14 May 2004 : Column 571

House of Commons

Friday 14 May 2004

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock


The Chairman of Ways and Means took the Chair as Deputy Speaker, pursuant to the Standing Order.

[Sir Alan Haselhurst in the Chair]

9.33 am

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): I beg to move, That the House do sit in private.

Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 163 (Motions to sit in private):—

The House divided: Ayes 0, Noes 36.

Division No. 175
[9:34 am


Tellers for the Ayes:
David Wright and
Mr. Andrew Dismore


Ainger, Nick
Barker, Gregory
Barnes, Harry
Beggs, Roy (E Antrim)
Blackman, Liz
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)
Brennan, Kevin
Burstow, Paul
Caton, Martin
Cawsey, Ian (Brigg)
Clapham, Michael
Clarke, rh Tom (Coatbridge & Chryston)
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Forth, rh Eric
Francis, Dr. Hywel
Gapes, Mike (Ilford S)
Gardiner, Barry
Goodman, Paul
Gray, James (N Wilts)
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Harman, rh Ms Harriet
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Kemp, Fraser
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Ladyman, Dr. Stephen
Lawrence, Mrs Jackie
Lilley, rh Peter
Love, Andrew
McIsaac, Shona
Mactaggart, Fiona
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Swire, Hugo (E Devon)
Thomas, Gareth (Harrow W)
White, Brian
Williams, Roger (Brecon)
Wilshire, David

Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. Huw Edwards and
Jonathan Shaw

Question accordingly negatived.

14 May 2004 : Column 571

14 May 2004 : Column 572

Orders of the Day

Carers (Equal Opportunities) Bill

Bill reported, with amendment.

Order for Third Reading read.

9.44 am

Dr. Hywel Francis (Aberavon) (Lab): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I have a great many people to thank for their involvement in the journey of this Bill. I also wish to place on public record the huge interest that it has generated from all quarters: employers, such as British Gas, BT and Listawood; lifelong learning and educational establishments, such as the adult learners' body—the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education—the Open University, the Guidance Council and the National Extension college; equality bodies, such as the Disability Rights Commission in Wales and the Equal Opportunities Commission; hundreds of carers' organisations; union bodies, such as the TUC and the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation; the Local Government Association and the Welsh Local Government Association; and, of course, carers themselves. I want to pay tribute to all those groups, and will do so, but I am also keen for the debate to progress swiftly. I shall try to keep my comments to a minimum, but wish to single out some individuals and organisations for extra thanks.

We would not have got this far had my parliamentary colleagues from all parties not supported the Bill through its Second Reading, in Committee and, of course, today. I single out those in the official Opposition—the hon. Members for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman), for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) and for Banbury (Tony Baldry)—and also the hon. Members for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow), for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams) and for East Antrim (Mr. Beggs) for their warm support and, above all, their insight into the needs of carers.

I have received a number of very positive comments about their contributions and the contributions of all political parties to the debate. All their comments have been noted by organisations and individuals outside the House. Support has also come from the other place, where Lord Ashley, Baroness Pitkeathley and Lord Rix have all offered invaluable advice and experience.

To say that the passage of the Bill has been of great interest to local carers' organisations would be an understatement. To date, I have received a stunning number of very warm and enthusiastic messages of support from local and national organisations, more than 300 of which have indicated their support. They represent tens of thousands of employees and more than 200,000 carers throughout England and Wales. I have been truly amazed by the real excitement generated by the Bill; it seems to have brought new ideas and partnerships bubbling to the surface.

I pay a special tribute to the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman), for his involvement. The fact that we have been able to amend the Bill to suit our shared goals for carers and to forge forward with it can
14 May 2004 : Column 573
be attributed to his knowledge and understanding of carers' issues, and I am sure that carers throughout England and Wales will acknowledge that.

The Government's support has been very welcome. Jane Hutt, the Minister for Health and Social Services in the Welsh Assembly, has been extremely supportive, virtually since day one, and I thank her for that, too. It would also be remiss of me not to mention the excellent work that officials have put into the Bill to make it work, both in Whitehall and Cardiff bay.

Above all, I thank the carers and carers' organisations in my constituency. They have provided the best insight of all—personal experience of caring—to help me on my journey with the Bill. I should also mention the help and advice that I have received from my local authority, Neath Port Talbot county borough council, and the Neath Port Talbot local health board. I could not complete this roll call of thanks without mentioning the constant support of Carers Wales and Carers UK, which have provided invaluable advice, professionalism and encouragement throughout the Bill's journey.

As we discussed previously, the Bill is remarkable in that it draws on the best policy from Scotland and Northern Ireland—the duty to inform carers of their rights—which we now hope to introduce for carers in England and Wales. The Scottish Executive, too, were able to share with us their valuable experience of similar legislation, welcomed by carers in Scotland, and to confirm that it had not increased costs.

The Association of Directors of Social Services has been supportive from very early on, and has stated on many occasions that it sees the Bill as a positive step forward. It has acknowledged that many of the Bill's provisions are already carried out by good authorities with good business and moral sense in many parts of the country.

We all know that it does not make economic sense not to support carers, when they save the state a staggering £57 billion a year. Many have had to give up work, when they might have been able to remain in employment with a little more information, foresight and creativity on the part of support services. The Bill will help with that by placing a duty on local authorities to consider work, education and leisure in the assessment, and to tell carers about their rights. There could be considerable savings for the Exchequer through the reduction of benefit costs, an increase in tax and national insurance receipts and improvements in the health and well-being of all carers.

The Bill's provisions are relatively modest. They will improve information for carers about their rights and will enhance the choices open to them through work, education and leisure. For individuals, the personal impact of the Bill could be huge. It aims to change the culture to acknowledge that carers have a right to information so that they can make choices about their lives, and a right to "have a life", as one carer put it, beyond their caring responsibilities.

The Bill will not mean that carers will no longer care. All the research points towards the fact that carers wish to care and to continue to care, and all the carers to whom I have spoken have agreed with that. The Bill is about encouraging more creative support and finding
14 May 2004 : Column 574
solutions for carers, and will give local authorities the power to draw in the help of housing, education, health and other local bodies in the pursuit of those laudable goals.

The Bill is a sensible step forward in building a better future in England and Wales. Most of us will experience a period of caring at some point in our lives. With the demographic changes that we can expect during the coming decades, it makes sense to have this kind of legislative basis on which we can build support for the future.

The Bill's journey started many years ago, when Mair and I had a young son called Sam with Down's syndrome, who died seven years ago this month. He had an important impact on our lives then and, with this Bill, he continues to do so. I hope that Sam's Bill will be a legacy to many families in the future.

I want to end today with the words of a carer from my constituency, Lynn Coleman. When we started on this journey at the Bill's parliamentary launch, she said:

carers' lives

I look forward to the day when we can say that we have achieved that for carers.

I commend the Bill to the House. I hope that it passes quickly to the other place and is subsequently put on the statute book as swiftly as possible.

9.54 am

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