§ 3. Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)
If he will take steps to increase funding for the provision of long-term care. 
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Dr. Stephen Ladyman)
The Government are committed to providing the investment that is needed to secure real improvements in long-term care. We are determined to see that older people get the support that they need to lead life with respect and dignity. We have announced an overall real-terms increase of £1 billion for older people's social services by 2006.
§ Sir Nicholas Winterton
Does the Minister not accept that capacity across all sectors is approximately 74,000 places lower than it was at the peak of provision in 1996, and that in the 15 months leading up to April this year 13,400 elderly persons' places have been lost in residential homes—primarily independent and private homes? While the new minimum standards have clearly made a contribution to that by placing substantial burdens on small homes, the Minister must surely admit that underfunding is part of the problem. Will he please direct further attention to the situation, and try to ensure that the places that are required are provided?
§ Dr. Ladyman
I can give the hon. Gentleman an absolute assurance that we will look at the issues carefully; but the market contains 10,000 more care home places than there are people waiting for them, according to Laing and Buisson's figures.
705 As the hon. Gentleman says, there has been a contraction of the care home market since 1996. The implementation in the early 1990s of the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990 created a change in the market, which has continued to contract at a fairly steady pace ever since.
If the hon. Gentleman would like some advice, let me refer him to the Minister who oversaw the start of the contraction—the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns).
§ Mr. Mark Todd (South Derbyshire)
Aston Hall hospital in my constituency provides long-term care for people with learning disabilities. I have corresponded with my hon. Friend about delays in its reprovisioning programme. Will he ask his officials to turn their minds again to the need for urgent solutions and assistance for a reprovisioning process that, although tortuously and complexly designed, has won the support of all concerned?
§ Dr. Ladyman
I will certainly undertake to look again at the details of that case. Support for learning-disabled people is one of my highest priorities in my new portfolio, and I intend to ensure that the substantial extra resources made available by the Government for their care will indeed go to them.
§ Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield)
Does the Minister think it right for Birmingham city council to pay twice as much for places in its own residential homes as it pays for places in the private sector? Is that not a massive abuse of the taxpayer, as well as an abuse of the hard-working small business people employed in that sector?
§ Dr. Ladyman
We trust local authorities to make decisions about their areas. It is they who are in a position to assess the needs of their local care home markets, and they will pay the price set by those markets for the services that they require. They will tender for places, the marketplace will offer a price, and they will deal at that price. Why should they be expected to pay more than the market is asking them to pay?
§ Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire)
Will my hon. Friend ensure that any increased funding that finds its way into private care homes leads to extra controls and regulations governing the standards operating in those homes? Is he happy that we are currently receiving value for money?
§ Dr. Ladyman
If my hon. Friend can give specific examples of our not receiving value for money, I shall be pleased if he brings them to me and I shall take them up with him. I am happy that in general we are receiving value for money. I think that the new standards we have set are a vital resource, ensuring that we drive up the quality of care for older people and for anyone who must live in a care home or nursing home. They are, I believe, an essential tool in the Government's armoury, enabling us to improve services for everyone everywhere.