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Baroness Darcy (de Knayth): My Lords, I should like briefly to support the amendment which the noble Baroness has moved so clearly and comprehensively. In Committee I moved an amendment which sought identical means tests. I accept now that the word "identical" could present practical difficulties so I have now joined forces with the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis. I accept that we and the Government are at one in not wanting the means tests for services and for direct payments to allow a local authority to influence the decision either towards in-house services or towards private arrangements. The amendment seems to be a practical way of achieving that. I hope the Minister will agree to it.
Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, we share the concern, as the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), has said, that neither people who receive services nor those who receive direct payments should be treated more favourably than the other. On the question of the financial contribution which each is expected to make towards the cost of their care, they should be treated alike.
The Bill gives local authorities the discretion, when calculating the amount of direct payments, as to whether they require the person concerned to make a financial contribution. It does not require authorities to do so. If a local authority considers that an individual should contribute to the cost of his care, it would be unreasonable for the authority to expect him to contribute more than he can afford. The Bill also gives local authorities discretion on how they take someone's financial circumstances into account. This is intended to
The Government's aim is to avoid perverse financial incentives in agreeing or refusing direct payments. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, said, we believe that the best way to ensure equivalent treatment is to issue guidance under Section 7 of the Local Authority Social Services Act 1970. The guidance will stress that local authorities must treat people fairly and should treat both those who receive services and those who receive direct payments in an equivalent manner--that is, when considering the financial contribution that people make towards the cost of their care, those receiving direct payments will be treated in the same way under the authority's charging policy as they would have been had they been receiving the equivalent services. Of course, that still gives the local authority discretion over what charging policy is.
The Government have considered carefully the alternative of introducing language similar to that in existing legislation on charging, as is suggested in the amendment of the noble Baroness. However, to reproduce the words in existing legislation will not change the effect of Clause 1(2). We would still need to issue statutory guidance to ensure that direct payment recipients and service recipients received equivalent treatment. We have considered all of the options and do not see a need to amend the wording of the Bill. We believe that this amendment would have no effect. I urge your Lordships not to support it.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, even if she believes that additional guidance will have to be offered, will she explain the objection to the use of the same words? The Minister has assured us that the aim is to avoid unfairness and that guidance will still need to be issued so that the effect is the same, but what is wrong with using the same words?
Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, we simply do not believe that it is necessary. The amendment as it is set out will have no effect, and therefore we believe that it is pointless to put it on the face of the Bill.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, the Minister says that the amendment is not necessary and that it will have no effect, but she has to have some words on the face of the Bill. Why do we not have the same words on the face of the Bill for direct payments as for services? That will make the situation unambiguous as far as local authorities and disabled people are concerned. The Minister may argue that it is not necessary, but she has not said why the same words should not be on the face of the Bill. What is wrong with having the same words?
Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, I believe that I have made the situation perfectly plain. We do not want to clutter up the legislation with additional information that is not necessary. The amendment as set
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I have not carried out a word count to see whether very many more words will be added, but I am convinced that this amendment will add considerable clarity to the intention of the Government. We agree with everything that the Minister has proposed. We want a level playing field. We do not want perverse incentives for people to move from charges to services, or back to charges, because there are different financial implications in terms of what they have to pay. The easiest and most straightforward way to avoid any such misunderstanding is to use the same words on the face of this Bill as in the existing Act of 1983. I have not heard the Minister give a single reason why the words cannot simply be changed, because the 1983 words can replace the words in this Bill. If they need a little tidying up we have plenty of time to do it. We have all the Commons stage for that purpose. At least it will make clear what the Minister has in mind, instead of the Minister having to resort to guidance to explain what is in her mind.
I thought that legislation should be clear, simple and understandable. Our amendment would do precisely that on the issue of financial arrangements. I remain baffled. I understand why most of the time the Government do not accept our amendments: they cost money; they are ideologically unacceptable; they are administratively unworkable, or whatever. But I believe that as to a proportion of the amendments--perhaps 5 or 10 per cent.--if the Government had thought of them they would have proposed or accepted them. However, because they come from these Benches there is a knee-jerk reaction to resist, resist, resist. Here is an amendment that does everything that the Minister says she wants to do. It establishes a level playing field on the face of the Bill by repeating the wording used in the previous Act to establish the charging pattern for services. The Minister has not given one good reason why the words should not be changed, except that it is not necessary because we all know that it means the same thing anyway. If it means the same thing, why not use the same words?
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.