqui Smith: The right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) makes a helpful point in his amendment, and we must ensure that the new power does not undermine the stability of social services finance. That is why we are using the power in a focused but financially modest way, and why we already have procedures in place to ensure that new burdens are not placed on local authorities before the requisite finance is made available. The Secretary of State and I have clearly spelled out the very specific purpose of the measure, which is to remove charges for community equipment services and intermediate care services.

The right hon. Gentleman asked whether it would be theoretically possible under the Bill to remove charging for a period of six weeks. That would be theoretically and legally possible, but the Government's intention is clear: we are taking a financially responsible approach and do not intend to introduce such measures in the Bill. The financial implications of any future regulations that become necessary would also have to be set out in the explanatory notes. Thus, were a Liberal Democrat Government to decide that such a use of public funds would be appropriate, they would have to make the financial implications clear, as they have failed to do this afternoon.

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We have, as the hon. Gentleman rightly pointed out, fulfilled our responsibility in connection with the Bill by setting out clearly in the explanatory notes how much we estimate it would cost to remove charging for the current provision of community equipment services and intermediate care. We have made provision in relation to the settlement for that. We have made other provision, too, particularly through the access and capacity grant, which was announced, with some details, in the local government settlement; that relates to where the money would come from to provide other forms of service that I outlined earlier.

4.45 pm

The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam asked about the assumptions being made; with respect to the figure of 500,000, the assumption is that the average cost for community equipment services—and we are not talking about limiting the range of equipment that can be provided—would be £70 per item. I assure the hon. Member for Cheadle that we shall ensure, as we always try to do, and usually succeed in doing, that regulations are issued in a timely manner. We have shown that systems are in place to ensure that social services finances remain stable, and we have been clear throughout about the impact of the new power.

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