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Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, unfortunately, the Report stage procedure means that the noble Earl, Lord Howe, cannot reply to what the Minister has said. I found his reply something of a curate's egg. I welcome his statement about Amendment No. 161. I recognise that there may be practical difficulties and that perhaps it is not totally appropriate to include Amendment No. 161 in primary legislation. But I accept the noble Lord's assurances that there will be strong service user representation. I look forward to seeing that in due course.

As at Committee stage, even at this late hour the Minister disappoints me in relation to the committee. I do not propose to take up the time of the House by unpicking the arguments. However, I do not believe that to characterise the proposals as bureaucratic, or possibly as pushing on to that committee matters which should be spread more evenly across the commission, holds a great deal of water. It may well be that we shall return to this matter at a later stage, but in the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 162 to 167 not moved.]

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath moved Amendments Nos. 168 and 169:



    Page 61, line 12, after ("him") insert ("or make provision for the payment to him of").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

28 Mar 2000 : Column 793

[Amendments Nos. 170 to 175 not moved.]

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath moved Amendments Nos. 176 and 177:


    Page 61, leave out lines 20 to 22 and insert--


("(3) Any subsequent chief officer is to be appointed by the authority.").


    Page 61, line 33, at end insert--


(".--(1) The Commission shall appoint a director of private and voluntary health care, who is to be a member of the staff of the Commission.
(2) The director shall have such functions as may be prescribed.").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 178 not moved.]

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath moved Amendment No. 179:


    Page 61, line 36, leave out from ("(3)") to ("on") in line 37 and insert ("staff appointed by an authority are to be appointed").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham): My Lords, although Amendment No. 180 has already been spoken to, I must point out that, if it is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 181.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath moved Amendment No. 180:


    Page 61, leave out lines 39 to 43 and insert--


("(2A) Without prejudice to its powers apart from this paragraph, an authority may pay, or make provision for the payment of--
(a) pensions, allowances or gratuities;
(b) compensation for loss of employment or for reduction of remuneration,
to or in respect of staff appointed by them.
(3) The Secretary of State may give directions as to--
(a) the appointment of staff by an authority (including any conditions to be fulfilled for appointment);
(b) their terms and conditions; and
(c) any other provision that may be made by the authority under sub-paragraph (2A).
(3A) Sub-paragraphs (2A) and (3)(c) apply to the first chief officer as they apply to other staff.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 180.

Earl Howe: My Lords, with the leave of the House, perhaps I may speak briefly to Amendment No. 181, which raises some important issues. One of the most important tests of the credibility of the national care standards commission will be the conduct of inspections. The manner in which inspections are carried out and the consistency of approach will largely determine the way that the commission is viewed. Achievement of the right style and consistency does not depend simply on specialised knowledge. Inspection requires particular skills which can be acquired by experience and training. Those skills are

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important if those who are inspected are to feel more capable, where that is the appropriate outcome, rather than cast down after a visit by an official inspector.

The fear has been expressed to me that current inspection teams will simply be transplanted into the new commission and all will go on as before. We should be absolutely clear that that will not do. I do not wish to make generalisations or issue sweeping criticisms, but the fact is that some inspection teams contain people who are wholly unsuited to the job. It is the poor standard and inconsistency of inspections which has in no small degree given rise to this Bill. I believe that there should be some kind of revalidation process to ensure that the same poor standards are not perpetuated and that inspectors have the opportunity to refresh and update their skills at appropriate intervals.

Anecdotally, there is evidence that inspectors of care homes overstep the bounds of reasonableness and professionalism in their current practice. I have heard of one local authority area where inspectors already require care homes to meet the standards set out in Fit for the Future? even though they have absolutely no status in law. They make it quite clear that immediate implementation of the standards is a condition of the local authority placing further contracts.

There is worse. There are numerous stories of owners and managers being brought to a state of near nervous breakdown by the spiteful behaviour of inspectors who have abandoned all pretence of objectivity in the wake of the Shipman case and Waterhouse report. Aggressiveness and a climate of fear are commonplace. One care home recently had 11 unannounced visits in the space of a month, some of them in the night. In another case, inspectors have taken advantage of minor breaches such as a failure to display a certificate to intimidate owners into doing anything they say. That is the background to the amendment I have tabled.

Perhaps one of the most sensitive environments in which an inspector may be called upon to operate is the private home. The inspection of a fostering or adoption agency may well involve an inspector visiting private domestic households in order to asses the ability of those running the services to promote the welfare of the children, and generally to manage the services properly. In that situation, the privacy of those who care for children as adoptive or foster parents must be respected. It might well be good procedure when an inspector visits a private household for him always to be accompanied by an officer of the agency or the local authority, as the case may be. The regulations issued for inspectors should at the very least list the range of qualities and experience that are required. I hope that the Minister will be able to provide me with some reassurance on all these issues which I regard as of the highest importance.

11.45 p.m.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I hope that with the leave of the House I may reply. The noble Earl raises some critical matters. He will know that I believe

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that the new regulatory system will lead to a more professional and consistent approach to inspection than we have had. Equally, I fully accept that both the quality of leadership in terms of the members we appoint to the commission and the staff and the way they behave will be crucial, particularly in those first few months and years. They will set the pattern for the future. I am entirely sympathetic to the points he has raised.

If there are instances under the current system where inappropriate actions are being taken by inspectors, I urge noble Lords to draw them to my attention, because we can look into those matters. It is clear that even under the current regulatory system we have the right to expect that the inspection process should be conducted in a responsible, reasonable way.

Of course, there are instances where the current system is not working well. Some of that is perhaps down to poor quality staff involved in inspections. But, before I rush to condemn individuals, I must say that I believe it is more symptomatic of the problem that such inspection does not work well when operated by over 200 to 300 statutory agencies. With the new regulatory system, and the new commission, we shall have the ability to provide the consistency, training and infrastructure which will lead to a more professional and responsible approach. I also believe that there are many good people involved in the inspection regimes whom we shall be very glad to have transferred to the employment of the new commission and council.

I accept the points in relation to training. It is essential that people have proper training development and keep their skills up to date. There is a general power for the appropriate Minister to issue directions with regard to the way the commission exercises its functions under Clause 6(2) and for the councils under Clause 51(4). Training will be an ongoing operational issue, and the existing general provision in those clauses will be used to ensure that inspectors receive full and appropriate training.

I can assure the noble Earl that the Secretary of State will issue directions to the commission and councils to ensure that their staff receive proper training; and they will be monitored in order to ensure that that occurs. I hope that I have satisfied the noble Earl.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 181 not moved.]


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