Clause 4 - Co-operation between Authorities
Carers (Equal Opportunities) Bill
3:30 pm

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Amendment No. 6, in

clause 6, page 3, leave out lines 18 to 22 and insert—

'Section (Co-operation between authorities), in so far as it confers functions on a local authority within the meaning of that section.

Co-operation between authorities.'' '.

Amendment No. 8, in

clause 9, page 4, line 22, at end insert

'section (Co-operation between authorities) of'.

New clause 3—Co-operation between authorities—

'(1) If a local authority requests an authority mentioned in subsection (5) to assist it in planning the provision of services to persons—

(a) entitled to an assessment under any of the provisions mentioned in subsection (4), or

(b) for whom those persons provide, or intend to provide, a substantial amount of care on a regular basis,

the authority mentioned in subsection (5) must give due consideration to the request.

(2) Subsection (3) applies if—

(a) under a provision mentioned in subsection (4) a local authority is assessing, or has assessed, the ability of a person (''the carer'') to provide and to continue to provide care for another person (''the person cared for''), and

(b) the local authority forms the view that the carer's ability to provide and to continue to provide care for the person cared for might be enhanced by the provision of services (whether for the carer or the person cared for) by an authority mentioned in subsection (5).

(3) If the local authority requests such an authority to provide any such services the authority or person must give due consideration to the request.

(4) The provisions are—

(a) section 1 of the Carers (Recognition and Services) Act 1995 (c.12), and

(b) sections 1 and 6 of the Carers and Disabled Children Act 2000 (c.16).

(5) The authorities are—

(a) any other local authority,

(b) any local education authority,

(c) any local housing authority, and

(d) any Special Health Authority, Local Health Board, Primary Care Trust, National Health Service Trust or NHS foundation trust.

(6) Subsections (1) and (3) do not apply in relation to any action which could be the subject of a request by the local authority to the authority mentioned in subsection (5) under section 27 of the Children Act 1989 (c.41).

(7) In this section—

''local authority'' has the same meaning as in section 46 of the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990 (c.19),

''local education authority'' has the same meaning as in the Education Act 1996 (c.56), and

''local housing authority'' has the same meaning as in the Housing Act 1985 (c.68).'

Dr. Francis: Given what I wanted to achieve and what carers find important, I could not proceed without a clause to promote effective joint working for carers. People's lives are not compartmentalised, unlike many of our public services, and we need creativity and partnership to deliver real benefits for carers. I was advised that section 27 of the Children Act 1989 was useful in delivering such outcomes for children, and I wanted to emulate it in the Bill. That is why we have clause 4.

Dr. Ladyman: Clause 4 is intended to foster joint working to deliver more comprehensive services for carers, and I commend my hon. Friend on incorporating that key aim in the Bill. It is acknowledged that partnership working is vital to ensuring that the population is served by cohesive and seamless services. We all recognise that some partners in health and social care have not been as engaged with carers' issues as we would like.

I understand that clause 4 has found most favour with local authorities that think that its equivalent in the 1989 Act has been effective in bringing individual groups around the table, cutting duplication and facilitating the sharing of information on children's services. As it stands, however, the clause goes much further and would require authorities to provide assistance generally, not just in relation to planning.

I am concerned to ensure that we get the balance right between all the public authorities that provide services for carers. The clause appears to give local authorities the upper hand. It would require an authority to comply with a request for assistance if the request was compatible with its functions. I have said that the Bill should not impose onerous financial burdens on other authorities. Those authorities will have to meet the costs incurred from existing resources. With that in mind, I want to ensure that the legislative provisions produce real benefits for

carers without placing undue burdens on public authorities.

New clause 3 means that if a local authority requests one of the listed public authorities to assist it in planning services for carers or for persons cared for, the authority must give due consideration to the request. Similarly, if a local authority is assessing or has assessed a carer, and it believes that one of the listed authorities might be able to provide services that would help the carer, the authority must give due consideration to the request. Subsection (6) means that if a local authority could use section 27 of the 1989 Act in a particular case to make a request for assistance, that section applies, not the new clause. That is to ensure that nothing in the Bill takes away from the general power in that section.

New clause 3 will enable social services departments to be better able to call on other authorities to assist in supporting carers and will provide a formal basis for co-operation between authorities to deliver a more coherent service for carers. Importantly, that discussion can take place at the right time. At a strategic level, it will give social services a lever to influence the priorities of their colleagues in health and social care. They will, for example, be able to ask an NHS trust about setting up an information service for carers in relation to planning. We have added an additional duty in relation to co-operation. It is important that councils can engage individually with their partners in health and social care as well as at a planning level. I am sure that we have all heard about requests for support from other authorities or social services being ignored, seemingly arbitrarily. That could change as a result of the Bill.

New clause 3(2) means that if a council is assessing or has assessed a carer and believes that the situation might be enhanced by the provision of services from another authority, that authority must give due consideration to the request.

Mr. Burstow: Will the Minister say more about the generally understood meaning of ''due consideration'' so that we can be clear about what local and other authorities have to take into account when they are asked to give due consideration?

Dr. Ladyman: I am loth to answer that question off the cuff because I have a horrible feeling that it will turn out to be one of those phrases that has some deep and hidden legal meaning and that I will be rewriting bodies of legislation by trying to define it precisely.

I believe ''due consideration'' to mean that local authorities must give proper consideration to the request that has been made of them. They cannot dismiss it arbitrarily for reasons that they have set in a tablet of stone without due consideration of the merits of the individual case. They cannot have a blanket ban on considering all such requests, but must give proper and specific consideration to the request. They must take into account all relevant matters, including priorities and related issues. The key is that they must give specific consideration to the request. They must not simply take a blanket decision not to consider certain types of request.

The new clause is designed not to place onerous burdens on housing departments, other parts of local government or health bodies. It is, however, designed to ensure that public authorities properly consider requests for assistance made by social services authorities. That gives social services an opportunity to put their case, usually a strong one, about the benefits offered in individual circumstances.

I hope that the Committee will not accept the clause and that the new clause will be added instead.

Mrs. Browning: Will the Minister reflect on the possibility of adding to his list another public body—the probation service? I ask that because I have a constituency case involving a minor with persistent drug addiction. His single-mother carer is under enormous strain working with the statutory services to try to assist him. In such cases, the police and probation service could be part of a multidisciplinary team that could have an input, especially as the police budget is used in drug rehabilitation programmes, and part of that has a knock-on effect on carers as well as the person receiving help. I know that such cases are in a minority, but there are practical examples in which it would be useful to add that body to the list.

Mr. Goodman: I invite the Committee to compare clause 4(3)(d) with new clause 3(5)(d). I have a simple point to make to which there is a probably a good response. The list in clause 4(3)(d) begins with the words ''any Health Authority'', but those words are not in the list in new clause 3(5)(d), which begins with ''any Special Health Authority'' and goes on to name a series of specific health authorities. I am guessing that the Minister excluded ''Health Authority'' because it did not have a specific enough meaning in law. Will he clarify that?

Dr. Ladyman: If I have learned one thing about being a Minister, it is not to make promises on behalf of other Departments. The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton is tempting me to promise something that I would need to discuss with colleagues at the Home Office. However, there is obvious merit in the case that she outlines and I will undertake to raise that with them.

The hon. Member for Wycombe asked about the general nature of the wording of clause 4, which says ''Health Authority''. It is always best to be specific in legislation and the wording of the new clause identifies the specific legal entities involved.

On that basis, I hope that the Committee will agree that clause 4 should not stand part of the Bill and, subsequently, that new clause 3 should.

Dr. Francis: I am happy to accept the Minister's proposals and I urge the Committee to support them.

Question put and negatived.

Clause 4 disagreed to.