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Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe) (Con): It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Aberavon (Dr. Francis), and I want to begin by again expressing the support for the Bill that the official Opposition offered on Second Reading, during the money resolution debate and in Committee. We congratulate the hon. Gentleman on introducing the Bill, and we acknowledge his great interest in and personal expertise on the needs of carers. We congratulate his Bill team, and I make a special point of mentioning one member of that team, my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry), who, unfortunately, cannot be present today.

We pay tribute to the work done by Carers UK, whose expertise has informed the Bill, and by carers' organisations everywhere. I pay particular tribute, as I did on Second Reading, to the work done in my constituency by the South Bucks Carers Association, which does so much to help local carers. As I have made clear, the official Opposition support the Bill, and I have been travelling with the hon. Member for Aberavon on the journey that he has just described.

If hon. Members present examine the Bill that we considered on Second Reading on 6 February, which they no doubt have with them today, and compare it with the Bill that we are considering today, which they no doubt also have with them, they will see that there have been wide-ranging changes. During the Committee
 
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stage, the Minister, as he hinted on Second Reading he would do, persuaded the Committee to demolish many of the foundations of the original Bill.

Clause 3 of the original Bill, "Duty to Inform", has been replaced by clause 1 of the Bill before us today, "Duty to Inform Carers of The Right to Assessment", and is, in my view, the new foundation stone of the Bill. Clause 1 of the original Bill, "Equal Opportunities for Carers", has been replaced by clause 2 of the new Bill, the perhaps less ambitiously titled "Assessment of Carers". Clause 4 of the original Bill, on co-operation between authorities, has been replaced by clause 3 of the Bill before us, also entitled "Co-operation between Authorities". Clause 2 of the original Bill, "Planning for Provision of Information for Carers" has not been replaced. Its main intention was to place a duty on local authorities, in co-operation with national health service bodies, to ensure that in the community strategies that they prepared under section 4 of the Local Government Act 2000, specific provision was made for informing relevant carers of the services that the local authority provided that were likely to promote carers' health and well-being.

All that represents major demolition and reconstruction work on the Bill by the Minister. The House might be tempted to believe that that work was unnecessary, but the Minister made it clear in Committee that he believed that it was necessary because it was important for the Bill to be consistent with, and to relate to, previous legislation that especially affects carers, such as the Carers (Recognition and Services) Act 1995 and the Carers and Disabled Children Act 2000. It is certainly the case that, as a result of that work and those changes, the Bill before us today places less stress on equal opportunities for carers than the Bill that we had before us on Second Reading. None the less, we believe that the Minister has honoured the pledge that he made on Second Reading to improve the Bill with a view to ensuring that it is placed on the statute book. The help that he has given to the Bill should, as the hon. Member for Aberavon said, be recognised by the House.

The Bill's main merit is the duty that it will place on local authorities to inform carers of their right to an assessment. That will surely be of real benefit to carers. The main theme that emerged on Second Reading, as hon. Members who were present then will remember, was the complex and diverse needs of carers. Indeed, as many hon. Members said on that occasion, many carers do not recognise themselves as carers, or do not want to be referred to or labelled as carers. They do not see themselves as fulfilling a social function, but as caring for people whom they love, or to whom they have a commitment.

The total number of carers is rising. At one end of the life cycle, lifespans are increasing, and as people live longer, they are increasingly prone to disability. Most of us, if we live long enough, will probably acquire a disability sooner or later. At the other end of the life cycle, more children with disabilities are surviving for longer. Families, for a complex series of reasons, are smaller and more fragile than they once were. It is no wonder, then, that according to Carers UK, 7 million people in the UK look after someone who is frail, sick or has a disability. That is roughly 10 per cent. of the
 
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population. More than 300,000 people become carers every year, and three out of five people will become carers during their lifetime.

All this throws an immense burden on carers, the larger number of whom are women—and older women at that. They might give up working in the labour market because they feel that they have no choice but to do so, and later they might lack the skills or the confidence to re-enter it either when they want to or when they feel that they have no choice but to do so. If they do work in the labour market, they might feel that their employer does not understand their needs. They might feel bewildered about where to go for advice and help when a child with a disability is born or when a loved one becomes ill and frail. They might also feel bewildered about how to deal with interlocking and multi-faceted problems, such as the special needs that their children have in schools, and hospital discharges, and everyday problems with transport, which can be particularly onerous. They might feel, in particular, that they need respite help, because even the most dedicated carer, faced with the prospect of caring full-time for another person, is bound to feel in need of a break from time to time. That point has often been made to me by carers in my constituency.

It is no wonder that, according to the report "Missed Opportunities", published by Carers UK, 55 per cent. of carers reported significant health problems, and 43 per cent. reported that they had sought medical treatment for depression, stress or anxiety since becoming a carer. Above all, carers may well not know of their rights under the law. According to "Missed Opportunities", only 32 per cent. of carers have been assessed by social services. Of those, 57 per cent. did not receive any extra support, and nearly 50 per cent. of carers had not been informed that they had the right to an assessment. The main virtue of the Bill is that it will place a duty on local authorities to inform carers of their right to an assessment. It will also ensure, rather more sensitively than measures that are currently in place, that the wishes and needs of carers are carefully considered.

I want to end with a tribute to the hon. Member for Aberavon. I have enjoyed what I think has been a co-operative relationship with him during the progress of the Bill. He has steered it deftly towards the statute book, and I hope that he is about to join a small and select group of Members of this House. It is a group of which I am not a member, and of which very few of those present today are members. It is, of course, the group of those who will be able to leave the House—in whatever circumstances they may do so—having introduced a piece of legislation as a private Member that ends up on the statute book. That is, in principle, no mean achievement, and it is one to which I believe most Members of this House aspire.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): No!

Mr. Goodman: I did say "most Members".

I hope that it is not premature to congratulate the hon. Member for Aberavon on joining that small and select group and on ensuring that Sam's Bill will indeed become Sam's Act.
 
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Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth) (Lab): It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman) and to hear that the official Opposition have given their support to the Bill. We are grateful to them, to the Liberal Democrats and the Ulster Unionists, and to all those who have supported it. It has been a privilege for me to be a member of the Standing Committee and to assist my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Dr. Francis) in a small way. I have said to representatives of Carers UK that, if ever I came top of the ballot for private Members' Bills, I would have gone and had a cup of tea with them to see what kind of Bill we might be able to introduce. I once introduced a ten-minute Bill. It is very difficult to convince our constituents that ten-minute Bills are not really Bills and that they often do not last more than 10 minutes. However, that Bill was on giving carers the right to respite care, and it was, fortunately, incorporated into the Carers and Disabled Children Bill, which was introduced by the former Member, Tom Pendry.

A gentleman came to my constituency surgery last Friday to ask me a question about the implications for him and his mother, should she need to go into full-time care. His name is Mr. Malcolm Jones, and he is from Croesyceiliog. He has cared for his mother for 20 years, and she is now over 100. He had previously been self-employed, but he told me that he had recently been employed again. The Bill will not directly affect him, but it will affect people in similar circumstances in the future, in that it will give them more flexibility to return to the labour market, or to remain in it, while they carry out their caring responsibilities. I am sure that we were all very grateful for the Prime Minister's recent announcement about helping carers in employment.

Mr. Malcolm Jones was not aware of this Bill, but I was able to assure him that I would mention him today. I am not too sure that he belongs to a carers' organisation, or that he sees himself in the defined role of a carer. He is simply fulfilling a duty to look after his mother, which he has fulfilled for 20 years. She is still well, but might need to go into full-time care in the future. The Bill is aimed at people such as Mr. Jones, who often do not see themselves as having a defined role as a carer.

The carers in my constituency are probably the most sceptical people I have ever come across. They never quite believe that politicians will deliver improved services for people such as them. I find, however, that that scepticism is now diminishing. As a result of the national carers strategy, the legislation that we introduced a few years ago, and now this Bill, there is a wider recognition that Parliament is passing legislation in the interests of carers. There are 9,000 carers in my constituency, and I understand that several hundred assessments have taken place under the current legislation.

The Bill will help to inform those carers of their right to be assessed, and it will assist them in the roles that they perform outside their direct caring responsibilities. I urge my hon. Friends to ensure that we get as much publicity as possible for the Bill. This has been a great small achievement in the legislative process, and it has been a privilege for me to be associated with it.
 
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