Labour peer warns Gordon Brown over fate of free care bill

Former health minister Lord Warner has warned prime minister Gordon Brown that he “will have a shock” if he believes key social care legislation will pass smoothly through the House of Lords.

In a Lords debate today, the Labour peer will seek to delay progress of legislation to introduce free personal care at home for people with high needs until the government has provided more information on how it would be implemented.

However, speaking to Community Care ahead of today’s second reading of the Personal Care at Home Bill, Warner raised doubts over whether the bill, which has already cleared the House of Commons, would pass through the Lords before the next election, expected in May.

He has tabled a motion to delay the bill’s committee stage until after the government has published its response to a consultation on regulations to implement the legislation.

Warner’s intevention follows warnings from the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services over the weekend that the cost of the legislation to councils could be double government estimates.

The committee stage, where peers will debate the bill in detail, is due to start on 22 February, the day before consultation closes on the proposed regulations and guidance.

Vocal critic

Warner, who left the government three years ago and is a vocal critic of the proposals, said: “I think if the prime minister thinks he will get it through he will have a shock.”

He said he would push the motion to a vote if there appeared to be sufficient support. The government holds only 211 of the 706 seats in the Lords and though the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives, who between them hold 261 seats, have indicated that they will not oppose the bill, it is unclear how they would vote on a procedural motion such as Warner’s.

And Warner’s fellow Labour critic of the bill – Lord Lipsey – has said that crossbenchers, who hold 183 seats in the Lords, are hostile to the legislation, which would provide free care at home to about 280,000 people in England – 166,000 of whom already receive free care – and reablement services to 130,000 people a year.

Health secretary Andy Burnham defended the bill this morning on Radio 4’s Today programme as a way of making the care system fairer, but was attacked on the proposals by former civil service head and crossbench peer Lord Butler.

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