HL Deb 24 April 1989 vol 506 cc1107-19

6.46 p.m.

Lord Blease

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

This Private Member's Bill was sponsored by the honourable Member for Belfast, South, the Reverend Martin Smyth. I am pleased to add that in accordance with the procedures in another place, the Bill was presented by the Reverend Martin Smyth with strong cross-party support. The principle of the Bill is parity—parity by the enactment of measures for disabled people in Northern Ireland equivalent to the measures available to disabled people in the rest of the United Kingdom.

The Northern Ireland Bill is drafted actively to reflect the measures in the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986. That includes various provisions designed to improve the co-ordination and effectiveness of services for disabled people in the Province. The services involved are in the main those concerned with the planning and delivery of health and personal social service matters.

In particular, the new legislative measures for Northern Ireland will not only bring the Province in line with the rest of the United Kingdom but will also enable a number of relevant legal inadequacies to be tackled. Above all else, the legislation will help disabled people to have a much greater say in decisions affecting their own lives. The new proposed consultative processes will enhance the sense of personal dignity and well-being of disabled people. The current position concerning services for disabled people in Northern Ireland is that designated services are provided under the Health and Personal Social Services (Northern Ireland) Order 1972 and the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons (Northern Ireland) Act 1978.

In passing, I wish to pay tribute to the parliamentary representative work of my noble friend Lord Fitt. It was my noble friend Lord Fitt who, when a Member of another place, successfully sponsored and had enacted the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons (Northern Ireland) Act 1978. That legislative measure was achieved by the hard work of my noble friend Lord Fitt some eight years after the legislation was introduced for England and Wales. From my knowledge and direct experience I can state that much of the reason for the delay then in providing that important legislation for Northern Ireland was the high political preoccupation with the issues of civil disorder and the then rampant terrorism in the Province. Sadly, the saga continues today. Many vital and necessary beneficial social and economic measures are being seriously hampered and denied to the people of Northern Ireland by the criminal action of paramilitaries and terrorists.

However, we have a time lag of some three years since the enactment of the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986. One of the reasons that has prevented any earlier attempt to replicate for Northern Ireland the measures contained in the 1986 Act is the difference in the administrative structure of the health and personal social services in the Province compared with the structures and responsibilities of these services in Great Britain. Northern Ireland has an integrated structure for delivery of both health and personal social services. This integrated structure I believe provides a number of administrative factors which could, should the Government propose legislation, be implemented with speed, efficiency and effectiveness as resources become available.

There already exists in Northern Ireland close working relationships between the different professional disciplines. There is also a highly developed single avenue of access to a whole range of services where people require help from the facilities and provisions provided by the health and personal social services. Therefore, I am confident that the enactment of this Bill will be warmly welcomed by the providers and the consumers, by the professionals and the administrators, and by disabled people and their carers in Northern Ireland. The Bill should be a valuable addition to the existing legislative and administrative framework for the delivery of health and personal social services in the Province.

The Bill consists of 12 relatively short clauses which mirror the parent 1986 Act. At this Second Reading stage of the Bill I wish to deal briefly with the key elements of the respective clauses. However, before I do so I should mention first the definition of the words "disabled person" as contained in the Bill. Clause 11, at page 11, line 36 of the Bill, states: disabled person" means a person to whom section 1 of the 1978 Act applies". We turn now to Section 1 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons (Northern Ireland) Act 1978 which states: The Department of Health and Social Services for Northern Ireland shall inform itself of the number of and, so far as reasonably practicable, the identity of persons who are blind, deaf and dumb, and other persons who are substantially handicapped by illness, injury or congenital deformity and whose handicap is of a permanent or lasting nature or are suffering from a mental disorder within the meaning of the Mental Health Act (Northern Ireland) 1961, and of the need for the making by that Department of arrangements for promoting the social welfare of such persons under Articles 4(b) and 15 of the Health and Personal Social Services (Northern Ireland) Order 1972". I should add a caveat that the Mental Health Act (Northern Ireland) 1961 was amended by the Mental Health (Northern Ireland) Order 1986, but that clause stands as I have already quoted. Therefore, the situation is that "disabled person" covers all aspects of mental and other forms of physical disability.

Clauses 1 and 2 provide for the appointment of authorised representatives of disabled persons and the rights of authorised representatives of disabled persons. These two clauses provide, for the first time in Northern Ireland, a legal framework for advocacy and representation. An authorised representative is appointed by or for a disabled person, to act on his or her behalf in relation to the provision of personal social services by a health and social services board. The authorised representative may accompany the disabled person to meetings or interviews arranged by the board and can receive information and inspect any documents to which the disabled person would have access. Where the disabled person is living in a certain hospital or other accommodation his representative may visit him and interview him in private.

Clause 3 deals with the assessment of the personal social services needs of a disabled person. This clause is intended to facilitate constructive communication between a health and social services board and a disabled person when his or her personal social service needs are being assessed. The clause establishes procedures to ensure that when a health and social services board assesses these needs the disabled person or his representative has an opportunity to make representations about his needs. The board must also, if asked, provide a written statement specifying its decision and its reasons.

Clause 4 confirms that a board must assess the needs of a disabled person for any of the social welfare services listed in Section 2 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons (Northern Ireland) Act 1978 when asked to do so by specified persons.

I said I would deal briefly with the clauses but I mention the importance of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons (Northern Ireland) Act. Section 2 contains eight subsections which deal with the practical assistance that may be given to a disabled person, such as obtaining wireless, television, recreational facilities, the opportunity to attend lectures, telephone arrangements and a host of matters that can now be enshrined in law for the benefit of the disabled in Northern Ireland.

Clauses 5 and 6 establish procedures aimed at ensuring that disabled young people have a smooth transition from full-time education to adult life. An education and library board and a health and social services board are required to co-operate in identifying disabled young people. A health and social services board must then arrange for an assessment of their personal social services needs to be made before they leave full-time education.

Northern Ireland already has a legislative framework to keep health and social services boards informed of when disabled children leave school, within which an education and library board is required to notify the appropriate health and social services board of a child who is about to leave or has left school if the education board considers that he or she needs further care, treatment or supervision because of physical, intellectual, emotional or social development.

Clause 7 deals with persons discharged from hospital accommodation. It deals with procedures designed to ensure that when a person leaves hospital after receiving medical treatment for mental illness or mental handicap as an in-patient for six months or more, the health and social services board responsible for the hospital must notify the health and social services board responsible for the area in which the person is likely to live after discharge. If the person is less than 19 years old t he appropriate education and library board must also be notified. Unless the person objects, arrangements must then be made for an assessment of his needs for both health services and personal social services.

Clause 8 requires a health and social services board, when assessing the personal social services needs of a disabled person who is receiving substantial care from another person, I o take account of the ability of the carer to continue to provide appropriate care. Boards are also required to provide interpretation services if the carer is unable to communicate because of disability.

The inclusion of Clause 8 in the Bill is welcomed in Northern Ireland. It is the first time in Northern Ireland's legislation that this very valuable contribution made by the carers of disabled people, often at the cost of considerable personal sacrifice, has been recognised. One could go on to illustrate the problems of those people who are caring for elderly people, or elderly people caring for their younger children. They do so at great personal sacrifice and at times it may be very much a cause of deterioration in their own health. This is a welcome clause. Carers will be brought to the fore and will receive the attention they deserve in the legislation of Northern Ireland.

Clause 9 deals with appointments to the committees and organisations which deal with the special needs of disabled persons. It stipulates that such bodies should be properly consulted. Clause 10 is the kind of clause that is normally included in such Bills. It states: The Department shall annually lay before the Northern Ireland Assembly a report containing the following information". Since the suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly the information is normally included in the records of another place and of this House. Members of another place with constituencies in Northern Ireland, and Members of this House with an interest in Northern Ireland, will normally be supplied with the documentation and reports. This will open up the reports to debate, if necessary in the Chamber.

During the Third Reading debate of the Bill in another place it was pointed out that five sections of the 1986 Act have still to be implemented. It was claimed that the reason for the delay was lack of resources. However, this aspect of the 1986 Act is outside the scope of the Second Reading debate of the Disabled Persons (Northern Ireland) Bill. I mention the matter of implementation because it relates directly to the financial implications of the Bill and the resources that will be required by the Northern Ireland departments and the health and social services boards. I understand that during the Third Reading debate in another place on 7th April 1989 the Northern Ireland Minister, Mr. Richard Needham, welcomed and supported the Bill and indicated at col. 532 of the Official Report that steps would be taken to discuss the costs of this legislation once it is introduced.

At the beginning of the debate I mentioned that the Reverend Martin Smyth, the honourable Member who sponsored the Bill, had strong cross-party support for its enactment. I wish to add that during the debate in another place the Reverend Smyth expressed his appreciation of the helpful guidance he had received from the Minister, Mr. Richard Needham, and from the Northern Ireland DHSS officials on the drafting and presentation of the Bill. I am encouraged by this indication of government support for the Bill and am pleased to see that the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, is to take part in the debate. I am sure that he will confirm this support.

I am honoured and privileged to be invited to present the Bill to the House. It is an important and necessary legislative measure for Northern Ireland and should help considerably to improve and add to the care arrangements and facilities for disabled people that are currently provided in Northern Ireland. These will be enshrined in law and should enable disabled people to have a greater personal fulfilment in life and actively to share in community affairs in the Province. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Blease.)

7.4 p.m.

Lord Bonham-Carter

My Lords, I have spoken enough in your Lordships' House today. I do not propose to inflict more than a brief few words in connection with the Bill. I am sure that the House will want to thank the noble Lord, Lord Blease, for introducing this extremely important and necessary measure which I should like to support on my own behalf and and on behalf of my noble friends on these Benches.

As the noble Lord explained, the Bill is about disabled people, of whom, I understand, there is a higher proportion in Northern Ireland than on the mainland. Therefore it answers a need which is already met by the parallel Act which came into effect in this country three years ago. The Bill is not only about disabled people but about the resources which are available to them. It is also about consultation—the right not only of disabled people to be consulted, but also the right of the organisations which represent them. It is no doubt the case that such consultation already takes place. It is nonetheless important that this should be enforceable in law. The Bill confers a duty on local authorities to intervene before rather than after the event; to prevent a disaster rather than to try to clear up after the disaster has occurred.

Clause 7 seems to be of particular importance today. It is concerned with the transition of disabled persons from care—either hospital or institutional —to the outside world. "Care in the community" is a fashionable phrase these days. It sounds marvellous but is so only if resources and people are available in the community to provide the disabled person with the care that he or she needs. Hence the transitional arrangements are of the greatest importance. Transitional arrangements may cover a handicapped child, a mentally handicapped child leaving school or an institution for the wider community. The Bill makes provision for that particularly delicate and important situation. I feel that this clause needs careful examination.

I have only two other things to say. First, it is extremely important that the Bill should be implemented rapidly; secondly, adequate resources should be provided in order to make it effective. I understand that in the early stages of the implementation of the equivalent provision in this country the resources were inadequate and the implementation rather slow. I trust that we will have learnt from that experience and that in Northern Ireland, where the Bill will meet a longstanding need, resources will be made available and that implementation of the Bill will be rapid. I should like once more to thank the noble Lord, Lord Blease, and to express our support for the Bill.

7.8 p.m.

Lord Fitt

My Lords, I too wish to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Blease, on his presentation of the Bill and thank the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, for his helpful remarks in relation to it. Although it is only a small Bill it will have tremendous effect on the everyday lives of those sections of the community which are sorely in need of all the attention we can give them. They are among the most vulnerable groups in our society. I refer to the disabled, the elderly, psychiatric patients and families under stress.

In 1978 I had the great pleasure and honour to pilot through another place what became the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons (Northern Ireland) Act. Before bringing that matter before Parliament I obtained a medical dictionary, because during all the years that I lived in Northern Ireland I was told that there was a higher incidence of disease and disability there as opposed to other parts of the United Kingdom. Many of the words in the dictionary were unpronounceable for me, but I put down a series of Questions to the relevant Minister in another place to ask how many instances of different diseases or disabilities the Government had on record. For example, I asked about multiple sclerosis, spina bifida, and Down's syndrome and, much to my amazement, the answer I received was that the Government did not know. They had no idea of the numbers of people in Northern Ireland who were suffering from specific diseases.

That is why, when the Bill eventually became law, Clauses 1 and 2 laid a responsibility on local authorities and health service boards to ascertain the number of people in Northern Ireland who would need help or who would benefit by that legislation. I should have hoped that Sections 1 and 2 of that Act would have had the effect that I intended them to have. But I am not quite certain that local authorities have lived up to their responsibilities and have really acted on the instructions which were very clearly laid down in Sections 1 and 2.

I have received today—and I am certain that the Minister will be aware of it—a communication from the Citizens Advice Bureaux in Northern Ireland which carried out a survey between July and October last year. They found in respect of existing legislation that there were four major areas of complaint. First, there is a lack of knowledge about the benefits available among clients and social workers. Secondly, there are difficulties in claiming benefits due to strict interpretation of the qualifying criteria. Thirdly, there have been cuts in the availability of home helps—and, in relation to what has just been said by the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, there must be adequate resources if we are to implement the provisions of this Bill. Fourthly, the early discharge of people from hospitals without proper support is causing great concern to the Citizens Advice Bureaux.

As in previous legislation relating to Northern Ireland, there is a key clause in this Bill and that is Clause 7, because it covers people who are being released from institutionalised care into the community. They are released into the hands of carers who have been referred to by my noble friend Lord Blease. In many cases the carers are members of one's own family and they would be quite prepared, if they had adequate resources, to care for their ageing relatives. After all, the motive behind the legislation is to take people out of institutions and put them into a caring community; if at all possible, into the hands of their own family.

I found during the course of the debate in the other House that when the Minister was talking about people being released from institutionalised care, psychiatric hospitals etc., he said: People are not moved out of hospitals or institutions without there being a plan for them to go into the community".—[Official Report, Commons, 22/3/89, col. 8]. The organisation to which I have referred contradicts that. It says that it has a complaint on record and that, Psychiatric social workers also seem to be very thin on the ground in that patients are being discharged from hospital and receiving little transitional support in the community. Two cases from one bureau illustrate how the client or the family has to make the first approach to social services. It goes on to quote: A client was released from a psychiatric hospital and had no money and nowhere to live. After we contacted the Social Services they agreed to see him that afternoon". I suggest that before that person was released from hospital, all necessary steps should have been taken regarding how he was leaving, where he was going when he left, what accommodation he would have, who would be the carers and what financial wherewithal would be given by the social services. That is what this Bill is intended to ensure. But that was also the intention by Sections 1 and 2 of the 1978 Act when a responsibility was placed upon the local authorities.

My noble friend Lord Blease has mentioned two other significant clauses, Clauses 5 and 6. They relate to disabled young people who are suffering from specific diseases or disabilities. I believe that where there is a disability or a disease affecting young people it should elicit more compassion, because those young people have all their lives to live with that affliction and no effort should be spared by local authorities to make their lives easier.

The document which I have received also refers to the Griffiths Report. Evidently that committee sat for 13 months inquiring into the specific problems which arise as regards carers in the community and putting people from institutionalised care into community care. They say—and I have had no further communication from them—that 13 months seems to be a very long delay if action is to be taken on this report. This report is not being acted upon. I will not say that it is being pigeon-holed, but I believe that whatever action may be taken upon it in this part of the United Kingdom will not be taken in Northern Ireland. I know that the Minister in another place said that Northern Ireland is different and that it is not necessary to wait for the conclusions of the Griffiths Report to be debated, as action can be taken within the Northern Ireland context.

This Bill comes as a result of the Act which went through in 1986. That Act led to the promulgation of this Bill by Martin Smyth, the Member for Belfast, South. He also is deserving of our congratulations and commendation for showing such care. I know from reports that I have had from Northern Ireland that he is very caring about disabled people.

I should also say—my noble friend Lord Blease will be aware of this—that one of the great advantages of this legislation is that disabled people will have representation as of right. They will not have to go to some locally elected representative and depend on his goodwill, as to whether or not he will have time to represent them at a local tribunal or at a hearing in respect of disability.

I was a member of a local authority in Belfast for many years. A great deal of my time was spent—and I was happy to do so—in representing people at local tribunals. I found that when they had a solicitor to represent them, that solicitor was not behind the door in charging them for his services. On the local tribunals, as they were then constituted, there was a chairman, an employers' representative, a local authority representative and a trade union representative.

I should say that when the Bill was going through another place there was some implied or slight criticism of trade unionists in respect of restrictive practices in relation to some legislation. I can only say, with years of experience, that trade union members in Northern Ireland, particularly those who sat on the local tribunals, showed every ounce of concern and compassion for those who were afflicted with a disability and had to appear before them.

My noble friend Lord Blease was a distinguished member of a trade union for many years, and he will be aware of the concern and compassion that was shown by the trade union movement as regards claims and representation on behalf of disabled people. That is why I am glad to welcome the legislation which makes it a responsibility to ensure that disabled people will, as of right, and without begging or seeming to beg, be able to have representations made on their behalf.

This is a small Bill. I must say that I am very happy with all its clauses. However, I should like to see it implemented as quickly as possible with all the necessary resources. Of course I know that we shall never be happy with the amount of resources which are made available, but that is a fact of life. We shall never be happy in that respect because there will always be a disparity between the amount of money needed and the amount of money actually provided. I believe that the maximum possible should be provided so as to alleviate the suffering of people in Northern Ireland who are victims of disablement and disease through no fault of their own. It is up to those of us who have all our physical and mental capabilities to do what we can to help those who are less fortunate than ourselves.

7.21 p.m.

Lord Prys-Davies

My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Blease for introducing this Bill to your Lordships' House. Indeed, it is deserving and fitting that a Bill which will enhance the services for the disabled, and which recognises the human dignity of the disabled person, should be presented to this House by my noble friend. He has toiled tirelessly throughout his life for the disadvantaged people of his native Northern Ireland, to which he is always so loyal.

My noble friend has introduced the Bill with characteristic sincerity and modesty. I think it is most appropriate that the Bill should be supported by all the political parties and all the voluntary organisations which have a primary interest in services for disabled people, or in some aspects of those services. My noble friend has handsomely acknowledged that in a sense he is building upon the earlier structure which was constructed by my noble friend Lord Fitt.

As my noble friend clearly explained, the Bill puts into Northern Ireland legislation the provisions contained in the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986 which applies to England, Wales and Scotland. The Bill's principles are identified in its Long Title. They are three in number: the provision of services; adequate consultation; and adequate representation of the views of disabled people by disabled people themselves, wherever that is possible.

In another place the Northern Ireland Minister with responsibility for health made known on many occasions that in the circumstances and in the context of Northern Ireland the Bill merely carries good practice into legislation. I am not quite sure what to make of that statement. In a sense it could be argued that it is the weakest of all ministerial arguments, if it be true. But nevertheless the effect of placing good practice on a statutory basis should never be underestimated, because it converts good practice into a legal right and a correlative legal duty. I very much agree with my noble friend Lord Fitt that to give rights and duties a source in law, a source in an Act of Parliament, must inevitably be to the positive advantage of disabled people and their families in Northern Ireland.

My noble friend Lord Blease explained that the Bill follows closely the provisions contained in the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986. I assume from that that experience since 1986 in England, Wales and Scotland of those parts of the Act which have been activated has not indicated the need to amend any of the provisions. It would indeed be reassuring to know if that is the case.

As I say, the Bill is almost identical to the 1986 Act, or is almost an exact replica of it. However, it appears to me—although I could well be mistaken—that the 19th birthday of a disabled person has a different significance under Sections 5 and 7 of the Great Britain legislation from that which is proposed in Clauses 5 and 7 of the Bill now before us. As the reason for that difference may not immediately be apparent—at least, it is certainly not apparent to me—I wonder whether the explanation is to be found in the law on children which applies exclusively to Northern Ireland; or perhaps it is the case that there is no significant difference between the Bill and the Act in that respect. It may be that I have just missed the point.

As my noble friend Lord Blease explained, Clause 10 of the Bill provides for an annual report to be presented and laid before the Assembly. The report must contain the information which is specified in that clause. That mirrors the Great Britain legislation which provides under Section 11 for a similar annual report to be laid before Parliament. Perhaps the Minister will kindly confirm that in the absence of a Northern Ireland Assembly—wevery much regret the absence of an Assembly—the annual report will at least be published and made easily available to all those who are concerned with the services for the disabled, and that it will also be made available to Parliament. Further, what will become of the annual report? Is it contemplated that the Secretary of State will invite the health and social boards, or perhaps the Housing Executive and any other relevant bodies, such as the education board and voluntary organisations, to comment upon the contents of the annual report to see how gaps in the service which are disclosed by such a report can be made good?

I have just one further question for the Minister. It is a question which has already been asked by the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, and by my noble friends Lord Fitt and Lord Blease. It is this. When will the provisions of the Bill be activated? If it is the case, as the Minister explained in another place, that in practice no new duties or rights are involved, is there any good reason for not implementing all the provisions at the same time and at an early date? If that is not the case, is it contemplated that Northern Ireland will have to wait upon the implementation of the 1986 Act in the rest of the United Kingdom?

I am sure that there is no need for me to reinforce the plea which has already been made by every speaker in this short debate; namely, that it is most desirable that on the issue of disability the pace of progress in Northern Ireland should not be dictated by the lower pace and the lower rate which is contemplated for the rest of the United Kingdom.

Clearly we on these Benches give our full support to this worthwhile legislation. Once again, I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Blease for his contribution, of which he can be proud.

7.30 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Lyell)

My Lords, I shall start by reiterating the concluding remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies. The whole House, and all of us who work in Northern Ireland, are immensely proud of and grateful for the work, attention, love, care and skill that the noble Lord, Lord Blease, has devoted to the Bill. He took up the running of a Bill which was started by the honourable Member for Belfast, South, the Rev. Martin Smyth. I and my ministerial colleagues welcome the Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Blease, said, it is designed to extend to disabled people in Northern Ireland the rights and benefits which are accorded to disabled people in the rest of the United Kingdom by the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986 of which we have heard a good deal this evening.

If the Bill successfully completes its passage through your Lordships' House, of which I have no doubt, it will be a valuable addition to the legislative base for services for disabled people in Northern Ireland. I wish to record my thanks to, and admiration of, the noble Lord, Lord Blease, for proposing the measure and for the succinct way in which he went through the Bill almost clause by clause. He did not go into some of the latter clauses in great detail. We may find some fascinating points if we look there. The noble Lord gave an example of how to pick the important details of a Bill of this nature.

The common thread of the queries raised by all noble Lords who have spoken relates to the Bill's implementation. As with the 1986 Act for England and Wales, this will be phased over a period of time, which is what your Lordships would expect. Secondly, it will depend upon the necessary resources being available. It is the Government's intention to proceed as quickly as circumstances and, above all, resources allow. The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, was worried about whether implementation of the Act in Northern Ireland would depend upon the implementation of the 1986 Act in England and Wales. I hasten to tell him that implementation will be a matter for Northern Ireland itself.

The noble Lord also asked about the report mentioned in Clause 10. It was, if I may paraphrase what he said, an invitation to interested parties. The noble Lord and the noble Lord, Lord Blease, will know that there is no need to invite comments; they will come in. Given the nature of the integrated system for health and social services in Northern Ireland, I have no doubt that through the report and in the course of implementing the Bill, the Department of Health and Social Services and the personal social services will be in touch with virtually all the interested parties about whom the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, was thinking. If there are any gaps we shall consider the matter.

The noble Lord, Lord Blease, was a little worried about the scope of the Bill. I reiterate what has been strongly emphasised about the scope of the Bill. Like the 1986 Act, the implementation of the Bill's provisions will be phased. This will depend upon the resources being available. I reiterate the pledge given by my honourable friend the Minister responsible for health and personal social services in Northern Ireland at col. 6 of the Official Report of another place on 27th March. I add my pledge to that one.

The noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, was also concerned about the rapid implementation of the provisions. I believe that the confirmation that I have given to the noble Lord, Lord Blease, will satisfy the noble Lord. The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, was worried about whether there was any record of the number of people in Northern Ireland suffering from specific disabilities. I am not aware of any sweeper system whereby we maintain lists. If I obtain any information on that matter, I shall inform the noble Lord and forward a copy to the noble Lord, Lord Blease.

The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, mentioned documents and information from the Citizens Advice Bureaux. I have seen nothing from that organisation. I cannot speak for my honourable friend the Minister, but if he has received anything I shall inform the noble Lord. As far as I understand it, the Government have received nothing. The noble Lord mentioned one case. If he lets me or my honourable friend have the details, we shall pursue the point.

The noble Lord also mentioned the Griffiths Report. I reiterate what was said by my honourable friend the Minister in another place. On Third Reading my honourable friend was replying to a question from the honourable Member for Redcar. I hope that I am permitted to quote from the record of another place so that the Government's intention is clear and put beyond doubt. My honourable friend said: The 1986 Act was appropriate for Northern Ireland because in Northern Ireland the social services and health boards are integrated" —(Official Report, Commons, 7/4/79; col. 531.] He went on to say that that was why the Griffiths Report did not have the relevance to Northern Ireland that it had to the rest of Britain. I hope that that information will be of some help to the noble Lord, Lord Fitt. It will no doubt also assist the noble Lord, Lord Blease. If there is anything further, I am sure that both noble Lords, will be in touch with me.

Your Lordships will not wish to hear any more from me. I shall not take what I call "the glory" from the noble Lord, Lord Blease. I moved a similar measure from the Opposition Benches 12 years ago. The noble Lord, Lord Blease, is an example to us all in the care that he has taken and the research that he has done. We are all grateful to him, and we are full of admiration for the way in which he proposed the measure.

7.37 p.m.

Lord Blease

My Lords, I wish to thank all noble Lords who have taken part for their kind words. I am only the carrier of good tidings. The Bill is the result of the Rev. Martin Smyth's success in the ballot. He chose the subject. He will be pleased to hear the pleasant remarks that have been made in the House. We are delighted to know that the Bill is supported. We shall be looking anxiously for its implementation. We shall have further pleasure from that.

I shall make a few brief remarks, because the Bill has been well covered during the debate. I totally agree with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, about care in the community and I thank him for his kind support. Too often in various parts of the community we see that it is not "care in the community" but, sadly, "care by the community". We want to change that completely. The rights of the disabled should stand on their own and the carers should be taken care of.

I fully support the point about implementation made by the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter. He mentioned the high incidence of disability in Northern Ireland. I agree that on that matter there are many factors involved, and any data or information I possess shows the trend. It is blamed on high unemployment, social deprivation, the volume of debt, and even the water we drink in Northern Ireland is supposed to be responsible for disabilities, as are marital problems and the different cultures. The age and number of children also give rise to such factors. It has even been stated that the Celtic culture and habits are responsible.

What I can say is that I am aware that an assessment has already been made and a survey carried out on disability in Northern Ireland. I understand that the assessment has been conducted and undertaken by the Government along the lines of the Sumner survey taken in Great Britain. I believe it has been taken over by a department of government, it will take two years to complete and has now been under way for six months. The rights of representations were dealt with by my noble friend Lord Fitt, and I thank him for his very practical contribution to the debate. My noble friend Lord Prys-Davies, with other noble Lords, went into this aspect in great detail, having given considerable thought to the Second Reading of the Bill.

Perhaps I may attempt to deal with one point raised, that there was no mention of 19 year-olds. I understand from the Notes on Clauses that Clause 5(9) gives the definition of "child". It says: 'child' means a child who is at least 5 and less than 16 years old and who is registered as a pupil at a school or institution of further education; in the case of a child with special educational needs the upper age limit is less than 19 years old' ". If under 19 year-olds are not mentioned in the Bill, that age is certainly implied through reference to other legislation. I shall check that and come back at a later stage if the position is any different.

At this time in the evening I wish to thank the Minister for his pledge of support and for the fact that every effort will be made by the Government to implement the legislation as quickly as possible, and also that thought has been given to the need for financial resources in this respect. With that, I move the Second Reading of the Bill and commend it to the House.

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

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