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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 885: debated on Tuesday 28 January 1975

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Social Services

Invalid Care Allowance


asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether the entitlement to an invalid care allowance under the Social Security Benefits Bill will be treated for the purposes of granting credits as though it were an entitlement to full class 1 benefits.

The Minister of State, Department of Health and Social Security
(Mr. Brian O'Malley)

Yes, Sir.

I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has taken this small step towards meeting the case of the Council for the Single Woman and her Dependants. Will he take one more step and bring in this benefit at the same time as he brings in the other benefits under the Bill? As this is International Women's Year, will the right hon. Gentleman remove the astonishing sex discrimination and make these allowances available equally to men as to women?

I thought that I should be unable to satisfy the hon. Lady. We may have the opportunity to discuss wider issues on Report later this week.

Mentally Handicapped Persons (Nursing)


asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what representations she has received on the Briggs Report.

I have received representations from a number of organisations and individuals on various aspects of the Briggs Report. Mostly, opinion has favoured early implementation of the recommendations and asked that adequate resources be made available, but there has been criticism of some of the proposals.

Will my right hon. Friend accept that both the training and the practice of nurses for the mentally handicapped has increased rapidly in the last few years and moved increasingly away from general nursing? Will she, therefore, give an assurance that in legislation on nurses' training she will continue to provide for the separate registration, enrolment, training and examination of nurses for the mentally handicapped? Will my right hon. Friend further give an indication whether, and if so when, we are likely to have a separate caring profession for the mentally handicapped?

I appreciate that there has been uncertainty as to their future among nurses in mental handicap hospitals following the references in the Briggs Report to a new caring profession. All I can say to my hon. Friend at this stage is that I hope to make a statement soon about our policy on the mentally handicapped.

Is the right hon. Lady aware that in hospitals for the mentally handicapped there is a higher ratio of patients to consultants than there is in any other type of hospital in the United Kingdom? The patients, therefore, have a special dependence on the nursing staff, and if the Briggs Report were implemented, recruitment of nurses for the mentally handicapped would be devastated.

I note what the hon. Gentleman says, but I do not at this stage wish to add anything to what I have just said.

Pensions (London Weighting)


asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether she will consider introducing an element of London weighting to all pensions paid to persons living in the Greater London area.

No, Sir. The National Insurance Scheme is a contributory one, and people in all parts of the country pay the same rates of contributions to qualify for the same rates of benefit. As regards supplementary pensions, there is already some differentiation in the levels of entitlement in different parts of the country, because these vary directly with the housing costs incurred by an individual supplementary pensioner.

My right hon. Friend will not be surprised that I am somewhat disappointed with his reply. Does he not accept that many of the factors identified last year by the Pay Board as contributing to the much higher cost of living of people living in the London area apply equally to pensioners, particularly having regard to the low take-up of rent rebates? Is there not a case for reviewing the basic pension in this locality?

It is true that last year the Pay Board showed quite clearly that higher costs were incurred by people living in London, but the main additional costs arose in connection with housing and travel to work. Supplementary pensions take account of housing costs, and other pensioners can claim rent and rate rebates. Just as there may be costs which are in some ways unique to London, or which are higher in London than in other parts of the country, so it might be argued that, for example, climatic conditions in other parts of the British Isles could lead to a similar conclusion in those areas.

Will the Minister resist the idea advanced by his hon. Friend? If he were to accept it it would cause bitterness in areas just outside the Greater London area? Will he accept that one of the principal reasons for having London weighting is the necessary use of public transport? Does he not agree that this does not necessarily apply to pensioners?

The extra cost of travel to work does not apply to pensioners in general, but the hon. Gentleman is right to say that if any attempt were made to run a system based on defined boundaries we should run into serious administrative problems, and deep resentment would build up in all parts of the country.



asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether she will make brucellosis in humans a notifiable disease.

I have no plans to make brucellosis notifiable. Cases are few and there has been no marked increase in recent years. Moreover, diagnosis is often un- certain and transmission between humans is virtually unknown.

Does the Minister recognise that if notification figures were available, figures for those areas, such as Northumberland, where eradication is failing would be very startling indeed? Does he agree that in the case of a disease such as brucellosis, which is incurable and has lifetime effects, it is important that his Department should be notified and actively involved, and that it should not be seen simply as a problem for the agricultural industry to solve by itself?

We are closely involved with the Ministry of Agriculture. The most important reason for making diseases notifiable is to enable speedy action to check their spread. In the case of brucellosis, the time needed to establish diagnosis reduces the value of notification.

National Insurance


asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether she is satisfied that the insurance principle remains the appropriate basis for financing the National Insurance Scheme.

Yes, Sir. We regard the contributory basis of national insurance as valuable and important, and we are proposing no change in this respect in the way our new pension scheme is financed.

Does the Secretary of State agree that since the levels of national insurance benefits are fixed by political decision and not by reference to the state of the National Insurance Fund, and since most benefits are already financed from general taxation, the notion that we are applying the insurance principle at present is a sham and an illusion? Would it not be more sensible to acknowledge that factor and to do away with contributions, since it would save a great deal of administrative time and also avoid a large number of unfair and anomalous cases?

My hon. Friend is right to say that national insurance has never been "insurance" in the commercial sense of the word. None the less, there has been an enduring feeling in this country, particularly among the trade unions, that there is a kind of guarantee about a contributory scheme—a guaran- tee that would not obtain in the same way if the scheme were financed entirely out of taxation. It gives some assurance that Governments will not use the lack of a contributory principle as an excuse to economise in the important matter of pensions.

The more favourable traeatment that we are giving to the self-employed, compared with the actions of our predecessors, shows that the self-employed are already beneficiaries.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the retention of a contributory system enables the Government to pay lower benefits than if supplementary benefits were to be got rid of?

No, I do not accept that. I believe the way to get rid of supplementary benefits is to do as we are proposing to do in our "Better Pensions" scheme, namely, to lift the whole level of provision for security in old age.

Does the right hon. Lady accept that there is one point we cannot avoid in what was put to her by the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Gould)? I refer to the fact that since we are now going over to earnings-related contributions and they are now being collected in large part by the Inland Revenue, contributors will feel that their contributions have the impact of a social security tax. Will the right hon. Lady accept that it will be indefensible to have a special rate for the self-employed which is unfair compared with that paid by employed persons?

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. We are proposing to give earnings-related benefits in relation to earnings-related contributions. As our predecessors have shown, the two things do not always go together. It is a question of what are the principles and what is the level of the whole pension scheme. The existence of the contributory principle does not prevent the development of a non-contributory, non-means-tested benefit, such as the attendance allowance and our new non-contributory invalidity pension. As for the self-employed, I find it remarkable that any Con- servative Member should pretend to act as their protagonist, in view of past Conservative policies.

Hospital Consultants


asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if she will make a statement about the progress she has made to date with the negotiations with hospital consultants.


asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if she will make a statement on the state of her discussions with the British Medical Association and the Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association about a new contract for consultants employed in the National Health Service.


asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what further discussions she has had about the pay and conditions of service of hospital concultants; and whether she will make a statement.

Following my statement in the House on 13th January—[Vol. 884, c. 33–42]—an initial clarification meeting between Health Departments' officials and representatives of the consultants took place last week. I understand that the professions will be considering later this week the response I am sending them.

What is the Secretary of State doing to dispel the distrust which the consultants now feel of her?

The hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) has contributed her quota to any sense of distrust. I made a statement to the House which was widely recognised as being a very forthcoming one, to which the vast majority of the people in the country felt the consultants would respond. I then suggested that an initial exploratory meeting could be held to clear away some of the doubts and misunderstandings about our proposals, with a view, hopefully, to our going into negotiations in the joint negotiating committee. That exploratory meeting has been held and the profession's representatives will be considering my response.

We are glad that talks about talks are now beginning, but does my right hon. Friend appreciate that many of us believe that talks should not go ahead until the sanctions called by the BMA and HCSA have been called off?

The consultants have frequently said to me that they did not wish to be pressured on the kind of contract they took under the National Health Service. I sympathise with that view and I have tried to reassure them. But, equally, I say to them that Governments cannot negotiate under pressure and duress, and that therefore the purpose of the initial exploratory meeting was to lay the foundations for sanctions to be withdrawn.

Is the Secretary of State aware that many members of the public are very worried about the continuation of the dispute? What information has she about the number and proportion of consultants who are participating in the work-to-rule?

Without notice, I cannot give the actual number and proportion. As I said in my last statement, the action is widespread but uneven in its incidence. In certain areas consultants have decided to take no action and have pressed for negotiations to be resumed. I am only too anxious for that to happen, and I hope that the initial exploratory meeting will have paved the way.

Does my right hon. Friend envisage that the settlement—when it comes—will be within the social contract, as at present outlined by members of the Cabinet at least, and in line with the pronouncements of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the past 10 days?

The settlement, when reached, will of course be priced by the Doctors' and Dentists' Review Body, which in any case is due to review consultants' pay this April. The body has shown great care in taking the social contract into account in, for instance, refusing to recommend a breach of the 12-months rule. I have made it quite plain that since the body has clearly shown that it has the social contract in mind the Government will feel under strong obligation to implement its recommendations.

Will the Secretary of State take the House a little more into her confidence by saying what response she has sent to the consultants? Will she tell us, bearing in mind that the existing contract is based on a six-day working week, that she is confident that in this unhappy matter she has behaved in a way which is consistent with being a good employer?

I am not prepared to give the House more details, partly because the response has not yet reached the profession's representatives. In any case, I do not consider that it would help towards clarification of the issues, and, therefore, a settlement of the outstanding points, for me to disclose any of the details at this stage.

What has been the effect of the consultants' actions on the patients, particularly in relation to waiting lists and out-patient clinics?

Here again, the results have been uneven, though I am deeply sorry to say that waiting lists have lengthened in some areas.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the senior medical staff at Blackpool and Fylde hospitals are deeply concerned about the effects of the present situation on patients, the medical profession and the whole future of the health service? Is she also aware of the anxiety of these consultants about the need to bring this ugly dispute to a swift conclusion by reasonable negotiations rather than by attempts to impose an inflexible ministerial decision?

I am delighted to hear the hon. and learned Gentleman's comment, because it provides the hope that the consultants will help to resolve this difficulty, first by lifting sanctions immediately and, secondly, by playing their part in meaningful negotiations.

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of those replies, Mr. Speaker, I beg to give notice that I reserve the right to raise this matter on the Adjournment.

Kidney Transplants


asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what is her most recent estimate of the number of patients suffering from kidney disease, and unable to undergo a transplant operation for lack of matching tissue.

On 17th January there were 873 United Kingdom patients registered with the national organ matching and distribution service as waiting for a kidney transplant. This compares with a figure of 791 one year ago.

In view of those 873, are Ministers from my hon. Friend's Department planning to ask Government Whips to shout "Object" when the Kidney Transplant Bill comes up on 7th February?

Perhaps I should declare an interest. I was once a sponsor of a similar Bill introduced by my hon. Friend a few years ago. My sympathy is not, therefore in question. My hon. Friend must try to persuade my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip on this matter.

Will the Minister say how many kidney transplant operations took place in the last year for which he has figures?

Benefits (Repayments)


asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what study she had made of repayments of overpaid social security benefits by elderly people, amounting in some cases to hundreds of pounds, evidence of which had been supplied to her by the hon. Member for Cannock; and what instructions are given to social security offices on the question of obtaining such repayments.

My right hon. Friend is aware of the circumstances in which repayment of overpaid social security benefits is required. Instructions to staff in local offices concerning recovery of overpaid benefits are based on the relevant statutory provisions. I have written to my hon. Friend about the individual case and issues he has raised.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that in the case to which I brought his attention it seems completely wrong that an elderly widow should be asked to make large repayments of this sort to cover money which had been received mainly by her husband? Will my right hon. Friend give me an assurance, which so far I have not had, that in these cases the local social services officers, for whom I have a great respect, have absolute discretion whether to ask for payment?

I understand and sympathise with the difficulties that can arise in the case of a widow where her husband received supplementary benefit both for himself and his wife. I assure my hon. Friend that the Department does all it can to spare old people unnecessary anxiety. On the other hand, the Department and my right hon. Friend have a clearly-defined statutory responsibility to effect recovery where payments have been made in excess of the correct amount. Recovery is not enforced if it would cause real hardship, and elderly persons are discouraged from attempting to repay at rates that are clearly beyond their means.

I would not want to embarrass the lady in the case referred to by my hon. Friend, but I assure him that there was certainly no attempt by the Department to enforce repayment by a lump sum. The letter I have sent to my hon. Friend fully explains the situation and the background to the case.



asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if she will bring in a Bill to tie the disregards, for income from both earnings and savings, in retirement and other pensions, to the retail price index.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware how galling it is to my constituents and others when those who earn find that they are penalised as inflation proceeds, because what they can earn is reduced, whereas those who do not earn have their pensions increased in line with or in excess of the increase in the cost of living? Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider this matter and protect those who earn rather than those who live on the State?

I agree that under the Tories it must have been galling for the sort of people the hon. Member described, since his Government did nothing about it. However, his constituents will be far happier with the situation now, because since Labour came to power the disregards of both capital and earnings have been and are being increased substantially under the Bill now before the House.

We all welcome what is being done about disregards, but will the right hon. Gentleman consider the situation in relation to the average level of weekly earnings? The old figure represented 10 per cent. of average weekly earnings when it was introduced in November 1966, whereas the new figure is only 8 per cent. of the level in October 1974. Will the right hon. Gentleman make sure that supplementary beneficiaries are not disadvantaged too badly because the Government have allowed the average level of weekly earnings to soar at uncontrolled rates?

People are not disadvantaged now in the way that they were under the Conservative Government, judging that Government by their record—

It is not rubbish; it is a question of the facts, and the hon. Member should consider the facts before she comments. Increases in capital disregards represent a substantial improvement on what had been given before, and the simplification and the changes in the earnings disregards certainly give price protection. There are other priorities, too, however. At a time when the Conservative Party is complaining hypocritically about levels of public expenditure it should take that into account before asking questions of the kind it has been raising with me today.

Dental Service


asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether she is satisfied with the present situation in the National Health Dental Service; and if she will make a statement.

If the hon. Member is referring to dentists' remuneration, we accept that this has fallen behind during the period of statutory pay controls and we have assured the profession that the Government will accept the forthcoming recommendations of the independent review body on doctors' and dentists' remuneration, unless there are clear and compelling reasons for not doing so.

I thank the Minister for that statement. In view of the enormous increase in capital costs that the dentists have had to face compared with the much lower sums spent by the Government on dentistry, will the Minister make sure that when a substantial increase is given in April it will not be affected by any incomes freeze?

I cannot give any more reassurance than I gave in my reply, but I recognise the problems facing dentists, whose practice expenses are rising in a time of rapid inflation. Last year I authorised special advance payments to dentists to help them with those expenses.

Will the hon. Gentleman say a word or two about the future? Will he confirm that all the signs indicate that there will be a serious shortage of dentists within a fairly short time? Can he say anything about the surveys which indicate that the nation's teeth—in particular, the children's teeth—are in a very bad state? Does he think that the dwindling number of dentists will be able to cope with the growing causes of dental decay? As trained dentists are welcomed in many parts of the world, is it wise to clobber the dentists with the self-employed tax, in the same way as other groups of self-employed are being clobbered?

We are reviewing the whole of our dental services. No one can be happy with the present state of the nation's teeth. In particular, the report dealing with children's teeth showed that there were many instances of decay and a considerable amount of periodontal disease. It revealed a generally very worrying situation. We are urgently considering the matter and are examining preventive methods of dealing with the problems of children's teeth in particular, including, perhaps, increased dental services to children in schools.

As the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) indicated to the House yet another of the deplorable legacies left by previous Conservative Governments—rotten teeth—will my hon. Friend give serious consideration to a matter on which he could make a decision quickly, namely, the use of fluorides by both dentists and water authorities in the conservation of teeth?

That is a controversial issue on both sides of the House, but I think it is time the House discussed it. Towards the end of the year the Government hope to put to the House a White Paper on preventive measures affecting many aspects of health. The report drew attention to children's eating sweets and snacks between meals as one the major causes of dental decay.

Maternity Grant


asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if she will end the national insurance contribution qualification for maternity grants and raise the level of the grant as a matter of urgency.

While I am well aware of my hon. Friend's concern in this matter, I am afraid that resources will not at this time permit us to make either of the changes which she suggests.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that reply. I assure him that when I have an interest to declare I shall do so. My hon. Friend cannot expect me to be happy with his reply. Is he aware that the maternity grant is the one benefit that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would perhaps consider to be eligible to become that noncontributory, non-means-tested benefit? Is he also aware that the 10 per cent. of mothers who are not eligible for maternity grant are likely to be those most in need—that is, the very young mothers, who do not have their own national insurance contributions, and the unsupported mothers? In the light of that, will my hon. Friend reconsider the question of making the benefit dependent on national insurance contributions? The benefit was last raised in 1969. Is my hon. Friend aware that the cost of living has gone up since then?

If I were not aware of certain of those facts before, I am well aware of them now. Both the level of the maternity grant and the qualification for receiving it are matters which are kept constantly under review in my Department.

Is the Minister aware that if there is a case for giving the young unmarried mothers a non-contribution maternity grant there is an even better case for giving a death grant for the elderly who were unable to contribute because they were too old in 1948?

As soon as the hon. Gentleman rose I realised that he would point out the difficulties of deciding priorities. If we increased the maternity grant even to a level of about £30, that would cost £4 million, in addition to the £1·75 million needed to make it noncontributory. To accept the hon. Gentleman's suggestion on top of that would mean making decisions on priorities.

Speech Therapists


asked the Secretary of State for Social Services how many health authorities have applied for permission to appoint senior speech therapists; and how many appointments have been made.

I understand that about 30 authorities have made inquiries of my Department about appointment of area speech therapists; I am anxious that they should proceed as soon as agreement has been reached on salaries and selection procedures.

Is the Minister satisfied that this new branch of medicine is properly appreciated? Does he realise that it helps the rehabilitation of patients? Will he do all he can to encourage its further use?

I am so satisfied. My Department is doing all it can to reach a speedy agreement with staff interests on salaries and conditions of service for the post. As members of the profession know, I have the highest possible admiration for them.



asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if she is satisfied with the development of the social services in Sheffield, in the light of the last report of the old Sheffield social services department, a copy of which has been sent to her.

This is an excellent report, which reveals pressures on the Sheffield social services department which are common to many authorities. It is impossible to be satisfied while needs are unmet; but it is clear that the former authority sought to deploy the resources available to it as effectively as it could. The new authority is, I believe, pursuing the same realistic aim within the expenditure and manpower ceiling which the Government have had to set.

My hon. Friend has highlighted the alarming picture of under-staffing and inadequate resources for social service provision that the report shows for Sheffield. Will he see to it, so far as he can, that when resources are available they are diverted to the deprived areas of that city? What has happened to the 10-year plan for the development of social services in Sheffield that was prepared for his Department?

We are encouraging local authorities to plan on a 10-year cycle, and we have retained the plans. There are very few hon. Members who are not aware of the strong pressure on social services departments. It is claims on resources, not least the problem of housing, which put tremendous pressure on them. We shall do the best we can with the limited resources at our disposal.

Will my hon. Friend take steps to prevent the gamble whereby the area in which one lives determines the sort of social services one receives? Will he get my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to take powers to put in commissioners to take over social service functions where local authorities are not carrying out the provisions of the Alf Morris Act?

The whole question of local authority independence and of putting in commissions is highly contentious. My hon. Friend will be aware of the view we took on this issue in another aspect of local government powers. We shall continue to use our powers of persuasion and to issue circulars of guidance. We shall, hopefully, rely on giving advice.



asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what representations she has had from the Abortion Law Reform Association in connection with its campaign for abortion on demand; and what answer she has given.

In common with other hon. Members, my right hon. Friend has received a letter setting out the association's current aims. It did not call for a reply.

Many who would not wish to see the Abortion Act repealed would nevertheless resist a movement towards abortion on demand. Will the hon. Gentleman take into account the fact that this is a social matter of continuing controversy and that any move by the association to gain Government approval for the object of its campaign should be resisted by Ministers?

Abortion on demand is the case in which a woman asserts a legal right to abortion, regardless of medical opinion. Abortion on request is the case in which she has a right to abortion without regard to statutory criteria but subject to medical approval. That is the present situation. Views on the matter are usually expressed in free votes in the House.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the enormous amount of money being made in this area by private consultants, many of whom can best be described as butchers? Has my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State any evidence of offers made by such consultants to those who wish to open private hospitals in hotels?

We are deeply concerned about the way in which the Act has operated in the private sector. A good deal of toughening up has taken place in recent years. We have started, through administrative means, to take further toughening-up measures to try to control the abuses that were demonstrated by the Lane Report.

In view of the rather technical, medical nature of the changes needed in the law following the Lane Report, do not the Government think that it would be better if they introduced their own Bill to make those changes, because the changes need to be carried out quickly? Cannot the Government act?

Many of the powers that the hon. Gentleman sought, in his Private Member's Bill, to take through statutory power we are now attempting to take through administrative power. We shall leave the House to judge whether that is sufficient. We are still consulting on some of these measures. We have already announced a considerable toughening up in the private sector in the past few months.

In view of the concern expressed throughout the country on this matter, will my hon. Friend give the House the opportunity to have a debate at the earliest possible moment on the reasoned approach of the report of the Lane Committee? Such a debate might help to overcome some of the fears of women generally on the question whether abuses occur in the national health sector or the private sector of medicine.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The House is likely to have the opportunity to discuss this subject on 7th February, by means of a Private Member's Bill. The Government will then give some indication of their attitude on various aspects of the Lane Report. We had hoped for a rather longer time, but the initial period of consultation has taken place and we shall give as much advice as possible on the recommendations contained in the report.

Healing Allowance


asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what steps she is taking to ensure that those supplementary pensioners who would be entitled to extra heating allowance do in fact receive it, in view of the risk of hypothermia amongst elderly people who cannot afford adequate heating.

I have discussed this matter with the Supplementary Benefits Commission and I understand that a variety of practical measures is being taken to ensure that those who are entitled to extra heating additions do receive them.

Does my hon. Friend accept that it is hardly an answer to refer to a variety of measures. I think that the House will be interested to know of what that variety consists. Will my hon. Friend take into account that there are reliable estimates, such as that of Coventry's social services department, which indicate that about 70 per cent. of those who may be entitled to heating allowances are not even aware of the fact? It is intolerable that people should die of cold without receiving allowances which the House has already agreed. Will my hon. Friend specifically instruct his officials that all new supplementary pensioners must have the heating allowance explained to them, and that this must be done at regular intervals, so that no one suffers through ignorance?

No one would want any supplementary old-age pensioner to suffer from hypothermia. It is unfair of my hon. Friend to suggest that nothing is being done. I can tell her that we have the usual annual review. That is one item. Over the past two years a physical examination of all existing claims has been undertaken and domiciliary visits have been arranged when considered appropriate. A special leaflet entitled "Help with Heating Costs" was published and issued to a wide variety of statutory and voluntary organisations. The Department's regional information officers have been active in ensuring that all people interested are aware of the criteria for awarding heating allowances. We published the criteria in the Pensioners Voice. That is the newspaper of the old-age pensioner organisations. I think it is fair to say that I have justified my claim that a variety of practical steps has been taken. If my hon. Friend can think of any further steps we shall be only too pleased to consider them.

Does the Minister agree that pensioners who are also householders have special needs and should have a special householder's allowance?

I think that the hon. Gentleman is chasing another hare on this issue, which I am sure he will pursue on another occasion.

Invalid Vehicles


asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if she is satisfied with the present standard of invalid tricycles; and if she will make a statement on their use value.

Invalid tricycles provide independent mobility for as wide a range of disabled drivers as possible; this is their purpose. My hon. Friend will, however, be pleased to know that, wherever necessary or appropriate, modifications to improve the vehicle have been undertaken, and that this process will continue.

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is much concern about the standard of the vehicles and their initial construction? Is he aware that many people, including users, those who are sympathetic, and hon. Members, believe that there is only one way in which to proceed, namely, to scrap the vehicle in favour of a rapid and progressive policy either of providing much better vehicles or of adapting existing vehicles? Does he agree that following the researches of his own Department the vehicles have been deemed by many to be hazardous on the roads?

We have published the MIRA Report. It is available in the Library. I am actively studying the accident reports to see what can be done to minimise the number of accidents. Our basic decision was for cash and not cars, so as to give disabled people, including those who are too disabled to drive, some freedom of choice.

There seems to be a curious contrast between the Minister's performance now and what he said on this matter before the election. Until the day comes when we have a Government who feel that they can be more generous, would it not make sense to commission a series of studies on four-wheeled vehicles, including the Daf as well as the Mini, so that we can find out what may provide a better and safer means of transport?

We are being five times more generous than we were asked to be by Lady Sharp. We are about to double expendiutre on the inability of disabled people. That entirely defeats the hon. Gentleman's point. We have published the MIRA Report. In Opposition I pressed again and again for the publica- tion of that report. I am glad that that Report and the Sharp Report were published quickly after we took office.

National Economic Development Council


asked the Prime Minister when he next proposes to take the chair at the National Economic Development Council.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. Edward Short)

In my right hon. Friend's absence in Ottawa and Washington this week, I have been asked to reply.

My right hon. Friend took the chair at the last meeting of NEDC on 8th January, and he hopes to do so again about once a quarter.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that while the country is facing a serious economic crisis the Government must take decisive measures to solve it? Will he confirm that the fact that there is a serious economic crisis is an overwhelming reason for measures to be taken to help low-paid workers and disabled people, and that they should be advanced rather than postponed?

Certainly. One of the essential features of the social contract is that people who are at the greatest risk in society should be safeguarded.

On the Government's own calculations, inflation appears to have risen from 8·4 per cent. in October to about 25 per cent. now.

When will the Government, together with those who attend the NEDC meetings, finally be prepared to take positive action to endeavour to cure inflation?

The Government are taking positive action all the time. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will support the Government. The social contract is the key to the Government's efforts to control inflation.

When will Professor Frank Jones' little NEDC report on the burden of taxation on industry be published? A summary was given in yesterday's Daily Express. Do the Government accept the conclusions of the report about the burden of taxation on British industry compared with the burden in other countries? If so, when will they act about it?

I am afraid that I cannot answer the first part of the right hon. Gentleman's question. I shall find out and let him know when it will be published. On the second part of his question, the Chancellor lightened the burden on companies a great deal last November.



asked the Prime Minister whether he will now pay an official visit to Rhodesia.

Is the Lord President aware of the growing concern that the détente in Central Africa is going a bit sour with the continuation of terrorist and counter-terrorist activities in Rhodesia? Does he accept that the time has now come to consider reopening a British diplomatic presence in Salisbury, at the level that existed several years after UDI, to ensure that a British direct relationship continues or is reopened with both European and African opinion in the country?

Whether we could have observers in Salisbury is another matter. My right hon. Friend has been in touch with Mr. Smith and the Africans in Rhodesia since his statement in the House. However, at present I am afraid that I have nothing further to say beyond the statement issued today on the matter.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we are likely to get a satisfactory settlement in Rhodesia only by uncompromising opposition to racial policies—whether in Rhodesia or in South Africa itself—and that we must intensify our pressures on Rhodesia and on South Africa to that end?

I agree with the first part of my hon. Friend's question. On the second part, sanctions must obviously be maintained.

Motor Industry


asked the Prime Minister if he will seek to have discussions about the state of the motor industry, in view of the American involvement, during his visit to the United States of America to see the President.


asked the Prime Minister, during his forthcoming visit to the United States, if he will discuss with President Ford the problems of the British motor vehicle industry, particularly those parts under the control of the American parent companies.

I have been asked to reply.

As my right hon. Friend explained to my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-West (Mr. Edelman) on 16th January, his talks with President Ford will provide a useful opportunity for a full exchange of views on the economic problems in Britain and the United States which are of concern to the motor industry.

Will my right hon. Friend indicate to the Prime Minister—although I am sure he does not need to be reminded—the importance of the prosperity of the motor industry and the fact that for every worker employed in it, 10 are employed on accessories or the servicing of cars? The country's prosperity is bound up with the motor industry, and many employees in the industry are very concerned about the investment policies of the American multinationals which dominate it.

I agree with the fears of many hon. Members, but with regard to Chrysler, my hon. Friend will know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry has written to the President of the Chrysler Corporation about its operations in this country. He has not yet had a reply. As my hon. Friend will know, Ford plans to increase its United Kingdom production in 1975 by about 50,000 cars.

Does the Lord President agree that, in relative terms, ownership of the industry is secondary to operating efficiency and organisation? Does he further agree that while discussions in America about these matters may be relevant, interesting and worth while, it is much more important to discuss them with the unions in this country, particularly the British Leyland unions?

In my political philosophy, ownership is not secondary. I believe that efficiency is improved by an element of public ownership. [Laughter.]

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that in the interests of the ongoing alliance between Britain and the United States, it is important that the Prime Minister should at least attempt to persuade the American President that he should use his good offices to prevent the very powerful multinational companies based in the United States making decisions based on their own present-day very difficult economic situation in North America at the expense of their subordinate parts in the United Kingdom, thereby disrupting the United Kingdom economy?

I am sure that this is the kind of consideration that my right hon. Friend will have in mind when he talks to President Ford. Regarding the hysterical outburst which followed my previous answer to a supplementary question, I think that if hon. Members compare the efficiency records of the publicly-owned industries and the privately-owned industries in this country they will see how true it was.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that if, in his previous answer, he had used the words "employee participation" instead of "public ownership", some of us might have been disposed to agree with him? Is he not further aware that all the evidence is against his proposition, and that public ownership, as such, is incompatible with both efficiency and industrial democracy?

I am surprised at the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who is usually so objective in these matters. If he looks at the facts and figures on productivity and efficiency generally he will find that publicly-owned companies in Britain are much more efficient than privately-owned companies. With regard to the first part of his question, I very much agree with him that an element of worker participation is desirable in both publicly-owned and privately-owned industry.

I should much prefer to hear the hon. Gentleman's point of order at the end of Question Time, if the hon. Gentleman would raise it then.

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that with an American unemployment figure of 8 per cent. and with the Chrysler Corporation in the United States reducing its domestic output by at least one-third, it is quite laughable to expect either President Ford or the American motor corporations to make concessions to this country? Is it not time we started to prepare a strategy for the survival of the British motor industry, involving import controls and public ownership—otherwise, in 10 years' time we may not have a motor industry at all?

I did say something about Chrysler a short time ago. I pointed out that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry has written to the President of the Chrysler organisation. As my hon. Friend will know, that organisation has been one of the hardest hit by the recession in the automobile industry in the United States, but it has given repeated assurances that it does not intend to withdraw from the United Kingdom.

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider circulating in the Official Report the evidence on which he founds his quite extraordinary opinions?

I shall be very glad to publish and send to the right hon. Gentleman the evidence to support the answer I gave to a previous supplementary question.

Will the Lord President tell the House whether, in the talks in Washington, the subject of energy will be at the top of the agenda and whether part of it will be about oil in the Scottish sector of the North Sea? In the dispute between President Ford and the Congress about United States policy with regard to the pricing rights of oil-producing countries, will the right hon. Gentleman say on whose side the Prime Minister will be?

The Prime Minister, as always, will be on the side of Britain. I have no doubt whatever that energy will figure very largely in the discussions in Washington. I have no doubt whatever that those discussions will include the subject of British oil in that context.


On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the incomprehensible nature of the answers given by the Lord President to questions on nationalisation, I beg to give notice that I shall seek to raise this matter on the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity. I hope that we shall have a full House then.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will the Lord President say why he answered Questions Nos. Q3 and Q4 together but omitted to refer to Question No. Q12, which deals with the same subject?

Economic Affairs (Prime Minister's Broadcast)


asked the Prime Minister whether he will place in the Library a copy of the transcript of his interview on the economy in the programme "The World This Weekend" on 29th December 1974.

I have been asked to reply.

My right hon. Friend did so, Sir, on 13th January.

As for most of this year one person's large pay increase is likely to be someone else's redundancy notice, or three-day working, will the Lord President clarify the question whether the Prime Minister, in his broadcast, was ruling out the possibility of any form of statutory pay restraint this year, or whether, alternatively, he was simply ruling out the possibility of a statutory pay freeze this year?

The Prime Minister was ruling out any form of statutory incomes policy by this Government.

A week being a long time in politics, is my right hon. Friend aware that I have forgotten what the Prime Minister said on 29th December? Will my right hon. Friend tell us what all the fuss is about?

As I have said, there is a copy in the Library. No doubt my hon. Friend will go along there and read it.

Would it not be fairer, as well as more honest, to tell the people of this country now about the higher unemployment which inevitably lies ahead, rather than let it take them unawares?

If the hon. Gentleman will read what the Prime Minister said and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer said in his Leeds speech, he will agree that there is no lack of honesty, frankness or openness in discussing the great danger of unemployment this year.

How does my right hon. Friend reconcile what he said earlier at Question Time—about treating those in the lower income scales and disabled people more favourably than those at the top end—with the announcement made just prior to the Prime Minister's statement on television, about salary increases of up to £8,000 for judges and people in the armed forces and the established institutions? Does he understand that this is causing a great deal of worry, not only on the Labour benches but generally in the movement outside?

I understand that there are a number of points of view about this. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has answered questions on the matter. This is something which always causes difficulties for all Governments. There is never a right time to do this.

Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that the social contract is likely to close the gap between the rate of inflation of 19 per cent. and the rate of wage increase of 28 per cent. over the past 12 months? Do the Government accept that that gap will remain for ever? Since the right hon. Gentleman has ruled out any form of statutory control, how do the Government intend to ensure that wages do not increase faster than prices?

We intend to make the social contract work. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the settlements since July he will see that approximately 75 per cent. of them have been within the terms of the social contract. Of course, we are changing over from a rigid statutory system to one of free collective bargaining, and we have always said that there would be initial difficulties. The social contract is working, and if the parties opposite will support it it will work a good deal better.

Ministerial Statements

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I apologise for not raising this matter earlier. I wish to refer to a matter concerning the rights of back benchers. Have you any powers to prevent Ministers, like the right hon. Member the Secretary of State for the Environment, making major statements on housing policy by way of Written Answer?