§ Question again proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.11.59 am
§ Mrs. Laing
I should have liked to say something on behalf of my constituents in Epping Forest who depend so much on the underground, but I shall instead take up my speech where I left off. I was speaking on behalf of my constituents and expressing their concerns about the method by which they may or may not have to pay for long-term care.
Essex—unlike Wiltshire, which my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire described earlier—has decided to sell nursing homes into the private sector in order to raise capital to improve them and to provide greater resources to look after people who need care in their later years. I warmly welcome that decision: it means that resources will be used more efficiently. Let us hope that the county councillors of Wiltshire learn something from the county councillors of Essex.
I join other hon. Members in paying tribute to the various organisations that have helped to bring the Bill before the House, notably Help the Aged and Age Concern.
It is an important point of principle that people who work hard and save throughout their lives should not be treated unfairly compared with people who spend their earnings as they get them. It is not surprising that many people feel that they have been disadvantaged because they have worked hard, saved, put their money into their house, wanting something to pass onto their children and grandchildren. That is a perfectly respectable and understandable human feeling.
It is not surprising that many such people resent the fact that a person living next door might have, for example, not bought his council house and instead simply continued to pay rent, not put any of his own resources into looking after his house or his community, not spent money on his family, not taken any steps to save and therefore had plenty of money to spend during his earning years, only to have his bills paid for by the state. Such a situation is patently unfair and widely recognised as such.
My main worry about the effect of the policy of certain councils on people approaching their later years arises from the anxiety in which those people live because of their fear of losing their homes. A home is not just an asset or a financial figure on paper; it is very much part of a person's life and of a family's life, especially as people approach their later years.
About one in five—a large number—of older people find that they have to go into residential accommodation. Professor Hamnett, of King's college, London, in his paper, "Inheritance in Britain: the Disappearing Millions" has estimated that, in recent years, 40,000 homes have had to be sold in Britain in order to meet the costs of long-term care.
We must go further—I hope that the Government will consider the points that I have made and go further—than the Bill suggests. I hope that they will create incentives to encourage people to save by means of pensions and 1558 other savings schemes so that they can pay for their own residential care, should that become necessary, and protect their own homes and family assets.
§ Mr. Tredinnick
My hon. Friend refers to some important statistics. Has she looked at other statistics on the number of elderly people going into residential care? Can we be sure that the figures are accurate, and on what basis does she make her assertions?
§ Mrs. Laing
I am relying on the figures of Professor Hamnett of King's college, London. I have read other studies. I cannot give my hon. Friend statistics here and now, but I am pretty certain, having examined various academic studies on this subject, as well as figures from Government Departments, that the figures to which I have referred are close to the reality of the situation.
Vast numbers of people are concerned about paying for residential care. It is partly a good-news story: so many more people are going into residential homes because, happily, people are living longer. Many of them can have a good standard of living when they go into residential homes. I am sure that we all welcome that, but there is a problem in paying for such care. It is unfortunate that the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not take up any of those issues in his Budget statement earlier this week. It should be incumbent on the Government to take steps to encourage people to make provision to pay for themselves when they go into residential care.
As I was saying before my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (Mr. Tredinnick) made his excellent intervention, Conservative Governments over 18 years created a property-owning democracy of a sort never seen before in western Europe. Conservative Governments gave everyone the chance to own property and to take part in what has become known as the cascade of wealth—[Interruption.] Labour Members mock, but, in talking about wealth, I do not mean riches. I mean the little nest egg that everyone in Britain now has the chance to build up for himself and to pass on—I cannot understand why Labour Members mock this idea—to their families. That is an integral part of family life stemming from general ownership of property.
§ Mr. Grieve
Does my hon. Friend agree that if more wealth cascaded down the generations, the balance of the need for residential care, as against the ability of families to look after their elderly relatives, might change?
§ Mrs. Laing
My hon. Friend makes a good point. I shall have to consider it more deeply before I can say whether I utterly agree with him. I certainly agree with him about encouraging the cascade of wealth.
I do not know why the Minister mocks the idea. I am talking about wealth, not riches. The House will understand that I am talking about the small nest egg, to which everyone is entitled if he or she has worked hard and paid tax on earnings.
I thoroughly support the principle that lies behind the Bill. When people put the money that they have earned and paid tax on into their own homes, their homes should be protected as far as possible and as far as the Exchequer and the Department of Social Services can afford. The Bill goes some way to help people when they most need it.
1559 It is interesting that clause 1 applies to the National Assistance Act 1948 and clause 2 applies to the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968. Clause 3 explicitly states that clause 1 should extend to England and Wales only and that clause 2 should extend to Scotland only. The Bill proves that the House—this Parliament, the House of Lords and the Commons put together—is capable of making legislation for England and Wales, and for Scotland, taking into consideration two different legal systems and the different legislation that is in force in the two different parts of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
So far, I have found the hon. Lady to be in order, but I shall listen carefully to what she has to say.
§ Mrs. Laing
I am speaking precisely to the very words on the Bill. I do not believe that I am deviating at all. It is an important matter. The House is perfectly capable of making legislation—such as the legislation that will result from the Bill—that applies to different parts of the United Kingdom in slightly different ways but which has the same force. Therefore, my point is that a Parliament in Scotland and an assembly in Wales are unnecessary.
§ Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster)
I shall be extremely brief. I shall make one point on a subject about which we are all concerned: reducing the anxieties of the elderly.
The present Opposition have on the whole been more generous in letting private Members' Bills through at half-past Two on Friday afternoons. This debate constitutes a first opportunity to speak on the Bill. Bills such as this always represent a quarry to which people can return after the event.
I have paid Sefton borough council the compliment of seeking to understand its logic. Its concern was partly with those who had made prior arrangements for themselves. Such arrangements can include purchasing a flat in a wardened block. My brief speech is based on the experience of a member of my family and the distress that selling one's home always occasions to those who go into residential care. If this obliges me to declare a personal but academic interest, I am happy to do so.
The relevant member of my family bought, at the age of 84, a flat in such a block which, I understand, was regarded as the best block in the town. I shall not embarrass the public company that built and marketed the flats by identifying it, but I gather that that process constitutes its business. When my relative died five years later, it was clear that the resale value of the flats was less than 50 per cent. of the value at which they were originally marketed, and that was in an era when the housing market, with improvements in the economy, was in much better shape than it had been five years previously.
Because of her death, my relative mercifully did not have to go into residential care, but the trauma of selling one's home is enormously exacerbated if private 1560 arrangements for not depending on residential care—a subject in which Sefton evinced an interest—lead to so dramatic a loss of capital value. Help the Aged has been congratulated on its help in preparing the Bill and in drawing attention to this subject. It should also be warmly congratulated on setting up a national marketing scheme for the resale of such flats to make up for the failure of the contingent arrangements of the public company's programme.
§ Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield)
I am happy to be able to participate briefly in the debate. I can see the look of relief that has come across the Minister's face after hearing that information.
§ The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Mr. Ian McCartney)
It is unusual for a barrister to be brief.
§ Mr. Grieve
Barristers can be brief. Indeed, one feature of being a barrister is that, because we are in front of a judge who can pull us up short—with perhaps even greater promptitude than you do, Mr. Deputy Speaker—which encourages brevity, we sometimes make skeleton arguments. If the Minister wants me to elaborate on that, I shall take longer.
The Bill is to be commended. The hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Singh), who introduced it and has steered it through the House, has undoubtedly done a considerable service.
It is interesting to note a change in the approach of Labour Members towards legislation of this kind. To be fair to Sefton borough council, although I cannot think of a good word to say about its conduct in this matter, it was simply applying a strictly financial approach without regard to the emotional suffering that it might cause elderly people in cleaning them of virtually all their assets before it was prepared to step in and help. It is interesting and noteworthy that the Bill marks a change, in that Parliament is setting a benchmark in saying that it is important that elderly people in reduced circumstances, but who nevertheless have saved up capital assets, should be able to keep some measure of those assets when the local authority steps in to help them because they are in need of care. I believe that that is right.
I made a point to my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing), who is no longer in the Chamber, about encouraging the cascading of wealth down the generations, by which I mean that people should be able to pass on some inheritance to those who follow them. That is important in setting up a nexus society that may ultimately reduce the need for institutional care. It encourages the younger generation to look after their parents and grandparents wherever possible.
It is clear that the Bill will not get round the problem of rogue borough or district councils failing to assess whether a person is in need of care and attention. I hope that that simply will not arise. The spirit of the Bill is clear. If it were to arise, the possibility of seeking judicial review would always be present.
I now come to my final remark. The Minister will have to accept that I have made probably the briefest speech in the debate. The Sefton case is an interesting example of judicial intervention in regulations. It is noteworthy that 1561 no hon. Member has criticised the way in which the Court of Appeal came to its decision either for its logic or for the fact that the decision embodied not only legal but moral considerations. We are considering the incorporation of the European convention on human rights. It is sometimes said against the convention that human rights are a political matter on which the courts should not be able to pronounce. The Sefton case illustrates that the courts are often required to pronounce on matters that have a political dimension and they generally succeed in doing so without difficulty and without causing an excessive number of ruffled feathers among parliamentarians in this Chamber.
I reiterate my thanks to the hon. Member for Bradford, West for introducing the Bill. It is reasonable, it is short and it has commanded support on both sides of the House, which is what I have always been told a private Member's Bill ought to seek to do. It deserves to be given its Third Reading today.
§ Mr. Stephen Pound (Ealing, North)
I reiterate the apology made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Singh) for having to leave early. The reason he left says less about his respect for the House than about the length of post office queues in Bradford. He would not have left if he had had any alternative.
My hon. Friend asked me to spend the 24 hours before this morning's debate studying all available documentation on Sefton borough council—actuarial tables and details of the Acts, byelaws and judicial decisions affecting it. I have spent all night poring over tomes and volumes in anticipation of telling, forensic points reaching me from the Opposition Benches. I am relieved, perhaps grateful and possibly disappointed that Opposition Members' comments tended by the minute to be less and less to do with the subject that we are debating. We have heard about the effect of petrol duty on rural gas guzzlers, an exegesis on the Bradford wool trade and we have even wandered off into the byways of the national lottery. If these are friends of my hon. Friend's Bill, Lord protect me from my friends.
We came eventually to passion and the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing)—an association that many of us in the House would make. She referred to the passion that the Bill should engender. In conversations with my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West, I detected his passionate commitment to this vital issue and I hope that hon. Members detected it in his speech. To right a wrong is one of the noblest reasons for seeking election to the House. My hon. Friend's Bill would right a wrong; would that all of us could say at the end of our time here that we had achieved as much.
I am delighted to wind up the debate on behalf of my hon. Friend. I have not had to respond to telling speeches from Opposition Members: most of them were supportive, if a little discursive. I strongly commend the Bill to the House and to the nation.
§ Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire)
I apologise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Singh), the promoter of the Bill, 1562 for not being present for the opening speeches. I came down from Shropshire this morning and, foolishly, thought that the statement by the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions would be made first.
I strongly congratulate the hon. Member for Bradford, West on the Bill. I have a little experience in this area and should declare an interest. In 1907, a cottage hospital was built in Ellesmere by Louisa Jebb, sister of Eglantyne Jebb, the founder of Save the Children, to serve the needs of a small rural community. It was confiscated by the state when the national health service was created in 1947 and included in the round of 13 cottage hospital closures in Shropshire in 1987. The concept of the time was to concentrate NHS efforts in large district general hospitals such as those in Telford and Shrewsbury.
There was extraordinary local reaction and I became involved in the local campaign. Ellesmere was the last hospital to close, although it had only 13 beds. The Under-Secretary looks puzzled, but I am bringing the matter up to emphasise the intense feeling in small towns in rural areas about retaining facilities and keeping people near to where they live. There was fierce hostility to elderly people going to Telford or down to Shrewsbury and blocking up high-tech beds when they would have been much better kept at home.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. We are going wide of the Third Reading debate. The hon. Gentleman should not try to turn the debate into a general discussion of the health service.
§ Mr. Paterson
I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was giving background information, because I must declare my interest. I became involved in the action group that formed a trust and raised £250,000 to buy the hospital and another £250,000 to refurbish and run it as a nursing home. I was deputy chairman of the trust and chairman of the management board that ran the nursing home until I was elected to the House.
That involvement gave me a great deal of experience, and I strongly support the Bill. I could cite numerous cases of elderly couples being forced to separate, such as a couple in the first intake into the nursing home. The lady had to go into the home because of infirmity and the husband was left on his own. They were separated for a traumatic 18 months until she died. He had run down the family finances to pay for her stay in the nursing home and ultimately had to sell their only asset—their house. He also ended up in the nursing home.
The Under-Secretary is kindly listening intently. Will he address the inflexibility of the current rules, which was picked up on by my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe)? From 6 April 1998, the Department of Social Security will contribute £318 a week to a person's nursing care; £333 a week to the care of elderly mentally infirm people; £213 a week to low dependency people and £247 a week to high dependency people in residential care; and £262 to the care of elderly mentally ill people.
1563 We should consider the couple I mentioned. I put it to the Under-Secretary that the money would be better spent on home visits by carers. A visit by a carer to a private home costs £5 an hour. An agency might charge £6.50 an hour. Three visits might be made daily. An overnight stay might cost £5 an hour for nine hours, which is £45 a night.
My arithmetic may be wrong—perhaps it should be corrected by an education Minister—but if I am right the total would be £462 a week for a couple. Surely the best reason for spending that money would be to keep couples together in their own homes. Nevertheless, I strongly support the main drift of the Bill—the aim of raising the threshold to £16,000 so that couples are not split.
I should like, finally, to take up a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing): I think it important to ensure that assets are kept in a family and that they can be passed on to the next generation.
§ Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)
I am delighted to have the opportunity to say a few words about the merits of the Bill. First, however, let me echo the remarks of those who have welcomed the initiative taken by the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Singh) in introducing it. Any of us who have ever piloted a Government Bill through the House will have found it a fairly challenging experience; to take on a private Member's Bill and steer it through all its processes is a remarkable task, and the hon. Gentleman has performed it with distinction.
The hon. Gentleman is possibly one of life's pessimists. He said that he would be unable to stay because he was opening a post office. I see from his entry in Dod's that he has a majority of 3,877—considerably larger than my own majority. I should have thought that he would not feel it necessary to open a post office, but he clearly sees things differently. That is fair enough, and we all understand why he cannot be here.
As a number of hon. Members have already pointed out, there seems to be a feeling abroad that it is strange that a number of my hon. Friends want to examine more closely a Bill which, so far, has gone through all its stages without any real debate. I think I am right in saying that one organisation with an interest in the subject was slightly concerned that the Bill had been objected to formally on an earlier occasion. That happened, of course, to ensure that it would be debated. [Laughter.] The Under-Secretary of State for Health obviously thinks that, if the people have spoken, there is no need to scrutinise legislation. That is an interesting idea, but it is profoundly undemocratic. My hon. Friends and I are deeply wedded to all the principles of democracy, one of which, surely, is that a proper debate should take place.
I shall say more shortly about what the consequences would have been if the matter had not been debated. First, however, let me offer a cautionary tale to hon. Members, and also to people outside who have been concerned. Another measure went through the House with all-party agreement—very quickly, as I recall. That was the legislation relating to the Child Support Agency, which is directly relevant to today's Third Reading. The fact that the legislation was agreed by everyone meant that it was not scrutinised.
There cannot be a Member of Parliament who has not found—from his postbag, in his constituency surgeries or perhaps in the case of his friends and relations—that a 1564 good idea that was not sufficiently scrutinised has turned out to be a nightmare in practice. I hope that the Minister will, in due course, join me in saying—after all, he is a fair-minded man on occasion—that this is an excellent Bill, but one which needed scrutiny.
There is another aspect to the Bill, which makes it slightly strange that it has received such a welcome. To an extent, it is retrospective legislation. Normally, the House would not approve of that. At first sight, not many people would feel very comfortable about the idea that a court can come to a settled view and Parliament can simply overturn that view. The fact that that has been done in this instance—and, as I recall, both Front Benches pledged themselves to introduce legislation to reverse the effect of the second judgment—says something important about the underlying principles of the Bill, and about what Sefton really meant. The underlying theme that the Court of Appeal ultimately had to deal with in Sefton was the narrow point—important to the person concerned—about an elderly person's resources being run down in a fairly callous way. That opened up the debate about the state's share of paying for the welfare of the elderly and the role of the private citizen. That debate underlies the Bill and Third Reading.
We cannot begin to assess the Bill's merits and deficiencies, to which I shall return, without addressing the conflict between what the state pays and what an individual should pay. That problem has been inherent and implicit in the welfare state since its conception. It is only fairly recently that the conflict has entered the public domain and has caused the problems that were encountered in Sefton. There are two reasons for the conflict. First, people are living a great deal longer. That is sometimes thought to be a problem for society but as somebody who intends to live for a long time, that concept is fine. However, it has some implications.
In the period between 1951 and 1996, the number of 65-year-olds increased by about 60 per cent. while those over the age of 75 increased by 136 per cent. That is a success story and we all hope to aspire to that, but it carries implications for society. We must take into account the fact that people are living much longer. There is another important but. People nowadays have vastly more resources: there is evidence of that on the Government Benches. At one time, money to leave to one's children was the province of the fairly wealthy. As a result of 18 years of Conservative government—[Interruption.] An hon. Member mouths, "We are all Tories now", but I do not accept that.
After 18 years of Conservative government an increasing number of people, who once upon a time would have died after a long and worthwhile life and left nothing to their dependants are living a great deal longer. They have assets to leave behind and they do not want the state apparently to welsh on its deal.
Underlying Sefton and implicit in some of the submissions to it, was the idea that in some way the state—the local authority, call it what we will—was reneging on a deal. That deal was accepted to be, erroneously as I shall show, that when people reached old age, having paid national insurance contributions, they were entitled to be looked after for ever and a day, whether care was needed for one year or three years, or whether people lived to the age of 100 or beyond. The problem with that is that it is based on the false premise 1565 that, having paid national insurance contributions, people have paid for care in a nursing home, a retirement home or a hospital.
§ Mr. Boateng
The hon. Gentleman is talking about the legacy of a Government in which he played a small, brief and not particularly distinguished part.
§ Mr. Nicholls
The hon. Gentleman indulges in these petty brushes to try to assert a radical agenda. I was delighted to play an all-too-brief but extremely significant part in the previous Administration. I shall deal with it in due course in my autobiography, and I shall give the hon. Gentleman the opportunity to read it so that he may know my contribution.
§ Mr. Nicholls
I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was led astray, although I should not have been, by the Minister. I should have known better.
Sefton illustrated that the concordat between the citizen and state simply breaks down and it is for this reason. There is no doubt that what gave the applicant the moral right in the Sefton case to say, "I have paid my dues over the years. Now I should be supported," was whatever national insurance contributions had been made during that person's lifetime, but it is not the moral obligation that matters in the end. It is who is going to pay for that person's care. The trouble with national insurance—and it never ceases to amaze me how little this is understood in the public at large—is that it is not a funded scheme.
The level of health care that people receive depends not on the amount of contributions that they will have paid in their lifetime, but on the taxpayer's ability at the time they need it to fund that level of care. We have an increasingly growing and aging population, so more and more people are going to depend on the state's largesse and fewer taxpayers are going to be there to discharge that obligation daily.
§ Mr. Nicholls
I will give way in just one moment. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for conceding by his intervention that I am making profound points to which he wants to refer.
The problem that society will have to face is that there will simply not be enough money by conventional means to discharge the state's obligation.
§ Mr. Pound
I was waiting for the hon. Gentleman to draw breath before I intervened, but, as there seemed little likelihood of his pausing, I interrupted him. He made a 1566 remark earlier that Labour Members were mouthing the expression, "We are all Tories now." Having done a quick consultation with the massed ranks of the honest democratic socialists who sit around me, may I say that not one of us will admit to having said anything even remotely like that, so, for the sake of the record of the nation, will he either withdraw that remark or attempt to pin it on someone?
§ Mr. Nicholls
The hon. Gentleman has made a contribution that has been noted by the hon. Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland), the Government Whip, and an off-message remark. I will not get taken too far down that road. The hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Pound) has wrecked what might have been a promising parliamentary career. I compliment him for his bravery. The interesting thing that one should mention is that the Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry, the hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney), described himself as a socialist Member of Parliament on his headed notepaper before the last election.
§ Mr. Nicholls
I am sorry. This is the problem about taking interventions and I must apologise for it.
Going back to the Sefton judgment, there was no great surprise that the matter was going to come before the courts in due course because of the underlying problem about how the state discharges its responsibility to those within its care.
There is another reason why, to an extent, the Sefton judgment was not at all surprising. I wondered whether my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) was going to go on to that point. He said that, in the debate so far, we had not examined in any great detail the way in which the Court of Appeal had handled the judgment. There is something in that.
§ Mr. Garnier
I know that my hon. Friend was listening intently to my remarks earlier, when I intended to do precisely that: to analyse what the Court of Appeal had said. Unfortunately and perfectly correctly, Mr. Deputy Speaker advised me to return more closely to the Bill. Although I had a desire to analyse the judgment, unfortunately, the rules of the House prevented me from doing so.
§ Mr. Nicholls
It is clear that my hon. and learned Friend and I are, as it were, at a crossroads in relation to that point. Whereas he was moving away from the point in hand, I am moving towards it.
The interesting thing about the Court of Appeal's judgment was that this problem had not arisen before. If one considers the words of the statute, one is bound to ask why some inventive council had not looked at section 22 of the National Assistance Act 1948 and said to itself, "This is the sort of thing that we might be able to exploit," if I can put it like that, "to be able to avoid our responsibilities." When preparing for the debate, I was interested in the fact that there had been no attempt to use that provision.
1567 It is obvious from the judgment—and I refer to the report of it by Lawtel—that the Court of Appeal was dealing with the age-old problem of deciding where it wanted to be and then plotting the course to get there. The judgment concluded:It was clear from the evidence that Sefton accepted that the applicant, Mrs Blanchard met its own threshold requirements as a person in need of care and attention. Notwithstanding this, what it was seeking to do was to say that because of its lack of resources it was not prepared to meet the duty which was placed upon it by the section. This it was not entitled to do.When one sets that ruling in the context of the facts and the judgment as a whole, it is clear that the Court of Appeal was saying that it would not put up with the implications of the Sefton case and would do its level best to deal with the problem.
§ Sir Nicholas Lyell
My hon. Friend makes a point that is highly pertinent to the Third Reading of the Bill, in which we are approving of the Bill's effect, as far as it goes, but are seeking to clarify where that leads us. In the Court of Appeal judgment, Lord Woolf says that the local authoritywas not entitled to do that. Once the authority was satisfied that Mrs Blanchard was 'in need of care and attention' unless it could rely on the words 'which is not otherwise available to them' it was under an obligation to fulfil its duty and a lack of resources was no excuse.The point that is so relevant to Third Reading is that the local authority—
§ Mr. Nicholls
No, it will not, and my right hon. and learned Friend is correct. The Bill will also not cover another point. Sefton sought to exploit the provision on resources in section 22. My reading of the Bill is that it contains nothing that would stop an unscrupulous council, under the earlier part of section 22, refusing to make an assessment until the person's resources had been wound down to such an extent that the exercise would become otiose.
§ Mr. Nicholls
I hope that the Minister is prepared, when he winds up, to do more than say no and to address the points that have been made by solicitors, barristers and Queen's counsel sitting on the Opposition Benches. If those points are not addressed, we will have produced a Bill that we all welcome—we will pat ourselves on the back for having done the job that we are sent here to do—but we will have failed. Scrutiny is necessary, and we had to have a Third Reading not to hold matters up, but to ensure that when the Bill is enacted—as I truly hope it will—it is in a fit and proper state. In my short remarks, I hope that I have played my part in flagging up for another place the fact that the Bill is good up to a point, 1568 but that much more would could be done on it. We look to the Minister not to indulge the petty brutalisms that he so much enjoys, but to answer the debate. If he did so, it would be the first time that I have heard him do so, but it would be a refreshing experience.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Paul Boateng)
Prevarication and delay are part of the armoury of Opposition. Having listened to Opposition Members today, I see that they have not yet learnt how to use that armoury as effectively as they might. They have certainly chosen an inappropriate target. Right hon. and hon. Members who attend the House on a Friday will have noticed, on previous occasions when the Bill has come before the House for consideration, that objection has been made time and again by Opposition Members. It is no wonder that the innocent onlookers who have written to the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) have suggested that some Opposition Members perhaps wish the Bill other than well.
§ Mr. Boateng
No, I will not give way to the right hon. Gentleman. He has objected in the past to the Bill without giving reasons for doing so, and there is no need for him to give reasons now.
§ Mr. Boateng
No, I shall finish my point. Conservative Members know very well what has been going on in the Bill's passage. The correspondents of the hon. Member for Teignbridge smelt a rat, but they—the innocent onlookers—smelt the wrong animal: they should have smelt a fox, because that is what has been behind the delay and prevarication characterising—
§ Mr. Boateng
No. The hon. Gentleman will have plenty of time, but not quite now.
The delay and prevarication—I will be the first to say it—has taken some amusing and entertaining forms. If one has nothing better to do with one's time, it might even have been quite pleasant to watch on the cable channel that devotes itself to such matters.
§ Mr. Garnier
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman heard you, 1569 Mr. Deputy Speaker, allowing me to make a point of order, which is this. The hon. Gentleman has had the Floor for three or four minutes and has yet to address himself to the Bill's content. I wonder whether I could ask you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to persuade him to do so, not least because he has made some abusive—
§ Mr. Boateng
I am much obliged, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was doing Opposition Members the courtesy of responding to them. Perhaps I was misguided, and should have ignored them completely by ploughing on? No, I wanted to show them—especially the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier)—the courtesy of giving them a response. In this debate, the hon. and learned Gentleman has been his usual, elegant self—I refer more to his figure of speech than to any other aspect of his presentation—treating us to a useful tour de force on the case. In its way, that was quite helpful. I am not sure that it progressed the debate very far, but it was elegantly done.
Other speeches were less elegant, but raised points that were undoubtedly of interest to those making them. If they were mined with a certain zeal, they might even provide something for local newspapers, as they frequently seemed to have some sort of constituency content. However, one or two points made in the debate deserve a serious response. I should like, very briefly, to tackle those.
There is a real issue, which is of the utmost importance and seriousness, which is why all hon. Members owe my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Singh) a debt of gratitude in raising the issue in the House. We particularly commend the role of Help the Aged and others in bringing some relief to those who suffered from the actions—or apprehension of possible action—of Sefton borough council and from the uncertainty surrounding the subsequent case.
Safeguarding a set amount of capital is of considerable importance to anyone entering residential or nursing home care and their families. Most people entering such care are very elderly and vulnerable and have saved all their lives to prepare for their old age. The Government certainly believe that we owe it to those senior citizens to protect a modest amount of their life savings and/or proceeds from the sale of the family home from being swallowed up entirely in care home fees. That can matter so much to older people, for whom being able to pass something on to their families or having a small nest egg for a rainy day is a source of pride. We do not refer to that as a cascade of wealth; it is the modest outcome of a life of prudence which ought to be recognised and rewarded, and certainly ought not to be penalised in the way it was by Sefton's actions, which, by taking away the last small amount of savings, threatened self-respect, 1570 independence and a sense of self-worth on the part of vulnerable individuals. We are determined that that should be protected. Indeed, that is why we welcome the Bill, and I am glad that my Department has been able to be of some assistance to my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West, as he graciously recognised. That is why I can give an assurance to Opposition Members who raised some concerns as to whether the Bill would achieve the purpose for which it was intended. I feel sure—and there is no reason to believe otherwise—that this modest and uncontroversial measure will achieve the purpose for which it was intended.
§ Sir Nicholas Lyell
I am grateful to the Minister, and I am encouraged that he feels sure that the Bill will succeed. Do I take it from him that he believes that this short Bill deals not merely with the narrow point in the Sefton case, but overcomes the rather broader case that I highlighted earlier so that, in future, a local authority will not be able to get out of its responsibilities by telling elderly people that they must spend any savings between £16,000 and £1,500 on home helps, for example, before they can be taken into residential care? Will the Minister clarify his view on that?
§ Mr. Boateng
I am happy to do just that. As Opposition Members will understand as many of them were in government at the time, although we maintain that it has always been clear that the intention of the policy was to do just that, if we left the Court of Appeal's judgment to stand on its own, there would always be the danger that some local authority would seek to use the law—either by leapfrogging the Court of Appeal and asking the House of Lords to revisit the matter or by some other ingenious attempt to get round what was a fine and useful judgment on the part of a distinguished court, as the hon. and learned Member for Harborough said—to thwart what we maintain is the intention of Parliament and what we understand to have been the policy underpinned by the decision of the Court of Appeal.
We already apprehend—which is why we welcome the Bill—from anecdotal evidence provided by Help the Aged and Age Concern that some local authorities are seeking to ignore the capital limits by using waiting lists, as the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell) suggested they might. That could result in elderly and disabled people being forced to enter residential care to spend any capital savings below the limit of £16,000 to pay for their care. That is why we felt it necessary to ensure that that should not happen by writing it into the law, as the Bill does.
The Bill makes clear the policy intention that anyone entering residential accommodation should be able to retain a nationally set amount of their capital, as determined by Parliament. Clause 1 amends section 21 of the National Assistance Act 1948 so that local authorities will have to disregard a person's capital up to the limit set out in the regulations when considering whether care and attention are "otherwise available" to them. That meets the point raised by Conservative Members, while retaining Parliament's right to review the £16,000 limit, which should not and will not be fixed in stone. That is important.
We are satisfied that the Bill serves a modest but useful purpose. My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West is to be congratulated on bringing it before the House. 1571 We all understand why he is unable to be with us as the Bill reaches its final stages. The House has given the Bill a thorough investigation and runaround.
§ Mr. Boateng
It certainly cannot be said that the Bill has passed without examination. All reasonable points have been satisfied. We wish the Bill well and a speedy entry into law.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.