New Labour serves up a curate’s egg

A restaurant menu that excites one person’s taste buds may do
nothing for a diner at the next table.

Such was the case with the Queen’s Speech last week. The menu of
bills laid out before the House of Commons on behalf of the
government seemed appetising enough to those interested in law and
order, those working with vulnerable victims of sexual abuse and
those managing top-performing councils and NHS trusts. But for
those involved with older people, disadvantaged young people or
poor-performing NHS trusts and councils, the choice was less

A bill to tackle antisocial behaviour by young people has been
welcomed by children’s and young people’s charities, but with the
proviso that it is accompanied with more emphasis on collaboration
and partnership working and policies to confront underlying issues
in disadvantaged areas.

“We believe that laws need to be tough on truancy and social
exclusion, and young people need a framework in which to live,”
says a spokesperson for youth charity Fairbridge. “But legislation
alone will not provide better communities.”

Meanwhile, the NSPCC describes the Sexual Offences Bill, due to be
published this week, as “the biggest shake-up of sex laws this
century”, praising the measures to deal with internet paedophilia.
The bill will also broaden the offences that trigger registration
on the sex offenders’ register and introduce new penalties.

David Congdon, policy spokesperson for learning difficulties
charity Mencap, hopes the bill will also offer protection to people
with learning difficulties.

The Sexual Offences Bill and the Criminal Justice Bill are intended
to rebalance the criminal justice system in favour of victims,
witnesses and communities. The Criminal Justice Bill will also lead
to a reform of the sentencing framework. However, the probation
service is warning that the introduction of community sentences and
new custodial sentences with periods of supervision in the
community will be unworkable without more investment in probation
services. Provisions to address drug-related and youth offending
will also be brought in under the bill.

The Health and Social Care Bill is trumpeted as the next step in
NHS reform, making way for the creation of foundation hospitals
free from Whitehall control. It will also lead to the establishment
of two commissions for social care and for health audit and

Initially, foundation hospital status will be available only to the
highest-performing NHS trusts. Equally, the new freedoms due to be
outlined in the Local Government Bill – including less red tape and
greater financial freedoms – will be available only to
top-performing councils. Public sector union Unison has already
warned of a two-tier system.

The bill that everyone finds by far the most difficult to digest is
the Community Care (Delayed Discharges) Bill. Yet health secretary
Alan Milburn wasted no time in bringing it a step closer to reality
when he published it two days after the Queen’s Speech.

The bill will see local authorities being fined if the discharge of
patients from hospital is delayed because the appropriate social
services are not in place. Although intended to provide older
people with seamless care, the fines have been dismissed by older
people’s charity Age Concern as “a short-sighted measure that puts
the system before older people”.

Andrew Dearden, chairperson of the British Medical Association’s
community care committee, said: “The plans will damage the
relationships between NHS providers and councils, where the NHS is
rewarded for the failures of social services.”

For mental health campaigners, the cupboard was bare. This was
welcomed by many who believed the draft Mental Health Bill to be
difficult to swallow. But, given Milburn’s promise the day after
the Queen’s Speech to “bring forward the bill during this session”,
the government appears to have decided not to wait for an agreed
recipe after all.

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