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12 Jan 2010 : Column 581

As was reflected in the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Mr. Dorrell) and others, it is important to recognise that despite some of the discussion that has taken place, we must not look at the matter as though it were simply about removing a six-week time limit and not changing any other circumstances. The hon. Gentleman gave the game away when he talked about certain circumstances, because circumstances have changed. The 2003 Act, which the Bill is intended to amend, addressed a different mischief that needed remedying-inappropriate bed blocking in hospital settings. This Bill is not about that; it is about doing something to support people in their own homes. It is not about removing people from one setting but about what they get in another, so the circumstances have changed. It was helpful that the Minister made that clear, but the way in which the matter was discussed at other times was not particularly appropriate. We need to be very careful, because the clause does not provide for some kind of simple removal of an element of a Venn diagram. It is definitional, because it deals with who can qualify. We even heard the Minister try to explain the understandably complicated matter of how on 1 October, if the Bill receives Royal Assent, the system will include both people who currently receive some care support, who may have to pay for it or may get it free, and others with different transitional arrangements. Later amendments will cover that matter.

This discussion has helped set us off towards a greater understanding of the complications of how the Bill is drafted and the concept that lies behind it. More importantly, it has helped to ensure that we get as much clarity on the record as we possibly can. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Stephen O'Brien: I beg to move amendment 11, page 1, line 10, after 'apply', insert-

'(a) '.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 12, page 1, line 13, at end insert-

'(b) to such other arrangements for the provision of personal care as the Secretary of State may, by regulations, specify.'.

Mr. O'Brien: Amendments 11 and 12 are intended to allow secondary legislation to stop the six-week restriction on free personal care. Amendment 12 is the operative amendment, upon which the Committee may wish to express its opinion depending on what the Government say. I flag up the fact that although it is not the lead amendment, it will be the appropriate one on which to divide if there is to be a Division.

It is somewhat disingenuous of the Minister to suggest that the provision in question is the direction of travel of the Green Paper. It is in fact a fully taxpayer-funded option, which was previously rejected by the Government in explicit terms, not least by the Secretary of State and the present Minister, because the working population of this country is shrinking as a proportion of the total population. That has been discussed and is widely recognised both in this place and by many experts and advisers outside. I refer the Minister to the Secretary of State's reply when he was keenly questioned by Members
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of his own party below the Gangway. He resisted their calls for taxpayer-funded options for social care, saying that it would not be

for care. He continued by saying that

We agree, and that is part of the challenge in the Green Paper that we are all considering. However, this Bill proposes, for the class of people outlined in it, to provide an option for care fully funded by taxation. That is inconsonant, to put it one way, with the direction of the travel in the Green Paper, although some might call it disingenuous.

5 pm

The Minister confessed, in a parliamentary answer:

unlike this Bill-

We all agree with that, but does it mean that the Minister is suggesting that this Bill is not sustainable for the future? Does he in fact agree with the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Mr. Dorrell) in the debate on the previous group of amendments that the Bill is a step along a path that may be distinguishable in legal terms, but will certainly be superseded in policy and legislative terms. That is a genuine question, and it is why we have included enabling powers in amendment 12.

The Minister has also said in a parliamentary answer that the measure in the Bill

that is a confession-

If this is not a fundamental proposal, does that mean that the Government plan it only as an interim measure?

The best way for the Government to make earnest on their pledge that this Bill is a step towards the full reform of social care would be to make this Bill more enabling in terms of additional policy options. One of those could be our asset protection scheme, which would involve the option of paying £8,000 at age 65 by those who have sufficient assets. Those who do not have such assets would continue to be protected, and those who did not take up the option would be in no worse position than they are today. Those who did take up the option would be entitled to residential care for life, should it be necessary. Who is to say that similar schemes could not work alongside the Government's measure in domiciliary care? We are not precious about the scheme, and it would provide an opportunity to widen the Bill and bring in a much more comprehensive approach that would genuinely be consonant with the Green Paper, which was welcomed-and urged on the Government-by both sides of the House.

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Mr. Syms: My hon. Friend makes an important point, but one of the problems with providing free personal care is that it tends to undermine the argument for a private insurance option, which may have to be one of a range of options if we are to look after people in old age.

Mr. O'Brien: My hon. Friend makes an important observation. I do not wish to underestimate the importance of this issue. We all accept that we face a serious challenge on this issue, and the question is how we measure up as policy makers and legislators. The issues include access, fairness, quality and appropriateness of care, both in the home and in a residential setting. It also involves major social issues such as the intergenerational responsibilities that we all have as members of the working age population for those who are beyond earning age or who have never had the capacity to earn or look after themselves because of some form of difficulty or care need.

My hon. Friend is entirely right to set the Bill in the context of the Green Paper process. We are challenging the fact that it does not sit well with that process, which the Government have already defined. Whether or not we end up with the social insurance model for all aspects of care need-he mentioned that, but I note he did not necessarily advocate it-is part of the discussion and the consultation. I fully accept that the Government have been conducting a consultation and I look forward to their assessment, which will inform us of the context of today's discussion, including on amendments 11 and 12.

We feel strongly that amendment 12-the operative amendment-gives an opportunity to air the questions that my hon. Friend asks in the context of the Green Paper process, which is vital. As the Government know, that process has been widely welcomed, even if it has come late and been postponed. It follows a series of other Green Papers and consultations, but is none the less a step in the right direction. The concern is that the Bill does not feel as if it is consonant with the process.

Dr. Ladyman: I support the idea behind the hon. Gentleman's statement that what we ultimately need is a comprehensive model for providing social care, and I have made it clear in my remarks on the Bill that more finance from people themselves is going to be necessary if we are to have that. However, will he confirm whether amendment 12 is a probing amendment? My understanding is that the proposal would give the Secretary of State power to introduce such new arrangements by diktat, without ever having to come back to the House for a proper debate or to discuss a new Bill in future. That seems to me to be an awful lot of power over an awful lot of expenditure to put in the hands of a Secretary of State, even one who is as good as our current Secretary of State.

Mr. O'Brien: Aside from the enjoyable little tail to that question, which I am absolutely sure deserves a job, I have not confirmed whether amendment 12 is a probing amendment, because I genuinely wanted to test the opinion of the Committee. I am not suggesting that I will therefore press it to a Division; rather, I am seeking to test whether there is an opinion in the Committee that the way the Bill has been introduced fits well with the overall direction of travel. I dare say that there
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could have been a touch of irony in a debate on amendment 12-if Hansard can record irony-because it might have revealed whether the hon. Gentleman was confident that a Labour Secretary of State would be exercising the powers, or whether he thought there would be a Conservative Secretary of State. However, I would not presume to take such powers on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) if the electorate decided that he should be Secretary of State.

The amendment seeks to test whether the Committee thinks it appropriate that we should be discussing the matter in a wider context. The hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Greg Mulholland), who speaks for the Liberal Democrats, twice mentioned that the extreme tightness of the drafting in the money resolution, which is deliberate on the part of the Government-but that is how it is-has clearly made the selection of the amendments particularly tight and challenging. Amendment 12 has given us the opportunity to at least have a sense of getting that discussion moving. We will decide whether the Committee needs to give it a better airing once we have had our discussion.

Norman Lamb: To pursue the point raised by the hon. Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman), does the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Mr. O'Brien) accept that amendment 12 could allow the Secretary of State, whichever party wins the election, to implement wide-ranging reform, without this House having any opportunity to debate it properly? Does he accept that that would be inappropriate, and that there should be primary legislation in the new Parliament to implement fundamental reform?

Mr. O'Brien: The hon. Gentleman fully accepts, I think, that although the Secretary of State, in his current role, has made it clear that, as part of a legacy, or whatever he wishes to claim for it, he seeks an unstoppable momentum beyond the next election, our concern is that, strangely enough, the Bill is in danger of not creating that momentum. Indeed, it could do the opposite, because it is not consonant with the whole approach to the reform of social care that we hope the Green Paper process, which so many of us have bought into, will achieve.

I fully accept that, ultimately, there is only one way forward, which is for the country, through its elected representatives across the House, to seek a genuinely broad consensus. We will never satisfy either those who think there should be a fully taxpayer-funded option or those who think we should have a complete free-for-all in the private market. The solution lies somewhere between the two. We have had that discussion with Government Members. We know that a number of them would not go along with what has been proposed, so reaching that point will be a tough challenge. That is why amendment 11 is important in clarifying the intent. However, I will wait to see how the Committee feels about the issue before I make a decision on whether to press the amendment to a vote, because I take seriously the idea that we need the best and most solid consensus that we can achieve.

One thing that I should say-I see that the Minister is in discussion at the moment-is that it would be helpful in building that consensus if there were a genuine willingness on the part of the Government to start some
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discussions and to invite in those of us who wish to build that consensus. However, while we remain only in discussion across the Dispatch Box, which is necessarily a somewhat scrutinising and adversarial approach, we diminish our chance of achieving consensus. However, that is perhaps the nature of the run-up to the election, with the tribalism now being displayed.

Mr. Syms: I would like to bring my hon. Friend back to amendment 12, which is excellent. I thought that its drafting was intended to engender a debate not about what the Government are doing in the Bill, but about what they are doing in guidance and consultation. We do not know whether there will be statutory instruments or whether they will use the positive or negative procedure. A lot of the detail will be discussed in consultation and decided after the Bill has been passed. We will therefore not know the shape of the Bill until we see what comes forward. Is that not one of the arguments against rushing the Bill? Should we not have the consultation and then the Bill, rather than the Bill and then the consultation?

Mr. O'Brien: My hon. Friend makes an outstandingly good point, and that is precisely why we have been so concerned about the rushed nature of the Bill. We know its provenance: we know how its timing came about and how it must have been a hell of a sweat, in a certain room at a certain hotel, in a certain month-September-with a certain Prime Minister. That said, we should pause and ensure that we do not lose the many gains that we have made in this debate over many years, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood has observed. It is vital that we should see the Bill in that context.

The whole point of amendment 12 is precisely as my hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr. Syms) described. It is not just the whole context of the Green Paper that is important; there will, of course, be a vital need for guidelines. Indeed, in his response to the first group of amendments, the Minister talked about the need for guidelines and so forth. However, the timetable for those guidelines seems to be out of sync. It is my great hope-I will no doubt repeat this later in our proceedings this afternoon-that the Government will take seriously the point that there is a certain technical obligation on them, as well as a moral obligation, to ensure that they get the consultation and guidelines processed, reported and acted upon, with conclusions recommended as a result of that broad, wide-reaching and consensual consultation, before the issue is considered in the other place. Without that, there is a grave danger that the Bill will be rushed through both Houses without the benefit of accessing that broader church of opinion, which Government Members have been as keen as I have to ensure is accessed.

Laura Moffatt (Crawley) (Lab): I am listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman, but is he not trying to have it both ways? I would love to move directly to a national care service, as I hope many who have taken an interest in the Bill would too. However, I respect and understand the need for us to think carefully about the financial implications. Is he not giving the impression, particularly with amendment 12, of an open book for what could be achieved? By tabling that amendment, is he not giving the impression that something more could be delivered, when he knows that we are all under serious financial constraints?

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Mr. O'Brien: I do not think for a second that anyone in the House seeking to develop or implement policy responsibly or anyone who has any kind of sense of the reality of the world in which we live would suggest that anything should be proposed on behalf of our constituents without full funding behind it. That is why leaving it totally to the discretion of the Secretary of State would be entirely out of order. It is drafted in the way it is because the Secretary of State would not be expected to propose anything without coming along not only with an impact assessment-hopefully a considerably better quality one than we have suffered from with this Bill-but with a funding base to justify it.

5.15 pm

To the extent that the hon. Member for Crawley (Laura Moffatt) is suggesting a carte blanche, I do not believe that any legislation could come along on that basis. It is appropriate to ensure in Committee that we can have the wider contextual debate that we all seek. I know from previous discussions that the hon. Lady has been keen to see such a debate on the Green Paper, but we are concerned about the limitations of the very process that the Bill is imposing on us.

Mr. Tom Clarke: The hon. Gentleman has been extremely generous in giving way. His point in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Laura Moffatt) is one of the most critical to bear in mind this afternoon as we Government Members probe amendments tabled by Opposition Members. The question of funding is particularly important, so has the hon. Gentleman consulted the shadow Chancellor and his senior Front-Bench colleagues? If so, will he tell us about the funding implications and who will bear the cost?

Mr. O'Brien: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, partly because what he suggests is relatively flattering. Luckily, however, I am enough of a realist to recognise that, nice as it may feel, it is not the same as being in government when the Opposition's probing or other amendments are probed in turn by Government Members. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that there have, of course, been extensive internal discussions, as he would expect, within my party-as I dare say there have been within his party-on how to grapple with this particular issue.

Those in charge of funding must be included. Why? Because, as I said before, there is probably no more predictable issue for the political generation coming down the track than this one. We know it is there; we all know it is pretty insuperable, but we have got to find a solution. None are more challenged than this generation of politicians in this House-either this side of the general election or after it when some may be re-elected-in facing up to this particular challenge. The right hon. Gentleman is rightly probing me on why I tabled certain amendments, but I am very conscious that we have had a series of discussions and open inquiries, not least the one led by my right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood shortly after my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) became the leader of the Conservative party. They looked into these very issues, so my right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood has been able to advise us accordingly. That has led, in turn, to many discussions among and across many shadow departmental briefs.

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