§ 1. Mr. Mark Prisk (Hertford and Stortford)
What discussions he has had with the First Secretary on the funding of residential care in Wales. 
§ The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy)
I discuss the national health service and other health issues on a regular basis with the First Minister, and I spoke on this issue earlier today with the Minister for Health and Social Services of the Welsh Assembly.
§ Mr. Prisk
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his reply. Last night, however, BBC Wales revealed that up to 10 residential care homes in Wales are now closing every week. Can the Secretary of State confirm that figure? Given the obvious distress that that causes to vulnerable pensioners, who does he think is to blame?
§ Mr. Murphy
I saw the BBC programme to which the hon. Gentleman refers, and it is a cause of great regret that beds are being lost in the care sector in Wales. First, however, some £17 million extra has gone into the care home sector in Wales. Secondly—he and his party should reflect on this point—hundreds of million of pounds will go into the national health service and other related areas in Wales as a result of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer's Budget. Thirdly, only weeks ago I issued and signed a regulatory order to ensure that local authorities can transfer more funds into the care home sector. The hon. Gentleman will, of course, be aware that the Minister in the Welsh Assembly has set up a care home strategy that brings together all the relevant partners in Wales in this area of activity. I hope—I am sure that the hon. Gentleman agrees with me—that that will mean 260 that more and more people will be cared for in their own homes, as well as in care homes. I believe that that partnership in Wales is working.
§ Adam Price (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr)
The Secretary of State mentions £17 million, but he will know that Carmarthenshire county council alone faces a bill of £20 million to reach the new standards demanded by the Care Standards Act 2000. As a result of that shortfall, local authorities throughout Wales are having to privatise their homes. Can he not understand the distress that elderly residents and their families feel at the prospect of being placed at the mercy of a private sector that is in crisis?
§ Mr. Murphy
The hon. Gentleman, too, knows that not only has £17 million extra already gone into that sector in Wales but, through the Chancellor's Budget some weeks ago, an awful lot more money will go into the health and social services sector in Wales. He referred to regulations, and he will also be aware that as a result of the close working relationship and partnership in Wales between the care home sector, the local authorities and the National Assembly, there is a transitional system and arrangement to deal with those issues. I am not underestimating the problem—far from it—but the National Assembly, local authorities and the independent care sector in Wales are working together to achieve a solution to this problem, simply because more and more people are living longer—[Interruption.]
§ Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)
My right hon. Friend will know that the Nantgwyn respite care home in my constituency, which was to have been closed by the Plaid Cymru council, will, after protests from us, remain open. Not only will it remain open but a new facility will be built in my constituency for children with acute disabilities. I hope that my right hon. Friend will ensure that it has state-of-the-art equipment, and that we continue to welcome the opportunities that respite care homes give to children and their families.
§ Mr. Murphy
I understand that there are plans to repair and refurbish the building to which my hon. Friend refers. I also emphasise, however, that it is ultimately a matter for local authorities in Wales to decide how to deal with their social services. I take my hon. Friend's point about her local authority.
§ Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire)
The National Assembly has made clear its intention to provide free long-term personal care for the elderly. I know that the Secretary of State is firmly committed to devolution. Will he make use of his position in the Cabinet to make sure that parliamentary time is found for the legislation that will be necessary for the National Assembly for Wales to deliver that long-term care?
§ Mr. Murphy
The hon. Gentleman is aware that these matters were debated in the National Assembly some weeks ago. However, in addition to the point that he has just made, the Assembly is considering more than 100 recommendations on how to deal with the strategy for older people in Wales, and at least a dozen of the 261 recommendations relate to matters that are reserved to the United Kingdom Government. I will, of course, look very carefully at the Minister's letter and will respond to it in due course. The hon. Gentleman is aware of the Government's position.
§ Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)
The Secretary of State talks about millions of pounds, but many elderly people in Wales face misery. I recently visited Plas y Dre, a local authority care home in Llandudno that is now facing closure, and met many of the residents. They are in their 90s and are anxious about the prospect of their home being closed, being parted from their friends and being cast away to other places all over the town. Is the Secretary of State now saying that there is no local authority or private care home that has to close because of the want of money?
§ Mr. Murphy
I did not say that. The hon. Gentleman knows that this is not simply a question of money. It is an extremely important issue. I am sure that he will support the Government on measures such as the NHS Reform and Health Care Professions Bill, which will ensure that we can reform the health service, but he did not support the Budget this year, which put literally hundreds of millions of pounds back into the health service and social services in Wales. That is what ultimately matters, and I would like to hear a commitment from him that the Conservative party would give as much money to health and social services in Wales as the Government are giving.
§ Mr. Evans
What I will not do is to promise at a general election that things can only get better, only for them to get decidedly worse for people throughout Wales.
The Secretary of State is hopelessly complacent. We have already heard that the BBC programme "Week In Week Out" has stated that 10 care homes a week are closing in Wales. Headlines in the Daily Post, which is fighting a valiant campaign, refer to "A cruel slap in the face for our OAPs", and a headline in The Western Mail a couple of months ago said, "Care homes head for meltdown". A Cardiff GP, Andrew Dearden, who is chairman of the British Medical Association's committee on community care says:Community services for the elderly are falling apart. They are abysmal and getting worse.Care home operators are fed up with increased Government regulations and inadequate funding. Will the Secretary of State now stop the spin and meet local government officials and councillors as a matter of urgency, to ensure that the shabby treatment of the elderly is stopped and they get the first-class services that they need?
§ Mr. Murphy
It seems to me that the only one to have spun is the hon. Gentleman. He understands that in dealing with such hugely important issues, simply to talk as he does is of no help. At the end of the day, homes need more money—that is now happening—and they need proper regulations. Is he suggesting that he disagrees with proper regulations and standards for care homes in Wales? Of course we have to have them. Indeed, when the standards were agreed in Wales, they were agreed both with the Assembly and with the independent care home sector. Together they agreed on the standards, and those 262 standards have to be in place. The hon. Gentleman knows full well that because more and more people are living longer and have to be accommodated, we have to look at the issue sensibly and carefully, which includes dealing with the elderly who wish to stay at home—and that is what the Assembly and the Government will do.
§ Mr. Evans
If the Secretary of State and his Government introduce new regulations, they should ensure that there is proper and adequate funding for them.
Another example is the Chancellor's announcement that national insurance contributions will go up next year by 1 per cent. I have received replies from local authorities throughout Wales, and the increase will add another £460,000 a year to costs in Blaenau Gwent; in Flintshire the figure will be £500,000, in Denbighshire it will be £500,000, and Carmarthenshire will have to find an extra £1 million because of the increase in national insurance contributions. Will the Secretary of State now have urgent talks with the Chancellor of the Exchequer to ensure that in the block grant next year, sufficient funding will come forward to ensure that local authorities do not need to close their homes?
§ Mr. Murphy
Of course I shall discuss those issues with my right hon. Friends the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. We are in that process at the moment. I repeat that the hon. Gentleman needs to tell the House whether he agrees with the amount that the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave to the National Assembly for Wales to increase by hundreds and hundreds of millions of pounds the funding for the health service and other services in Wales. What the hon. Gentleman does not understand is that in Wales, there is a partnership between the independent homes care sector, local authorities and the National Assembly to ensure that we treat our old people properly.