Peers kill off 'shabby' home care plans

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Gordon Brown's plans to offer free personal care at home to vulnerable elderly people were in ruins last night after the Government crashed to a series of embarrassing defeats in the House of Lords.

Peers demanded a rethink of the £670m scheme amid heavy criticism over the speed with which Mr Brown was attempting to rush it through Parliament and questions over its cost.

The plans, which the Government said would benefit more than 400,000 older and vulnerable people, were announced by the Prime Minister at last year's Labour conference. The multiple defeats kill off the chances of the home care plans reaching the statute book before the election.

Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat health spokesman, said ministers had suffered a "humiliating defeat" over a "shabby, shameless and short-term measure". He said: "This vote marks the death knell of a cynical attempt to buy the votes of older people."

Labour rebels lined up with Tory and Liberal Democrat peers to defeat the Government four times over the Personal Care at Home Bill.

They voted, by a majority of 51, to delay the scheme until an independent study into its costing had been carried out and a call for further debates in the Commons and Lords before the Bill's introduction was backed by a majority of 67.

They also backed a demand to delay its implementation and a move to cause the Bill to lapse after two years unless it had been implemented.

Critics claimed in the Lords that Mr Brown's pet scheme is underfunded. Some £420m of its costs would come from the Department of Health, and the rest from local authorities.

Labour's Lord Warner, a former health minister, said: "I have to say that in wilfully pressing on, the Government is choosing to ignore sound professional advice from those who have to administer the scheme."

Another Labour peer, Lord Lipsey, said: "I can't recall in my lifetime an example of a piece of legislation that has so completely caused a British government to ignore the precepts of good government."

The Government will now have to try to overturn the defeat in the Commons. But with Parliament due to rise early next month for the election, time is fast running out. Some peers suspect ministers have always been resigned to defeat and are planning to use care at home as an election issue by accusing the Tories and Liberal Democrats of blocking help for the elderly.