§ 7. Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham)
What steps he will take to ensure that medical tests for disability living allowance are objective and professionally conducted. 
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Stephen Timms)
The conduct and quality of medical assessments that may be required in the determination of entitlement to disability living allowance are subject to close monitoring and regular and random audit against nationally determined standards specified in the Benefits Agency's contract with the SEMA Group, which provides medical services.
§ Dr. Cable
I thank the Minister. Is he aware that, with the current climate of financial austerity at the Department of Social Security, there is much anxiety among the disabled that their allowances may be cut as a result of cursory examination by medical generalists without reference to general practitioners? Will he examine the shortage of doctors in this field to ensure that a proper service is available?
§ Mr. Timms
Very specific medical quality standards on experience, qualifications and training are included in the Benefits Agency's contract with SEMA. All doctors undertaking examinations for disability living allowance must now be approved by the chief medical adviser on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I am aware of some of the concerns that the hon. Gentleman raised. We are satisfied that enough doctors are available and are determined that the standards to which they work should be of the highest possible quality. The assessments are vital to many people. We need to ensure that they are right and we are investing significant resources in ensuring that they are. As an illustration of our determination to secure the highest quality, we are working with the Royal College of Physicians on the first ever diploma in disability assessment medicine, which will be awarded for the first time next year, to raise standards in this important area.
§ Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North)
I welcome my hon. Friend to his new position. I appreciate his comments, but I have two points. First, will he reconsider the position of children identified by schools as having general special needs without a specific need being diagnosed—children who are unable to work because of 945 a kind of general disability? Secondly, is enough advice provided to those who help people to fill in forms? Sometimes they are family members and have great difficulty in coping with the voluminous questionnaires that they are sent.
§ Mr. Timms
I thank my hon. Friend for her kind words. She raises two important points. We know that there are particular difficulties for people who become disabled when very young because they cannot gain national insurance credits and so do not become entitled later in life to incapacity benefit. We are considering that in our current review. We are also aware of the need for those who advise disabled people to have access to the best possible information. We will do what we can to make progress on that.
§ Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead)
I congratulate the Minister on his elevation to the Front Bench. I am sure that he is aware that on 12 September, as reported in the press, the Prime Minister wrote to Lord Morris of Manchester saying that the Green Paper on welfare reform did not put forward any proposal to tax disability living allowance and that that remained the position. Is the Minister aware that, to many people, that seems reminiscent of the position when the then Leader of the Opposition said in April last year that the Labour party had no plans to introduce tuition fees for university students and then, three months later, did so? Will the Minister clarify the record, put aside the carefully chosen words of the Prime Minister and say that the Government will not tax DLA for existing or future recipients?
§ Mr. Timms
I thank the hon. Lady for her congratulations and extend mine to her on her appointment. The Government's action on student support has been widely welcomed. The position on taxation of DLA has been made very clear and has been accurately reported. There are no plans to introduce taxation of those benefits. That remains the position. Her statement of the Government's position is correct.