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Gillian Merron: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and his comments have reminded me to say something else in praise of pets: they provide much to all of us, whatever our age. As the hon. Member for Eastbourne rightly pointed out, however, there is a group about which we should be particularly concerned. Nevertheless, we should speak up for the role of pets
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and their positive contribution to many lives-those of not just older people, but people in sheltered housing whatever their age.

The parliamentary timetable gives the Bill no chance of succeeding, but I wish to put on the record how much we appreciate the sentiment and intent behind it, and I would like to extend to the hon. Gentleman the opportunity to discuss this important matter further. He made the legitimate point that there should be a national policy on pets and older people. I should like to do something about that.

As we have heard, pets can provide companionship, reassurance and affection for people who may be feeling more isolated than ever, especially if their circumstances have changed. I know from experience how valuable contact with animals can be. My friend Janice, who lives in Lincoln, has had her rather lovely dog Millie trained by the charity Pets As Therapy, to which I believe the hon. Gentleman referred. Janice gives her time-as well as Millie's-to visit people in care homes. As I have seen, Pets As Therapy provides behaviour-assessed, vaccinated animals and trained volunteers, such as Millie and Janice, to go to hospitals, hospices and care homes. I have been struck not just by the difference that Pets As Therapy makes to individuals, but by the dedication of the staff and the animals. They make 6 million bedside visits a year. As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, that is just one way in which people can benefit from pets.

I cannot emphasise too strongly how much I approve of the sentiment behind the Bill. Of course we do not want a ban on pets in care homes or sheltered housing. Independent providers of care and accommodation are currently able to make individual decisions on the basis of their circumstances. That is the most practical approach that we have encountered so far, and although it is not perfect, it has led to practical arrangements.

I have already mentioned the Cinnamon Trust, the national charity that works on behalf of older people and their pets. I pay tribute to the work of the trust and its founder and chief executive, Averil Jarvis MBE. It has a network consisting of some 16,000 volunteers who help owners to care for their pets. It aims to keep owners and pets together. It provides dog-walking services, buys food for pets, and helps to keep them clean and healthy when their owners are housebound. It also temporarily fosters pets when their owners need hospital care. Its work seems to me to do a great deal to fulfil the Bill's sentiments, and I am sure hon. Members will join me in congratulating it.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Cinnamon Trust operates a register of pet-friendly care homes, which pet owners who are no longer able to live independently in their own homes can use to find suitable places. About 750 of the 18,500 care and nursing homes in England are listed as pet-friendly, although they may restrict the types of pets that they will accommodate. As we have heard today, a large dog would obviously be less likely to be admitted than a small rodent or a budgerigar.

Mr. Waterson: Unless I misheard the Minister, her statistics are pretty damning. My arithmetic suggests that if those statistics are accurate, only one in 20 care homes is pet-friendly. Does that not underline the need for legislation along these lines?

Gillian Merron: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's maths is correct. I was not presenting the figures as an
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excuse, but simply as an illustration of the work of the Cinnamon Trust. It is true that 750 out of 18,500 is a small proportion, but I just wanted to make the point about the work of the Cinnamon Trust, and what it offers and how it assists. I do not deny for one moment the sentiments behind the Bill.

If it is not possible for an owner to take their pet into a care home, or if an owner dies, the Cinnamon Trust will care for and attempt to find a new home for the pet-again, hon. Members had concerns about that issue. The trust runs two sanctuaries for that purpose and it assists 14,000 people a year with 20,000 animals. I am sure that hon. Members will find those figures impressive in their reach.

Mike Penning: The work that the Cinnamon Trust does is fantastic but, as we have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson), thousands of animals are put down unnecessarily simply because the legislation is not in place to protect people when they go into a care home or sheltered accommodation. The vast majority of the homes that the Minister mentioned are in the state sector-they are local authority homes-so the Government are in control. The Cinnamon Trust does wonderful work, but the reason for introducing the Bill is because the trust cannot do everything and the legislation needs to be changed.

Gillian Merron: May I gently suggest that the hon. Gentleman should hear me out a little further, because I wish to discuss care homes and, indeed, sheltered housing, which would also rightly be covered by the reach of the Bill? However, it is important to find out where we are starting from before we work out the best way to go. Many local councils and care providers, as well as the Government's Directgov information service, publicise the work of the Cinnamon Trust to potential residents and provide links to it on their websites.

Although the Government agree with the principle of the Bill, there are a number of practical difficulties with it in its current form and it is important to draw those to the attention of the House. Indeed, the hon. Member for Eastbourne has raised some of them in a very honest fashion. Although I freely admit that the matter appears at first glance to be straightforward, I know, having gone into it, that it involves many complexities. The Bill's drafting has sought to address that, and we have heard an acknowledgment in the debate that we would need to go further. There are many competing considerations and there is no single easy answer.

It may help the House if I were to outline some of the main obstacles involved, but before I do so I wish to refer back to the data on the number of animals that it is said are destroyed. We understand that the figures come from a report that is 12 years old and, unfortunately, we have not been able to verify them as being more up to date. It would be useful to do so, and perhaps as we extend this discussion about the number of animals that are put down or have to be re-homed, the hon. Gentleman will seek to do so.

On those obstacles, first, not all care homes or sheltered accommodation are suitable environments in which to keep pets. The layout of many premises, where residents have their own rooms or apartments but share social and recreational spaces, could make it difficult to ensure everyone's preferences are accommodated. Secondly,
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reconciling the wishes of all residents can be difficult; some may prefer not to share their environment with animals, but might hesitate to voice their objections in case it leads to disputes with fellow residents, and others may be allergic to, or even afraid of, animals. Thirdly, as I am sure hon. Members will agree, it is important to ensure that pets are properly exercised and cared for. Those residents who are frail or in poor health might find it difficult to do so themselves, however much they might wish to. That could put providers and their staff under pressure to care for residents' pets. In principle, that might not be a problem and, where staffing, layout and circumstances allow, the sector could, perhaps, provide extra staff and support, but the difficulty with the Bill in its current form is the fact that the legislation, if it were to force all such accommodation to allow pets, would be likely to result in extra cost to the taxpayer. Some 60 per cent. of the cost of residential care in England is funded by local authorities or the NHS, which pays for the nursing element of residential care. Obviously, we would have to consider that.

Although our thoughts might turn to our own faithful and favourite family pets-a tabby cat, or a Yorkshire terrier, as we have already mentioned-I am sure that I do not need to remind hon. Members that pets come in all shapes and sizes. Some people keep rats; others keep snakes or spiders. The keeping, exercise and food requirements of a kitten are different from those of a Great Dane, and different again from those of a tarantula. Finally, although the risk is likely to be small, pets might bring with them certain health risks such as infections or parasites that are carried or transmitted by animals. Of course, those infections and parasites will differ depending on whether the pet is a kitten, a Great Dane or a tarantula. Those who are frail or in poor health might, of course-this is important-have less resistance to infection.

I have concentrated on why it might not be practical, with the Bill as drafted, for people to keep pets in care homes and sheltered housing, but it is important that the House considers the wider questions about the role of local and central Government and the autonomy of individual providers. As hon. Members are aware, a number of care homes-the latest estimate suggests 750, or about 5 per cent.-allow pets. Although it is limited, there is some availability.

Care home and sheltered housing providers are primarily independent, private sector organisations. We understand from the Elderly Accommodation Counsel, the charity that advises older people on housing and care, that of the 500,000 sheltered housing units, nearly half-that is 255,825 units-will consider accepting pets. The scale of the challenge is different in sheltered housing to the challenge in residential and care homes. Again, there is some degree of availability. Sheltered housing providers are paid from local budgets and operate under local contracts with local government. We would not wish to second-guess or dictate conditions to the market.

Instead, the decision about whether or not to allow pets is in the hands of the care home and sheltered housing operators, working closely with the relevant local authorities. However, we want to encourage both the home care sector and local authorities not immediately
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to discount the idea of allowing pets to stay with their owners. That is the key point that the hon. Member for Eastbourne correctly made.

Wherever practical, local government and its partners in the independent and private sectors should consider allowing pets in some of their care homes-and, indeed, in as many as possible. When I read the Bill, that is what I understood it to want. As the hon. Gentleman has rightly identified, there are major providers of housing and care-Housing 21 and the Anchor Trust, about which we have already heard-that are happy to consider allowing tenants and residents to keep their pets. We would encourage others to follow their example.

There is a wider point to be made about pets in care homes and sheltered housing. Clearly, we all want to see the best conditions in care homes and supported accommodation, and I understand the role that pets can play. However, many people have told us that what they would really like, above all, is to remain in their own home. Of course, if one lives in one's own home, one is free to keep a pet. I feel that increasing the number of people who can stay in their own home will help with this important matter. We do not want to sweep the whole thing under the carpet, but we want to reduce the number of people for whom the only option is to leave their home.

The Government are keen to ensure that as many people as possible are supported in remaining in their home for as long as they wish. That would greatly help people to keep their pets. The House will be aware that that is what the Personal Care at Home Bill, which is currently going through Parliament, is all about. It focuses on providing personal care for those who live in their own home, including in sheltered or supported accommodation, and will support those adults with the highest personal care needs in England. It will enable all those people with the greatest care needs, including many with serious dementia or multiple sensory impairments, to protect their savings. It will also benefit a wider group of people by maintaining or improving their ability to live at home for longer and, of course, by helping them to keep their pets. Let me give a sense of scale regarding the number of people for whom we seek to do that. The Bill guarantees free personal care to 280,000 of those people with the highest needs, of whom 110,000 will receive free personal care for the first time. Currently, those 110,000 people receive personal care but have to pay for it, either in part or in full, themselves. Of those 110,000, some 90,000 are older people aged 65 or over, and 20,000 are younger adults aged 18 to 64.

The Personal Care at Home Bill is a step towards setting up a new national care service.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. I am reluctant to stop the Minister, but she is in danger of talking about a kind of accommodation that is not before the House today. Limited reference to that is in order, but the Bill is specifically about care homes and sheltered accommodation and the way that pets can be dealt with in such accommodation.

Gillian Merron: I understand that point, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This is an extremely important issue, and I simply wished to illustrate that one thing that we can do is assist people in making their own decisions and in
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being equipped to keep their independence in their own home. That includes being able to keep their pets.

There are huge challenges to making such changes. However, it is important to end the lottery of charging for personal care so that we can have a fairer, simpler and more affordable system in order to have national consistency as well as better information and advice. That would give people a greater chance of staying in their own home through reablement or early intervention. It would prevent people from becoming more dependent and would help them to regain more independence in order to allow them to stay in their own home. People tell us that they want to remain in their own home, and I am in no doubt that that is not just about wishing to see familiar surroundings but about wanting to have support there and the companionship of pets. We want to help people become more independent in the community. That is of benefit to the people concerned, the community, and the national health service.

The other way in which we would seek to give people support so that they can remain in their own homes, where they can keep their pets, is by having extra care housing. That, too, provides independence and choice to people with care and support needs. It is innovative housing with a care option, 24-hour support, meals, domestic help, and leisure and recreation facilities, in an environment that is genuinely safe for the tenants. That could be a modern-day alternative to residential care, and the challenge before us-the question of whether pets are allowed-would not have to be considered. The Government have made many millions of pounds available to extend independence and choice.

There is no doubt in my mind that the Bill has been introduced with absolutely the best of intentions, and I again commend the hon. Member for Eastbourne and my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe for bringing this serious matter before the House. It deals with independence and dignity, and enables us to see and acknowledge the role that pets have to play, but as I said, I do not believe that there is one simple way of achieving the aim, and that is why it is important to refer to the fact that more people should have the chance to make their own decisions on pets, as on many other matters.

The Government understand and very much share the sentiment behind the Bill, and are sympathetic to its aims. I would like to restate that we do not wish there to be any move in the other direction-a point that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. We do not want there to be any ban on pets in care homes or sheltered housing.

However, the challenge before us is that, as we know, the parliamentary timetable will not allow the Bill to succeed. As the hon. Gentleman has acknowledged, there are practical obstacles to implementing the Bill on this important matter. For those reasons, I ask him whether he will withdraw it in its current form. I offer to
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have discussions with him and others to find a way forward, because what is most important is that we put first the interests of those who, unwillingly, find themselves potentially or actually separated from their pets. We must also work with those who provide the care and accommodation; I know that that, too, is of interest to him.

We do not, at this stage, actively oppose the Bill, but we seek a way of making a practical difference to the people who rely on us to assist them to find greater dignity and independence, and greater companionship from their pets.

2.3 pm

Mr. Waterson: I thank all those who have spoken in this debate, and I am delighted that there is such consensus among all parties that the proposals are a good idea. I especially thank the Minister, who has taken real trouble to go into the matter in such depth. I particularly endorse what she said about the Cinnamon Trust and other bodies that are involved with the issue generally.

I remind the House that the Bill is directed entirely at people who are obliged, through their life circumstances, to go into care homes or sheltered accommodation. It has no ambitions to go beyond that and look at the issue of long-term care; I leave it to greater minds than mine to address that conundrum in due course.

I am grateful for the Minister's suggestion that I withdraw the Bill to hold further discussions, and I hope she will not take it amiss if I decline that kind offer. I do, however accept, her offer of lack of opposition to, if not support for, the Bill as it stands. She is, of course, absolutely right: thanks to the exigencies of the electoral process, the Prime Minister finally has to have a general election, whether he likes it or not-it cannot come too soon, as far as I am concerned-and the Bill will not, in practical terms, make any more progress. Ordinarily, it would go into Committee, and that would be the right moment at which to address the practicalities that have rightly been raised in debate by everybody, including the Minister.

However, I should like to test the mood of the House on the proposals. Who knows, but in the next Parliament a new Government might take an even more enthusiastic position on the idea than the present Government, or another Member might be fortunate enough to win in the ballot and put it forward for a third time. In any event, I should like to see whether the House is prepared to give the Bill a Second Reading. That would send a message, on behalf of all parties, to people out there who are affected that we do care, we do understand and we want to do something about the problems.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time; to stand committed to a Public Bill Committee (Standing Order No. 63).

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Marine Accident Investigation Branch (Reports) Bill

Second Reading

2.5 pm

David Cairns (Inverclyde) (Lab): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I introduce the Bill in memory of my constituents Mr. Eric Blackley, Mr. Robert Cameron, Mr. Stephen Humphreys and Mr. Brian Aitchison, who died on 19 December 2007 when the Greenock-based tug, the Flying Phantom, sank in thick fog on the River Clyde. I set out all the reasons why the Bill is necessary when I introduced it as a ten-minute Bill on 20 October 2009, and I will not test the patience of the House by repeating all the arguments that I made then.

The Bill is extremely simple-two clauses, one substantive clause-and gives force of law to recommendations from the statutory reports from the marine accident investigation branch. I am entirely realistic about where we are in the parliamentary timetable, but granting the Bill a Second Reading will be a small step on the road to justice for the men who died, and will give some comfort to the noble grieving widows, whom I have met, and who strike me as women who are not seeking riches or for heads to roll, but who are seeking to ensure that no other families have to endure the awful and terrible suffering they have had to endure. I commend the Bill to the House.

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