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My co-ward councillor, who had been a councillor before I joined him in the ward in the borough of Berwick-upon-Tweed, had to be out of office for a year for a misdemeanour which, under the new code, would not count as such. He tried to represent his constituents on planning but was slightly foolish in that he did not take the advice of the borough solicitor and contravened the rules at the time. Now, I would step into the breach. However, under the reorganisation, in the wards in question, which constitute a small part of the county division that I represent, there will be one councillor for the whole of my county division. If I were that councillor and were out of office for a year, that would be quite serious for my part of the county.
I can think of all sorts of scenarios in which someone not being allowed to take part would be detrimental, and my noble friend makes a very good point. It does not make sense to say that someone can be dismissed from a council because they have not attended for six months, yet they can be out of office for a year for a misdemeanour. As I have already said in these proceedings, given that in my part of Northumberland the number of councillors is going down from 306 to 67, I think that the Government should look at this matter rather more carefully. I therefore have a great deal of sympathy for what my noble friend said.
Baroness Andrews: My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this short debate. These are important pointsespecially that raised in the closing remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock.
Opposition Amendment No. 203 would amend the maximum sanction of suspension of a local councillor from office that a case tribunal of the adjudication
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The consequence of a decision to suspend a member from office is that the member must cease to act as a councillor. Notwithstanding the difficulties in large areas with single-member wardsof which the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, spoke and to which I listened carefullyfor the period of suspension electors are required, rightly, to rely on other councillors in the same ward or neighbouring wards, as appropriate, to represent their interests. That is not always easy to do but clearly it is an obligation.
Baroness Andrews: My Lords, I am very grateful that we have that on the record. The current rules relating to the maximum sanction available to the adjudication panel have been in operation since the provisions were enacted in 2000. I know how seriously noble Lords take the local government world, but we have received no indication from that quarter that the time limits on suspension are a matter of concern. Up to March 2007, suspension from office for one year occurred in less than 4 per cent of the adjudications made by the adjudication panel, so the power is not being used extensively, let alone misused.
In addition, we consider that the retention of the one-year maximum is appropriate to allow the panel to be able to reflect the seriousness of the conduct which might attract such a penalty. The types of behaviour that have attracted the maximum penalty include threatening or abusive behaviour which has not resulted in a criminal charge but is a very serious breach of the code of conduct. I think it right that in such cases the sanction available should be proportionate to the seriousness of the offence, and I believe that the provision provides for that. Therefore, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
Baroness Scott of Needham Market: My Lords, I am relieved to hear that this sanction has been used only in a small proportion of cases; nevertheless, as we heard from my noble friend Lady Maddock, it does happen. I remain of the view that a year is a very long time for a local area to be unrepresented,
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If the proposed sanction is a year in areas of conduct that are so serious, such as threatening behaviour, to which the noble Baroness referred, perhaps a better way from the point of view of the electorate would be to end someones term of office. At some point later they would become eligible to restand. To leave an area unrepresented for a year is dangerous and wrong. To argue that it does not matter is to undermine the democratic principle. I remain unconvinced but I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, we have a subtle shift of subject to health. I shall also speak to government Amendments Nos. 205 and 207. The amendments deal with the activities to which Clause 226(2) refers.
In Committee the noble Earl, Lord Howe, sought to establish that the activity of a LINk to monitor and review the commissioning and the provision of health and social care services was for the purpose of securing and maintaining improvements to those services, and to put a requirement to this effect in the Bill.
At the time, in the context of the debate, I certainly agreed that this definition of purpose was a useful and positive indicator of what LINks would do, but improving local services already seemed an explicit, overarching aim of LINkswhat would they have been set up to do otherwise? Moreover, in the same clause, we set out that the purpose of the reports and recommendations of a LINk was to suggest how services might be improved. While accepting the intention, we were concerned about needless duplication. I agreed to take the amendment away for more careful consideration and, in particular, to think about whether it could be applied to all of LINks activities rather than just one of them. On reflection, we agreed with the noble Earl, Lord Howe, that an amendment setting out the purposes of LINks monitoring and reviewing of local care services would be particularly valuablemore so than referring to all LINks services as originally thought. I have, therefore, brought forward these amendments, which aim to achieve the purpose that he sought, but without causing duplication.
I hope that noble Lords will agree that the revised amendments strengthen and capture the policy intent of the noble Earls proposal and set out the specific purposes of LINks monitoring and reviewing of
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Amendment No. 207 amends Clause 226(2)(d)(ii) to make it clear that the reports made by a LINk may refer to ways in which local care services could or ought to be improved. I hope that the scope of the amendments will commend itself to the noble Earl and that he can accept them. I beg to move.
Earl Howe: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for having taken our concerns from Committee and examined them so constructively. The amendments that she now proposes go a long way towards meeting the objectives behind my amendments tabled in Committee. They improve the whole flavour of this part of the Bill. I hope that other noble Lords will feel similarly, and I am pleased to accept the government amendments.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I apologise for the slight delay. I also speak to Amendment No. 220. These amendments are the same as Amendments Nos. 238LZA and 245B, which I spoke to in Committee when I highlighted a number of issues around social mobility for disabled people, the freedom to live where they like and local authority responsibilities in this area.
Each year, disabled people are being prevented from moving home, or moving from residential care to independent living, because of bureaucratic delays and disputes about who should pay for their care. The root cause of these problems is the definition of someones place of ordinary residence, a means whereby local authorities and primary care trusts determine which authority has responsibility for personal support for disabled people who live in their area. There is no legal definition of ordinary residence and the guidance is unclear.
Some local authorities are using this confusion to delay or avoid paying the costs of the care for those for whom they should be responsible. The amendments struck a chord with noble Lords who, speaking with great experience of both the statutory and voluntary sectors, stressed that this problem has been crying out for a solution for decades. There was widespread support for the notion that it is a fundamental principle that the ability to change ones place of ordinary
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In Committee on 23 July, at cols. 611-12, the Minister was extremely positive in her response. She agreed that these were important issues which merited more detailed examination, saying that she was happy to take them away and encourage her civil servants to discuss them with interested parties. She offered to press for significant progress before Report, and undertook to look carefully at the issues and come back with some practical, simple and straightforward suggestions. All noble Lords in this House will be interested to hear what the Minister has been able to achieve between Committee and now. I beg to move.
Earl Howe: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Low, has admirably summarised the issue in relation to these amendments. I merely rise to say that I should like to give him the fullest support from these Benches. I recognise that this is not an easy problem to solve. It is, however, a long-standing one. I hope that the reply we are about to hear will be suitably constructive.
Baroness Neuberger: My Lords, I support everything that the noble Lord, Lord Low of Dalston, and the noble Earl, Lord Howe, have said. It has been a long-standing problem, causing considerable distress to a large number of people over the years. We on these Benches strongly support these amendments.
Baroness Howarth of Breckland: My Lords, this problem lives in the too difficult box. No one will apply his mind to take it apart to assess the parts that can be tackled and dealt with. After all these years, the Government have a responsibility to do something about a problem that causes extreme anxiety and distress to a large number of vulnerable people. The noble Lord, Lord Low, indicated and I emphasise that they are usually people who find it difficult to speak and argue for themselves. A move from one place to another will often make a real difference to their lives; they might be closer to their family or to someone they love. A young disabled woman I know fell in lovepeople dowith a young man but, as she was in a particular placement, she found it impossible to be moved to another placement because another local authority would not accept the payment for her move. That happens across the spectrum. There are complex difficulties about people moving from residential homes into special housing or even into ordinary housing. I have been pressing that with Ministers in the other place for some time. It is difficult, but it should be possible to resolve this issue with the Local Government Association. I understood that guidance had been put in place to ensure that vulnerable people are not made more anxious and their lives are not made more difficult by
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Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I am again speaking on this issue and I hope I can continue the constructive and positive tone of Committee. I will explain some practical and straightforward steps that the Government plan to take. I thank noble Lords who spoke and particularly thank the noble Lord, Lord Low, for continuing to keep this discussion out of the too difficult box. I am sure that we will have opportunities to keep it out of that box in the new Session.
This amendment seeks to ensure that LINks can have an overview on issues including, for example, if a local authority wants to move someone to a care home out of the area. I confirm that the activities of a LINk in relation to a local authority area, as they are described in Clause 226(2), apply to care commissioned and provided to people who have moved their place of ordinary residence into that area. The definition of local care services given in Clause 226(5) is,
Therefore, anyone living even temporarily within a given local authority area will be able to share their experiences of care services with the LINk for that area, even if the services they receive are from outside that areaI wish to stress that. Any healthcare commissioned by the PCT will fall under the remit of a LINk, even if it is provided in, for example, a prison.
I understand that Amendment No. 220 is a means to secure what the noble Lord, Lord Low, eloquently described as social mobility by ensuring that local authorities should be under a duty to co-operate, for example, in the sharing of needs assessments to facilitate and speed up payments if people move from area to area. I understand the examples given by noble Lords today. This is an important issue and not something that we wish to be seen not understanding. I thank noble Lords for clarifying the issues around the mobility of disabled people and the local authoritys responsibilities in this area.
Officials from the Department of Health met representatives from the Voluntary Organisations Disability GroupVODGin mid-September to discuss these matters. At that meeting, it was agreed that, as part of the departments priority-setting round, which begins soon, they would consider the case for updating and revising the ordinary residence rules and that any future work would involve the VODG and other key stakeholders. That is an important development.
We will be making three small technical changes to the ordinary residence rules in the health and social care Bill that is likely to come before the House in the new Session. The first change involves the situation where the dispute involves an authority in England and an authority in Wales. At present, such a dispute can be resolved only through an arrangement between the National Assembly for Wales and the Secretary of
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I hope that we can keep this important issue out of the too difficult box. I am aware that the department is looking forward to continuing to work with organisations such as the VODG and other stakeholders and continues to be grateful to noble Lords for raising these important issues. I imagine that they will continue to do so when we discuss future legislation on this matter. I hope the noble Lord feels able to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Low of Dalston: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her reply. It is clear that things are moving forward positively, so I will be able to withdraw the amendment. I am grateful for the changes that the Government propose to make to legislation and regulations. However, there is more work to do. The noble Baroness said that the department is going to consider whether it can undertake further work on this issue and what priority it can give it in its work programme for the period ahead. I do not have a great deal of confidence in the departments priorities on this issue because in 1984 there was undertaking to revise the relevant guidance, but it has not yet been done. We will need to continue to be vigilant about the priority this is given in the department. I hope that the noble Baroness will continue to keep a vigilant eye on it and will use her good offices and her best endeavours to ensure that it is given appropriate priority. Noble Lords have indicated that this problem is long overdue for solution, and I hope the Minister will do her best to ensure that it is accorded some priority in the departments programme. If there are any difficulties about this I am sure the noble Baroness will be more than happy to meet noble Lords who have expressed an interest in these issues.
The noble Earl said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 207A, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 208A, 209ZA, 210ZC and 210ZD. We have come to a group of amendments, most of which in their different ways relate to the same problem. I use the word problem as the most neutral term I can readily think of for what many of us regard as a most serious and regrettable weakness in this part of the Bill; namely, the absence of even the slightest hint of a statutory identity for LINks. There is a complete lack of any descriptive reference to what a LINk might look like and practically no definition of a LINk, apart from it having to be a person, which is simply a piece of legal jargon and gets us almost nowhere.
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