HC Deb 05 May 2000 vol 349 cc459-71
Mr. Dismore

I beg to move amendment No. 28, in page 5, line 41, leave out subsections (2) to (6).

This is a relatively short probing amendment, which would delete the Bill's provisions dealing with its commencement and extent. I have tabled the amendment to put my hon. Friend the Minister on the spot and to give him the opportunity to tell the House when the Government want the Bill to come into effect.

Mr. Pendry

The amendment would cause the Bill to come into effect as an Act on the day on which it received Royal Assent. In general, the normal convention is that no Act or part of an Act should come into force earlier than two months after Royal Assent has been granted. It is desirable that at least a reasonable period should be allowed, and in this case time will be needed for consultation with interested parties on the content of policy, the guidance for local councils and the content of regulations. For that reason, the Bill, when enacted, should be brought into force by the commencement order.

Clause 11(5) provides that the Secretary of State may make an order extending the application of the Act to the Scilly Isles, if there are good reasons for so doing. Such an order would be subject to the negative procedure.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) will agree that the commencement and extent provisions are an integral part of the Bill, and that he will therefore withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Hutton

When he moved the amendment, my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) asked me to indicate how soon the Bill might be brought into effect after receiving Royal Assent. I made it clear in Standing Committee that the Government want the legislation to be in operation at the earliest possible opportunity.

The Bill is hugely important. For the first time, it will allow a range of services to be provided directly to carers. It provides and extends choice and opportunities in other areas as well. My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon is anxious to ensure that the Bill comes into effect as soon as possible; the Government are, too. We have not done all the work involved to amuse ourselves—we want to improve the services and support available to carers and to disabled children and their families, and thereby improve people's lives.

The Bill is an important step forward for carers and we do not intend to delay its implementation in any way. It will be introduced as soon as possible, but I hope that my hon. Friend will understand that I am not in a position today to give a precise date. However, I assure him and the House that we will not hang around; we want the legislation in place at the earliest possible opportunity.

Mr. Dismore

I am grateful for that assurance. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Order for Third Reading read.

1.44 pm
Mr. Pendry

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

As the House has heard, the Bill enjoys wide support among individual carers and also the voluntary organisations that want to ensure that the needs of carers, and of parent carers, are properly addressed. I have been extremely encouraged by the cross-party support for the Bill that has been evident throughout our proceedings, and I am grateful for it. I thank hon. Members from all parties who have made positive and constructive contributions and assisted the Bill's passage through the House.

I particularly wish to place on record my gratitude to my hon. Friend the Minister for all his help, not least for helping me today because of my recent illness. My thanks go to Patsy Holland from his Department, who has done sterling work in acquainting me with some of the details of the carers world, and to the Carers National Association and other caring organisations. From my own constituency, Carol Ann Morgan, an expert in children's disability, helped me enormously.

I was very touched by a little book by Leon Simons. For many years he looked after his wife, who had great disabilities. He wrote a book called "For the love of Lily", which I recommend to anyone who cares about these issues.

I also thank my friend of long standing, Lord Morris of Manchester, for his wise counsel. I have known him since the age of 15, when we were in the Labour league of youth. To them, and to many others, I give my thanks.

It is a fact that many of us, at some time in our lives, will care for someone else. We give care willingly, because we love those who are nearest and dearest, but for many that caring role will become a larger part of their lives, taking up more of their time, because someone close becomes ill or disabled. The care provided by the carers with whom the Bill deals is not provided on a formal basis by organised, paid professionals. Informal care delivered by family and close friends is provided unpaid; it draws on feelings of love and duty.

Caring is often very hard work and can be emotionally draining. It takes many forms within many types of relationship. Some caring takes place within families, where parents care for their ill or disabled children. Many such parents have provided full-time care since the birth of their child or shortly after, and expect the need for care to be lifelong. Parents may have been thrown unexpectedly into a caring relationship at the birth of their child. Today, with advances in medical treatment and health care, together with pre-natal screening, more parents are forewarned. However, being forewarned does not necessarily prepare parents for how their lives will change.

The onset of illness or disability can be sudden or gradual—sometimes there are elements of both. For example, multiple sclerosis can involve the gradual erosion of ability and a sudden loss of mobility. Parents of children with conditions such as schizophrenia may find themselves learning to cope with very violent behaviour.

Another type of care within families is that which one partner in a relationship gives to another. The circumstances that create the need for care can affect couples at different stages of their lives. In middle life, one partner may be diagnosed with arthritis, a condition that causes severe pain. As the condition deteriorates, more and more care becomes necessary. For some couples, one partner has, over time, become the full-time carer of the other. A stroke in later life can affect eyesight, leaving the stroke victim no longer able to read or complete forms and pay bills. Mobility may be seriously affected following a stroke, as may short-term memory.

Along with many of my hon. Friends, I am aware, from talking to my constituents in my surgeries, of the manifold problems that carers face. They often struggle to continue in their caring role and want help in maintaining their valuable contribution to the care of a loved one. Although the circumstances that lead people to become carers may be different, many of the difficulties faced by carers are common across their situations. The impact of caring on their lives can be similar, including the distress of seeing a loved one in pain, the emotional loss as the nature of the relationship changes, the effect of the caring relationship on other relationships, a sense of isolation and loneliness, and feelings of stress or depression.

I make no apologies for spelling out those examples. I am sure that many hon. Members could give examples of their own. I hope that the examples illustrate the importance of the Bill reaching the statute book. Recent years have seen a growing recognition of the importance of informal care and the effects on carers. In 1995, the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North (Mr. Wicks), who was here at the beginning of the debate, introduced the Carers (Recognition and Services) Bill. In 1998, the Prime Minister announced a Government-wide review of measures to help carers as part of a national strategy for carers. That strategy brings together a range of initiatives designed to address carers concerns and give them support.

The Bill is an attempt to change the law so that social services departments may, for the first time, offer support to carers and parent carers. That support will help carers to continue to care, and will assist carers in such a way that they can be assured that their own health and well-being are considered.

Clause 1 provides that a carer or parent carer has the right to ask for an assessment from a local council of his or her ability to provide, and to continue to provide, care for the cared-for person if he or she intends to provide substantial and regular care. The assessment will enable the local council to decide whether to provide services to the carer under clause 2 or the parent carer under the Children Act 1989. This is an important change to the way in which social services departments may provide support. The Bill focuses on enabling carers without detriment to their own health or well-being. There will be services which, although provided by the carer, may be delivered to the cared-for person by way of community care services.

For reasons that have already been outlined, I do not intend to speak for much longer. The Bill is extremely important. I sincerely hope that, having heard the debate today and in Committee, hon. Members will recognise that caring organisations and carers themselves look to us to ensure that it is carried.

1.51 pm
Mr. Edwards

I shall be brief. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member on Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) for all his work on the Bill. It has received all-party support and there has not been a Division throughout its progress.

The Bill is historic, redressing the balance by which the vast army of carers—thousands in every constituency—provide informal care for those whom they love. Often, even in our welfare state, that care has been provided without recognition, largely by women. It was regarded as part of the contractual duties of marriage, and married women and mothers provided care for disabled children, husbands, mothers, fathers or elderly relatives.

The Bill is important. My hon. Friend referred to the work of Lord Morris, who introduced the charter for the disabled, the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1972. The work of carers was not truly recognised until the 1970s. Once, at a conference, Professor Peter Townsend was told, "What you mean by care is care by women." Recognition has been slow of the incredible amount of care provided informally and sometimes at enormous cost. The Government, to their credit, have introduced the national carers strategy, in which the Prime Minister recognised his personal debt to carers in his own family. He also invited representatives of carers organisations to Downing street when he first came to office.

It has been a privilege to be associated with the passage of this important Bill. Some 10,000 carers in my constituency will be pleased that it has been passed, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde and everyone who has supported it.

1.54 pm
Mrs. Heal

I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) on successfully steering the Bill through its First and Second Readings, Committee Report and stages and now Third Reading. I welcome the amendments made today; they will help to clarify the Bill. We have had good discussions across the parties, which have produced unanimity. The amendments bring not only greater clarity but more consistency to legislation for carers. That is especially important.

The new clauses are significant; they put more decision making into the hands of carers. That, too, is of great importance. The amendment to clause 2 on agreement between the disabled person and the carer on service delivery decisions is especially relevant to the disabled person or the carer to whom the service is provided. It means that users will be able to shape their own lives. That is very much in the spirit of the report by Sir Roy Griffiths about a decade ago, in which he said that users should have that ability. He said that community care could not be properly achieved until carers were fully recognised and supported. The Bill, as amended, takes us closer to that aspiration.

I hope that my views will be shared by the many millions of carers and the representatives of carers organisations throughout the country. The Bill develops the aspirations of the national strategy for carers, which focuses on producing wider and better sources of information on the help and services available to carers.

Those of us who have been and are involved with carers—either professionally or as constituency Members—must never assume that carers know about the help and services available to them. Sadly, despite all the best efforts of many of the campaigning carers organisations, that is not the case. On a recent train journey, I met a friend—a former colleague who had retired. She had been the head of a sixth-form college and I assumed that she was enjoying her retirement. On that Monday, when she told me that she was looking forward to her day out, I am afraid that I assumed that it was only one of many days out that she was able to enjoy. However, during our conversation I discovered that it was a very special day for her—it was the first in 20 months that she had had any respite from caring for her husband, who had been a university lecturer but had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.

One might have expected that my friend would have known of the existence of the services and support available to carers—or at least have known where to find that information. She is an extremely intelligent woman, who is well informed on many subjects, but she said, "I have to admit I did not know where to go." Sadly, her GP was not helpful and had neither given her information nor opened gateways for her to obtain it. Since her husband's diagnosis, she had coped for 24 hours a day—for nearly 20 months. They had looked forward to a pleasant retirement, but instead she had been under a tremendous strain during that time. She said that it was almost unbelievable when, by accident, she heard a radio programme that mentioned respite care.

Suddenly, my friend realised that there was a chink of light at the end of the tunnel. With great tenacity, she asked questions—perhaps becoming in the eyes of some professionals a bit of a nuisance—and pursued information about which services were available. Hence, she was delighted when, ultimately, some seven months later, she achieved her goal of one day out a week—one day's break, one day's rest from the strain and emotional and physical difficulty of caring for her husband.

I quote that example as just one of many. Many of my hon. Friends would be able to give others. The Carers National Association and other organisations that support carers will repeat that story over and again. I say that not in any way to denigrate their work, but to prove how difficult it is for carers to recognise what they are doing and then to obtain information from which they may access the support and services that they require.

Support for carers must come from the communities in which they live. Local authorities have that responsibility, and voluntary organisations have the responsibility to assist in that and to provide the support. The carers strategy talks of independence, partnership and empowering carers so that they may make choices about their lives. Those words have been echoed around this Chamber on numerous occasions today.

We are talking about carers being able to maintain their health and exercise their independence, so that their role can be recognised by policy makers and statutory service providers. Giving strong support to carers over service planning and provision will help to ensure that they become partners in the statutory provision of care. The Bill will contribute to all that.

I should like to mention briefly two groups of carers in particular who I think will benefit from the Bill. Working carers will certainly do so. From guidance on the Bill, carers could be given much vital flexibility that they and their families need either to take up part-time or even full-time work. So many people have given up work to care—perhaps as many as 50 per cent. of carers at the heavy end of caring. Many regret having done so; even if it is not possible to return to work, the Bill will give them far more options.

I am particularly pleased with the Government's amendments on the position of parent carers. The impact on parents with disabled children, certainly of direct payments and of the entitlement to an assessment in their own right, will be particularly welcome. With direct payments, they will be able to decide what is best for their child, as every parent wishes. They will be able to engage one person who is trusted and known to provide a range of support for the child. It is of course easier for a child to build a relationship with one person.

Parent carers of disabled children want the flexibility to ensure that the services that they require are provided at their convenience, rather than that of the service provider. Direct payments for parent carers will enable them to arrange their services, fitting them around their family's life style. As the young person grows up, such payments will provide extra support so that, with help, the child can join in mainstream activities with other children. It makes much more sense.

Disabled people have called for direct payments for years. They have largely welcomed their introduction and called for their extension. I am delighted that the Bill extends the principle yet further to parents of disabled children and other carers. That will hugely benefit disabled people aged 16 and 17—again, I have a word of caution—as long as the right safeguards are introduced, as the Minister said in Committee he intended to do through guidance.

The Bill, as amended, will certainly present a new challenge to many, and that challenge is implementation. The Bill has still to pass through all its stages but, as we discuss the Bill, we must think about how it will be implemented. I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Minister is keen to provide more information for carers about their rights—a commitment given in Committee. That is exactly what is needed and should have been provided when the Carers (Recognition and Services) Act 1995 was introduced. We now have the benefit of experience and can do things differently as they move into line with the spirit of the Bill.

As we have said, carers needs are diverse. As individuals, they have their own particular needs and their own reasons for providing care or ending the caring role. However, they have a number of common factors. The first is always concern for the well-being of the person for whom they care. They also need emotional support and relief from isolation for themselves. The receipt of reliable and satisfactory services and information on, and recognition of, their role and contribution can all work well in supporting carers.

Let us stop for a minute and consider the definition of the word "support". It has been used a great deal in the debate. I looked in the dictionary and found three definitions of the word. First, it means to carry all or part of the weight and to keep from falling, sinking or failing. Secondly, it means to provide with a home and the necessities of life, and thirdly, it means to enable, to last out, to give strength or to encourage. I sincerely hope that, in our deliberations on the Bill, we have gone some way towards giving carers real support, building on the Carers (Recognition and Services) Act 1995 and taking it forward.

2.7 pm

Mrs. Spelman

I shall endeavour to make my contribution short because I know that several Members would like the opportunity to give the Bill their blessing and send it on its way. However, I understand that the hon. Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis (Mrs. Heal) has a declared interest, having worked for the Carers National Association. We understand that when this issue is a core interest, one will have strong feelings about the Bill making progress.

May I congratulate, once again, the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry)? He definitely backed a winner with this Bill. Certainly, having the Government on one's side is a tremendous help in succeeding with a private Member's Bill. In my three years in Parliament, it is the first time that I have seen such a Bill reach this stage. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on that.

We can all take satisfaction from knowing that today we shall send a strong signal to the 5.7 million carers in our society who for a long time, out of good will, have made a contribution that is worth £34 billion of care. That is a phenomenal contribution towards care for those who need it. We can all take pleasure from the fact that the Bill has progressed to this stage, and that is why we have supported it. We very much wanted to send a signal to carers that we applaud what they do and that we want them to continue to do it. That is important for those for whom they care, for themselves and for us. We all have an interest in sustaining them in their very important role.

The little phrase that comes to mind is "a stitch in time saves nine". As a result of the Bill, we all hope that respite will come to those who might be on the verge of throwing in the towel, having a breakdown or giving up their key role. I hope that we have contributed to that stitch in time, which for some people will be so important.

I very much liked the modesty of the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde. He said that the Bill was a start. I am always wary of politicians who claim too much for what their policies will achieve, so he is right to be cautiously modest. Perhaps, we can all share in that.

The assessment process, how it works in practice and the experience of the carers who are on the receiving end of it will be crucial. Whether what they are assessed as needing is delivered will be the test by which we shall know whether we have succeeded or failed collectively as a group of politicians.

In recent days I have encountered people who strongly dislike the style of politics in which we all gratuitously make remarks about each other. However, we can all agree that the discussions today, the Committee proceedings on the Bill and its Second Reading have been, for those who have been able to watch, an example of what can happen when there is constructive opposition in the House and we work together. As an Opposition, we have combined with other hon. Members to refine and improve the Bill, and we take satisfaction from that.

We hope that the Bill will see the light of day as soon as the Government can find time for it. The real test will be whether those who are directly concerned—carers and the cared for—experience an appreciable improvement in their situation and whether carers receive the help that they need to carry out their important task.

2.10 pm
Mr. Burstow

As the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) said, the test of the Bill will be the services that result from the assessments that will be provided.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) on his initiative in securing a private Member's Bill slot, on choosing this important subject and on skilfully piloting the Bill through all its stages in the House. This is the first private Member's Bill that I have followed through all its stages, and it has been an interesting experience that is very different from my experience of Government legislation. I hasten to add that I do not intend that to be a criticism.

We have had the opportunity to debate the Bill on the Floor of the House. Amendments have been moved, ideas discussed and concerns explored, and there has been a genuine response that has led to the Bill's improvement. The result is a Bill that we can pass to the other place and which will, we hope, make its way into statute and make a real difference to the lives of millions of carers.

I know that the Bill will make a difference to the 20,000 carers in my constituency. When I spoke on Second Reading, I explained that I had spent a day with a carer in my constituency during national carers week last year. Her name is Lillian, and she felt very isolated because of her caring responsibilities, looking after her husband. She felt that she had had to struggle to navigate her way through the various services that were available, and she was not told that those services existed to give her support.

This is a Bill for the millions of Lillians who give years of their life out of love for their partners and others in their family, to support them, informally, in the community. Through the Bill, the House signals that it wants to support those carers and values them highly.

Liberal Democrat Members support the Bill because we believe that it is a much-needed addition to the legislative framework governing carers. The Government amendments in response to debates in Committee are welcome and have improved the Bill. They send the right signals to carers that the Government are committed not to introducing charges by stealth but to improving services for carers.

2.13 pm
Mr. Hutton

Before I comment on the Bill and the proceedings today, in Committee and on Second Reading, I must go through one or two necessary and important formalities. In the Government's view, the Bill is fully compatible with the European convention on human rights.

I echo many of the comments of hon. Members. The Bill has benefited from the cumulative experience of the many hon. Members who know a great deal about its subject matter. It is probably unfair to pick on individual Members who have made important contributions, because we have been lucky to have had the commitment of many hon. Members, in Committee and today, in improving the Bill. However, I pay particular tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis (Mrs. Heal). She has been heavily involved in carers' issues for a long time, and we have been fortunate to have the benefit of her experience and opinion.

Most important, we have been lucky to have the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry). Without his commitment to the cause and without his dedication to working with all Members to improve the Bill, we would not be in the position that we are in today, so I pay a warm and personal tribute to him for his work and vision in taking the Bill forward.

As the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) said, sometimes we actually get it right in this place. I will not say that we do it all the time—clearly, we do not—but during the passage of the Bill, we have shown that it is possible in the House of Commons to work together on common objectives that transcend party allegiances and that inspire and motivate many Members. In fact, they may often explain why Members are driven to serve as Members of Parliament.

Many of us have a strong and deep commitment to improving not only public services, but the quality of life of many people in our society who, without our commitment and support, will never get the quality of life that we are fortunate enough to take for granted. That is what the Bill is basically about. It is ultimately about creating a fairer society. It is about providing better services for carers and disabled children, too, but it is profound legislation. I will not make the mistake of using hyperbole, but it is an important Bill.

There are several reasons why the Bill should receive a Third Reading. First, it will enable local authorities to provide a much wider range of services directly to carers themselves. That is something that carer organisations have long called for, as my hon. Friend has said. The Bill will ensure that that can happen, ending the unacceptable limitation on local authorities' ability to support carers properly.

It is clear from some of the discussions today that, in moving forward in that area, we must be alert to the sensitivities that exist. It is not part of the Bill—my hon. Friend has been clear about it, as has everyone else who has spoken today—to do anything to compromise the position either of carers themselves or of those who are being cared for. I believe that the way in which we have improved the Bill today will mean our avoiding that particular mistake.

Secondly, the Bill takes a further important step forward in recognising the role of carers as key partners in improving services to people who need support at home. Fortunately, the days are long gone when carers were the invisible people whose contribution usually went unacknowledged and whose own needs for support were rarely, if ever, addressed effectively. The Bill represents a significant advance for carers in both those important areas and is therefore a significant advance for carers as well as for the whole care system.

My hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Edwards), who spoke very well on Second Reading and again on Third Reading, is right to have identified what has been characterised as an enormous gap in social care policy in Britain for many years, which we are now beginning to close, properly recognising the role of carers. He explained that much more eloquently than I could, but I hope that he will share my view that the Bill is a significant advance, as I have shown, because it plugs that gap. Carers are not invisible. They are crucial partners in care, and the Bill acknowledges their important role.

My hon. Friend mentioned his constituency and the carers in Monmouth who will benefit from the Bill. He gave a timely reminder that the Bill will apply to Wales, too; it is not an England-only measure.

Thirdly, the Bill extends new opportunities for carers and disabled people to have more direct control over the services that they need. Its changes to the 1996 direct payments legislation will transfer more power and more choice to carers and to disabled children to determine for themselves who may provide the services that they have been assessed as needing and when they should be provided. In that way, the Bill will enable and empower disabled people and their carers in a significant new way.

Most important, my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde has listened to the concerns that have been expressed by carers organisations about his Bill's drafting. Today, he has introduced some very important changes to the Bill that strengthen it considerably. Parent carers' right under the Bill to ask for an assessment has been put beyond any doubt. We have also resolved the concerns that have been expressed about the nature of charging for both carer services and community care services. Now, there can be no risk at all that local authorities can label services as carer services rather than as community care services if it appears that the carer has greater means than the cared-for person.

The Bill also provides that carers cannot be required to pay a charge for community care services that are provided to the cared-for person. It is a significant clarification and confirmation of the original intentions that both my hon. Friend and I had for the Bill. I pay tribute to him for his ability to argue that case and to press for the necessary changes to the Bill. He was absolutely right to identify that as an important issue, and I am grateful to him for his role in making the necessary changes to the legislation.

I know that all hon. Members value the contribution that carers can make to our community and to our country. Today, hon. Members can show their support for carers by giving the Bill the strongest possible support.

I should like to conclude by expressing once again my appreciation to my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde. By promoting his Bill, he has performed a huge service for carers, for disabled children and their families and for those who are being cared for. We are doing a good thing by sending the Bill to another place, where their lordships will have an opportunity to contribute their wisdom and insight to the legislation. Some of those who are in another place have enormous experience on the issue.

Mr. Dismore

On Report and in this debate, we have not really focused on the special problems faced by ethnic minority carers. Perhaps my hon. Friend would like to say something about the Bill's impact on them. I think that it is important that we address that issue.

Mr. Hutton

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that issue. He will know, because he has examined the Bill very carefully, that nothing in the Bill deals directly with the needs of carers from ethnic minorities. However, that is not to say that the Government do not recognise the need for additional work on that issue. Since we came to office, we have taken various initiatives to work with ethnic communities in finding ways of improving access to social services.

As I am sure my hon. Friend will be aware, there is plenty of evidence that members of ethnic minority communities do not feel that they have proper access to or receive the proper support from social services that they are entitled to expect. There may be many good reasons why social services are provided as they are, but that does not obviate the need for improvements in provision. It is not acceptable for any section of our community to feel marginalised or disfranchised by the failure of statutory services properly to recognise their needs. We shall have to continue working and acting with local authorities on the issue, to ensure that services fully meet the needs of all sections of our community.

Mr. Barron

My hon. Friend mentioned the Bill's progress in another place and the timetable for its implementation, which were also mentioned earlier. Although it is not a Government Bill, does he have any idea about the other place's likely attitude to it? Today and in our previous consideration, the Bill has received overwhelming support from hon. Members on both sides of the House. Have discussions been held with the other place to discover whether it is likely to receive the same all-party support there, so that it can be implemented as soon as possible?

Mr. Hutton

I very much hope that that it will receive such support. There is no doubt that some of those in another place have enormous practical experience of many of the issues addressed in the Bill. Baroness Pitkeathley, for example, is a very experienced Member of the other place and has huge expertise on the issue; I am sure that she will bring those qualities to bear in ensuring that the Bill is passed. Knowing how careful their lordships are, I am also convinced that they will study our debates closely, because, as the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow) rightly pointed out, the Bill has been significantly improved by the willingness of my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde to listen to the concerns that were expressed about it and to take action on them. As a result, we have a better Bill that, I hope, will command the support of their lordships and people outside the House.

We have taken the unique opportunity provided by my hon. Friend to produce legislation that can command a consensus of support in the country. We have laid the foundations for legislation that will continue to inform and support service development for many years. Sadly, we do not often have an opportunity to legislate on these issues. The changes that have been made have resulted in a significantly better Bill.

Mr. Edwards

My hon. Friend has mentioned that the Bill applies to Wales as well. I am sure that he will join me in paying tribute to the National Assembly for Wales for the support that it has given to the Bill in principle. Does he agree that one of the aims of the Bill is to equalise the best in services for carers? There is considerable variation between local authorities in England and Wales. That principle of equalising the best has always applied in the national health service, although it has not always necessarily been implemented. We need to apply that commitment to social care as well as to health care.

Mr. Hutton

I do not think that my hon. Friend will be surprised that I strongly agree with him. Through the introduction of the new performance management arrangements for local authority social services and through the new best value powers, we are trying to ensure that the standards of the best local authority providers become the standards for the rest. We aim to ensure that the performance of the top 25 per cent. of local authorities becomes the benchmark for others to follow. There is a lot of work to be done to ensure that, not only on the provision of carers services. We must stay focused on all the issues.

My hon. Friend will be aware that the implementation of the legislation in Wales will be a matter for the National Assembly for Wales. We look forward to talking with Assembly Members about our plans for implementation.

We still have to work out some of the details of the regulations and the guidance and advice that will be given to local authorities on some of the important issues that we have discussed today. I have repeatedly tried to assure hon. Members that we shall develop the new regulations and guidance quickly, effectively and in a process of open consultation with all the interested organisations. We have nothing to hide from them and everything to discuss with them. That is the spirit in which we intend to take the legislation forward over the next few months.

We want to proceed as quickly as we can and put the Bill on the statute book at the earliest opportunity. If we succeed, we shall have done everything that hon. Members want—provided pioneering legislation and delivered it as quickly as possible so that the service changes that we all want come about soon on the front line. Carers, their families and disabled children will be able to see the immediate impact of what we have done.

I have spoken for long enough. I urge the House to give the Bill a Third Reading.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.