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Schedule 9

Volume 888: debated on Wednesday 19 March 1975

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Extension Of Section 485 Of Taxes Act In Relation To Petroleum Companies

I beg to move Amendment No. 216, in page 55, line 20, leave out consisting of petroleum or petroleum products '.

This amendment is designed to ensure that an important part of the strengthened transfer pricing rules applied to oil companies by Schedule 9 is not confined to their transactions in oil and oil products but extends to other transactions, such as tanker freights. The purpose of the schedule is to strengthen the existing transfer pricing rules, in Section 485 of the Taxes Act, primarily in respect of transactions in oil produced outside this country. It is also intended to extend to other transactions between oil companies and their associates, mainly because such transactions could be used, by means of artificial transfer prices, to diminish oil profits. Among other things it extends to charges for transport and other services in respect of United Kingdom oil production, although not to the transfer price of the oil itself, which is governed by Clause 12 as regards corporation tax. We feel this to be an essential part of the Bill.

The Government seem to be pulling a fast one here by slipping in this amendment. It substantially widens the effect of Clause 17 and Schedule 9. It is almost taking advantage of an industry which is being dealt with here in a special fiscal way. When the Bill was originally produced there was, with the full support of the Opposition, a recognition of the need to close the loopholes which had allowed big artificial losses to build up by reason of the posted price system. This system, as it operates in the OPEC countries and other oil-producing countries, gave rise to losses which were allowed to build up because the rules about artificial transfer prices did not apply to transfers which took place between two resident companies.

As we know and as has been spelled out in the Select Committee's Report, for a number of years under both Labour and Conservative Governments, that gave rise to the substantial losses which resulted in oil profits in this country not being properly taxed. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the former Member for Altrincham and Sale, now Lord Barber, as Chancellor of the Exchequer accepted in full the recommendation of the Select Committee. The effect of the amendment is to extend this matter far beyond the Select Committee's proposal and anything which was accepted by my right hon. Friend. This cannot arise from the posted price system.

The hon. Gentleman said that this proposal referred to tanker charters and other transactions of that nature. I suggest that he is now applying to oil companies tax rules which could equally apply to many other companies. If it is right to extend Section 485 to charter parties and things of that kind for oil companies, why is it not equally right to extend those rules to other shipping companies? If it is right to extend it to agreements for the sale or hire of other goods and the provision of services for oil companies, why it is not equally right to extend it to, let us say, mining, plantation, or other companies which might be expected to operate substantially overseas?

This seems to be a dangerouse thin end of a wedge. We have all along accepted that because of the nature of the oil business it was right to deal with the oil trade in a particular way. This proposal goes far wider than that. By removing the impact of the paragraph, as originally drafted, from the sale of petroleum or petroleum products, the Government have extended to the rest of the activities of oil companies, in a dangerouse way, the special rules relating to the oil trade. This does not seem to be right.

To slip this in—an amendment that looks like a minor one, but which has a major effect—in the last few days before the Bill leaves this House and goes to another place where it cannot be amended, is sharp practice. Were the hour not so late, we would want to express profound displeasure in the Lobbies, not so much on the substance of the amendment, though we do not like it, as on the manner in which it has been introduced. The Government should not treat legislation of this kind in this manner. This is not a mere reinforcing provision to make sure that the original proposal has the effect that was intended. This is extending the operation of Clause 17 and Schedule 8 far wider than anybody anticipated.

Was this extension discussed with the industry? Was any proposal made to the industry? Were its views sought?

If not, why not? While the hon. Gentleman gathers his thoughts for a reply, may I remind him of the question: was there any consultation with the oil industry, or with any of the firms engaged in it—I realise that they do not have any form of trade association in this country—whether the amendment should be made?

We serve notice that if the Government attempt to repeat this kind of thing we shall treat the mater with great seriousness. This is a nasty, slippery piece of fiscal legislation, which smacks of sharp practice by Treasury Ministers and the Inland Revenue. I hope that they will not do it again.

10.30 p.m.

The right hon. Gentleman talks about the thin end of the wedge. I know that he is very much alive to anything which seeks to tax the oil companies more heavily than he would wish them taxed. The whole House has come to recognise that he is a constant advocate on their behalf. There are times, however, when the interests of the community as a whole need to be taken into account, and when the problems of an important industry which we are anxious to encourage have to be weighed with the problems of the country. This is a valuable and useful provision.

As for sharp practice, that is not decided by the Government. We did not decide when we produced the Bill that the clauses would so fit that this would be one of the last amendments to be dealt with. It just happens that transfer pricing comes at this stage.

The Minister misunderstands me. Of course I do not complain about the place in which this provision comes in the Bill, but this amendment, totally unrelated to the rest of the amendments, was put down only last Thursday. I ask again whether any consultation was had with the industry on this matter.

I shall answer the question, if the hon. Gentleman will contain himself. The right hon. Gentleman's complaint was that this had come late in the Bill and that there would be no possibility of a Division. We know why there is no such possibility—because his troops have gone home. But he should not feel aggrieved with the Government because he has sent his troops home before we had reached an amendment on which he now wishes that he could force a Division. That is not our fault; perhaps the matter should be discussed with the Opposition Chief Whip.

This provision fits closely into the Bill, because the oil industry uniquely among such industries, provides its own transport as part of its methods of operation. It deals in transport to an extent unusual in other industries, so it is natural to make this kind of change. I believe that the tests are eminently fair for determining the transfer price for tax. If multinational groups are already using transfer prices which are fair to the Revenue, they have nothing to fear from the schedule; it will fit in with their existing practice.

Although the amendment will provide that paragraph 6 will apply to all goods and services, it will do so only in relation to oil companies—that is, the companies carrying on their activities under paragraph 2 and then only if the transactions are such that their pricing affects the United Kingdom revenue. This is right. The right hon. Gentleman's criticism was rather extreme, and I hope that the amendment will be accepted.

Amendment agreed to.

I beg to move Amendment No. 142, in page 55, line 42, after sale ', insert ' first delivery '.

I understand that it will be convenient to discuss at the same time the following amendments:

Government Amendments Nos. 217 and 218.

No. 143, in page 55, line 42, after ' delivered ', insert

'more than twelve months after the said date and '.

No. 144, in page 55, line 46, leave out from ' made ' to end of line 47 and insert

'on the date of each such delivery '.

Government Amendments Nos. 219 and 220.

We tabled this amendment because we felt it necessary to take account of the print of the single contract where decries are spread over 12 months or more. Since our amendment was tabled a number of other amendments have been tabled by the Government.

So far as I can see perhaps the Minister of State will confirm this—the Government amendments entirely take our point and meet our objection, for which we are extremely grateful. However, it would be helpful if the hon. Gentleman would briefly explain exactly how the Government amendments will operate.

The question of the period of valuation of oil was discussed at considerable length on previous amendments and we dealt with the way in which we provide for the monthly valuation of oil at the mid-point period. This was a reasonable balance between the theoretical correctness of valuing each transfer of oil at the date of transfer and the problems which we had before the changes were introduced. It provides a fair, reasonable and balanced compromise, and as it was accepted on the previous amendments I hope that it will be accepted on this amendment.

Amendment negatived.

Amendments made. 217, in page 55, line 42, after sale ', insert (i)

No. 218, in page 55, line 42, leave out from ' delivered ' to ' would ' in line 43 and insert ' within that time '.

No. 219, in page 55, leave out line 47 and insert:

'date of the sale ; and

(ii) that such part of the property not so delivered as is delivered in any calendar month would have fetched a price equal to that which it might have been expected to fetch if sold under a contract for the sale of that part and of no other property, being a contract made at the material time in that month '.

No. 220, in page 56, line 1, leave out sub-paragraph (2) and insert—

'(2) In this paragraph "material time" and" calendar month "have the meaning given by paragraph 3(2) of Schedule 3 to this Act '. —[ Dell

Motion made, and Question proposed. That the Bill be now read the Third time.

10.38 p.m.

:It is not often that one is present at the introduction of taxation legislation which levies taxes likely to bring in thousands of millions of pounds. The taxation legislation for which normally I have had responsibility or with which I was concerned in opposition related to taxes whose amounts were relatively small and which at best were likely to produce hundreds of millions of pounds.

The way in which this Bill was prepared was wholly right. My right hon. Friend, in devising it, proceeded on the basis that it was important to achieve early legislation and to have the widest possible consultation. Anybody with experience of the way in which the Treasury operates will know that it was a unique innovation, whereby we had business men wending their way through the corridors of the Treasury in numbers never before seen in order to make representations eagerly awaited by the Government who wanted to learn about the oil industry in a way of which, I am afraid, the Opposition never quite got the measure.

I know that the right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin) entertained the oil industry at great length. He was too readily persuaded by the arguments of people in that industry. Certainly never a breath of criticism of the oil companies ever crossed his lips in Committee or in this Chamber. When one considers that it is from their work that the revenue will flow, one would have expected at least a certain balance, at least so far, and that on occasion he might have conceded that they had gone further than the facts warranted. One would have expected that the people of this country and their Revenue ought to have had at least an equal time in his consideration occasionally. I felt, as did the bulk of the Committee, that the right hon. Gentleman had not had that degree of balance which I should have thought was an essential prerequisite of any Opposition spokesman speaking on a matter as important as this.

We have seen the fundamentals of the Bill retained unimpaired—the questions of the ring fence, the prior charge and the field-by-field provisions. We have had the announcement of the rate and the take of the Government at a level of 70 per cent. We have a very workable scheme, which is understood by the oil industry and which gives the industry a fair share of the proceeds to make sure not only that it receives the fruits of equity but that it continues and increases its investment in the North Sea.

When we come to survey this legislation at some stage hence we shall see that we have devised a scheme which is of benefit to all the participants in this most important industry.

10.42 p.m.

At this hour I do not intend to speak at length, although I must say that the Minister of State has risked provoking myself and my hon. Friends to reply at length to what was a monstrously unfair and inaccurate attack.

The Minister should bear in mind that the Opposition, even when we were in Government, accepted without question one of the principle features of the Bill—namely, the ring fence, the removal of the artificial losses. On Second Reading I accepted without question the ring fence. We have accepted without question the need for additional taxation on the oil industry. To say that the Opposition did not give sufficient regard to the interests of the British taxpayer is sheer moonshine.

What we have said all along is that the Government have chosen the wrong vehicle. In choosing a flat rate, prior charge, field-by-field tax, they chose an instrument peculiarly unsuited to the object they were setting out to achieve. The measure of that lack of suitability is the massive tally of amendments which we have accepted in Committee and on Report. Although those amendments have not changed the structure of the Bill they have changed its substance beyond all recognition.

The Minister of State said that the scheme of the Bill remains unimpaired. His use of the word "unimpaired" was one of the most remarkable and inaccurate statements which the House has heard—at any rate since the Prime Minister's statement yesterday.

The amendment of this legislation has been achieved partly—I concede this at once—by the extent to which the Ministers and their advisers have listened to the words of warning and the advice from the industry. I found it slightly surprising that if we moved an amendment which reflected a representation that the Government had had from the industry, we were accused of being merely the industry's mouthpiece. On the other hand, if we moved an amendment which had not been suggested to the Government by the industry, the immediate reaction of Ministers was that it was an amendment to which they needed to pay no attention at all because it had not been requested by the industry. The Government have tried to have it both ways in this respect, as we have seen several times this evening. The Bill has also been amended by the enduring devotions of my hon. Friends who, in Committee and today, on Report, have laboured long and with great expertise, and I thank them very much for their support.

Ministers may not realise it, but the Opposition team on the Bill has had a remarkable record, perhaps stimulated by our success in this Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) and myself, who, perhaps, at one stage risked having our heads rolling, found ourselves confirmed in our posts. My hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Gray) has been elevated to the Front Bench, as has my hon. Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison), and we are grateful to him that he has been with us to finish the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Moore) who, alas, has been unable to be with us on Report, has been made a vice-chairman of the Conservative Party. For a small, hardworking and devoted team that is a pretty remarkable record.

We are not happy with the Bill, but we do not intend to vote against Third Reading because, broadly, it enshrines purposes with which the Opposition have a good deal of sympathy. But we believe the Government still to be taking grave risks with Britain's most vital natural asset, namely, our discoveries of offshore oil. I hope that my fears are ill-founded. I hope that the Government are right when they claim that the Bill provides a fiscal framework within which the oil industry can continue to do its work in exploration and development and in bringing these valuable discoveries of oil and gas ashore. I say that I hope that the Government are right, but I fear that they may not be. The Opposition will be watching with critical care and. considerable anxiety the developments in thiss industry over the months and years to come.

If the Government have got it wrong, and if they have overloaded the industry with taxation so that it is persuaded, over the years, to move off to more favourable climes, the Government will bear a very heavy responsibility, which the electorate will visit upon them, I hope, with condign effect. We do not oppose the Third Reading. We have vastly improved the Bill. It leaves us to go to the other place in an enormously improved form, and I think that we on the Opposition side are entitled to some credit for that.

Ministers have listened carefully and conscientiously to what we have said. There were times in Committee when we felt that to go on pressing the amendments amounted to a hardship on. Ministers.

I end on this note: there is now among some extremely able and skilled advisers from the industry and elsewhere a well-established and flourishing society for the prevention of cruelty to Sheldons. We hope that the Minister of State will not feel that he has to make use of its services in the future. We leave the Bill with some regret. I have become rather fond of it. However, we hope it will achieve its purpose.

10.48 p.m.

I fear that I have to delay the House a little longer. I thank my hon. Friend the Minister of State for bearing the burden that was placed upon him and which he carried in taking this Bill so substantially through both Committee and Report stages. I am glad that at the end of the day the right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin) does not intend to recommend his hon. Friends to vote against the Bill, but his attitude to it seems a little odd. Apparently, it is a Bill which might still ruin our offshore industry, which might bring this country to disaster, and yet—

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I thought that we were about to hear a debate on the social services. We are most intrigued to hear the Paymaster-General weighing in, because there are most important points about the social services to be dealt with. I hope that the message which has just arrived mea- that these proceedings can be brous to an end fairly soon.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that intervention, and for the circumstances that make it possible for me to bring my remarks to a close.

I hope that the Opposition do not seriously consider that the Bill will do such damage, or even that it has the potential to do it. If they do, I cannot imagine why they should have decided not to vote against it, even at this late hour on Third Reading.

The Bill is an important addition to our taxation statutes. It will bring considerable revenue to the Exchequer.

If the right hon. Gentleman would like to listen to my Adjournment debate, as he is a Treasury Minister and I shall be asking for money to be spent, I shall be happy to listen to him.

I should be delighted to listen to the right hon. Gentleman's Adjournment debate on another occasion. I welcome the right hon. Gentleman to the back benches and the opportunity to have Adjournment debates, which I am sure are very important.

I see that my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Health and Social Security, has arrived. He will listen to the Adjournment debate even more eagerly than I would have.

I ask the House to give the Bill its Third Reading.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

Adjournment

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[ Mr. James Hamilton.]

Huntington's Chorea

10.52 p.m.

I am grateful to the Minister of State for coming to reply to the debate, which is on a topic of immense importance to a small minority of people.

The subject that I wish to raise is the problem of those suffering from Hunting-ton's disease and those who may suffer from that ghastly disease in the future. It is a disease that is inherited. It attacks the nervous system and results in all adverse effect upon bodily movement. It sometimes eventually affects the mental faculties. Frequently the disease does not develop until the person affected is in his forties, or even later.

The first problem is to identify the disease. I hope that the Minister will have considered the problem of notification. I think that the Department does not have accurate information about the numbers affected. In 1972 we learnt from a reply to a Question that the Department estimated that the number of people suffering from the disease was 2,000. Less than two years later the estimate from the Department was that it was probably 3,000. I do not think that it would have calculated that there had been a 50 per cent. increase in that time.

I have spoken to a number of those actively interested in the topic from a medical point of view. They tend to think that probably the figure is nearer 6,000, with many people not having been identified as suffering from the disease. Therefore, probably one in every 10,000 people in this country suffers from the disease. In a typical constituency, if we have the average incidence of the illness, we probably have 10 of our constituents suffering from it, and perhaps 40 of their children and grandchildren who live in dread that they have inherited the disease and will suffer from it. Half of them will almost certainly develop the disease before they die, and will perhaps die of it.

It is usually a fairly slow-developing disease, although sometimes the development can be quite rapid. It usually results in the sufferer having to spend the last years of his life in hospital. Many sufferers have to spend those years in either psychiatric or geriatric hospitals, and the medical profession holds the strong opinion that many sufferers in psychiatric hospitals should not be there. The main reason for their being in that type of hospital accommodation is that a long period of hospital attention is required because of the nature of the disease. I ask the Minister of State to consider the possibility of providing for sufferers of the disease hospital accommodation which is not necessarily psychiatric or geriatric.

There is need for a positive approach by the Department. This is a serious disease, ghastly for those who suffer from it and terrifying for those who know that they may have inherited it and that it will develop later in life. I wish to put forward eight constructive suggestions. I recognise that in replying to an Adjournment debate the Minister may be unable to commit himself, or to give a direct answer tonight, but I ask him to give careful consideration to my suggestions and to get his Department to come to conclusions on them. When he has done so I ask him to tell the medical profession and the sufferers from the disease what constructive approach the Department will develop.

I ask the Minister to consider making the disease notifiable. If any disease should be officially notifiable it is surely this one. It is one which children and grandchildren are likely to inherit, and there is an even chance that they will inherit it.

Notification of the disease could be linked with my second suggestion, which is that there should be an automatic routine of contacting the children and grandchildren of the person concerned, so that advice may be given to them by a genetic counsellor. It is vital that people should know immediately that they are likely to be carriers of the disease. Children often lose contact with their parents, and grandchildren often lose contact with their grandparents. It is therefore important for all who could have inherited the disease to be told and to be counselled on the pontential danger of their children inheriting it.

Next, I ask the Minister to review the research programme. Some important work is being done. Those who are interested in this disease recognise the diligent work of Dr. Caro in East Anglia, which is producing interesting facts which would otherwise never have been discovered. The incidence of the disease in certain localities of East Anglia, for example, in Lowestoft, is far greater than might be thought. I hope that the Department will review its research programme and give help to the official organisation "Combat ", formed of interested people and sufferers from the disease.

I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has brought up this subject. Is he aware of the research institution in Glasgow in which is being carried out genetic engineering, not for the purpose of curing the disease—because it cannot be cured—but of eradicating it by determining before a child is born or at a very early age whether it carries this gene? I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will push the Minister of State to institute further research of that kind.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for East Kilbride (Dr. Miller). I knew of that work. It is a valuable piece of research, which, over a period could assist in eradicating the disease. Unless it is done and done well, and conclusions are drawn from it and action is taken on it, this disease is bound to increase in the years ahead.

The next suggestion I should like to make to the Minister is that more should be done to brief the medical profession and social workers about this disease. Because of its comparative rarity, those who have some knowledge of the disease feel that many doctors in general practice do not correctly diagnose it, and that many social workers who are brought into contact with families who have a member suffering from the disease do not recognise the considerable emotional tensions and anxiety that arise in the family. I hope that the medical profession and social workers who are likely to come into contact with the disease will be able to obtain a more positive and complete briefing, and that there will be more of a rethink than has happened in the past.

The next suggestion I wish to make is that there should be a study of the feasibility of providing suitable hospital accommodation. Cases have been brought to my attention of people placed in psychiatric and geriatric hospitals having been made doubly unhappy by the surroundings in which they find themselves. Their medical advisers consider that they would be far better off if they were put in general hospitals rather than psychiatric or geriatric hospitals. In the localities where the known density of sufferers is higher than normal—and there are some where it is—it would be in the interests of sufferers to see that appropriate long-term hospital accommodation is made available to them.

The next of my eight points concerns the question of attendance allowance. This varies in different parts of the country. Certainly all those in the medical profession whom I have contacted who are aware of the effects of this disease are unanimous in the belief that anybody suffering from it needs proper attendance. I hope that it is the objective of the Department to see that those making judgments on attendance allowances make them in favour of providing such an allowance in a family where there is a sufferer.

Likewise, the Department should give careful consideration to the overall social welfare and community care programme for those with this disease.

Occupational therapy and treatment of that type can be very important to the patients, particularly in the early stages of the disease.

It is interesting that in the United States, as in this country, this topic was largely neglected until a famous folk singer, Woody Guthrie, died of the disease. His widow devoted her time to trying to organise public opinion to urge the United States Government and the governments of the states to recognise the suffering and dangers resulting from the disease. That has had an important impact in the United States, where a committee has been formed to combat the disease.

It is also interesting that before the American Senate there are proposals for legislation to provide, in each of the next three years, $500,000 in grants for screening, treatment and counsel ; $½ million in grants for research and $150,000 for education and information.

I believe that anybody who has ever come across a family suffering from this disease will recognise the real nature of the suffering. Not only do patients suffer from this creeping disease which gradually destroys the movement of limbs, retards speech and has an effect on mental processes; they also know that their children and grandchildren may have inherited the disease from them. The tensions are immense, and the anxieties on the part of those who may have inherited the disease are also very great. This is a small minority but a minority that suffers badly. I hope that the Minister will give careful consideration to what I have said and that his Department will take all possible action to alleviate the situation.

11.7 p.m.

The right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) is to be congratulated on raising this small—" small "in the sense that it affects a limited number of people—but major issue. It also raises a number of interesting concepts of how we deal with these problems.

The right hon. Gentleman raised eight specific points, and I shall do my best to answer each and every one. Perhaps it will help the House if I begin by saying a few words about the nature of Hunting-ton's chorea. It is, as the right hon. Gentleman said, an inherited degenerative disease of the central nervous system. The problem is that the first symptoms of the disease generally manifest themselves at about 35 or 40 years of age, although on occasion they can appear either in childhood or in elderly people. The disease is a dominantly inherited genetic disorder, which means that each child of an affected parent will have a fifty-fifty chance of inheriting the disease. Early signs of the disease, such as unsteadiness when walking, or forgetfulness, are difficult to detect, and a firm diagnosis cannot always be made until the disease has progressed for a considerable time. This is more likely to occur if the sufferer is not known to come from a family affected by the disease. The symptoms become progressively worse until patients invariably have to enter either a hospital or residential unit, because nursing them in their own homes poses too many problems.

Let me deal with the first of the right hon. Gentleman's points—namely, the incidence of the disease. He was right to say that estimates of its incidence have varied. The current estimate is about 3,000 sufferers, but I should be the first to admit that the estimate may not be correct. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned that it was possible the figure might be nearer 6,000. I hesitate to endorse such a figure, but I would not like to stand pat on the figure of 3,000.

What can we do about the situation? The first thing I was asked was whether the disease could be made notifiable. That would involve problems. It is a difficult matter to trace and to cope with the problems and complexities of seeking to establish a register of known sufferers and members of families at risk. A systematic approach has much to recommend it, and I shall look carefully at the question of whether we could make the disease notifiable. Registers have been tried experimentally in some ranges of genetic disease. The Department is considering whether it would offer worthwhile opportunity to reduce the occurrence of the disease. A further difficulty in making the disease notifiable is that it is difficult to diagnose and, as the right hon. Gentleman said, it would involve briefing members of the medical profession and social workers on early diagnostic signs. I shall look into that matter.

Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman raised the question of follow-up and counselling. These are vital matters. The child of an affected parent will have a fifty-fifty chance and many parents will conceive before diagnosis. If we are to stop the prevalance of the disease, it is important to trace sufferers at an early stage. Genetic counselling for prospectice parents is important. It has already been provided under the National Health Service through general practitioners, and special genetic advisory centres have been set up in each region. Late onset of the disease is one of the biggest problems in achieving effective counselling.

That leads me to the right hon. Gentleman's point about briefing the medical profession and social workers. I admit that more needs to be done about this. One way of doing that is to make it a notifiable disease, which tends to concentrate more attention on it. It is a formidable task to guarantee that all professional staff are in possession of all the relevant information to pick up the early signs. However, I shall look at any way in which we can improve information about the disease. When considering notification we are bound to take into account the need to ensure that the early symptoms are known.

The third point raised by the hon. Gentleman concerned the research programme. I shall be interested to hear whether the United States Senate approves this ambitious research project. Research is international. Research that is being done in many countries will help the United Kingdom.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned East Anglia. The Department has recently approved expenditure of more than £16,000 over a period of three years from its central research funds to extend a project which has been financed to date by the East Anglian Regional Health Authority under its locally organised research scheme. The project aims at identifying sufferers and potential sufferers from the disease in East Anglia with the intention of assessing social and welfare needs, enabling improved planning of required facilities for care, and determining the advantages of tracing family groups to aid the provision of genetic counselling.

The Medical Research Council is supporting a wide range of basic neurological work which could advance the knowledge of Huntington's chorea. The major part of the research programme at the MRC neurochemical pharmacology unit is concerned with studies of the biochemical changes underlying the disease. Other biochemical investigations are in progress at the MRC brain metabolism unit and in the Division of Molecular Pharmacology at the National Institute for Medical Research. The Department of Social Medicine at Edinburgh University is engaged on a project on the incidence and family distribution of the disease, and the Department of Psychiatry at Sheffield University has recently finished a project on cerebrospinal fluid amines in Huntington's chorea and other neurological conditions. The Department of Neurological Surgery at Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge has also recently completed a research project on rigidity in Huntington's chorea from funds provided by the Mental Health Trust, which was concerned with biochemical aspects of the disease. The trust is now considering a proposal from the Department of Clinical Genetics at the Welsh National School of Medicine dealing with some of the genetic aspects of the disease. A great deal is being done, but difficult problems are posed.

The fourth point raised by the hon. Gentleman concerned the Association to Combat Huntington's chorea. He is right; the association has played a very important part since its foundation in 1971. It exists mainly to foster research into the disease but also makes a significant contribution to the welfare of sufferers and their families. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State ressponsible for the disabled, and officials in the Department, met representatives of the association. At both of these meetings there were very full and useful discussions of the many problems involved. Following these discussions I am pleased to say that the Department has been able to increase its funding of research into this disease.

I am considering other ways in which sufferers might be helped. I want to keep in close contact with the association. It is performing a valuable task in making more people aware of the problems involved in this disease.

I have dealt with the briefing of the medical profession and social workers.

The sixth point raised by the hon. Gentleman concerned available and suitable hospital accommodation. I have great sympathy with this. However, there are problems. When these patients become severe sufferers they are difficult to treat. They require heavy nursing facilities. It would be nice to promise that they would be treated close to their homes. I think that is an important factor. Many are admitted to psychiatric hospitals because of the mental aspect of the illness. However, I should not want to think that those were the only places to which they could go. We need additional smaller units for the chronic sick and the severely disabled. Much has already been done about that problem.

I do not think we can look on this as a special disease category in terms of its treatment, because many of its manifestations are common to some other ailments. However, the fact that the disease is progressive and is genetic causes real concern. I will consider that, but I do not think that I can offer any more than the overall provision, which I know is inadequate, for chronic disability.

The right hon. Gentleman's seventh point related to the attendance allowance. Again, I do not think that we can say that all those who suffer from Huntington's chorea must have an attendance allowance. In the easly stages of the disease, they would not necessarily require it. But, as with other progressive conditions, when they become severely disabled there is no doubt that these patients should be eligible for the attendance allowance. I know that the Attendance Allowance Board shares the view that it is best and fairest for all concerned that entitlement to the allowance should be decided on an individual basis, depending on he facts in each case. It is important that the relatives of sufferers should know that they can claim the attendance allowance.

I cannot comment on individual cases on decisions given by the board as the board is an independent authority set up under the Act of Parliament which introduced the allowance. If, however, a claimant is dissatisfied with a decision by or on behalf of the board, he or she has only to write to the attendance allowance unit, Norcross, Blackpool and ask for the decision to be reviewed. What is more, it may need reviewing fairly frequently, because the deterioration can go on. A person may be rejected on one occasion for attendance allowance and year later be a candidate for it.

The right hon. Gentleman's final point dealt with the need for more national concern. How do we generate a feeling of concern about this and many other genetic diseases, and how do we arrange screening programmes? This relates also to community support and how much we are giving overall. It is not easy. It is a question of competing limited resources. But some of these degenerative diseases, where we know there is this dominant inheritance, pose very real problems. The early identification of families at risk is crucial. Genetic counselling prior to the decision to have children is of vital importance. There is no doubt that money spent sensibly and wisely there will not only prevent a great deal of hardship and misery to those families but will save a considerable amount of money. Much has been done in research.

The right hon. Gentleman's point that the incidence of the disease may be far greater than we currently think needs looking at seriously. I shall put this to my professional advisers. I shall look again at the question of notification. It has considerable attractions, on the face of it, but the problems of making it a notifiable disease are formidable. Experience seems to indicate that when a disease it made notifiable without being certain that cases can be picked up, an illusion of notification is given, almost generating the very atmosphere hoped to be avoided. But I am prepared to look at this. I am sure, from the right hon. Gentleman's knowledge and the research that he has done on the subject, that a number of professional people have put it to him that this is what they would like to see done. In the light of that, I shall take that suggestion away and perhaps look at the experience of other countries who have notification to see whether this would help us.

I cannot offer to those who suffer from Huntington's chorea any immediate prospect that a magic cure will be found for the disease, but I think that the research going on into the biochemical nature offers some prospect at some time. We are trying to discover more about its basic aetiology.

As I said just now, the right hon. Gentleman spoke about public concern. He has raised the matter in this debate. He had brought it to my attention. It is an illness which, unfortunately, I had to deal with in a number of cases when I was involved in neurology myself. I will take up his points and see whether anything further can be done.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at nineteen minutes past Eleven o'clock.