I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
It is a great pleasure to be able to introduce my Bill. I begin by thanking its sponsors, who, as you will see, Mr. Deputy Speaker, are a cross-party group. I particularly thank the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer), who introduced a very similar Bill not long ago. I am grateful to him for all his help and encouragement on this Bill.
It is a staggering and depressing fact that about 38,000 healthy animals are put down every year simply because their owners are going into a care home or sheltered housing project and the rules do not allow them to take their pet with them. That is bad enough, but it is also estimated that a further 100,000 pets have to be given up for adoption for the same reason. Many become so distressed because of being abandoned by their owners that they eventually have to be put down. That is totally unacceptable in a civilised country. Many other countries, such as France and the USA, have laws aimed at allowing people to keep their beloved pets. Some enlightened councils in the UK, such as Wandsworth, have shown how positive policies can easily be brought in and have great benefits.
It is bad enough for someone to reach the point in their life at which they need to move into a care home or sheltered housing—it is a stressful moment involving a lot of upheaval and often distress.
Does my hon. Friend accept that as people become elderly and perhaps live alone, a pet is a friend to them and can keep them company? If they have to go into a home either because of failing health or because there is no one to look after them, the fact that they lose the friend that has been with them as a companion for many years will be even more distressing. We therefore need a change in the law to ensure that that does not happen.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I know that he is a doughty campaigner in his constituency for older people and their rights.
It is important that we try to put a stop to this needless trauma for older people. I am particularly interested in the matter not simply because of my experiences as a local MP, or indeed as vice-president of Age Concern Eastbourne, but in my role as shadow Minister with responsibility for older people. All politicians talk about giving older people dignity and security, and a nationwide policy on pets could help lift one particular burden from many older people. We may look at the demographics. I believe some experts say that one in four babies born today will live to see their 100th birthday. The population is ageing and people are living longer and longer, so this problem will get more acute if anything.
Approximately 25 per cent. of all people over retirement age own pets at the moment. I am indebted to the Society for Companion Animal Studies, which has done a huge amount of work on the topic. Its research shows that the majority of care homes and sheltered housing complexes in the UK do not have pet policies. It is not the case that there is a rule that applies across the whole country that needs to be changed; the fact is simply that a lot of places have not even addressed the issue. That is what causes such distress.
I greatly support the aims of the hon. Gentleman’s Bill. Does he know what proportion of care homes have banned pets? I certainly agree with him about the importance of the matter, having recently visited a home in my constituency. An animal is not just good for the owner but becomes adopted by the care home as a whole and provides support and comfort for all the residents.
I am most grateful for that intervention. The hon. Gentleman is right. Some charities—the hon. Gentleman may have come across them—bring pets into care homes for a couple of hours so that residents can pet and play with them. Clearly, there is a benefit from that. I cannot help him with the statistics, which are difficult to obtain. I suspect that one reason for that is that people have not thought through the policies—there is simply a knee-jerk reaction of, “Oh, we don’t want the fuss and bother of a pet,” with no distinction made between budgerigars at one end of the scale and Irish wolfhounds or rottweilers at the other.
In many cases, a blanket ban on pets is applied for no reason other than that the provider has not given the issue any serious consideration. That results in many older people being faced with little choice but to give up their pet. While some facilities may allow pets, few have an official policy on the subject. For example, the manager of a facility may be particularly animal friendly and happy to allow residents to keep pets, but what happens when that manager moves on? That ad hoc approach is extremely fragile. It does not present a clear position to residents, staff or anybody else.
A few months ago, I had the pleasure of speaking at the annual meeting of Sussex Housing and Care, which has many homes in and around my constituency. It had just been given the gold Community Animal Welfare Footprints for housing award by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. It won the silver award in the previous year. It is a shining example of how care homes can strive for a policy that has a direct impact on the quality of residents’ lives. Once such an organisation applies its mind to the issue, it often turns out not to experience many practical problems with it.
A constituent, Mrs. Maureen Martini, raised with me a related problem, which could perhaps be considered in Committee. She lives in a sheltered housing complex, which is well known to me. She has always owned dogs and she lost her last dog due to illness only in December. She wants to adopt another small dog and she is looking to adopt one that is already four years old. She finds that, although her landlord, the Anchor Trust, which seems to be one of the enlightened landlords, has a small pets policy, she cannot get the animal rescue centres to give her a small dog. They seem to impose their own rules and requirements on the availability of suitable pets. She says:
“I am finding this very upsetting and frustrating…I have always kept a dog and it is routine for me to care for it, motivating me to go outdoors regularly which is something that I am missing very much. Providing company for me at home … is also something that I am missing very much.”
That is a typical case of an older person who can see the health benefits of having a pet.
According to the Pet Food Manufacturers Association survey, distress caused by the loss of a pet was observed by staff in 39 per cent. of homes that were sampled—an increase of 4 per cent. since Rowntree conducted a similar survey in 1993. Pets are an important source of physical, emotional and social support. They have proven health benefits for older people and can improve even cardiovascular as well as mental health. They are also a great antidote to loneliness, which can afflict so many older people. We know through the work of organisations such as Age Concern that one in four people of pension age suffers from depression at one time or another.
The figures that SCAS produced speak for themselves. Pet owners are 40 per cent. less likely to die from a heart attack and 30 per cent. less likely to have a stroke. They have 30 per cent. less risk of developing heart failure and are more likely to survive a heart attack or stroke. Moreover, routines of pet care are linked with routines of self care. Pets are recognised as one of the key factors in promoting well-being, according to Age Concern and the Mental Health Foundation. As in my constituent’s case, pets encourage greater exercise and activity, and older pet owners score more highly on activities of daily living.
The National Ageing Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia showed:
“Aged and disability service providers believe that companion animals play an important role in clients’ lives in the key areas of companionship, health and well-being. Companion animals were perceived as offering a significant contribution to the quality of life…The positive pet person relationship in the aged and disabled sector is a valuable link that must now be not only recognised but acted upon by the government, health and community care sectors”.
Of course, there are reservations, and I imagine the Minister will raise some of them—I hope she does not do so extensively because we do not want to run out of time for this important legislation. For example, an animal could outlive its owner. I gather that that does not happen very often, and that when it does, the owner’s friends or family, or indeed other residents, often agree to look after it. As the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) said, pets living in care homes and sheltered accommodation often become part of the more general community, and in many instances, other residents take a share in the care of the animal. That routine of shared care might continue if the owner dies or is no longer able to care for the animal.
There are concerns about pets—particularly dogs—going into such accommodation and not mixing well or not getting adequate exercise, and the question of who is responsible for veterinary care. Other residents could be frightened of, or allergic to, animals. I am arguing not for a blanket policy so that every pet from python to budgerigar must be admitted to a care home or sheltered housing, but simply for a basic legal presumption that pets should be permitted, subject to appropriate discussion about all possible eventualities, and provided they do not cause a nuisance to other residents.
Care providers could legitimately and understandably face opposition if any extra burdens were placed on them, but as the studies have shown, an intelligent pets policy allows into care homes animals that would reduce the burden on staff by improving the quality of life for the elderly. Indeed, residents who would otherwise make frequent demands on staff time often focus on their companion animals for much of the day.
In conclusion, I should point out the careful wording of the safeguards in the Bill. As I said, there is an overall assumption that care home and sheltered housing providers will not refuse permission for a domestic pet to accompany its owner, but the pet must be of a species authorised by the Secretary of State, so the most outlandish and potentially dangerous animals would hopefully not be authorised.
As I said, I support the hon. Gentleman’s Bill, but I have a little trouble with the wording of this aspect of it. In Committee, will he consider including the size of animals or the breeds of dogs? He mentioned that a giant rottweiler is not exactly the same as a Yorkshire terrier, so perhaps that provision needs a little tidying up, because a dog is a dog—it could be very small or very big.
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point, although I have come across some fairly vicious Yorkshire terriers in my time, particularly when out canvassing. I will be happy to take that on board in Committee. Basically, animals must be of a species authorised by the Secretary of State, so we are not talking about wolves, tigers or pythons, as I said, or anything of that sort.
There could be an objection to a pet if the safety of other residents is affected. That is important, because we do not want to allow a pet that is going to annoy, upset or worry other residents. In addition, clause 1(2)(c) refers to the welfare of the animal—a view could be taken that an animal would not benefit from entering the accommodation with its owner. There is also a provision for the accommodation provider to charge a fee to cover the cost of having a pet, and one for an appeals procedure, which is fairly simple and not burdensome.
The principle is right, but we have also thought through the practicalities, and the Bill deals with potential objections and provides safeguards for residents, care home and sheltered housing operators, and animals. As I said at the beginning of my speech, the problem, which arises simply because many homes and projects have not thought through a policy, will only become worse and more widespread as more people live longer. This is one matter on which we can do something positive to help older people, and make that little bit easier their transition from their homes to care homes or sheltered housing, which can often be very painful. I commend the Bill to the House.
I shall be brief, as requested by Members on both sides of the House, but I wish to support this important piece of legislation. I commend the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) on the Bill. As he has said, the health benefits for elderly people—and the wider community—are well known, and they should be encouraged. It is unfortunate that so many good, healthy animals have to be destroyed.
The hon. Gentleman is right that we need to consider several issues in Committee—I hope that the Bill reaches Committee. He mentioned the problem of residents who may have pet allergies, and that certain pets may not be suitable, perhaps because they are unruly. One care home owner in my constituency also raised the issue of damage being done by the pets of residents, and we need to consider that. Those issues aside—and they can be addressed in Committee—I hope that the Bill goes through, and it has my and my party’s support.
It is a privilege on behalf of the Opposition to support the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson). The Bill has been drafted cleverly and concisely, and it addresses many of the concerns that we have heard today. Some areas could be tightened up, and the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) has highlighted some of those. Those points can be addressed in Committee.
I hope that the Government will support the Bill. Indeed, I hope that they will go further than not opposing it and work with my hon. Friend to get it through in the short time we have left in this Parliament. It is an important Bill that addresses an issue of natural justice, which may be an old concept but is eminently sensible. Why should someone who is leaving local authority housing, where they may have lived for many years, to move into sheltered accommodation managed by the same authority, be forced to get rid of a pet that they may also have had for many years?
We all visit care homes and sheltered accommodation in our constituencies, so we know that they can be very lonely places. There may be many people there, but residents can be isolated, perhaps because they have difficulty hearing or other problems associated with old age. Having a pet, even something as trivial—I do not like the word trivial, so perhaps I should say cuddly—as a budgerigar could be the stimulus that residents need to make their lives more fulfilling.
The hon. Member for Hendon mentioned the size of dogs, and he is right that some accommodation would not be suitable for, for example, a St. Bernard, but would be suitable for a Jack Russell or a Pom. It is only right and proper that this House looks at what is best for our constituents, especially those in state-owned accommodation paid for by the taxpayer.
Clause 2 addresses the concerns of the private sector, and the wording is important for those who fear this legislation might be imposed on them. It takes into consideration the type of premises, the other residents and the benefits of having a pet.
For the second time today we have a consensus. I hope that the Government will support the Bill and assist its passage. I hope that they will not just pay lip service to the Bill, but get involved. I hope that the Whips put people on the Committee who want the Bill to go through, rather than those who would seek to hold it up. If that happens, the quality of the lives of many of our elderly constituents could be improved by being able to keep their pets with them.
There are rescue centres for many different pets around our constituencies, and it is only right and proper that the Bill ensures that the type of pet is suitable for the premises—frankly, animals that some people call pets I would like to see in the wild, rather than in any form of cage or restrictive environment. Many pets are put down because a loving home cannot be found for them. Sometimes, they will have been for some time with a loving family who, owing to circumstances, have had to move to different premises where pets are not allowed. If we can save the lives of those pets, we will demonstrate the compassion towards animals that this country has shown for generations and centuries. Pets give an awful lot; is it not time that we gave something back to those pets? I commend the Bill to the House.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) on bringing the Bill before the House, and my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer) on introducing a previous, similar Bill—the hon. Gentleman has already acknowledged my hon. Friend’s contribution. Organisations such as Blue Cross, the Dogs Trust and the Society for Companion Animal Studies have all expressed sympathy with the Bill’s aims. I also pay tribute to the Cinnamon Trust, a charity helping older people to keep their beloved pets, and thank it for its advocacy and for supporting prospective care home residents and helping them to make the right decisions about their care. Its work relates to today’s debate. I also thank other hon. Members for their contributions and for making clear their support for the Bill.
I listened carefully to the comments of the hon. Member for Eastbourne, and I share his concern about the lack of consideration of this matter in places where there is a blanket ban, without thought, on pets. That works against the kind of compassion to which the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning) referred. The point made by the hon. Member for Eastbourne about distress is hugely important, and I particularly wanted to reflect on his comments about the major contribution made by pets to the physical, social and emotional well-being of older people in particular. I particularly liked his acknowledgment that pets can be an antidote to loneliness. It shows why the Bill is of importance to the House.
The decision to enter a care home or sheltered housing is an important one. I know well that it often coincides with the lack or loss of independence or mobility, so anything that can help people to retain a sense of themselves and their lives—pets have a role to play in that—and to help the transition is to be welcomed.
I am sure that it was not intentional, but the Minister suggested that these issues concern only older people in sheltered accommodation, but of course there are younger people, often with specialist physical or mental needs, for whom a pet is an essential part of their lives. Sometimes, however, they cannot keep them because they are not permitted in the accommodation. This matter concerns not just older people, but people in need more generally.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and his comments have reminded me to say something else in praise of pets: they provide much to all of us, whatever our age. As the hon. Member for Eastbourne rightly pointed out, however, there is a group about which we should be particularly concerned. Nevertheless, we should speak up for the role of pets and their positive contribution to many lives—those of not just older people, but people in sheltered housing whatever their age.
The parliamentary timetable gives the Bill no chance of succeeding, but I wish to put on the record how much we appreciate the sentiment and intent behind it, and I would like to extend to the hon. Gentleman the opportunity to discuss this important matter further. He made the legitimate point that there should be a national policy on pets and older people. I should like to do something about that.
As we have heard, pets can provide companionship, reassurance and affection for people who may be feeling more isolated than ever, especially if their circumstances have changed. I know from experience how valuable contact with animals can be. My friend Janice, who lives in Lincoln, has had her rather lovely dog Millie trained by the charity Pets As Therapy, to which I believe the hon. Gentleman referred. Janice gives her time—as well as Millie’s—to visit people in care homes. As I have seen, Pets As Therapy provides behaviour-assessed, vaccinated animals and trained volunteers, such as Millie and Janice, to go to hospitals, hospices and care homes. I have been struck not just by the difference that Pets As Therapy makes to individuals, but by the dedication of the staff and the animals. They make 6 million bedside visits a year. As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, that is just one way in which people can benefit from pets.
I cannot emphasise too strongly how much I approve of the sentiment behind the Bill. Of course we do not want a ban on pets in care homes or sheltered housing. Independent providers of care and accommodation are currently able to make individual decisions on the basis of their circumstances. That is the most practical approach that we have encountered so far, and although it is not perfect, it has led to practical arrangements.
I have already mentioned the Cinnamon Trust, the national charity that works on behalf of older people and their pets. I pay tribute to the work of the trust and its founder and chief executive, Averil Jarvis MBE. It has a network consisting of some 16,000 volunteers who help owners to care for their pets. It aims to keep owners and pets together. It provides dog-walking services, buys food for pets, and helps to keep them clean and healthy when their owners are housebound. It also temporarily fosters pets when their owners need hospital care. Its work seems to me to do a great deal to fulfil the Bill’s sentiments, and I am sure hon. Members will join me in congratulating it.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Cinnamon Trust operates a register of pet-friendly care homes, which pet owners who are no longer able to live independently in their own homes can use to find suitable places. About 750 of the 18,500 care and nursing homes in England are listed as pet-friendly, although they may restrict the types of pets that they will accommodate. As we have heard today, a large dog would obviously be less likely to be admitted than a small rodent or a budgerigar.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman’s maths is correct. I was not presenting the figures as an excuse, but simply as an illustration of the work of the Cinnamon Trust. It is true that 750 out of 18,500 is a small proportion, but I just wanted to make the point about the work of the Cinnamon Trust, and what it offers and how it assists. I do not deny for one moment the sentiments behind the Bill.
If it is not possible for an owner to take their pet into a care home, or if an owner dies, the Cinnamon Trust will care for and attempt to find a new home for the pet—again, hon. Members had concerns about that issue. The trust runs two sanctuaries for that purpose and it assists 14,000 people a year with 20,000 animals. I am sure that hon. Members will find those figures impressive in their reach.
The work that the Cinnamon Trust does is fantastic but, as we have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson), thousands of animals are put down unnecessarily simply because the legislation is not in place to protect people when they go into a care home or sheltered accommodation. The vast majority of the homes that the Minister mentioned are in the state sector—they are local authority homes—so the Government are in control. The Cinnamon Trust does wonderful work, but the reason for introducing the Bill is because the trust cannot do everything and the legislation needs to be changed.
May I gently suggest that the hon. Gentleman should hear me out a little further, because I wish to discuss care homes and, indeed, sheltered housing, which would also rightly be covered by the reach of the Bill? However, it is important to find out where we are starting from before we work out the best way to go. Many local councils and care providers, as well as the Government’s Directgov information service, publicise the work of the Cinnamon Trust to potential residents and provide links to it on their websites.
Although the Government agree with the principle of the Bill, there are a number of practical difficulties with it in its current form and it is important to draw those to the attention of the House. Indeed, the hon. Member for Eastbourne has raised some of them in a very honest fashion. Although I freely admit that the matter appears at first glance to be straightforward, I know, having gone into it, that it involves many complexities. The Bill’s drafting has sought to address that, and we have heard an acknowledgment in the debate that we would need to go further. There are many competing considerations and there is no single easy answer.
It may help the House if I were to outline some of the main obstacles involved, but before I do so I wish to refer back to the data on the number of animals that it is said are destroyed. We understand that the figures come from a report that is 12 years old and, unfortunately, we have not been able to verify them as being more up to date. It would be useful to do so, and perhaps as we extend this discussion about the number of animals that are put down or have to be re-homed, the hon. Gentleman will seek to do so.
On those obstacles, first, not all care homes or sheltered accommodation are suitable environments in which to keep pets. The layout of many premises, where residents have their own rooms or apartments but share social and recreational spaces, could make it difficult to ensure everyone’s preferences are accommodated. Secondly, reconciling the wishes of all residents can be difficult; some may prefer not to share their environment with animals, but might hesitate to voice their objections in case it leads to disputes with fellow residents, and others may be allergic to, or even afraid of, animals. Thirdly, as I am sure hon. Members will agree, it is important to ensure that pets are properly exercised and cared for. Those residents who are frail or in poor health might find it difficult to do so themselves, however much they might wish to. That could put providers and their staff under pressure to care for residents’ pets. In principle, that might not be a problem and, where staffing, layout and circumstances allow, the sector could, perhaps, provide extra staff and support, but the difficulty with the Bill in its current form is the fact that the legislation, if it were to force all such accommodation to allow pets, would be likely to result in extra cost to the taxpayer. Some 60 per cent. of the cost of residential care in England is funded by local authorities or the NHS, which pays for the nursing element of residential care. Obviously, we would have to consider that.
Although our thoughts might turn to our own faithful and favourite family pets—a tabby cat, or a Yorkshire terrier, as we have already mentioned—I am sure that I do not need to remind hon. Members that pets come in all shapes and sizes. Some people keep rats; others keep snakes or spiders. The keeping, exercise and food requirements of a kitten are different from those of a Great Dane, and different again from those of a tarantula. Finally, although the risk is likely to be small, pets might bring with them certain health risks such as infections or parasites that are carried or transmitted by animals. Of course, those infections and parasites will differ depending on whether the pet is a kitten, a Great Dane or a tarantula. Those who are frail or in poor health might, of course—this is important—have less resistance to infection.
I have concentrated on why it might not be practical, with the Bill as drafted, for people to keep pets in care homes and sheltered housing, but it is important that the House considers the wider questions about the role of local and central Government and the autonomy of individual providers. As hon. Members are aware, a number of care homes—the latest estimate suggests 750, or about 5 per cent.—allow pets. Although it is limited, there is some availability.
Care home and sheltered housing providers are primarily independent, private sector organisations. We understand from the Elderly Accommodation Counsel, the charity that advises older people on housing and care, that of the 500,000 sheltered housing units, nearly half—that is 255,825 units—will consider accepting pets. The scale of the challenge is different in sheltered housing to the challenge in residential and care homes. Again, there is some degree of availability. Sheltered housing providers are paid from local budgets and operate under local contracts with local government. We would not wish to second-guess or dictate conditions to the market.
Instead, the decision about whether or not to allow pets is in the hands of the care home and sheltered housing operators, working closely with the relevant local authorities. However, we want to encourage both the home care sector and local authorities not immediately to discount the idea of allowing pets to stay with their owners. That is the key point that the hon. Member for Eastbourne correctly made.
Wherever practical, local government and its partners in the independent and private sectors should consider allowing pets in some of their care homes—and, indeed, in as many as possible. When I read the Bill, that is what I understood it to want. As the hon. Gentleman has rightly identified, there are major providers of housing and care—Housing 21 and the Anchor Trust, about which we have already heard—that are happy to consider allowing tenants and residents to keep their pets. We would encourage others to follow their example.
There is a wider point to be made about pets in care homes and sheltered housing. Clearly, we all want to see the best conditions in care homes and supported accommodation, and I understand the role that pets can play. However, many people have told us that what they would really like, above all, is to remain in their own home. Of course, if one lives in one’s own home, one is free to keep a pet. I feel that increasing the number of people who can stay in their own home will help with this important matter. We do not want to sweep the whole thing under the carpet, but we want to reduce the number of people for whom the only option is to leave their home.
The Government are keen to ensure that as many people as possible are supported in remaining in their home for as long as they wish. That would greatly help people to keep their pets. The House will be aware that that is what the Personal Care at Home Bill, which is currently going through Parliament, is all about. It focuses on providing personal care for those who live in their own home, including in sheltered or supported accommodation, and will support those adults with the highest personal care needs in England. It will enable all those people with the greatest care needs, including many with serious dementia or multiple sensory impairments, to protect their savings. It will also benefit a wider group of people by maintaining or improving their ability to live at home for longer and, of course, by helping them to keep their pets. Let me give a sense of scale regarding the number of people for whom we seek to do that. The Bill guarantees free personal care to 280,000 of those people with the highest needs, of whom 110,000 will receive free personal care for the first time. Currently, those 110,000 people receive personal care but have to pay for it, either in part or in full, themselves. Of those 110,000, some 90,000 are older people aged 65 or over, and 20,000 are younger adults aged 18 to 64.
The Personal Care at Home Bill is a step towards setting up a new national care service.
Order. I am reluctant to stop the Minister, but she is in danger of talking about a kind of accommodation that is not before the House today. Limited reference to that is in order, but the Bill is specifically about care homes and sheltered accommodation and the way that pets can be dealt with in such accommodation.
I understand that point, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This is an extremely important issue, and I simply wished to illustrate that one thing that we can do is assist people in making their own decisions and in being equipped to keep their independence in their own home. That includes being able to keep their pets.
There are huge challenges to making such changes. However, it is important to end the lottery of charging for personal care so that we can have a fairer, simpler and more affordable system in order to have national consistency as well as better information and advice. That would give people a greater chance of staying in their own home through reablement or early intervention. It would prevent people from becoming more dependent and would help them to regain more independence in order to allow them to stay in their own home. People tell us that they want to remain in their own home, and I am in no doubt that that is not just about wishing to see familiar surroundings but about wanting to have support there and the companionship of pets. We want to help people become more independent in the community. That is of benefit to the people concerned, the community, and the national health service.
The other way in which we would seek to give people support so that they can remain in their own homes, where they can keep their pets, is by having extra care housing. That, too, provides independence and choice to people with care and support needs. It is innovative housing with a care option, 24-hour support, meals, domestic help, and leisure and recreation facilities, in an environment that is genuinely safe for the tenants. That could be a modern-day alternative to residential care, and the challenge before us—the question of whether pets are allowed—would not have to be considered. The Government have made many millions of pounds available to extend independence and choice.
There is no doubt in my mind that the Bill has been introduced with absolutely the best of intentions, and I again commend the hon. Member for Eastbourne and my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe for bringing this serious matter before the House. It deals with independence and dignity, and enables us to see and acknowledge the role that pets have to play, but as I said, I do not believe that there is one simple way of achieving the aim, and that is why it is important to refer to the fact that more people should have the chance to make their own decisions on pets, as on many other matters.
The Government understand and very much share the sentiment behind the Bill, and are sympathetic to its aims. I would like to restate that we do not wish there to be any move in the other direction—a point that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. We do not want there to be any ban on pets in care homes or sheltered housing.
However, the challenge before us is that, as we know, the parliamentary timetable will not allow the Bill to succeed. As the hon. Gentleman has acknowledged, there are practical obstacles to implementing the Bill on this important matter. For those reasons, I ask him whether he will withdraw it in its current form. I offer to have discussions with him and others to find a way forward, because what is most important is that we put first the interests of those who, unwillingly, find themselves potentially or actually separated from their pets. We must also work with those who provide the care and accommodation; I know that that, too, is of interest to him.
We do not, at this stage, actively oppose the Bill, but we seek a way of making a practical difference to the people who rely on us to assist them to find greater dignity and independence, and greater companionship from their pets.
I thank all those who have spoken in this debate, and I am delighted that there is such consensus among all parties that the proposals are a good idea. I especially thank the Minister, who has taken real trouble to go into the matter in such depth. I particularly endorse what she said about the Cinnamon Trust and other bodies that are involved with the issue generally.
I remind the House that the Bill is directed entirely at people who are obliged, through their life circumstances, to go into care homes or sheltered accommodation. It has no ambitions to go beyond that and look at the issue of long-term care; I leave it to greater minds than mine to address that conundrum in due course.
I am grateful for the Minister’s suggestion that I withdraw the Bill to hold further discussions, and I hope she will not take it amiss if I decline that kind offer. I do, however accept, her offer of lack of opposition to, if not support for, the Bill as it stands. She is, of course, absolutely right: thanks to the exigencies of the electoral process, the Prime Minister finally has to have a general election, whether he likes it or not—it cannot come too soon, as far as I am concerned—and the Bill will not, in practical terms, make any more progress. Ordinarily, it would go into Committee, and that would be the right moment at which to address the practicalities that have rightly been raised in debate by everybody, including the Minister.
However, I should like to test the mood of the House on the proposals. Who knows, but in the next Parliament a new Government might take an even more enthusiastic position on the idea than the present Government, or another Member might be fortunate enough to win in the ballot and put it forward for a third time. In any event, I should like to see whether the House is prepared to give the Bill a Second Reading. That would send a message, on behalf of all parties, to people out there who are affected that we do care, we do understand and we want to do something about the problems.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time; to stand committed to a Public Bill Committee (Standing Order No. 63).