Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Burlison: My Lords, I acknowledge my noble friend's involvement in this area and I appreciate his concerns. The Government do not believe that the Gloucestershire judgment should have led to changes in the practice of authorities as the House of Lords judgment confirmed what had long been the department's understanding of the law.

Following that judgment, we issued guidance which was used to help to safeguard disabled people against possible misunderstandings of it. That made it clear that the judgment did not give authorities a licence to take arbitrary or unreasonable decisions. It also made it clear that the authorities are still under a duty to arrange services for disabled persons where they consider it to be necessary to do so in order to meet a disabled person's need.

I am prepared to examine the specific cases that my noble friend outlined if he raises them with me outside the Chamber.

Lord Addington: My Lords, does the Minister agree that if the social services fail to meet the needs, they

12 Apr 2000 : Column 187

will have to be picked up by the Department of Health? Does he further agree that robbing Peter to pay Paul later is not what one would call "joined-up government"?

Lord Burlison: My Lords, there are many areas where the department feels that services should be examined. We realise that there are problems and failures within social services. The White Paper, Modernising Social Services, sets out our plans to overhaul the social services and to create services in which we can all have confidence. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Addington, that robbing Peter to pay Paul should not be the Government's approach on this issue.

Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, is it not a straight defiance of Parliament's intention in enacting Section 2 of my Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act to deny housebound elderly people even the right to a bath, now one of the most fundamental human rights that is well recognised in the Prison Service? And is it not totally repugnant to Ministers who are committed to social fairness to see an elderly housebound woman stating,


    "My husband and I, both in our 80s, are taken to an old people's home twice a year for a bath. We asked the council to put in a bath but were told there is no money"?

Lord Burlison: My Lords, once again, I appreciate the involvement of my noble friend Lord Morris of Manchester in this issue and I acknowledge the past service that he has given to disabled people. It is sad that on an occasion such as this we need to raise issues of the type referred to by my noble friend. The Government are taking great steps to try to improve services: we are modernising social services and setting up a modernisation fund and Fair Access to care services. The Better care, higher standards national charter sets out a number of proposals to promote the independence of deaf and blind people. I also remind my noble friend that, although the Government are not complacent on this issue, there is a complaints procedure which can be used within local government. I am sure that like many other noble Lords my noble friend will want to ensure that the ombudsman is used, if necessary, in extreme cases in local government, to ensure that cases such as those mentioned are not treated unreasonably.

Earl Russell: My Lords, is the Minister aware that where local authorities face statutory obligations and compulsory spending limits they risk being "damned if they do and damned if they don't"? In the light of that, can the Minister tell us exactly what meaning he attaches to the Government's manifesto pledge to abolish crude and universal capping?

Lord Burlison: My Lords, I have already said that this judgment should not affect the relationship between a local authority and the disabled people who need to make use of the service. So far as the Government are concerned, we are absolutely and positively committed to improving social services

12 Apr 2000 : Column 188

benefits for disabled people. In order to achieve that, we have consulted the various elements involved, such as Sense, Deafblind UK, the RNIB and the RNID. We are keen that proper consultation should take place to ensure that local authorities are able to cater for, and government are in tune with, the needs of disabled, deaf and blind people in this country.

Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review

2.53 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, at the forthcoming conference on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in New York, they will press for a nuclear weapons convention along the same lines as the conventions now in force regarding chemical and biological weapons so as to emphasise international commitment to nuclear disarmament.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, the Government agree that logically the process of nuclear disarmament ultimately is likely to require the negotiation of a nuclear weapons convention to ban nuclear weapons, just as chemical and biological weapons are banned by the Chemical and Biological Weapons Conventions respectively. Unfortunately, the reality is that the circumstances do not yet exist to make starting such negotiations a practical proposition. Therefore, at the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference later this month we shall press for progress towards more immediate goals such as further deep cuts in the arsenals of the two major nuclear powers, bringing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty into force and launching negotiations on a fissile material cut-off treaty.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the very process of expressing a desire to move in the direction of banning would of itself create the situation that the Government desire and make it an obviously sensible and, indeed, inevitable and right thing to do? Unless that is done, the feeling will persist that nuclear weapons are not quite as bad as biological and chemical weapons and do not need to be outlawed. That kind of comparison is fruitless. I suggest to my noble friend that the necessity for banning nuclear weapons is extremely urgent and should be looked at in the same light as the banning of biological and chemical weapons.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I understand absolutely the passion with which the noble Lord addresses this issue. We have no problem in principle with the idea of a nuclear weapons convention as the ultimate legal underpinning of a nuclear weapons-free world. However, we cannot wish away present political realities and pretend that negotiations on such a convention could be expected

12 Apr 2000 : Column 189

to make headway in present circumstances. We agree with the noble Lord that it is a consummation devoutly to be wished but, regrettably, unlikely to be delivered very quickly.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, despite the Minister's reply, does she recognise that there are great opportunities for the United Kingdom at the review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty? Perhaps I may ask her about two of them. First, can she tell us what will be the position of Her Majesty's Government with regard to the redefinition of the position of India and Pakistan, which are both listed in the existing treaty as "non-nuclear states"? Secondly, can the Minister take advantage of the warm rapprochement--almost a special relationship--between the recently elected President of Russia and our own Prime Minister to press for the Duma to ratify the START II disarmament treaty which now seems a real and exciting possibility?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I can certainly tell the noble Baroness that we hope that both Pakistan and India will consider favourably signing the treaty. We are urging them as energetically as we can to direct their minds to that. We very much welcome the news that the Russian Duma plans to vote on the ratification of START II on Friday. Obviously, we hope for a positive outcome that will open the way for negotiations with the United States on a START III treaty, promising significant further cuts in the two countries' nuclear arsenals. Therefore, we very much welcome this positive move and we are doing everything that we can to encourage our Russian partners to ratify START II as soon as practicable.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, the noble Baroness referred to political realities. Will she bear in mind how stupid and entrenched those obstacles to progress can be? They will be there for ever unless determined action is taken to combat them.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, we certainly agree that determined action needs to be taken to combat them. That is precisely what we are doing in pushing forward with the conference and trying to make the atmosphere as conducive as possible to a rapprochement, as the noble Baroness has already mentioned. Our energy is devoted wholly to that end.

Lord Chalfont: My Lords, is it not the case that a number of countries which have not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or ratified it are constructing nuclear capabilities, testing nuclear weapons and producing the means to deliver them by ballistic missiles? Is it not pointless to talk about a nuclear weapons convention while that is the case?


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page