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Lord Laming moved Amendment No. 36:

("( ) The Secretary of State shall publish all reports made by the Commission as a result of an enquiry.").

The noble Lord said: I am sure that the Committee agrees that sometimes, for a variety of reasons, it is best for inquiries to take evidence in private. I believe that as a quid pro quo there should be a commitment on the face of the Bill that inquiry reports are published. The findings of inquiries should be public documents as a matter of good practice. This is related to freedom of information and the confidence of the public. I hope that the Minister is able to accept the amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Rix: I support my noble friend on this issue. Noble Lords may recall that the national development team for learning disability--mental handicap in those days--had to keep its reports secret. About 10 years ago, there was a tremendous row about that. The then Minister for Health, the right honourable Kenneth Clarke, accepted that such secrecy was totally

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inappropriate and the necessary arrangements were made. I think the same argument applies to this amendment.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: I thank the noble Lord, Lord Laming, for proposing Amendment No. 36, which would oblige the commission to publish the report of an inquiry. We would normally expect an inquiry's findings to be published. However, I am advised that there may be circumstances where it would be inappropriate for the detail of the findings to be publicised. The Bill already provides for inquiries to be held in private, for instance in cases involving sexual abuse of children. Although the report could protect the identity of those concerned by omitting their names, there may be other circumstances in which it would not be appropriate to publish the details of the inquiry. Therefore, I cannot accept the noble Lord's amendment in its terms which would require all inquiry reports to be published. However, I should be agreeable to discussing the issue further with the noble Lord to see whether we can find a way through.

Lord Laming: I am grateful to the Minister for that extremely helpful reply. I would not wish anything to be published which would be damaging to vulnerable people. If it is possible to find a form of words which achieve the objective of the amendment while protecting vulnerable people, I shall be very happy. With that assurance, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath moved Amendment No. 37:

    Page 5, line 18, at end insert ("; and references in those provisions as so applied to a Minister shall be taken to include references to the Assembly").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 8, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 9 [Requirement to register]:

Earl Howe moved Amendment No. 38:

    Page 5, line 23, leave out ("of any description").

The noble Earl said: I realise that the purpose of the amendment is impossible to discern from its wording. It is designed purely as a device to enable me to ask the Government about their policy on the registration of domiciliary care agencies. The Explanatory Notes state that registration of domiciliary care agencies will not be required in the first instance, although it will be possible for an agency to apply to register voluntarily. However, any local authority or NHS body which carries on a domiciliary care agency will be required to register from the outset; and any outside domiciliary care agency with which it does business must be registered as well.

Why have the Government approached the matter in this way? The point of registration is that the public should be protected. It is the domiciliary care agencies which do not register about which we should be concerned. Those are the services which deal typically

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only with private users. If I, as a user, receive via an agency a service commissioned by a local authority or my local NHS trust, I have the reassurance that the agency is above board, because it is registered, and that if anything goes wrong I can go straight to the local authority and get it to sort the matter out.

That is entirely as it should be. However, if I contract through an agency personally to arrange my own care, why should I not be able to rely on that agency equally? If it is registered, well and good, but it might not be. If it is not, I should not have the local authority or anyone else to turn to. I do not understand that, nor do I understand how paragraph 56 of the Explanatory Notes is reflected on the face of the Bill. Perhaps the Minister can enlighten me. I beg to move.

Lord Clement-Jones: I support the noble Earl. I must admit that I was one of the small minority who did not immediately understand the thrust of the amendment. I am sure that we shall debate the issue further when we reach Clause 30. In the meantime, I believe that the issue is opaque and it is difficult to understand why the Government have taken this approach to domiciliary care. Surely, there should be one common system across the board.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: This is a most important matter. If the Government lose the chance to round up the cowboys, they will not protect the many vulnerable people. I hope that the Minister, who understands such issues, will look at the problem and do something about it. We greatly want to improve the Bill and I fully support the noble Earl, Lord Howe.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: The first point to be made is that for the first time the Bill introduces a statutory regulation system for domiciliary care. Although it might not go as far as Members of the Committee would wish, one should acknowledge that it is a new development that has been widely welcomed. As has been suggested, the regulatory system will not in the first instance require compulsory registration for all domiciliary care agencies.

We believe that we are taking a sensible approach. The national care standards commission is embarking on a completely new area of regulation with untested definitions. There are potential difficulties in relation to who will be covered and who will not. With a compulsory registration scheme, it would be an offence not to be registered and the commission could be at risk of spending all its early days taking through difficult test cases on whether a particular agency should register or not. That would detract from its important task of inspecting and scrutinising services such as care homes which are already regulated.

It is our consideration that at such a crucial and challenging time in the commission's early life that would be a challenge too far. However, the important point to make is that the Bill does not prevent any domiciliary care agency from registering if it wishes. The Government believe that providers will see the merit of registration in terms of attracting business and

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assuring purchasers. In addition, any domiciliary care that is provided by or on behalf of a local authority or NHS body will be required to be with registered agencies. That should cover the majority of services in this sector.

As regards private individuals who wish to use a registered agency for their care needs, we will ensure that the commission provides appropriate information in readily available and accessible forms to help people to know where to find such an agency in their area. We would expect to include a telephone information service. Registered agencies will also use a recognisable kite mark and their registration status can be confirmed with the commission.

The Bill also allows for the Government to make the registration scheme fully compulsory at an appropriate stage. That might occur after the scheme has been in operation long enough to ensure that all the necessary experience has been gained to make that a possibility.

I hope that I have satisfied Members of the Committee in that respect. The legislation is a major new departure which I believe will be widely welcomed. However, it is important that we learn from experience before a compulsory scheme is introduced.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: Before the Minister sits down, care in the community has been going on for quite a long time now. There is nothing new about it. This will be a missed opportunity. The good agencies will register and the cowboys--people making a lot of money out of extremely vulnerable people--will not register.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath : The noble Baroness is right to say that care in the community has been a policy of governments for many years. I was suggesting that the regulation of domiciliary care is a new and welcome departure. I was suggesting also that in such a new territory the approach we have adopted is the most sensible way to enable us to learn through experience in order to be able to have a fully comprehensive system.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: Too many people have already learned from very bad experiences.

10.15 p.m.

Earl Howe: I am grateful to the Minister and to all Members who have taken part in the debate. I understand that this is a new area of regulation; it is a welcome area of regulation and yes, we are dealing with untested definitions. The Minister said that if the commission was not careful it would be saddled with more work than it could cope with and that it might prove a challenge too far to sort out which agency had to be registered and which did not. The simple answer to that is to require all agencies to register. The fact is that some 85 per cent of all domiciliary care agencies deal in one way or another with local authorities or NHS trusts. The vast majority will have to register. If 85 per cent are registering, that leaves only a small number which will not be doing so.

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I do not believe that it will make the difference between overload and the opposite of overload, whatever that is--"underload"--to require all agencies to register. The commission should be able to handle that. I hope that the Minister will reflect on the remarks made this evening because I feel I must return to the issue on Report. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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