Gordon Brown’s flagship free personal care bill has been torpedoed in the House of Lords and now has little chance of becoming law until after the general election.
Peers pushed through four anti-government amendments to the Personal Care at Home Bill last night, one of which would require that the two Houses of Parliament would have to vote to bring the bill into force after the election. The legislation would introduce free personal care at home for people with high needs and provide reablement services for people entering or within the care system, and was announced in Brown’s keynote speech to the Labour conference last year.
The other amendments passed yesterday would delay implementation – currently set for 1 October 2010 – until April 2011 and also until an independent review of its costs had been carried out, and mean the legislation would lapse if it were not brought into force within two years of receiving Royal Assent.
If, as expected, the House of Lords ratifies the bill in its current form at its third reading next Wednesday, the government could still reverse the amendments in the House of Commons. However, that would leave just a few days for both Houses to agree a final version of the bill before Parliament dissolves for the election, meaning the government would have to make concessions or drop the bill until after polling day.
Peers raised concerns about the costs of the legislation in yesterday’s debate, 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.
The government’s losses follow several weeks of rows between the parties over the reform of adult social care funding and a critical report by the Commons health select committee, whose members described the bill as “policy-making on the hoof”.
Lord Lipsey’s criticisms
During the report stage the Labour peer insisted the amendments were not designed to wreck the bill.
He said: “The only thing they wreck is the attempt to force the bill through as if it were an emergency measure, short-cutting parliamentary procedures, ignoring the criticism of its provisions which has dominated public discussion and without thinking through the fine detail as it needs to be thought through.”
He later said the Lords amendments would mean that the bill could be looked at by the next government and its “affordability, workability and fairness reassessed on a suitable timescale”.
Shadow health minister Stephen O’Brien suggested that a future Tory government would re-examine the legislation, rather than simply drop it, saying: “The forces of reason have combined across parties to ensure that we can look again at this rushed legislation and make sure that it is affordable and workable. We now have a real opportunity to begin the wholesale and real reform of social care which so many people need.”