Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Cumberlege: I can give the assurances which the noble Baroness seeks. We will give people the same access to the complaints procedures as is given to those who now receive community care services.

15 Jan 1996 : Column 395

I could continue at some length about the Local Authority Social Services Act 1970. However, I think that that is redundant bearing in mind that I can give the assurance which the noble Baroness seeks.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: In that case I am happy to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5 p.m.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved Amendment No. 9:

Page 1, line 15, at end insert--
("( ) In the same circumstances as set out in subsection (1) above, an authority may, with the person's consent, pay to a third party the whole, or such part as they think fit, of the cost of securing the provision of any services for which they have decided there is a need.").

The noble Baroness said: We now return to an issue which was touched on briefly by the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth). If I read the consultative document correctly, the issue is not touched on in it. The amendment's purpose is to safeguard existing schemes where local authorities currently use third party or voluntary organisations to make direct payments.

The background will be well-known to the Minister and the Committee. Because direct payments are illegal, about 80 local authorities have set up their own third party schemes, their own Independent Living Fund type of bodies, into which the local authorities pay a sum of money and the charities in turn dispense it to disabled people in the form of direct payments. Such a device was in the twilight area of legality, but the Minister sensibly displayed a decent reticence on that occasion which I am sure was welcome. There are now about 80 such schemes in England and Wales, some more limited than others; some affect a few people, some more.

The amendment proposes that where a local authority wishes to continue a direct payment scheme through a third party organisation--it may be one of the smaller, less experienced authorities where there is a good experienced third party payment scheme already in existence--that scheme should be legalised and made legitimate, and it should be enabled to continue. In other words, we think there will be different situations in different localities and unless we legalise what is currently of doubtful legality, there could be fiduciary challenges through the district auditor on behalf of council tax payers.

The amendment is modest: we seek to legalise and legitimise the use of third party methods of paying directly where local authorities deem it valuable and appropriate. I beg to move.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth): I warmly support the amendment and look forward to the Minister's reply. In view of what she said to me at the end of the first debate in response to my question, I feel that she might look favourably on it.

Lord Swinfen: I also wish to support the amendment. In doing so, I feel I ought to declare an interest because the charity for which I work already operates a number

15 Jan 1996 : Column 396

of schemes for disabled people on behalf of local authorities. The schemes are extremely useful since a number of disabled people, for one reason or another, prefer someone else to handle the cash on their behalf. They do so, first, to ensure that it is properly spent and to use the expertise of the organisation or individuals handling the cash for them; secondly, to make use of the special services that the organisation can often provide. There are also occasions when it will be more appropriate for someone other than the disabled person to handle the cash, possibly for reasons of understanding, as in the case of disabled people with learning difficulties. I warmly welcome the amendment.

Baroness Flather: I wish to make two brief comments. I have been listening carefully and on the surface it appears to be a good idea. However, I wonder whether it hits at the raison d'etre of the Bill. The whole purpose of the Bill, as I see it, is to "empower"--that word has already been used--the person with a disability. If the payment is passed to a third person, it would enlarge the scope of the Bill and change the basis on which we are proceeding today. There may be a good reason at some other stage to legitimise--if that is the word to use--the existing schemes which the noble Baroness mentioned. I am sure that they work well and that there is a good reason for them to exist, but I am not sure that this is the time to change the scope of the Bill by bringing them in. The amendment would certainly do that and I am against it.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: Perhaps I may disagree with my noble friend Lady Flather. Once again, if the intention is to follow the course of action set down in the amendment, it seems silly to write it out by not having the wording on the face of the Bill to start with.

Baroness Cumberlege: The provision in Clause 1 that a local authority may make payments to a person in lieu of services that they have been assessed as needing does not preclude that person from nominating an agent to receive the payment and to act on his or her behalf, so long as the user retains ultimate responsibility, as my noble friend Lady Flather said. No amendment is therefore necessary to enable individuals to receive assistance from a third party.

The crucial difference is that the Bill as drafted places the responsibility for managing the payments with the individual who needs community care services. Direct payments are intended to give the user more control over the way in which the care needs are met. The disabled person may well get help from his family or others in managing direct payments, but if they have the final say and not the user himself, then direct payments will not achieve the goal of increasing his independence and control.

We believe that the amendment would move a step away from the responsibility lying solely with the individual concerned. If adopted, the individual's consent would be needed only for the payments to be made to a third party and not for the arrangements which that third party makes subsequently. The Bill is intended to increase the power of individuals to make their own decisions. It does not rule out their having support to

15 Jan 1996 : Column 397

make those decisions. But we must not dilute the principle that the decisions are for the individual to make, as my noble friend Lady Flather said.

With regard to safeguarding existing schemes, which was the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, and others in the debate, it is up to local authorities to work within legal frameworks and decide whether those arrangements are legal. The Bill does not exclude the possibility of using a third party agent such as the voluntary organisations. I believe that Members of the Committee may not have appreciated the scope of the Bill as drafted.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I listened intently but I am still not entirely clear. Can the Minister tell me whether existing schemes are legal and whether any future schemes will be legal?

Baroness Cumberlege: We know that existing schemes vary enormously. It is up to the local authorities to ensure that the schemes which they have up and running now are legal. Clearly they take advice on that, not least from the district auditors. I know that they have taken an interest in the area.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I am disappointed by the Minister's response. I had hoped that she might have seen the virtue of a more pluralistic response to the issue. We all take seriously the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Flather. The last thing one would wish is to make a disabled person dependent or newly re-dependent on some third party organisation, thereby having his or her rights reduced in a way that would not be the case if he or she was receiving direct payments from the local authority. No one wants that situation.

However, many of the voluntary organisation schemes are effective and often preferred when they are user-led. Apart from giving personal assistance, the organisations may provide a range of other support services; for example, independent living in the community. There is an array of other activities of support and help that third party schemes can currently offer. It may be the most appropriate and welcome way for the disbursement of payments. No one would wish in any sense--and certainly no one on these Benches--to limit the right of disabled persons to be fully in control of the disbursement and management of their direct payment funds. However, it may be that both in the original assessment and in the provision of support services, as well as the provision of ancillary services, the disabled person may find it more satisfactory to seek and obtain that help from a third party voluntary organisation than directly from a local authority which has less experience in such matters. We wish to make sure that the plurality of that provision remains possible, open and available in local circumstances. Will the Minister be kind enough to tell me whether that can still be the case?

Baroness Cumberlege: Perhaps I may reiterate my opening remarks. The Bill does not preclude a person wishing to receive direct payments from nominating an

15 Jan 1996 : Column 398

agent to receive the payments and to act on his or her behalf so long as the user remains ultimately responsible. That is the point relating to the individual.

The noble Baroness made a second point, about different schemes. It would be very foolish of me to give an assurance at this Dispatch Box today that every scheme running in the country will continue. Schemes differ enormously. As I said, it is up to the local authorities to ensure that they are working within the legal framework.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page