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(d) by way of pilot or temporary scheme").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I rise to move Amendment No. 77A and to speak also to Amendment No. 77B. We have tabled these amendments because of our concerns as to how the proposals in the Bill will affect very vulnerable people and work in practice. The Minister is aware that my noble friend Lady Hamwee wrote to him to voice our concerns. We are grateful for the very full reply. The proposed changes to the funding of welfare services will affect a large number of existing recipients of services. The proposals mean very radical changes to the present system, and for that reason we seek further reassurances from the Government.

We welcome the fact that the Government recognise a local authority's wider role in the integration of housing and welfare service provision. The theory of replacing the current system under which welfare services are funded from a variety of sources, mainly housing benefit, with cash-limited grants sounds a logical step. However, many believe that in practice the proposals will prove to be a little difficult and that in the changeover those now in receipt of these services, particularly the elderly, may not get what they have come to expect. Past experience shows that good intentions do not always work out on the ground.

There was so much concern about this matter that when the Government launched their consultation paper the DSS ran out of copies. Over 500 responses to the consultation were received. I understand that the Government have given serious consideration to those responses and have tried to incorporate some of them in the Bill. Although we are short of time tonight, can the Minister clarify, if not now perhaps at a later stage, what changes have been made as a result of representations from other people?

The area of particular concern is sheltered housing. There is a great deal of anxiety among those bodies which are concerned with the management of sheltered housing. The main concern is that the changes will involve a considerable degree of bureaucracy for very small amounts of money and may be very expensive to administer. Following consultations, the Government are working with groups to try to set up a proper framework in which local authorities can administer the new arrangements. We would be grateful if the Government could expand on that, if not tonight perhaps at Third Reading. There is also a particular

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concern about elderly people now in sheltered housing who receive support by way of housing benefit. Can the Government provide reassurance that existing tenants will not suffer and lose their wardens as a result of the proposed changes?

A further area of concern is the total amount of grant available to local authorities to replace the present expenditure on benefits. We are grateful to the Minister for his clarification that the figures that the Government have bandied about are not set in tablets of stone. We understand that the Government will look carefully at what is being paid out at the moment and adjust their budget accordingly. Since my noble friend's letter to the Minister it has been drawn to my notice that perhaps the changes are being made because of the present legal system under which benefits are paid and the social security aspects of those payments. I would be grateful if the Minister could provide clarification also on that matter.

In conclusion, the Bill provides that the new funding arrangements will be brought into force in different geographical areas at different times. Given the widespread concern about the issues that I have raised this evening, perhaps the Minister will look seriously at the proposals encapsulated in the amendments; namely, that there should be pilots to see how the proposals work in those areas before they are implemented everywhere. We are talking about very vulnerable people, in particular the elderly, young people and those with special needs who require proper help with their housing. I hope that the Minister can meet that need, if not tonight perhaps at a later stage. I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, with the leave of the House, perhaps I may be permitted to correct an error of omission in my response to Amendment No. 77. In referring to legal advice I should have said that legal advisers had raised a point about whether such an amendment would be deemed by the Officers of the House to be within the scope of the Bill.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, in response to the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, we do not want to go down the road of piloting the proposals. We are committed to the Supporting People initiative and want some clarity of objective here. The principles in the Supporting People initiative have been welcomed by those concerned with housing and support services. As the noble Baroness indicated, the vast majority (82 per cent) of respondents were generally in favour of the proposals. Although the full arrangements will be implemented only in 2003, it is important to provide some stability of view as to where we are going. We are working closely with the stakeholders so that we can plan ahead.

However, I recognise the anxieties to which the noble Baroness refers. It is important that the grant from local authorities for supporting people will be at least as much as that which was spent in the previous year in the various budgets which the scheme replaces.

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The joint commissioning group engaged on this will be encouraged to maintain continuity of funding at the point of transition. We realise that continuation is a key concern to many users and is, therefore, a priority. The practitioners' group is engaged in considering how we can maintain continuity and reassure people in that regard. I know of the concern of those involved in sheltered housing. The Government are anxious that the role of sheltered housing continues with high quality support services, in particular to vulnerable older people.

However, we need also some degree of flexibility in this area. Responses to the consultation from providers of sheltered housing welcomed the integration of support services into the other services provided to support older people in their homes. Therefore there is need to work closely with providers of sheltered housing so that we minimise any hiccups or discontinuity for older people and smooth the path of support for older people, which would be a better way of identifying priorities in support systems.

The noble Baroness queried the relationship between that system and social security policy. There is a problem of the linkage between the provision of sheltered housing and housing benefit. The Government are determined to see a clear line drawn between basic rent and support services. If one ties accommodation into a benefits infrastructure it does not allow the flexible approach that we hope the new arrangements will deliver.

However, because of the range of difficulties, although rejecting a pilot approach--it gives no certainty of where one aims to get--we are now talking with the stakeholders, the providers so that we have some flexibility as to how the system is introduced. In particular, we are discussing the benefits of phasing in the new scheme so that we can learn from the early stages of phasing. It is similar to piloting but it gives certainty as to where one intends to end up. Phased implementation would help to ensure that the new regime is implemented smoothly and that best practice is shared.

Subject to the agreement of the providers and others involved, we believe that that phased approach would be better than having an open-ended pilot approach which does not give the rest of the local authorities and providers certainty as to where we are going. I hope that the noble Baroness accepts that that will be a better approach and will not pursue her amendment.

Baroness Maddock: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his lengthy reply. I am not sure that I agree with him that a pilot means that one will not do anything at the end of it. A pilot scheme ensures that one puts in place processes and methods that work. From the Minister's reply, I believe that it is the Government's intention not to bring the system into place at one time. With the reassurance that the noble Lord has given, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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Clause 79 [Housing benefit]:

[Amendment No. 77B not moved.]

Clause 80 [Allowances and pensions for certain local authority members]:

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer moved Amendment No. 78:


    Page 54, line 42, leave out ("of an executive").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving the amendment, I speak also to Amendments Nos. 79 and 80 in the name of my noble friend.

The amendment seeks to delete from the section on allowances and pensions the words "of an executive". To single out councillors who are members of the executive in particular to receive pensions is divisive; and the Bill should not aim to be that. At earlier stages of the Bill, the Minister conceded that under the system other members of the council would have equally important work to do--for example, the chairman of the scrutiny and overview committee. However, the Bill allows for area committees. The chairmen of those committees are likely to spend at least as much time on their work as members of the executive. Chairmen of bodies which come into more contact with the public than does the executive are likely to undertake jobs with longer and perhaps more antisocial hours.

We believe that the council and the independent panel should set the appropriate remuneration, pensions and allowances for members of the council, depending on the structure that they choose. Partnership working--the Government seek to encourage it--may involve the chairmen of the scrutiny and overview committees more than members of the executive, who will be in the council offices, often making decisions.

We believe that the independent panel should set the provision for local councillors with perhaps guidance and input from the council. We do not think that it would be helpful to have anything that further divides councillors. As I read the clause again I was reminded of Animal Farm. Councillors are supposed to be elected to represent the people. If they become long-term professionals, at some point they will become indistinguishable from the officials. It is important that the position as regards all councillors is equitable and that there are not some who are councillors by profession: they have served a long time; they have a pension; and the likelihood of them moving on is remote. There is no provision in the Bill even for a maximum term for those on pensions. For a councillor in his fifties who has served for a long time to receive a pension might be another incentive to stay on. None of these issues has been thought through in the drafting of the provision. I beg to move.


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