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Column 924disabled people, having been assessed, will require more resources for the assessment to be carried out and the construction costs met.
Mr. Bennett : My hon. Friend's intervention illustrates that, while a little help can be provided for the disabled by way of designation and the use of words, nothing can replace the provision of real resources. I gather that in 1986 the Government did not want to put up the money, otherwise they would have made it a more attractive measure, and they would not have insisted on it being watered down. Since the 1986 Act was passed, the disabled organisations have been lobbying the Government to implement it, and the Government have spent nearly three years delaying its implementation. Now, by way of a designation order and with minimal explanation from the Minister, they are implementing it without mention of the money that will be necessary for local authorities to carry out their functions. As a result, local authorities will have more duties and the expectations of the disabled will be raised. Those expectations will be dashed and the Government hope that the local authorities will get the blame. That fact must be nailed to the Government tonight, unless the Minister says that money will be forthcoming.
Mr. McCartney : My hon. Friend referred to the assessment of need that will have to be made by the local education department and the social services department. Local authorities are currently trying, from their own resources, to implement the Warnock recommendations relating to the special needs of the disabled in a normal skilled environment. The order will create a conflict of interest between those two local authority departments. The social services department will have to make an assessment of, say, a disabled child, but that will involve the interest of, and resources belonging to, the local education department. Will the Government in future measures such as this try to reconcile the Warnock recommendations with the additional resources required to meet the special educational needs of the disabled?
Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton) : I agree with the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) has been making about rate support grant cuts hurting the social services and about the Government not providing sufficient resources for disabled people and carers.
Is my hon. Friend aware that a serious legal problem could arise under the order? Under the headings "Enactment" and "Nature of functions", we read :
"Section 1 insofar as it applies to personal information held for any purpose of the local authority's social services functions." Then, under "Nature of functions", we read :
"Obligation to give access etc."
In terms of the disabled, "access" means getting out and about. Does this mean having access to, say, the town hall or access to Parliament? The latter is absolutely rotten for the disabled. I am thinking of one of my constituents, a little girl with a wasting disease living in an upstairs room and not having access--
Mr. Cohen : Does my hon. Friend think that a legal problem may arise from the use of the word "access" in the order? It may be concerned with access to information, but could it mean that local authorities must give access to all their disabled people to enable them to get out and about? If so, I welcome it, although it will make the gap between need for provision and lack of resources that much worse.
My questions for the Minister are : will the local authorities be given the resources with which to carry out their designated functions? How will the section dealing with the Education Act 1981 operate? Will it cause distress to families passing from the remit of the education departments to that of social services departments? Will he clarify the position of people carrying out agency responsibilities for social services departments?
Mr. Skinner : My hon. Friend has asked the Minister about five questions in five seconds flat. We all know that the Minister, who airily dismissed the subject at the outset, will not answer those questions. He thinks he is like his hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie)--he wants to be left alone ; he will not give interviews to anyone ; he will not go anywhere. It seems that the disease is spreading along the Tory Front Bench.
Mr. Bennett : Surely my hon. Friend always travels hopefully. The Minister has a vested interest in getting to the Dispatch Box and using some of the allotted hour and a half. If he does not answer our questions, we and the people outside the House will draw our conclusions : the Government will not put up any more money. 11.42 pm
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : I am a bit concerned about this order. There seems little point in designating local authorities' functions if they are not given the money and the will to carry them out.
The functions listed include authorisation for representatives of disabled people to act as advocates. Voluntary organisations have already embarked on that in Bradford. There has been some argument about whether people who are trained by local authorities will push for community care or whether they can be fully independent. The order brings into effect the parent legislation, providing such representation through the local authority. I hope that the Minister can assure me that representatives will not represent the local authority point of view.
There is a large hospital for the mentally handicapped in my constituency, and there has been a move to close it. Parents and relatives of the patients, who are being well cared for in the hospital, are resisting that move because they strongly suspect that the plan is to close the hospital and use the land--set in a handsome part of Bradford, with rolling green acres and a cricket field--for building development. The site resembles a college setting. There was dispute about some of the case conferences involving patients in Westwood. The local authority policy at the time was to move people into community care--a position for which there is a case. But the people concerned, whose
Column 926views I stoutly defended, thought that the closure of an important facility such as Westwood hospital was an act on which there was no going back. If the community care proves to be faulty, and the local authority cannot cope because of the lack of Government funds, it is not easy to find the £750,000 required to reopen a redundant building, even if it is not immediately razed to the ground and sold off to developers. At the moment that is not envisaged because the regional health authority has the notion of forming a village community, part of the land being sold off to a developer, and the builder, in return, providing a number of designated houses so that there would be, as it were, care in the community, but with the back-up and community facilities of the hospital. It is absurd to suggest that there are, let us say, speech therapy facilities available for tiny groups in the community--perhaps half a dozen living in a community house. The facilities available at a specialised hospital such as Westwood could cater for 15 to 20, and one assumes that if people are out in the community they will come back.
My point is that there was a fear that the representatives would be appointed by the local authority and would present a local authority point of view exclusively without recognising the very great care provided and the virtue of retaining a hospital like Westwood.
Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. I have been listening carefully and the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) has strayed very far from the order. The hon. Member who is now intervening is going even further away. I call Mr. Cryer, to return to the order.
Mr. Cryer : Madam Deputy Speaker, I must point out that one of the enactments listed in paragraph 2 of the order, subject to exceptions, is the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986, sections 1 to 5, 7 and 8, which specifically provide for representation and assessment of disabled persons. The point that I was making, although it was a bit wide, was by way of illustration and concerned the authorised representation of disabled people. I wish to add one or two brief points. I am concerned that if the local authority is to be designated to carry out those functions the Government will require them to do so. We have in Bradford a Tory-controlled local authority which, through the mayor's casting vote, has reversed a great many policies which I must tell the Ministers were carried out in some areas by consensus. The reason why we lost a by-election in Odsal ward in my constituency was simply that a lot of people thought that things would go on pretty much as before in terms of the provision of basic services. They have been horrified that the Bradford Tory-controlled local authority--the mayor-controlled local authority--is proposing to sell off 13 old people's homes.
If the local authority is busy getting rid of functions that everybody accepts are basic prerequisites of local authority care, what is the good of this sort of order? What is the point if a local authority such as Bradford is just going to ignore it or, indeed, discard it? As the Government are going to place these duties on local authorities, will they give them the necessary facilities--in
Column 927my opinion, Bradford council will use any excuse not to do these things--or will he require them to ensure that they understand and implement the order?
The hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) talked about the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986. It is an Act very much associated with his name. The House will recall the Bill's proceedings three years ago. Sections 1 to 5, 7 and 8, as he correctly pointed out, deal with the representation and assessment of disabled persons. I confirm that the powers contained in the sections are being designated as being appropriate for discharge by a local authority social services committee. The hon. Gentleman asked also about consultation with local authorities and with disabled and voluntary organisations. I confirm that there has been consultation not only with local authorities but with a wide range of interested parties, including voluntary organisations.
The hon. Members for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney), Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) and Monklands, West asked about the implications of the order for the availability of resources to implement in particular the consequences of section 7. As the hon. Member for Monklands, West told the House, referring to a recent debate in the House, I confirmed that discussions between the Department of Health and local authorities were continuing-- they have been going on for some time--about the financial implications of implementing the various sections of the 1986 Act which have not so far been implemented. I told the House that we hoped to bring those discussions to a conclusion in due course when we have analysed thoroughly the financial implications of the assessment and discharge from psychiatric hospitals into the community of those suffering from mental illness. As I said in that debate, it is very important to get right the assessment of the resources before taking further steps.
Mr. McCartney : When I met the former Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie), she gave a commitment to come to Yorkshire to see the provision on the ground and to discuss the resource needs of my local authority. We cannot believe everything the hon. Lady says, but in the circumstances can the Minister say whether he is prepared to take on the commitment made last autumn to visit my local authority to see the assessments and to consider what resources are necessary?
Mr. Freeman : My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) had, and still has, considerable energy. I may not measure up to her ability to visit different parts of the country. If the hon. Gentleman writes to me, I shall consider his suggestion.
Column 928we expect to bring our conclusions on the Griffiths report to the House. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health said in the House about a week ago, we have not yet decided on the best way to proceed. We are still deliberating. As he said, we hope to finish our deliberations shortly and to bring our proposals to the House. I envisage that our conclusions in relation to the implementation of sections of the 1986 Act will fit into that framework. As I said in the Adjournment debate on the transfer of the mentally ill into the community, I am well aware of the concern felt on both sides of the House about the need for their continuing care in the community and for proper provision to be made.
Mr. Tom Clarke : I think it is accepted that Sir Roy, to the surprise of many people on the Government side of the House, saw a major role for local government. I hope we can be assured that the Government's hang-up, and especially the Prime Minister's hang-up, about local government will not impede them in reaching a sensible conclusion.
Mr. Freeman : The Government have no hang-up about local government. As I said, we are well aware of the importance of this issue. We are still deliberating and we will bring our conclusions to the House shortly.
The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) asked me a number of questions. He asked whether agencies such as the National Society for the Protection of Children were covered. The answer is no. As I am sure he appreciates, we are dealing only with the application to local authorities. However, I can tell him--and I am sure he knows this--that many voluntary organisations do have an open access policy to their records, and it is a policy that I, on behalf of the Government, very much appreciate and encourage.
The hon. Member also asks me about the clarity of distinction between local education authority functions and social services department functions. I draw his attention to section 5 of the 1986 Act. I think that there he will find the clear reference to those functions of a local authority which fall to the local education authority, or that part of the local authority's education functions, and I think that distinction is clear.
It is important to appreciate that the designation of functions order is to remedy a defect in the original private Member's Bill. That is not a criticism of the original Bill, but the effect of the order is to make it lawful for social services committees and directors of social services to deal with the 1986 Act and the 1987 Act.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett : Is it true that a young person on whom there is a statement kept will have guidance coming from the education department until he completes his full-time education, and at that point responsibility for that young person will be handed back to social services? Can he justify that?
Mr. Freeman : I do not wish to mislead the hon. Gentleman by giving him an answer which may be ambiguous. I understand the significance of the question and, although I do not believe it is directly relevant to this order, I do undertake to write to him.
He also asked me about the Education Act 1981 on statementing, that is, assessing special needs children. Of course, this is a matter more properly for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science
Column 929but it should be done in co-operation with the involved parents, and the information is often but not always shared.
I hope that I have dealt with and answered to the best of my ability the questions raised during this brief debate, and I hope that the House realises, as I am sure it does, that this order is dealing purely with the designation of functions to the local authority social services committee. The order is clear. It has been debated.
Question put :--
The House divided : Ayes 108, Noes 0.
Division No. 82] [11.58 pm
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)
Beith, A. J.
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Carlisle, John, (Luton N)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)
Davis, David (Boothferry)
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)
Fishburn, John Dudley
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Column 930Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Lee, John (Pendle)
McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Moynihan, Hon Colin
Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Porter, David (Waveney)
Powell, William (Corby)
Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Shaw, David (Dover)
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Skeet, Sir Trevor
Soames, Hon Nicholas
Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Twinn, Dr Ian
Waddington, Rt Hon David
Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Wareing, Robert N.
Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Tellers for the Ayes :
Mr. Stephen Dorrell and
Mr. John M. Taylor.
Nil Tellers for the Noes :
Mr. Dennis Skinner and
Mr. Harry Cohen.
Question accordingly agreed to.
That the draft Local Authority Social Services (Designation of Functions) Order 1989, which was laid before this House on 19th December, be approved.