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Baroness Seear: Is not that exactly the reason why the scheme should be left to the local authorities? The

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noble Baroness has just said that some have gone ahead with it and others are far behind. Surely that means that a uniform scheme is not appropriate.

Baroness Cumberlege: I do not know how to put it more strongly. It is important that we focus on a small group to start with. There are other amendments which will look at probity in monitoring the schemes and all the rest of it. Clearly, to some extent the department is also involved. At this early stage it would be very unfortunate to go at such a pace as to include large numbers of people when we could not cope with that. We want the scheme to be a success, and this is a start. We shall certainly be reviewing the situation in terms of client groups, but first we have to look at the response we have to the consultation document.

Lord Carter: We have heard a lot about small, large and phasing. If the Government decide to go ahead with the group which is listed under paragraph 15(a) of the consultation document, referring to adults under the age of 65 who are physically disabled, have they any idea of the numbers involved? I do not believe that we have heard any numbers mentioned. Has any estimate been made of the number of people who are likely to take up the scheme in the first stage?

Baroness Cumberlege: We do not have specific numbers. I have been asking that question. This Bill reflects what is happening under the community care Act. We know under that legislation that 80 per cent. of the people who are assessed as needing services are over the age of retirement. Therefore, we know that the number will be relatively small: that is if we start with the physically disabled who are under the age of 65. But we just do not have the precise information and I have been seeking it.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Then how is it a problem?

Baroness Cumberlege: Perhaps I may continue and, with some trepidation, cross Hadrian's Wall and talk about the system in Scotland. As I understand the position there, direct payments can only be made in cases of emergency. Some authorities have set up voluntary bodies through which payments are made to individuals, as they have in this country. The Bill rationalises that arrangement and provides a national framework, which we all seek.

The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, asked who will initiate the direct payments, the client or the local authority. The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, came in on that. I think that both are right in that it has to be a joint agreement. First, the person concerned has to feel that he or she can manage the scheme and needs to approach the local authority which then has to undertake the community care assessment. It has to be an agreement between both parties.

My noble friend Lady Faithfull asked whether disabled people are included in some of the schemes that are running at the moment. I understand that they are, but we do not have any definitive answers about how that is

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working. However, the Hampshire scheme, which is a pilot scheme, is progressing extremely cautiously--and that county has had direct payments for 14 years.

The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, asked about the content of the regulations. We are anxious that the regulations should be laid as soon as possible, but that will depend on the parliamentary timetable. With regard to the document that we have put out, the consultation period will last for six weeks ending on 23rd February. We very much look forward to receiving people's comments.

I have tried to explain why we think that it is sensible to limit the size of the client group. By doing so in regulations, we shall be able to make adjustments without the need to amend primary legislation. I assure my noble friends Lord Jenkin, Lord Hayhoe and Lady Seccombe that we shall keep the position under review once direct payments are available and consider expanding the client group if that seems sensible in the light of experience

I understand from the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, that these are probing amendments and I hope that, with those assurances, your Lordships will not press them.

4 p.m.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: The Minister has been careful to answer as many questions as possible, but perhaps I may press her again on just one point. Clearly, we all want the Bill to succeed, but the biggest single issue that divides opinion in the Committee is whether certain groups should be blanket-excluded in advance by the Government as opposed to local authorities being able to determine how to phase in the scheme according to their own experiences and assessments of local need. That is a central question in the consultative document--we have quoted it to the Minister--in which the Minister asks for responses on whether her preferred option, which is to limit the scheme to physically disabled adults under 65, should command consent or whether wider groups should be included. If there is overwhelming support from the local authorities, which the Minister is so anxious to help and assist, as well as from other organisations, for the idea that the client group should be more comprehensive than the Government are proposing, will the Minister accept that?

Baroness Cumberlege: I sense that there is a feeling in the country that many people want to take this further. I understand that, but the Government have to exercise their judgment and at the moment we wish to consult on a sharper focus and on a limited number of people who would be eligible for the scheme. We think that that is right. The answer to the question will come through the consultation exercise when we shall discover the views not only of the local authorities concerned, but of the general public also.

I would answer the question asked by my noble friend Lord Swinfen about Clause 1(1)(b) if I could, but I am afraid that I shall have to write to him about it.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth): Before my noble friend decides what to do about his amendment, and following the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, perhaps I may press the Minister on one point. The last thing that we want to do is to continue a

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situation which has worried us all, including the Minister, so much for the past five years. I refer to the fact that local authorities will be forced either to operate their schemes illegally, through a third party, or will have to stop operating them. Does the Minister agree that if there is a blanket exclusion of some categories of people, although in some local authorities some of those individuals have already been receiving direct payments) we shall be prolonging something that we all want to avoid?

Baroness Cumberlege: I understand that some schemes that are running are not illegal and I am sure that if they meet the requirements of the district auditor they will continue to run. I am sure that the Hampshire scheme is an example. At this point we want to restrict the numbers. We know of the difficulties that some local authorities are having in implementing the National Health Service and Community Care Act. This is another very new system for some local authorities which is why we want to consult on it.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: In accordance with what my noble friend is saying, does she not agree that Clause 1(4) is perhaps too restrictive? What is the point of having that subsection if the object of the exercise is to start small and gradually include more categories and get larger? I do not see that subsection (4) of Clause 1 helps in that regard. The discretion would still be left with the Secretary of State to add any category that seems appropriate as time goes on without having to look for primary time to alter the face of the Bill.

Baroness Cumberlege: I think that the point was well made by my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding. This is a new scheme. We have to see how it works. If it works well, we are prepared to reconsider the categories to see whether they can be widened with good effect. However, I must advise the Committee that we need to be careful to start with. As my noble friend said, whenever we introduce new measures many people ask why we did not have a pilot scheme. We are not having a pilot scheme in terms of geography, but we are suggesting that we should start with a sharp focus and limit it to the group of people who have pressed most strongly for this measure. We shall then assess what happens.

Lord Swinfen: I thank my noble friend for offering to write to me about my question. I think that it is an important question because if it turns out that Clause 1(1)(b) is not consistent with the Disability Discrimination Act, considerable rethinking will have to be done--and the sooner it is done, the better. Can my noble friend confirm that she will respond to my question before the next stage of the Bill?

Baroness Cumberlege: Yes, I can give that assurance.

Lord Rix: Before closing on this amendment, can the Minister confirm that Report stage will not take place

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until after the consultative document has been replied to--that is, not before 23rd February? It seems wrong for the Report stage to take place before that date.

Baroness Cumberlege: That is a question for the business managers. I certainly would not dream of giving such an undertaking.

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