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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, the point made by my noble friend is one of the issues we shall need to take into consideration when the Social Security Advisory Committee reports. But it is fair to point out that the mobility component of the disability living allowance is the only benefit of this nature which somebody keeps when they are in hospital for any length of time. For example, the care component ceases after four weeks; the attendance allowance ceases after four weeks; and other benefits are downrated or withdrawn after six weeks. It is only this benefit which continues after people are in hospital in the care of the NHS, which provides from the public purse for all their needs.
Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, is the Minister aware that this plausible proposal for cost cutting founders in the light of clear evidence that disabled people in hospital have mobility needs? Those needs will not be met if the allowances are withdrawn. That is why the leaders of 11 major disability organisations have written to the Secretary of State to say that withdrawal of the allowances will cause considerable hardship to extremely vulnerable people. If that is so, they should not be withdrawn.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, knows, the mobility component is primarily intended to help disabled people be independently mobile. We are dealing with patients in National Health Service hospitals whose needs are met by the health service and where every other benefit bar this one is actually withdrawn after four or six weeks. In addition, in the past we have seen examples of hospitals accumulating large balances of patients' funds coming from those allowances. For example, one hospital said that it was not uncommon for patients to have balances of unspent benefits of over £8,000. In that hospital the total size of patients' balances actually exceeded £3 million.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, does the Minister agree that over many years the mobility allowance has permitted severely disabled people in residential hospitals nonetheless to remain members of the community, to build new relationships, to experience new things and to develop as people? Does he agree that cutting off mobility allowance will confine disabled people to isolation? Will he not think again?
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, there is also some evidence, as the noble Baroness may know, that this money is not just used for mobility but is in fact used for other things--to buy goods and services which are otherwise supplied free by the National Health Service to its patients. As I said a little while ago, if the noble Baroness was being totally logical, she would be urging me not to withdraw those benefits which are already withdrawn--the care component,
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, it was a little time ago and the hospital has taken steps to reduce those balances. But this has been a problem for a long time in many hospitals. They have been more careful recently. However, the point I made a little while ago was that the money is not always spent directly on mobility; and that is what it is intended for.
Lord Rix: My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Renton, I, too, must declare an interest in that I have a daughter who is in possession of the full mobility component. Does the Minister not consider it ludicrous that she, who receives her mobility component direct through social security because she lives in a MENCAP Homes Foundation house, could indeed be living next door to a house funded by the NHS where a person with exactly the same disabilities as my daughter would be denied the maximum amount of the mobility component? Does the Minister agree that that is a ridiculous anomaly and one which certainly is not solved by reducing the mobility component or removing it altogether in the case of hospital care?
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I understand the noble Lord's point, but it is equally anomalous that people in long-term hospital care should receive a benefit which they may not be using for the purpose for which it is intended--and it can be accumulating or it can be used for other things. In addition, some of the observations made to the Social Security Advisory Committee have been from special hospitals, where patients' mobility outside the hospital is something we would wish to discourage because they are put into those hospitals to keep them secure.
Lord Richard: My Lords, I beg to move the first Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. This is an unusual Motion but it is designed to deal with an unusual, not to say unprecedented, case. I have taken the opportunity of looking at the relevant page of the Companion, which, for your Lordships' benefit, is page 43. That makes it clear that a Motion to suspend standing orders is customarily in the name of the Leader of the House--customarily, my Lords, not exclusively.
The House will, however, wish to know the background to the appearance of these two Motions in my name on the Order Paper. Perhaps I may say right at the outset that this is not the time to go into the merits or demerits of the Scott Report itself. Indeed, one could hardly do that without first seeing it, despite the extraordinary amount of leakage and comment that seems to have taken place.
The Scott Report is, I understand, some 1,800 pages long and of considerable complexity; 278 witnesses gave written evidence and 81 were heard orally. I gather that the 1,800 pages do not include the evidence. The inquiry has now been sitting for some three years and its report, as we know, is to be made public on Thursday.
Understandably, therefore, Opposition spokesmen took the perhaps somewhat naive view that in order to deal with it properly we needed to have reasonable facilities and time to read it. Ministers will have had it for eight days and I have little doubt that the noble and leaned Lord who will be making the Statement in this House on Thursday will have had ample opportunity to brief himself.
Requests were therefore made to the Government for access to the report. When they were made, the President of the Board of Trade, Mr. Lang, wrote a letter to my honourable friend Mr. Robin Cook which included the following paragraphs:
Let me deal with some of the points made in that letter. First, the Scott Report is not comparable to any other that I have been able to trace. Lord Nolan's was 109 pages long, Sir John Learmont's was 182 and the Barings Inquiry 337. But each of those dealt with a fairly narrow point. There is, as far as my researches go, no precedent for a report of this gravity and complexity being handled in this way.
Secondly, the proposal that access to the report should only be in a controlled environment apparently means that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, and I, both of whom are Privy Counsellors, should arrive at the gates of the Department of Trade and Industry at noon, be admitted and be permitted to look at the report, there, in an environment which is apparently to be controlled--whatever that means.
Moreover, on a more serious matter, I find this proposal gratuitously and deliberately offensive. Both the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, and I are Privy Counsellors. His lineage as such is considerably more ancient than mine. But is it seriously suggested that in circumstances in which there is a need for confidentiality prior to publication, Privy Counsellors who appreciate that need are going to rush out and leak the contents of the report to the press? And if it is said that Mr. Cook and Mr. Campbell are not Privy Counsellors and that we must all be treated in the same way, I can only say that that is then highly offensive to them. I have to say to the Government that I racked my brains to try to discover any conceivable reason why they are behaving in this way. That is the only one I can come up with.
Can government properly function if there is a presumption that the Opposition are not to be trusted in this way? I think not. It is a bad precedent and, if I may say this to the House, it is a precedent which will be remembered. There has to be some basic trust and understanding between the parties; otherwise the system breaks down.
How on earth are we supposed to be able to comprehend, let alone fully digest, 1,800 pages in some two-and-a-half to three hours? At the Bar one had some experience of reading briefs at the last moment. But this is ridiculous.
Finally, there is the "fairness" argument. It is quite simply unfair that Ministers should have a full opportunity for picking over the minutiae of the report, having their civil servants analyse and dissect it in search of some dicta that might justify their positions, whereas the Opposition are being offered not even sufficient time to turn the pages over. In our view the facilities and time being offered are thoroughly unreasonable and even perverse. Ideally, I would like 24 hours in advance on Privy Council terms; but, even if access is to be limited to the day in question, there are no reasonable grounds for insisting on these absurd and offensive restrictions.
If the Government insist on these terms they will have to do so by imposition and without the agreement or acquiescence of the Opposition. That is why I commend to the House the first Motion standing in my name.
Moved, That Standing Order 38 (Arrangement of the Order Paper) be dispensed with to enable the Motion standing in the name of the Lord Richard to be taken before the Broadcasting Bill this day.--(Lord Richard.)
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