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I am glad that the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, referred to the mental health of service men and women who have left the Armed Forces. Just last week I discussed these issues with a group of wives of soldiers from the Fourth Battalion The Rifles. It is of great concern and is something that we are working across government to try to improve. The Secretary of State today announced six mental health projects for ex-service men and women, and I hope that they will pay dividends. I pay tribute to the excellent aftercare scheme in Northern Ireland, but Northern Ireland is different from the rest of the United Kingdom. It is clear that there should, and must, be better data sharing. I recognise that more joined-up action is necessary when those who have served in the Armed Forces join civvy street, but I believe that we are fulfilling the military covenant, which we respect. I cite, for example, the provision of healthcare in theatre and at Selly Oak, which is second to none.
The noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, naturally focused our attention on dentistry. I note what he said about the Steele report and the Warburton review. I put it on record that access to NHS dentistry is growing. The latest data show that access has grown for the fourth quarter running, with 721,000 more patients accessing NHS services in the 24 months ending June 2009 compared with the 24 months ending June 2008. We welcome Professor Steele's report. He is right to say that changes to the dental contract will need to be carefully piloted. I am delighted to mark Mouth Cancer Action Month, which is terribly important. This was referred to by both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes. The national screening committee is conducting a consultation on how current knowledge about the incidence and treatment of oral cancer compares to the committee's criteria for population screening programmes. The main stakeholder organisations for cancer and dentistry have been informed of the consultation and how the consultation document can be accessed on the NSC's website.
The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, spoke of her concern about nursing degrees. Raising the minimum level of education programmes to degree level is essential in ensuring that future nursing students are fully prepared to undertake the new roles and responsibilities that will be expected of them by the end of the programme. The different structure of programmes will also ensure that all newly registered nurses are competent in meeting the basic care needs of all people as well as being able to deliver complex care in their chosen field. She is, of course, absolutely right to stress the importance of quality care because that is what all our citizens deserve and expect when they are in hospital.
On personal care at home, I am grateful for the support and the views expressed by many noble Lords, including the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester. More and more of us are living longer. That means that more of us will need care in our old age. The current care system was designed in the 1940s. We need to develop a system that fits our needs
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The noble Lord, Lord Rix, recognised the progress that had been made for people with learning disabilities, but reminded us of the challenges that remain. I am grateful for his manifesto suggestions. He was right to remind us that change must be accompanied by safeguards and that advocacy and support services are extremely important. He, too, rightly referred to the Personal Care at Home Bill.
There is a lot of misunderstanding in the Chamber about this Bill. It is very important not to conflate funding for a national care service and funding for the Government's Personal Care at Home Bill. One is about putting more money into the system as soon as possible to help people with the highest needs to live independently at home, as was clearly expressed by my noble friend Lady Pitkeathley. That is what the Personal Care at Home Bill is all about. However, we also need to consider how to develop a sustainable system for the future, which is why we have been consulting on how to build a fair, simple and affordable national care service for all adults.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Freud, that we have a proper strategy that is set out in the Green Paper, which was mentioned also by the noble Lord, Lord Best. He was right to say that we need a system that provides care and support to all who need it, whether they are at home or in residential care.
My noble friend Lord Warner made what was in many ways a Second Reading speech. He asked many pertinent questions and I will write to him on the issues; but such detailed consideration of the Bill is not appropriate this afternoon. My noble friend also suggested that the Bill has few friends outside government. That is not true: I disagree with him fundamentally. I could cite many quotations but will choose just one. Imelda Redmond, chief executive of Carers UK, said:
I turn to education and first echo the wise words of the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, who said that to defend a civilisation we need schools, and that we should celebrate
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Many of our proposed reforms have been consulted on since the end of last year and are widely recognised as good practice. Now we must make sure that every child, young person and family benefits equally-this is precisely what the legislation will afford. Secondary legislation will be proportionate and subject to consultation and laying before Parliament. We make no apologies for the guarantees, which are the means of ensuring that every child and family across the country that uses schools and services will get the opportunities, support and advice that they deserve.
Much was said about the primary curriculum. It has not been revised for nine years, so it is right and proper that this should be done now. However, it is being revised in consultation with the teachers who will teach the curriculum. It is not being imposed on them: we are working with them to develop a new curriculum.
The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, rightly spoke about the link between social background and the economic performance of children. That is one reason that we established Sure Start, which is one of our great strengths. Sure Start and children's centres are doing an extraordinary job-I am glad to say that there are more than 3,000 of them. I am glad that the Conservatives have changed their policy on Sure Start-I really am glad, because it would be a disaster if Sure Start were ever to end. However, I am deeply concerned that they want to cut resources for Sure Start in order to fund health visitors. I recognise, as the noble Earl said, that we need more health visitors; but I would not wish to see funds for Sure Start or children's centres cut in order to provide more health visitors.
Earlier, I mentioned my admiration for teachers. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, that we must enhance the status of teachers and trust them. I believe that we have re-established the status of teachers, although there is much more to be done. We have given them more professional training and development, and I agree that a licence to practise is the next step forward in that process.
My noble friend Lady Massey spoke of the poverty of kinship carers. The Government welcome and praise the work of kinship carers, and that will indeed be a focus of the Child Poverty Bill. The definition of a parent under the Children Act 1989 is anyone with parental responsibility for a child, including step-parents, guardians and those with residence orders.
The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, with whom I have the honour of serving on the board of the National Botanic Garden of Wales, reminded us that delivery is sometimes even more important than legislation. He is right that the transition from education to employment is a key phase for young people, and we fail them if we do not provide them with the requisite skills for that transition. However, that is precisely
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The noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, reminded us of the excellent Home Start scheme and family intervention projects. She is correct when she says that the family must be at the centre of our criminal prevention services. That is happening, and I shall gladly provide the noble Baroness with further information.
The noble Baroness, Lady Garden of Frognal, mentioned personal, social and health education, and I am grateful for her support. This Government have always been clear: parents bring up children; government do not. However, schools do have a role in ensuring that children and young people are well prepared for adult life. That is what good PSHE teaching is all about. Children today are growing up in a complex and changing world, and ensuring that they have correct, consistent information rather than playground myth will help to preserve their innocence as well as prepare them for adult life. Of course, PSHE is a key part of the core curriculum, and therefore I assure noble Lords that it will be properly funded.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln is right to say that not everything can be measured. However, it is right to ask parents and pupils what they think, and that is why the school report card is particularly important. It will provide a clearer, more balanced and comprehensive account of each school's performance. That will complement Ofsted's inspection reports, inform parents' choice of school and improve a school's accountability to parents. It will also bring together a range of information in one easily accessible place.
Clearly the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, does not like the part of the Bill relating to home education. However, the Government are committed to supporting its continuation as a choice for parents. Registration and monitoring will give local authorities the tools that they need to tackle the small number of cases where the education provided is not good enough. It will also ensure that in future there is a clearer picture on home-educated children. Home-educating families are doing a fine job and are co-operating with reasonable requests from their local authority; they will find little difference in their lives.
Finally, turning to the debates on the gracious Speech as a whole, I think we can say both that we have had a series of excellent debate days and that we have considered fully the issues at the heart of the Government's programme for this final parliamentary Session before a general election. All sides have put their points of view, just as all sides will do in the Session to come and in the election that follows it. Those different viewpoints will indeed be set out in this legislative programme, in this Session of Parliament
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In closing today's debate and the debates on the whole of the gracious Speech, I return to my first remarks as the debates opened. I look forward to the arguments that we will have; I look forward to our debates in this House; and I look forward to the election to come.
That the promoters of the Leeds City Council Bill and Reading Borough Council Bill, which were originally introduced in this House in Session 2007-08 on 22 January 2008, should have leave to proceed with the Bills in the current Session according to the provisions of Standing Order 188B (Revival of Bills).
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