HL Deb 15 April 1991 vol 527 cc1277-303

4.18 p.m.

Proceedings after Third Reading resumed on Clause 1.

[Amendment No. 6 not moved.]

Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 6A:

Page 8, line 12, at beginning insert ("For the purposes of sections 37ZB(5) and 37ZC(12) above").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a drafting amendment which clarifies the text of the Bill. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 6 [Introduction of disability working allowance]:

Lord Carter moved Amendment No. 7:

Page 13, line 24 at end insert:

("(10) Regulations shall provide that where a person who claims the disability working allowance lives as a member of a couple and his partner is in receipt of—
  1. (i) an invalidity pension under section 15 of the Social Security Act 1975;
  2. (ii) an invalidity pension under section 15 or 16 of the Social Security Pensions Act 1975;
  3. (iii) a severe disablement allowance under section 36 of the Social Security Act 1978; or
  4. (iv) the disability working allowance
he shall be treated as if he were not a member of a couple for the purposes of calculating his resources and the amount of disability working allowance payable.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 7, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 9. This amendment tries to meet objections raised by the Minister on Report on this subject. We hope to convince him that he should accept this amendment.

The amendment is aimed at ensuring that where two people with disabilities are living together as a couple, neither one is denied the opportunity to try out working, which is the object of the DWA.

Perhaps I may take the example of a couple who are living together both of whom are currently in receipt of long-term incapacity benefits but would like to start working part-time. They both find a job earning £85 per week. Under the Bill as drafted, if they both took the job their joint income would exceed the applicable amount so that they would not be entitled to disability working allowance. They would then face the choice of either both remaining on incapacity benefit or one of them claiming DWA while the other remains on incapacity benefits. Under the amendment, they could each claim DWA as individuals and both would qualify.

We are all agreed that where both members of a couple have a disability, their needs are likely to be greater. This amendment would carry two further advantages in addition to providing some extra help to people with disabilities living together as couples: it would avoid the need for one person to be subject to a disability test for a benefit received by his or her partner; and it would give greater individual freedom of choice to people with disabilities.

The effect of the amendment would be to enable people with disabilities to try out working without risking the loss of their incapacity benefits should the attempt prove unsuccessful. As the Bill currently stands, they would be less likely to take the risk thereby prolonging—in some cases indefinitely—the benefit dependency of people with disabilities. This amendment will be particularly helpful where the capital of one partner will preclude the other from claiming DWA. I emphasise that this amendment does not go nearly so far as previous attempts to establish individual assessments. Any disabled person with a non-disabled partner will not benefit. Only those whose partner is in receipt of a incapacity benefit or the DWA will be eligible.

We have tried to meet the arguments raised by the Minister at the previous stages of the Bill. I hope that he will be able to accept the amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I regret that I cannot accept this amendment which is more modest than the amendments moved in Committee and on Report. The arguments raised then are very much the same as those raised today.

On Report I argued that two issues must be considered: first, whether as a matter of principle an income-related benefit should be paid to a person whose partner has sufficient earnings or capital to take the family above the general income-related benefit level; secondly, the extent to which DWA should be expected to offer an incentive to disabled people to work.

The answer as regards the first point is very clear. It makes no difference whether the claimant's partner is disabled. I remain convinced that the rules governing income-related benefits should reflect the pooling of resources which takes place in the majority of families.

Income-related benefits are paid for by taxpayers, some of whom have quite low earnings, and we must bear that in mind when deciding who should receive these benefits. The principle which applies and has always applied in income-related benefits is that the financial resources of both partners should be taken into account in calculating the benefit paid for the family. It would be inequitable to do anything else.

The second issue is to what extent DWA should offer an incentive to disabled people to work. Again, I think the answer is very clear and remains the same whether one partner or both are disabled. The indications are that, by and large, disabled people want to work and to be fully integrated into the community. They say that the benefit system obstructs them in their attempts to work. By introducing DWA and bringing in the new long IVB and SDA linking rule for DWA recipients we will go a long way towards removing the obstacles.

We have said on many occasions that DWA provides an opportunity for disabled people. DWA will ensure that disabled people on incapacity benefits can take work, even at a very low wage, confident that their earnings can be supplemented to ensure they are not taken below income support level as a result. If the claimant has a partner with sufficient income or capital to take the family above income support level it is questionable whether an income related benefit should be paid solely as an incentive for the claimant to go to work; our view is that that would not be an appropriate use of the resources available to the Government.

Disregarding the income and capital of a partner if they are sick or disabled sounds a very worthy action. However, in this case I do not believe it would be a good use of public money. I hope, therefore, that the noble Lord will not press the amendment.

Lord Carter

My Lords, that is a disappointing answer. The amendment was carefully tabled to ensure that we were not encompassing a large group of people. There will be people whose partners are in receipt of benefits. We heard the arguments earlier regarding family income and thought that by approaching the matter through this route we could convince the Government of our view. In practice, the Government's refusal to accept this approach will mean that fewer disabled people will be encouraged to work. We are already concerned that too few will wish to take advantage of DWA. However, I do not propose to press the amendment to a Division, and I beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Carter moved Amendment No. 8:

Page 13, line 24, at end insert: ("( ) The following subsection shall be inserted after subsection (7) of section 22 of the 1986 Act (calculation)— (7A) For the purposes of subsection (7) above, if the person is claiming a Disability Working Allowance the prescribed lower amount shall not be less than that which would allow a single disabled person over 25, earning not more than the Applicable Amount for income support to claim the minimum Disability Working Allowance calculable, when their capital is the same as the upper limit.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment raises a complicated point. It arises directly from the Government's concession at Report stage regarding capital limits. The Minister smiles and I believe he is aware of the complications of the argument I am about to advance.

The arithmetic is complicated and I do not propose to go into it in detail, particularly at Third Reading. The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that the £16,000 capital ceiling, which was introduced as a concession by the Government at Report stage, is properly effective for all disabled people with capital at or below that amount. This extremely sophisticated amendment allows the Government to decide whether to do that by primary legislation, by regulation, or both, by increasing the capital baseline, increasing the amounts of DWA payable, decreasing the £1 capital tariff deductions or a combination of all three.

We welcome the decision to extend the capital ceiling from £8,000 to £16,000. However, we are advised that if the Bill is left in its present form the regulations could inadvertently contradict the £16,000 rule by excluding a number of disabled people from the effective use of it. The amendment is intended to act as a safeguard against that and to ensure that the £16,000 capital ceiling is operable for all disabled people when their capital is at that ceiling. We assume that that was the Government's intention.

We attempted to use the benchmark of single disabled people on earnings so low that they are below the applicable amount for income support, to set either the capital baseline, the maximum amount of DWA payable or the capital tariff rate—presently set at £1 reduction in benefit for every £250 over the capital baseline—or a combination of all three. The effect will be that the £16,000 ceiling will be relevant to all claimants and not simply to those with the relatively high applicable amounts.

The Minister is aware of the problem and the complicated arithmetic involved. If necessary I can go into it. If the predetermined rate is too low then a negative benefit figure will be produced. That will render entirely obsolete the notional fixed capital ceiling of £16,000 for all claimants. I ask whether the Government accept that there could be a problem resulting from that situation.

The amendment gives the Government more flexibility in solving the problem and avoiding the situation where the £16,000 concession on capital will make DWA unavailable to many disabled people. I hope that the Minister will not think I am being overly suspicious when I ask for an assurance that the Government did not have that cost reducing loophole in mind when they made the concession on capital limits. I shall be interested to hear the Minister's response. I beg to move.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

My Lords, the House will remember that at Report stage the one really agreeable feature was the concession granted by the Minister that the £8,000 capital limit for claimants should be increased to £16,000. We were all under the impression that that was an absolute rise from £8,000 to £16,000, and that that limit should apply come what may. However, we are told that that may not be so. The Government may inadvertently have fallen into a trap which could diminish the value of the capital limit.

I shall not repeat what was said so ably by the noble Lord, Lord Carter. If the Government have inadvertently fallen into that trap, we are giving them a helping hand by means of the amendment to get out of it. For that reason I hope that the Government will accept the amendment. If by chance the amendment does not entirely accord with the Government's view of what should be done, it should still be inserted into the Bill and if necessary amended in another place. Therefore, there is every reason for the Government to look sympathetically at the amendment, which I support.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord supports the amendment. I hope that he understands it as well as some others in the House, especially those who appended their names to it. I had to read the amendment several times before I understood its effect. It is obvious that the noble Lord, Lord Carter, had similar problems.

As the noble Lord, Lord Carter, made clear, the amendment is a device to require the Secretary of State either to raise the lower capital limit, reduce the tariff income rate or make the rates of benefit more generous. The amendment is not entirely clear but I assume the noble Lord intends that we should be required to ensure that a single DWA claimant earning less than the income support applicable amount—£52.10 including the disability premium plus any mortgage interest payable—should be entitled to some DWA even if he has capital of £16,000. The issues are more straightforward than the complicated mechanism that the noble Lord devised to restrict the Government's room for manoeuvre in making decisions about this aspect of public expenditure.

We debated the lower capital limit both in Committee and on Report. Resources are limited and the first requirement is to help those who are least well off. That is why we proposed then, and still propose, to set the lower capital limit at £3,000 along with all the other income related benefits. Above that level tariff income will be assumed at the same rate as in the other income related benefits; that is, £1 per week assumed income for each £250 of capital.

It has been argued on several occasions that DWA recipients, being disabled, have particular need to be able to accumulate savings. As I said before, I accept that. However, one must bear in mind the forms of capital which are wholly disregarded. I shall not again give the House the various examples of capital that will be so disregarded.

I also accept that probably the majority of single people with capital close to the upper limit will not qualify for DWA because of the assumed "tariff" income. As regards our decision to increase the capital limit, I am glad that this was welcomed by the noble Lords, Lord Henderson and Lord Carter, but I am sorry that both noble Lords were rather suspicious of our motives. I reassure the noble Lords that there is no need for suspicion. It is exactly the same upper limit of capital as exists in two other income-related benefits: that is, housing benefit and community charge benefit.

We considered the points that your Lordships made during earlier stages of the Bill. The effect will be that more single people, as well as couples, will qualify for DWA. If I might give an example using the illustrative rates, a single person whose earnings were equal to the DWA applicable amount will still be entitled to a modest amount—I appreciate that it is modest—of DWA if they have savings of £16,000 plus any disregarded capital. A balance must be struck between encouraging people to save and ensuring the proper use of public money. We believe that in setting the limits as we have we have found the right balance. As I have said, we will continue to review the capital limits and will continue to ensure that both the upper and lower limits are pitched at the right level for DWA and, for that matter, for all other benefits.

An alternative way to achieve the object of the amendment would be to raise the level of benefit, as I mentioned earlier. This, as I believe the noble Lord accepts, would cost a great deal of money although I have to admit that it is difficult to give a precise figure. We provided illustrative rates for DWA in the note we published last November. We propose to set the DWA rates by regulation in the autumn. The rates will be set after considering all the views expressed during the Bill's passage through Parliament and in the light of the resources available. We cannot consider those until the Bill has completed its passage through Parliament. I am grateful however to the noble Lord for tabling the amendment and for giving the House the opportunity to express its views and allowing me to set out the Government's position. The issues are very important. I hope the noble Lord accepts that the Government must decide the level at which DWA is set, taking into account the resources available at the time.

The aims of the noble Lord's amendment are entirely laudable, but there is a wider issue. The Government should be given reasonable latitude to set benefit rates after taking into account all factors, including the relative priority of the many calls on the resources available. As I said, we will keep in mind all the points which the noble Lord made and those made by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, when we come to set the DWA rates later this year. I hope that the noble Lord will now feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I say that neither the noble Lord, Lord Carter, I am sure, nor I had any intention of impugning the bona fides of the noble Lord, Lord Henley: nothing of the sort. The whole purpose of the amendment is to try to make good what could be a gap in the Government's calculations as to the effect of the income limit. That is all: no more. If the noble Lord is taking that into account when setting the limits which will come into force in October, then of course we shall be very grateful.

Lord Henley

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I am sorry that I misunderstood the noble Lord. I thought he was suspicious of the Government's motives, but I feel that perhaps the noble Lord is imagining problems which are not there. The limit of £16,000, as I said, is exactly the same as in the case of two other income-related benefits and will work in exactly the same way. Unfortunately, there will be some people who are not entitled to benefit because they have excessive savings. That is the point of the capital limit.

Lord Carter

My Lords, the Minister is certainly right about the complications which struck him when he first saw the amendment. When I first saw it I thought it might have been much easier in Sanskrit. But it seems that the Government are not inadvertently falling into the trap about which we were informed. The Minister is entirely right about the modest amounts that some people get. We are advised by the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux that the rates for DWA mean that some disabled people who have a capital of £15,990 may find that they are ineligible for DWA or that they will only receive a small amount; for example, 80p. That would be an inadvertent outcome, although I am not certain how inadvertent it actually is. Without in the least wishing to impugn the motives of the Minister or anybody else, I wonder whether the Government might have had this cost-reducing loophole in mind when they made the concession on capital limits.

I accept what the Minister says: we have made the Government fully aware of the problem. The noble Lord can be sure that we shall be watching like hawks to see whether they are able to pick it up when they set the DWA rates. I think that the best thing at the moment is to withdraw the amendment and to see later how the Government perform against their obligations and their promises. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 7 [Disability working allowance—supplementary]:

[Amendment No. 9 not moved.]

Lord Henderson of Brompton moved Amendment No. 10:

After Clause 8, insert the following new clause:

("Entitlement to remission of health charges

In the calculation of resources for entitlement to remission of charges under the National Health Service Act 1977 and National Health Service (Scotland) Act 1978 the Secretary of State shall by order prescribe that payments of disability working allowance shall be disregarded.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I should like to return to the question of the passporting to exemption from National Health Service charges of those who become entitled to DWA. We have put down another amendment which would allow the Government to go some way towards meeting our wishes. I should like to say at the outset that I am grateful for a letter sent by the noble Lord, Lord Henley, in reply to a question which I raised, I think, on Report as to how many disability working allowance recipients will be helped by the National Health Service lower income scheme. If the noble Lord had been able to give some kind of estimate I should have been helped, but he has been unable to give any precise estimate. So, although I am grateful to the noble Lord for writing, his reply really has not taken us any further, and the need for this amendment becomes all the stronger.

The purpose of DWA, as we all know, is to encourage people who are partially capable of work to take up work or to return to work by propping up their earnings. If there is to be a real incentive to these very poor people to take up work, surely it is quite wrong that the benefit should be reduced by any amount which they will have to pay for increased National Health Service charges if exemption is not passported by DWA.

We are assured that DWA is modelled on family credit. Family credit provides automatic exemption from National Health Service charges. I for one and, I am sure, the rest of us who have been listening to the dialogue between ourselves and the Minister cannot really see why DWA should differ from family credit in this respect. I have to say again that the people we are talking about are very poor. They might fall into a poverty trap in gathering the advantages that accrue to them through DWA but at the same time losing the passporting to exemption from National Health Service charges which exists under the family credit scheme.

That is really what this is about. We are talking about people who face immense difficulties in their lives and who are not able to get out to work without DWA. With DWA they may get out to work for 16 hours or more. However, they find themselves in difficulties by having to pay National Health Service charges, which are now very considerable. The cost is £3.40 per prescription, and each item is separately charged. It is possible, with enough capital and foresight, to pay for the scheme in advance, but that is expensive. It costs £17.60 for four months and £48.50 for the year. It was made clear at previous stages of the Bill that these costs would undoubtedly increase the problems facing people who are not already subject to health charges. These people are absolutely at the bottom of the heap as regards income. They may be physically disabled and perhaps mentally disabled too. They should not have to bother with National Health Service charges when they have so much else to cope with and bother about.

It is no good the Minister saying, as he does on these occasions, that the Government think that such people will have enough money to pay these charges or that they should be able to use the annual or quarterly subscription. This is a matter of opinion. We do not happen to agree that the people in question should have no problem with this sum. To the Minister it may be a trivial sum but to the disabled person it is a crippling sum. A disabled person may not have the intellect to cope with these sums. It should be remembered that disabled people have not had to cope with claiming this allowance before. it is putting far too heavy a burden on very poor people. I ask the Minister to reconsider this matter. I hope that he will find it in his heart to agree to the amendment at this stage. I beg to move.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, I support the amendment. We have to look at the main objective of the legislation. We want to encourage disabled people who are capable of doing so but who may not be convinced that they are capable of doing so to get into employment, with all the benefits that that will bring to them and to society. They may have great doubts as to whether it is worth their while. They can be very easily discouraged. There is a tendency in many areas for people to think there is a catch in this new scheme. If they are told by their neighbours, "I wouldn't do that if I were you. The next time you go to the chemist you will find that the bill is more than you get in disability working allowance", their belief that it is not worth trying will be reinforced. We have positively to encourage people to feel that it is worth while.

It must also be simple. They have to be told that they will be so much better off—they must be told the exact amount—and when they get the money that must prove to be true. If they find that they get more money with one hand but they have to pull out some money from another pocket for something for which they did not previously have to pay, I suspect, though we cannot know, that a good many will think it is a trick and that it is not worth bothering with. I hope the Government will reconsider their views on the matter.

Lord Carter

My Lords, I was pleased to add my name to the amendment. I do not think there is any need to add very much to what has already been said by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson. He set out the arguments extremely well. I was not satisfied with the Government's answer at Report stage. I suggested on that occasion that, as attendance allowance and mobility allowance are disregarded, DWA in this context should also be disregarded. We know from the Minister's answer that the cost is low. These are the people who are most in need of help. We cannot understand why the Government refuse to accept the amendment. It would provide some help for some of the most seriously disadvantaged people in society, people to whom prescription charges and other charges are a very heavy burden.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Henley

My Lords, the present amendment is identical to Amendment No. 51 which was debated at Report stage. The latter was very similar in effect to an amendment which the Committee considered and rejected on a Division. Your Lordships decided in Committee that DWA recipients should not automatically be exempt from NHS charges. I am very sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, feels it is necessary to come back yet again on an issue that the House decided so clearly at an earlier stage. Unless some good reason is advanced for giving DWA recipients preferential treatment, it follows that they should be treated in the same way as others with low incomes.

I re-read the Official Report of our debates both in Committee and at Report stage. Your Lordships were clearly not convinced by the arguments advanced then. I do not believe that any fresh arguments have since been found for treating DWA recipients any differently from others with similar incomes when they claim help with NHS charges under the low income scheme. The amendment seeks a disregard of all the DWA paid to recipients so as to give DWA recipients more help than others with similar incomes. The only argument advanced in support of the amendment is, in effect, that some of your Lordships do not accept the Committee's decision on the original version of this amendment.

The great majority of DWA recipients will be better off in work than on an incapacity benefit. They must expect the help given by the state to the least well-off to be withdrawn as their income rises above income support level. Some DWA recipients will be exempt from NHS charges, but those who can afford to contribute to the cost of their treatment should do so. The NHS low income scheme is designed to protect people with limited resources who are not otherwise exempt from NHS charges. The threshold for exemption is set at about the same level as that used in assessing entitlement to income support, although the NHS scheme also allows for net housing costs to be taken into account. Many DWA recipients will be eligible for help under this scheme but I can see no justification for a special disregard of DWA which would put them in a rather better position than all others on low income.

The noble Lord, Lord Henderson, also asked why DWA recipients will not get exemption from charges that family credit recipients get. He asked how we can justify that. I said at Report stage that recipients of family credit and its predecessor, family income supplement, have been exempt from NHS charges since family income supplement was introduced in 1971. The Government have not subsequently thought it right to reduce the entitlement of this group. However, it is a central principle of government policy that help should be targeted towards those whose need is greatest. Recipients of DWA will be better off than those on income support and DWA will be more generous than family credit. Therefore it is not unreasonable that recipients of DWA should lose entitlement to automatic help with NHS charges, except for prescription charges where season tickets are available. The noble Lord, Lord Henderson, implied that season tickets were overly expensive but the cost works out at less than £1 per week. Except where season tickets minimise the additional costs which can be incurred, DWA recipients will be able to apply for help with the charges through the NHS low income scheme. They can expect to receive at least partial help with the charges unless their income is substantially above income support level. We feel that that makes the best use of the resources available.

I have listened to what noble Lords and the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, have had to say but I remain unconvinced by the arguments put to me. No good case has been made for treating DWA recipients any differently from the way in which others with similar incomes are treated under the NHS low income scheme. I hope therefore that on this occasion, especially as it has been decided at an earlier stage, the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

My Lords, I found rather sinister one aspect of that reply in relation to those who are in receipt of family credit. I think the Minister said—I did not take down his words accurately—that the Government had not thought it right to alter the entitlement of those on family credit in respect of passporting to exemption from the National Health Service charges, although it has been in operation all these years. I hope I am not correct and that I am unnecessarily alarmist in drawing the inference that the Government have the intention of altering that passporting in respect of family credit. I wonder whether the Minister can reassure me on the matter. I do not think that I am being in any way suspicious in my assumption because that was indeed the implication of what he said. I since rely hope that he will be able to deny it.

Lord Henley

My Lords, with the leave of the House, and because again the noble Lord appears to have suspicions as to my motives, I should point out to him that there are no plans to do so.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

My Lords, in that case, I am much relieved. I thank the Minister for the assurance. However, I do not believe that I have a nasty suspicious mind, as he seems to suspect I have.

The Minister did not mention the very small amount of money involved, although he did so on previous occasions. I believe that the amount is in the region of £3 million. That really is a very small sum when one puts into the balance, against the saving of such an amount, the distress which the rejection of this amendment would cause to people who lead very stressful lives.

I believe that if disabled people, such as those about whom we are talking, receive a small benefit which is slightly in excess of that received by others on very low incomes, they certainly deserve it. I do not believe that the de minims argument has any value in this respect.

Before taking the opinion of the House, I should point out that the amendment now before us is not identical to those which were previously tabled. The proof of that statement is that it would not have been accepted by us if it had been.

4.51 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 10) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 80; Not-Contents, 97.

Division No. 2
Acton, L. Henderson of Brompton, L. [Teller.]
Addington, L.
Airedale, L. Hollis of Heigham, B.
Ardwick, L. Hughes, L.
Attlee, E. Hylton-Foster, B.
Aylestone, L. Jeger, B.
Banks, L. Jenkins of Hillhead, L.
Birk, B. Jenkins of Putney, L.
Blackstone, B. Kennet, L.
Blease, L. Kilbracken, L.
Bonham-Carter, L. Kinloss, Ly.
Boston of Faversham, L. Lawrence, L.
Butterfield, L. Leatherland, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Listowel, E.
Carter, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.
Chorley, L. Lockwood, B.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Longford, E.
Clinton-Davis, L. Mackie of Benshie, L.
Craigavon, V. McNair, L.
Darcy (de Knayth), B. Mason of Barnsley, L.
David, B. Milverton, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. Molloy, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Monkswell, L.
Dormand of Easington, L. Morris of Castle Morris, L. [Teller.]
Ezra, L.
Falkland, V. Mulley, L.
Fisher of Rednal, B. Nicol, B.
Fitt, L. Phillips, B.
Gallacher, L. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Galpern, L. Rea, L.
Gladwyn, L. Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Seear, B.
Grey, E. Sefton of Garston, L.
Halsbury, E. Serota, B.
Hampton, L. Shaughnessy, L.
Hanworth, V. Shepherd, L.
Hatch of Lusby, L. Stedman, B.
Stoddart of Swindon, L. Walston, L.
Strabolgi, L. Wharton, B
Tordoff, L. White, B.
Underhill, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Knollys, V.
Ampthill, L. Lauderdale, E.
Arran, E. Layton, L.
Astor, V. Long, V.
Auckland, L. McColl of Dulwich, L.
Beloff, L. Mackay of Clashfern, L.
Belstead, L. Malmesbury, E.
Blatch, B. Margadale, L.
Blyth, L. Merrivale, L.
Boardman, L. Mountevans, L.
Borthwick, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Munster, E.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Butterworth, L. Nelson, E.
Caithness, E. Newall, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Norrie, L.
Campbell of Croy, L. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Carnock, L. Orkney, E.
Clanwilliam, E. Orr-Ewing, L.
Coleraine, L. Park of Monmouth, B.
Colnbrook, L. Pearson of Rannoch, L.
Cottesloe, L. Pender, L.
Cox, B. Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Craigmyle, L. Platt of Writtle, B.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Rankeillour, L.
Dacre of Glanton, L. Renton, L.
Davidson, V. [Teller.] Rodney, L.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Savile, L.
Derwent, L. Shrewsbury, E.
Donegal,M Skelmersdale, L.
Eccles, V. Slim, V.
Eccles of Moulton, B. Stevens of Ludgate, L.
Elibank, L. Stockton, E.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Strange, B.
Fanshawe of Richmond, L. Strathcarron, L.
Flather, B. Strathclyde, L.
Foley, L. Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.
Fraser of Carmyllie, L.
Fraser of Kilmorack, L Strathmore and Kinghorne, E.
Gray of Contin, L. Sudeley, L.
Gridley, L. Teviot, L.
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Trumpington, B.
Henley, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Hives, L Waddington, L.
Holderness, L. Wade of Chorlton, L.
Hooper, B. Wise, L.
Joseph, L. Wyatt of Weeford, L.
Killearn, L. Wynford, L.
Kinnoull, E.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

5 p.m.

Clause 15 [Short title, commencement and extent]:

Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 11:

Page 18, line 22, after ("6,") insert ("6A,").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 11, I also wish to speak to Amendment No. 18. These two drafting amendments align provisions for DATs with those already in existence for SSATs and MATs. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 1 [Management of disability living allowance and attendance allowance]:

Lord Carter moved Amendment No. 12:

Page 19, line 10, at end insert: (". In section 98 of the 1975 Act, after subsection (3) there shall be inserted— (4) Where a claim for disability living allowance or attendance allowance is submitted, by or on behalf of a person, and the adjudication officer is unable to ascertain entitlement, he shall direct that the claimant be interviewed by an advisory visiting officer. (4A) The role of such visiting officers shall be to advise claimants on the criteria for entitlement, elicit the relevant information and assist claimants in presenting relevant particulars in furtherance of their claim. (4B) Such an adviser shall be specially trained in the circumstances and needs of people with disabilities; in the conditions of entitlement for these benefits; and in interviewing skills. (4C) The Secretary of State shall ensure the adequate resourcing, and monitoring of the work of such advisers and shall report annually to Parliament on their activities, performance and standards."").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment was put down by my noble friend Lady Turner. When he replies, the Minister will tell me that it is identical to one which we tabled on Report. Our reason for putting it down again is that this is our last opportunity to obtain the response of the Government to what I can only describe as the debacle on the massive arrears due to previous supplementary benefit and national assistance claimants. It is arguable that these cases would not have arisen or would have been much smaller if the adjudicators and other DSS staff at the time had been properly trained and able to interview claimants and calculate their correct entitlement.

The Minister will know that large sums of arrears have been found to be owed possibly to millions of people who have, since 1948, claimed national assistance or supplementary benefits, additional payments and so on. Although people were legally entitled to the benefits, they were not paid, and that fact was spotted by welfare rights agencies rather than DSS staff. Most of the reviews which result because of the under-payment of benefits are achieved using Regulation 72 of the adjudication regulations. This allows the DSS to conduct a review and to pay full arrears without a specific time limit where the under-payment or other mistake was due to the DSS official's error.

However, because of the increased awareness of the possible arrears due, which could be substantial, the estimated number of erroneous assessments and decisions and underpayments, the DSS proposes to remove Regulation 72 on supplementary benefit and national assistance claims. That means that the erroneous under-payment of means-tested benefits to these claimants will never be corrected. In effect, the DSS is rewriting the law and removing entitlement retrospectively. That is obviously both legally and morally questionable.

Our reason for putting down this amendment on the Marshalled List again today is that these under-payments may never have arisen and the DSS would not now be in the legal and financial morass that it is if the claimants had received a proper assessment and service in the past. If, when they made their claims, the adjudication officers and the then common visiting officers had asked the right questions and applied the correct law to the circumstances presented, these claimants would have received their correct entitlement. The chief adjudication officer has repeatedly commented on the need for improved training of adjudication officers, especially in the offices which have to deal with means-tested benefits.

The House should know from the Minister what yardsticks and standards are to be used in the future. How will the new benefits agency and the office of the chief adjudication officer work together to ensure the training of their adjudication officers? Will the current situation continue whereby the OCAO recommends improvements year in year out which are then ignored?

At the Report Stage the Minister mentioned the use of the telephone help line with telephone advisers. We feel that the provisions of face-to-face interviews with advisers would greatly supplement the service which claimants will receive.

We understand that the department agency will still have no legal obligation to provide information on the state benefits or provide advice and ensure that people receive their full entitlement. To provide a better service might at least help to prevent millions of claimants being wrongly refused or underpaid benefit, as has happened in the past. The reason for putting down the amendment is to give the Minister the chance to deal with this concern. We have used the mechanism of the amendment on the advisory officer in order to do it. I beg to move.

Lord Henley

My Lords, for the sake of the noble Lord, and to keep him happy, I shall say that the amendment is identical to the one which we debated on Report. However, I appreciate that he moved it as, in some sense, a probing amendment—which is rather odd at this stage of the Bill—in order to ask about the alleged underpayments in supplementary benefit over the years. It may be better if I wrote to the noble Lord on some of the matters of detail.

Given that we are approaching the final stages of the Bill, this may be the moment for me to reiterate what I and my ministerial colleagues have said before about the new assessment and adjudication arrangements. They are being introduced because we know that they are right for disabled people and not, as alleged by some, because they save staff or aid computerisation. We recognise that not everything will be perfect from the outset and we are committed to continuing to improve the arrangements after their introduction. That is a rather long-winded way of saying that, as we said in the past, we shall monitor them. One of my colleagues even said that "monitoring" would be engraved on his heart. We shall closely monitor the new system. A major part of the monitoring will be to see how effective we are in collecting evidence and providing information and advice.

The noble Lord also suggests that if supplementary benefit claimants had been visited by departmental officials and advised on their entitlement, they would not have been underpaid. In response to that, I wish to make two points. First, the complexity of the old supplementary benefit was such that I suspect no amount of visiting officers could have ensured that everyone received their full entitlement. That is why we changed the system, introducing income support. Secondly, I am not convinced that visits are the best way of advising claimants.

Moving on to training, I too am concerned that everyone who has contact with disabled people, whether by telephone, visit or over the counter, for that matter, should receive proper training. That training must go further than the rules of benefits to which people may be entitled, important though they are. It must also include awareness and education in the difficulties disabled people have and the sensitivities which may exist. The noble Lord may be reassured to hear that I hope that we shall be able to involve the disability organisations in this element of the training programme.

At earlier stages I talked about the major new facilities such as self-assessment, the benefits inquiry line and the need to give them an opportunity to work before we jump to conclusions. As I have already said, I shall give the commitment that we will continue to monitor that closely and see that it works effectively. If it is not working effectively I hope in time that we shall be able to resolve the problems. With those assurances and appreciating that we have gone somewhat wide of the amendment, I understand the noble Lord's concerns and I hope that he will feel able to withdraw what I imagine is a probing amendment.

Lord Carter

My Lords, I know that it is unusual to put down what the Minister described as a probing amendment at Third Reading. The object was to point out that the system of advisory officers as suggested in the amendment would perhaps help to avoid the substantial problems that have arisen in the past.

I was struck by the Minister's remark that the complexity of the old system meant that people did not receive the benefits to which they were entitled. The system was not so complex that the welfare agencies were unable to find out the errors and point them out to the department. The problem arose because the department did not have the obligation to advise people of all the benefits to which they were entitled. I draw the attention of the House to subsection (4A) of Amendment No. 12 which states: The role of such visiting officers shall be to advise claimants on the criteria for entitlement, elicit the relevant information and assist claimants in presenting relevant particulars in furtherance of their claim". If such a responsibility had been placed on the visiting officers in the past, these problems would not have arisen. I understand and welcome the noble Lord's comments about the proposals for training and the consultation with disability organisations. We now have enough on record both on Report and on Third Reading to keep the Government up to the mark on this matter. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 13:

Page 27, line 38, leave out ("so far as practicable").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I hope that this amendment will, like many others which I have been able to introduce during the passage of this Bill, receive support from all parts of your Lordships' House. The House will recall that during Report I resisted an amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), which sought to ensure that every disability appeal tribunal consisted of at least one member who had an understanding of the needs of disabled people. I resisted solely on the grounds that I thought the Government could provide a more effective amendment.

I hope that the noble Baroness, and other noble Lords who spoke in support of her amendment on Report, will regard my amendments as an improvement on hers. I share the worry that DATs must have the right blend of knowledge and understanding to enable them to reach an informed and fair decision on each case. That blend must include people whose understanding of disability is derived not only from medical practice but also from other fields. The effect of my amendment is therefore to guarantee that every DAT will include a member, other than a doctor, who is experienced in dealing with the needs of disabled people, such as a physiotherapist, an occupational therapist, a nurse, an informal carer, or someone who is himself disabled.

This amendment is yet further evidence of the Government's willingness to respond to sensible suggestions for improving the arrangements for administering the new benefits for disabled people. I beg to move.

5.15 p.m.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)

My Lords, I wish to welcome the amendment warmly. It is indeed a more effective amendment than the one I withdrew on Report. It was perfectly possible under the Bill as it stood for all three members of the tribunal to have an understanding of disability. However, as the Minister has said, this amendment ensures that even in the least ideal circumstances at least one member of the tribunal will have experience in one way or another of the needs of disabled people. This amendment, and the amendment the Minister introduced on Report (which will generally avoid physical examinations and snap decisions being made at tribunals), will make real improvements in the working of disability appeal tribunals. I thank the Minister once again for having been willing to listen, to consider and to respond so positively in improving the Bill. I also thank him for the way he and his officials have kept the lines of communication open at all times.

Lord Carter

My Lords, I, too, wish to thank the Minister for his response and to take the opportunity to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), on her persistence in this matter. She has achieved the outcome that she wanted. I noted the Minister's remark about sensible amendments. The Minister should realise that all amendments tabled in this House are sensible; but the amendments tabled by Members on this side of the House are much more sensible than other amendments.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

My Lords, I, too, wish to congratulate the noble Baroness on her persistence and the Minister on his acceptance of the important principle underlying her various shots at getting the matter right. It is an encouragement to the rest of us that persistence sometimes melts the hearts of Ministers. The fact that the noble Baroness has been successful in this case will no doubt encourage us to be persistent in amendments which are always sensible, as the noble Lord, Lord Carter, has said. However, their sense is not always recognised by the Government.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, I also wish to thank my noble friend for his amendment and to congratulate the noble Baroness on keeping going, like the spider that Bruce watched. This measure shows that the Government are, as they claim, a listening government.

Lord Banks

My Lords, I hope I may add a few words to what has already been said. I join my congratulations to those of others offered to the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), on her success with the amendment. I am sure that is a delight to us all. We are grateful to her for her efforts in this respect.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I am grateful for the welcome that I have received for the amendment. I join in congratulating the noble Baroness on her persistence in pushing me on this matter. I hope she feels that when I said in the past that my door is open, I meant what I said. I look forward to seeing the noble Baroness and others coming forward on subsequent occasions with the caveat that I hope they do not do so with the persistence suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, as I am not sure my supply of chocolate biscuits will last.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 14:

Page 28, line 11, at end insert: (" . In paragraph 7A of Schedule 13 (procedure regulations) after the words "social security appeal tribunal" there shall be inserted the words ", a disability appeal tribunal".").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a drafting amendment which ensures that provisions for disability appeal tribunals are consistent with those for other tribunals. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 15:

Page 28, line 19, at end insert: ("19. In Schedule 20, in the definition of President for the words "and medical appeal tribunals" there shall be substituted the words ", medical appeal tribunals and disability appeal tribunals".").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a minor drafting amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 2 [Disability living allowance and attendance allowance: amendments]:

Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 16:

Page 29, line 16, at end insert: ("(4) At the end of paragraph (a) of subsection (6) there shall be added the words "or section 7 of the Mental Health (Scotland) Act 1984".").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment incorporates in attendance allowance legislation a reference to a Scottish provision that the Bill already has for DLA. The object is simply to ensure that AA and DLA rules are the same. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Seear moved Amendment No. 17:

Page 29, line 16, at end insert: ("( ) In section 37(1) of that Act (invalid care allowance) after the words "severely disabled person" shall be added the words "or persons" and after the words "that person" shall be added the words "or persons.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Henley, says it, I should point out that I am fully aware that this amendment very closely resembles—if it is not identical to—amendments which I have tabled and the House has discussed on previous occasions. However, I have not pressed those amendments, as the Minister will agree. I thought I had gone some way towards persuading the Minister that there was a lot of sense in this amendment, and that it is just as time consuming to spend 35 hours or more looking after one person as it is to do so for two people. The noble Lord accepted that irrefutable statement. I had hoped he was prepared to make some proposal from his side. Unlike the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), I have not been sufficiently active in consuming the noble Lord's chocolate biscuits. If I had been more active in that regard, this amendment might have a better future than it appears to have.

I believe from what was said on the previous occasion that the Minister understands this case. He may think there are ways in which it may be possible to claim this allowance for looking after two persons without it being strictly necessary for both those persons to receive the kind of attention that is envisaged in the Bill. Surely it would be perfectly easy for some device to be introduced to make sure that both the people concerned really needed attention, and to ensure that it would not be possible to get away with saying, "Dad is deaf and mother is a bit doddery and they both need attention". Clearly that kind of situation must not be permitted to occur. I cannot believe that one cannot devise a way of ensuring that both persons concerned genuinely need attention— that is, they do not need the kind of attention that brings them up individually to the higher grades which automatically qualify, but they both need attention which is time consuming.

I shall not repeat all the arguments I made in Committee and on Report; but because caring is time consuming, it is impossible for the carer who is looking after the people concerned to earn money— that is what we are really talking about—and therefore the carer needs financial support because of the earnings which are forgone. He needs that financial support just as much when he is looking after two people as when he is looking after one person. In order not to delay the House any longer, I beg to move.

Lord Carter

My Lords, I was pleased to add my name to the amendment and to have the opportunity to repeat the arguments that we have already had on the matter. The Minister will not need to be reminded that at Report he said (at col. 903 of Hansard for 25th March): The first question is why invalid care allowance is payable where one person requires 35 or more hours of care but is not payable where two people need care and that amounts in aggregate to more than 35 hours. … I have explained that we recognise that there is a need to look further at the first question. My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Miss Widdicombe, said in another place that we would look at it again. I repeated that commitment in Committee and I do so again this evening".

A little later, at col. 904, he said: However, I and my honourable friend have given an assurance that it is something we shall look into".

The Government have looked at it again in the other place, they have looked at it in Committee here and at Report stage here. We hope that they will now be able to tell us that as a result they will accept the situation. It is a simple one. If a carer is caring for one disabled person who requires 35 hours or more of care a week he or she will receive ICA. If he or she is caring for two disabled people, one receiving 18 hours of care and the other only 17 hours of care, making 35 hours of care in all, the carer does not receive the ICA. The position of the Government on the issue defies all logic and sensitivity; 35 hours of care is 35 hours of care. The Government should recognise that and accept the amendment.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)

My Lords, I should like to support the amendment very strongly, but briefly. Once again the noble Baroness has made a very strong case. I congratulate her on her persistence. If retrospective consumption of chocolate biscuits is necessary, I am sure that we shall all do that.

ICA is paid direct to the carer and therefore surely the important factor—as both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord have said—is the amount of time that the carer has to give. It is the chunk which is taken out of the carer's life which is important and not whether that time is being spent on two people or on one.

As the noble Lord, Lord Carter, said, the Minister and his honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State have said that it is a matter that they need to look into. I hope that now we shall indeed hear that the Minister has had the opportunity to look at the matter again and finds that this is an extremely sensible amendment, and that he will be able to give a positive reply.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, I shall not repeat what I said at Report stage on a similar amendment save to say that I very much support the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear. I would add that the more people who eat the noble Lord's chocolate biscuits, the less chance he has of having heart disease.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

My Lords, I, too, should like to support the amendment, and I congratulate the noble Baroness on her persistence. To use the word used by the Minister, this is one of the most sensible of all the amendments which have been put down. According to his lights, therefore, it should be accepted.

Having regard to the remarks of the noble Lord at previous stages of the Bill and of Miss Widdicombe in another place, I was fully expecting this amendment to be tabled not by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, but by the noble Lord, Lord Henley. We are all waiting to hear why he did not table the amendment. The onus is on him.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, for telling us that the amendment is almost identical to that which we debated on earlier occasions because it saves me the trouble of doing so. On both previous occasions I endeavoured to make it clear that the Government accept that the requirement to care for one severely disabled person for 35 hours or more may create problems in cases where a person looks after two or more people for fewer than 35 hours each but more than 35 hours in total. I repeat the commitment first given in another place by my honourable friend Miss Widdicombe and repeated by me on other occasions that the matter will be given careful consideration. However, as I shall explain later, it is not a matter for this Bill.

I also explained that I could not give any firm undertakings at this stage because the issue is by no means as straightforward as it may appear. For example, the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, suggested that it would be easy to insert some device to ensure that both of the people being cared for need some attention. I fear that it is not as simple as that. The invention of rules and devices to exclude people who are not entitled to benefit can very often deter people who are so entitled.

In the course of the Bill we have had some success in resolving some problems which have previously seemed intractable, such as the identification of the severely mentally handicapped with severe behavioural problems. However, I urge the House not to underestimate the significance of the shift from looking at the care provided for one person to looking at and aggregating separate amounts of care provided for two or more people.

Officials have already started considering what would be involved in providing for carers of more than one person. It is clear that it would be a very fundamental change to ICA, adding very considerably to the complexity of administering what is currently a very simple benefit. It would also raise some very difficult issues of principle: for example, about what to do in a situation where caring stops for one of the people but not the other. What would happen if someone is caring for a disabled partner and a disabled parent in the same household with care needs of 20 hours each but the caring needs are simultaneous and do not involve the carer spending 35 hours in total? That would create a very much more tortuous adjudication system than exists at present.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, with the leave of the House, perhaps I may say that if the care does not amount to 35 hours for the two of them, it does not apply anyway. I cannot see that that is a problem.

Lord Henley

My Lords, the noble Baroness has failed to grasp what I was trying to say. If there were two requirements for 20 hours of care but those 20 hours of care could be provided at the same time, one would have to devise an adjudication system to ensure that the total amount of care did not add up to more than 35 hours.

I am trying to say to the noble Baroness, as I am sure she will grasp, that the proposal creates a very tortuous adjudication system. Although we should like to look at the matter, we do not want to introduce complexities into what is otherwise a relatively simple system. This is Report stage, but I shall give way to the noble Lord, Lord Carter, if he so wishes.

Lord Carter

My Lords, I am grateful. I think that I am allowed to raise a point of information. Is the Minister saying that someone can look after two severely disabled people at the same time? That defies belief. In view of all that one has to do for disabled people, how on earth can one do it at the same time for two people and reduce the requirement for 40 hours of care to 20 hours?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I can give the noble Lord a very simple answer. Some of the care for two people might relate to their laundry needs. I do not know what knowledge the noble Lord has of washing machines; but he will appreciate that one can put two sets of washing into the machine at the same time, instead of two separate amounts of time being required.

The noble Lord has made the point of the complexity of such a scheme for me. That is the point that I am trying to get across. That is what my officials are looking at. It is not easy. I see that the noble Baroness laughs, and the noble Lord laughs; but they will appreciate that there are complexities.

I am sorry that I did not make it clear at an earlier stage of the Bill that I do not believe that this is an issue which can be resolved through this Bill at this stage. As I have been trying to say—and the noble Lord and the noble Baroness find this highly comic —we would want to look further at the problem and at any implications for the adjudication system before reaching any decision. I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, I am afraid that the noble Baroness does not feel able to withdraw her amendment. If ever there was a crystal clear case for an amendment, it is this, and I intend to test the opinion of the House.

5.29 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 17) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 70; Not-Contents, 106.

Division No. 3
Acton, L. Boston of Faversham, L.
Addington, L Broadbridge, L.
Ardwick, L. Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.
Aylestone, L. Carter, L.
Banks, L. Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.
Birk, B. Clinton-Davis, L.
Blackstone, B. Craigavon, V.
Blease, L. Darcy (de Knayth), B.
Bonham-Carter, L David, B.
Dean of Beswick, L. Mackie of Benshie, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. McNair, L.
Dormand of Easington, L. Mason of Barnsley, L.
Fisher of Rednal, B. Molloy, L.
Fitt, L. Monkswell, L.
Gainsborough, E. Moran, L.
Gallacher, L. Mulley, L.
Galpern, L. Nicol, B.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Phillips, B.
Grey, E. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Halsbury, E. Rea, L.
Hampton, L. Seear, B. [Teller]
Hanworth, V. Sefton of Gars ton, L.
Hatch of Lusby, L. Shepherd, L.
Henderson of Brompton, L. Stedman, B.
Hollis of Heigham, B. [Teller.] Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Hughes, L. Swinfen, L.
Hylton-Foster, B. Taylor of Gryfe, L.
Jeger, B. Thomson of Monifieth, L.
Jenkins of Hillhead, L. Tonypandy, V.
Jenkins of Putney, L. Tordoff, L.
Kilbracken, L. Underhill, L.
Listowel, E. Walston, L.
Lockwood, B. Wharton, B.
Longford, E. White, B.
McGregor of Durris, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Hives, L.
Ampthill, L. Holderness, L.
Arran, E. Hooper, B.
Astor, V. Joseph, L.
Auckland, L. Killearn, L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Kinnaird, L.
Beloff, L. Kinnoull, E.
Belstead, L. Knollys, V.
Blatch, B. Lane of Horseli, L.
Blyth, L. Lauderdale, E.
Boardman, L. Layton, L.
Borthwick, L. Long, V.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. McAlpine of West Green, L.
Bridgeman, V. McColl of Duhvich, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Mackay of Clashfern, L.
Butterworth, L. Malmesbury, E
Caithness, E. Margadale, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Merrivale, L.
Campbell of Croy, L. Milverton, L.
Carnock, L. Mountevans, L.
Clanwilliam, E. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Coleraine, L. Munster, E.
Colnbrook, L. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Constantine of Stanmore, L. Nelson, E.
Cox, B. Norfolk, D.
Craigmyle, L. Norrie, L.
Craigton, L. Orkney, E.
Dacre of Glanton, L. Orr-Ewing, L.
Davidson, V. [Teller.] Park of Monmouth, B.
Denham, L.[Teller.] Pearson of Rannoch, L.
Derwent, L. Pender, L.
Donegall, M. Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Eccles, V. Platt of Writtle, B.
Eccles of Moulton, B. Rankeillour, L.
Elibank, L. Renwick, L.
Elles, B. Rodney, L.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Shrewsbury, E.
Faithfull, B. Skelmersdale, L.
Fanshawe of Richmond, L. Stevens of Ludgate, L.
Flather, B. Stockton, E.
Fraser of Carmyllie, L. Strange, B.
Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Strathcarron, L.
Gardner of Parkes, B. Strathclyde, L.
Gray of Contin, L. Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.
Greenway, L.
Gridley, L. Strathmore and Kinghorne, E.
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. Sudeley, L.
Swansea, L.
Harmar-Nicholls, L. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Henley, L. Trumpington, B.
Hesketh, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Waddington, L. Wise, L.
Wade of Chorlton, L. Wyatt of Weeford, L.
Westbury, L. Wynford, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

5.37 p.m.

Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 18:

Page 29, line 34, at end insert: ("House of Commons Disqualification Act /975 (c. 24)

6A. In the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975, in Part III of Schedule 1 (other disqualifying offices) in—

  1. (a) the entry beginning "A member of a panel appointed under section 7 of the Tribunals and Inquiries Act 1971";
  2. (b) the entry beginning "A regional or other full-time Chairman"; and
  3. (c) the entry for the President of Social Security Appeal Tribunals and Medical Appeal Tribunals,

for the words "and Medical Appeal Tribunals" there shall be substituted the words ", Medical Appeal Tribunals and Disability Appeal Tribunals".").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I spoke to this amendment with Amendment No. 11.I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I beg to move, That the Bill do now pass. Both today and at Committee and Report stages we have had a number of helpful and constructive exchanges on a wide range of issues in the area of benefit provision for people with disabilities. The spirit in which our debates have been conducted has indicated a broad measure of agreement on some points, but not all, on all sides of the House about the importance which all of us attach to making sure that the benefit system enables disabled people to keep on taking the enormous steps forward that they have taken in recent years.

This is obviously not the occasion to rehearse yet again the principles which underpin the Bill or the detailed measures which it contains. We understand why we have been pressed both inside and outside the House to go further and faster. During our discussions both here and in another place we have been persuaded of the need to make further changes. In this House alone we have ensured that severely mentally handicapped people will receive the top rate of the mobility component. We have revised the qualifying conditions for the lower rate of the mobility component to make it clear that the blind or mentally impaired people who can manage a few familiar routines will nevertheless qualify for DLA. We have doubled the upper capital limit—DWA—and we have ensured that every disability appeal tribunal will have to have a person on it, other than a doctor, who has personal experience of the needs of disabled people. Finally, we have stipulated that those tribunals shall not conduct the sorts of walking tests that have caused some concern in the current schemes.

There are other issues, some of them discussed today, which we have agreed to take away for further consideration. As I said earlier, I do not object to being pressed to go further, as has happened on various matters as the Bill has proceeded, but I believe that in time the Bill will be recognised as marking a sizeable move forward. Indeed, I am encouraged by the extent to which people are already recognising that fact.

I turn now to thank all those who have assisted in the passage of the Bill. I mention first—not necessarily foremost—those noble Lords on the opposition Front Bench. The noble Lord, Lord Carter, brought his wealth of experience to these matters, and his noble friend Lady Turner of Camden contributed to our debates on DWA her great experience, particularly on employment matters. I only wish she had been here to assist us again this afternoon. I obviously welcome the interventions of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham, on social security matters in relation to this Bill. Despite our little disagreement on the last amendment on which we divided, I am thankful for the work of the noble Baroness, Lady Seear. Along with all those who spoke at Second Reading, I would like to welcome the noble Lord, Lord Banks, back to our debates on social security matters. I said at the time that for me it was a welcome change from my noble kinsman, Lord Russell. In fairness to my noble kinsman, I have to say in passing that I rather regret his absence today, but I understand it is his birthday. I am sure that everyone in the House would like to wish him many happy returns.

I also welcome the interventions from the Cross-Benches. In particular, I welcome the remarks from the noble Lord, Lord Allen. He continued to press us—though not today because he achieved what he wished to press us on—and my fellow Cumbrian, the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, on his particular anxieties. I am sorry that we have not been able to satisfy him as we have some others. I also welcome the intervention of the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, who I think asked in what part of the House the noble Lady, Lady Darcy, and her noble friend Lady Masham sat. I was always told it was known as the Mobile Bench. As always, I welcome the involvement of the Mobile Bench, and I look forward to the noble Baroness pressing me on further points.

I welcome the contributions from my noble friends. In particular, I was glad I was able to meet one of the particular concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen. I am also grateful to my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale who knows better than I what it is like to be at the Dispatch Box on social security Bills.

I imagine I am speaking for the whole House in welcoming the offerings of many outside organisations which have both pressed the Government and lobbied Members on all sides of the House on their individual concerns. I am sure we all agree that they have made a valuable contribution to the passage of the Bill through both Houses. Lastly but by no means least, I should like to thank the officials in my department who, as always, have managed to keep me on the straight and narrow.

A lot still remains to be done, particularly on the assessment and customer service front, before the two benefits come into force. But the Bill is an ambitious attempt to make several major simultaneous changes to disability benefits which we hope will prove of great help to disabled people. I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Henley.)

Lord Carter

My Lords, I think that we can all agree that the Bill now leaving the House is a better Bill than when it came to us. Many of us believe that there is still a great deal to be done—indeed, the Minister hinted as much—if disabled people are to receive the proper income and cost allowances that they should. The House has amended the Bill in a number of ways which will certainly assist disabled people. There is no need to mention all the changes made to the Bill, but future protection of the grants given by the independent living fund has given enormous encouragement and a sense of relief to disabled people and their carers who now benefit from that fund.

I point out most strongly to the Minister that the Government's response in another place to our amendment regarding the community care component that this House has introduced into the Bill will be a sure test of their attitude towards people with severe disabilities. With the proposals for the reform of local government and the postponement of plans for the implementation of community care, it is extremely important that the amendment we have made to the Bill in that respect should remain.

The final acceptance by the Government of the arguments going back many years to secure the higher rate mobility component for the severely mentally impaired was welcome news indeed for the 8,000 to 9,000 people and their carers who stand to benefit. There was disappointment as well as encouragement in a number of respects, particularly our failure to impress upon the Government the need to take fully intro account the extra costs of disability. These costs are considerable and well documented. It is a problem to which we shall return again and again until there is a comprehensive disability cost allowance.

I made it clear at Second Reading that we welcomed a number of features of the Bill. I will not repeat those points now. The Minister has been unfailingly courteous both in the House and outside it, and the smooth passage of the Bill in a reasonable amount of time is due largely to his willingness to co-operate with our requests for information. I have been greatly assisted by my noble friends Lady Hollis and Lady Turner, who handled all the clauses of the Bill which dealt with the disability working allowance both in Committee and at Report. As always, on this side of the House we were greatly helped by the advice and briefing received from all the disability organisations.

To conclude, the Bill is a better Bill than when it first arrived here, but it does not provide a decent income and a comprehensive allowance for costs for people with disabilities. All of us will have to keep on pressing the Government to introduce such a Bill. I am sure that a Bill of that nature will eventually be passed into law either by this Government or—and here I am confident—by the next Labour Government.

Lord Banks

My Lords, I should also like to congratulate the Minister on the presentation of his case. I have much appreciated it even when I have not been able to agree entirely with what he said. In the main, it was marked by its clarity. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Carter, and the noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden, for their contributions to our debate on behalf of the official Opposition. I should also like to mention my noble friend Lady Seear for the part she has played on these Benches in dealing with the Bill. I should like to link with those people all the noble Lords and noble Baronesses who have taken part in our discussion.

On Second Reading I said that the Bill was reasonably acceptable as far as it went but it did not go far enough. It follows from that that I am content to see the Bill pass through the House, but I very much regret that only one of the amendments incorporating major improvements was carried against the Government. I refer to the amendment dealing with the independent living fund, to which the noble Lord, Lord Carter, has already referred. That amendment was moved by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton. I am very glad that that amendment was carried, but I regret that it was the only one.

I particularly regret that the proposal to lower the age for the commencement of the mobility allowance from age five to age two was not approved either in its original form at Committee or Report, or in its much more modified form which we debated this afternoon. However, we can take some satisfactior from the fact that the Bill, lacking as it is in many things, is nevertheless now about to pass through the House.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

My Lords, perhaps I may also briefly thank the Minister for his unfailing courtesy. He has certainly learnt one of the maxims of oratory, which I have frequently heard recommended from the lips of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham. He has learnt the trick that the soft answer turneth away wrath. I commend him on his use of that device.

The Minister said that he had not been able to satisfy me on any of my amendments. But indeed he did; namely, on the capital limit being raised to £16,000. As the noble Lord, Lord Banks, just said, the Minister did not exactly satisfy me, but the House did so against the Government's wishes when it agreed to the amendment on the independent living fund. We all very much hope that the Government are considering that amendment sympathetically and will not seek to overturn it in another place.

The noble Lord, Lord Henley, said that he and the department would closely monitor various aspects of the Bill which were raised in this House, and particularly those on which he had given undertakings. I can assure him that not only the Government but also the voluntary societies, including the disability organisations, will be carefully monitoring the Bill.

In conclusion, I should like just to repeat my welcome to both parts of the Bill on the Second Reading. It is extremely imaginative of the Government to introduce both parts and, although we have marginally improved the Bill in both parts, nevertheless we very much hope for further improvements in the future. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Henley, that the Bill marks a distinct I improvement in social security affairs.

Lord Henley

My Lords, it only remains for me to thank those noble Lords who welcomed the Bill albeit they have said that it does not go far enough. I also thank them for introducing various changes that we have felt able to bring in during the course of the Bill.

The noble Lords, Lord Carter and Lord Banks, feel that the Bill does not go far enough. I can do no more than repeat what I said on another occasion when discussing these matters; namely, that we are living in the real world. One only has to look at our record on spending and provision for the long-term sick and disabled. That record speaks for itself and needs little repetition. I do not intend to repeat it on this occasion. The Bill is a continuation of that admirable record.

As I said, I am grateful for the partial acceptance of the virtues of the Bill. I am sorry that the noble Lords feel that it does not go far enough, but I imagine that that is the duty of the Opposition. Long may they remain the Opposition.

On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons with amendments.