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Lord Beloff: My Lords, my noble friend referred to the undesirability of circulating reports which suggested that there could ever be any political reason for a resort to mass violence. Is the Minister aware that in the course of bulletins over the weekend the BBC consistently pressed people to give precisely that kind of answer? If he will not take my word for it, I am sure that a transcript of yesterday's lunch hour programme on Radio 4 would give him ample evidence.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I was not fortunate enough to listen to that programme. However, I can give my noble friend the undertaking that I shall certainly examine what he said and write to him.

Community Care (Direct Payments) Bill [H.L.]

4.48 p.m.

Consideration of amendments on Report resumed on Clause 1.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved Amendment No. 2:

Page 1, line 12, at end insert ("or
( ) the Secretary of State agrees to a representation from an authority that it wishes to exercise its discretion to make payments under this section to any person or persons who are willing and able to secure the provision of their own services,").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this is a compromise amendment. We on these Benches would prefer that the Minister did not restrict the categories of people eligible to receive direct payments. We would prefer that all disabled people who might benefit from them should be free to do so. However, the House voted very narrowly indeed to reject the amendment moved so ably by the noble Lord, Lord Rix. The Minister argued basically that the scheme should be phased in gradually so that local authorities should not be overwhelmed. We hope that Amendment No. 2, a fall-back amendment, will be acceptable to the Minister or that she will bring forward her own version.

What does the amendment do? It takes for granted that the local authority would have the power to make direct payments to physically handicapped people under 65, as the Government and the Bill envisage. The purport of the amendment is that, in addition, local

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authorities would also be able to seek consent from the Secretary of State to extend direct payments to other categories of people within their own local authority. To receive such consent from the Secretary of State, the Minister would have to be satisfied that local authorities were experienced and competent in running direct payments, that they would not be overwhelmed and that it would be a sensible action to take.

What are the advantages? First, some 60 local authorities have been running direct payment schemes in some form or another for up to 14 years. Local authorities are not all starting from the same point. Some are experienced and have led the campaign for direct payments; for others, it is a new venture. If local authorities come in with different experiences, why treat them all the same? Why not recognise that difference as a source of strength? The amendment would ensure that all local authorities would be able to make direct payments to physically handicapped people under 65, but that where the Minister was satisfied that an experienced local authority could expand the scheme he would have the power to give consent for it to do so. For example, 10,15 or 20 of the 140 local social service authorities might seek that consent, and the Minister might agree. That would mean that the Government benefit from a willing pilot group from which both the Government and other local authorities could learn before a more general extension of the scheme is contemplated.

One of the difficulties, particularly in social security and health legislation, is that national legislation reduces the opportunity to learn from feedback, to start pilot schemes and learn from them. The amendment would allow us to learn from feedback, both central government and local authorities. That must be useful.

Secondly, I emphasise that not only are all local authorities starting from different positions and therefore the amendment would give flexibility, but also the Secretary of State must be satisfied that local authorities would be right to take on that power. The Minister will only be satisfied if local authorities are clearly competent to do so and there can be no question of them being overwhelmed or failing to deliver. The right of consent remains firmly with the Government, they control the speed.

The amendment allows the Government to empower local authorities to extend their scheme. Without such an amendment, the Government may unnecessarily tie their own hands until they bring new regulations into force. With the amendment, the Government control the pace, speed and size of any advance beyond the original category. The Government have nothing to lose. They could say "no" to every request if they thought it wise to do so. The amendment would equally give the Government power to say "yes" to those requests which they believe are sensible and appropriate.

Thirdly, if the Secretary of State agreed, the amendment would meet the problems on which we have already touched of local authorities which are already making direct payments to a larger group than the Bill envisages. Some 60 local authorities make direct payments. Most have restrictions of one kind or another,

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but many go beyond the range of the Bill. We have discussed what may happen to disabled people. The Minister said that they may continue to receive payments through third party schemes. That means that, instead of running one scheme, an experienced local authority has to run not only its own scheme but fund and organise a second third party scheme, doubling rather than reducing the amount of bureaucracy. With our amendment and with the consent of the Minister, the local authority could bring all those it deemed eligible within the framework of one straightforward scheme.

The amendment is modest, sensible, cost-free and is a fall-back amendment on the one which the House so narrowly rejected. It would allow the Secretary of State to agree that individual local authorities could extend the range of their schemes. It would not hold back progressive and experienced local authorities and force them to go at the pace of the newest and slowest local authority. In the process, we would all benefit. It is a win-win amendment. The Secretary of State would benefit from having a pilot scheme on the ground. The local authorities would benefit because they could exercise their discretion according to their experience, with the consent of the Secretary of State. Disabled people would benefit. I hope that the House and the Minister will accept the amendment or that the noble Baroness will come back with something broadly similar. I beg to move.

Lord Hayhoe: My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down after moving the amendment, perhaps she can answer a question. She said that, through the Secretary of State, the Government could reject every request. In those circumstances would all the decisions be subject to judicial review or application for judicial review?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I shall have to take advice on that, I do not know.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth): My Lords, I warmly support the amendment and was delighted to add my name to it. I am not at all happy with the Government's proposals to limit direct payments to physically and sensorily disabled people under 65, nor am I happy with any other possible groupings in the consultation paper. They all have drawbacks. I voted for the amendment of my noble friend Lord Rix because it is hardly logical merely to include people with learning difficulties if they also have a physical and sensory impairment, as the Government propose. It would be difficult to justify that in practice when dealing with real people in their homes. I do not like the idea of distinguishing between physically and sensorily disabled people on the one hand and people with learning difficulties on the other, singling out one group for special treatment.

Ideally, direct payment should be payable to all adults who are willing and able to manage them, with help if necessary and with no age limit. Local authority staff who have direct contact with the individual people concerned are in the best position to decide whom to include. However, as the noble Baroness said, the amendment is a sensible half measure to allow the Government, in regulations, to limit direct payments but

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to allow local authorities to approach the Secretary of State to bring in others. Local authorities are to be allowed to refuse direct payments to individuals, provided they act responsibly and reasonably. So why not let the local authorities act responsibly and reasonably in deciding whom to include?

As the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, said, the amendment of my noble friend Lord Rix was lost very narrowly. When the Minister replied to it I was cheered, in a way, because she said that local authorities who already issue direct payments to categories other than the ones which she plans to make eligible would be able to continue to do so. That is cheering in a sense, but in a way it is even battier because it means that in some areas a category will receive the payments whereas in other areas it will not. Even in the areas issuing direct payments to non-eligible categories, will authorities be able to bring in more or will they have to say "no" to new claimants? The present wording creates several anomalies.

I hope that the Minister will respond positively to the amendment or that she will agree to have a long, hard think before Third Reading. Local authorities already making payments to other groups would be put on a sound legal footing and it would act as a pilot study which could be of help to the Government. If the noble Baroness cannot give a faintly encouraging reply, or say that her door is at any rate open to discussions, I should have no hesitation in following the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, into the Lobby if she decides to divide the House.

5 p.m.

Lord Addington: My Lords, the amendment is very reasonable and almost cautiously supportive of the Government's stance. It provides in certain situations, where there is the expertise available, for a scheme to be introduced to which the Secretary of State can give his approval. Where the Secretary of State and the powers-that-be think it appropriate a scheme could be brought in. Surely such a proposal cannot offend anyone. It cannot be suggested that it would cause overloading since by its very nature it safeguards against taking on too much. I hope that the Minister will be able to take the idea on board.

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