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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: To allow direct cash payments to be given to disabled people in lieu of community care services is indeed the Government's aim and we have already announced that we intend to introduce legislation to achieve that south of the Border. As my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy and the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, mentioned, those facilities are already available in Scotland. It means that if someone prefers this option he or she would take on the responsibility for buying his or her own care package with these payments. That would give people more choice, more independence and more control over their lives. For example, they could employ their own care assistant and choose exactly when it would be most convenient for an assistant to help them. This initiative is a logical extension of the Government's policy of giving more power to the users of public services, a guiding principle for the Government seen most clearly in the Citizen's Charter initiative. I was delighted by the powerful endorsement given by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, to these government principles.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: If the Minister baits me he can hardly expect me not to respond. We have debated this issue on at least two occasions to my knowledge and it may be very many more. Why has the Minister for Health firmly resisted this proposal in the past? Why are the Government now changing their mind? We are absolutely delighted that they are, but why has it taken so long? Many of us fought hard when the old ILF was scrapped to make sure that the continuation fund could fulfil the same role. Let us welcome the belated conversion, but let the Minister be a little wary of claiming too much credit for initiating that which for so long he has opposed.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I was just pointing out that this is but a small part of the Government's total overall principle of giving people choice—like buying their own council houses, dare I say, on which I crossed swords with some on the Benches opposite yesterday. However, I leave that aside.

Unfortunately, I have to say to my noble friend—I do not think he will be surprised—that I cannot support this amendment which attempts to specify exactly how legislation should be changed before it is clear what legislative measures are needed. It may be that more legislation is needed to create an efficient direct payments system than is specified in the amendment.

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The Department of Health is currently looking at what legislation is needed to allow local authorities to make cash payments to disabled people. There are some complex technical issues to be resolved. The Department of Health is taking this forward in co-operation with local authorities and representatives of disabled people themselves. For example, one of the complex issues which has to be addressed is the one raised by the noble Lord, Lord Rix. That is the role that a third party might play in assisting recipients to manage their direct payments. That is but one of a number of complex issues which are being addressed.

We recognise the value and importance of consulting disabled people themselves about how this work is taken forward. The necessary preparatory work ought to be carried out before the legislation is changed. However, by asking the NDC to report on the necessary measures to introduce direct payments, we run the risk of duplicating the role of a separate technical advisory group which the Department of Health has set up. This group is assisting in the work of taking forward legislation to allow direct payments.

The British Council of Organisations of Disabled People, the Disablement Income Group and the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation (RADAR) are all represented on this technical advisory group. Therefore, there is already a means through which disabled people can influence the development of this important policy. Having explained what the situation now is, and where we are with the development of this policy, together with the assurance I have been able to give my noble friend that we intend to introduce the necessary legislation to achieve the ends that we all agree, I hope that he will be able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Swinfen: Before I do that, can my noble friend say whether he is in a position to give any sort of tentative timetable?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Convention has long dictated that Ministers do not attempt to say in which Session of Parliament legislation will be brought forward.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth): Before the Minister sits down, the preparatory work has taken quite some time, has it not? It was in 1990, during the passage of the National Health Service and Community Care Bill, that the Secretary of State, Mrs. Bottomley, more or less indicated in the other place that an amendment would be forthcoming. My noble friend on the mobile Bench and I pursued it in this House. There have been five years for this preparatory work to be undertaken. Has the Minister anything to say on that?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I do not have anything to add without breaching the convention which I mentioned to my noble friend. All I can say to the noble Baroness is that I shall chide the Department of Health when I return to Richmond Terrace.

Lord Swinfen: I am delighted to hear that my noble friend will bring pressure to bear where it is most effective in order to speed up this matter. With those words I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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Baroness O'Cathain moved Amendment No. 106:

Page 17, line 18, at end insert:
("( ) The Council may, on request or otherwise, give employers and disabled people such advice as it thinks appropriate on matters concerned with or affecting or likely to affect disabled people.
( ) The Council may publish general advice on matters concerned with or affecting or likely to affect disabled people.").

The noble Baroness said: The main point of this amendment is that it is very important to give access to authoritative, consistent and informative information, support and advice to all three constituent groups that we are talking about at the moment—that is to say, the disabled, employers and providers of goods and services. The advice has to be really consistent and authoritative on their rights and obligations.

The amendment draws on the wording of ACAS's powers to give advice. One way of ensuring advice is provided would be to attach this function to the NDC. But it could be done elsewhere, and other specialist agencies could be best equipped to do it. ACAS, for example, is held in very high regard by employers and it is reassuring that it will be delivering some of the services under this Bill.

What is essential is the key function of ensuring that the right information and advice is available. This can be delivered through the existing institutional framework proposed in the Bill. But some reassurances are necessary that this delivery will happen.

Information and advice, of course, comes in different forms, but needs to include written materials and guidance, and the codes themselves. It should include information and advice, perhaps available from telephone helplines or one-stop shops, on specifics of legislation; for example, on the formula needed to calculate whether an adjustment falls within the cost ceilings set in the regulations. It also needs to include very specific advice or information on detailed issues of adjustment in specific cases, which can only realistically be given by specialists.

Other important support will need to come in the area of conciliation, which I have referred to already. ACAS on employment and the CBI have been assured that some other body could have the role on access. But the information and advice must clarify what the new law requires; how it will work and who is to be covered. This will be an important adjunct to the codes of practice and guidance that will be produced. It should also contribute to the effectiveness of informal dispute resolution.

Business does not look to the Government to provide everything. It is not looking for handouts and it will certainly use legal and technical specialists, as it does now in other areas of activity. I suppose that in this case there will probably be a whole raft of new consultants on the Disability Discrimination Bill. But the Government and publicly funded sources will play a vital and central role.

The Government have already given undertakings that information and some advice will be available from a variety of publicly funded sources. Given that, it is also reassuring to have Government undertakings as stated in Hansard of 13th June at col. 1696; namely, that ACAS, the Employment Service and their PACTS

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will be available to offer to people with disabilities and employers appropriate help and advice on the new requirements under the Bill. It is also reassuring that business will have a realistic time to prepare for and make necessary changes, and that the Government have undertaken to ensure that, while the introduction of the Bill will be phased, the support structure is intended to be fully in place to meet the requirements of the first provisions that come into force. That again was mentioned on 13th June.

But there are some important criteria which the provision of advice and information must fulfil if necessary functions are to be carried out. Further confirmation is sought that the support will be consistent—that is very important—and coherent across employment and access issues, guided by "reasonableness" tests as to the scale and nature of the physical adjustments which will be required. There will also be a need for support which is readily accessible at local and national level; for example, through the provision of telephone helplines. It should also be available to all three groups; namely, those employing people, those providing goods and services and, most importantly of all, the disabled.

In a case where it is clear that advice is too individual or specific to be answered by anyone other than specialists—for example, on the precise adjustments that must be made—people should be told where the specialist advice can be obtained. In addition, I seek clarification on what contribution the NDC and NACEPD will make to the design and delivery of the support structure for the Bill. I beg to move.

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