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[Mr. Bill Olner in the Chair] — Wardens (Sheltered Housing)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 20th October 2009.

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Photo of Geoffrey Cox Geoffrey Cox Conservative, Torridge and West Devon 9:30 am, 20th October 2009

I still do not accept the point. In the sheltered housing schemes that I have seen, the wardens may not be around all day, but they are known to be somewhere they can easily be reached. That sense of permanent presence conveys confidence and security to the frail and vulnerable.

I was speaking about a situation where individuals have made important decisions to their detriment, based on the understanding that 24-hour wardens would be present, and then they find that those wardens are removed. That cannot be right. In particular, it cannot be right when written or oral representations have been made to residents saying that the 24-hour warden will be there and that there is no risk of them being removed from that particular housing development. How can it be right then to break those representations? It cannot be right, and I apprehend that the legitimate expectations to which such situations have given rise are the basis of some of the cases before the High Court now.

We as a House of Commons should not leave it to the judges to sort out the problem. There is a developing picture of incoherence in the way in which such changes are being implemented throughout the country, and it is up to the Government, as the Help the Aged report says so plainly and eloquently, to take hold of the situation and to offer leadership. There should be no prescription for floating support. There should be no presumption that floating support always yields the better benefits. The system adopted must take account of residents' views, and when elderly people have made decisions based on the understanding that a resident warden will be present, it is not right for an authority to withdraw that warden contrary to the wishes of the majority of the residents in that development, and no authority ought to do so. Only if we offer that safeguard-only if we offer not just consultation but the knowledge that their wishes will be a critical factor in any decision that is taken-will we restore to tens of thousands of elderly people throughout the country the confidence that the Government and the House are listening, and that individual Members are willing to stand up and fight for them, as we are here to do this morning. They must have confidence that the system does not have to be a juggernaut that rides roughshod and tramples over the interests of individual elderly people. The Government must understand that elderly people are a critical and precious responsibility of this House. I urge them to get a grip on the situation as soon as possible and to offer moral and political leadership as a Government should.