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Lord Addington: My Lords, if the Minister will give way, perhaps I may say this. The singling out of people is exactly the point that I sought to make. Most of the legislation does not take resources into account. At least that was our understanding when the legislation went through Parliament. That is the problem. A new precedent is being created where resources are being taken into account.

Baroness Gould of Potternewton: My Lords, I must disagree with the noble Lord. I do not think that this measure states that. If one considers the evidence from the Association of Directors of Social Services, it has expressed its concerns that such action would create a protected group within the population of those with community care needs who would have the right to services without regard to resources, to the certain detriment of other users. We share that concern.

Why, for instance, should resources not be a consideration in deciding on the non-residential services to be provided under Section 2 when they are a consideration in deciding on residential services which are not provided under Section 2? I regret to say to my noble friend Lord Ashley that I cannot accept his argument, nor that of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, that the Bill will not lead to a significant increase in expenditure and that it would simply ensure that existing good practice is enshrined in legislation. Resources have always been relevant to the level of need provided for.

We know, for example, that pressures on local authority budgets in recent years have led them increasingly to concentrate social services on those with the need for the most intensive support. As a minimum, the Bill will require them to undo those changes. However desirable that might be thought in principle, it would undoubtedly have a cost.

The Bill could well do more than merely undo recent changes. It is difficult to produce a precise and accurate figure for what the total cost might be if the Bill were to come into force this year or next. However, the Department of Health estimates that it could be a substantial sum and that is not something for which existing spending plans provide. Relatively modest increases in activity could have significant cost implications for local authorities. Authorities would be able to meet this only by diverting resources from other groups--such as children at risk--or from other services, including other services to disabled people. Again, the Association of Directors of Social Services has written to the Government to express its serious concerns about the substantial costs which it considers could arise as a result of this Bill.

It is important to recognise, too, that the Bill would not produce simply a one-off increase in expenditure.

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The noble Lord, Lord McColl, referred to finite resources. However, there is no finite list of services which might be provided under Section 2. For example, ways of

    "securing greater safety, comfort or convenience in the home",

will change over time, particularly as new technologies develop, with the result that the needs which disabled people might be assessed as needing will also increase. This would put a continuing pressure on authorities to find more resources.

It is for those reasons that we regret that we cannot support the Bill. Nevertheless, I stress our concern that there should be an improvement in community services. I have taken careful note of all the suggestions made in this debate as to how that might be done. We shall keep community care legislation, including that which applies to disabled people, under careful review. There may be a case for change. But the best time for decisions on that will be when we are clear about the direction of other developments, such as the actions that are likely to result from our examination of long-term care for the elderly.

Although we cannot support the Bill, we understand the concerns that are behind it. To respond to the noble Lord, Lord McColl, my honourable friend in the other place, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health, will shortly be making an announcement as to how he intends to reinforce local authorities' understanding of their continuing responsibilities to disabled people under the CSDP Act. As I said, we shall continue to keep community care legislation under careful review.

8.50 p.m.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, I should like to thank everyone who took part in this short but very important debate. I am especially grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), and the noble Lord, Lord Addington. All three have been consistent and persistent campaigners on behalf of disabled people. I can only guess at their response to the reply that we just heard. The matter will no doubt be raised on another occasion.

I thank my noble friend Lady Gould for coming to the Dispatch Box and explaining the Government's point of view. As she is not merely my noble friend, but my friend, I want to take the unusual step of exempting her personally from what I am about to say. I mean that. She has been a spokeswoman for the Government and must not take my next comments personally. I know of her tremendous personal commitment to the cause of disabled people. She is now excluded from my remarks.

It is traditional and habitual for supporters of the Government to be restrained when criticising the Government and exaggerate when attacking one's opponents. I intend to maintain that tradition of restraint. I am shocked at the inadequacy of the Government's response to this Bill. I cannot believe that a Labour Government are actually saying that they reject the Bill and support the present situation, which leads to outright discrimination against disabled people. I am shocked,

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and I am horrified. I never expected such a blank refusal to take any action on this vital issue. I find it very hard to believe. The Government really will have to think again.

Let me deal with a few points raised by the Government. They say they are determined to improve the position of disabled people. That is fine; we accept their words. But the best way of improving the position of these disabled people is to support the Bill. The Government say that they are working on ideas in relation to disabled people. How very kind! We have already worked on the ideas. In the Bill that we propose the ideas are already worked out. There is no need to work on ideas, no need to consider the problem. The answer is in this short Bill, described by the Law Society as "succinct and comprehensive". It simply reverses the Law Lords' judgment and takes us back to the position as it was on 19th March, when disabled people were being provided for at no great expense. That is all the Bill seeks to do; but that is very important.

The Government say that in the coming months they will see what is necessary. They do not need to see what is necessary. The statement suggests that this debate might never have taken place. There have been some outstanding speeches, apart from my own. They have been succinct, clear, eloquent and powerful. The Government simply cannot say, "We are now going to see what is necessary", as if people did not speak. The words of the debate will appear in Hansard tomorrow. They have been spoken and they will be there in black and white. The facts and opinions have been brought forward in the House of Lords. The Government cannot say that they will see what is necessary as if no debate had taken place.

The Government say that they are proud of the amendment in Article 6a in the European treaty. That is fine. I was among those who asked the Government to bring in the amendment. It helps in matters of discrimination and I congratulate the Government. It represents a beginning in Europe. But if they want to tackle discrimination not merely on a European level, the best way of tackling it is by backing this Bill. The effect of the Law Lords' judgment is to discriminate against disabled people in their own homes. There could not be worse discrimination than that. The Government should think again.

The Government say that this Bill is not the best route. In that case they should suggest an alternative, realistic route. Instead of expressing vague generalities about thinking, considering and assessing the matter in the future, they should tell us what they intend to do. I know that they have been in office for only a short time. But they have had time to assess the 1970 Act and the way in which it has been working. It is not good enough to say simply that this is not the best route.

I am afraid that the Government are utterly wrong when they say that the understanding of governments is that local authorities could take resources into account all these years. If the Government believed, when they were in office 18 years ago, that the resources should be taken into account by local authorities, they should have said so during that time. There is no point in stating

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now, after 18 years out of office, that they believed resources were being taken into account. The fact is that if local authorities were taking resources into account, they were breaking the law. The law was clear and categorical. It is the Law Lords who have now changed that by their ruling. If the Labour Government were so assured when in office that local authorities were taking resources into account, they should have objected. Any Government should object to the law being broken, by local authorities or anybody else.

The Government referred to a circular. Circulars do not matter all that much. They are advisory, they offer guidance etc. But the law is the law; and local authorities should have observed the law. In fact, most did. They had been making provision for disabled people in accordance with the 1970 Act. It has been a patchwork; it has not been applied as assiduously and perfectly as it should have been. Nevertheless, local authorities have been making these provisions.

I am afraid I have spoken for rather longer than I had intended. I wanted to emphasise the fact that I exempt my noble friend, my great friend, Lady Gould from the remarks I have just made. It was a comment on the Government.

The final and crucial point is this. The Government stated tonight that this Bill will lead to significant amounts of money being made available. That is totally wrong. It does not matter what calculations civil servants in the Department of Health make. They are wrong. The Government must respond to the challenge that I put forward. On 19th March, a very short time ago, there was no massive financial commitment, no great drain on resources. So we come to 21st March, after the Law Lords' judgment. Where does that massive demand come from? All we ask is to go back a couple of months. There is no phenomenal demand.

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It is quite wrong for the Government to say that massive amounts of money will be involved with this Bill. I remind the Government that it was the Labour Party in opposition who derided the Department of Health when the Berry Bill outlawing discrimination was going through the other place. It was the Department of Health which said that it would cost a fortune--I have forgotten the actual figure; I think it was £1 billion or £1.5 billion. The figure was plucked from nowhere. It was quite unrealistic. The Labour Opposition rightly derided the department for manufacturing a grossly inflated and exaggerated figure.

The Government make the claim about large amounts of money being entailed under the Bill but they should think again. If they insist, they should produce the evidence for their claim. If the evidence is there and massive amounts of money are involved, we shall think again. But we want the evidence. Until we have that, the Government must reconsider.

This problem will not go away. I have seen enough disabled people suffering to convince me. I have received fax after fax from the RNIB and other societies about people who are suffering now. And it is only the beginning. The flood will come when more people are denied vital resources. I hope that the Government will think again. I ask the House to support the Bill.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Imperial College Bill

The Queen's consent signified and Bill reported from the Unopposed Bill Committee without amendment.

        House adjourned at one minute past nine o'clock.

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