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Lord Swinfen: I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Addington. It is extremely important that the first language of deafblind people is known to the authorities so that the help provided is given in as intelligible a form as possible. One must also take into account religion. Help may come in the form of meals. With some groups the food needs to be kosher or halal. Some religions are purely vegetarian. In addition, in strict Moslem families it is no use having a male social worker going into a Muslim house to help a female member or, indeed, a male member of that household, where the family does not feel that there is proper provision for the protection of the womenfolk. Therefore it is an important amendment. The noble Lord said that its wording might be defective. So be it. That can be corrected at a later stage. However, the principle behind the amendment is extremely important and something should be put into the Bill on this issue in the long run.

Lord Astor of Hever: Very reluctantly, we on these Benches cannot support this amendment on account of the defective wording. We support the spirit of the amendment. I assure the noble Lord that I know that it is very well intentioned. We accept the high incidence of deafblindness among ethnic minority groups. On these Benches we would want to ensure that local authorities give particular regard to these important groups.

As a matter of good practice, local authorities already monitor ethnic origin in areas such as child health and special needs. I accept that that monitoring has highlighted flaws in services which need rectification. We believe that it is fundamentally wrong for one group to be singled out in this way. Local authorities should, and must, ensure that there is fair treatment for all deafblind people.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: I am sorry to disagree with the noble Lord, who is giving such strong support to the Bill generally. I support the contention of the noble Lord, Lord Addington. He is quite right in the arguments that he put forward about ethnic minorities. If they are disadvantaged in being unable to articulate the problems, as obviously they are when English is not the first language, that is a very good reason why we should give special consideration to ethnic minorities. The incidence of these disabilities is much higher, according to Sense, in the ethnic minorities, and that is another reason why we should support this amendment. We should not risk missing the opportunity to help any ethnic person who is deafblind. This amendment should be accepted by the Committee. I hope that my noble friend will not argue about it that it is inadequate or inappropriate. As has already been said, it can be changed at Report stage. I support this amendment.

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Lord Burlison: There have been a number of speakers on this particular issue. Authorities have a duty under Section 1 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Act 1970 to inform themselves of the total number of persons in their area to whom Section 29 of the National Assistance Act 1948 applies.

The particular aspect of this issue is identifying, assessing and providing services for the people within the area. We would expect local authorities to take into account the cultural diversity of the communities they serve. We recognise that people from ethnic minorities may have particular needs. That will be reflected in any guidance which results from the ongoing consultation of the Department of Health on deafblindness.

Step by step the Government are modernising the National Health Service and the social services so that they are fit to meet the needs of everyone, including black and minority ethnic groups. There are the evolving structures and functions arising from national strategies, including Modernising Government and The New NHS. There is Saving Lives: Our Healthier Nation, besides Modernising Social Services, the appropriate White Papers and the working together of the human resources framework. They will enable us to ensure mainstream race equality in all service provision and workforce development. For those reasons, the Government cannot support this amendment.

1.30 p.m.

Lord Addington: When the two Front Benches decide that there is something wrong, one feels that one should listen long and hard. The noble Lord, Lord Astor, said that he did not think that any one group should be singled out in that way. I agree in principle but disagree in relation to one matter. The information I have shows that certain groups of people are three times more likely to be deafblind than others. As I said previously, that is probably due to genetic conditions caused by years of living in other climates and so on.

Communication is clearly a problem. The issue is how best to deal with it. The Government say--I paraphrase--that this should be happening already. Members of the Committee would not be taking part in this discussion if they felt that it was happening already. On virtually every single Bill on which I have spoken in this House, something was in place beforehand which, if we had got it right, would be working properly. Indeed, if we managed to pass legislation which worked properly first time round, Parliament would sit for about three days a year. Therefore, I cannot really take that seriously. Everything changes.

There are two areas of disagreement here. Perhaps the noble Lord will undertake to look at another amendment which will achieve the same ends. I am quite prepared to talk to him. Indeed, it may be that the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, is willing to talk to me about this matter so that we can achieve what we wish more satisfactorily before the next stage of the Bill. I should be more than happy to engage in those discussions. With that understanding, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 [Assessment of needs]:

Lord Ashley of Stoke moved Amendment No. 4:

    Page 1, line 16, at end insert--

("( ) the Disabled Persons (Northern Ireland) Act 1989,").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 5 and 9. These amendments will ensure that when deafblind people living in Northern Ireland have their needs assessed, the assessment will include and specify the need for deafblind link services and the services will then be provided.

Deafblind people in Northern Ireland need this legislation as desperately as their counterparts in England and Wales. The current constitutional position is that the legislation must come from Westminster. Northern Ireland has a population of 1.6 million which, taking the incidence of 40 per 100,000, means that there is an estimated deafblind population of 640. Those 640 or more people really need the provisions of this Bill.

Sense tells me that Northern Ireland has developed a personal support workers scheme which can provide a service similar to the communicator-guide service. That could possibly be extended under the aegis of this Bill and this amendment, I hope that it will be sympathetically considered by the Government. I beg to move.

Lord Astor of Hever: I support the amendments. Only a tiny number of deafblind people in Northern Ireland currently have access to deafblind link services. It must be right, as the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, said, to ensure that when deafblind people living in Northern Ireland have their needs assessed, the assessment will include and specify the need for deafblind link services.

Lord Addington: If it is going to occur in any part of the United Kingdom, surely it should occur in Northern Ireland.

Lord Swinfen: If the listing by authorities in Northern Ireland is anything like as bad as that in England, which has already been admitted by the Minister, then this amendment is essential.

Lord Burlison: The Bill deals with a transferred matter; that is, a matter on which the Northern Ireland Assembly may legislate. Northern Ireland has its own body of legislation dealing with transferred matters and during the suspension of the Assembly, primary legislation on matters falling within the transferred field may be made by Order in Council.

I hope that my noble friend and Members of the Committee appreciate that accordingly it would not be appropriate to extend the provisions of the Bill to Northern Ireland.

Lord Swinfen: Before the noble Lord sits down, it may be possible to make an Order in Council but what

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harm would it do to have this amendment in the Bill. We have no idea when the Assembly is to be reconvened in Northern Ireland. It is hoped that it will be shortly but it could be quite a long time. With the admission which the noble Lord has already made about the paucity of making the proper lists in this country, which probably extends also to Northern Ireland, he is doing deafblind people in Northern Ireland a disservice by what he has said on the amendment.

Lord Burlison: I hope that my comments do not do a disservice to any deafblind people. It would certainly not be my intention to do that. But I hope that Members of the Committee will appreciate that in relation to the Northern Ireland issue I do not want to digress from the recommendations and advice I have been given; namely, that, legislatively, it would be inappropriate and unique to go down the line suggested by the amendment.

I have made the point, to which the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, referred, that matters falling within the transferred area may be dealt with by Order in Council. I hope that the Committee will understand the situation.

Of course, along with my department, I should be prepared to have further discussions if that was felt necessary. But at this moment I hope that my noble friend will see fit to withdraw the amendment.

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