Clause 114

Health and Social Care Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 6:15 pm on 22nd January 2008.

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Regulation of social care workers

Photo of Stephen O'Brien Stephen O'Brien Shadow Minister (Health)

I beg to move amendment No. 56, in clause 114, page 62, line 18, leave out subsection (4).

This is a probing amendment to ascertain the Government’s plans under subsection (4) for the regulation of social care workers who are not currently social care workers. The simple question is, what groups does the Minister have in mind? The Minister confirmed during the debate on clause 5 that it is not the Government’s intention

“that the domestic or private arrangements that they outlined should fall under the requirement for regulation”.——[Official Report, Health and Social Care Public Bill Committee, 15 January 2008; c. 226.]

Regulations under this provision are made by statutory instrument under the affirmative procedure, in recognition of the fact that in granting the Secretary of State the power to repeal or amend any provision other than section 55 of the Care Standards Act 2000,  this is a Henry VIII clause—our old friend whom we discussed earlier. I shall refrain from reading out the remarkably humorous contribution I made at the time.

Our memorandum of information notes:

“It has hitherto not proved possible to make amendments as promptly as would be desirable in that changes require an appropriate legislative vehicle and sufficient Parliamentary time.”

I felt quite irritated and irked by that. It is not a strong argument. For a Government it is a very weak argument, because not only is control of both elements wholly within their power, there has not been one parliamentary year since Labour came to office when an Act meddling with the NHS or social care sector has not gone through the House, any number of which might have contained the proposed provision. Committee members need only look at part 5 of the Bill for examples.

It remains a moot question, therefore, whether the Committee should vote away even more of Parliament’s democratic role solely because either the Government are not on top of their policy making in advance of their proposed legislative programme or they have some problem with their parliamentary timetabling, such that we need this extraordinary catch-all definition of social care workers who are not currently social care workers. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Deputy Chairman, The Conservative Party

I support the amendment. It brings us back to something about which the Minister has given us verbal reassurance throughout the course of the Bill, but subsection (4)(c) seems to catch all the people we have talked about. I am particularly concerned about the flexibility, which I have already said I support, of direct payments. Many people are employed directly by people who need a package of social care paid for through direct payments from public funds. We have just started to get a breakthrough in that flexible arrangement for people who are befrienders, such as those helping people with mental health problems or with autistic spectrum disorders, who need a package of care that is not the sort we have historically identified with physical disability or old age, but which makes a huge difference to their lives whereby their needs are recognised and they can at last start to take their place in society and do the sort of normal things that the rest of us enjoy but from which they are precluded.

Let us take as an example people who need a care package so that an age-appropriate or gender-appropriate person can accompany them socially—perhaps to go to the pub with them once a week. That may sound rather minuscule and trivial, but it makes a difference and I cannot see how such befrienders and people officially employed with public money will not fall foul of subsection (4)(c). They are just the sort of people who will be caught by that catch-all. Once they are subject to a lot of regulation they will be discouraged from doing those jobs and making themselves available one or two evenings a week. This is important, so I must ask the Minister to address what is on the face of the Bill, as it seems to fly in the face of some of his earlier reassurances.

Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Minister of State (Regional Affairs) (South West), The Minister of State, Department of Health

The clause will only enable regulation of activities carried on by people who are not social care workers within section 55 of the Care Standards  Act 2000 if the activities are carried on in connection with the activities of social care workers. Provision in subsection (4)(b) and (c) measures the equivalent provision that we have already discussed under schedule 3 in relation to the Health Act 1999, which sets out what regulation in relation to a health care professional may include.

In answer to the hon. Member’s question, it may include other groups who will need the flexibility to register in future. We have already announced that the first new group to be registered will be staff working in domiciliary care. The Government have also accepted GSCC advice on further groups, which include residential care workers. Those two groups cover staff in Commission for Social Care Inspection registered children’s care homes, residential family centres, care homes for older people, care homes for adults, domiciliary care agencies that provide personal care in people’s homes, fostering agencies, voluntary adoption agencies and so on. They are not the sort of individual contractual arrangements we discussed earlier and which the hon. Lady has just raised again.

That is why we are seeking the flexibility that the clause would give us. The difficulty we have with the hon. Member for Eddisbury’s amendment—notwithstanding his concerns, which I share, that we would not want the flexibility to be limitless—is that it would create uncertainty for the groups I have just referred to and may mean that those people or activities would not be brought within the regulatory framework or their regulation modified without primary legislation. I do not think that would be a sensible restriction so I hope he will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Stephen O'Brien Stephen O'Brien Shadow Minister (Health)

I have listened carefully. Although it has unquestionably been helpful for the Minister to say that he has in mind, for instance, staff working in domiciliary care, residential care workers and a number of others, it is either appropriate to define them, which would be possible, or, given that so much is in regulations, it could be done by regulation. What I do not like is that the provision is so general and unspecific that it could possibly capture more.

This is not a vote against the Government as a matter of principle but a vote against on the basis that we have made a sensible point that has not yet been fully addressed. I encourage the Minister to think afresh with his officials as they look at the next stages of the Bill. On a feet-to-the-fire basis, I seek to divide the Committee.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 4, Noes 10.

Division number 12 Nimrod Review — Statement — Clause 114

Aye: 4 MPs

No: 10 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 114 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 9 agreed to.

Clause 115 ordered to stand part of the Bill.