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Social Services

Volume 927: debated on Tuesday 8 March 1977

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Blind Persons


asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what plans he has to equalise the benefits payable to persons accidentally blinded, as opposed to persons blinded from birth or as a result of disease.

Blind people are eligible for the improved general social security benefits according to their circumstances. The war pensions and industrial injuries schemes also have their part to play in our overall provision of help for disabled people. These schemes have not prevented such advances for sick and disabled people generally as invalidity benefit, attendance allowance, noncontributory invalidity pension, mobility allowance and the new pensions schemes.

Is the Minister aware that, under the regulations laid down in his Department's leaflet NI6, a person blinded at work receives an automatic disablement pension of £25 a week, on top of which he may get extra earnings, and that if a person is blinded as a result of disease or from birth, according to his Department's leaflet SB1 the maximum benefit is £16·95, which is reduced if he has any additional earnings? Is not this grossly unfair between the two classes of blinded people?

I am aware of these differences. The hon. Gentleman recently wrote to me and quoted the figure of £25, which must, I think, be the 100 per cent. industrial disablement pension appropriate to total blindness. The figure of £14·95 which he also quoted in his letter appears to be a supplementary benefit assessment. Without additional details I cannot comment further on that comparison, but I shall be glad to do so if the hon. Gentleman can give me particulars.

What study, if any, is being made of the principle of no fault liability in this context?

The whole question of compensation for personal injury is being considered by the Royal Commission under the chairmanship of Lord Pearson which, I understand, is expected to report later this year.

Does my hon. Friend recollect the Early-Day Motion, supported by 150 Members, in favour of all blind people being made eligible to receive the mobility allowance? Does he also recollect the deputation from the TUC General Council, which met him and my right hon. Friend to stress the importance of all blind people being given this additional benefit in order to assist their mobility? Will he now report to the House the progress that has been made?

I am aware of my hon. Friend's strong feelings on this matter and his consistency in arguing the case. He will be aware that there is strong pressure to extend the age range of beneficiaries as well as to admit new categories, not to mention many other extensions of the mobility allowance scheme. There is an infinity of claims against, regrettably, finite resources. What may be helpful to my hon. Friend is to know that blindness can be one factor among others in deciding the award of mobility allowances.

Disabled Persons (Vehicles)


asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will bring forward a scheme for loans to help the disabled to buy cars.

The Central Council for the Disabled is exploring various possibilities for helping disabled people to use the mobility allowance to best effect. I have been giving all the help and support I can, and I hope that it may be possible for the council to give further assistance to disabled people who wish to use the mobility allowance for the purchase of a car. My discussions with the council are continuing.

Is the Minister aware that the Disabled Drivers' Association, of which I am proud to be a vice-president, is very angry with him about the questionnaire he has sent out to disabled drivers of three-wheeled vehicles? Is he aware that that questionnaire which they complain about provides only one question—whether or not they will take the mobility allowance in due course? It does not ask, as it should, whether they would prefer to have a vehicle. Will the hon. Gentleman look at it again?

The hon. Gentleman, who is a successor of mine in the capacity to which he referred, will know that I have had a very close association with the DDA, whose management committee I was happy to meet recently. There is a need for a much more detailed questionnaire. It would be difficult for me at present to expand on that. What I want very much to know is what disabled people are seeking. I shall have the hon. Gentleman's point very much in mind.

Will my hon. Friend consider asking the Treasury to advance a substantial sum to enable the commutation scheme to get off the ground? Does he agree that if it gets off the ground it will then be possible to decide how many vehicles people who are disabled want to buy for themselves? We shall then know how many people need the trike. Will my hon. Friend please give attention to this matter?

I am very seized of the importance of my hon. Friend's point. As I have said, the Central Council for the Disabled has been exploring, with my active co-operation, a whole range of possibilities, which include favourable purchase terms and leasing arrangements. My hon. Friend is a considerable expert in making representations to the Treasury, and I have no doubt that it is fully aware of his feelings and that careful note will be taken of what he has said this afternoon.

Does the Minister agree that the essential thing is to make disabled people mobile and that any mobility allowance that does not do that fails in its purpose? Does he not, therefore, regret his decision to phase out the invalid trike? Whether or not he regrets it, has he any plans to have discussions with GKN-Sankey about the new car for disabled people which has featured in the Press recently?

We are giving more mobility help to assist more disabled people than has ever been given before. The hon. Gentleman may be glad to know —we have not discussed the matter recently—that I have seen two development projects in the past two weeks, and I saw the GKN-Sankey prototype a considerable time ago. The hon. Gentleman can be well assured that our commitment to tricycle drivers who will still need a specialised vehicle when we can no longer replace their tricycles after 1981 is a genuine commitment which my right hon. Friend rightly stressed in his recent letter to disabled drivers.

Will the Minister admit that there is now widespread and mounting anxiety about the future of disabled drivers? We know what they want, which is to keep their trikes. [HON. MEMBERS: "They want cars."] Should not the Minister, therefore, reverse his policy and tell them that they can keep their trikes until there is a proper alternative?

There is a wide diversity of opinion on this important matter. There are those who have for a very long time wanted the trike to be phased out. There are people who would like to keep the trike. We have given a commitment to tricycle drivers. I shall do the best I can further to improve the mobility of disabled people.


asked the Secretary of State for Social Services how many representations he has received in 1977 about the future of the invalid tricycle.

My right hon. Friend and I have received some 500 letters this year, some including petitions.

Will not the Minister now accept that, although the mobility allowance is of general and welcome benefit to those who do not drive, the eventual withdrawal of the trike will have catastrophic consequences for those who are used to this kind of mobility? Why cannot he now give an assurance that the trike will not be withdrawn until a suitable alternative is found?

My right hon. Friend has given the assurance that we shall look on home and world markets to supply those who will still need a specialised vehicle when we can no longer replace the tricycle after 1981. There are divided opinions on this matter. The hon. Gentleman may be well assured that I am looking at every aspect of the problem.

Is it not the case that, while the decision to phase out the tricycle is rather regrettable, the representations that my hon. Friend has received since he made that decision are astonishingly different from those he received before the decision was made? Will he also confirm that many of the representations opposed to his decision came from organisations which condemned it before it was made?

A number of letters take different points of view. As I have indicated, there appears to have been a change of opinion, which may, however, be more apparent than real. I am well aware that many people want to keep the invalid tricycle, but I must emphasise that we had very little option with regard to the decision to phase out.

What comfort can the right hon. Gentleman offer to the newly disabled or to youngsters who reach the age of 16 and who now find themselves totally without mobility, completely grounded and confined to the four square walls of their rooms?

My right hon. Friend stated to the House that the worries expressed were often the result of garbled and even grossly distorted versions of the facts. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman is aware that the Employment Service Agency scheme, for example, can be expected to increase in scope. Help over and above the mobility allowance can be made available to people who cannot use public transport and who need to go to work or higher education. I am well aware of the point that the right hon. Gentleman is making, and I shall do everything possible in future to improve the mobility of disabled people.

In view of the importance of the mobility allowance uprating, can my hon. Friend now announce that a generous increase is to be made and how much that increase will be?

I am afraid the answer must be that I would if I could but I cannot. I do, however, give my hon. Friend the assurance that the announcement will be made at the earliest possible date. Moreover, my hon. Friend can be assured that we shall seek to improve the allowance not only in amount but also in real value.

Hospital Closures


asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he has any plans to change the procedure in relation to hospital closures.

The procedure for closure or change of use of health buildings was notified to health authorities in October 1975, after wide consultations. The procedure appears to be working satisfactorily and I am not planning to make any changes. But I will keep the arrangements under review.

Will my right hon. Friend in the meantime bear in mind the wishes of the people in the community, particularly the people of Nelson and Colne, who desire to retain facilities in Nelson and Colne if Reedyford Memorial Hospital has to go? I ask my right hon. Friend to bear in mind the report of the inquiry, in which the inspector said that if Reedyford had to go alternative facilities should be provided before it was demolished.

I appreciate my hon. Friend's point. The need to demolish the Reedyford Memorial Hospital results from the decision reached on the route of the Burnley to Colne stretch of the M65 Calder Valley motorway. The Lancashire Area Health Authority has embarked on a full programme of local consultation on the closure and the replacement of facilities. When the time for the closure of the hospital approaches, further consultations with the community health council and other local interests will be carried out. The views of all concerned will be taken into account before final decisions are taken on the replacement of services.

Has the Secretary of State anything to say about antique hospitals such as the Birmingham Accident Hospital, which should be closed? Even though there is a longstanding plan to close it, under the Government's cuts it is not to be closed. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that at that hospital, where 50,000 seriously sick people go each year, lighting fails in the middle of operations, that the X-ray and other facilities are very bad, and that it needs to be closed quickly?

I shall not be drawn into commenting on the particular hospital. The hon. Lady well knows that there are many old hospitals. There has been a pretty substantial programme of rebuilding and improvement, but with restraint on public expenditure, the capital programme has been slowed down. I am well aware of some of the problems. The hon. Lady will no doubt raise the matter directly with me or with the area health authority.



asked the Secretary of State for Social Services when he last met representatives of pensioners' organisations.

I met a deputation from the National Federation of Old-age Pensions Associations on 2nd February.

Did the right hon. Gentleman tell them that, like the Financial Treasury to the Treasury, he is heartily ashamed of the fact that personal allowances on earnings and pensions are as low as they are? Did he explain that the increased cost of living has not been matched by a more generous death grant—indeed, that the Government have not increased the grant at all? Has not the time come, in this period of inflation, to deal with this hard-pressed section of the community far more generously than the Government have dealt with them so far?

I did not say what the hon. Gentleman suggested. The hon. Gentleman knows, and the deputation recognised, that pensions and other long-term and short-term benefits have been totally excluded from the public expenditure cuts. Therefore, we have fulfilled our commitment to the electorate to protect the elderly, the sick, the unemployed and the disabled against the effects of the economic situation. I pointed out to the deputation that in December 1976, immediately following the uprating in November, the single person's pension rate represented 33 per cent. of the average net earnings of a male industrial manual worker and the married couple's rate was 51 per cent. It is the first time ever that we have achieved those targets—

I shall come to the death grant. It is the first time that we have achieved those targets in relation to earnings, and that is a considerable achievement. It is not possible to increase the death grant at present.

What excuse does the right hon. Gentleman now give for last year's pension fiddle? What do the Government intend to do to bring the real purchasing value of the pension back to what it was in April 1975?

A matter concerning this has been brought before the High Court, and it would be improper for me to comment. I do not for a moment accept what the hon. Gentleman says about a pensions fiddle. When we raised pensions in November, we rightly fully covered pensioners against the effects of inflation over the previous 12 months.

Does not my right hon. Friend appreciate that old-age pensioners in some areas—perhaps in all areas—are not being sheltered from the public spending cuts? Does he not read the newspapers as I do and notice that several county councils and other councils are withdrawing various benefits from pensioners and that the bus tokens which had a face value of £5 five years ago are almost worthless today? Are not these things the effects of spending cuts which local councils are having to impose? Will he not give an instruction to local authorities to do as my local council, Bolsover District Council, does and issue free television licences to all old-age pensioners?

I welcome what my hon. Friend says about his own council, but I cannot give such an instruction as he requests. What I have clearly said is that we give high priority in the social service work of local authorities to the care and help of aged people. They take a high priority in terms of community services and the provision of nurses, home helps and meals on wheels. These are the services which are being given the highest priority. In the anouncement that I made last week about the £21 million of new money which is available for joint financing, I said that this also will be concentrated on providing services—residential and day care services—within the community for elderly people.

Will the right hon. Gentleman give the House and the pensioners an assurance that, in the next pensions uprating, he will consider the full period over which they should be uprated so that, unlike what happened last year, the pensioners get genuine compensation for the inflation which they are bearing?

I can give an assurance to the House and the country, as I did to the National Federation of Old-age Pensions Associations, that there will be an uprating. It will be in November, and I gave a guarantee that it will cover the change in the value of money in terms of the retail price index between the time when the uprating is made and the last uprating in November last year.

Drugs (Home Treatment)


asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will institute a survey into the amounts of drugs unused in private households after treatment has been completed.

No, Sir. I am not satisfied that a survey would serve any useful purpose.

May I draw to the Minister's attention the experience of one chemist whom I know personally who undertook a survey of various households and found an alarming amount of unused drugs? Does not that suggest that there is something wrong?

We have a number of local surveys and "Return unused drugs" campaigns, and we have a substantial amount of information on this matter. I am aware that there is a need for a campaign to educate the public. My Department will probably be considering this matter with the medical profession and has approached the Health Education Council and the Pharmaceutical Society.

Vaccine-Damaged Children


asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether he will conduct further research to establish more definitely the number of vaccine-damaged children.

My Department is already supporting research intended to establish with greater precision the extent of serious reactions to vaccines. The project covers the whole of Great Britain. This research is already in progress and this Department will continue to give it support.

In the light of the conflicting evidence which is now coming forward, particularly the revelations in The Sunday Times last weekend, will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider his decision not to institute any form of public inquiry? Will he hold one—or, rather, will he at least authorise the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation to hold a series of public meetings, particularly into the effects of the whooping cough vaccination, so that it can all be aired in public to try to alleviate some of the worries of a number of confused mothers who really do not know what is going on?

I recognise the hon. Member's concern, which I think is widely shared, that parents are confused. With regard to the article in The Sunday Times, it must be acceped that there will always be differing shades of medical opinion on matters of this kind, but the hon. Member will know that the joint committee is a distinguished group of specialists. They have weighed all the evidence and have stated clearly and unequivocally their belief that the hazards to children from contracting whooping cough exceed the hazards associated with immunisation. The joint committee is meeting again later this month. It will again consider all the facts and evidence relevant to the vaccine. In view of the interest shown in the House and the country, I have now asked the committee to prepare for publication a review of the evidence about whooping cough vaccine and to set out in full the basis of its advice to me.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that making public that review of evidence is a quite inadequate answer to the legitimate question posed by the hon. Member for Wirral (Mr. Hunt)? Is he aware that evidence from parliamentary answers, from medical experts and from Press investigations has revealed that his Department's case for refusing compensation and for refusing an independent inquiry is based on inadequate, unreliable and misleading data and that that has shaken public confidence in the immunisation programme? Instead of criticising Back Benchers on both sides and parents who disagree with him, will my right hon. Friend now accept a proposal from me for a meeting between himself, Back Benchers on both sides, medical experts on both sides and parents, so that we can amicably resolve these problems and seek to allay the genuine public concern about the immunisation programme?

I have made no derogatory comments about Back Benchers. I believe that on both sides of the House this is a matter of genuine concern. I have now replied to over 100 Questions on this subject from my hon. Friend. Every answer that I have given is information which is available and which is before the joint committee. Therefore, I trust the advice which is given to me by the joint committee. However, the idea that my hon. Friend has put forward is an interesting and novel one. I shall in a day or two be meeting the chairman of the joint committee. I shall put to him my hon. Friend's suggestion that we should have a meeting in the House of Commons, with Members drawn from both sides of the House, so that the chairman and others may answer questions to try to alleviate uncertainty and. I hope, to discourage my hon. Friend from his campaign.

May I appeal to the House? Unless we have shorter questions and answers, many hon. Members who thought that their Questions would be called will be unlucky.

Will the Secretary of State admit that the anxiety about whooping cough vaccine is now seriously affecting other vaccination programmes? Would it not make sense temporarily to suspend the use of this vaccine while it is all looked into? Would that not make great sense for everybody?

No, it would be wrong to do that, as, on reflection, I think the hon. Member will agree. The joint committee is appointed from among the 22 most distinguished people in this field and they are my advisers. They have considered all the evidence and the hon. Gentleman knows the conclusion that they have reached. It would not be in the interests of patients to do as the hon. Gentleman suggests, but I recognise—I am, in fact, very concerned—that uncertainty in the minds of parents about the efficacy of this vaccine is affecting the take-up of vaccine relating to diphtheria and tetanus. The double vaccine for diphtheria and tetanus is freely available for children for whom whooping cough vaccine is not appropriate. The hon. Gentleman mentioned polio. He knows that I have already appealed to the public, to parents, to make use of this safe and reasonable vaccine in order to prevent the spread of polio, which is making a disturbing return to this country.

Under Fives


asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will make a statement on the progress on the Government's new policy for the under-fives announced in October 1975.

Our thinking on under-fives was summarised in Section IX of our consultative document—"Priorities for Health and Personal Social Services in England"—published in March 1976. A circular issued jointly by my Department and the Department of Education and Science in March 1976 emphasised the importance of co-ordination of central and local services for under-fives and the need to make maximum use of existing resources. The Government welcome the efforts that local authorities are making within the constraints imposed by the current economic situation to improve their services.

Will the Minister confirm that DOE Circular 120–76 is now official Government policy with regard to under-fives? Does he not accept that it is shameful, even in the current economic dilemma, to cut back on further nursery provision under any circumstances?

That question should properly be directed to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science. My responsibility is only for pre-school playgroups and child minding. Our policy is not yet finalised. It is still out for consultation with the priorities document.

In view of the evidence on the health of under-fives that has since emerged from the Court Report, will my hon. Friend, as a matter of urgency, look at the two main suggestions proposed in the report regarding child health visitors and general practitioners becoming specialists in pediatrics?

We have recently received the Court Report. It is now out for consultation, so that we shall see how we proceed to implement it. I have to say that a number of the Court Committtee's recommendations seem to have substantial resource implications, and that will have to be borne in mind.

Will the Minister inject a fresh degree of urgency into the consultations with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science to try to get a rational and co-ordinated approach towards the needs of the under-fives, and at the same time get away from the damaging and illogical split in approach between the two Departments which now exist?

A number of experiments are going on up and down the country into the DHSS service under the aegis of local authorities and the Department of Education to try to bring about much closer co-ordination. We have this very much in mind, and a circular urging co-ordination between education and social service activities was issued by my Department and the Department of Education and Science.

In view of the fact that almost every question asked by Opposition Members this afternoon has demanded an increase in public expenditure, will my hon. Friend have a word with the Chancellor and tell him that it would be inappropriate to reduce income tax in his Budget on 29th March and that we would much prefer him to meet the demands with regard to public expenditure that Opposition Members have been making this afternoon?

I am not entirely sure whether I should approach my right hon. Friend with a suggestion that income tax should not be reduced. I have noticed the phenomenon to which my right hon. Friend draws attention. Whenever Opposition Members are challenged, they say that the particular point they are urging at any particular time should be exempt from public expenditure cuts. What we have not yet discovered is where they believe that the public expenditure cuts should take place.

Allegations Of Abuse


asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what is the average length of time between the date information is given to a special investigator of his Department regarding alleged abuse and the date that a special investigator investigates the alleged abuse.

An assessment of the current position on special investigation is possible at the beginning of each year. The figures for the beginning of 1977 are not yet available but an analysis of the position as at 1st January 1976 indicated that in five of the Department's 12 regions cases referred by local offices for special investigation could be allocated immediately to a special investigator. In six of the regions the average delay in doing this was between 2·1 weeks and 4·6 weeks; in the remaining region the data was not available.

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that through no fault of the Department there is a delay, quite often of up to six months, between the time when an alleged incident of fraud occurs and the time when the special investigator is able to start investigating it? In view of these very long delays, and in view of the enormous backlog which develops, is not this an impossible job for many of the investigators? Will the right hon. Gentleman increase the number of special investigators, who, experience proves, recover the equivalent of their own wages within a matter of weeks?

I find it rather strange that the hon. Gentleman should be complaining to me about the work of special investigators and about the need for more of them. For example, the 765 cases which the hon. Gentleman sent to me resulted in many of the special investigators being diverted from the work they were doing and on which they had 10 times more success than they had with regard to the cases that the hon. Gentleman submitted.

Has my right hon. Friend noticed that one national newspaper has nicknamed the hon. Gentleman "Deep Sproat"? Does that make the hon. Gentleman the Linda Lovelace of the Tory Party since he is someone who is willing to swallow anything he is told?

I would say to my hon. Friends and hon. Members opposite that the painstaking investigation that we had into the hon. Gentleman's complaints puts into perspective the type of campaign that the hon. Gentleman has been waging. I hope that the country will recognise that there is no basis for it.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there are many people in the House who have little respect for the views of the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat)? Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that much more concern should be given to the question of helping the genuine cases of people who are in need of supplementary benefit and services from the DHSS? Is it not the fact that as a result of the hon. Gentleman's campaign many cases are not being taken up as soon as they should be?

I could not agree more with the hon. Lady. My Department and I are concerned about the genuine people who are entitled to benefit but who are not coming forward. I hope that they will not be deterred by this campaign.

Since many of the right hon. Gentleman's answers have been about unsubstantiated allegations, does he recall that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made an allegation on 19th November that a number of doctors at Hammersmith Hospital had been engaging in malpractices? Does he now recognise that that allegation has been disapproved entirely?

I believe that this has nothing to do with the Question on the Order Paper.

I want to be fair. We are dealing with Social Services Questions, and the subject covers health. The right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin) may proceed with his supplementary question.

As the Minister of State knows, this Question is about alleged abuse, and the Secretary of State made a very grave allegation of alleged abuse against doctors at Hammersmith Hospital. As that has now been disproved wholly, will the right hon. Gentleman now apologise?

This is an abuse of Question Time, Mr. Speaker. My right hon. Friend made no such allegation. He said merely that he would investigate allegations which had been made. The right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin) has no right to put his supplementary question in that context.

Would it be possible for investigators to get on to the track of real abuses more quickly if their time was not wasted by having to investigate groundless allegations made by mean-spirited and irresponsible people?

Advertising (Medical Journals)


asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will make a statement on the Government's intentions with regard to advertising in medical journals.

The reduction in reckon-able sales promotion expenditure which I announced last July and which includes the cost of advertising in medical journals accepted as a cost under the Voluntary Price Regulation Scheme takes effect from 1st April. Consultations on the proposal to exempt from the reduction and to accept in full the cost of advertising in learned and professional journals are expected to be completed shortly.

Can the Secretary of State tell the House what are the preliminary results of his consultations, especially with the print unions, about the possibility of having an approved list of journals and a non-approved list? I gather that the right hon. Gentleman has consulted some 30 different organisations. Can he say anything about his consultations?

I cannot indicate the views of specific organisations. I hope that it will be possible to take a decision on this very soon. Some of the very important organisations which were consulted have not yet replied. I have urged them to do so quickly because I am anxious that a decision should be taken.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that some of these advertisements make claims for miraculous cures? Would he care to investigate the standards of this type of advertising?

This is one of the matters which I have under discussion with the pharmaceutical industry. I hope that before long it will be possible to make an announcement dealing precisely with this problem.

Child Benefit Scheme


asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether it is administratively possible to introduce the full Child Benefit Scheme in April 1978.

Yes, Sir, but, as my right hon. Friend announced in his reply to the hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clark) on 26th October, we intend to phase in the full Child Benefit Scheme over the period April 1977 to April 1979 in line with the recommendation of the joint Labour Party—TUC working party.

Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether parents who have small incomes and do not make any parental contribution towards their children's further education will receive any compensating payment for the reduction ni child tax allowances which will take place this April?

Lower wage earners will not suffer from this decision. For the higher income groups earning more than £8,600 a year, there will be some loss in that regard.

If there is now money available for tax reliefs—and, presumably, again next year—would not it have a bigger impact on poverty, especially among families, if some at least of this money were to be used at the earliest administratively possible moment to give a realistic level of child benefit?

As my right hon. Friend knows, this is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Government see as a major priority the phasing in and, if possible, the up-rating when it is economically possible of child benefit.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that still, just a month before the introduction of this scheme, nothing has been said about what is to be done to compensate the parents of students over 19 years of age under the scheme? Will he ensure that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science tells us what is to happen?

I cannot add anything to what my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary said about this in the debate the other day.



Is the Prime Minister aware that a very large number of policemen live in Chingford? [HON. MEMBERS: "They need them."] No comment. If the right hon. Gentleman came to Chingford, he could explain to the policemen there why their claim is outside the limits of the social contract but it appears to be possible to pay £7,000 in cash to dockers not to work at all.

I am not surprised to hear that there are a number of policemen living in Chingford. Indeed, they live in most places. I had the opportunity of meeting the leaders of the police yesterday. I had nearly two hours with them during which time we discussed their pay claim. I told them that it would not be right to break the pay agreement, even if their case was a good one. Although I did not wish to misuse what the Leader of the Opposition said, I was glad to be able to say that it was her view, too—and therefore, I take it, the view of the House—that any claim should be settled within the limits of the pay agreement. On that basis I am prepared to go as far as possible. They produced one or two illustrations to me which I had examined, but I do not think that they really meet the limits which are laid down in this connection. They relied on the seamen's case, which is not really on all fours.

Will my right hon. Friend use the time that he now has available as a result of not going to Chingford to visit the workers sitting in at Plessey factories on Merseyside to assure them of his support in their fight to save their jobs and that he will commit himself to speeding up the welcome investigation that he announced last Thursday?

Only this morning I asked that the National Enterprise Board should make investigations into this matter as rapidly as posible, and I shall try to give it personal consideration.

Will the Prime Minister say whether he agreed with the Home Secretary's advice to the police to join the TUC?

I gather that my right hon. Friend was a little misrepresented on that. He did not advise them to join the TUC, any more than I did yesterday. He was responding in a television interview to a question about negotiation. We all know how questions on television or, indeed, in other ways can sometimes mislead one into giving answers which are not quite the kind of answers—[Interruption.] If Opposition Members have never had that experience, all I can say is that they have a lot to learn. I can assure the right hon. Lady that my right hon. Friend was not advising the police to join the TUC. I am sure that they will want to take their own decision on that matter.

President Carter (Talks)


asked the Prime Minister whether he will discuss defence matters with President Carter on his visit to Washington.

I shall have wide-ranging talks with President Carter on international and bilateral issues of mutual concern including defence and in particular the world economic situation. The House will wish to know that I have recently issued invitations to the Heads of State and Heads of Government of France, the United States, Canada, the Federal Republic of Germany, Italy and Japan to attend a summit meeting at No. 10 Downing Street, on 7th and 8th May and have received acceptances from them all. I hope to discuss arrangements for this meeting with President Carter and the Prime Minister of Canada on my forthcoming visit.

In view of the £8 billion defence cuts of the past three years and the recent warnings of Vice-President Mondale that allies must play their full part in the NATO Alliance, will the Prime Minister assure President Carter that Britain will take sufficient measures to make certain that we play our full part in the defence of the West?

There is no doubt in the minds of either NATO or the United States about these matters. As some of these cuts in expenditure resulted from our economic policy, perhaps I should go on to add what is already known, which is that the economic policies that the Government are following have received the full support of our allies.

Although I welcome the Prime Minister's invitations to a summit, may I ask whether the President of the European Commission, Mr. Roy Jenkins, has been invited and whether he has accepted? Secondly, since the Middle East, Cyprus and Rhodesia are three areas which are potential flashpoints where we have some influence, does he agree that the more closely we can co-operate with and co-ordinate our policies with the American Government, the better it will be for the future?

On the first question, I understand that the Council of Foreign Ministers is discussing this matter this afternoon. Therefore, I have no statement to make at this stage. On the second question, certainly in the case of all three issues that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned it is important to coordinate our policies with those of the United States, and, of course, with those of other countries in Europe. The summit will help us to do both.

When the Prime Minister next meets Mr. Carter, will he raise the question of Concorde? Will he bring to the American President's attention the fact that Concorde is our major national interest and that it is vital that it lands in New York in order to ensure the future viability of the project?

I would regard it as a very great misfortune if the finest aircraft in the world was not allowed to land at one of the world's finest cities. I have indicated to President Carter in private communications that on the whole we do not like getting a verdict without a prior trial. I shall make this position clear to the President, but it must be recognised that he has limitations on his field of action in this case. We must have regard to that. I have no desire to whip up a frenzy when there are limitations placed on all parties.

When the Prime Minister is in Washington, will he tell President Carter that an independent Scotland will not recognise nuclear bases on her soil? Will he use the opportunity of his visit to Washington to go to the IMF and tell it that the people of Scotland will not accept a substantial reduction in their standard of living as a direct result of IMF policies?

I am not sure how far the hon. Lady is entitled to speak for an independent Scotland. But, if she wishes, I shall convey the views of the SNP to President Carter if there is a sufficient interstice in our talks. I will do so in order to let him know what the future holds. As far as the IMF is concerned, the hon. Lady will find that her view on this matter is, as on many other matters, a little jaundiced.

When the Prime Minister discusses defence matters with President Carter, will he explain to him the strong domestic pressure in this country for the purchase of the Nimrod second-generation surveillance aircraft in view of the trend in employment in design and production in the domestic aircraft industry?

It is becoming increasingly clear that the AWACS aircraft that is intended for NATO is unlikely to be financed, but it is time that a decision was reached. If other countries do not feel the same need for this kind of aircraft, it must be pointed out that Nimrod would supply a specific and particular British interest and would cover Europe and the Eastern Atlantic. We should not forgo this lead if other countries cannot agree on an aircraft with wider use that is not exclusively ours. I shall put this to President Carter and tell him that we cannot wait for a decision indefinitely.

Would the Prime Minister agree that British-American relations are the cornerstone of NATO, and that if President Carter does not positively use his good offices to facilitate the landing of Concorde at New York in accordance with the agreement between the British and United States Governments it will do inestimable harm to one of the most important relationships in the Western world?

Obviously, a decision to refuse to allow Concorde to land would have an adverse impact on the relationship. There are, however, far wider implications in the relationship than the situation on Concorde, and that is why I do not wish to be drawn into a public denouncement on such matters. These issues need careful examination, and I have invited President Carter's full co-operation. I have pointed out to him that there is a united view in the House of Commons that Concorde should be allowed to land in New York. I shall continue to represent that very strongly to him.

Secretary Of State For Energy (Speech)


asked the Prime Minister whether he is satisfied that no breach of the principle of collective Cabinet responsibility took place in the speech of the Secretary of State for Energy at the Press Gallery luncheon on 14th February 1977.

Does the Prime Minister recall that in that speech the Secretary of State advocated that the Labour Cabinet should be elected by Labour Back Benchers? Since the Government have now abandoned their major policies—the Dock Work Regulation Bill, the ship repairing section of the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill, and the Community Land Act—would he not agree that if he and his colleagues came up for election now they would not be in their present positions?

The hon. Member is a relatively new Member of the House. Therefore, I should remind him of a little personal history. From 1951 steadily until 1964, and from 1970 until 1974, my colleagues in the Parliamentary Labour Party, for good or for ill, elected me to the Shadow Cabinet. I am very grateful to them, and I do not think that there is any reason to believe that there would be any change now. As regards the doctrine of collective responsibility, I thought that my right hon. Friend's speech would appeal to the hon. Gentleman because the whole theme concerned the elevation of the doctrine of parliamentary democracy and parliamentary supremacy in this House. If the hon. Member does not agree with that, he is not fit to be a Member of Parliament.

Is the Prime Minister aware that the difficulty facing the Leader of the Opposition is not in recruiting people to the Shadow Cabinet but in managing to keep them once they are there? There are now six top Tories who refuse to settle in the Leader of the Opposition's political nest. Could my right hon. Friend offer any advice, or does he think that the right hon. Lady would be better advised to send a letter to Marjorie Proops?

I have noticed my hon. Friend's keen interest in the affairs of the Conservative Party, and I hope that that is not an indirect way of applying for a position himself.

Does the Prime Minister recognise that if the principles of the Secretary of State for Energy were extended to the election of the Leader of the Labour Party by the mass membership of the party there would be a difficulty, because the leader would then have to be elected by ghosts?

I am very reassured by the hon. Member's touching faith in election by the full membership, in view of what happened to him.

On the question of collective responsibility of the Cabinet, has the Prime Minister had the opportunity to discuss with his colleagues the statement he has made on three separate occasions in the last week that there will not be a General Election this year? Does he think that the British public would be wise to give as much weight to these denials as it gave to the denials he made in the summer of 1967 that there would be no devaluation that year?

I paid for those statements in full in November 1967. If the hon. Member ever has the misfortune to be Chancellor at a time when there is a fixed exchange rate, he might find that there are occasions when he has to make a stand on a position that he is not able to justify fully. That is one of the responsibilities of being Chancellor. On the question of a General Election, what I have indicated about trends moving in the right direction for the British economy continue to be borne out by the new announcement this week that the price of materials and of fuel rose by only ½ per cent. last month. Comparing this figure with that of a year ago, this holds out considerable hope for the slackening of inflation that we all want to see. It also holds out new hope for the prospect of a new wages agreement. A year ago these prices were going up by 4 per cent. a month, and last month the figure was only ½ per cent., so this is a very remarkable improvement. Irrespective of party interests, the hon. Member should welcome the fact that inflation is bound to slow down if this trend continues.

Statutory Instruments, &C


That the draft Redundant Mineworkers and Concessionary Coal (Payments) (Amendment) Order 1977 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.—[Mr. Bales.]
That the draft Mineworkers' Pension Scheme (Limit on Contributions) Order 1977 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.—[Mr. Bates.]