As my right hon. Friend is aware, the Government are carrying out a detailed consultation on the social care Green Paper. The Government’s aim is nothing less than the creation of a national care service, and where there is overlap with the Welsh Assembly Government there will be full co-operation.
As my hon. Friend knows, 17 per cent. of people in my constituency are on incapacity benefit—one of the highest percentages of disabled people in the UK. Many people are concerned that the proposed changes will threaten their allowances. Will he assure them that they will not be worse off under the proposals?
The whole issue of the reform of the welfare state is extremely topical, and incapacity benefit is one element of that. I know that a number of hon. Members are concerned about attendance allowance, but there is an important principle that needs to be stated. Whatever the outcome of the consultation, people receiving attendance allowance at the time of reform will receive an equivalent level of support and protection under any new system. We will make changes to attendance allowance only if we can support people’s care needs better in the new system. That is our objective.
The Minister talks about consultation, but I asked his colleague the Secretary of State for Health the other day about what consultation was being undertaken. There was full consultation in England, but in Wales there was only some consultation with unnamed Assembly officials. Is he satisfied with that, when the very future of attendance allowance and disability living allowance for older and severely disabled people is probably in jeopardy?
The national care service will encompass all parts of the UK. Detailed consultation is taking place in all parts of the UK, and in the next week or so I will meet Gwenda Thomas, the Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services. We will talk about what consultation there can be in Wales, how the ideas of the Welsh Assembly Government can be fed into our deliberations, and how we can make sure that we are all pulling together in the same direction for the benefit of the people of Wales.
The Minister will be aware of the consternation that the consultation has caused in Wales and throughout the UK. It is becoming much clearer that the Government will not have the opportunity to act on the consultation before the election, and that they are highly unlikely to have the opportunity to do so after it. Will the hon. Gentleman therefore talk to his colleagues and ensure that the consultation is scrapped? In doing that, he would give some comfort to vulnerable people in Wales.
With all due respect to the hon. Gentleman, I do not think that we can scrap the consultation, which is vital if we are to tackle one of the biggest social issues of our time. We cannot pretend that these issues will go away: they cannot go away, and Labour Members are determined to get the policy right. That is why we are having the consultation. It is fundamentally central to our approach, because we believe in helping people to live in dignity in their own homes—unlike the Opposition, who would rather shift people into residential care homes.