The future of Labour’s free personal care bill still hangs in the balance despite key concessions having been offered to the government’s opponents in the House of Lords.
During a Commons debate yesterday, the government accepted a Lords amendment that would mean both Houses of Parliament would have to approve the implementation of the Personal Care at Home Bill after it becomes law. This vote would take place after the next election.
Ministers have also put back the start date for its plan to provide free personal care at home to people with the highest needs and increased access to reablement services, to April 2011. This follows concerns that councils would not be able to implement the policy by the government’s preferred date of October 2010.
The Lords must now agree whether to approve the bill before Parliament is dissolved before the election, which is expected to take place on 8 April.
Despite the concessions, Labour peer Lord Lipsey, a leading opponent of the bill, said he needed to take advice and consult with fellow peers before forming an opinion on whether he could now support the bill.
He said: “The changes certainly represent a major step forward.”
The reform is the first stage of Labour’s proposed three-stage transformation of the care funding system, outlined in yesterday’s White Paper.
Care services minister Phil Hope said: “We have listened to local government and we have listened to the concerns expressed in another place… we are recognising that a new parliament may wish to confirm the arrangements for implementing this important first step towards a future national care service.”
Tory shadow health minister Stephen O’Brien said he believed the concessions should be enough for the bill to pass into law because the government had “taken on board the advice of the Lords”.
The government rejected another amendment that the legislation would lapse if it were not brought into force within two years of receiving Royal Assent.
A further Lords amendment, that would have delayed the bill’s implementation until an independent review of its costs, was ruled to be inadmissable because it could impose extra costs on the public purse that had not been authorised by the House of Commons.
Peers and local authorities have raised concerns about the costs of the legislation, which have been estimated by the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services to be as high as £1bn a year, compared with the government’s estimate of £670m.