My Lords, I welcome the noble Earl’s amendments. As we start another day on Report I should declare my interests as chair of a foundation trust, as a consultant trainer with Cumberlege Connections, and as president of GS1. The noble Earl said that the first group of amendments is designed to give more flexibility to local authorities so that they can make a contribution to a person who might normally be affected by the means test. That is entirely reasonable, but I wonder if he could tell us a little more about the consultation timetable from which this has clearly flowed.
I have also noted the amendments that will allow the local authority to charge the cost of care to those people who refuse to undergo a financial assessment. Again, this seems reasonable, but given the difficult circumstances in which that scenario might arise, does the noble Earl not consider that that lends support to those noble Lords who think that there ought to be appeals systems in place? When we come to appeals, I wonder whether the noble Earl might be a little more sympathetic to those amendments.
I want to lend my support to my noble friend Lord Lipsey in relation to top-ups. He argued persuasively in Committee to allow self-funders to top up if they reach the cap but wish to remain resident within a care setting where the costs are higher than the local authority is paying. That is a strong argument, and I, too, welcome the progress that has been made. However, like my noble friend, I hope that the noble Earl will be able to give us a further report on progress on this matter.
I come now to my Amendment 56, which has been very effectively trailed by my noble friend; in fact, it is difficult for me to do as much justice to the amendment as he has done. It requires the establishment of an independent ministerial advisory committee to keep under review the workings of the cap and the means-testing arrangements set out in Clause 17. It is fair to say that all noble Lords who have debated this Bill have welcomed its general intent and the principles that underpin it. The Dilnot commission marked a significant step forward in creating consensus on how people are to be protected from financial catastrophe if they have to fund their own care. We have debated in detail the Government’s response as set out in this Bill: the establishment and operation of the cap, the level of the cap, the continued financial risk to self-funders, the deferred payment scheme, the capacity of local authorities to accept the responsibilities being placed on them, and in particular, I would identify the responsibility for assessing thousands of self-funders who will come into contact with the local authority for the first time. We have discussed the advice to be made available to vulnerable people in a complex area and its interrelationship with the eligibility criteria.
No one, in welcoming the general thrust of the Bill, will believe that this is the last word. I am sure that the operation of the care packages set out in this Bill will need to be kept under frequent review by the Government and particularly by the noble Earl’s department. Oversight of the system would surely benefit from a bipartisan group of people from whom the Government could continue to take advice. My noble friend Lord Lipsey has gone back many years in relation to the debates in this area. Of course, he served on the 1999 Sutherland royal commission. In parallel we have had the Turner commission on pensions and we have seen the benefit of a bipartisan approach in relation to Dilnot.
We would all agree that the funding of long-term care requires stability as far as possible and, even more importantly, a long-term political consensus. As my noble friend Lord Lipsey said, this is a very complex, complicated set of arrangements. We would be best served by the establishment of an independent group that could advise Ministers on how the system was working and enable politicians from all sides to benefit from serious, impartial advice.
I know that the noble Earl has yet to be persuaded of the benefits of an advisory committee, but it would be an effective way to build on the consensus that I think has been created. I hope that even at this late stage, he might be sympathetic.