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Volume 961: debated on Tuesday 30 January 1979

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asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will institute an inquiry into the running of Birmingham social services department.

I am currently considering a request for such an inquiry, but before making a decision I have agreed to meet a delegation led by my hon. Friend.

To help my right hon. Friend in his consideration, will he take cognisance of the report by the Birmingham children's defence committee on the savage attacks by the Tory local authority on day nursery facilities and the cut-backs and closing down of working children's hostels, which give a taste to Birmingham people of what the Opposition and the right hon. Lady might be offering? Will he take cognisance of that report and agree to meet the delegation next week?

I shall certainly meet the delegation as soon as I can fit it into my programme. The report to which my hon. Friend refers is important and lengthy. It is being considered by myself and my advisers. I am not yet in a position to comment on its contents, other than to say that I shall take it into account when considering requests for an inquiry.

Will the Minister study the New Society article of 11 January, which refers to the shift in emphasis which the Birmingham social services wish to give from institutional care to community care? Will he therefore take a balanced and objective view, unlike the campaign run by some hon. Members in this House and by The Guardian in recent weeks?

I always take a balanced and objective view of everything. If that is the intention of the Birmingham city council, it is woefuly failing in the case of the mentally ill and the mentally handicapped, where the number of places available for various forms of personal social services provision is still below the numbers in the English metropolitan areas as a whole.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that among the large urban areas of the country, the social services provided by the Conservative council of the city of Birmingham are among the most backward and inadequate? Will he confirm that the level of facilities for the care of the mentally handicapped and the mentally ill in Birmingham is worse than in any other urban area in Britain?

Yes. That is the burden of the reply that I gave to the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker). As to the mentally handicapped and mentally ill, Birmingham's services are not at the level prevailing in English metropolitan areas generally.

Will the Miniister take an informed and responsible view of the situation affecting the citizens of Birmingham, with its enormous responsibilities and limited resources? Does he realise, from what the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said, that the situation will be made very much worse shortly?

I am grateful to have the support of the hon. Gentleman for directing more resources from the public purse towards social services, particularly in Birmingham. But I take it that he would not want Birmingham to be treated exceptionally in these matters.