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Baroness Darcy (de Knayth): I thank the noble Lords, Lord Addington and Lord Carter, for their support. I believe that they expressed the matter more clearly than I did. I thank the Minister for her careful reply. I appreciate that local authorities can set levels which they consider appropriate and avoid a luxury service, as the Minister described it; and that the recipient need not agree if he does not believe that what is offered is sufficient. I am happy with what the Minister said. She said that there will be a complaints procedure and that there will be a right of appeal if an individual believes that the local authority is not offering enough.

In the light of what the Minister said--I see that the noble Lord, Lord Carter, is nodding his head--I thank her for her assurance and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 5 not moved.]

Lord Carter moved Amendment No. 6:


Page 1, line 15, at end insert--
("( ) Regulations shall provide that each local authority shall provide such advice and assistance to the person as may be necessary to ensure that the person has access to support services to manage a cash payment.").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 6, it may be for the convenience of the Committee if I speak also to Amendment No. 45. These two amendments deal with the important need for advice and support services for the recipients of direct payments. I am sure that we all agree that there is a need for sound support and training systems to provide recipients of direct payments with the means by which they may maximise the benefit that they receive from the payments; to protect the employment rights of paid carers; and to enhance the administration of the scheme.

I must admit that I saw the consultation paper only a few minutes before I came into the Chamber and therefore, I did not have an opportunity to read it properly. But, looking at paragraph 35, which I believe is the only paragraph that deals with support services, the fair point is made about the need for support to recipients of direct payments as regards what the recipients will have to do. It mentions that local authorities must make clear the various problems which may arise when direct payments are offered.

On reading that paragraph, it is significant that there is no mention at all of government involvement. The matter seems to be left entirely to local authorities. I admit that the wording of the amendments does not exactly produce the answer that we are looking for and therefore, these are probing amendments. But we believe that guidance needs to be set down by the Secretary of State to establish a national framework of advice.

In response to the last group of amendments, the Minister said that there would be guidance for recipients and local authorities as regards the criteria and so on.

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I should be interested to know whether the Minister feels that that guidance should include the whole business of the recipient of the direct payments entering into an employer/employee relationship. Responsibility for pay-as-you-earn, national insurance and redundancy payments are all matters which employers are used to. But that will be a whole new arena for many of the people receiving the payments. Also, the financial situation is often such that it may be that local authorities must reduce the width of advice that they can provide from their own resources.

Another important point is that we are all anxious to give discretion to the local authorities. But all of us who believe in local democracy must accept that, if there is not some overall guidance, we shall end up with a patchwork quilt of provision with differing levels of provision and different criteria in different areas. Therefore, there should be support, advice and guidelines for the recipients and local authorities on which they can fall back.

The role which local authorities are to play in providing employment advice should be clarified. Will local authorities become involved in employee/employer disputes? Will the contracts made by the direct payment recipients be vetted? Will the users be permitted to make assistants redundant and, if so, how will that be paid for? We are entering something of a minefield. The Government cannot just sit back and leave it all to the local authorities.

As I said, the point of the amendments is to press the Government to say whether they believe that the guidelines which they have said will be issued, which we welcome, will deal with the issues to which I have referred. We feel that it would be helpful if those issues were addressed and that they may well be needed to prevent local authorities being open to legal challenge.

I have referred to the technicalities involved in the new employer/employee relationships. This will be a whole new field for many of the people who will be in receipt of these payments and they will be in need of sound help and advice. Do the Government feel that that should be left entirely to local authorities or do they believe, as we do, that they have some responsibility for providing national advice and guidelines?

A fear has been expressed by some organisations that the authorities, which are comparatively new to this, do not have experience of providing advice and will find themselves inundated with complaints made by, for example, carers. Therefore, we feel that there should be overall guidance on how those matters are to be handled. If such guidance were provided, the expected teething problems would be minimised.

There are examples around the country of local support agencies and advice support networks which are working extremely well. Could the work that those agencies are doing be brought together by the Government in the guidelines issued so that there is a national framework to which recipients, organisations and local authorities can refer?

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I am sure that the Minister has the drift of the argument. If we give elderly and disabled people the opportunity to be in charge of their own care arrangements, that gives them the power of control which we all wish to see. But with that power comes responsibility and we all feel that support from the Government and the local authorities is needed to assist with that responsibility. Therefore, that is the point of these two probing amendments. We wish to know whether the Government feel that they have a responsibility to give guidance and support and to what extent those matters will be left to the local authorities. The consultation document seems to imply that the Government do not see a role for themselves at all in that regard; and I am sure that that is wrong. I beg to move.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Addington: I should like to express my support for the amendment for one very simple reason: if we do not have sufficient support systems available for those individuals who have been given such an empowerment, they may well not benefit from it at all or, indeed, benefit from it very badly.

As the noble Lord just said, it is a very complicated field and a series of new problems are being presented to individuals. Unless we have some sort of national guidelines, local authorities will not know what they are supposed to be giving and what type of help should be provided. Another important point to consider is that if what we have in the Bill as currently drafted--that is, certain categories that will be taken on board--is merely a starting point, having a service which would provide guidelines and help would enable the Government to bring in other groups at a later stage.

It would indeed help to have a national framework. It would help to address all the problems which may arise. In addition, different types of techniques for giving support, and so on, will be required by any agency which deals with such a wide group; for example, support for educational services may well have to be involved when dealing with the divergence of literacy skills. Unless coherent national guidelines are set down, many problems may arise in relation to the administration and any future direction of the scheme. However, so long as a national framework is put in place at the beginning, the scheme will have the opportunity to grow and become better directed.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: I find myself becoming somewhat confused on the issue. We debated briefly, but thoroughly, at the beginning whether or not it was appropriate for the Government to establish some priorities in the area, only to be told by Members of the Committee--principally those on the opposite side--that it was a matter to be left entirely to local authorities as they were the ones who knew about it and, therefore, they should have the choice. In other words, it would be quite wrong to introduce a regulation-making power to allow the Government to limit the recipients.

However, as regards the current amendment, we are told that unless the Government provide national guidance on the advice services to be offered we shall

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end up with a "patchwork quilt" of such services. If I may say so, I find that to be a very confusing dichotomy in the thinking of the Front Bench opposite. With the greatest deference, because he knows much more about the subject than I do, I should tell the noble Lord, Lord Carter, that I found some of his remarks faintly patronising. We shall have many extremely active and determined people who want the power to make their own decisions and run their own lives. They are looking forward with great anticipation to the opportunity of having their own payments. I find it faintly demeaning to say that they will not know how to employ people and will have to have advice on that; or that they will not know anything about how to run PAYE or whether they should be paying VAT, or whatever it is now, on the payments. Indeed, I should give my noble friend notice that I shall return to that question at a later stage.

It seems to me that there are ample avenues through which people can obtain advice on such questions. I should have thought that it is perfectly reasonable to leave it to the local authorities which will operate the scheme to decide which of the sort of services and the kind of advice that they will be able to give. As I said, one has come across many organisations which help people who suffer from disabilities of one sort or another. Indeed, the fact that they are there to be consulted and give advice is sometimes one of the most important and valuable services that they provide. Moreover, there is no shortage of such assistance. I should have thought that it was really a work of supererogation for the Bill to lay down a requirement that the Government shall impose upon local authorities central guidelines as to how such services should be provided. It seems to me that that would make an absolute mountain out of a molehill, which is quite unnecessary. With that encouragement, I hope that my noble friend the Minister will feel able to resist the amendments.


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