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Social Services

Volume 931: debated on Tuesday 10 May 1977

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Child Benefit

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether he will make a statement on the payment of child benefit for non-resident children.

Subject to EEC arrangements and reciprocal agreements with other countries, child benefit is not payable in respect of a non-resident child unless the child has previously been in Great Britain but is temporarily absent. This was also the position for family allowances.

For the definition of temporary absence I refer the hon. Member to my reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. Crowther) on 5th May.

If the Minister accepts that the costs of those with the responsibility of bringing up families are higher than the costs of those without such responsibilities, what is the moral argument for not extending the new child benefit to 200,000 families with non-resident children?

We are adopting the same policy on child benefit as we did on family allowances. The scheme is a replacement of one cash benefit by another cash benefit. Family allowances were not paid in respect of children living abroad. We are operating the same principle with the child benefit scheme.

I recognise the difficulties of paying child benefit to non-resident children, but does my hon. Friend not agree that it would be grossly unfair to withdraw the child tax allowance from those who cannot get the benefit of the child allowance for their children overseas? At the least, until such parents have had a full opportunity to bring these dependent children over here if they wish to do so, will my hon. Friend postpone the cancellation of child tax allowance for these children?

Child tax allowances are a matter for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. A concession has been made on those allowances for the current financial year in Clause 23 of the Finance Bill. An announcement about future years was made by the Financial Secretary on 1st April.

Since, when this policy was discussed in June last year, the Secretary of State accused me of wanting to leave 200,000 families positively and sharply worse off, will the Under-Secretary of State ask his right hon. Friend to withdraw his criticism—or does he now admit the charge?

I am sure that my right hon. Friend can deal with that charge. Those families will not be sharply worse off, because of the concession that is being made by the Government in the current Finance Bill.

Does the Minister accept that these families will be made sharply worse off as soon as the Government's decision to phase out tax allowances is finally put into effect? Does he agree that as child benefit is a combination of family allowance and child tax allowance, making child benefit not payable is sharply discriminatory to heads of families who happen to have children abroad?

We have made a special concession on child tax allowance for non-resident children for the present financial year. Thereafter they will revert to the child tax allowance that is appropriate to other families in this country. We have tempered the wind to the shorn lamb for the present financial year.

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether it is administratively possible to begin the full child benefit in April 1978 instead of waiting until 1979–8.

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether he will increase child benefit rates in November 1977.

It would be administratively possible to begin the full child benefit scheme in April 1978, but our intention is to continue with the phasing in of the full scheme over the period up to April 1979 in line with the recommendation of the Joint Labour Party-TUC Working Party.

Child benefit will not be increased in November 1977; it is to go up in April 1978 in accordance with the next phase of the transfer of family support from child tax allowances.

Does the Secretary of State recognise that the position of families with children is relatively worse now than when this Government came to office, and that the increase in bread and milk prices in the past seven days will further aggravate family poverty? Is not the Government's record over child benefit one of a complete lack of courage and concern for married couples with children, on whom inflation falls particularly hard?

Whatever the hon. Member may say, when his Government were in power child benefits were not introduced. I am very proud that this Government have fulfilled their pledge and have introduced child benefits, which will be the foundation of family support for years to come.

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that large increases in unemployment dependency allowances for children, by comparison with the small increases in child benefit, will make it more worth while for many family men with children to be unemployed than employed? Will he talk to his right hon. Friend the Chancellor about putting this state of affairs right so that we have a proper family policy?

I believe that we have a proper family policy. The number of people for whom it is any advantage at all to be unemployed as opposed to being in employment is very small indeed. This is one of those canards that the Opposition have flogged around the country. It is absolutely untrue, and it does a great deal of damage.

Is it not a fact that since the working party produced its compromise report for phasing in child benefit the Chancellor has made £1,800 million available for tax reliefs which do not benefit children at all? In that situation, will not my right hon. Friend fight for an earlier increase in child benefit and, at the very least, for the automatic up-rating of child benefit in November with the rest of the benefits?

I can assure my right hon. Friend that I want to see the most substantial increase in child benefit that is possible in April next year. The possibility of an increase in November is simply not on, but I hope that next year we shall see a substantial increase, which will show the full significance of child benefit as introduced in this House.

Will the right hon. Gentleman urgently review the special cases that are worse off in absolute terms as a result of the child benefit scheme, concerning which I have already written to his Department?

I shall examine the correspondence that has come from the hon. Gentleman. If we take into consideration the tax remissions in the Budget, there is no one who is actually worse off in this context. There were some high taxpayers who were marginally worse off as a result of the child benefit scheme, but they will be marginally better off as a result of decisions already announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor.

Personal Social Services (Expenditure)

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what will be the percentage increase in expenditure in real terms on the personal social services between 1976–77 and 1977–78.

We are planning for an increase in current expenditure in England of about 1 per cent. in real terms and a decrease of 30 per cent. in capital expenditure. But I have increased from £8 million to £21 million the amount that health authorities may contribute to mutually beneficial social services schemes financed jointly with local authorities. The £21 million represents about 2 per cent. of overall local authority expenditure on the social services, and that will enable spending to be maintained at about the same level as last year.

Is it not a fact that demand on personal social services is expanding at over 2 per cent. per annum? Given that there is this pressure on personal social services, is the Secretary of State satisfied that he has the right priorities between expenditure on the National Health Service and expenditure on personal social services?

The Government planned for a 2 per cent. growth in current expenditure on personal social services. It is estimated that expenditure in 1976–77 reached the level planned for 1977–78. Because I was so worried that some services might slip, I increased by almost threefold the amount of funds available for joint financing. That has been welcomed by the local authorities.

I recognise my right hon. Friend's difficulty, but is he aware that many local authorities are neglecting the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act? Will he press all local authorities to aim at a 90 per cent. increase in expenditure under Section 2 of that Act, as envisaged in last year's priority document?

I shall be publishing shortly the results of the consultations on the consultative document. I am concerned about the extraordinary variation in performance between one local authority and another. The Minister with special responsibility for the disabled is frequently in touch with local authorities about this. I am anxious that some local authorities, as a result of events last Thursday, may be less prepared to look after the needs of disabled people than they were before.

While noting that the Secretary of State has just made a totally untrue allegation, may I ask him what encouragement he intends to give to voluntary organisations and self-help groups, which are springing up all round the country, to assist in the personal social services, which we regard as the mainspring for helping people who need the real help that we ought to give as a society?

Bearing in mind the hon. Lady's initial comment, having read the manifestos of a number of those Conservative candidates who were successful, I think that I have every reason to express concern because of the threats about cutting expenditure. However, to deal with the main part of the question, I agree with the hon. Lady. There is a very important rôle for voluntary organisations. That is why, in the budget for this year, I have increased by 60 per cent. the amount of money available from my Department to assist voluntary organisations.

Industrial Injury (Hardship Allowances)

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services how many people are currently in receipt of hardship allowances as a result of industrial injury.

142,000 people were receiving special hardship allowance on 30th September 1975, the latest date for which figures are available.

Will my right hon. Friend explain why it is that where so many of these benefits, such as hardship allowance, are linked to a medical examination, very often the allowance is curtailed before the medical examination takes place, thus meaning that the person is without money pending confirmation that he is still in need of hardship compensation?

That is not the policy of the Department. If my hon. Friend has in mind specific cases, perhaps she will draw them to my attention.

Mobility Allowance

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether he has any proposals to commute the mobility allowance.

I am hopeful that a scheme may be worked out that will enable some disabled people to use their enhanced mobility allowance for the purchase of their own vehicle. I and my officials are assisting in every way we can to get such a scheme ready for implementation. The British Association for Disability and Rehabilitation—BADAR—recognises that such a scheme will have to be selective and cannot depend entirely on Government funds.

Will the right hon. Gentleman make every effort to persuade the Chancellor of the Exchequer to relieve the commuted mobility allowance of taxation? In view of the 3,500 disabled people who, since his announcement last year, are no longer eligible for vehicles, will he reverse his decision to withdraw the invalid vehicle service?

We debated this matter at some length about 10 days ago. In answer to the second half of the hon. Gentleman's question, I cannot possibly reverse the decision. I gave the reasons then for not doing so. Certainly if I were to do so many disabled people who know the dangers of the trikes, particularly for new drivers, would be very angry indeed. The hon. Gentleman will remember the very strong campaign that was run in order that we should phase out the trikes. I think that the most important thing of all is that we should be able to achieve a scheme—I am determined to add my efforts to those of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary—that will enable the maximum number of disabled people to purchase a vehicle suitable to their needs.

Has the right hon. Gentleman any idea when this scheme will be implemented? What is the extent of the experiments that will be initiated at these early stages?

We are working as quickly as we can. There has been a series of meetings with what used to be the CCD and is now the BADAR in its combined form. I cannot give a date by which we shall be able to make an announcement. However, it is encouraging that other organisations are coming forward ready to help. Chrysler's scheme to enable disabled people to buy cars at a substantial discount is already in operation. British Leyland and Vauxhall will begin their schemes on 1st June. There are now negotiations with Ford, among others, and they, too, are well advanced. Therefore, from a variety of sources—and I believe that we shall find cash from voluntary sources—a great deal is now being done.

What progress is being made with the design and possible production of a vehicle specially designed to replace the trike?

May I put it to the Secretary of State that he fudged the issue when replying to my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) when he spoke about the 3,500 disabled people who would have received three-wheelers under the old rules but will not now receive them under the new rules? Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate the frustration and let-down felt by those people when they hear of increased expenditure on the disabled?

I say again that this question of urging that there should be increased expenditure is a little too much. The argument has been put forward that it is of great concern to people who cannot immediately now claim a trike, which they could do previously, and who have now seen the announcement that there is an increase in the mobility allowance. The mobility allowance will help precisely those who cause the hon. Lady concern, as well as many other seriously disabled people who have no possibility of driving at all. It is quite unreasonable for the Opposition constantly to press that we should put into reverse a policy that they themselves supported when it was first announced in the House.

When my right hon. Friend is looking for money for this very desirable purpose, will he take a leaf out of the Foreign Office's book, because it has transpired over the last few days that the Foreign Office has been providing for its staff interest-free car purchase loans for 28 years, completely without parliamentary authority and without Parliament being told? If the Foreign Office can be caught with its hand in the till in that way, why cannot the Secretary of State get his hands on some of the money?

Hospital Waiting Lists

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services in which year waiting lists for National Health Service hospitals were longer than in 1976.

I have only provisional figures, and it seems likely that in 1976 there will have been the longest lists of patients waiting and the largest number of in-patients treated.

I am determined to tackle this problem of waiting lists, which has plagued the NHS for the past 20 years. Under my supervision a report on waiting times has now been prepared with a series of constructive proposals. I am seeking the views of the health authorities, the Joint Consultants Committee and other professional bodies.

To what extent does the Secretary of State think that the Government's cut-backs in hospital spending are causing these lists to be as long as they are? What thought has he given to keeping open the surgical and other medical facilities at small hospitals, such as that in Newbury, which appear to be having to be closed down because they do not rate as district general hospitals?

There is a variety of reasons why the waiting list has in creased, such as the increasing elderly population and, therefore, the increasing demand for surgery in particular, and for other forms of treatment. There is also the industrial action that took place, and certainly, of course, the limitations on public expenditure—though I cannot say that in this case it is a question of cutbacks in public expenditure, because we are still in a position of growth in terms of public expenditure. However, I do not believe that the problem would be solved by any means by simply holding on to a large number of small, uneconomic hospitals. There is a wide variety of solutions to the problem. The document that I am now circulating puts forward some very constructive proposals.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that a constituent of mine who is awaiting admission to the plastic surgery unit at Sharoe Green Hospital, Preston, has been advised in the last few days, by letter, that 1,500 people are waiting for admission and that some will have to wait for a period of 10 years before they receive treatment? Is that situation not totally outrageous? What effect does queue-jumping have upon the situation?

In answering the original Question I said that I am extremely concerned about the matter of waiting lists. It is a problem that exists in my constituency as well as in the constituency of my hon. Friend. It is at least encouraging that 90 per cent. of those on waiting lists are classified as waiting for non-urgent treatment. The situation is now improving somewhat, because the number of people awaiting admission to hospital for urgent treatment fell by 5½ per cent. between March and September 1976, so what had been a worsening situation is now a situation which, for the first time for some time, is beginning to improve.

Since the length of the waiting lists is in some part dependent on the level of morale in the National Health Service, is the Minister aware that medical morale is being very severely shaken by the dreadful handling of the Doctors' and Dentists' Review Body Report? This report has been leaked to the medical Press and some family practitioner committees have draft amended statements on fees and commissions. When will the Government tighten up on this sort of thing, and when will they publish the report?

I do not follow how this question arises from a Question about waiting lists. If the right hon. Member will table a Question, I shall answer it. He touches on the subject of the morale of consultants. He should be aware that the number of consultants in post in England and Wales has increased by 3·4 per cent. in the last year, which indicates a movement forward in the National Health Service.

Pensions

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether he will introduce an interim increase for retirement pensioners in the summer.

No. As my right hon. Friend has already made clear, pensions and other social security benefits will be uprated in November.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that in this year, when we have two transition periods as a result of our entry into the EEC—which has resulted in greater increases in food prices, which particularly hit old-age pensioners—there is a cast iron case for having two pension increases instead of one? Will he tell us whether pensioners will get the £35 put forward by the TUC when he makes his announcement for the autumn increase?

I am aware of my hon. Friend's concern about this matter and, indeed, the concern of the whole House about pensioners. I remind my hon. Friend that there has been a net increase of 15 per cent. in the purchasing power of the pension since we came to office. I give him an assurance that the uprating in November will more than cover the rise in inflation.

Will the Minister confirm that even with the 12 per cent. uprating widows and women who retire at 60 are still paying tax even though they have no income except the pension? Does he have any plans to talk to the Chancellor about this disgraceful state of affairs?

The hon. Lady knows that the Chancellor is aware of tax levels. He referred to them in his Budget and he has already done something about them.

Will the pension uprating be based on what inflation was or what the Government would like to think it might be?

There is a later Question on the Order Paper on that point. The uprating will be on a November-to- November basis and will be based on whichever is higher, inflation or wage increases.

Disabled Persons (Vehicles)

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what studies he has made of cars for disabled drivers in other EEC countries.

A number of other EEC countries have provisions for helping disabled people to acquire cars, subject to conditions varying from one country to another. I under stand that in most of these countries Government benefits do not include either the issue of a specialised vehicle or a cash benefit, like the mobility allowance, which is paid without conditions as to employment or ability to drive. My Department is seeking fuller information from the EEC Commission.

Does the Minister recognise that for two years now we have been pressing him for this information, and that the delay is causing some concern? Is he aware that the need for a replacement for the trike is a matter of considerable urgency? Will he tell the House the exact state of affairs concerning the design of the replacement for the trike?

I can assure the hon. Member that we are in touch with the European Commission on this matter. I remind him that the Director of the Central Council for the Disabled, and its successor organisation, the British Association for Disability and Rehabilitation, speaking of the British mobility allowance scheme, said that the Government had

"produced a most imaginative scheme in the Mobility Allowance. The concept is much admired by Europe."
There are Questions later on the Order Paper about making specialist vehicles. I am in close touch with all developments in this field.

Many of us are concerned that as there is no one vehicle to satisfy all the needs of the disabled, the Minister should consider great flexibility in this field. Many of us feel that all those disabled people who are able to drive should be able to do so, and that to talk of one single vehicle is to hold out a false promise.

Those are very wise words. Disabled people are not standard, and to talk of providing a standard car is to make a false assumption. The point that my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones) has made is very much in my mind and in the minds of all those hon. Members on both sides of the House who think deeply about these matters.

Will the Minister justify the statement that was made earlier and tell us what evidence there is that disabled people do not want to see a continuation of the trike until an alternative vehicle is available? In February this year there was a unanimous request that the trike policy should be changed. Will the Minister talk to representatives of the disabled on 17th May?

There are many claims upon us in this field. There is a very strong campaign, on safety grounds, against the invalid tricycle, and I have answered one question after another on that issue. There are people who want the trike, and my right hon. Friend has explained why it cannot be supplied indefinitely. I assure the hon. Member that I am closely in touch with organisations representing the disabled and I shall certainly see anybody representing the national organisations. In fact, arrangements are being made for me to see national representatives on 17th May.

Granny Bashing

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what evidence he has that so-called "granny bashing" is a growing problem; and if he will set up an investigation to establish the relationship between this problem and the need to care for elderly relatives.

Domiciliary care staff are well aware of the need to be on the alert for any possible signs of ill-treatment but I have no evidence that this problem is increasing. I have, however, decided to fund a research project into the support needed by families caring for elderly relatives. I am sure that good neighbours can be an important factor in helping to provide such support.

While thanking the Secretary of State for his announcement, I wonder whether he is fully aware that many people suffer great hardship from looking after elderly relatives for long periods, especially in areas where there is an acute shortage of geriatric beds. Will he do more to increase the supply of geriatric beds so that relatives can get a break from caring for elderly relatives, and will he see that more community support is available for caring for these elderly people?

I agree absolutely about the need for more geriatric beds. Also, it is essential that there should be more provision for these elderly people in the community. It is interesting that in the joint financing project a high proportion is devoted to helping people in this category. The purpose of the research is very important. There is a whole range of specific factors, such as incontinence and sleep disturbance, which provoke crises in families looking after elderly people. The research will investigate all the facts and the possibility of relieving measures, such as measures for dealing with incontinence, laundry services, sitter-in services, night sitting and night nursing facilities, and a whole range of other services to assist families who have the responsibility of caring for elderly relatives.

As my right hon. Friend spent much of last Friday in my constituency, did he take note of the prodigious work done in hospitals there—hospitals that are grossly under-staffed—and in domiciliary services? Does he accept that, while his research project is welcome, it is no substitute whatever for more help in the hospitals and more domiciliary care for the elderly?

What I saw in my hon. and learned Friend's constituency was one of the finest examples of a new community hospital, which at the moment is dedicated entirely to providing support services for precisely the sort of elderly people whom we are talking about. I thought that it was a prime example of the sort of service that the Health Service can provide and is increasingly trying to provide to meet just this problem.

Death Grant

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what representation he has received from the National Federation of Old Age Pensioners about the level of the death grant.

Representatives of the federation urged my right hon. Friend to raise the death grant when he met them in February. Two branches of the federation have also written to us this year on the same issue.

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the present level of death grant is creating great personal distress for some elderly people, particularly those who have no savings left? It is therefore imposing a burden on their families. Will he admit that it is scandalous that there has been no increase in the death grant since 1967?

The straight answer is that this is a question of priorities. The Government have to consider this matter against pensions and other benefits. We know that the pressure is on for an increase, but this matter comes lower down the scale at the moment.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I have a later Question relating to this matter? Is he also aware that the death benefit is hardly sufficient to pay the tips of the men who are handling the burial? Will he please consider the urgency of increasing the death grant?

I am aware that many hon. Members, including my hon. Friend, have raised this matter with mc, but I must reiterate that it is a question of finance, public expenditure and priorities.

Although one recognises that this question is a matter of priorities and that it is unlikely that the death grant can be increased for everybody for a long time ahead, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is time that there was some selectivity and that those whose families are in receipt of supplementary benefit should be allowed an increase in the death grant?

I find it difficult to follow the hon. Gentleman's reference to selectivity. I can understand much of the pressure that I am getting from my hon. Friends on this matter, but not that from Opposition Members. They are again urging more public expenditure at a time like the present.

Does the right hon. Gentleman not recognise that for these schemes to have reality the benefits must bear some relationship to the contributions? Since the contributions have been advancing steadily over the years, is it not high time that the death grant was raised?

That is a very fair point and I take note of it. Certainly the Government want to do something about this matter when the finance is available.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Tory-controlled local authority in Rossendale, in my constituency, recently introduced massive increases in charges for grave spaces and that this action in itself is causing a great deal of hardship among old people who are concerned about the fact that they can no longer afford to purchase a grave space for their relatives?

I am tempted to say that that is a very grave matter. In effect, my hon. Friend has reiterated the point made by the Secretary of State earlier today about expenditure by some of these Tory authorities. When it comes to the issue, they cut vital social services.

Health Services Board

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether he is satisfied with the working of the Health Services Board.

The Health Services Board is an independent statutory body and is not responsible to me for the way in which it discharges its duties under the Health Services Act. I have every confidence in it.

How many pay beds have so far been phased out and how many extra beds have become available as a result to NHS patients? Will the right hon. Gentleman comment on allegations by the Socialist Medical Association that the spaces left vacant by pay beds are being turned into storerooms and laboratories?

On the second half of that question, the Act requires that every effort is made to ensure that the pay beds that are closed are used productively. An amendment to that effect was accepted in debates on the Bill. As for the number of beds phased out, as the House will know, I am responsible for the phasing out of the first 1,000. I have been in consultation with the health authorities. I have now completed that consultation, and authorisations will take effect as from 20th May, and I shall make a further announcement to the House about the matter.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that progress in phasing out pay beds from the National Health Service has not been fast enough and that until all pay beds are eliminated from it we shall never have an equitable or efficient Health Service?

I shall not go over the whole debate that we had. I think that I and all my hon. Friends recognise the wisdom of the measure that we passed through the House. Quite apart from the 1,000 pay beds that will be phased out by my decision, the board is now busy consulting about the first group of beds for which it has responsibility and it will be reporting to me in July.

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that there is widespread and serious criticism of the way in which the board was set up and is conducting its business? Is it not clear that if it is to fulfil the requirements of the Act, it will need more time than it has at the moment?

I do not accept that there has been any such criticism. This is a very well balanced board which has got down to its job quickly. Its members asked me whether they could have a little more time to make their first report to me, and I readily agreed. In fact, I offered them more than they asked for but they said that they did not need it. I am very satisfied that the board is doing its job thoroughly, with maximum consultation.

Retirement Age (Men)

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether he will seek power to introduce phased retirement for men.

No, Sir. I refer my hon. and learned Friend to the arguments and costings in my Department's memorandum of last year entitled "Pension Age".

Is my right hon. Friend agreed that in principle there can be no justification for different retirement ages for men and women? Is he agreed in principal on retirement equality for men?

My hon. and learned Friend asks me about principle. Obviously the Government would want to work towards equalisation, but that will take time. This is a matter of costings. My hon. and learned Friend will have seen the sort of public expenditure that would be needed to bring about an equal pension retirement age in the paper that we produced.

In the present situation, in which we are faced with long-term structural unemployment, does my right hon. Friend agree that the odds are very heavy that the job of every man who is put on pension will be taken up by someone on the unemployment register and that the net costing of such an operation would be little or nothing? If there is the long-term phasing in of a lower retirement age, and, having looked at the booklet in some detail—

We shall learn a great deal from the job exchange scheme. Sometimes people who retire quite rightly seek other employment. We hope that when we return to full employment the problems to which my hon. Friend has drawn attention will not exist.

In the meantime, can we not make a start by offering the option of a retirement pension to those over 60 who are made redundant?

Again, the point is the cost. Pensioners would not want to take a reduced pension. If they were to get the full pension, the State would have to pay for it.

Benefits (Uprating)

14.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services when the social security uprating announcement will be made.

Does the right hon. Gentleman regard the review that he carried out in the previous financial year as a State secret? If so, why?

Although my right hon. Friend must get fed up with the double standards of Opposition Members who advocate savage cuts in public expenditure on the one hand and increases on the other, will he bear in mind that the proposed increases in the charges for meals will hit some families extremely hard? Surely this should be taken into account when considering whether he is able to increase the child benefit allowances.

I can assure my hon. Friend that in taking what must be a difficult decision on what should be the level of uprating to take place from November, I must take into account all the different changes in prices, including the price of food and the retail price index. I can assure the House that the uprating will be sufficient to restore the value of benefits that were introduced in November 1976.

As we were told by the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) on 29th April that the latest date to start an orderly implementation was last week if the increases were to be paid by November, why is the Secretary of State waiting? Will he give an absolute, categorical denial that there is no question of using the size of the uprating as a bargaining counter with the TUC?

I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that I shall be making my announcement very soon. It will be based entirely on a decision taken by the Government. It will not be part of any bargaining counter. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that he is wrong about the date. The latest date for announcing a mid-November uprating would be early in June. That would be inconvenient in view of what is likely to be the recess. I hope, therefore, that the announcement will be made before the end of the month.

Handicapped Children (Pamphlet)

15.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether he will make a statement about the recent pamphlet on handicapped children by the National Development Group.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to my right hon. Friend's reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Mr. Pavitt) on 9th March.

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the pamphlet issued by the National Development Group strongly endorses the recommendations of the Court Committee? Will he agree to give positive discrimination in favour of handicapped children as a matter of policy, if necessary on a joint financing basis?

I think that I can consider all those points sympathetically. We are consulting on the pamphlet and on the Court Committee. We are giving the highest priority to mentally handicapped children and we expect joint financing to make a considerable contribution.

Merseyside

Q1.

asked the Prime Minister when he next intends to pay an official visit to Merseyside.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. Michael Foot)

In the absence of my right hon. Friend, who is presiding at a meeting of the NATO Council of Ministers. I have been asked to reply.

My right hon. Friend has at present no plans to do so.

I ask my right hon. Friend the Lord President whether he will ask his right hon. Friend to reflect on the election results of last Thursday if he cannot visit Merseyside. Will he point out to the Prime Minister that the electorate on Merseyside, scourged with heavy unemployment, is not reacting to the Lib-Lab pact as being the ways and means of finding a solution to its problems? Will he further urge my right hon. Friend to consider the possibility of a pact with the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party and the Labour Party Conference to find Socialist solutions to the problems on Merseyside?

I agree with my hon. Friend that the results are extremely serious from the point of view of everyone on Merseyside. I can assure my hon. Friend that the Government will take account of them. They will take account of all the representations that he and others have made on the matter. We shall seek to sustain our policies for assisting, in particular, the firms on whose behalf my hon. Friend has made strong representations. I am doubtful whether we shall get any assistance on these matters from the newly-elected representatives on Merseyside.

In view of the question of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden), would not the right hon. Gentleman be wise to take the opportunity of going to Merseyside and meeting the architect of the Liberal showpiece on Merseyside, "Jones the Vote"? Should not the right hon. Gentleman comfort his new colleagues with the fact that both their parties had catastropic results in the Merseyside elections?

If I might use the same colloquial terms as the right hon. Gentleman, I have always preferred "Steel the Vote" to "Jones the Vote". On the whole, he has delivered it a good deal better.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that one of the best examples of Tory freedom in action is the manner in which Foster Plastics, of Rain-ford, in my constituency, has sold out to a competitor without consulting or considering the interests of the workers, most of whom have been callously thrown on the scrapheap? Is this not an example of Tory freedom and free enterprise, in which the interests of workers come last, and when the pawns in the takeover battles are never consulted or considered?

My hon. Friend raises matters of great seriousness. We should all be aware of the extremely serious employment situation on Merseyside. In reply to the questions of my hon. Friends the Members for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) and Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) I would say that in response to the representations that have been made to us by the hon. Members for Garston, Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) and others from Merseyside on the cases of individual firms, asking for Government intervention and Government money, there has been a considerable amount of intervention and a considerable amount of money has been supplied. But that is contrary to the policies preached by those who have temporarily taken power in Merseyside.

Will the Lord President advise his right hon. Friend that the anti-Labour feeling in Merseyside is due to a rejection of Socialism, which is shown by the two-thirds majority that the Conservatives now hold? Do the right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friend realise that the rejection of Socialism has occurred because there are now no jobs on Merseyside? What hope can he give to school leavers in my constituency that under this Government there is a chance of their getting a job when they leave school?

If it had not been for intervention by the Government, about 20,000 people now in jobs in Merseyside would not have had them. That work has been sustained by Government intervention. We believe that that process has to be extended over the period to come. The Manpower Services Commission, in particular, has produced a recent report in which it has made recommendations—and I believe that the Government will be eager to act upon them as speedily as possible—for further assistance for young people, who form a major part of the problem. What is requited is Government intervention, and those on the Government Benches understand the fact.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that if one analyses the votes on Merseyside one sees that Opposition Members have nothing to crow about and that in a General Election the results on Merseyside would be precisely as they are now? [Interruption.] Yes—with more Labour seats than Tory seats. Is my right hon. Friend further aware that if Conservative policies were carried out, with massive further cuts in public expenditure plus a failure to assist in bringing industry to Merseyside, unemployment there would be far higher than it is?

I fully accept what my hon. Friend has said. I could not have said it better myself. If those Opposition Members who to judge from these questions, have apparently shown some interest in Merseyside had taken rather more interest in previous discussions, they would have realised that representations have been made by my right hon. and hon. Friends on matters affecting employment on Merseyside over many months and that some of the improvements that we have been able to achieve have been achieved precisely because we have responded to those representations.

Foreign Secretary (Speech)

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister if the speech made by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs on economic policy at Castleford Trades and Labour Clubs on 23rd April 1977 represents Government policy.

Q3.

asked the Prime Minister if the speech made by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs on economic policy at Castleford Trades and Labour Clubs on 23rd April 1977 represents Government policy.

Q9.

asked the Prime Minister if the public speech by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs on economic policy in Castleford on 23rd April 1977 represents Government policy.

I have been asked to reply.

I refer the hon. Members to the reply that my right hon. Friend gave to the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) on 2nd May.

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that in his speech the Foreign Secretary said specifically that the Government, ahead of any negotiations with the TUC, had already decided on a ceiling of 8 per cent. or 9 per cent. for wages policy in phase 3, and that he went on to say that if this was not possible we should be in danger of losing all the ground so painfully won? As most sections of society have now experienced the pain, can the right hon. Gentleman give some examples of the ground that has been won?

The hon. Gentleman is under a misapprehension. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary did not state the matter in the terms set out by the hon. Gentleman. The figure that he referred to in his speech was a single-figure pay-price equation. He referred to the desirability of securing such a figure, and, of course, that figure itself was referred to by the TUC in its economic review.

In the light of the statement made by the Prime Minister following the economic Summit, can the right hon. Gentleman clarify whether it is the lowering of the inflation rate or the lowering of the unemployment total that is now the Government's new and first priority? If it is the latter, will he help the House by giving a forecast of the number of people who will be unemployed by the end of the year?

The hon. Gentleman seeks to play with words. My right hon. Friend and the communiqué stated plainly that priority would be given to creating jobs and overcoming the common unemployment problem that we have in all our countries. My right hon. Friend and others emphasised also that this is inextricably tied up with the fight against inflation as well.

In relation to pay and prices policy, have not the events of the last 24 hours shown clearly that High Street competition, with or without Green Shield stamps, is worth more to the housewife than any number of stage 3s, prices Bills and price codes?

I do not think that that is what most of the housewives in the country think about the situation. Indeed, if they were satisfied with that form of competition, they would not have been misled into voting as they did on Merseyside. It is precisely because of the general inflation that they took many of the courses they did. I assure the hon. Gentleman that his solution is not one that can be applied properly and successfully across the economy as a whole.

As the Question refers to the economic policy of the Government, will my right hon. Friend confirm that the agreement reached at the Summit Conference will in no way adversely affect the existing hope of extending legislation in respect of dumping in the clothing, steel, textile, leather and other industries in this country?

I can give my hon. Friend confirmation on that point. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister indicated, there was no change of policy in that respect. These matters are governed by provisions involved in international arrangements which have already been reached.

I recognise the right hon. Gentleman's reluctance to give a figure in respect of pay policy, but does he accept that in phase 3 of the Conservative Government's policy an earnings increase of well over 16 per cent. was allowed? Does he accept that anything better than that would at least be an advance on Toryism?

I would not go into any figures, but I hope that I shall not cause any difficulties with the hon. Gentleman. One of the special difficulties that the Conservatives left us in dealing with these matters was their insistence on a statutory incomes policy. We do not believe that that is the right way to deal with the situation. As far as figures are concerned, I have indicated the general terms in which my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary referred to the matter. But all these aspects are for general discussion between the Government and representatives of the TUC, and we have not discussed matters in these terms at all.

Why has the right hon. Gentleman not answered the supplementary question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, East (Mr. Aitken)? If the Prime Minister was being serious yesterday in saying that the fight to find jobs for our people is now the primary fight, why cannot the right hon. Gentleman give even a target for the end of this year?

The hon. Gentleman knows, and everyone with experience knows, that it would be absurd to give a figure for the whole of the countries that are involved. There are 15 million unemployed in the Western world. No one could give a sensible target of what could be achieved by the end of the year in that respect. Therefore, it would not be possible to relate these general measures to particular countries, either. This matter does not bear any relevance to the rather dodgy supplementary question that the hon. Member for Thanet, East (Mr. Aitken) put. [Interruption.] The answer has been dodged because the question was not designed to get a clear answer.

If the Government have not a target for the movement of employment over the next 12 months, quite apart from the question whether they could hit that target, will it not be extremely difficult for them to announce very shortly, as they promised, the figure for the up-rating of pensions next November, which, under the forecasting method, has to be linked with the future movement of earnings? Would it not therefore be wiser for the Government to return to the historical method, or allow a very large margin of contingency in case earnings turn out to be a great deal higher than they intend?

I did not make any statement about the Government not having a target for earnings; I was asked whether the Government would give a target for unemployment by a specific time, or at any rate an approximate time. That did not relate to anything about earnings. The hon. Member for Chertsey and Walton (Mr. Pattie) asked me about the speech by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, and I recalled the general terms in which this matter was referred to in the TUC document. As I indicated earlier, we have not reached any discussion of the detailed figures in talks with the TUC on these matters as yet, and therefore the question put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) does not arise.

Since the Foreign Secretary is a member of the medical profession, and since leaks of the Doctors' and Dentists' Review Body Report show that it is entirely within the pay policy, why has that report not yet been published?

The right hon. Gentleman seems to have an obsession with this subject. The Government are entitled to consider the matter, and I am sure that all the right hon. Gentleman's doubts will eventually be allayed.