Clause 6

Part of Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 9:00 am ar 13 Gorffennaf 2006.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Ivan Lewis Ivan Lewis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health) (Care Services) 9:00, 13 Gorffennaf 2006

I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Conway. This is the first time that I have spoken in Committee with you in the Chair, and it is good to see you.

This debate is sensible and important. The concepts of direct payments and individual budgets are at the heart of public service reform, empowering individuals with far more control over the services provided for them. It is right to make the point, as did the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), that that will be a significant part of how services are provided in future.

We must strike the right balance. We must ensure that people receive appropriate protection and safeguards without undermining the principle of empowering them by giving them more control and choice. We must not place onerous and undue requirements on them but must give them every assistance and support to ensure that they can employ anybody they choose, either on their own behalf or on behalf of a family friend or relative.

Individual budgets and direct payments will be a greater part of the mainstream care system than they have been. We are running 13 pilots at the moment for individual budgets, and we want to learn from those before we decide whether to roll out individual budgets as a national option or an entitlement for people.

We should be trying to incorporate into those 13 pilots, which are at an early stage, a means to ensure that people understand their right to seek information and make the necessary checks so that they have the maximum protection. During those pilots, I shall certainly look at lessons that can be learned.

On amendment No. 105, we do not believe that it would be appropriate to bring a family member or friend within the definition of a regulated activity provider. We should enable and assist relatives and friends to have the right to make the necessary checks, but it would be inappropriate to oblige them to do so by statute.

On amendment No. 106, we agree that all individuals in receipt of a direct payment should be aware of the vetting and barring scheme, and of their right to engage with it. I shall try to assure hon. Members. In another place, we gave a commitment to introduce a Government amendment placing a duty on local councils to inform direct payment recipients of their right to engage with the new scheme. As hon. Members are aware, we have tabled that amendment, and either I or the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Dhanda), will speak to it later. That should meet the intention of the amendment tabled by the hon. Members for Mid-Dorset and North Poole and for Brent, East (Sarah Teather).

In addition—I hope that this gives further assurance to the Committee—we are exploring how people who require help in making checks can be assisted by local authorities. We envisage direct payment support services playing a key role in that area. The new scheme will allow all private, domestic employers, including direct payment recipients or their nominees, to check an individual’s status in the scheme online, or via other means. At this stage, we do not think that it is necessary to put a requirement on local councils to do that on an individual’s behalf.

On amendment No. 107 relating to criminal offences—I do not think that the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole referred directly to it—the Bill provides already for a number of offences, where appropriate. We are not convinced by the argument for specific or additional offences in respect of direct payments and individual budgets. Therefore, although it is right that we send a strong message about the consequences of breaching the law, to introduce specific offences relating to those issues is neither necessary nor desirable.

I like to think that we have given way significantly since the debate began in the other place. We are all learning as the concept of individual budgets and direct payments develops and we will need to reflect on the lessons learned. However, I think that the Bill just about strikes the right balance between enabling and supporting people to have access to the relevant vetting process and procedures and not placing an inappropriate duty on them. It will give them more freedom and control over the choice of care provided. On that basis, I ask hon. Members not to press their amendments.