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Earl Howe: My Lords, I have no difficulty with the Government's aim. We all acknowledge that there is a problem of delayed discharges and agree that we need to get a grip on the situation.

However, the direction of travel since the Government came to office in 1997 has been towards partnership working. I applaud that. They have introduced some innovative and imaginative measures, such as the duty of partnership between the NHS and local government and the ability to pool budgets. Perhaps above all they have encouraged a culture of partnership that is genuinely bearing fruit in a number of ways. None of us could fail to welcome that. We have only to look at the delayed discharge figures for the third quarter of 2002, which were published last week, to see that the trend is downward.

I therefore find it all the more surprising that the Bill moves in the diametrically opposite direction to the measures that I have just cited. The Government have nothing to be afraid of in our sunset clause. If the Bill works as they believe it will, it will be easy to demonstrate that fact to Parliament. I do not suppose that they would receive much opposition in doing so. If the Bill fails to work, there is no case for keeping it on the statute book. I fear that the damage it will do will be self-evident and there will be a general call to scrap it.

I am not sure why the Government are so reluctant to accept a sunset clause. Nevertheless, it being past sunset today, I do not propose to press the amendment. I have listened with care and appreciation to everything that the Minister has said today. I shall read what he has said between now and next week. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 68 not moved.]

10 Mar 2003 : Column 1223

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