HC Deb 11 April 1986 vol 95 cc519-22

'(1) On any occasion when it falls to a local authority to decide whether the needs of a disabled person call for the provision by the authority (in accordance with any of the welfare enactments) of any statutory services for that person, the authority shall afford an opportunity to the disabled person or his authorised representative to make, within such reasonable period as the authority may allow for the purpose, representations to an officer of the authority as to any needs of the disabled person calling for the provision by the authority (in accordance with any of those enactments) of any statutory services for him.

(2) Where any such representations have been made to a local authority in accordance with subsection (1), and the authority have determined which statutory services (if any) should in their opinion be provided by them for the disabled person having regard to those representations, the authority shall, if so requested by the disabled person or his authorised representative, supply the person making the request with a written statement—

  1. (a) specifying the statutory services (if any) that they propose to provide; and
  2. (b) giving an explanation of their proposal.

(3) Where the local authority do not propose to provide any statutory services to meet a particular need identified in any representations under subsection (1), any statement supplied under subsection (2) must—

  1. (a) state that fact together with the reasons why the authority do not propose to provide any such services, and
  2. (b) inform the disabled person or his authorised representative of the right to make further representations under subsection (4).

(4) If the disabled person or his authorised representative is dissatisfied with any matter stated by the local authority in pursuance of subsection (3)(a), that person may, within such reasonable period as the authority may allow for the purpose, make further representations to an officer of the authority with respect to the particular need in question.

(5) Where any such representations have been made to the authority in accordance with subsection (4), the authority shall—

  1. (a) reconsider, in the light of those representations, the question whether any statutory services should be provided as mentioned in subsection (3), and
  2. (b) inform the disabled person or his authorised representative in writing of their decision on that question and their reasons for that decision.

(6) Where the disabled person or his authorised representative is unable to communicate, or (as the case may be) be communicated with, orally or in writing by reason of any mental of physical incapacity, the local authority shall provide such services as, in their opinion, are necessary to ensure that any such incapacity does not—

  1. (a) prevent the authority from discharging their functions under this section in relation to the disabled person, or
  2. (b) prevent the making of representations under this section by or on behalf of that person.

(7) In this section—

  1. (a) in relation to England and Wales, means services under any arrangements which the local authority are required to make by virtue of any of the welfare enactments, and
  2. (b) in relation to Scotland, means services which a local authority are required to provide themselves or by arrangement with another local authority, or with any voluntary or other body, in connection with the performance of the local authority's functions under the welfare enactments.'—[Mr. Hayhoe.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Hayhoe

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take amendments Nos. 2, 6 and 7.

Mr. Hayhoe

The provisions in clauses 2, 6 and 7 as drafted extend the responsibilities placed on local authorities to assess the needs of a disabled person for specific social services under section 2 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 by requiring them to ensure that all relevant needs are considered, to supply the disabled person or representative with all the information used in making the assessment unless given to the authority in confidence, to allow the disabled person or representative to give their views before decisions are taken, to provide a written record of the assessment and to make appropriate referrals to other authorities, provided the disabled person or representative agrees.

The provisions require local authorities to provide an interpreter at their expense if requested by anyone involved in the assessment process if direct communication with the disabled person is not possible because of disability or inadequate command of English.

Clauses 6 and 7 set out more elaborate procedures to be followed by local authorities when assessing the needs of disabled persons under clauses 3, 4 and 5—children with special educational needs, mentally disabled people discharged from hospital and disabled people looked after by informal carers.

I shall not weary the House with a detailed commentary on clauses 6 and 7, because the intention of the Government's new clause 9 is to replace those clauses. The Government accept the underlying principle that disabled people should be given the right to a reasoned decision about the social services to which they are entitled and to make representations about them to the local authority.

Mr. Michael J. Martin (Glasgow, Springburn)

As a councillor on a social work committee, I visited mentally retarded patients who were in the care of the committee but were living with a family, sometimes on isolated farms and in isolated communities. Will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that such people will be offered the same facilities as people in the care of local authorities?

12.30 pm
Mr. Hayhoe

I should need to look at the precise implications. Equality of treatment seldom exists between local authorities, or even between different people. However, I shall look at that point.

I was dealing with the provisions of the new clause. I said that the clauses that the Government are seeking to replace contain, in the Government's view, over-rigid and bureucratic constraints upon the way in which local authorities discharge their functions. In some instances, they could delay the provision of services to disabled people. In particular, the Government are concerned that social services departments are required to assess the need for services which they have no duty to provide.

The proposed formula governing access to information would over-simplify a complex issue. Detailed guidance on disclosure of personal social services information has already been given to local authorities. The administrative cost of such a detailed assessment process and the demand for additional service provision would have substantial implications for local authority expenditure. We were sustained in that view by some of the comments received from the local authority associations.

Local authorities are already under a duty, under the Race Relations Act 1976, to make appropriate arrangements with a view to securing that their various functions are carried out with due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity and good relations between persons of different racial groups. In appropriate circumstances, they will be required to provide interpretation services for people who cannot communicate in English. The foreign language problem is therefore dealt with in other ways. In this clause we are dealing with communication problems that arise from disability.

The effect of the Government's new clause will be to require local authorities, when assessing a disabled person's need for social services, to provide an opportunity for the disabled person, or his representative, to make representations on the need for social services, as they perceive them, and, if requested by the disabled person or his representative, to provide a written statement that outlines the services they intend to provide, to give an explanation of the basis upon which the assessment has been made; to provide an opportunity for the disabled person or his representative to make further representations within a reasonable period about particular needs; to consider such further representations and to inform the disabled person or his representative of the outcome and the reasons for the decision; and to provide appropriate interpretation services for disabled people, or their representatives, who are unable to communicate normally because of disability. We propose with new clause 10 to amend in the same way the provisions governing interpreters in that part of the Bill which relates to carers.

This important clause also has considerable resource implications, particularly for local authorities. Apart from that, they will need time in which to gear themselves up for undertaking the assessments that are provided for in the new clause. Therefore, in all honesty I must place on record the fact that the resource and administrative implications will have to be taken into account by the Government when they introduce the commencement orders for these measures.

I commend the new clause to the House.

Mr. Ashley

I hope, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the House was listening very carefully a few moments ago when your predecessor in the Chair said that we have a long way to go before we dispose of the Bill. Accordingly, therefore, I shall cut down what would have been a half-hour speech to one of 30 seconds. Clause 6, which provides for interpreters, is inadequate. It says that local authorities will provide interpreters if they are necessary.

Local authorities are good, bad, and indifferent. The bad and the indifferent ones will not provide interpreters. That is a matter of very great significance to deaf people. It is not a matter of words but of what is meant by what is said. Deaf people know what they require. I hope that this clause will be reconsidered and amended in another place.

Mr. Tom Clarke

I welcome the news of my right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley), and I share his worries about the time factor. As my right hon. Friend is chairman of the all-party group, which has given enormous support to the Bill, for which we are all grateful, we must take on board the important point that my right hon. Friend has made.

We are grateful to the Government for the progress that has been made on the issue of assessment. It would be churlish to say otherwise. New clause 9 is comprehensive and greatly improves the services which disabled people will receive. We have not got all that we wanted and there are some details which need examining. That is especially true of interpretation, which my right hon. Friend has mentioned. It appears that a disabled person can be excluded as he is unlikely to be able to communicate with the authorities. Overall I am pleased with the Government's response. If this new clause is approved we shall have made considerable progress.

Mr. Alfred Morris

As with new clause 8, conventional wisdom on this side of the House regarding new clause 9 is that the Government are giving 80 per cent. of what was proposed in the original Bill. We accept what is offered.

To put it another way, it is rather like demolishing what we thought was a very desirable residence and replacing it with a rather less attractive residence. Nevertheless needs must and we accept the Government's proposition.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

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