I do not want to fall out with my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns), but I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond) on his skilful drafting of new clause 4. I found his arguments entirely convincing and hope that the Minister will accept new clause 4.
The Minister will know from our deliberations in Committee, that I feel very strongly about such matters. There are a huge number of residential and nursing homes in Southend. That should be no surprise because it is well known that Southend is the finest seaside resort in the country and elderly people are flocking to the town because the movement of the Thames estuary is extremely good for people's breathing. That is why our residential and nursing homes are so popular, especially those in Southend, West. I regularly visit those homes and I am in constant contact with the people there.
The Minister takes a different view, but of course Conservative Members support national minimum standards. That is well understood, but he is saying "Trust the Government." I, for one, do not trust the Government. I am very concerned about those standards. As the Minister knows only too well, this is not about the curtains, the en suite facilities or similar matters, but about the love and care that many elderly people in those homes are given by the home owners. I baulk at using the expression "running their business", but it is not good enough for the Government to expect the owners of those homes to do whatever the Government want without proper and due consultation.
I take my hat off to the Minister; he was kind enough to invite the Committee to 79 Whitehall to look at the different rules and regulations on which he was consulting. However, I ask him to consider new clause 4 carefully because it would be a tremendous fillip to all our residential home owners if it were accepted. He knows only too well that the Independent Healthcare Association, Leonard Cheshire, the National Care Homes Association, Help the Aged, William Laing and others have all been somewhat concerned about the overall tenor of the minimum standards.
Perhaps the Minister will tell us that he has managed to placate those concerns in the past few days, but the magazine, "Caring Times" carried out a survey to discover the effects of "Fit for the Future?". That survey should be of concern to the Minister because more than 50 per cent. of respondents said that they could be obliged to close due to bankruptcy.
We all know from our constituencies that the national health service is in crisis. My goodness, I experienced that myself at St. Thomas's accident and emergency unit in the wee hours of the morning on Monday, learning at first hand how the NHS is in great difficulty. Many of our constituencies are experiencing bed blocking. We have 56 people in hospital at the moment—