Report (5th Day)

Part of Health and Social Care Bill – in the House of Lords at 3:08 pm on 6th March 2012.

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Photo of Lord Warner Lord Warner Labour 3:08 pm, 6th March 2012

My Lords, we return to the issue of adult social care, which is a good occasion for seeing a massive emptying of the Chamber. In very simple terms, the amendment is an attempt to get the Bill to live up to its title and become a genuine health and social care Bill.

Subsection (1) of the proposed new clause would place a clear duty on the Secretary of State to secure improvement in the quality of adult social care through the offices of local government and qualified service providers. It would make the Health Secretary pay proper attention to adult social care in a similar way to the way in which he is under a duty to ensure a comprehensive health service under other provisions in the legislation.

Subsection (2) of the proposed new clause identifies the key elements that the Secretary of State must pay attention to in discharging the duty in subsection (1). These are: adequate funding for safe and sustainable services; access to services for those of limited means; a cap on the financial liability of those with high lifetime care costs; and minimising the impact on the demand for health services. It also introduces national eligibility criteria for services across England and standard charging policies. That was argued for overwhelmingly in the evidence to the Dilnot commission, of which I was a member. In subsection (2)(c), a further push is given to the integration of health and social care in line with the recent report on social care by the Health Select Committee in the Commons.

What is to argue against in these provisions? Today, we see a lobby of Parliament by the Care and Support Alliance to secure action on delivering a more sustainable adult social care system instead of the underfunded and unsustainable system that we have now. This alliance is overwhelmingly in favour of implementing the framework in the Dilnot commission report in order to deliver a resilient and sustainable financial framework for adult social care. There is legitimate room for debate on the precise details of that framework, especially the level of the cap proposed by Dilnot. I for one would accept that we should start with a higher cap than the commission's preferred option of £35,000, but there is nothing in this amendment that limits the Government's freedom of manoeuvre on these details or on the speed of implementation. Nor does it frustrate the achievement of cross-party agreement in the cross-party talks now taking place. However, I see little evidence of those talks progressing very fast, with an isolated and politically wounded Health Secretary lacking any Whitehall-wide support, especially from the Chancellor, for doing a deal with the Opposition.

The amendment would get the Government out of a jam. They can implement Dilnot and anything else that they want to propose in their forthcoming White Paper without a new Bill next Session. Subsection (3) of the amendment would give broad powers to use affirmative regulations after appropriate consultation. I can see that after the failure of the Government to provide a convincing political narrative on this current Bill, the Prime Minister might not want to launch another Bill from Richmond House in the next Session. Therefore, ever sensitive to these political considerations, I offer him an exit strategy without neglecting the serious needs of adult social care and the people who need those services.

We all agree that the funding of adult social care is in a parlous state; there is broad stakeholder support for the Dilnot-proposed framework. We all recognise the dependence of the NHS on a robust adult social care system, without which the NHS will surely fail to deliver the efficiency gains required of it. We all want to see improved integration of health and social care, although the Government's opposition to my amendment on integration last week was disappointing, especially the conduct of 17 Liberal Democrats who voted against it. However, I say to Lib Dem colleagues that today is your chance to make amends. If you want to go to your spring conference trumpeting your success in saving the NHS, you will support the amendment. You had the courage to insert in the coalition agreement the establishment of an independent commission. I pay great tribute to you for doing that. Now have the courage to put into this Health and Social Care Bill the means to implement the adult social care changes that are so badly needed.

I have low expectations of the Minister being willing to accept the amendment because I suspect that his hands are tied by those in a higher pay grade. However, if he is willing to take this amendment away and come back at Third Reading with something equivalent, I will not press matters today. If he is not, we owe it to the outside world, especially the stakeholders lobbying Parliament today, to show where people stand on tackling the crisis in adult social care and protecting the many vulnerable people affected by that crisis. I beg to move.