HL Deb 25 March 1991 vol 527 cc846-913

3.4 p.m.

Report received.

Clause 1 [Introduction of disability living allowance]:

Lord Allen of Abbeydale moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, line 14, after ("mobility') insert ("(physical and mental disablement)").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 7 to 18 inclusive and Amendment No. 34. In view of the government amendments, in particular Amendments Nos. 11 and 14, I do not think that I need take very long. It looks as though we are nearing the end of what has been quite a long-running serial. I wish briefly to remind your Lordships of what is in issue. These amendments are primarily concerned with about 8,000 to 9,000 people who suffer from severe mental handicap and severe behavioural problems. The Bill as drafted provides for two rates of mobility allowance, but Section 37ZC(1) (a) is in terms which preclude these people from qualifying for the higher rate. Their disability is not physical and, literally speaking, they can walk. The trouble is that no one knows where they will walk or whether they might instead lie down and scream or suddenly dart into the traffic unless physically restrained. Presumably they would qualify for the lower rate of mobility allowance. Therefore we are concerned with the difference between the lower and the higher rate.

If there were a fairly complete take-up, the cost would be about £8 million or a little less. That is not a very large proportion of the total cost of the mobility allowance, which must now be coming up to about 100 times that figure. At Committee stage we reached the position that the Government accepted the figure of 8,000 to 9,000 people and that all that remained was the problem of definition. The noble Lord, Lord Henley, said that, if that could be solved, the Government, would be quite prepared to accept an amendment".—[Official Report, 7/3/91; col. 1527.]

In the discussions held since then we have agreed that there should be a preliminary hurdle to be surmounted; namely, that any applicant will first have to satisfy the conditions for the highest of the three rates of the care component as provided for in Section 37ZB(1)(b) and (c). We further agreed that this requirement should appear on the face of the Bill. However, as I understand it, agreement has also been reached with the department about the drafting of the regulations which would define what is meant by severe mental handicap and severe behavioural problems. If that is so, it looks as though no further difficulty remains. The department has been most helpful and I thank it for its efforts in finding a solution to this quite difficult drafting problem.

I was always a little dubious about the powers under the existing law to make regulations on behalf of the deaf and blind. I was therefore glad to see Amendment No. 10. I believe that the take-up under the present regulations has not been what was expected. I wonder whether they are drawn a little too tightly and whether it might be possible to take a slightly more relaxed approach for this group under these new powers. The amendment which I am moving is limited to the mentally handicapped, where the problem has been to devise a formula which is sufficiently tight.

If the Minister confirms what I have said about agreement having been reached, we need not have a very long debate. I am quite prepared not to press the amendments which are in my name and those of other noble Lords and to accept the government amendments if, as I believe they do, they achieve what our amendments are also trying to achieve. In my time, I have had far too much experience in the preparation of Bills to be surprised at parliamentary counsel being reluctant to accept other people's drafts on a complicated issue of this kind. I do not think that any question of principle remains. I beg to move.

Lord Carter

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, has explained the background extremely well. It is appropriate to point out that this agreement by the Government is the end of a long campaign by MENCAP and other organisations, but particularly MENCAP. The House will wish to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, and Mary Holland of MENCAP. They have kept to the job for a number of years. This is no time for recrimination. The Government have accepted the argument and we are pleased about that. For the past four years I have had the privilege of being involved in the arguments from this side of the House. I am delighted that the Government now accept the points we have been making.

The government amendment is carefully drafted. It obviously meets all the requirements and the amendment that stands in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, and myself will therefore be withdrawn. The government amendment specifically mentions the deaf and blind. As this is the only opportunity during our proceedings on the Bill to say a few words about the way in which the regulations appear to be working on the eligibility of the deaf and the blind for mobility allowance, I shall put some questions to the Minister. I do not expect him to reply on the spot. Perhaps he will write to me with the answers.

It appears that the rate of success at the moment of the deaf and the blind in applying for mobility allowance is very haphazard. We see people with similar symptoms treated differently by the examining doctor. Certainly, the organisation SENSE has expressed concern about the quality of the guidance directed to medical practitioners. The Mobility Allowance Amendment Regulations 1990 specifically require, in the case of the applicant, that, he is both blind and deaf and, by reason of the effects of those conditions in combination with each other, he is unable, without the assistance of another person, to walk to any intended or required destination while out of doors". I should like to repeat the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Allen. Is the Minister able to tell the House how many people so far have qualified for mobility allowance for the deaf and the blind? The regulations state specifically "while out of doors".

The notes for medical practitioners state: If possible the test should be conducted outdoors so that the effects of loss of hearing on the claimant's outdoor mobility problems can be properly assessed. Where an outdoor test is not possible the results should be related to the outdoors". On the "Link" programme yesterday for the disabled—I declare an interest as a director of the company which makes the "Link" programme for the disabled on the ITV network—there was an interview with a lady who is both profoundly deaf and totally blind. She told the interviewer that she was seen for less than 10 minutes in her flat by the examining doctor. How that was supposed to relate to outdoor conditions I do not know. That is perhaps an isolated incident. But there is concern among the organisations about the way the regulations are being interpreted.

The guidance to applicants for mobility allowance specifically refers to whether an applicant needs to have someone with him when he goes out of doors. I believe that in the first draft of paragraph 19 of the notes for medical practitioners the word "cripple" was used. That word is no longer acceptable in disabled circles. I hope that the Minister will be able to reply now or will write to me on these points.

I should like to return to the main government amendments, Amendments Nos. 7 to 18, which will replace the ones we have moved. This is a very happy day for the carers of the 8,000 to 9,000 severely mentally handicapped people who will benefit from the Government's change of heart.

3.15 p.m.

Lord Renton

My Lords, I wish to speak to Amendments Nos. 11 and 14. They are the culmination of a long, hard struggle led ably and with dedication by the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale. He is to be congratulated on the outcome. I also pay tribute to Ministers for achieving, however belatedly, what noble Lords on both sides of the House have wanted to see done for such a long time. It would be churlish not to acknowledge generously the decisions now made by the Government.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, as one of those past Ministers who may or may not have been referred to by my noble friend Lord Renton, I too congratulate my successor in the hot spot, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Social Security, on a very satisfactory outcome to a battle, so ably prosecuted by the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, which has gone on for four years. Indeed I seem to remember that I was in the hot seat when the matter first arose in your Lordships' House. I have to say that then it was purely a matter of numbers, not a matter of being unwilling to prosecute the case. As I said in Committee I am very sad that it has taken so long to reach agreement as to the number of these particularly unfortunate members of society who would be affected and who therefore would benefit from the higher rate of mobility allowance. However, this is not a time for recriminations. It is a very successful outcome all round. My noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, are to be warmly congratulated.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Henley)

My Lords, I am glad that it is not a time for recriminations. In speaking to the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, I shall be speaking to my own Amendments Nos. 7, 8, 10, 11, 13, 14, 15 and 17 and also to Amendment No. 34. I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, for moving his amendment and for saying that he would agree not to press it and that he preferred the government amendments. I also join all noble Lords and especially my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale who knows what it feels like to respond from the Dispatch Box on this issue in paying tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Allen, for what I hope will he the successful conclusion to his campaign.

I am obviously delighted that we have been able to come forward with a solution to what has been the most difficult of problems. My right honourable friend the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People and I have never made any secret of the fact that we wanted to take the step if we could be sure of pin-pointing the group which both MENCAP and the Spastics Society in particular have always said they wanted to find. In passing I join the noble Lords, Lord Allen of Abbeydale and Lord Carter, in congratulating MENCAP on its campaign.

I freely admit that we have found it exasperating that the issue has remained so intractable. However, I do take great pleasure today in being able to add to the changes that we have made in the field of disability benefits—provision for the deaf-blind, double amputees and so on—in the context of a Bill which makes a further advance in provision to help with the extra costs of disability. What this will mean in cash terms is that severely mentally handicapped people will get more than £70 a week, or nearly £3,700 a year, from DLA alone. That is completely disregarded when calculating income related benefits. But if the claimant is getting income support that will add at least a further £16.65 to his income, making rather more than £4,500 a year from the state in recognition of the cost of his disability.

Today is clearly not the occasion to rehearse the difficulties which we have experienced in defining the group. I can assure the House that we have devoted much time, both at ministerial and at official level, in trying to devise the answer. I have no doubt that the same applies to the noble Lord and to his advisers. Again, I should like to pay tribute to the very constructive way in which the whole issue has been approached.

The amendments on the Marshalled List in my name and that of the noble Lord are so similar that it is obvious we have been working on very similar tracks. I do not believe that the House would want me to go into elaborate detail as to how we intend to define and then in practice find this group. A great deal of the detail on how we get the message to the people who will need to fill in the claim form, or provide the evidence, needs to be worked out over the coming year. I repeat, we shall again want to work very closely with the professional and voluntary groups which have expertise in the area.

I should like today to give the House the assurance that we accept that our target group is around 9,000 strong. That is the group we shall do the utmost to find. I can be quite unequivocal about our intention to identify that group through the regulations. I cannot give Members of the House copies of the draft regulations at this stage of the proceedings. We want to draw these up with some care in the coming months before letting interested parties see them. However, we shall be sending them out this summer along with other key draft regulations.

I turn now to Amendment No. 10 and the question of the deaf-blind and why we felt it was necessary to put this on the face of the Bill where previously we had felt that regulations would be sufficient. It is only a matter of putting entitlement to the higher rate of people who are both deaf and blind beyond any conceivable doubt. There is no doubt about our policy. Moreover, in the light of what my right honourable friend has admitted as being a slightly disappointing start in the area, we have taken steps to amend guidance and have also issued further publicity to ensure that the policy works.

However, we had a slight technical legal worry about the position of someone who, although deaf and blind, was not unable to walk but simply needed guidance to do so. Currently, we give someone in that position mobility allowance. We shall now give them the higher rate mobility component. Conversely, we did not wish to fall foul of legal authorities which might just rule that if someone needed only guidance, they should receive the lower rate only. As I said, it is purely for the avoidance of any doubt. I trust that it is welcome news to see that this group's entitlement is enshrined in statute.

The noble Lord was also worried that we might have drafted the rules too tightly. As I said, we had some problems with take-up for the deaf-blind—about 400 to 500 people have qualified. However, I do not believe that the problem was in the drafting of the legislation; the problem was one of interpretation and take-up. We have discussed these problems with disability organisations and issued revised instructions to the adjudicating authorities and to the examining doctors. We now believe that there should be no difficulty for people who are both deaf and blind in obtaining the allowances.

In conclusion, I am delighted that we have found a way forward on the issue. We have listened to the representations made by all Members of this House, and also to those made by many experts outside the House. We have studied most carefully the information and research which we have been given. We always listen to what is said in the House, even if some Members wish that we moved faster and further than is possible. Moreover, we have already made substantial amendments to improve the Bill and I hope that I shall later be able to respond positively to further issues. That serves to demonstrate that we are always anxious to look at the whole picture on disability benefits to see where adjustments and improvements need to be made. There is no question of us sitting on our hands when we are persuaded that we should take action.

The government amendments represent a major improvement to the Bill which, as I have already said, already involves a major step forward as regards help with disabilities. As the noble Lord has indicated that he will not press his amendments—I am most grateful for the fact that he will be withdrawing them—I hope that I shall be able to move formally the amendments tabled in my name at a later stage.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Abbeydale, withdraws his amendment, perhaps I may just point out that, if any further proof was necessary, the long and protracted argument which has taken place establishes beyond doubt the value of this House as a second Chamber.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale

My Lords, it merely remains for me to thank the Minister for what he said. I also much appreciate the remarks made by other Members of the House. I especially endorse the point just made by the noble and learned Lord. In the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Carter moved Amendment No. 2:

Page 1, leave out lines 15 to 17 and insert: ("(2) a person's entitlement to the disability living allowance may be an entitlement to one or more of the components specified in subsection (1) above, or to an extra cost component as the Secretary of State may prescribe. In prescribing such additions the Secretary of State shall have regard to research conducted under the terms of this Act.').

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment, I shall. with the leave of the House, speak also to Amendment No. 24. I was interested to hear what the Minister said at the end of his response to the previous amendment. He said that the Government listened and responded. I hope that they will be equally responsive in their reply to these amendments. The amendments deal with the extra costs of disability. We had a long and detailed discussion on the matter in Committees when a series of amendments were tabled which set out individual extra costs. Each of those amendments was spoken to by different Members of the Chamber.

We have approached the matter on Report from a different point of view. We have tried to use a more flexible approach so as to give the Government much more flexibility through regulations to deal with the problem. We are also requesting the Government to conduct research so that we can attempt to reach a resolution of the contentious issue of the level of the extra costs of disability.

Other Members of the House have attached their names to the amendments. I know that they will wish to put forward various details as regards the extra costs involved. Therefore, perhaps I may deal with the principle behind what is proposed. I should first point out that the amendments allow, but do not require, the Secretary of State to introduce a cost allowance. As I said, they ask him to conduct further research into the costs of disability.

It is clear that the issue of the extent of such extra costs, and the best way to allow for them in the care component, is not closed. We all know about the OPCS surveys on extra costs. However, I am sure that the Minister will agree that many organisations for disabled people have questioned the methodology of the OPCS approach and the figures which it has produced for the level of the extra costs. Indeed, Mr. Nicholas Scott, the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People, acknowledged in the other place that OPCS figures were less than perfect and that further research and monitoring are needed. He said: If I am honest with the House, I should say that I will be surprised if we get matters right first time … We will have to research and monitor the impact of all this to see whether we need to make any adjustment".—[Official Report, Commons, 7/2/91: col. 460.]

The amendment proposed is entirely in line with that sentiment: it allows for a period of reflection to see whether the new benefits work as intended. It also includes a mechanism to enable the Government to act quickly if the benefits do not appear to be working adequately.

In Committee in this place the Minister objected to the series of amendments which were put forward to deal with the matter. I believe that his argument was based largely on the grounds of costs and complexity. However, it would be fair to remind him that he said: The Government's intention in introducing the disability living allowance and the intentions of noble Lords in introducing their amendments are not dissimilar, but there are significant differences between the routes which we have chosen to achieve our respective ends. I am sure that all sides of the Committee would like to create a wide-reaching disability benefit which would cater for all the many possible kinds of additional expenditure which people with varying disabilities may face".—[Official Report, 7/3/91; col. 1539.]

That is the intention of these amendments.

The Minister will know that we are not confident that the DLA as presently designed will adequately meet the range of costs which disabled people have to meet. Some disabled people have high costs in respect of their disability, notably for their dietary needs. That aspect of the matter was touched upon in Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock. He mentioned those who had no significant care or mobility costs and who would not therefore fall within the DLA; in other words, they would receive no help. Some people have the care or mobility costs, but that is not recognised, or is recognised only inadequately. That applies to a number of blind or partially sighted people. There is a strong feeling that the DLA, especially the lower rate, will be inadequate to cover the whole and range of costs.

Amendment No. 24 empowers the Secretary of State to undertake further research. There is a clear need for more research into disability costs. In its Ninth Report of the 1989-90 Session the Social Services Select Committee recommended that the Government, in conjunction with disability organisations, conduct and publish research on the actual and potential costs of disability. The argument is a strong one. We feel that the involvement of organisations representing disabled people at the design stage of the research would inform the methodology for that research while maintaining its independence. This is an important matter. There is great anxiety among organisations representing disabled people that the extra costs of disability are not fully met by the DLA. With the strength of the argument that I know the House will produce on this issue, I hope that the Minister will feel able to accept the amendments or return on Third Reading with his own amendments. I beg to move.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, my name is also down to the amendment, and of course I support it. We must bear in mind that technology and medical science are moving fast today; that more people with severe disabilities are staying alive much longer; and that we can help them in more ways. It is essential that regular research be carried out to ensure that we can give not just adequate but the right kind of help to mentally and physically disabled people.

If accepted, the amendments would allow the Government to change the allowances as needed, and probably more important from the Government's point of view, as funds are available. We all realise that we cannot do everything. Every housekeeping system has to keep something in reserve. There is one matter which we shall have to change on Third Reading: new Section 37ZA(5) talks about "both components" and "two components". Acceptance of the amendment would mean that there would be three components. We can change that point without any difficulty when the Bill comes next to the House. I wholeheartedly support the amendments.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, we add our support from these Benches. It is impossible to predict the changes that will take place in the matters that we are discussing. Research is therefore necessary, and it must be done properly.

On Amendment No. 24, Parliament should have an annual statement of the results of the research. That would give Parliament a necessary opportunity to keep in touch with what is going on and to press for such changes as the research shows to be necessary.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)

My Lords, I too have my name to the amendments, and so I support them. They try to ensure that the DLA will more realistically reflect the costs of disabled life and is payable to those who have extra costs.

Amendment No. 24 gives the Government the opportunity to respond positively to the recommendations of the Social Services Select Committee on conducting and publishing on-going research into the actual and potential costs of disability. The Select Committee also said that it believed that there were sufficient reservations, not least from the OPCS, to warrant further research into the extra costs of disability. I hope the Minister will agree that the OPCS surveys, which were carried out before the Social Security Act 1986 under which additional requirement payments for diet, heating and laundry were abolished, are out of date and that new research should be commissioned. Is he aware that his right honourable friend the Minister for Disabled People said in Standing Committee E on 6th December 1990 (col. 26 of the Official Report) that the survey might not be representative of the current position of disabled people or of the benefits available to them.

Amendment No. 2 seeks to resolve the problem of those people with disabilities who do not meet the qualifying criteria for DLA, whatever their extra costs. In Committee, we talked about mentally handicapped people, people with cerebral palsy and paraplegics. I do not know whether we mentioned blind and partially sighted people. The RNIB says that it is almost impossible for them to qualify for mobility or attendance allowance solely on the basis of visual impairment. Such people have extra heating costs merely because they do not go out as often as others. They have extra laundry costs due to spillages, and so forth, because they must ensure that their clothes are clean. They also have to pay for DIY, garden maintenance and decorating. There are a number of groups that are not at the moment covered by the care and mobility components.

The Minister said: The real test of a benefit system is not how good it sounds but how successful it is at getting cash to the people who need it".—[Official Report, 7/3/91; col. 1543.] With these two amendments, the cash stands a much better chance of reaching the people who need it.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, I too support the amendments. Audit is one of the most important aspects of the NHS to try to obtain good, cost-effective standards. Why do we not have audits when dealing with disability needs? Anyone who understands severe disability knows that there are many varied needs, as was said by my noble friend.

Lord Kilmarnock

My Lords, I did not realise that the noble Baroness would finish so quickly. She usually has so many valuable things to say.

I should like to ask the Minister one or two questions. First, I refer to a Written Question in another place. In answer to Mr. Alfred Morris, Mr. Scott said that something under 500,000 people under the age of 65 said that they needed a special diet. I shall not give the whole of that answer, but at the end the Minister said that he estimated that nearly 200,000 of the people in that group would be in receipt of at least one of the rates of the new benefit.

That answer seems to identify a large gap. If my arithmetic is not wrong, it could be about 300,000 people. They are the people who were identified by the noble Lord, Lord Carter, and the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth) in Committee (col. 1544) who will not qualify because the qualifying criteria are restricted to care and mobility. That was the point that they both made. Does the Minister accept that there is putative gap of about 300,000 people who will not receive any benefit under the Bill but who have additional diet requirements?

Research is vital. That is a point that has emerged during this short debate. The OPCS research was carried out in 1985. Even then, many people told the OPCS that diet was the greatest cost of their disablement. I gave the Minister a number of figures on Second Reading which I shall not repeat. He may remember that I took the Government to task a little for misinterpreting the figures of the two researchers, MacDonald and Forsythe, who later said that they did not think that the Government had used them properly. I raise that point again only as another argument in favour of renewed research into costs and needs. I very much hope that the Government will accept this amendment.

The noble Lord will not be surprised if I say that a further factor in relation to research relates to HIV and AIDS. The numbers were extremely low in 1985 and much less was known about the disease and the effects of therapeutic drugs which enable people with HIV to live in the community. I suggest that it is definitely time for more research into the needs of those people in order to enable them to survive in the community.

At Second Reading I gave examples of some of the enormous hospital costs which would be incurred if people were not enabled to survive in the community. There are plenty of AIDS organisations like the Terrence Higgins Trust, Frontliners and London Lighthouse which might well be involved at no great cost in collecting figures for the needs of those people to enable them to survive outside hospital. I should be grateful if the noble Lord could answer those queries when he replies.

Baroness Phillips

I wish to put on the record, in connection not only with this Bill but with many others, the marvellous contribution of the two noble Baronesses who sit beside theHansard Table. They are an inspiration to many other people who suffer disabilities and their courage in coming here on their own, often driving a long way, should be recorded. It is an example to other people outside this House.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I echo that sentiment. I wish to speak on this series of amendments, which seem to me to fall between two stools. There are the generic extra costs of disability which tend to apply to disabled people no matter what their disability. There are also the other specific disadvantages which incur extra costs and which we discussed at great length over 13 amendments at the Committee stage of the Bill.

On the first point, I believe that the Government, in the years since 1979, and, I confess, previous governments have been fairly generous in their treatment of the generic costs. In recent years on many occasions disability benefits have increased by more than the cost of inflation. That could be said to make some contribution to the generic costs as they arise.

On the other hand, the specific costs are a different matter. I shall not go into what I said about the KISS principle during the Committee stage, at risk of shocking some of your Lordships a second time round. I should have thought that the way to deal with these costs would be through the independent living fund. As your Lordships will recall, it was decided in Committee to make it a statutory organisation. Whether or not that decision was right will no doubt become apparent in the wash when the Bill returns from another place. However, the costs of specific disabilities are difficult to frame within the general social security law. I should like to see them treated rather more on a one-off basis, outside the normal social security arrangements.

Amendment No. 24 was specifically referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, when she talked about the results of research. Nobody could possibly be against the research being carried out in the first place and it being reported to Parliament. Whether that should be done "at least annually", I doubt. I should have thought it was far too short a period. However, I accept that on this amendment the remark is somewhat nitpicking. Perhaps the matter should be dealt with under Clause 1(5), which my noble friend mentioned, at a later stage in the Bill when we could pick up the point.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I do not feel that now is the time again to argue the case for the extra cost component which we argued at Committee stage. Briefly, I wish to touch on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, about diet. I do not accept that there is a major gap in provision in this area. The point that my right honourable friend made in his reply which the noble Lord quoted was that a sizeable proportion of people with dietary needs are receiving help through the new benefits. He has never argued, and nor have I, that every one of the 6.2 million disabled people whom the OPCS report isolated should receive an extra cost benefit.

I accept that the amendment is a new approach to a subject which we have discussed before and in another place. In our earlier debates, various amendments seemed to be designed to extend the new benefit to include additional components by explicitly amending the Bill to include provision for them. The intention behind these amendments is to provide my right honourable friend the Secretary of State with power to add further components to the benefit at some future date.

I hope that noble Lords will not be too disappointed—particularly after the welcome news that I was able to give on the last set of amendments and bearing in mind that I hope that I shall continue to be in an amenable mood on one or two other issues which we are due to discuss later on—if I say that I cannot accept these amendments. Of course, I understand what they are trying to achieve and appreciate that noble Lords are above all concerned that the successful introduction of the disability living allowance should not mean that we then simply close the book on any possible future reform of the benefit system for people with disabilities. I hope, however, to persuade the House that those fears are groundless and that the terms of the amendments brought forward do not achieve anything of practical value.

I must make clear at the outset of my remarks that we do not propose to rest for ever more on the evidence provided by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys, the OPCS reports. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Carter, was not particularly complimentary about the service but this was an excellent and extremely thorough piece of work, the most comprehensive survey of this type ever undertaken in this country. The six OPCS reports have helped us to identify the weaknesses of the current extra cost benefits, the attendance allowance and the mobility allowance. The reports have shaped the direction in which we have chosen to move in this Bill.

However, we recognise that the information produced by the OPCS studies is not and cannot be the last word in this area. Clearly, there is always an enormous amount of evidence coming into the Department of Social Security about the current circumstances of people with disabilities.

I know that there have been criticisms of the OPCS mythology, although I feel that these have sometimes been rather overdone. However, it is important to realise that the OPCS survey is on a different scale altogether from anything that could even be attempted under the terms of the amendment before us. I certainly do not intend to criticise the research community in any way when I say that the idea of having to produce an annual report about research carried out in these areas is rather beyond the realms of credibility.

Perhaps I may say to the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, that I am sure that, even were there not a requirement to produce an annual report, the noble Baroness would find ways of initiating at least an annual debate on the subject. That is not least because on a fairly regular basis, to my knowledge, there has been such a debate every year; for example, a social security Bill normally comes before the House each year. The purpose of this research appears to be to provide reliable and soundly based information, which could then be subject to detailed analysis for developing policies in this area. But we have to bear in mind that such research would take a long time to set up and it would take even longer to report back on its findings. The collection of the data for the OPCS studies took some considerable time, as did the collation of the results and the publication of the six detailed reports on which we based the benefits which we have brought forward.

I have no doubt that there will be many interesting research surveys into specific extra costs or disabilities from a wide variety of sources. But this simply would not give us the full spectrum of information about the circumstances of people with disabilities. I really think that for the Government to look at a specific area of extra costs (such as extra expenditure on clothing) in one year, to act upon this and change the benefit and then look at another area of costs (such as additional expenditure on laundry) and then revise the benefit structure again the next year, and so on in succeeding years, would be a haphazard and irresponsible course of action to take. We do not believe that that would be a sensible way for us to proceed. Frankly, I think the various disability organisations would not necessarily want us to commission research with purely social security policy requirements in mind. One of the great merits of the work carried out by the OPCS was its independence, both in terms of the questions which were asked and the mythology which was chosen.

As my right honourable friend the Minister of State has said, we shall monitor closely the success of the new benefits. The noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), quite rightly referred to my comments in Committee when I said that the success of the benefit must be judged by its operation in practice, by what it achieves and by how many people it reaches. I am prepared to repeat and endorse what I said on that occasion. We shall certainly want to know whether DLA is achieving the objectives we have set for it. If that is not the case, we shall wish to have more information to enable us to put the matter right.

The House need only consider the changes we have made to income support premiums in recent years to appreciate that, when we introduce a new benefit, we do not just abandon it to its fate and move on to the next subject. Anyone who is involved with the social security system will know that it is constantly changing and developing. There are always opportunities to amend legislation where this proves necessary. I repeat that during the past few years social security Bills have been introduced almost on an annual basis. I hope that, in the light of those assurances, noble Lords will feel able to withdraw this group of amendments.

Lord Carter

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the Minister for that expected answer, although it is disappointing. I may have misheard the Minister, but I thought that he referred twice to the mythology of the OPCS surveys. I think the Minister meant to refer to the methodology of those surveys. However, that may have been a Freudian slip on the Minister's part.

I am not entirely clear what the Government's view is on the value of the OPCS surveys, as regards the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth). The Minister said that the Government do not intend to rely on OPCS information for evermore. However, if that is the case, what action do the Government propose and how do they propose to find out whether the DLA is working? The Minister said that an enormous amount of evidence comes into the department. If that is the case, why do the Government not publish it? We are certainly not asking for an annual OPCS survey. As the Minister said, that would be impossible. However, by means of annual sampling of different sectors of the disabled population, one would be able to discover levels of cost.

I do not think the Minister replied to the excellent point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, when she referred to the necessity for audits inside the health service. Nor do I think that the Minister answered the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock. The Minister merely said that he did not accept the figures and that there was no major gap in the provision regarding special diets. However, there are 300,000 people in this category who are not covered. I have obtained that information from a Written Answer in another place.

If annual research is considered too onerous, we would accept research conducted at less frequent intervals. However, I do not believe that that is the point here. Although the Government are prepared to acknowledge that there are specific extra costs for disabilities, I believe we are almost back where we started with the mobility allowance for the severely mentally handicapped. It is hard to agree on the numbers and on the definition. I hope that it will not take us four years to change the Government's mind. The only way to resolve this problem is to seek the opinion of the House.

3.55 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 2) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 87 Not-Contents, 99 .

Division No. 1
Airedale, L Carter, L.
Allen of Abbeydale, L. Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.
Ardwick, L. Clifford of Chudleigh, L.
Attlee, E. Clinton-Davis, L.
Aylestone, L. Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.
Banks, L. Craigavon, V.
Barnett, L. Darcy (de Knayth), B.
Blackstone, B. David, B.
Blease, L. Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. [Teller.]
Bonham-Carter, L.
Boston of Faversham, L. Dormand of Easington, L.
Bottomley, L. Falkland, V.
Broadbridge, L. Fitt, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. Foot, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Gallacher, L.
Galpern, L. Monson, L.
Gladwyn, L. Morris of Castle Morris, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Nicol, B.
Grey, E. Ogmore, L.
Halsbury, E. Parry, L.
Hampton, L. Phillips, B.
Hanworth, V. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Richard, L.
Hatch of Lusby, L. Russell, E.
Hayter, L. Sainsbury, L.
Henderson of Brompton, L. Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Hirshfield, L. Seear, B.
Holme of Cheltenham, L. Sefton of Garston, L.
Hughes, L. Serota, B.
Hylton-Foster, B. Shackleton, L.
Jenkins of Putney, L. Shannon. E.
John-Mackie, L. Shepherd, L.
Kagan, L. Stallard, L.
Kilbracken, L. Stedman, B.
Kilmarnock, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Kissin, L. Strabolgi, L.
Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. Swinfen, L. [Teller.]
Longford, E. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Lovell-Davis, L. Taylor of Gryfe, L.
McIntosh of Haringey, L. Underhill, L.
Masham of Ilton, B. Walston, L.
Mason of Barnsley, L. White, B.
Milverton, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Molloy, L. Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Howe, E.
Ampthill, L. Johnston of Rockport, L.
Astor, V. Kinnaird, L.
Auckland, L. Kitchener, E.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Knollys, V.
Belstead, L. Lauderdale, E.
Bessborough, E. Long, V.
Birdwood, L. Lucas of Chilworth. L.
Blatch, B. Mackay of Clashfern, L.
Blyth, L. Macleod of Borve, B.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Mancroft, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Manton, L.
Bridgeman, V. Margadale, L.
Brigstocke, B. Merrivale, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Mersey, V.
Butterworth, L. Montgomery of Alamein, V.
Caithness, E. Morris, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Mountevans, L.
Campbell of Croy, L. Munster, E.
Carnock, L. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Cavendish of Furness, L. Nelson, E.
Clanwilliam, E. Norrie, L.
Colnbrook, L. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Constantine of Stanmore, L. Oppenheim-Barnes, B.
Cottesloe, L. Orkney, E.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Oxfuird. V.
Dacre of Glanton, L. Park of Monmouth, B.
Davidson, V. [Teller.] Platt of Writtle, B.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Rankeillour, L.
Eccles, V. Reay, L.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Renton, L.
Elliott of Morpeth, L. Renwick, L.
Elphinstone, L. Saint Albans, D.
Faithfull, B. St. John of Fawsley, L.
Ferrers, E. Selkirk, E.
Flather, B. Skelmersdale, L.
Fraser of Carmyllie, L. Stanley of Alderley, L.
Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Strange, B.
Gray of Contin, L. Strathspey, L.
Gridley, L. Sudeley, L.
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. Swinton, E.
Terrington, L.
Harmar-Nicholls, L. Teviot, L.
Harmsworth, L. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Henley, L. Trefgarne, L.
Hesketh, L. Trumpington, B.
Hooper, B. Ullswater, V.
Vaux of Harrowden, L. Wise, L.
Waddington, L. Wynford, L.
Wade of Chorlton, L. Young, B.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

4.2 p.m.

Lord Carter moved Amendment No. 3: Page 2, line 6, leave out from ("satisfies") to end of line 7 and insert ("is resident in Great Britain at the time of claim, and at the time of payment except in such circumstances as shall be prescribed").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 3 is to some extent a probing amendment. The amendment was tabled at Committee stage but, although it deals with the presence test for DLA, at that time the discussion centred on armed forces personnel or their families who claim severe disability allowance. The amendment was very ably moved by the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen. At that time we did not have an opportunity to cover the point and I believe that it would be helpful if we discussed it and learnt the Government's response. The arguments regarding the residence test for DLA still apply, despite the fact that we discussed the matter at Committee stage.

The aim of the amendment is to ensure that the current strict presence tests which are applied to attendance allowance—weeks in the past year—not simply copied and carried over into the disability living allowance. There are no such requirements for means-tested or contributory benefits. We feel that they discriminate in particular against people with some family living outside Britain. The six months' presence test seems particularly unfair to claimants who satisfy the terminal illness rule and therefore have their waiting or qualifying period for the DLA care or mobility components waived.

If the amendment were accepted a claimant would still have to be resident in Great Britain. However, we feel that the presence test as proposed superimposes yet another test on top of the residence criterion. There seems to be no reason for the additional stipulation that the claimant should have been physically present in this country for six out of the 12 months prior to the claim.

I should like to ask the Minister what is the function of the retrospective presence test. Is it to prove an established connection with the country? If so, the claimant has already proved that, having satisfied the residence test. The residence test excludes tourists or people who maintain a home elsewhere or whose circumstances indicate that their connection with this country is tenuous. There is no retrospective presence test for the means-tested benefits nor for the contributory benefits. All that is required in those cases is that the claimant is present at the time of claim, decision and payment, with exceptions for short periods spent abroad.

Currently claimants are denied both mobility and attendance allowance, even where they satisfy the terminal illness test, on account of the presence rule. It seems very harsh that that rule will be continued and will be applied to people claiming and otherwise entitled to benefits under the DLA terminal illness rule.

It would be helpful if the Minister would explain the position with regard to nationals from the European Community, whether British or not, who are resident in Britain and claiming the allowance. Will they be denied entitlement on account of the presence rule even where they were present in another EC state for the previously specified period?

Can the Minister also inform the House for what length of time and under what circumstances people who have secured entitlement to and payment of the disability living allowance or attendance allowance will be allowed to travel or stay abroad while retaining payment of their award? I beg to move.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, I am puzzled regarding the eligibility of families of Crown servants, and indeed of the Crown servants themselves. At Committee stage the Minister was kind enough to give me an undertaking with regard to the families of Crown servants receiving severe disablement allowance. Will he please tell the House whether Crown servants and the families of Crown servants will he eligible for disability living allowance under the Bill as it is currently drafted? In order to help me make up my mind should the noble Lord, Lord Carter, divide the House on his amendment, will my noble friend also tell the House whether they would be eligible under the amendment if it was included in the Bill?

Lord Henley

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Carter, made clear, in response to amendments tabled by my noble friend Lord Swinfen I announced in Committee that the residence conditions for SDA would be amended to avoid problems for members of the armed forces and their families. I can assure my noble friend that this amendment goes very much further and would prevent perfectly reasonable requirements about residence and presence in this country from being applied to DLA.

It has always been accepted for attendance allowance and mobility allowance and for other non-contributory benefits, that a person should be expected to have established some connection with this country in order to receive benefit. As benefit is paid for by the British taxpayer that is hardly unfair. The amendment would go against that wholly unexceptionable principle.

To reply to my noble friend Lord Swinfen, as I explained in Committee, the Government intend that the residence and presence rules for disability living allowance should be the same as those which apply currently for attendance allowance and invalid care allowance. These are that the claimant is ordinarily resident in Great Britain; is currently present in Great Britain and has been present here for 26 weeks out of the last 12 months.

As I said in Committee, applying the attendance allowance rules to DLA is an improvement for people claiming the mobility component because currently mobility allowance requires presence in 52 weeks out of the last 18 months. That shows that the Government are not intent on placing undue restrictions on the entitlement to benefit of people who have been out of the country.

The principle effect of the amendment would be to remove the conditions about presence. In the Government's view a requirement that a person should be present in Great Britain and have been present for 26 weeks in the last 12 months is reasonable. I should also emphasise that people who are absent from Great Britain are deemed to be present in certain circumstances—example, where the person is a member of a forces family or has gone abroad temporarily for medical treatment or where the absence is for some other temporary purpose and has not lasted more that six months. Again, the exemptions show that the rules are not intended to be unduly restrictive.

The noble Lord, Lord Carter, asked about the European dimension. The position is rather complex. The noble Lord, Lord Henderson, has recently written to me on the subject and I intend to reply to him soon. In those circumstances it may be helpful if I copy the noble Lord, Lord Carter, into that correspondence, hoping by that means to satisfy him. No doubt I can copy others into the correspondence should they make their wishes known to me.

We believe that our rules on residence and presence are appropriate for a benefit like DLA. We have adopted the tests which currently apply to attendance allowance, so there is certainly a gain for those on the mobility component. I cannot accept the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Carter, which goes somewhat too wide. The noble Lord indicated that the amendment was more in the nature of a probing amendment because he felt he had not had an adequate explanation of the provisions at an earlier stage.

Lord Carter

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. This started as a probing amendment but, having heard the Minister's reply, I am not sure that is still the case. I take the point about having to establish a connection with the amount the British taxpayer has paid, though I do not entirely agree with it. That would apply to contributory benefits, but what about means-tested benefits? The British taxpayer has obviously paid for them, but the person who receives them does not contribute to the means-tested benefits.

Lord Henley

My Lords, the distinction between contributed benefits and income-related benefits is that the latter are benefits of last resort. That is why merely being here should be enough in such cases.

Lord Carter

My Lords, the other point which the noble Lord did not answer concerned those people who would qualify for DLA under the terminal illness rule but would still be caught by the presence requirements. Perhaps the Minister would kindly reply on that point before we decide on the amendment.

Lord Henley

My Lords, this is Report stage, but if the noble Lord will bear with me, I should like to come back on that point. If he wants to come back to this at a later stage, that may be appropriate but I prefer to write to the noble Lord.

Lord Carter

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. It is important that he deals with that point. I think we all agreed it would be extremely unfair if the presence test meant that somebody who was terminally ill and who would otherwise qualify for DLA should lose benefit on that ground alone.

I heard what the Minister said about returning to the point at a later stage. I shall almost certainly want to do that. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave withdrawn.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Carter moved Amendment No. 4: Page 4, line 41, after ("person") insert: (", except a child under the age of 16 who at the request of a paediatrician is accompanied or frequently visited by a parent or guardian who provides prolonged or repeated supervision or attention with his bodily functions while in hospital for medical treatment,").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, with the leave of the House, and in the absence of my noble friend Lady Hollis of Heigham, who I am afraid is unwell, I move Amendment No. 4.

The purpose of the amendment—and I emphasise the wording, at the request of a paediatrician"—

is to allow the parents of disabled children who continue to provide care and support on a regular basis while their children are in hospital undergoing medical treatment to keep their attendance allowance. A number of parents have experienced the withdrawal of their attendance allowance once their children have been in hospital for more than a month, despite the fact that they have continued to provide care on a regular basis in line with current health authority good practice of parents spending as much time as possible with their children while they are in hospital. Once a child has been in hospital for more than 28 days the parents can face withdrawal of attendance allowance for the subsequent period that the child stays in hospital.

I should like to emphasise that the amendment applies only to those parents who are already in receipt of attendance allowance and continue to provide significant levels of care while their children remain in hospital. It would be possible for this group of children to be defined by medical professionals who could confirm that that was the case. Obviously the Secretary of State could by regulations ensure that that group of needy parents were correctly described.

The amendment does not seek to alter the condition regarding respite care over and above the 28-day period but to separate hospital care from the regulations, as we feel that the considerations relating to hospital care do not apply to respite care. The parents to whom I am referring are those who continue to provide care and attention to their child throughout the day and who take over many of the essential nursing tasks. That situation is completely different from respite care where the parents are relieved of caring for short periods.

I have had a good deal of briefing on the matter from a number of disability organisations. Some of the cases they describe are quite harrowing. Those of us who have had experience of parents staying in hospital to help nurse their children will be well aware of what it entails. A typical case would involve the parents of a child suffering from cerebral palsy. Such children go into hospital for complex operations to rectify medical conditions arising from that disability. The parents and children in that situation face enough trauma without the burden of having their essential benefits reduced or taken away after 28 days in hospital, especially when they continue to bear the costs of travelling to hospital on top of the other costs associated with having disabled children. From my own experience, when my son was in hospital I can remember the sheer heroism displayed by a number of parents who had to travel very long distances. They were people on low incomes. They spent some part of each day with their children, as the hospital required, in order to help with their care and attention.

The OPC report on disabled children, which we have heard of a number of times and will no doubt hear of again in discussion on this Bill, shows that in the case of severe disablement parents can face extra costs of over £20 per week. In addition, parents of disabled children already face a loss of income, having only 78 per cent. of the average equivalent income of families with children in the general population. We feel that to reduce further the financial support available to those parents at such a difficult time is very harsh indeed.

I would emphasise that the measure we are proposing is modest in terms of current expenditure. We are talking only about the support of parents whose children stay more than 28 days in hospital and are by definition severely disabled. We are not talking about a large group. We are also not talking about giving them more money but simply not removing the money they are usually entitled to.

The amendment does not propose any relaxation of the principle involved. At Committee stage the Minister said he would not favour a general relaxation of the rules on the payment of attendance allowance or DLA to people staying in hospital for protracted periods. We are not proposing any general relaxation. The whole amendment is hedged around with qualifications to ensure that the general principle is not challenged. To take account of that debate at Committee stage we have redrafted the amendment to make clear that the continued payment of attendance allowance or DLA would be considered only if the hospital paediatrician or specialist certified it as being necessary. That would also allow the Government in subsequent regulations to prescribe the evidence which the adjudication officer feels is needed to ensure that parents are carrying out the requisite care.

As I have said, the amendment is well targeted on a small group of disabled children who are in hospital for medical care and whose parents continue to provide the bulk of that care. Therefore, it addresses the principle of the benefit and fulfils the necessary conditions that the Government seemed to imply at Committee stage. I beg to move.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, the amendment seems to be a very reasonable one. I am a trustee of the Yorkshire Children's Hospital Trust. That trust was founded to provide specialised equipment for children's hospital needs. I give an example. A blind sick child had to be sent from Leeds to Birmingham. The mother had no funds to get to the hospital to be with her child. A Leeds social worker applied to the trust and, happily, we were able to supply the money. The mother stayed with the child. Unfortunately, the child died. We were very pleased to be able to help. There are many families on low incomes. When a child is in hospital it needs its parents or mother.

I would like to take the opportunity to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, for her kind words to my noble friend Lady Darcy (de Knayth) and myself which were quite unnecessary but much appreciated. The noble Baroness understands severe disability because she was knocked over by a motorbike. Happily, she did not become disabled.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, I should like briefly to support the amendment. It is now generally agreed that for younger children it is extremely desirable that parents should be at the hospital and taking a full part. That being so, surely they should be encouraged rather than discouraged from doing so through financial reasons.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, I support the arguments that have been advanced so far. There is another one that often appeals to governments. I did a lot of work on the earnings rule which applied originally to widows and pensioners before this Government, happily, removed it. It was shown that when benefits were given and then taken back for a short period before being given again, the cost of the bookwork was far greater than the amount of money required to continue to pay the benefit. That has never been more true than it is now. It seems that it will cost far more to change the poll tax than to collect had it been left alone. I am sure that the same argument would apply in the case of a child who had been in hospital for six weeks and then had the matter dealt with. We are not talking about long-term patients. Perhaps that argument will appeal to the Government. I have found in my lifetime that people are usually much more moved by economics than by morals. I suggest that the Government bear that argument in mind.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

My Lords, I should like briefly to support this amendment. The provision is so well hedged around with restrictions that it does not seem to me that it could be abused. I hope that when he answers this amendment the noble Lord who speaks on behalf of the Government will say how much he considers that this measure would cost. I do not suspect that it would cost a great deal, taking into account the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips. I should not have thought that it was worth resisting this amendment.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, made my point for me. I intended to ask my noble friend what it would cost to switch on these benefits and to switch them off. How long does it take to reinstate the benefit after it has been removed? When the time comes for the child to go home and for the benefit to go on again, how long will the parents have to wait? Delay can cause considerable hardship to families. In addition, one has to bear in mind that we are not just thinking of the child in hospital but also of other small children at home. Parents of a child in hospital who are required to visit and help that child, may well have to pay for care of children at home at considerably greater cost than is covered by the benefit that they will be losing.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I hope that this will be an occasion on which my noble friend Lord Henley has some good news for the House. There is no doubt that help is required by some parents when their child is in hospital, especially in those cases, about which my noble friend has just told us, in which there are other small children at home. However, I doubt that this Bill is the way to cope with that problem.

Having said that, I observe that subsection (10) of this clause states: Regulations may provide that a person shall not be paid any amount in respect of a disability living allowance which is attributable to entitlement to the care component for a period when he is a person for whom accommodation is provided". That includes in hospital and other forms of material state support. It would be helpful to the House to know how far my noble friend and his department have gone in their thinking.

Lord Carter

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for having given way. I missed the reference to the clause in question. Would he repeat it?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, it is Clause 1(10), line 41 on page 4 of the Bill. I said that it would be helpful to know how far my noble friend and his department have gone in laying out these regulations. As he said in Committee, there is a great difficulty. There is a long-established principle in social security and national assistance law to the effect that two sources of support should not be available for the same need from the state.

Having said that, it occurs to me that subsection (10) may, if the regulations were framed correctly, be a way of getting round this problem. I should therefore be grateful if my noble friend could inform us of his department's thinking on that point.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I am grateful for the remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, about the abolition of the earnings rule. I am glad that she recognised it for what it was; namely, a fine act by this Government. I look forward to seeing her come over to join us on these Benches and lend her support on many further occasions.

I understand and have some sympathy with the case put forward by the noble Lord on behalf of his noble friend. I recognise that in tabling the amendment the noble Baroness has gone some way to meet some of the anxieties that I expressed in Committee, particularly in her revised lines requiring that the parent's contribution to the care must specifically be requested by the paediatrician. I am most grateful for that.

I shall not weary the House with the arguments that I put forward in Committee. I shall just say that in the generality of cases we are quite sure that the policy of withdrawing DLA after some weeks have been spent in hospital is the right one. The very fact that attendance allowance is payable for the first four weeks of a hospital stay is an indication of the Government's preparedness to be flexible. That was a very valuable easement that we introduced in 1983.

I turn to the points made by my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale and other noble Lords. Quite rightly, there is a valid point of principle that must be borne in mind in our consideration of these matters. There is also the question of cost, a point which was also raised. At this stage I should not like to quantify the cost. It would depend on how many children are involved. I should need to look at the point. I should also like to examine the matter of administrative cost, which was again a very valid point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips.

I do not argue that the costs would be very great. I should not ever want to argue the cost line to resist this amendment. It is quite right that where costs are great, excessive or even substantial it is our duty to make clear to the House that such and such an amendment would have a considerable cost. The Government should exercise some responsibility over how they spend taxpayers' money. However, as I said, today I do not in any way want to argue the case of cost.

I do not advocate the adoption of this amendment but it is an issue at which I am prepared to have another look. I should be happy to explore it further. The noble Lord may wish to come to see me or perhaps send his noble friend Lady Hollis—it might be better. If they want to come to see me and discuss the matter I shall certainly take the issue on board. I look forward to seeing the noble Lord, his noble friend and certainly anybody else that they wish to accompany them.

I do not want to minimise the difficulties or raise any false hopes, but my understanding is that this is not an area in which we need primary legislation. Should it prove to be so there is anyway some time before this Bill has its Third Reading. I am convinced that on this occasion there would be more sense in exploring the issue outside the Chamber on a more informal basis.

With the assurance that I shall look very seriously at this matter to consider whether something sensible can be devised, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Carter

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the Minister. I am not sure why he feels that he should see my noble friend Lady Hollis instead of me, but if that will help to convince him, I shall certainly send her along. As he said, we tried to go some way to meet the anxieties of the Government.

Perhaps I may make just one point. The noble Lord referred to the generality of cases. This is not the generality of cases. We are talking about a small group. The noble Lord recognised that it is not an argument about the cost. That is extremely helpful, and on those grounds I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4.30 p.m.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth) moved Amendment No. 5: Page 5, line 6, at end insert: ("( ) A payment to or in respect of any person which is attributable to his entitlement to the care component and the right to receive such a payment shall (except in prescribed circumstances and for prescribed purposes) be disregarded in applying any enactment or instrument under which regard is to be had to a person's means.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving this amendment may I also join with my noble friend in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, for her kind remarks. They were, as my noble friend said, unnecessary. I am sure that the Minister will realise that I cannot resist making the point that it is relatively easy for my noble friend and I to be reasonably effective because we are able to meet our extra costs, which are so crucial to effective disabled living. But there we are, I shall rapidly move on to Amendment No. 5.

This is an amendment that I moved and withdrew in Committee. Its purpose is to ensure that disabled people in receipt of a care component are not expected to contribute it to services provided by a local authority or health authority. The Spinal Injuries Association says that this has been a growing problem for its members, who are expected to contribute AA to personal and home help services, and also, for example, for the supply of incontinence pads.

I have tabled the amendment again to pursue some of the points raised in discussion in Committee. There are three main points. First, the Department of Health intends to issue guidance to local authorities and health authorities on income assessment for community care. In Committee I asked if disability organisations could be consulted to put the consumer's viewpoint. The Minister replied on 7th March at col. 1572 that he was not in a position to make a promise about guidance issued by his right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health. I accept that, but will the Minister accept that there is a strong overlap between the two departments and agree to ask his right honourable friend to consult formally with the disability organisations?

For my next point I return to remarks made by the Minister on 14th June 1990 at the Report stage of the National Health Service and Community Care Bill about using the attendance allowance for local authority services. He did not expand on his remarks when I asked him to in Committee, so I am giving him the opportunity to do so now. On 14th June 1990, at col. 466 of Hansard, the Minister said that, the local authority would be right not to take it"—

that is, attendance allowance, now the care component— into account if it was being spent on attendance needs not covered by the services the local authority was providing".

If the recipient is having to buy extra services elsewhere can we take it that he will not be asked to pay his attendance allowance? I gave the Minister notice of those two questions, so I hope he will be able to give me a positive response.

I did not warn the noble Lord about a third question, which is crucial to this whole issue. The Minister said twice in Committee on 7th March, at cols. 1571 and 1573, that, where a benefit is designed to pay for services which a local authority provides it is quite proper for that local authority to take the benefit into account in calculating charges for these services".

I argued twice—cols. 1570 and 1573—that attendance allowance was not designed specifically to pay for care but to help meet the general extra costs of a disabled person's daily living. DIG—the Disablement Income Group—has always stated that firmly, and the group was around at the time.

Research carried out by Professor Sally Baldwin as part of a PhD thesis at the Department of Social Policy and Social Work at York University shows the following points. Attendance allowance was introduced in response to Amelia Harris's first survey on disability. It was intended as a means of raising the incomes of disabled people and in particular to focus on those people who were most severely disabled. Attendance was used as a criterion for assessing and identifying those people. It was up to those entitled to the benefit to decide how to spend it. Since its introduction its title has led to confusion about the allowance. It is most important to recognise that it is not specifically intended for attendance, but that attendance is the criterion used for entitlement to it.

I hope that is enough to demonstrate that attendance allowance is not a specific benefit to be charged in return for personal services. It is an important benefit for the total income of a household that has a severely disabled member and therefore considerable additional costs. As many severely disabled people rely on hours of unpaid care from a relative or close friend, local authorities who take this money out of the household are taking it from those unpaid carers.

I look forward to hearing the Minister's response, but if he cannot reply now—and, as I say, I did not warn him that I would be pursuing that issue—perhaps he will write to me; and I hope that his right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health will take the point into account when he is issuing the guidance. I beg to move.

Lord Carter

My Lords, I was pleased to add my name to this amendment. It has been well argued by the noble Baroness. Perhaps the best thing I can do is to quote from a brief I received from the Disablement Income Group just before the debate. It states that its, Advisory Service has seen over the past year a great increase in the number of inquiries about home help services". The group adds: Introduction of and an increase in charges made for home help and home care services. There is a worrying trend for charges being made where attendance allowance is received". The DIG quotes the example of Hertfordshire where the client is receiving no benefit except attendance allowance. There is a charge of £15 per week. The group states: These are flat rate weekly charges and are not based on hours needed, so someone needing two hours per week pays the same as someone needing eight. The charges are to be paid 52 weeks a year regardless of whether or not you are there to receive the service (spells in hospital or holidays)". The group continues, referring to a lady in Hertfordshire who, tells us that people getting attendance allowance are 'up in arms' about the charges. She uses her attendance allowance to cover her high heating bills incurred as a result of rheumatoid arthritis and has difficulty in scraping together the money for the service. She will have to pay the highest charge of £15. The attendance allowance will only be ignored if you are already using it all to pay for attendance". Then there is the example of Cheshire: They are considering making an automatic charge where attendance allowance is paid, even if the client is receiving income support". Those two counties are interpreting the rules differently. The DIG further states that Essex, also considers attendance allowance to be available to pay for care and again the highest charges are levied on attendance allowance recipients". This is a worrying situation not only because of the general principle, well enunciated by the noble Baroness when she moved the amendment, but to show that different parts of the country and different local authorities are interpreting the situation in different ways. In principle, they are surely wrong to regard attendance allowance as being available for the provision of local authority services.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, may I add just a few more of the extra expenses incurred by disabled people and the worrying situation of the privatisation of certain facilities? If there is incontinence—and sometimes there is double incontinence—there is a lot of extra washing and the extra cost of water which is an essential of life. This is very worrying to severely disabled people. There is the extra cost of electricity for drying things and the extra cost if items are sent to a laundry.

Now I find that there is a new extra cost; and this is absolutely vital. In London I used to be able to get some deliveries of food. I could ring up the Army and Navy stores and the store would deliver to my flat. However, the store now charges £6 for delivery of essential items such as food. That is difficult for disabled people who cannot get out of their houses. If they are able to get out, sometimes they cannot park the car, or cannot get out of the car unaided. If you can get a good, reliable carer—and that is getting more difficult—there is the extra expense. We must remember that we now have more elderly people in our population than younger people, and the situation is developing all the time. Therefore, the problems are going to get worse, not better.

I have taken up the matter of incontinence with the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper. There are some awful stories of people having to wash out incontinence pads and dry them out on the line, and so on. In a society such as ours people should not have to do that. Therefore, in mentioning these extra costs which are happening all the time—there seem to be extra costs every week—I hope the Minister will be sympathetic to this amendment.

Lord Clifford of Chudleigh

My Lords, some very good points have been brought out by the two noble Baronesses. I am fascinated too, because there is one small point that I am sure a lot of noble Lords are aware of, certainly those who wear glasses. Should you take your glasses off, you say, "Damn it, I can't see what that thing is saying. Is the sign saying 'on' or 'off'.

There is a specific point about home help. Noble Baronesses will know better than noble Lords that one must hoover a home. A hoover has an electric lead which can be dangerous to people who are blind or partially sighted. One can trip up on the lead. You can laugh until it happens to you; you can laugh until you are in a single storey house and trip over the lead near the stairs; you can laugh until you consider that the partially sighted person using the hoover lives on his or her own and is trying to clean the house.

I wished to add those points to the excellent points raised by the two noble Baronesses. I also agree with the remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips. If it were not for the likes of the noble Baronesses, Lady Darcy (de Knayth) and Lady Masham, people in wheelchairs would not be correctly represented. They know how awkward it can be to do the normal things that others usually do after breakfast, for instance. It is difficult to operate in a wheelchair and one needs help. I agree entirely with the amendment.

Lord Henley

My Lords, when the same amendment was moved in Committee I explained that it would create difficulties for local authorities by restricting their ability to charge for services. I must again advise your Lordships against amending a social security Bill in a way that could have far-reaching consequences outside the social security system.

In the Government's view the only sensible approach is to maintain the status quo. I emphasise that this is all the Bill seeks to achieve. In Committee the noble Lord, Lord Carter, pointed out that maintaining the status quo results in one rule for the mobility component and another for the care component. I agree that that looks a little untidy. But the fact is that different considerations apply to the two components. While I believe that it is acceptable to continue to provide for a general disregard of the mobility component I do not accept that it is wrong to leave local authorities with the discretion to take the care component or attendance allowance into account in deciding what to charge for certain services.

The noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), said that the Department of Health had in the past asked local authorities to disregard attendance allowance in deciding home help charges. Certainly there was a circular to that effect published in 1971, but events have moved on. In particular the 1983 Health and Social Services and Social Security Adjudication Act gave local authorities discretion to charge for welfare services, including day and domiciliary care. But perhaps more important, in the years since 1971 local authorities have more and more been developing services which are particularly designed to meet at least some of the personal care needs for which attendance allowance is intended. In many places home help has changed to home care, which includes personal care. Day centres and other local authority services may also cater for personal care needs. The noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), said that attendance allowance was not intended to pay for care. A person can hardly expect to be provided at public expense with both cash and services to meet the same need. Where the local authority is providing personal care it is surely perfectly reasonable for it to have the discretion—it is only a discretion—to take attendance allowance into account when deciding what to charge.

I can confirm that as part of the preparations for community care the Department of Health intends to issue new guidance on charging by local authorities. The local authority associations will be consulted before the guidance is issued. I understand that the Department of Health will also be happy to receive representations from disability organisations on the subject, although formal consultation is not planned.

I emphasise that in the White Paper Caring for People the Government made it clear that they had no intention of changing the current deliberately very flexible arrangements under which local authorities can charge whatever is reasonable in the circumstances for day and domiciliary care. If a user represents that he cannot afford to pay a charge the local authority is statutorily required to reduce the charge to such amount, if any, as appears reasonable. These arrangements are longstanding and I am not aware that they lead to any significant problems. In particular I do not believe that local authorities make excessive charges or that the provision of necessary services is made dependent on a person's ability to pay.

I hope that in the light of what I have said the noble Baroness will not press her amendment. It would be wrong to use a social security Bill to make changes which have no effect at all on social security but cause unnecessary and undesirable disruption for local authorities. I hope that the noble Baroness has noted that the department will be happy to receive representations on the subject and that therefore she will make such representations.

4.45 p.m.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I wish to ask the Minister a question about the home help service. He said that the helpers, now called home carers, carried out a personal service. They no longer clean people's houses and, therefore, if disabled people do not wish to live in dirty houses they must pay for somebody to clean their houses. That is one more extra expense.

Lord Henley

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I was trying to point out that if home helps are providing personal care, surely it is reasonable for the authority to have the discretion to take into account the attendance allowance, which is provided for personal care, when deciding what to charge.

Lord Carter

My Lords, will the Minister address the point that I made about the three counties which I mentioned, all of which are interpreting the situation differently? I am sure that if he carried out a survey over the whole country he would discover that many local authorities and social services departments are handling the matter in different ways. Will the drafting of the regulations that he mentioned have any effect on the situation?

Lord Henley

My Lords, it is obvious that if local authorities are given a discretion they will use it in different ways. We have had this argument on many occasions. Is the noble Lord suggesting that on no occasion should we give local authorities discretion?

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply, but I am sure he will realise that I am not totally overjoyed by it. I am glad to hear that the disability organisations can make representations to his right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health. However, I should prefer the organisations to be consulted formally. I am far less happy about the rest of his reply. The crucial matter is the intention of the attendance allowance. On several occasions the Minister said that in 1983 a discretion was given to local authorities to charge for services. However, did the purpose for which the attendance allowance was intended also change? On three occasions in his reply the Minister said that it was right to charge attendance allowance because that was given to provide for personal care. I still wish to query that statement. Is the Minister willing to investigate the matter and write to me about it?

Baroness Seear

My Lords, I wish to clarify a point which if it stays on the record unclarified might lead to misunderstanding. I understood the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, to say that the local authorities no longer provide the kind of home helps who clean the floor. I know that some local authorities do not do so as frequently, but surely it is not correct to say that they are not providing such vital help. Can that matter be clarified for the record because many people may be confused?

Lord Henley

My Lords, there is nothing to prevent a local authority providing that sort of' help if it so wishes. I thought that I had made clear to the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), that it is for the recipient to decide how the benefit is spent but it is paid in respect of personal care needs. If the noble Baroness is not happy with that response, I shall have another look at the matter and write to her. However, I understand that that is the purpose behind the attendance allowance.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)

My Lords, I should be grateful to the Minister if he would pursue that and write to me. He said that it is for the recipient to decide how to spend the allowance. That is not necessarily the same as spending on personal care as the DIG has always said and as Professor Sally Baldwin found in her PhD thesis. However, I am grateful to the Minister and if he does not write to me I shall pursue the matter by way of Written Questions and other means. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Carter moved Amendment No. 6: Page 5, line 10, leave out "5" and insert "2".

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of this amendment is to extend the mobility component to children over the age of two with disabilities who require much more help with mobility than children of the same age without disability.

We discussed the matter in Committee but I do not apologise for bringing it again to the attention of the House. It is very important. The lower age limit of five years for the mobility component of the DLA has been carried over from the existing rules on mobility allowance. The argument for having a lower age limit is that all children under five, whether or not they are disabled, could be considered to have mobility problems. Organisations representing disabled children have argued that specific mobility problems can be distinguished well before the age of five in most cases.

The proposed new Section 37ZC(2) specifies already that children under the age of 16 must satisfy an additional test of requiring, substantially more guidance or supervision from another person than persons of his age in normal physical and mental health would require".

I see no reason why that condition should not be used equally for children over the age of two to ensure that only those with substantially greater needs receive the allowance.

The first few years in the life of a disabled child can be very expensive for families. On a previous amendment we referred to an OPCS survey which showed that the standard of living is likely to be squeezed by a parent's loss of, or reduction in, earnings as well as the extra costs of a disability. Where spare money is available, the OPCS and other studies show that more is spent on relieving the extra needs of the disabled child. However, many families must go without and the disabled child's health and wellbeing being may suffer as a result.

The OPCS survey showed—and this is not surprising—that travel is the most expensive additional cost experienced by families with a disabled child. One can quote from one' own experience. Parents may need to purchase a car or a second car specifically because of the child's special needs. It may be necessary also to hire taxis or pay for lifts where it is difficult or impossible to use public transport.

The matter was raised in Committee in another place and here. I do not apologise for returning to it because I do not believe that we were given a satisfactory answer. In another place the Minister, Miss Widdecombe, argued that there had to he a lower age limit and, given that there must be an arbitrary line, it was sensible to draw that line at the age of five. She referred to that age as the statutory age at which a child is entitled to education. Therefore, she thought it sensible to set the lower age limit for the mobility component at the age of five on the same grounds. She said that if the age limit for education was lowered, the Government would need to look again at that. However, we know that the age from which a disabled child can be assessed for education is two years. Therefore, if the logic of the Minister's argument is followed, the limit for the mobility component should also be two years.

As I said, the other conditions for the component ensure that only disabled children with significantly greater mobility problems than non-disabled children of the same age would qualify were the amendment to be accepted. The point was put extremely well by Mr. Dafydd Wigley in another place when he said that, where there is an identifiable additional need for mobility costs, as there is for many profoundly handicapped children of 3 or 4, there must be some way of responding. It is nonsense to close the door on even the most profoundly handicapped child who needs considerable assistance to get about and say that he is in the same category as an able bodied child who simply needs someone to supervise him while he runs about".

That is just not sensible. Many disabled children will have care needs but no mobility needs. Therefore, we are speaking of a small number of children whose disabilities are so severe that they have expensive mobility needs as well as expensive care needs which are distinguishable from a very early age. The Minister cannot assume that those families who receive a care component will necessarily receive sufficient money to cover care needs let alone have any spare money to meet mobility needs.

There is an immense difference between supervising a non-disabled child who is able to walk and climb on and off a bus and having to travel by taxi or private care with a child who suffers from cerebral palsy, who is mentally handicapped, who has violent and involuntary movements or epileptic fits or who may scream constantly and require to be accompanied by two adults.

The Government have estimated that the amendment may cost £30 million per year. If that is the case and the problem is the question of cost rather than principle, implementation could take place in stages. For example, perhaps the Minister will be prepared to say that the Government will consider an immediate reduction to the age of four to be followed by further reductions over time as funds become available. Something should be done for these families.

This is an important amendment. It does not affect a large number of children although the cost may seem high. The Minister was extremely helpful on this matter when I moved an amendment in Committee as regards severely disabled children in hospital. I hope that he will respond in the same way to this amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Banks

My Lords, I support the amendment with which my noble friend Lord Winstanley is also associated. It was moved very competently by the noble Lord, Lord Carter. I endorse all that he said.

In Committee the noble Lord, Lord Henley, said that he remained convinced that the right age limit is five. However, he stressed that the cost would be £30 million. Either it is not the right age limit, or it is the right age limit but the cost is prohibitive. The Minister referred to the last Labour Government fixing the limit for this benefit at age five. We have now had some time to experience that age limit. As the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, and the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, pointed out in Committee, we now see that there are strong arguments for lowering the age limit to the age of two. If, on reflection, the Minister is impressed by the argument of his two noble friends, then he must fall back on the cost ground. It does not seem to me, mindful as I am of the need to take care in this area of expenditure, that £30 million is too costly for the extension of the benefit.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I do not accept that I am precluded from arguing on grounds of cost and other grounds. I emphasise the cost of such an amendment. In Committee I said that to lower the age to two would cost £30 million. The noble Lord, Lord Carter, pressed me to do some "salami slicing", if I may use that phrase, and calculate costs for different ages. I assure the noble Lord that the costs are still very expensive. Reduction to the age of four would cost £15 million, reduction to the age of three would cost £25 million and, as I said, reduction to the age of two would cost £30 million.

Although I emphasise the problem of cost, I do not say that that must be the prime consideration. The other consideration must be the Government's principal anxiety to set the level at the most appropriate point, having regard to all relevant factors. The most important is the age at which the generality of disabled children begin to have markedly greater needs than the generality of those who are not disabled. We are convinced, as were the previous Labour Government, that the most appropriate point for the age limit remains at five years—as was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Banks. In passing I may say that I do not know what the attitude of the previous Liberal Government was.

Some noble Lords may say that the Government believe the age of five is right because that is what it has always been. But I can assure your Lordships that the Government do not have a closed mind on these matters. The fact that the lower age limit for attendance allowance was abolished last year shows clearly that the Government are prepared to make changes when changes are justified.

As I said in Committee, in the case of the lower age limit for attendance allowance the Government were persuaded by strong evidence from paediatricians and others that abolition was appropriate because it is now clear that some young babies require substantially more care than others. But for the mobility component the arguments in favour of retaining a lower age limit of five are as strong today as they were when the then Labour Government first introduced it. No one is denying that it may be apparent before the age of five that a child is unlikely ever to be able to walk. The question is whether that disability causes extra costs over and above those incurred by parents looking after children of the same age who are not disabled

In response to the noble Lord, Lord Carter, perhaps I could say in passing that any child between the ages of two and five who was so severely disabled as to benefit from the amendment would most likely be entitled to one of the three rates of care component, and probably one of the higher of those three rates.

The fact is that, as I said in Committee, below the age of five we all have some mobility needs. No child under five can be expected to walk any great distance. Nor can any child under five be expected to go far from its home without guidance and supervision. True, some people may be less able to make use of public transport if their children are disabled. But that will not always be the case and there are other reasons than disability why public transport may be difficult to use—as any mother trying to get on a bus with two small children and a week's shopping will know and as my noble friend Lord Swinfen said at Committee stage.

I hope noble Lords will agree that it is not really possible to talk of any child under the age of five as being independently mobile. For all parents, taking young children out presents problems and can be costly. Disability may present different problems but it has not been demonstrated that in general the mobility needs of disabled children under the age of five create significant extra costs. It is possible to point to exceptional cases. But as with any dividing line a case can always be made for including some of those who fall on the wrong side of it.

As I said in Committee, it is at the age of five that most children start school and in many cases begin making journeys on their own. The Government remain convinced that this is the most sensible point at which to start distinguishing between the mobility needs of children with and without disabilities. I hope therefore that the noble Lord will withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, I see the point the noble Lord makes regarding children under the age of five needing to be accompanied. However, it is common in many areas for children to attend play school before the age of five. If that is so, then the case for the allowance is surely much stronger because the children need to attend regularly. Is it possible that, if a child were to be accepted into such a school before compulsory schooling age, then the question of the mobility allowance could be considered?

Lord Henley

My Lords, with the leave of the House, perhaps I may say that I do not believe that the noble Baroness's suggestion would be an easy change to introduce into social security legislation without matters becoming endlessly complicated. Even if a child attended school before the age of five, as many children do, as likely as not the child would still be accompanied, disabled or not. Children of that age are not independently mobile.

Lord Carter

My Lords, the House is grateful to the Minister for his response, if not awfully happy about it. Perhaps I may deal with the point concerning the previous Labour Government, to which the noble Lord referred twice—he referred to it also in Committee. That was 12 years ago and from experience it was wrong. I am perfectly prepared to have that on the record.

Lord Henley

; My Lords, the noble Lord said that the previous Labour Government were wrong. Is he speaking of all the policies of the previous Labour Government or just this one specific matter?

Lord Carter

My Lords, that is a remarkable display of forensic skill. I was referring to the decision of the previous Labour Government regarding the age limit of five, as the noble Lord is well aware. From experience we now know that that was wrong.

I could not entirely understand from the noble Lord's answer whether he was referring to cost or other grounds, or both; he seemed to switch from one to the other. In Committee he gave the answer that children in this condition would be receiving the care component. That is so. But that is for care, not mobility. That is why it is called the care component. We are discussing the mobility allowance and the exceptional cases where extra costs of mobility are incurred.

The noble Lord's answer—I do not mean this in any personal sense—was rather detached from the reality of having to bring up disabled or severely handicapped children and the problems involved. No attempt was made to rest on the argument which the Government appeared to use in another place—that because five was the age for ordinary education needs, that was the age to use. We said, and the point has not been answered, that the education age of children requiring special needs is two. If the education age of five is right for non-disabled children, because that is the age at which they must attend school, obviously two is the correct age for children with special needs.

We offered to try to reduce the age to four and then three. The Minister did not seem to be prepared to accept that. The best we can do is to ask the opinion of the House.

5.6 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 6) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 77; Not-Contents, 96.

Division No. 2
Airedale, L. Henderson of Brompton, L.
Allen of Abbeydale, L. Hirshfield, L.
Allenby of Megiddo, V. Holme of Cheltenham, L.
Ardwick, L. Houghton of Sowerby, L.
Ashbourne, L. Hughes, L.
Attlee, E. Hutchinson of Lullington, L.
Aylestone, L. Hylton-Foster, B.
Banks, L. Jeger, B.
Birk, B. Jenkins of Putney, L.
Blease, L. Kagan, L.
Bonham-Carter, L. Kilhracken, L.
Boston of Faversham. L. Kissin. L.
Bottomley, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.
Bruce of Donington, L. Longford, E.
Carter, L. Lovell-Davis, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Molloy, L.
Clinton-Davis, L. Morris of Castle Morris, L.
Cocks of Harteliffe. L. Nicol, B.
Craigavon. V. Ogmore, L.
Darcy (de Knayth), B. Peston, L.
David, B. Phillips, B.
Dean of Beswick, L. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Richard, L.
Dormand of Easington, L. Russell, E.
Ewart-Biggs, B. Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Foot, L. Seear, B.
Gallacher, L. [Teller.] Sefton of Garston, L.
Galpern, L. Serota, B.
Gladwyn, L. Shepherd, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. [Teller.] Stedman, B.
Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Grey, E. Strabolgi, L.
Hampton, L. Swinfen, L.
Hanworth, V. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Taylor of Gryfe, L.
Hayter, L. Thurlow, L.
Turner of Camden, B. White, B.
Underhill, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Walston, L. Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.
Aldington, L. Joseph, L.
Ampthill, L. Kimball, L.
Arran, E. Knollys, V.
Astor, V. Lauderdale, E.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Long, V.
Belstead, L. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Bessborough, E. Mackay of Clashfern, L.
Blatch, B. Macleod of Borve, B.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Mancroft, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Margadale, L.
Brigstocke, B. Merrivale, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Mersey, V.
Butterworth, L. Milverton, L.
Caithness, E. Montgomery of Alamein. V.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Morris, L.
Campbell of Croy, L. Mountevans, L.
Carnarvon, E. Munster, E.
Carnock, L. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Carr of Hadley, L. Nelson, E.
Cavendish of Furness, L. Norrie, L.
Clanwilliam, E. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Colnbrook, L. Oppenheim-Barnes, B.
Constantine of Stanmore, L. Orkney, E.
Cottesloe, L. Orr-Ewing, L.
Cross, V. Park of Monmouth, B.
Dacre of Glanton, L. Pennock, L.
Davidson, V. [Teller.] Platt of Writtle, B.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Pym, L.
Downshire, M. Rankeillour, L.
Eccles, V. Reay, L.
Elibank, L. Renwick, L.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Rippon of Hexham, L.
Elliott of Morpeth, L. St. John of Bletso, L.
Ferrers, E. Selkirk, E.
Flather, B. Skelmersdale, L.
Fraser of Carmyllie, L. Stanley of Alderley, L.
Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Strange, B.
Gray of Contin, L. Sudeley, L.
Greenway, L. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Gridley, L. Trefgarne, L.
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. Trumpington, B.
Ullswater, V.
Harmar-Nicholls, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Harmsworth, L. Waddington, L.
Henley, L. Wade of Chorlton, L.
Hesketh, L. Wise, L.
Hooper, B. Wynford, L.
Howe, E. Young, B.
Johnston of Rockport, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 7: Page 5, line 13, at end insert:

("(aa) he falls within subsection (1A) below; or").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I spoke to this amendment in discussing Amendment No. 1. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 8: Page 5, line 13, at end insert: ("(ab) he falls within subsection (1B) below; or").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I spoke to this amendment with Amendment No. 7. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 9 not moved.]

Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 10: Page 5, line 20, at end insert: ("(1A) A person falls within this subsection if—

  1. (a) he is both blind and deaf; and
  2. (b) he satisfies such other conditions as may be prescribed.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 11:

Page 5, line 20, at end insert:

("(1B) A person falls within this subsection if—

  1. (a) he is severely mentally impaired; and
  2. (b) he displays severe behavioural problems; and
  3. (c) he satisfies both the conditions mentioned in section 37ZB(1) (b) and (c) above.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 12 not moved.]

Lord Henley moved Amendments Nos. 13, 14 and 15:

Page 5, line 35, after ("(b)") insert ("or subsection (1A) (a)").

Page 5, line 35, at end insert:

"(3A) Regulations shall specify the cases which fall within subsection (1B) (a) and (b) above.

(3B) A person who is to be taken for the purposes of section 37ZB above to satisfy or not to satisfy a condition mentioned in subsection (1) (b) or (c) of that section is to be taken to satisfy or not to satisfy it for the purposes of subsection (1B)(c) above.").

Page 5, line 49, leave out ("(1) (a) and (b)") and insert ("(1)").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I spoke to these amendments with Amendment No. 7. I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 16 not moved.]

Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 17:

Page 6, line 16, leave out ("the condition mentioned in subsection (1) (a)") and insert ("one or other of the conditions mentioned in subsection (1) (a), (aa) and (ab)").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 18 not moved.]

Lord Carter moved Amendment No. 19:

Page 7, line 8, leave out ("either") and insert ("the mobility").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment will allow people who become disabled after the age of 65 to apply for all three rates of the care component of DLA. That is an important step towards redressing the discrimination which older people face in disability benefits. We debated this matter in Committee. We read the Minister's answer with some care and we now return to the matter. The cost of the amendment would relate only to the lowest £10 rate of DLA as the two higher rates are equivalent to the two levels of the attendance allowance.

The Government have estimated the cost to be £165 million, which is considerably less than the cost of removing the upper age limit completely for entitlement to DLA. I am not sure whether the Minister has looked at Hansard for 7th March, col. 1584, and our debate in Committee. The Minister referred to the cost as £165 million. In reply to me the Minister said:

"I am sure that even the noble Lord will accept that that is not an inconsiderate sum".

I think that that is a Freudian slip on the part of the Hansard writer. In Committee the Government again argued the need to target extra help at younger disabled people. They stated, not for the first time, that the OPCS surveys considered the levels of income of disabled and non-disabled people below pension age. Above pension age there is not the disparity of income which exists below pension age. As the surveys indicated, the differences in income between disabled and non-disabled pensioners are small because the pensioners are largely dependent on state benefits. On average they have lower incomes than non-pensioners. The majority of pensioners rely on state benefits for at least three-quarters of their income. The OPCS surveys clearly show that disabled pensioners are no better off financially than younger disabled people. We hope that the Minister will not argue that somehow they should be able to bear the cost of the disability because in some way they are better off.

There is also the tendency to see disability as a normal part of ageing. Discrimination solely on the grounds of age helps to fuel the assumption that older people should accept a level of disability which would be unacceptable to younger people. It serves to increase dependence on others for everyday tasks. The Bill attempts to recognise the needs of the less severely disabled people by introducing the new and lowest £10 rate for people over the age of 65. We have to congratulate the Government on that. People over 65 may have identical needs—for example, help with bodily functions for part of the day, or help with preparing a main meal—but are not able to claim the lowest rate.

Therefore, we can see no justification for excluding people over the age of 65 from benefits which aim to help with the costs of disability. For the minority who are disabled, their special needs and extra expenses do not decrease as they grow older. The Government have argued that pensioners have been enjoying large increases in average incomes. The implication was that people who become disabled after 65 should have had the opportunity to build up a sufficient income to be able to afford the extra costs of disability. This is not the place to go into the argument of whether the extra costs of disability should be met by a comprehensive disability cost allowance irrespective of means.

Many older people did not have the opportunity to benefit from SERPS or from occupational and personal pension schemes. There will always be people who, because of unemployment, low pay, their caring responsibilities or illness, are not able to build up significant entitlements for their retirement. Pensioners' incomes on average are considerably lower than the incomes of people of below pension age. We explored this ground at the Committee stage. We were not satisfied with the Minister's answer. I hope that this time he will be able to be more helpful. I beg to move.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I cannot take the noble Lord any further other than to assure him that when I said it was not an "inconsiderate sum" I meant to say "a not inconsiderable sum". I think that even the noble Lord, in his wildest whatevers, would accept that £165 million is a very large sum of money.

In framing the measures contained in this Bill, and indeed in the whole package of changes which started last year to restructure and improve provision for people with disabilities, the Government took a conscious decision to target additional resources on disabled people under pension age. That decision does not imply any lack of regard for the needs of elderly people. The Government have, through other means to which I shall refer later, done a great deal to help pensioners, including those with disabilities, and have paid particular attention to the needs of those who depend primarily or solely on state benefits. I should also emphasise that no pensioner will get less help with the extra costs of disability as a result of the Bill.

Very many pensioners receive disability benefits and will continue to do so. As I pointed out in Committee, 543,000 attendance allowance recipients—64 per cent. of the total—are over pension age. Twenty-eight per cent. of those on mobility allowance are pensioners too. For the latter group this Bill is especially significant because the current upper age limit of 80 for receiving mobility allowance has not been carried forward into DLA. Once awarded, all rates of DLA will continue to be payable regardless of age, so long as the qualifying conditions are met.

Again, as I explained in Committee, the Government understand the desire of noble Lords to try to take the opportunity of this Bill to provide further help to people who are both disabled and pensioners. As I said then and as I have just repeated, the amendment would cost £165 million. It is the task of this Government—and for that matter any government—to weigh up competing priorities and find ways of directing help most effectively to those who need it. Our judgment has been that our main priorities over the past couple of years should be poorer pensioners, who received an extra £280 million in those past couple of years by way of improvements to income support premiums; younger disabled people, who will get an extra £300 million by 1993-94 through The Way Ahead package; and families with children, particularly lone parents, whom we are seeking to help through the Child Support Bill. All told, that adds up to nearly £650 million extra over the past couple of years. That is additional to the excellent record of provision for the long-term sick and disabled and all recipients of benefits in the social security system.

I do not apologise for the Government's record. In fact, I am very proud of it. Nor do I apologise for their choice of priorities. A great deal has been done and will continue to be done to meet the needs of pensioners. This Bill, however, is intended to give extra help to the younger disabled people. Therefore, I cannot support the amendment. I hope that on this occasion the noble Lord will withdraw it.

Lord Carter

My Lords, the Minister made a great deal of the £165 million, which I can well understand. According to The Times this morning, that is rather less than the cost of reissuing the poll tax bills. There is no attempt to suggest perhaps a higher age for eligibility at, say, 75, which would at least help. It is obvious that the Government are not prepared to move on this matter. As I said in Committee—I do not apologise for repeating it—we have different criteria for the care and mobility components. The care and mobility allowances have been converted into one allowance but the two components have different criteria. I do not propose to carry the argument further. It is obvious that the Government will not change their mind. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Deputy Speaker (Lord Nugent of Guildford)

My Lords, I should mention that if Amendment No. 20 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 21.

Lord Carter moved Amendment No. 20:

Page 7, leave out lines 22 to 25 and insert:

("( ) Claims for the disability living allowance must be made within the prescribed time.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I move the amendment on behalf of my noble friend Lady Hollis, who is absent through illness. We discussed this matter in Committee but we did not feel that we received a convincing answer. We should therefore like to try once more to change the Government's mind.

The basic objective of the amendment is to provide greater flexibility in the time limits for claiming DLA. Under the amendment a person would be able to have his benefit backdated provided he could show good cause for failing to claim earlier. As they presently stand the rules are harsher than for most other benefits. The fact of a disability itself provides the strongest case for greater rather than less flexibility in the rules attached to the benefit. We know that the principle of good cause exists in social security law to allow justice to be done in individual cases, where, for example, an applicant was misled by incorrect official advice and so delayed his or her claim. It is by no means a lenient area of case law. Ignorance does not count as good cause and the burden of proof is always on the claimant. Noble Lords are perhaps aware of the case that has been started in County Durham which is leading the department to look very hard indeed at this whole area of case law.

There is at the moment no backdating of either attendance or mobility allowance on the grounds of good cause. Obviously the Government are carrying this over into DLA. The provision for backdating is common to most benefits. It was mentioned by my noble friend Lady Hollis in Committee. Applicants for unemployment benefit, invalidity benefit, disablement benefit, reduced earnings allowance, community charge benefit, sickness benefit, income support, housing benefit, family credit and the social fund all have the right to backdate claims. The Minister may well respond that in some of these cases it is allowable because of the nature of the benefit and because there is a clear point at which one becomes unemployed or requires income support or family credit. This is not the case with sickness benefit, invalidity benefit or disablement benefit, all of which can have a variable and arguable date of commencement. I hope therefore that the Minister will not use that argument.

We feel that it is inconsistent to penalise people with the restrictions imposed on them by the very disability that entitled them to the benefit in the first place. The Minister said in Committee:

"The questions of whether a person has care or mobility needs, at what level, when the needs first arose and whether they have become more serious require more sophisticated judgments. To attempt to make such retrospective judgments the adjudication officer would need much more evidence than we plan to collect under the new self-assessment procedures".—[Official Report, 7/3/91; col. 1587.]

I have already made the point that, in the case of the three benefits where there is already backdating and where there is an indeterminate starting point, this has to be argued and proved. We accept that providing retrospective proof to meet the mobility and care criteria will not be easy. But the same is true of other disability benefits where backdating is allowed. There is no reason why DLA should present any greater problems. The proof of eligibility for a benefit will always depend on the claimant with respect to all benefits. There is no reason why the self-assessment procedure should present any greater problem in deciding such claims. If the proof of prior eligibility cannot be provided, the backdating rule can simply be refused, as applies to all the other benefits.

The case is a good one. Disabled people will be under a disadvantage if the Government do not accept the thrust of the argument. We are quite prepared to redraft the amendment for Third Reading if the Minister accepts the argument behind it but feels that the wording is not quite right. I hope that he will be able to give us a better answer than he was able to give us in Committee. I beg to move.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I believe I can safely suppose that the House and the noble Lord will generally welcome the new adjudication and assessment arrangements which we propose to introduce for DLA and AA. The noble Lord will know that there are government amendments to follow which deal with that issue. He will also know that our aims as regards adjudication and assessment are very clear: fewer medical examinations, more reliance on self-assessment, speedier clearance of claims and reviews. If one phrase is needed to summarise our approach as regards the service to our customers, if I may so call them, then it must be the one already coined in another place. I refer to that rather awful expression, "less hassle".

I am afraid that the amendments proposed would not comply with those objectives. To introduce a provision for backdating would endanger all that we are aiming to achieve. That is as true whether there is a specific time limit or an open-ended and extremely generous "good cause" provision allowing unlimited backdating, possibly for many years. I believe that the noble Lord referred to the cases in Durham which relate to claims for additional requirements under the old supplementary benefit, and its predecessors, going back to 1948. Those cases clearly show how necessary it was to change to the much simpler provisions of income support with the disability premium which goes automatically to anyone receiving attendance allowance, mobility allowance or DLA.

The noble Lord pointed out, as the noble Baroness argued in Committee, that many other benefits have self-assessment but that they also have backdating provisions. I accept that fact. However, other benefits do not require the levels of judgment which are needed to determine entitlement to DLA. Take, for example, invalidity benefit, to which the noble Lord referred. That benefit is payable where a person is incapable of work. Incapacity is determined by a doctor who provides a medical certificate. If the claimant can provide such a certificate from a doctor, the adjudicating officer can consider backdating the period of the award.

However, doctors simply cannot play anything like such a central role in DLA assessment. I believe that that factor is generally accepted. I think that we are all agreed that doctors are not always best-placed to judge the effects that a person's disability may have upon his life, which is what is needed for DLA. I am sure that the only way in which we could devise a system which would be susceptible to decisions about backdating would be if we were to link entitlement to diagnosis. Yet we are constantly being exhorted, quite rightly, not to focus on the diagnosis but on the effect of the person's condition. That is where self-assessment comes in. But self-assessment would become extremely difficult if we had not only to establish the current situation of a disabled person, but also precisely how long he had satisfied the conditions of entitlement, bearing in mind that where a progressive disorder is concerned the person may have satisfied different qualifying conditions for different periods. That means much more lengthy claim forms. I believe that the noble Lord commented on the length of some claim forms. It will also mean more exchanges of correspondence and, in practically every case, medical examinations.

Yet again I must emphasise that we believe that prevention is the best cure. That means that we must ensure that the new benefits are well publicised so that people can claim them on time. I believe that our record on the threefold increase in attendance allowance recipients and the sixfold increase in mobility allowance for recipients over the past 11 to 12 years is something of which we can be proud. It shows that we are concerned to reach as many people as possible. In the circumstances, I cannot support the amendment.

I share with the noble Lord a desire to improve the administrative arrangements for disability benefits. Nevertheless, these amendments would seriously endanger our chances of making those improvements. I trust that, when we debate other aspects of administrative arrangements later today, I shall be able to be more helpful. In the meantime, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Carter

My Lords, I should first apologise to the House that when I moved Amendment No. 20 I should have stressed the fact that I was speaking also to Amendment No. 23.

I cannot help wondering whether the Government's attitude on this occasion is affected by the Durham case. That will have considerable repercussions. I can understand their concern as regards the principle of backdating and its likely outcome. Nevertheless, I take the point made by the Minister.

If the debate has done nothing else, it has at least emphasised the fact that the publicity for the new allowances must be effective. We should not, therefore, have the same problem which arose with other benefits; namely, a very slow take-up rate, after which the Government publicised the allowances in order to increase the take-up. I shall be pressing very hard to ensure that the Government publicise the new allowances so that the problem of backdating does not arise. It is obvious that the Government are not prepared to accept our arguments. I do not, however, intend to divide the House on the issue. In the circumstances I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 21:

Page 7, line 24, at end insert ("or treated as made").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I speak also to Amendments Nos. 22 and 32. In Committee I confirmed that the Government had willingly decided to adopt the very sensible suggestion made by the Disability Alliance for dealing with claims for DLA.

The amendments to Clause I provide the power to treat claims for DLA as having been made from the date the department receives a simple tear-off slip. I believe that I mentioned that fact in Committee. Disabled people will send in the tear-off slip and then take the time they need to complete their self-assessment statement and to marshal evidence about the effect that their disability has on their lives. Amendment No. 32 is a consequential amendment to Schedule 2. It will allow the same system to be introduced for attendance allowance. These are entirely beneficial amendments. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 22:

Page 7, line 30, after ("made") insert ("or treated as made").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 23 and 24 not moved.]

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

Baroness Turner of Camden moved Amendment No. 25:

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 Baroness said: My Lords, the purpose of the amendment is to ensure that claimants will be provided with the necessary information. As I am sure everyone appreciates, the current system of social security benefits is extremely complicated. For example, I find great difficulty in unravelling all the provisions and have to make frequent reference to the appropriate manuals to find out the true meaning.

The system has become complicated for many reasons. That has emerged in a piecemeal fashion over the years, stemming from the original Beveridge blueprint. Successive governments have added to it and, indeed, have sometimes taken away parts of it. Moreover, there has been a new Social Security Act for at least each of the past four years. Many of those Acts provide for benefits to be amended or altered by way of regulation, rather than in primary legislation. Further, some benefits are paid only as a result of means testing. As we know, this Government have specifically espoused targeting, which of course is means testing, as a way, as they see it, of putting resources in the direction of those whom they believe to be the most needy.

We heard in Committee about the types of form which now have to he completed; indeed, great reference was made on that occasion to the notorious AG1 form. We were told that it often takes a skilled professional over half an hour to complete it. Moreover, the names of the benefits are confusing. For example, even the DLA is confusing as it bears no relationship to the cost of living of a disabled person—though a disabled person may think from the title that it does. In particular, older people have doubts about the benefit system, especially where means testing is involved. That is one of the reasons for the much lower take-up of means-tested benefits.

For all those reasons there are grounds for doing something to remedy the situation and the introduction of benefits said to be new seems to us an appropriate occasion. At present, the department has no responsibility to provide information on social security benefits. Indeed, when a person discovers that he should have been receiving a benefit for a past period, he may be denied that backdating if the only reason for it is that he did not know about his entitlement.

Welfare rights organisations have taken on the task of informing claimants, as have CABs of course, but they are squeezed for funds. Furthermore, many disabled people may not have the funds or means of transport to travel to such centres if they are some way from where they live. It is our view that the department should be responsible for ensuring that prospective claimants are aware of their entitlements.

The amendment makes the point that an adviser of the type envisaged should have special training in the circumstances and needs of disabled people and of course in conditions for entitlement. Adequate resourcing of the service should be provided by the department and monitored by the Secretary of State. We believe that that provision is reasonable and sensible and a way of ensuring that disabled people are not merely aware of their rights but are given help with their enforcement. I beg to move.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, I support the amendment, especially that part of it which deals with the need for people to have proper training to do this type of work. It is all too often assumed—we see this in the way that the services are administered—that it is easy for a person who has just read through the regulations to give the advice necessary. It is a skilled job if the advice is not just to be given but is to be heard and understood by the person to whom it is given. That will not happen unless a real effort is made to give proper training to the people who are to do the job. We often forget how important is the role of the people who have face-to-face contact with the claimants. Often the people with the better qualifications are far removed from the people who have to apply for benefit. It is the people who have face-to-face contact who need to be of good quality and well trained.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, I too support the amendment. We must remember that many disabled people, especially those who have been severely disabled from birth, do not have the same level of education as others. I always believed naively that they did. The organisation for which I work, which looks after disabled people and trains them for independence, finds it surprising that some of them need to be taught to read and write before it can go on with the rest of their training. We must also remember that coupled with physical disabilities there is often a degree of mental disability. At the same time, their relatives may not he well educated and may not understand the forms that have to be filled in. They can often be frightened of the forms and of officialdom.

It is right, as the noble Baroness proposes in the amendment, that the advisers should be specially trained not just in the nitty-gritty and the details of the law and regulations, but in the needs and problems of disabled people and how to explain to disabled claimants the best way of tackling the problem.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I hope that what I have to say will make clear our commitment to making the best possible use of ways of collecting evidence and advising disabled people. I do not rule out the possibility of visiting officers being used in relation to DLA and AA. I am aware that as a result of the debate in another place the benefits agency which will shortly come into operation is considering with the office of the Chief Adjudication Officer what instructions and/or guidance on the subject can be provided.

There is no need to legislate for the use of visiting officers along the lines of the amendment, which appears prescriptive. Let me reassure the noble Baroness and the House that we do not see the administrative arrangements that we are proposing to introduce from 1992 as the final word on the matter. It is our intention closely to monitor the operation of the new system for assessing disability benefits. We shall not stand still if we find there is a need to make further changes. It is too premature to make precise judgments now about whether and to what extent we might need to turn to visiting officers as set out in the amendment.

I appreciate that the sentiments behind the amendment go further than the process after a person has claimed. There is the claiming process itself and the advice which may be needed about possible entitlements. Here we feel that we have an excellent track record not just in terms of the general take-up of benefits—which in itself must say something about the effectiveness of our advice and publicity work—but in the introduction of innovative methods such as the Benefit Enquiry Line (BEL). That freeline system, specifically for people with disabilities, provides advice on social security benefits and related matters. In addition, and this is perhaps the most important and innovative feature, the BEL operators can take claim details over the telephone and then send a completed claim form to the claimant for him to check the details, sign and return.

The BEL has operated successfully in a pilot scheme in the South of England and we hope that a nationwide service will be available by the summer. While there is much preparatory work to do before we know exactly how far BEL operators can go in taking claim and self-assessment details for DLA and AA, the potential is clearly enormous.

But the BEL itself is just part of the story. The creation of the benefits agency, with customer care as one of its core values, provides the impetus for further developments to meet the needs of all claimants. Annual national customer surveys will give the agency important feedback on whether improvements are needed to administration. Clearly at the heart of all this is the claim form itself. It is crucial that we get the design of this form right. To that end we are presently testing drafts on disabled people and their carers. Initial reactions have been extremely encouraging and I hope before too long that we shall be in a position to consult more widely among disability organisations.

I hope that I have responded helpfully to the noble Baroness and that she will not feel the need to press the amendment.

5.45 p.m.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his explanation of what is being done. I am glad to note that some innovative steps are being taken, especially with regard to the telephone service. It must be appreciated that if one is dealing with elderly disabled people it is important to have personal visits and contact. Many older people feel inhibited about dealing with matters over the telephone.

I hope that the whole system will, as the Minister explained, continue to be monitored, because it is important to understand that in some instances we are dealing with people who are somewhat loath to explain precisely their circumstances unless they have a sympathetic and trained listener. The idea of the visiting officer is that such a person would be trained and would be able to visit people and assist them.

I am glad to note that the intention is to consult the organisations catering for the disabled. The amendment is one which we tabled as a result of discussions with them. They feel, as we do, that it is important to have a sympathetic approach. However it is not my intention to divide the House. We shall note carefully what the Minister has said, as will the organisations looking after the disabled. I note that there is an intention to consult them over monitoring and ensuring that the service operates compassionately, reasonably and sensibly. I do not believe that we can be proud of the take-up of targeted or means-tested benefits. It is in that area that we have some anxiety. However, as I said, it is not my intention to divide the House. With those few remarks, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 26:

Page 20, line 1, at end insert ("or

  1. (e) the decision was to make an award for a period wholly or partly after the date on which the claim was made or treated as made but subject to a condition being fulfilled and that condition has not been fulfilled,").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 26 I wish also to speak to Amendments Nos. 27 and 54. These amendments draw directly into the new adjudication arrangements for DLA and AA the existing powers of review relating to cases where benefit is awarded before the claimant has satisfied all the conditions of entitlement, such as the qualifying period. They are purely consequential amendments. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 27:

Page 24, line 23, at end insert ("or

  1. (e) the decision was to make an award for a period wholly or partly after the date on which the claim was made or treated as made but subject to a condition being fulfilled and that condition has not been fulfilled,").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 28:

Page 25, line 21, leave out first ("section") and insert ("sections").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 28 I wish also to speak to Amendments Nos. 29 and 50. The House will be aware that the Bill contains provisions for important new adjudication arrangements for disability living allowance, attendance allowance and disability working allowance. Among the most widely applauded are the provisions for an independent right of appeal to a new form of tribunal—a disability appeal tribunal.

However, some concern has been voiced about the role of the medical practitioner on the DAT. Much of this concern stems from the medical examinations and walking tests which are currently conducted by medical appeal tribunals. There is a perception that too much depends on how the disabled performs on the day. There is also anecdotal evidence to suggest that some people find the experience very distressing.

In Committee I said that I would look at whether I could bring forward amendments which would prevent routine medical examinations and walking tests at DAT hearings while at the same time preventing any inconvenience to the claimant through unnecessary adjournments and administrative delays if further evidence were required by the tribunal. I am glad, therefore, to be able to commend these amendments. They provide that, except in prescribed circumstances, physical examinations will not be conducted by tribunal members and that the tribunal will not be able to subject claimants to physical tests to demonstrate that they are unable or virtually unable to walk. Instead the new Section 115D(1) will allow a chairman of a DAT to identify the cases which are most likely to require an examination and refer them for a report.

I would like to reassure the House about the words "except in prescribed circumstances" in new Section 115D(2). We do not intend to make regulations which reintroduce widespread examinations at hearings. But we do consider it sensible to retain some flexibility to cater for the possibility, which may emerge through our monitoring of the new system, that in particular categories of cases it might be in the claimant's best interests for an examination to be conducted.

I believe that these amendments demonstrate yet again the Government's willingness to listen and respond to representations made for genuine improvements in the administration of benefits for disabled people. I beg to move.

Lord Carter

My Lords, perhaps I did not understand the Minister correctly. Was there any significance in the fact that he gave the example of prescribed conditions under subsection (2) but not of prescribed conditions under subsection (1)? Are they the same, or can the Minister give an example of the prescribed conditions under subsection (1)? If he does not have the answer but will write to me, that is acceptable.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I do not know whether or not my noble friend has the answer. I wish very much to congratulate him on coming up with at least an amelioration, at best a cure for the problem of medical examinations for people who are virtually or totally unable to walk. There have been complaints about it for many a long year. I am pleased that the Government have taken the opportunity to deal with it as best they may. I hope that my noble friend will continue to listen to the views of the organisations for the disabled and will keep the matter under review. I have a nasty, sneaking suspicion every now and again that the Government have not yet heard the end of the matter.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)

My Lords, I welcome the amendments most warmly. I was grateful to the Minister for meeting myself and some members of disabled organisations at Richmond House to discuss the amendments on DATs. I confirm that facilities there are accessible. I am particularly grateful to him for allowing me to see the amendments since my post did not arrive on Saturday. That was enormously helpful.

The amendments are welcome. They avoid too much reliance on snap-shot examinations. The Minister said in Committee that, the emphasis must be put on the evidence supplied by the claimant and those best placed to know the continuing effect that his condition has upon his life".—[Official Report, 7/3/91; col. 1595.] The amendments represent a down-to-earth, practical approach which is most welcome.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I am most grateful to know that the noble Baroness welcomes the amendments. It was delightful to see her at Richmond House last week. I apologise for the post having failed to reach her; I am not sure that it is for me to do so, but it seems to have been my lot on various occasions with social security Bills to have to apologise for amendments failing to reach noble Lords.

Perhaps I may deal briefly with the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Carter. We need to ensure that appeals are not delayed unnecessarily because of these new provisions. The proposed new Section 115D(1) would enable a chairman of a DAT to call for an examiner's report in circumstances where one would clearly be helpful. Such situations are likely to include cases where there is a conflict of medical opinion or where the claimant disputes a medical report, or, indeed, where the claimant specifically requests that an examination be arranged before the hearing.

The important point is that in these cases the tribunal members will not conduct the examination. Instead, they will look objectively at the report of a medical examiner, together with all the other evidence. In addition, I stress that there is no intention that these examinations will in any way be routine. With that assurance, I commend the amendment to the House.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 29:

Page 26, line 23, at end insert:

("Medical examination etc. in relation to appeals to disability appeal tribunals.

115D.—(1) Where an appeal has been brought under section 100D(1) (a) above, a person who may be nominated as chairman of a disability appeal tribunal may, if prescribed conditions are satisfied, refer the claimant to a medical practitioner for such examination and report as appears to him to be necessary for the purpose of providing a disability appeal tribunal with information for use in determining the appeal.

(2) At a hearing before a disability appeal tribunal, except in prescribed circumstances, the tribunal—

  1. (a) may not carry out a physical examination of the claimant; and
  2. (b) may not require the claimant to undergo any physical test for the purpose of determining whether he satisfies the condition mentioned in section 37ZC(l) (a) above.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth) moved Amendment No. 30:

Page 27, line 31, after ("shall") insert ("ensure that at least one of the members of the tribunal has an understanding of the needs of disabled persons and shall").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, ever optimistic. I hope that the Minister will feel that Amendment No. 30 also has a practical approach, similar to that in his amendment which has just been accepted. I was not holding him responsible for the post; the documents came from the Printed Paper Office. However, I was most grateful to him for giving me the amendment at Richmond House.

In Committee I moved and spoke to a group of amendments designed to ensure that members of the tribunal were experienced in dealing with the needs of disabled people. The Minister said that as drafted the amendments were too prescriptive. I feel that his amendment is helpful as regards medical decisions. I welcome his statement in Committee at col. 1594 of Hansard of 7th March 1991 regarding the important role that physios and occupational therapists will have to play on DATs. That is all reassuring and I accept that the schedule refers three times to membership of disabled people.

I am not totally convinced that it is not practicable to ensure that one member of the tribunal has a disability, but I am prepared to let that matter pass. However, we must sort out one other point. It is still possible as the Bill stands to have a chairman who knows nothing about disability, a medical practitioner who knows nothing of the day-to-day effects of a disability, and a member from the lay panel who has no experience of dealing with the needs of disabled people. This amendment would ensure that at least one member of the tribunal has an understanding of the needs of disabled people. That must be a minimum requirement. As the Bill is drafted, in most cases the tribunal should end up with two people with such an understanding, one of them being disabled. It is important to have this safety net to safeguard the minimum. I beg to move.

Lord Carter

My Lords, I was pleased to add my name to the amendment. I hope that the Minister will be able to accept it. As the noble Baroness said in moving it, the aim is simple: it is to guarantee that at least one member of the new tribunal body is familiar with the needs, the lives and the issues of people with disabilities. Some experience and understanding of the practical problems of disability involve such questions as whether a person requires help with dressing three times a day, whether they fall about in the home and whether they are in danger when crossing the road. Some may also have behavioural difficulties. Many problems could be dramatically resolved by appointing people with personal experience of disability.

People with disabilities will at the very least understand the practical difficulties resulting from care needs or mobility limitations. That is not to say that one would expect across the board that those who have a disability would automatically understand the situation of a person with a different disability. However, there is a greater chance such people will understand the consequences of the disabling condition and its effects on the functional activities of daily living, simply through their own personal experience. It is that element of insight and willingness to understand which has to some extent been missing from the adjudication of attendance allowance and mobility allowance. However, we have welcomed all the Government's moves on self-assessment in this regard. We feel that the appointment of people with disabilities should be guaranteed rather than be considered either as a luxury or as a requirement to be easily circumvented by an explanation that it is not practicable. I hope the Minister will feel able to accept the amendment.

6 p.m.

Baroness Seear

My Lords I too wish to support this amendment strongly. There is a lurking feeling in many quarters that this is all a matter of common sense and that the people on the tribunal will have the common sense to apply this measure. Leaving on one side the fact that common sense is an extremely uncommon attribute - that is well known—it is easy for people with normal intelligence and good will, and even those with medical experience, not to appreciate many of the detailed complications of living which are not directly medical factors but are a consequence of a medical situation. It is easy for those factors not to be taken adequately into account.

The noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), is not now insisting that one of the people on the tribunal should be a disabled person, but only that the person should have, an understanding of the needs of disabled persons. That surely is not too much to ask. One cannot rely on the certainty that any three sensible people put together will have the insight that is needed to make proper decisions.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, most of what needs to be said as regards this provision has already been said. I added my name to a similar amendment in Committee. I had intended to add my name to this amendment but, through idleness I suspect, I never got round to doing so. I merely wish noble Lords to note that I support the amendment.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, I cannot see how the Minister can refuse to accept the amendment. Information on each disability could be given to the people on the tribunal. Those people must be responsible people if they have been selected to serve on the tribunal. This provision is easy to administer. I cannot see how the Minister can refuse to accept it.

Lord Clifford of Chudleigh

My Lords, the points that were originally made are correct. It is impossible for a person who, like myself, has a visual disability to discuss the needs of people in wheelchairs. However, the people on the tribunal must understand the difficulties of disability. Therefore I feel that a person who is trained to help disabled people must be represented on the tribunal and, if possible, someone who is disabled should also be represented on the tribunal. I thoroughly support the amendment.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

My Lords, on an earlier amendment the Minister said he had some good things in store for us. I had earmarked this amendment as one such provision. I still have hopes in that regard. I have not added my name to this amendment, but it appears to be such a widely drawn provision that it does not attract the objections which the Minister adduced in Committee. For that reason I wish to support the amendment.

Lord Henley

My Lords, how on earth can I resist the amendment after those contributions? Nevertheless I shall resist it. However, I hope that I shall do so in such a manner that the noble Baroness will not feel it necessary to press the amendment.

As I explained to the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), when she came to see me last week, I have very considerable sympathy with the sentiments behind the amendment which is designed to ensure that appeals from disabled people are dealt with in an informed and understanding manner. That was clearly our objective also in providing in the Bill that one member of the DAT must be drawn from a panel which is as far as is practicable made up of people who have experience of dealing with the needs of disabled people either in a voluntary or professional capacity or as a disabled person.

As I understand it, the amendment seeks to ensure that every DAT has at least one member who has an understanding of the needs of disabled people. But I am not convinced that the amendment, as it stands, does much to achieve this wholly desirable outcome. First, I must remind your Lordships that every tribunal will include a doctor, who by definition will be knowledgeable about the medical side of the needs of disabled people.

Secondly, each tribunal will have a member drawn from a panel of people who will be expressly chosen, so far as practicable, for their knowledge of the non-medical side of the needs of disabled people. I am extremely sympathetic with the sentiments behind this amendment. I recognise the concern that some tribunals might not have a member, other than the doctor, with experience of dealing with the needs of disabled people. That is something which concerns me also.

I cannot support the amendment as it stands. However, I hope to persuade the noble Baroness not to press her amendment as I am willing to consider the matter further between now and Third Reading, which will occur some time after Easter, with a view to tabling a government amendment which will, I hope, allay concerns in this regard. Given that commitment, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment. Many other noble Lords expressed the wish to add their support to the amendment and add their names to it. However, an amendment can be tabled only in a maximum of four names. I repeat that I am only resisting the amendment because the Government are aware of the concerns that have been expressed and we shall try to allay those concerns by tabling a provision at a later stage.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)

My Lords, I wish to thank all those who have supported the amendment. There has been overwhelming support for it and I am glad that the Minister was overwhelmed by the support also. I appreciate what the Minister said about doctors on the medical panel and the fact that they would be expected to have medical knowledge of disability, but the stumbling block may arise with the lay panel. However, on the understanding that the Minister has given a commitment to bring forward a provision on Third Reading which would achieve the desired effect, I am prepared to withdraw my amendment. I believe the Third Reading will take place on the first day after the Recess. I hope the Minister will discuss the matter with me before then just in case the post from the Printed Paper Office fails again.

Lord Henley

My Lords, with the leave of the House, my understanding is that the post is somewhat more reliable over Easter than it is over Christmas. I am sure the noble Baroness will have no difficulty in getting in touch with me. I believe there is a total of three weeks between now and Third Reading. That includes this week and the two weeks of the Easter Recess. I am sure we can come to some arrangement between now and then.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)

My Lords, I take it that is an offer to get in touch with the Minister. In this case I find his resistance irresistible. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Henleymoved Amendment No. 31:

Page 27, line 42, leave out (":37ZE(3)") and insert ("37ZB(5) or 37ZC(8)").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is merely a technical amendment to correct an inaccurate cross-reference. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

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

Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 32:

Page 28, line 37, at end insert: ("( ) The words "or is treated as making" shall be inserted after the word "makes" in subsections (4) and (4A).").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have already spoken to this amendment with Amendment No. 21. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Seear moved Amendment No. 33:

Page 28, line 38, at beginning insert: ("(1) 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". (2)").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I understand from the groupings list that in moving this amendment I should speak also to Amendment No. 33A. However, there does not appear to be an Amendment No. 33A on the Marshalled List.

Lord Carter

My Lords, it may help the noble Baroness if I point out that the next amendment on the Marshalled List is Amendment No. 33A.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. I understand that Amendment No. 33A is the next amendment on the Marshalled List although it is not numbered.

Lord Henley

My Lords, the next amendment should be numbered Amendment No. 33A.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, that is what I have said. Up until now we have been talking, quite properly, about the issues of the disabled person. However, the whole issue of disabled living is not confined to the disabled person. As your Lordships are aware, there are no fewer than 6 million informal carers in this country looking after people with varying degrees of disability. With the increased emphasis on community care and with the in many ways welcome reduction in the number of people in institutions, there can be no doubt that the burden on informal carers, such as members of the Family, close friends and others, will certainly not diminish and will probably increase. The amendments concern the position of the people who do the caring. They are an essential part of the whole issue of disabled living.

There is and has been for some considerable time an invalid care allowance which is paid to the person who does the caring. It is the one resource of that person. Caring for the disabled can be an extremely lonely job and one which leaves the carer poverty stricken. Many carers at first try to continue working and then they cut down from working full-time work to working part time. At the end of the day, or sometimes long before the end of the day, they have to give up work altogether.

When people have to give so much of their time to the job of caring they are immensely dependent on the invalid care allowance, small though it is, for money of their own; otherwise they have to rely on what the person for whom they are caring is prepared to give them. Although many of the people who need care are sweet, kind and gentle old things, some are not. Some carers have an extremely rough ride, not to put too fine a point on it, in looking after people. The one power that remains to the person who is disabled or very frail and housebound is power over the person who is caring for him or her and in the same house. There is a temptation for that power to be exploited, and not infrequently it is exploited to a serious degree.

In the two amendments I plead that no restrictions should be placed on payment of the invalid care allowance such as those in the Bill. The first restriction, referred to in Amendment No. 33, applies where the person being cared for has a lower level of need and receives the lower level of the allowance. It is not the extent of the disability of the person being cared for that affects the carer but the amount of the carer's time that is taken up. In asking that the invalid care allowance should be made available to people in the lower category I remind your Lordships that that will apply only if the carer is providing care for more than 35 hours a week and is earning less than the agreed limit.

The 35 hours a week is the important point, not the degree of disability of the person being tended. If it requires 35 hours a week, that represents an enormous chunk out of the daily life of the person doing the caring. That is why carers need the financial resources just as much as if they spend the same amount of time looking after someone who is more seriously disabled. The second amendment concerns the curious requirement in the Bill that one can only receive invalid care allowance if one spends 35 hours a week looking after one person. Increasingly there are couples—elderly parents—who have to be looked after. Neither of them may individually need 35 hours of care, but together they require a great deal more than 35 hours of care. As the Bill now stands, because neither of them needs 35 hours of care the unfortunate carer, who still has to do the work which will take her—it is usually a woman but it may be a man, and perhaps more often than your Lordships realize—far more than 35 hours, will receive no invalid care allowance.

I repeat that it is the amount of time that the carer has to give and the inevitable loss of earnings which should qualify the carer for invalid care allowance and not the condition of the person being cared for or the number of people being cared for. I beg to move.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Carter

My Lords, I was pleased to add my name to the amendment. When we discussed the matter in Committee we did not receive a satisfactory answer from the Minister and I am delighted that the noble Baroness has returned to the point.

I should like to put the matter in context. In 1985 a general household survey estimated that there are about 6 million carers of whom 1.4 million provide care for a disabled person for at least 20 hours a week. However, only 130,000 people receive invalid care allowance.

Amendment No. 33 would allow a carer to qualify for invalid care allowance if the carer is caring for more than one seriously disabled person in receipt of the higher or middle rate care component for a total of 35 hours a week even if, as the noble Baroness said, the carer is not caring for one person for 35 hours. As a result of the strict rules which are being applied only 130,000 carers receive invalid care allowance. That means that 98 per cent. of carers do not receive it.

We believe that the Government should accept the amendment in respect of the carer providing care to more than one person on the lower £10 rate of DLA where the care provided to each is less than 35 hours a week. If a carer is caring for two people who each require 35 hours of care the carer will still receive only one payment of ICA as the Bill is presently drafted. Under those proposals a carer looking after a disabled person who receives the disability living allowance will be denied ICA regardless of the number of hours spent providing care each week if the person being cared for receives only the lowest rate of DLA—the £10 rate. It ignores the fact that the person on the £10 rate of DLA could easily require 35 hours of care a week. It denies the benefit to carers who are out of work because of their full-time caring commitment.

People on the lowest £10 rate will not be treated as being severely disabled for the purposes of invalid care allowance, regardless of their circumstances, the amount of care they need and receive and the criteria for the £10 rate. We feel that that is inconsistent. Under Section 37ZB(1) the £10 rate of DLA is payable only to people who are severely disabled, physically or mentally. In order to receive the £10 lowest rate of the care component a person must be severely disabled, but once the carer attempts to claim ICA in respect of that person he or she no longer counts as being severely disabled. That is a contradiction which confounds both logic and legal interpretation. We should be grateful if the Minister would explain the inconsistency.

At present only 2 per cent. of the country's 6 million carers receive ICA. If that proportion persists after 1992, which is likely in the absence of other major changes, it seems that 1,450 carers who are caring for someone receiving the £10 care component will receive ICA. That would represent a minor increase both in the number of ICA recipients and in the costs. It is estimated that overall the cost would be £2 million per annum compared with total expenditure on ICA of £300 million.

If a carer spends 36 hours a week caring for a person who receives the lowest care component of DLA why should that in itself debar the carer from receiving the invalid care allowance? The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that the substantial care requirement of the severely disabled person who receives the lowest rate of DLA helps the carer to qualify for ICA if 35 hours or more of care are provided a week. We feel that carers who otherwise satisfy all the rules of entitlement to ICA, including the rule that they must provide substantial care—35 hours a week—to a severely disabled person should not be unfairly denied their benefit entitlement.

Finally, I refer to a number of remarks which the Minister made at Committee when we discussed a similar amendment. He said on 7th March, at col. 1601 of Hansard: This amendment would bring people for whom caring is a more informal occupation into entitlement I do not know know what type of care of disabled people is a "more informal occupation". He seemed to devalue the work of those who care for people on the lowest rate. He said: Generally speaking, caring for people receiving the lowest rate, for however many hours a week, will be a much less onerous task than looking after a very severely disabled person". I refer the Minister to the fact that the requirements for receipt of the lowest rate of the care component relate to a severely disabled person. He continued: It is likely to involve lighter tasks, such as helping a person in or out of bed". I do not whether the noble Lord regards that as a light task. Helping with bathing is not a light task. One is also talking about helping with a course of medicine and the abstract test of preparing a meal.

In regard to the question of a carer receiving invalid care allowance if he or she is caring for more than two people, I will not repeat all that the noble Lord said in Committee, but he undertook to look at the problem. I think the Government recognise that the present situation makes no sense. He recognised there was a genuine point and undertook to see if anything could be done to resolve the difficulty. I hope that at least on that amendment the Minister will have some good news for us.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)

My Lords, I would like to support the amendments warmly but very briefly. The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, has put the case so compellingly and clearly that there is nothing I can add to it. Speaking from the other side of the fence, as it were, though I am lucky enough at present not to need a carer, I should like to say how important these amendments are.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I am not sure I can take the House much further than we got in Committee. There are two questions here. 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. The second question is why invalid care allowance should not be payable where the severely disabled person is on the lower rate of DLA care. 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 Widdecombe, said in another place that we would look at it again. I repeated that commitment in Committee and I do so again this evening. However, I do not think I can take the matter any further.

The point I should like to emphasise is that the 35-hour rule is closely bound up with the requirement for the person cared for to be getting attendance allowance. Anyone on attendance allowance will necessarily he in need of virtually full-time care, so his or her carer would have no difficulty in showing that he or she spent 35 hours a week in caring for that disabled person. That would not be true if we extended invalid care allowance to people caring for someone on the new lower rate of DLA care. That brings us to the second question: whether or not it should be extended where the severely disabled person is on the new lower rate. No one on the new lower rate of DLA care should need looking after for more than 35 hours a week. If the disabled person needed that amount of care he or she would most likely be getting the middle or higher rate, not the lower rate.

The noble Lord, Lord Carter, said that even people on the lower rate were severely disabled. But the point about the new lower rate of DLA that the noble Lord misses is that it is provided expressly for severely disabled people who have lesser care needs, perhaps only an hour a day. I refer to the examples which I gave in Committee. Thus, the essential point in answer to both questions raised by the amendments is that the lower rate of DLA care will not in a single case give rise to the level of care needs that warrants payment of invalid care allowance to the carer.

Lord Carter

My Lords, if I may ask a question for information, is the Minister saying that if anybody requires more than 35 hours a week of care he or she will automatically qualify for the two higher rates?

Lord Henley

My Lords, it would be wrong to say that the person would qualify automatically. If someone required that amount of care it is almost certain, or very likely, that he or she would be entitled to the middle or higher rate of the care component of DLA.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, I must challenge the Minister on what he has said. We are referring to a person, so severely disabled physically or mentally that … he requires in connection with his bodily functions attention from another person for a significant portion of the day (whether during a single period or a number of periods); or … he cannot prepare a cooked main meal for himself if he has the ingredients", etc. Surely, that can easily add up to 35 hours a week.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I do not accept what the noble Baroness is saying. At an earlier stage we discussed the abstract test for a meal, and so on. What I am saying is that if they were in need of more than 35 hours a week they would almost certainly be beyond the test that is imposed for the new lower rate and therefore would be entitled to the higher rate.

We accept that it may be possible for two or more people on the lower rate to require in aggregate 35 hours or more of care. That is precisely the point my honourable friend has agreed we will look into, and I repeat that assurance. But I have to say to the noble Baroness that we are no further on from the point we had reached at the previous stage.

It is always very difficult to deal with two issues of this kind when they are interconnected in this way. I hope I have provided an explanation of our views and that, given the commitment to look into the point about multiple carees, the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment on this occasion.

Lord Carter

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, to get the position absolutely clear, if a carer is caring for one disabled person who requires 35 hours of care or more per week, he or she will receive DLA. However, 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 ICA. Is that right?

Lord Henley

My Lord, I think the noble Lord should have listened to the noble Baroness, Lady Seear. That is the point of the amendment, and that is the problem. I accept that there is a problem, in that, where somebody is looking after two carees but in aggregate for less than the full 35 hours a week (I suspect it would not happen all that often), the position would not be covered. However, I and my honourable friend have given an assurance that it is something we shall look into. I have to tell the noble Baroness that we have not got any further than the point we had reached at Committee stage.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, since these amendments should be Amendments Nos. 33 and 33A, I should like them to be called separately. They are two separate amendments, although the numbering is not properly indicated. If that is acceptable, I shall move them separately.

I find it extraordinarily difficult to accept that if in your home there are two people in the lower category, both of whom in the definition given in Section 37ZB require, in connection with [their] bodily functions attention from another person for a signficant portion of the day", and they have to have that seven days a week, it will not take more than 35 hours. I cannot see how it can possibly add up to anything less. I would have thought that the argument that on the basis of two people the provision could be justified, even at the lower level, would be extraordinarily difficult to answer. However, as the noble Lord has said that the Government are still looking at Amendment No. 33, which relates to two persons, I shall beg leave to withdraw that amendment at this time. On the other hand, I would not wish to withdraw Amendment No. 33A, which relates to the lower rate, and on that I should like to test the opinion of the House.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Seear moved Amendment No. 33A:

Page 28, line 40, leave out ("at the highest or middle rate.").

6.30 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 33A) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 59; Not-Contents, 76.

Division No. 3
Airedale, L. McGregor of Durris, L.
Allenby of Megiddo, V. McNair, L.
Ardwick, L. Masham of Ilton, B.
Blease, L. Mason of Barnsley, L.
Bradford, Bp. Morris of Castle Morris, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Mulley, L.
Carter, L. Napier and Ettrick, L.
Clifford of Chudleigh, L. Nathan, L.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. Nicol, B.
Craigavon, V. Parry, L.
Cross, V. Richard, L.
Darcy (de Knayth), B. Russell, E.
David, B. Seear, B. [Teller.]
Dean of Beswick, L. [Teller.] Sefton of Garston, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Serota, B.
Galpern, L. Shepherd, L.
Gladwyn, L. Stedman, B.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Grey, E. Strabolgi, L.
Hampton, L. Swinfen, L.
Hanworth, V. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Taylor of Gryfe, L.
Henderson of Brompton, L. Thomson of Monifieth, L.
Houghton of Sowerby, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Hughes, L. Underhill, L.
Hutchinson of Lullington, L. Walston, L.
Jeger, B. White, B.
Jenkins of Putney, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Kilbracken, L. Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.
Lawrence, L.
Aldington, L. Carr of Hadley, L.
Arran, E. Cavendish of Furness, L.
Astor, V. Clanwilliam, E.
Bessborough, E. Coleraine, L.
Blatch, B. Colwyn, L.
Boardman, L. Craigavon, V.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Craigmyle, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Davidson, V. [Teller.]
Brigstocke, B. Denham, L. [Teller.]
Brougham and Vaux, L. Eccles of Moulton, B.
Caithness, E. Elliot of Harwood, B.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Elliott of Morpeth, L.
Campbell of Croy, L. Faithfull, B.
Carnock, L. Flather, B.
Fraser of Carmyllie, L. Norrie, L.
Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Orkney, E.
Gray of Contin, L. Orr-Ewing, L.
Greenway, L. Park of Monmouth, B.
Harmar-Nicholls, L. Pearson of Rannoch, L.
Harmsworth, L. Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Henley, L. Platt of Writtle, B.
Hesketh, L. Prior, L.
Hooper, B. Rankeillour, L.
Hylton-Foster, B. Reay, L.
Johnston of Rockport, L. Renton, L.
Kimball, L. Renwick, L.
Kinnoull, E. Skelmersdale, L.
Liverpool, E. Sudeley, L.
Long, V. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Lucas of Chilworth, L. Trumpington, B.
Margadale, L. Tryon, L.
Merrivale, L. Ullswater, V.
Milverton, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Montgomery of Alamein. V. Wade of Chorlton, L.
Mottistone, L. Wise, L.
Mountevans, L. Wyatt of Weeford, L.
Munster, E. Wynford, L.
Murton of Lindisfarne, L. Young, B.
Nelson, E.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

6.37 p.m.

[Amendment No. 34 not moved.]

Clause 5 [Regulations supplementary to ss. 1 to 4]:

Baroness Turner of Camden moved Amendment No. 35:

Page 10, line 12, at end insert: ("( ) Notwithstanding provisions made under subsection (2) above a review of entitlement of either the care or mobility component shall not result in a reduction of benefit or period of award unless there has been a relevant change of circumstances, or the original decision was made in error or ignorance as to a material fact.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, as it stands Clause 5 gives the Secretary of State almost unlimited powers for the transition of current attendance and mobility allowances to the DLA. However, the aim of this amendment is to make sure that no recipient will be worse off as a result of the changeover either by total withdrawal or by a reduction in the rate or period of entitlement unless there has been a change of circumstances or the original decision was made in error or ignorance as to a material fact.

We are anxious to ensure that shifting people on to what is, after all, a renaming of their existing benefit should not result in their being worse off than they would have been. The intention of the amendment is to limit reviews only to where there has been the change of circumstances to which I referred—for example, where a person's need for attention or supervision or walking limitations have substantially changed. In such circumstances the adjudication officer under the amendment is given powers to review the claimant's entitlement and perhaps change or remove the award.

Without an amendment of this kind the onus is placed on the claimant to appeal against the withdrawal and to prove entitlement. We should like this amendment to be accepted. It would show simply and clearly on the face of the Bill that claimants will be protected unless there has been a significant change in their care or mobility circumstances and that change warrants a change in the award. I beg to move.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, I support this amendment. Surely it gives an incentive to people to work. Perhaps the noble Baroness could tell me whether I am correct in saying that, if her amendment is accepted, it would not be necessary to move the later amendment to which I have added my name, Amendment No. 51.

Lord Henley

My Lords, perhaps I can help the noble Baroness. I believe that Amendment No. 51 is on a somewhat different subject from that of Amendment No. 35. I am afraid, therefore, that she will have to wait until we reach Amendment No. 51.

I understand the concerns that have led the noble Baroness to table this amendment. I am sorry that she feels it necessary to do so in the light of the explanation of our intentions that I gave in Committee. Let me re-state why I think the solution that we have adopted is much the better of the two principal alternatives on offer. Briefly, with a two-component benefit one could decide to treat entitlement to each of the separate components as entirely separate decisions. That is basically what this amendment would have us do. As an aside, I would be interested to know how this would work if there were some 10 different components, as was at times suggested in Committee.

The other approach is to align the award periods, so that the benefits of having a single claim, a single adjudication process and, at most, a single medical examination, are repeated when someone applies for a review or makes a renewal claim. That is the route we have gone down in this Bill, although—and I must stress this—the vast majority of claimants who have awards of both components in practice have a life award of one or the other, and so are completely unaffected by the alignment. Life awards are not shortened by this Bill. And our experience—sadly, I must say—of very many of the people who have fixed period awards of both existing benefits suggests that when they make renewal claims they will often at that stage be given life awards.

I appreciate that the noble Baroness approaches this from another angle and is saying that it will come as unwelcome news to the few people who are on different fixed period awards of both the existing benefits to find that one of these awards has been reduced in length. But I stand by the judgment that we took that it was better if we kept to a minimum the number of times the beneficiary was "put through the hoops" of applying for benefit. If we adopt the proposal in this amendment, we have the genuine fear that many of the advantages to claimants of the new assessment process will be compromised or at least severely diminished.

The noble Baroness's greater concern was that some claimants would find that when their entitlement does come up for an early review, they then had their benefit reduced despite having experienced no change of circumstances. I hope it offers some reassurance to the noble Baroness to say that that is certainly not what we would want to see. If the claimant's circumstances have not changed since the original decision was made, there is clearly no intention that they should end up receiving a lower rate of benefit. So I hope at least that our differences are narrowed down to the issue of whether to align award periods. I hope that what I have said persuades the noble Baroness that our judgment is the right one. I do not see this as primarily a matter of administrative convenience—indeed, the balance of advantage might be the other way—but rather as a matter of paying attention to the interests of the claimants. I hope that on the basis of these assurances the noble Baroness will be able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, I have listened with interest to the noble Minister. I welcome his assurance that he is not concerned with administrative convenience but with paying attention to the interests of the claimants themselves. We were concerned lest people would feel that their circumstances had not changed but that they were having their award changed. It was to cope with that situation that we put down the amendment in the first place. I welcome the Minister's assurance that there was no intention that if there had been no change in circumstance there would be any change in award.

The problem, as the disablement organisations see it, is that sometimes adjudicators do not always follow what is expected of them. If that happens then the claimant has no alternative—the onus is upon the claimant, as I said in my opening statement—but to appeal against the withdrawal and then to proceed to prove entitlement. It was to try to avoid that that we put down the amendment. However, I note that the Minister does not feel disposed to accept the amendment for the reasons he has given. In the circumstances it is not my intention to press the amendment. We are all going to have to see how this works out in practice. With those comments, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 6 [Introduction of disability working allowance]:

Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 36:

Page 11, leave out lines 13 to 16 and insert: ("(iv) income support, housing benefit or community charge benefit;").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 36 I should also like to speak to Amendments Nos. 40 and 41. These are drafting changes to clarify the circumstances in which someone with the income-related benefit, including the disability premium, satisfies the qualifying benefit test. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

6.45 p.m.

Baroness Turner of Camden moved Amendment No. 37:

Page 11, line 39, at end insert: ("(d) when a claim for disability working allowance is made or is treated as made, he has a disability which puts him at a disadvantage in getting or retaining a job.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I moved a rather similar amendment in Committee. I said then that the idea was to make provision for entitlement to DWA alone rather than through passporting benefits. It is hardly surprising that, given the rules in relation to entitlement, relatively few people are likely to qualify for DWA.

As I said in Committee, if the Bill remained unamended the result would be that some disabled people would qualify for benefit, the DWA, whereas others, perhaps equally disabled, would not. This is divisive and unfortunate. There are a number of people who would not qualify: those on unemployment benefit or other benefits which are not listed in the Bill as qualifying benefits; those who perhaps have been given incorrect advice, as happens; those who initially fail to qualify for DWA on income grounds but whose earnings have dropped; and those already in work who acquire disability, and so on. I made reference to these when the issue was discussed in Committee. The amendment moved in Committee aimed to allow such people to have a functional test so that they could qualify on grounds of disability alone. That was voted upon and rejected by the Committee; so I cannot proceed with exactly the same amendment. The wording therefore is slightly different.

The Minister claimed that if the amendment then before the Committee was successful it would cost about £200 million. That is a lot of money. But unless something is done the anomalous position will arise of people with the same disabilities being treated differently. In some cases the result will be quite harsh and quite unacceptable.

Take the case, for example, of a man in a well-paid job who becomes ill with cerebral palsy. He has to give up his job. Not realising that he would be eligible for invalidity benefit he claims unemployment benefit for a year, after which he receives income support but no disability premium. He eventually finds a lower paid job and is advised to claim DWA, but because he has not had the passporting benefits of the DWA he does not qualify.

We have thought about the whole matter again since Committee. We still feel this to be unsatisfactory. Therefore, we have come back with slightly different wording because it is our belief on this side of the House that the whole matter requires reconsideration. Incidentally, if there are functional tests for people without passporting benefits, I cannot see that the cost is likely to be as much as the £200 million indicated by the Minister. I beg to move.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)

My Lords, I should like to support the amendment. I had intended to add my name to the amendment, but somehow it has not got there. Once again the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, has argued the case most compellingly and cogently. I am still concerned at the failure of the DWA to help people with, for example, a progressive disability who are actually in work and not claiming DLA. There is no way that they can remain in work and get DWA without coming off first to qualify.

In its note on disability working allowance the Department of Social Security in November 1990 acknowledged the assistance of a number of detailed papers, including Disability Employment Credit—General Principles, by the Disablement Income Group, DIG. I do not think that much attention was paid to it, although the principles were acknowledged, because in paragraph 1 DIG's paper outlined that the DWA, then called disability employment credit, should be in the following terms: The credit should be available both to help people back into work and to help people remain in work. The credit should thus be available to help people whose disabilities have taken them (temporarily) from the work force but who could return to work full time, albeit at a reduced rate and therefore for reduced earnings. It should also be available to help those whose disability is progressing and making it increasingly difficult for them to continue working at 'full' capacity". In paragraph 2 DIG expressly stated: The credit should not be limited to disabled people in receipt of particular benefits that might be used as passport benefits. It should, for example. he available to deaf people and partially sighted people who are not in receipt of any disability benefit". In opposing these amendments is the Minister really saying that DWA is a benefit to encourage people back to work, to get them off invalidity benefit or income support, and not a benefit to help disabled people to remain at work? Is he saying that DWA is a two-way allowance or a one-way allowance? Is he saying that he will help a disabled person back to work but will not help an identically disabled person with the same qualifications and experience to remain in work.

It appears that that may be so because in Committee the Minister said: We have always accepted that the provisions do not cover people already working. On grounds of simplicity and cost we had to decide exactly how far we could go".—[Official Report, 11/3/91; col. 28.] Does the Minister agree that if people are not helped to remain in work they retire prematurely and add to the numbers receiving invalidity benefit and income support? At page 23 of The Way Ahead the Government said that they would target help: specifically on people who are only partially rather than wholly incapable of work". I believe that the amendment will ensure more effective targeting.

Lord Henley

My Lords, Amendment No. 37 is virtually identical to Amendment No. 60 which was debated in Committee. The noble Baroness may say that it is merely similar but in my view it is virtually identical. That amendment was rejected in a Division. However, if the noble Baroness wishes to table the amendment again we shall have another chat about it. In Committee I gave two reasons why I could not accept the amendment.

Disability working allowance is a very important step forward. It introduces a new opportunity for disabled people and takes nothing away from anyone. A number of your Lordships have commented on the value of the benefit to disabled people and some of your Lordships have pointed out ways in which it could be made better—I stress, at a price. It is easy to criticise the benefit for what it will not do but we must remember the positive value of DWA to disabled people.

As has been suggested, if resources were available DWA could be extended to more people. But, as I said when the Committee debated this point, we estimate that the cost of accepting this amendment will be of the order of £200 million net of savings elsewhere in the benefit system. This is a very significant sum of money, although I appreciate that the noble Baroness believes that it is only quite a lot of money.

However, as I pointed out to the Committee, there is a positive side. Disability working allowance is intended to provide support for people making the difficult transition from incapacity to work. In particular, because the qualifying benefit test ensures that all claimants satisfy or have recently satisfied a medical test for a long-term disability or incapacity benefit, we can use this as supporting evidence instead of devising an additional medical test.

It has been pointed out that we are developing a test of functional disability to be used in the minority of repeat claims where the evidence from the qualifying benefit test is no longer sufficient. It has been suggested that this test could be used for all claims, including initial claims from people who do not have a qualifying benefit.

This test of functional disability will be in the form of a questionnaire asking claimants about things that they can and cannot do. The form will include questions about mobility, reaching and stretching, seeing, hearing and speaking, consciousness, fatigue, pain and so on. The questionnaire was devised on the assumption that all claimants who took the test would have been in receipt of a qualifying benefit at some stage. Therefore, there is an established history of long-term illness or disability. The test will therefore provide evidence to confirm that there is a continuing, significant disability. This test would not be suitable for use in cases where the claimant had not satisfied the qualifying benefit test at the start of his or her DWA claim.

I believe that DWA will provide a valuable opportunity for 50,000 disabled people at any one time to work when they might well not be able to do so without it. It could be extended to others but only at considerable cost—what the noble Baroness referred to as quite a lot of money. We have devised a benefit which makes very good use of the evidence that the department already has of claimants' disabilities. In this way we shall meet the needs of the people DWA is specifically intended for; that is, those who are trying to make the difficult transition from incapacity into work. Amendment No. 37 would require the Government to devise and pay for a very different benefit. I hope that on this occasion the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw it.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, I have read the amendment that I moved in Committee and it is not the same as that before the House tonight. The wording of the amendment was: when the claim for a disability working allowance is made or is treated as made, he has a physical or mental disability". We have substituted that wording for the wording in Amendment No. 37 which reads: he has a disability which puts him at a disadvantage in getting or retaining a job". That is not the same as the original wording.

The intention was to ensure that more people would qualify for DWA. I make no apology for that because DWA is intended to provide an incentive for people who are disabled and who would otherwise be isolated and confined to their homes to join the workforce. If the incentive is successful ultimately such people may not be dependent on benefits. After entering the workforce disabled people may find themselves able to do more and more work, which will be to their benefit and that of the community. We should regard DWA as an investment in society because disabled people will be able to make a contribution.

I believe that 50,000 is a relatively small number of people. Most organisations for the disabled state that approximately 285,000 disabled people would be quite capable of carrying out some work. Provisions in regard to DWA have been so drafted that it will be difficult for more than 50,000 people to qualify. That was the object of the original amendment tabled in Committee, which admittedly was lost on a Division. I make no apology that the amendment now before the House is intended to extend DWA to benefit a larger number of people. The fact remains that some disabled people will qualify while others will not simply because they do not have the passporting benefits. That is not acceptable. If the provision remains in the Act, as is likely, I believe that whichever Government are in power must examine it. It is not my intention to press the amendment to a Division and I beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment Nos. 38 and 39 not moved.]

Lord Henley moved Amendments Nos. 40 and 41:

Page 11, line 49, leave out ("with an amount included such as is mentioned in that sub-paragraph").

Page 12, line 3, leave out ("if he also satisfies such additional conditions as may be prescribed") and insert ("in prescribed circumstances").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I spoke to these amendments when speaking to Amendment No. 36. I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Baroness Turner of Camden moved Amendment No. 42:

Page 12, line 41, after ("percentage") insert ("which shall not exceed 40 per cent.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I introduced a similar amendment in Committee but withdrew it because I wanted to study the Minister's response. I have had the opportunity of doing so but remain unconvinced by his arguments. I said in Committee that, as the Bill stands, a poverty trap will be created because once a disabled person starts earning there will be large corresponding reductions in his or her DWA. Therefore, such people must consider the options very carefully and weigh up whether or not they will be better off working than simply continuing to be dependent entirely on social benefits.

As we have said repeatedly, the object of the DWA is to provide an incentive to disabled people to join the labour market and become part of the workforce and the community. We all regard that as important. We believe passionately that disabled people should be encouraged to do whatever work they can because that ends the isolation which is often an unacceptable and tragic part of the condition of disability.

Unless the Bill is amended I question whether that objective will be achieved for more than a relatively small minority. The intention is to provide for a 70 per cent. taper. That means that a disabled person will lose a substantial amount in the pound of every extra pound earned above a specified income threshold.

In Committee the Minister claimed that the priority was to help people with disabilities who are on the lowest incomes. He opposed my amendment on the grounds that reducing the taper would help only those who are better off and that that was probably not the best use of money. The implication is that any lowering of the taper will reduce the help available to those on the lowest incomes thus making them less of a priority.

It is true that the Minister corrected me when I said that the Government's case was that the lowest paid would be worse off. He said: I suggested that 40 per cent. would not particularly benefit the worse off, it would benefit the slightly better off"—[Official Report, 11/3/91; col. 35.]

The taper does not affect people who earn so little that they are automatically entitled to a maximum DWA in any case.

However, I argue that it is essential that disabled people should be able to see that if their earnings rise a little, their DWA will not be reduced by a 70 per cent. taper. We are not speaking of large amounts of earnings. If a 40 per cent. taper were to be introduced the maximum net earnings for a single person claiming DWA would have to be less than £127.60 per week and for a couple £186.97. Those are the ceilings. The nearer are the amount of earnings to the ceiling, the less people will receive on DWA.

In the long term the Government are expecting to make savings as people come off benefits and onto DWA. I am not satisfied with the reasons given in Committee for opposing the amendment and I did not call a division on it at that time. Therefore, I beg to move.

7 p.m.

Lord Henley

My Lords, on this occasion I assure the noble Baroness that her amendment this evening is not similar to her previous amendment but is identical to it. The noble Baroness used the word "similar" and I thought I should take her up on that.

I understand the argument of the noble Baroness but I do not believe that I can take the matter much further than it was taken in Committee. I understand the anxiety about the combined effect of the tapers in disability working allowance, the housing benefit and community charge benefit. Of course, this combined effect will probably affect less than half of DWA recipients.

However, disability working allowance does not create a poverty trap as has been suggested. Recipients will almost always be better off working and claiming DWA than they would be if they did not. It is also the case that, as their earnings rise, recipients will virtually always keep a proportion of their extra earnings and so will be better off. I repeat, DWA does not create a poverty trap.

We have said that DWA offers a new opportunity for disabled people with only limited capacity to work if they wish. DWA provides this opportunity by largely removing the risk that a disabled person giving up an incapacity benefit might fall below income support level because he has decided to take a job. That is a very significant point which has not been fully recognised by the noble Baroness and noble Lords opposite.

We must be very careful about the effect DWA has on behaviour. None of us would want disabled people to feel pressurised to work if they are not fit enough. Nor would we want those who cannot work to feel that they are being discriminated against, because resources are being spent on incentives to encourage those who can work to do so. I believe that a balance must be struck and that resources must be divided fairly among all who need benefits.

As I said, DWA has been designed to give as much help as possible to people with the lowest earnings. This ensures that they are not made worse off by deciding to take a job. However, as I said in Committee—the noble Baroness quoted my words—reducing the taper would give little or nothing to them. A shallow taper would give most help to people who are already better off. It would make little or no difference to claimants with earnings at or little above the applicable amount.

I repeat the final point I made in Committee. High combined deduction rates are unavoidable if one has comparatively generous income related benefits which provide significant help to the least well off in society.

For all these reasons I cannot recommend this identical amendment to the House and I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw it.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, the Minister has made a speech similar to that which he made in Committee.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls: Identical!

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, it is not identical but it is similar. He said in Committee and has now said again, that if the amendment is accepted it would benefit the better off and do nothing at all for those on the lowest rate. As I said earlier, the taper does not affect those earning so little that they are automatically entitled to maximum DWA.

I am not satisfied with the Minister's response but I do not intend to press the amendment at this stage. There is another amendment in my name later which deals with the levels of DWA. Perhaps we may advance similar arguments about incentives and general levels at that stage. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I beg to move that further consideration on Report be adjourned and I suggest that the Report stage begin again at ten minutes past eight.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.