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Baroness Wilkins: My Lords, I am delighted to thank my noble friend the Minister for that very welcome reply and for her concern, tenacity and supreme skill in having brought about this step. It will bring enormous relief to thousands of families who cannot afford to adapt their homes and will enable their children to fulfil their potential.
Does the Minister agree with me that a warm tribute is due to Brendan McKeever and Ginni Shaw of Homes Fit for Children and Caroline Gordon of Mencap, among many others, for their long campaign on this issue? Does she also agree that, while the abolition of the means test is extremely welcome, it will meet only the tip of the iceberg of need and that a great amount of work still needs to be done to adapt our housing stock to meet the needs of disabled people?
Baroness Andrews: Yes, my Lords, I am delighted to pay tribute not only to the campaign groups which have worked incredibly tenaciously to bring this about, but to the campaign that has been waged in this House, not least by my noble friend. She is absolutely right that it is an excellent start. We did what we could do to meet the most pressing need. The rest of the report makes wide-ranging recommendations, which we will be looking at in the context of what else we can do for people with disabilities who cannot afford to access what they need. Early in the new year, we will bring forward a consultation paper that addresses those issues and how we intend to proceed.
Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, the announcement that the Minister has made is obviously extremely welcome, especially for those families with disabled children who need to adapt their houses and flats to give them a better quality of life. On the further review, the Minister's colleague Yvette Cooper, then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, said in a Written Answer on 14 March that the review would report to Ministers in May and that would be followed by a consultation, which normally in this day and age seems to take about six weeks. It is now almost November, but as I understand it we are only about to have the consultation on the report. Why is that?
Baroness Andrews: My Lords, the Bristol report undertook major research that looked at a large number of people in complex situations. We received the report in August. We are looking across
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government in a cross-departmental review. There are a wide range of issues, as the noble Lord will understand, not least involving the Department of Health and the Department for Education and Skills. We have a comprehensive report that will allow us to establish priorities and will allow us to move forward swiftly, knowing full well the implications of what we prioritise.
Lord Addington: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness on announcing that positive news. Does she agree that the devil may well be in the detail? Can the Government give us some information about what work is being done to deal with the backlog of cases? What studies have been done to establish the necessary level of training for the staff who will be implementing the scheme? We need to ensure that the backlog will be reduced over time and will not occur again in the future.
Baroness Andrews: My Lords, that is a reasonable question. The delays in the system have exercised us very much, and they continue to do so because they are unacceptable. The Bristol report calls for a separate fast track system for some items with less bureaucracy, and we will be looking at that. We will also be looking at what we can do in the interim to spread good practice, because some local authorities are much better than others. We have produced tripartite guidance, which we need to know is being implemented. We are putting more money into the system, which will also speed things up. We have removed the means test, which means that local authorities can concentrate on other cases and they will not be involved in complex assessments in the way that they have been. The number of occupational therapists, which has been an issue, is getting better and there has been a drop in the number of vacancies. Things are looking more positive.
Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness on her statement this morning. I am sure that the consultation will be wide. Can she assure me that those NGOs that work particularly for children such as Save the Childrenof which I was a one-time council memberand the Children's Society will be included in any consultation that takes place?
Baroness Andrews: My Lords, I can give that assurance. The bodies that work in this field have an enormous range of expertise about individual families and the complexities and difficulties that they face, and we need to know about that. It gives me pleasure this morning to know that we have the prospect of about 500 additional severely disabled children per year being helped through the system in ways that they could not have been helped before because their families had incomes that were too high.
The Lord Bishop of Chelmsford: My Lords, the Minister's announcement this morning is very welcome, but does she accept that children and young
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people with disabilities show remarkable courage, often in the face of very difficult circumstances? Does that not lay upon all of us a high moral responsibility to ensure that the best resources are made available to such children and young people and to their families? Is that not the moral undergirding that really lies behind these moves?
Baroness Andrews: My Lords, the right reverend Prelate is absolutely right. Essentially, the point of the disabled facilities grant is to make the home accessible to the child. That is a fundamental human right. Many such children have had to be carried upstairs to a bathroom, sometimes on the back of a frail mother. So we are making a very simple provision accessible on a very human basis.
Lord Sheldon: My Lords, I see that there are no more responses, so will my noble friend publish the Government's replies to those 50, which we knew about many months ago? Is he aware that very many people view with dismay the decline in the standing of the Civil Service, the dominant role of some special advisers, and the way in which the integrity and independence of the Civil Service has been put at risk? The introduction of a Bill would enable Parliament to consider all those matters. What does the Minister say to that?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, as I have said on many occasions from the Dispatch Box, we value the independence, integrity, honesty and directness of civil servants and the quality of their advice. We are carefully considering the responses that have been received and we shall make our views known in due course.
Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, will the Minister go further? His answer sounded extraordinarily complacent, first, in the light of the criticisms made by Sir Alistair Graham, the chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, in which he accused the Government of being in breach of the seven principles of public life because of their reliance on mere orders to effect changein particular, the principle of openness and transparencyand, secondly, in the light of the powerful argument advanced by the Civil Service Commissioners, who wrote as long as a year ago that the constitutional position of the Civil Service and the core
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values which underpin the Civil Service are not suitable to be supported solely by Orders in Council and need to be embodied in a Bill. If the Government are unable to produce a Bill themselves, can they bring what they have before us and we can then see what we can do to improve it?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I shall try to answer the noble Lord's points briefly. We simply do not accept what the noble Lord says. I have made plain on many occasions that we believe the current constitutional position to be well understood and well settled. It has been that way since Northcote and Trevelyan, and I think that the Civil Service works well in the current circumstances.
Lord Marsh: My Lords, does Minister not agree that this is a fundamental issue in terms of the constitution and the way that this country is run, and that it is a matter of some urgency? Can he give us a rough indication of what "in due course" might mean?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the noble Lord is far more experienced in these matters than me, and I am sure that, as a former Minister, he understands exactly what "in due course" means. I am not in a position to provide a timetable and it would be wrong of me to do so, but the Government take these important issues extremely seriously. For that reason, even without a Bill being actively in play, the Government have been extremely keen to see that arrangements are strengthened, with proper rules, codes of practice and contracts put in place, to ensure that the relationship between government and the Civil Service is properly regulated. We remain committed to that.
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