Community Care (Delayed Discharges etc.) Bill

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Mr. Burstow: May I seek clarification of something that the Minister said a few moments ago about circumstances in which someone is placed in residential care, and about the possibility of regulation-making powers being used to permit the first six weeks to be provided free? If the placement in a residential setting is for intermediate care, would the entirety of the costs be free under the regulations that the Government are to introduce?

Jacqui Smith: Yes, I assure the hon. Gentleman that where the placement is for intermediate care, the entirety of the costs would be free under our proposals. On the basis of our recent responsible actions and intentions, I hope that the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Sir George Young: I am a little surprised and suspicious that the Government are taking to themselves powers that they do not intend to use. They have drafted the measure to make it possible to provide the first six weeks free, by means of regulations, but the Minister has said that she does not intend to use them. However, I do not propose to make a meal of this, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 12 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 13 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 14

Money

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Burns: Can the Minister tell us how much money is involved under paragraphs (a) and (b)?

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Jacqui Smith: The intention of the clause is not to make it necessary to specify precisely how much money is involved; however, I think that I have given a pretty good account of the matter this afternoon. As we set out in the explanatory notes, with respect to the administration of the framework of the Bill we made an estimate of £5.5 million. In relation to the cost on the provision in clause 12, we made an estimate of £18.6 million. The framework as a whole is about ensuring that authorities fulfil the responsibilities that they already have. On that basis, there would be no extra costs.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 14 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 15 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 16

Short title, commencement and extent

Mr. Burns: I beg to move amendment No. 7, in

    clause 16, page 8, line 38, after 'appoint', insert 'at the end of the period of at least 12 months beginning with the day on which it is passed'.

I shall be brief and hasty. The current provisions typify the problems that guillotine motions pose for the Opposition and Parliament. In due course, I shall explain why the amendment is crucial. First, however, let me say that we are 10 minutes from the final guillotine in this Committee, and it still remains to be seen whether any Labour Members will make a contribution at this late stage. The problem, however, is that we simply do not have enough time to discuss this fundamental issue.

Clause 16 deals with the Bill's short title and commencement. The Opposition are against part 1 root and branch. It introduces fines for local authorities, although the Minister has done her best to call those fines ''reimbursements'' and ''incentives'', among other things. Sadly, the Secretary of State totally undercut and undermined her position in his statement on NHS resources on the Floor of the House yesterday when, as is recorded in column 282 of Hansard, in answer to the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam he used the phrase ''On paying fines''. There can be no clearer message to the House or local authorities that authorities are in the Government's firing line for penalisation through fines, frequently through no fault of their own. That is why Opposition Members believe that the Bill is being rushed through Parliament and on to the statute book using guillotines, and without proper scrutiny.

As a sop to some of his Back Benchers, the Secretary of State announced to the House on Second Reading that local authorities would receive £100 million a year over three years. In effect, the Government are taking money from the NHS and giving it to local authorities to pay the fines that they expect them to incur—they are taking from Peter to pay Paul. However, they Hohohey did not even get that right. They have provided £100 million, but local authorities calculate that they will have pay fines of £180 million in the first year—that projection is based on just over 50 per cent. of authorities. That coincides with the Government's estimate in the financial impact assessment of the cost of delayed discharges to the

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NHS, although I understand that the two figures relate to different issues.

The £100 million will not solve the problem that the Secretary of State hopes it will. It also represents a missed opportunity. It would surely be far better to use the money to improve and enhance services, rather than to enable authorities to pay their fines. Furthermore, the money will be paid from the beginning of the next financial year, in April 2003. If the Government have their way, however, that will be when the Bill comes into force. I assume that they expect it to be on the statute book by the beginning of the next financial year.

It would be infinitely better, more sensible and more pragmatic, however, if, as amendment No. 7 suggests, the implementation and commencement of the Bill—if we must have it—were delayed by one year, but the local authorities got the £100 million from 1 April 2003. They would then have a year in which to use that money to invest—a favourite buzz word of the Minister's—improve and enhance the services to minimise and further reduce the delayed discharge numbers, and another year in which to strengthen the partnerships between local authorities and the NHS.

Mrs. Gillan: Has my hon. Friend had the opportunity to consider the Local Government Association briefing, which asks whether the implementation could be phased and piloted? Local authorities have less than four months to establish new systems and working practices, and the LGA believes that that could cause significant practical difficulties. Even in Sweden, the much vaunted example that we are supposed to be following, implementation took place over two years. Does my hon. Friend agree that the LGA's wishes are being totally disregarded?

Mr. Burns: My hon. Friend has done a great service to the Committee by drawing attention to that briefing, because it gets to the heart of the matter. It is ironic that the head of the LGA is none other than Sir Jeremy Beecham, a Labour councillor.

Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton): Get away.

Mr. Burns: The Minister's parliamentary private secretary says, ''Get away'', but Labour Members usually pray in aid their local authority representatives. Sir Jeremy must be regarded as new Labour, because he received a knighthood for his services to local government from the Prime Minister. However, it is extraordinary that as soon as any of them diverge and go off message, they become non-people and are denigrated.

Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne): I hesitate to interrupt my hon. Friend's flow of wisdom, but will he confirm that the National Audit Office is supposed to report next month on the discharge of older patients from NHS acute hospitals? Does he agree with the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health when it says of the NAO's report that

    ''the government would be best advised to wait until it has reported''

and base their proposals on what it says, rather than

    ''pressing forward with this hasty and ill-considered measure''?

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Mr. Burns: Again, I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing those pertinent comments to the Committee's attention. The Royal Society for the Promotion of Health is right; if we have to have part 1 of the Bill, it should be delayed. It would be foolish to rush it in. The Government should have been warned by what happened when they rushed in the Care Standards Act 2000.

Jacqui Smith rose—

Mr. Burns: Before the Minister tries to undermine my views, I must add that I know that everyone wants to improve and enhance standards, but the Government refused to listen to those whose views did not coincide with theirs. Because that Act was rushed in, it caused chaos and imposed even more burdens on care homes and the providers of long-term care.

I know that for a fact because I have been to the Minister's constituency and met care home owners in Redditch. It is sad to hear what they have to say. I remember meeting one of the hon. Lady's constituents who had the privilege and pleasure of meeting the hon. Lady when she was a mere parliamentary candidate. That lady complained to her then Labour candidate about the problems in the care home sector—and got a remarkably sympathetic reception. The Minister went even further, and reassured that poor lady that under a Labour Government the bureaucracy and all the associated problems would be swept aside.

Sadly, five years down the road, that lady is not convinced that the advice and information that she was given prior to the 1997 election has been implemented. Her care home—the Minister will agree, I am sure, that it provides first-class care for her constituents and others—has been faced with more bureaucracy, and more burdens have been placed upon it by the Government.

In conclusion, I hope that the Government will think again and not rush in the botched job of a fairly miserable piece of legislation. If they are not prepared to think again, I assure the Minister that not only will we vote for the amendment, we shall try to raise the matter again on Report—

It being Five o'clock, The Chairman proceeded, pursuant to Sessional Order C relating to Programming [29 October 2002] and the Order of the Committee [10 December 2002], to put forthwith the Question necessary to be concluded at that time.

Motion made and Question put, That clause 16 stand part of the Bill:

The Committee divided: Ayes 8, Noes 7.

Division No. 19]

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

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

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Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 16 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

 
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Prepared 12 December 2002