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Lord Swinfen: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for taking this matter on board.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

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Clause 21 [Disabled facilities grants: the disabled occupant]:

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 19:

Page 13, line 4, leave out subsection (2).

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 19 I would also like to speak to Amendments Nos. 20, 25, 26, 53, 54, 58, 59, 88 and 108. These amendments return to the familiar issue of the definition of a "disabled person" as applied for the purposes of eligibility for disabled facilities grant which were debated during Committee. There was concern from all who spoke in Committee that the words used in the present definition to describe particular disabilities, taken from the National Assistance Act 1948, caused offence to disabled people.

However, it was clear then from those who spoke at Committee that the coverage of the definition was not considered to be a problem. I explained in Committee that the purpose behind the wording of the existing definition was to maintain consistency with other legislation relating to the provision of services to disabled people but, in the light of the points raised by noble Lords, I promised that I would look again at the wording of the definition and return to it at Report stage. I have done that and I now explain my conclusions.

Part I of this Bill is primarily concerned with matters relating to housing for which my department is responsible. Part I accordingly offers no opportunity to address any wider issue of defining "disabled person" for other purposes, in particular in relation to services provided by social services authorities.

Nevertheless, I recognise that it is desirable to have a core definition common to legislation affecting the provision of services to disabled people. A definition linked to the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, as Amendment No. 20, tabled in the name of my noble friend Lord Swinfen seeks to achieve, would be outside this common core. The 1995 Act is an anti-discrimination measure and its subject matter is therefore quite separate from that of Part I of this Bill.

Subsection (1) of Amendment No. 108 now proposed sets out a definition, in modern language, of "disabled person" for the purposes of Part I of the Bill. Subsections (2) and (3) are deeming provisions. Subsection (2) passports into subsection (1) people aged 18 and over who are either registered or receiving services under arrangements made under the National Assistance Act 1948, or for whom, in the opinion of the social services authority, such arrangements might be made.

Subsection (3) makes analogous provision for people aged under 18 who are either registered as disabled under the Children Act 1989 or who, in the opinion of the social services authority, are disabled within the meaning of that Act. The effect is to cover, as at present, all people, whether children or adults, who are either registered or registrable as disabled.

Subsection (5) makes it clear that subsection (1) of the new clause is not to affect the interpretation of the definitions of "disabled person" and "disabled child" in the 1948 and 1989 Acts.

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In bringing forward the amendment, I believe that we have addressed the concerns expressed by noble Lords in Committee. The amendment substitutes, for the current wording, modern and more acceptable language while maintaining the essential close link with other relevant legislation.

I have some sympathy with the arguments put forward by noble Lords that the language used in the 1948 Act and in related statutes should be brought up to date. That is not something we can do in this Bill. Several government departments would be concerned. I will certainly draw the attention of the relevant Ministers to the views that have been expressed in the House, and the conclusions we have reached so far as concerns this Bill.

The remaining amendments tabled in my name are necessary consequential amendments. I hope that noble Lords are reassured by the amendments we propose. I beg to move.

6. p.m.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, the Minister said that he was responding to the wishes of the House when there was widespread concern about the definition of a disabled person as suggested in the Bill. I am disappointed that in the end the Government have not dealt with the issue as put forward by so many noble Lords. I welcome the fact that there is some change. However, many of the difficulties discussed at Committee stage still remain as regards Amendment No. 108 as drafted.

Let me cite a few points. First, if we have the new definition, within British legislation there will still be three alternative definitions of disability: within this Bill; within the Disability Discrimination Act; and within the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act. It seems to me that the most recent definition--that in the Disability Discrimination Act--has the merit of having had a great deal of thought and the support of the main disability organisations, and represents an up-to-date, sensible and workable definition which Parliament agreed only recently.

Secondly, there is a strong suggestion that the disability discussed in Amendment No. 108 has to be a permanent disability. That is rather inflexible. I may misinterpret the wording, but it seems to suggest permanence. People may be disabled for a period of time, but, happily for them, the condition is not permanent. Yet they will not derive the benefits that they would if the definition were more flexible.

For those reasons, I am sorry that the Government have not done as many Members of the this House urged. I believe that the proposed definition will still cause many difficulties when applied.

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, I thank the Minister for having listened to what we said at Committee stage. I welcome the fact that my noble friend has brought forward an alternative definition. I should like to take the opportunity to thank him for writing to me with a draft of the amendments, in particular Amendment No. 108--the new clause after Clause 98. I received it late last night.

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As a result, I shall not move my Amendment No. 20. I do not believe that I should be successful if I were to divide the House tonight in an endeavour to get the provision into the Bill.

Amendment No. 108 introduces the new clause with the definition. It addresses some of the concerns about the definition of a disabled person. There is some updating of the language on the face of the Bill, but it still hinges on the definition within the National Assistance Act 1948, which is outdated in its language and approach, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said, has a requirement for a disability to be permanent.

The new wording is cumbersome and could lead to the very situation that the Government wish to avoid--of several definitions of a disabled person within different legislation.

The reason that the disability must be permanent is because there is still a requirement to be registered under the National Assistance Act 1948 or for social services to decide that welfare arrangements might be made under that Act. The 1948 Act specifically states that a person must have a "permanent and substantial disability". Although obviously disabled facilities grants should not be available for people who have a short-term injury, I believe that they must be available for people with a disability which is long-term but may not necessarily be permanent.

An example of that is a child with a severe arthritic condition, which can be extremely disabling. I understand that frequently such children can grow out of their arthritis and of their disability. Therefore it is important that there should not be a requirement for the disability to be permanent for a person to be eligible for consideration for a disabled facilities grant.

I wonder whether the wording of subsection (1) of Amendment No. 108 is likely in practice to cause problems. Subsection (1)(a) states that,

    "his sight, hearing or speech is substantially impaired".
That might be interpreted as sight and hearing or speech. I am sure that that is not the intention. However I wonder whether the word "or" could be inserted between "sight" and "hearing" to ensure that there is no ambiguity.

A similar problem exists with subsection (1)(c) where there could be some ambiguity in practice. I suggest that the subsection might be redrafted to state that,

    "he is substantially disabled by illness or injury or impairment since birth, or otherwise".
That would be an improvement and would ensure clarity.

Perhaps my noble friend could consider this point between now and a later stage in the Bill. There may not be time to deal with the issue in this House. However, another place could effect the necessary amendments.

I still believe that all those problems could be overcome as the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said, if we were to use the definition in the Disability Discrimination Act. However, despite what I have said,

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I am grateful that my noble friend has listened to what we said and, with his officials, has made an attempt to improve the situation.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth): My Lords, I had added my name to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, because I was anxious to get rid of the outmoded wording in the definition in the 1948 Act. I stress that I have not consulted widely yet on the Minister's definition; nor have I talked to the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen. I look forward to hearing the Minister's reply about the definition referring only to permanent disability.

As the Minister explained, the old definition covered everyone who should be eligible for disabled facilities grant. When I consulted, I found that in the Disability Discrimination Act the definition did not. I welcome Amendment No. 108. However, I stress that the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, has consulted more widely than I have and has gone more thoroughly into the definition. He may have found things that are not quite acceptable and right. I believe that the Minister is on the right lines. I thank him very much for having gone to this trouble. The definition under the 1948 Act continued because it covered those people whom we wanted it to cover. It was merely the language that was not right.

This provision may need a little more tidying, but I hope that something like it will become the accepted definition in future legislation. Being a very starry-eyed optimist, I hope that perhaps it might be resurrected as a more attractive phoenix in the Disabled Persons and Carers (Short-term Breaks) Bill in the name of my noble friend Lord Rix. However, more realistically, at this point I warmly welcome the Government's amendment, but with the slight proviso that the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, has gone through it with a finer toothcomb than I have done.

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