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Earl Howe: My Lords, I am most grateful. The Minister mentioned the £140 million fund, which, as I understand it, has been allocated to respite care in particular. However, if one looks at the implementation of the 1995 Act, it is clear that progress around the country has, to say the least, been patchy. A survey found that implementation of that legislation was constrained for about three-quarters of all local authorities because of the lack of specific funding. The Association of Directors of Social Services has expressed its concern about the additional cost of this Bill, although it welcomes many of its provisions.
There is a worry in the country that, although the Government have allocated specific funding for aspects of the services, the assessments will eat up resources which, at present, are simply not there.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am not sure that I can go very much further today in relation to the issue of financing. I accept that local authorities will need to look most carefully at the likely financial impact of the responsibilities and powers that are placed upon them in this legislation. All I can say at this stage is that such matters must clearly be seen in the context of the overall settlement that has previously been made for local government. We are currently in the process of preparation for the spending review for the next period, the outcome of which should be known fairly shortly. One must set that in the context of the overall increase in resources that has been given to local authorities and, as I said earlier, a much stronger performance assessment framework.
One of the problems that the noble Earl, Lord Howe, has raised is that of inconsistency in performance. Although I accept that part of such inconsistency can be put down to an issue of resources, I have to say--indeed, the evidence exists--that different local authorities with the same pound in their pocket seem to be able to produce great variations in the quality of service provided. The great challenge for us is to ensure that we have uniformly high standards of performance in relation to this Bill, and in relation to other Bills that we have put through Parliament this Session. Again, I have in mind the Children (Leaving Care) Bill. We shall be paying very close attention to
I turn to deal briefly with a number of other matters raised by noble Lords during the course of the debate. I listened with great care to the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Rix, as regards the difficulties experienced by people with learning disabilities. I very much accept the point raised about direct payments and the need to ensure that communications with those people are effective. We shall certainly do everything that we can to ensure that we do so.
In conclusion, I was indeed moved by the experience of Khalid at the Falinge Park School, Rochdale, that my noble friend Lady Andrews recounted. In many senses it brought home to us all the noble and sterling efforts of so many carers of all ages who help and support loved ones and enable them to live in the community. At heart, that is what this Bill is all about. I believe that it will contribute enormously to the care and support that need to be given to carers. My noble friend Lady Pitkeathley has done this House a considerable service in bringing this Bill forward.
Baroness Pitkeathley: My Lords, I believe that two things will immediately be apparent from the debate: first, the amount of support and concern for carers which exists in this House; and, secondly, the totally cross-party nature of that support.
Noble Lords have reminded us--especially those who have shared with us their personal experiences--that caring affects everyone. I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. I add my congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, on her excellent maiden speech. I also thank the Minister for his thoughtful responses. I convey my deepest gratitude to the officials in the Department of Health who have done such sterling work on the Bill.
Many important issues have been raised to which we shall return at later stages of the Bill. They have in the main concerned implementation and getting the message across, rather than the Bill itself. That bodes well for its future progress. The implementation issues will be taken on board not just by the Government but also by the many voluntary sector organisations which are concerned with the matter.
This Bill will not solve all the problems of carers, but it is another important step along the line. As my noble friend Lord Morris said, it is another in the suite of measures. It will help to maintain the continuous momentum of helpful change which carers so much deserve. I look forward to future stages of the Bill. Again, I thank all noble Lords who took part in the debate. I commend the Bill to the House.
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