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Lord Ashley of Stoke: It has been suggested that I should speak now because the amendments that I have proposed cover similar ground to that covered by those of the noble Lord, Lord Carter. If no one has any objection, I will put them forward.
I wish to speak to Amendments Nos. 47, 51, 52, 53, 54, 76, 82 and 167. The purpose of these amendments is to make a very good Bill even better. They have been discussed with the Disability Rights Commission, which has been very helpful and supplied me with millions of splendid briefings. I am grateful especially to Caroline Ellis. However, the DRC is not in any way responsible for my opinions.
Amendment No. 46 would make explicit provision for consultation with disabled people in the planned review of the Disability Committee. This review would be independent and involve consultation with interested parties. Disabled people and their organisations would expect to be closely involved and have their views heeded. That is very natural.
However, the Bill states merely that those conducting the review should consult persons whom they think are likely to have an interest. Of course, it is probable that disabled people would be consulted, but
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we would like to see the provisions on the face of the Bill, explicitly requiring consultation with disabled people.
Amendments Nos. 51, 52 and 53 would ensure that the review of the Disability Committee is generally fair and open-ended. I know that that is the aim of the Government, but I am not sure whether they would achieve that with the Bill as it stands.
Those conducting the independent review must, according to paragraph 59, submit a report to the Commission for Equality and Human Rights, which must include a recommendation on how long the committee should continue to exist. The CEHR would then make a recommendation to the Secretary of State, who would then by order dissolve the committeeand the order would specify when that would take effect. There is no provision for further review.
The consequence of the wording of those paragraphs seems to be that, regardless of what the independent review may wish to recommend, the Secretary of State is obliged to order the dissolution of the committee at a fixed point in time, as opposed to having that as one option among a range of options. A review may well conclude that the committee should be dissolved, or it may not, but the evidence may point the other way. Disabled people would be concerned if they were led to believe that a pre-emptive decision had already been made to end the committee. I am sure that my noble friend will reconsider that matter.
The Bill does not adequately reflect my noble friend's intention that the review of the Disability Committee after five years will be open and objective and would not be based on any assumption about whether the committee would continue thereafter or not. The Bill should provide an open-ended review, and that is what the amendments would achieve. I know that at Second Reading, my noble friend said that under the Bill the committee's lifespan could be extended for a short time or for several years. That goes some way towards meeting our point, but it does not fully answer it, which means that all options are open. I hope that my noble friend will kindly reconsider the matter, and I am sure that we can reach some understanding on which amendments could be accepted.
Amendment No. 54 aims to ensure that decisions on the future of the committee would have to be approved by Parliament. These are the basics of our democracy; we would not want an order to dissolve the Disability Committee to be made without effective parliamentary scrutiny. The affirmative resolution procedure and the parliamentary scrutiny that that involves would be more appropriate given the significance of the decision for disabled people.
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The purpose of Amendments Nos. 76 and 82 is to put the case for independent living and to seek an assurance from my noble friend that the CEHR will carry on the work of the Disability Rights Commission. I know that the Government have responded constructively to the White Paper consultation and I would be delighted if my noble friend could go a little further. "Independent living" has many interpretations, but the one that I prefer is when it means that disabled people have the same choices, control and freedom as other citizens, at work, at home, in education and as equal members of society. Those words may become a mantra in the years ahead; but the sooner that we register them in the minds of those in Parliament and the public, the better.
The overwhelming majority of disabled people are denied independence on a daily basis through limited choice and opportunity to participate. That situation is absolutely scandalous, and we accept it far too easily and readily. Of course, it does not mean that disabled people will be doing everything themselves, but it does mean that the practical assistance that disabled people need should be provided based on their own choices and aspirations. I might add that that agenda is highly relevant to many older people who may not necessarily define themselves as disabled.
Independent living is the next major challenge and objective for disabled people. It is at the heart of the Government's strategy on improving the life chances of disabled people, published by the Prime Minister's Strategy Unit earlier this year and accepted by the Government as policy.
The one point that I disagree with in that report is the date that the Strategy Unit gave of 2025 for when disabled people should have full opportunities and choices as equal members of society. That is absolute nonsense. The year 2025 is two decades ahead, and to aim at that long distant point is unrealistic. It should not take two decades to establish those principles and practices. I believe that the intention, good will and ambition are there. There is no reason why, with the support of Parliament, we should not achieve that, at the most, in one decade. I think that that is quite long enough.
The essence of the problem, as the Strategy Unit agrees, is that benefits often create dependency rather than promoting independence and extending opportunity. Disabled people have been expected to fit into services rather than services being personalised to respond to individual needs. That is the key to this whole business. Disabled people are not currently supported to live independently and continue to have, in many circumstances, their lives "defined" by others in terms of their participation and, particularly, independence.
The report also agrees that an entirely new approach is needed which allocates available resources according to individual need in terms, in the form of individualised budgets made transparent to the disabled person. Individuals should be able to choose whether to take this in cash or services; the choice is absolutely crucial. Either way, the budget should be used to secure the appropriate type of support for the individualappropriate type, not something that fits in with the general idea.
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We need to recognise that this new approach will require changes in the way in which budgets are organised and services are delivered. The co-operation and participation of disabled people in this exciting venture will ensure its success. However, the CEHR will need to work closely with the office for disability issues to support the implementation of this very ambitious strategy, drawing on the expertise of the Disability Committee and its staff.
I conclude by saying that the Disability Rights Commission has been working on independent living for some time. Its agenda includes the following which I think are absolutely crucial: a right to protection against enforced or inappropriate admissions to residential care and a positive right to choose where and how they live; secondly, the right to advocacy and supported decision-making; thirdly, the right to communication support for those who need itcommunication needs to be routinely recorded in all care plans and assessment records; fourthly, social care service assessments to be based on the starting point of self-assessment; and, fifthly, minimum guaranteed outcome on supporting independent living in the care standards framework.
All of those provisions are of great importance and the Government should support them. The Government do support them, but they should become very active on the principles and the practices. They are an absolute minimum if independent living is to become a reality. I look forward to the response of my noble friend the Minister. Many disabled people are living in hope and I am sure that she will not disappoint them.
The first principle behind this group of amendments is the need to get enough information on the disability provisions to the new commission to enable it to do its job properly. Even within this Chamber there are many people with different types of disability who work through those disabilities. None of us has never at some time had the thought, "Oh, does that happen to you too?" That point comes across from various groups. I favour the purely practical approach of saying that we need a supporting committee, because there is great diversity in disability. The noble Baroness, Lady Wilkins, for example, has dyslexia and is in a wheelchair. Those two sets of problems combine to create a unique set of problems. Both sets are difficult to appreciate for those who have never experienced them. Combined, the problems become almost unique.
I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Wilkins, does not object to my using her as an example. However, her situation is an example of how these problems occur. You must ensure that you have sufficient input and information to be able to deal with them. I should hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us that the Government have taken on board the issue and are ensuring that sufficient information will be provided to the right people. I say that as a flash bulb goes off in my
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eyes. We must make sure that that information is provided at the right time for the simple reason that without it these people will miss out. The small groups who make up the huge disability lobby will miss out. Some of those groups are very small indeed. Information will continue to emerge as technical innovations in medical science occur.
I turn to amendments that are equally valid; that is, those which seek to enhance Clause 11 and the Motions which oppose Clauses 10 and 20. We are coming round full circle here. The comments of the noble Lord, Lord Carter, on the matter were correct. If we can get rid of Clauses 10 and 20 and incorporate them in Clause 11, we would support the Government's intention of not separating the issues of disability and community. I should be interested to hear the Minister's response on that. We are trying to bring the two issues together to form a whole, but a whole that has sufficient support to function properly.
Amendment No. 87, which stands in my name, was tabled late. The problem it addresses was drawn to my attention only at a late stage. I hope that the Minister will have had time to address it. It seeks to counter isolation and would encourage the,
Certain groups of disabled people have become isolated. Certain groups within the deaf community have decided that they do not need input from the outside world. That can lead to isolation, particularly of children. I hope that the Minister will comment on how that problem is being addressed. This is a probing amendment in the true sense of trying to find out what the Government are doing about this matter. The matter has always worried me. It should not be possible for an adult to deny his child the right to use hearing equipment, for example. That is the one example with which I am familiar; I am not saying that it is the only one. You should not be allowed to say, "Thou shalt not hear. Thou shalt not undergo surgery which could be of help". I doubt whether the amendment is perfect, but I should be interested to know the Government's thinking on the matter as it might inform not only this but future debates. I hope that these amendments will be accepted as they would bring disability more into the centre of the Bill.
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