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The Chairman of Committees: As Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 are also being spoken to, I should point out to the Committee at this early stage that if Amendment No. 2 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 3.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth): First, let me say how good it is to see the noble Baroness the Minister in her place. I hope that she is recovering well.

I should like to support most warmly Amendment No. 1, which was moved by the noble Lord, Lord Rix, and also Amendment No. 38, which is his proposed new clause. The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, also put her name to Amendment No. 1. The amendments would remove the exclusion on whole categories of people being eligible, with which I agree absolutely.

My amendment, Amendment No. 3, is also a probing amendment. It is framed to exclude age and form of disability and I tabled it in order to see what the Government have in mind. I absolutely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, and the noble Lord, Lord Rix. I do not feel that it is appropriate to assume that everyone with some particular disabling condition or indeed a degree of disability has or has not the same ability to handle his or her own affairs.

Furthermore, as the noble Lord, Lord Rix, said, some local authorities already include in their direct payment schemes, for example, people with learning disabilities. So, if the regulations exclude them, we shall return to the ridiculous situation in which we have been for some time, whereby local authorities are forced to operate either illegally or through a third party or to stop giving the payments to that group of people. I also feel very strongly that it is not appropriate to assume that all people of a given age are equally capable of looking after their own affairs. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, said, someone of 60 or 70 may be far more capable of organising his affairs than another person of 30 or 40 years old and, of course, vice versa.

I have some questions about age to ask the Minister, to which I hope she will reply. First, if there is an age limit on eligibility, will those who are already in the scheme be able to continue with it? I asked that question at Second Reading on 7th December (Official Report, col. 1060) but I cannot find a reply from the Minister. What is the lower age limit? Is it 16, 18 or what age? Might it even be sensible to consider payments being made to adults for disabled children to give them more freedom and flexibility within their lives? At Second Reading (Hansard, col. 1051) the Minister said that she would consider carefully what people have to say before deciding. That gives me some hope.

In relation to age, there is no financial consideration to be taken into account, which is so often the reason for age limiting new claimants, because the service will still be available, just not the option of the freedom and independence of choosing direct payments. I hope that the Minister will be able to give an assurance that age will not be a criterion governing eligibility. Otherwise,

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along with Amendment No. 38 by the noble Lord, Lord Rix, we might need another new clause which will state that regard shall not be had to age.

Lord Campbell of Croy: I apologise for being out of breath. I have just come straight from Heathrow. My usual flight from Inverness, which is near my home, was much delayed by fog at Heathrow. It was a beautiful, fine, sunny and clear day at Inverness. I arrived just in time to hear the beginning of the debate and the noble Lord, Lord Rix. I am glad to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy, and perhaps I may congratulate her on becoming a Dame in the New Year Honours.

Almost all the groups of amendments on the Marshalled List and this amendment apply to the first three clauses in the Bill, which are concerned with England and Wales. Clauses 4 and 5 deal with Scotland and there are only three amendments to Clause 4. Two of those amendments are in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie. It would have been unnecessary duplication for us to table in the Scottish part of the Bill amendments similar to those for Clause 1. It would also make the Bill complicated to follow, as the Scottish part of the Bill simply amends the 1968 Social Work (Scotland) Act. The whole point of the two Scottish clauses is to make changes by amending that Act. That would have been difficult to follow. I believe that it is sensible to discuss in Committee today points raised in amendments for England and Wales. If any changes of principle are accepted today, I should expect similar amendments to be considered for the Scottish part of the Bill at Report stage.

That may seem to be a paradox. In Scotland direct payments have been made in recent years by local authorities and made legally in certain circumstances under Scottish legislation. They were found to be illegal in England and Wales and payments had to be made indirectly through third parties. It is also the experience in Scotland that has helped illustrate that a direct payments system works well. It is preferred by the clients, who choose it, and can be cost-effective, giving better value for money.

Now that the Government, through this Bill, are proposing a new system within community care, it makes sense to have uniformity in the arrangements throughout Great Britain. Accordingly, we are not surprised to find new provisions for Scotland in Clauses 4 or 5, although a system has been operating successfully in Scotland. I just wanted to say at an early stage of the Bill that it will save the time of the Committee to consider these points of principle concerning England and Wales, so that we can, if necessary, consider similar points for Scotland at a later stage.

Lord Addington: Briefly, I should like to support all those who have spoken so far. I support in particular Amendment No. 3, on which I added my name to that of the noble Baroness. If we are to address people as individuals, there is no use putting them in categories and then assessing them as individuals. People who have a disability must be taken first as individuals. As the

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noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, said, unless one pays attention first and foremost to the individual, effectively one is discriminating.

A great deal of the time of this parliamentary Session and the last one has already been spent on trying to obtain legislation to stop discrimination against disabled people. Surely bringing the Bill into line with that is in accordance with government thinking. I hope that the Government will take on board one very simple fact. Every time one establishes a category of people, immediately a sub-category is envisaged to go with it. In the matter of disabilities, that is very much the case.

I use the example of people who have bad eyesight. That category includes every single Member of this Chamber who needs to wear glasses and those who are blind. Are we to say quite succinctly that people with bad eyesight are excluded? If so, we shall simply exclude whole groups who need glasses simply to read. That is an extreme example, but that kind of logic is inherent in the Bill as it stands now.

Lord Swinfen: I too should like to support this group of amendments. I can see no reason why the Government should oppose the principle behind them. After all, they set up the Independent Living Fund. I understand that some 18 per cent. of those who obtain funds from the Independent Living Fund to buy their own care are people with learning disabilities.

If the faculties of those who reach and go beyond the age of 65 suddenly were to go and they were not able to manage their own affairs properly and needed that to be done for them by the local authority, then the effectiveness of this Chamber would be very considerably reduced. We know that there are vast numbers in this Chamber over that age who give extremely good service and very good advice. I am sure that none of us would wish to be without them.

The local authorities are quite capable of using their discretion and local knowledge to help with financial grants those who need help to manage their own affairs. They have to answer to the district auditor for the way in which their funds are spent and ultimately to the local voters if it is felt that the funds are not being properly handled. I should have thought that they could manage things quite happily themselves without restrictions on the type of person to whom grants could be made.

3.30 p.m.

Baroness Seear: Generally speaking, in relation to these amendments, I should like to raise two points with the Minister referring back to some of the comments made at Second Reading.

First, if the Government feel that people with certain kinds of disability are unable to handle their financial affairs--I imagine that is why they are proposing to exclude them--or they are too old to do so (though, as the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, pointed out, some of us beyond the age suggested seem to be able to manage our financial affairs fairly well) surely one of the ways in which that can be dealt with, contrary to what is contained in the Bill, to my disappointment, is for the

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carer to be the person who receives the money once that is agreed with the disabled person concerned. It is unfortunate that the Bill as it now stands does not include carers in the categories of people entitled to receive the grants. That is a point which would make it much easier to deal with the problems raised.

Secondly, can we get one point clear? Surely it is not for local authorities to say who will be paid directly; it is for the disabled individual concerned. Of course, the local authority must agree; but it is for the individuals to say whether or not they want to receive the money directly in order to be able to use it to buy the services that they require. It is with them that the decision should lie in the first place.

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