Skip to main content

Social Services

Volume 963: debated on Tuesday 6 March 1979

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

Retirement Age

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what representations he has received about the inequalities in pension ages between men and women.

Following the publication of our discussion document "A Happier Old Age", we have received a number of representations and comments on the question of pension age. These are being considered, but at present no clear consensus is emerging as to the most suitable way of dealing with the matter.

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that the inequality in pension ages between men and women makes a mockery of the sex discrimination legislation? Will he use his considerable influence to ensure that in the Labour Party manifesto for the next general election there is a firm commitment to reduce the pensionable age of men to 60?

I think that perhaps my hon. Friend has as much influence as I in regard to the manifesto. The question of equalisation was, and is, one of the choices which we put into the document. I appreciate the pressure for a reduction in retirement age. However, before we can come to any decision the Government need to examine all possibilities exhaustively.

Is not the real answer to introduce flexibility into retirement ages for both men and women so that each has the opportunity to retire at any age between, for example, 60 and 70, with proportionately reduced or increased pension entitlement? Is it not a fact that the Government have no real indication of how many men would wish to retire before 65, or how many women would wish to go on working after 60? Would not the Government's best contribution be to embark upon a study so that we could have more to work on in future?

I agree with the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. McCrindle) that equalisation is one aspect that we must study very carefully. We have done some work on this, and some of the views that are coming in to the Department, both on equalisation and flexibility, are options which the Government must consider.

Was not my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Mr. Roberts) absolutely correct when he suggested that the present situation is in conflict with sex equality legislation? Does it not also apply to the different treatment of widows and widowers? Has the Department any firm plans to combat the situation?

I agree with my hon. Friend. This is one of the aspects that the Equal Opportunities Commission dealt with in regard to equalisation. But my hon. Friend will understand that other organisations—not least the TUC—are much opposed to the proposal as it is at present.

Will the Minister accept how sorry we are not to see the Secretary of State in his place today? We all wish him a speedy recovery. What further discussions have the Government had on the EEC directive on equalisation of pension ages, and how do current Government plans fit in with the implementation dates that are set in that directive?

I thank the hon. Lady for her comments in regard to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. We all hope to see him back very soon. As to the EEC directive, as the hon. Lady knows, there is a period of six years for the phasing in of certain aspects of this document. Obviously during that period we shall have to take into account the question of retirement age.

Nurses (Pay)

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what is the hourly rate for a night nurse on a hospital ward and her pay for one week of night duty.

Nurses' hourly rates are enhanced by one-quarter for night duty and one-half for work done on Sundays and public holidays. Night duty on a general ward by a registered nurse as a staff nurse, at the maximum of the staff nurse scale, attracts hourly rates of £2·03 Monday to Saturday, and £2·43 Sunday and public holidays. Pay at these rates for one week of night duty, 40 hours in four shifts which includes a Sunday or public holiday, would total £85·20.

Does not my right hon. Friend accept that the staff nurse wages he has mentioned are deplorable? Does not this show that the nurses are not just a special case but an exceptional case, in which unsocial hours and a number of other things should be taken into consideration?

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will not be at the Cabinet meeting on Thursday, will my right hon. Friend the Minister of State be there? If so, will he press the nurses' case? Time is of the essence. The year that has been lost should now be made up and the phasing of any settlement should start in April and August of this year and not April and August of next year.

My hon. Friend should have noticed that there is a question on the Order Paper about nurses' pay in general. I think that I ought to reserve my answer until them. However, I can confirm that my right hon. Friend will be at the Cabinet meeting on Thursday in order to deal with any matters affecting my Department.

There is a matter which does arise out of that. Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that of all the many claimes for special consideration that there have been in recent weeks, the one that commands a vast amount of public support and sympathy is that of the nurses? Is he aware that figures that he has just given show that many hospital porters and some kitchen staff who are on strike are receiving more money than nurses who are not on strike and who have said that they never will strike? How can he possibly justify that?

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's support for further public expenditure for the NHS. I draw his attention to the fact that there is a later question on the Order Paper dealing with nurses' pay as opposed to enhancements for special work. I shall deal with the question of the nurses' pay claim then.

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Service when he expects to announce the Government decision on the 1978 pay award to nurses.

17.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will make a statement regarding nurses' pay.

Yesterday, we saw representatives of the management and staff sides of the Nurses and Midwives Whitley Council, when my right hon. Friend informed them of the Government's decisions on nurses' pay. For the April 1979 settlement, the proposal is for an increase of 9 per cent. on the pay bill. In addition, we have proposed a comparability study, with results to be implemented in two equal stages, in August 1979 and April 1980, with an advance payment of £1 a week from April 1979 for all staff working 35 hours a week or more, to be offset against the first stage comparability payments.

We had an exploratory discussion and agreed to meet again on Friday with a view to reaching an agreement with the Whitley Council.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the nurses are showing commendable restraint, unlike some other health workers, in refusing to strike? Will the Government recognise that by publicly appreciating it? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that a basis for a successful settlement—[HON. MEMBERS: "Reading".]—exists in negotiating with the nurses firm guarantees on pay in return for a no-strike agreement? If he does so agree, will he use that process of negotiation?

I am grateful for the opportunity that the hon. Gentleman has given me to refer to the nurses' vote to oppose strike action. I much appreciate that decision. It is upon the ability of the nurses to carry out their role that the maintenance of the Health Service depends in times of trouble. We are not asking for a no-strike guarantee from the nurses. We are offering a guarantee of their position in relationship to society from the present forward. The comparability study may be taken up by the Standing Commission on Public Service Pay for suceeding years as well as the present.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that nurses, like other low-paid workers in the National Health Service, can hardly be accused of fanning the flames of inflation? However, it appears that some the adjustments that may be made for them will not be as good as adjustments that have been made for those in the industrial sector. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the role of the nurses in our hospitals—a role that touches almost every family in the land—deserves generous treatment? Will he ensure that on Friday there is an improvement in the offer in the immediate term and that that may be added to later when the other part of the agreement comes into force?

I cannot make any promises about the immediate offer. I agree that the nurses deserve generous treatment. I understand that they claim that they have fallen behind other groups over the past two or three years. If they accept the main part of the Government's offer, their problems will be substantially solved. Contrary to what happened in 1970 and 1975, they will be protected from falling back again.

Is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to guarantee to the nurses that their determination not to strike, which has won terrific public respect, will receive greater cash recognition than the claims made by other groups who have used the strike weapon? Has not the time come for him to disprove the widespread belief that militancy pays?

We have offered the nurses a large part of what they are asking for. Their case is that they have fallen behind. If they accept the comparability study, their position will be restored. That will apply for the current year and their position in society will be held in relationship with that of other groups from this year forward.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that many of those who support incomes policy, such as myself, do so on the understanding that it is a basic concept that the lower paid and those in special categories should receive priority when discussions are taking place? Apart from those in the police force and the Armed Forces, do not the nurses come into the special category? Does he accept that if he made concessions at this stage, and not for next year or the year after, the public would believe not that we were breaking the incomes policy but that we were merely giving the nurses that to which they are entitled?

I should stress that the Government's incomes policy makes provision for special categories and for the lower-paid. We firmly believe that the nurses fall within the special category. That is why we have made this offer to them. I believe that this will lead substantially to what they want.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he has studiously avoided answering the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) and the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) about the comparability of the offers made to the nurses and to the ancillary workers? Will not his commendation of the nurses' refusal to strike sound very hollow when it is apparent that they have been given exactly the same offer in spite of their undertaking not to strike that has been given to unions, some of which have been doing their damnedest to smash up the Health Service?

If the right hon. Gentleman takes the trouble to study the offer, he will see that we are proceeding to the nurses' comparability study as quickly as is humanly possible. After all, we are ensuring that the first phase of the staging payments will come into operation after a mere three or four months' work by the standing commission. In practice, that is about as fast as it can work.

Termination Of Pregnancy (Day Care Facilities)

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what progress he has made with setting up day care clinics for early termination of pregnancy.

In planning guidelines issued in March last year, health authorities were asked to review National Health Service provision for women seeking termination of pregnancy, and in particular to develop day care facilities. This was followed up at the end of the year with a request to each regional health authority for details of existing day care abortion facilities and plans to establish new facilities over the next three years. When this information is complete, my Department will consider what further discussions with health authorities would be appropriate. The position regarding day care abortion treatment in private nursing homes was set out in my reply to the hon. Member for Dorking (Sir G. Sinclair) on 29 January.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that full reply. Is he aware that the latest statistics indicate that 50 per cent. of women receiving legal abortions under the Act still have to find the resources and the money to go into the private sector? Is he aware that in the West Midlands we still have the lowest figure of terminations carried out on the NHS, and that this is a matter of very great concern throughout the region? Will he please give special attention to this area?

I can confirm that I shall give special attention to the West Midlands area. Indeed, my officials have been in touch with the regional health authority with a view to taking action in the exercise that I described. I regret that I have to confirm that about 50 per cent. of abortions are at present taking place outside the NHS. As the desire for more abortions on the NHS was the one issue which united the Standing Committee that considered the Bill of the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon) about two years ago, it is obviously an issue upon which the House is united and we shall do our best to meet it.

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House what steps he has taken to point out to women the serious psychological and physical results of an abortion wherever, or by whatever method, it may be undertaken?

That is not a matter for me. It is a matter for the doctor who is advising the woman concerned.

Birmingham Area Health Authority

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services when he intends next to meet the chairman of Birmingham area health authority.

I expect to see him on Thursday during my visit to South-East Staffordshire and North Birmingham. May I say that that answer was written before my right hon. Friend went into hospital, and it is not to be taken as gospel truth.

When the Minister meets Mr. John Bettinson, will he discuss with him ways of reducing the five-year waiting list for non-emergency, but nevertheless essential, operations in the East Birmingham hospital? Is he satisfied that Birmingham, as the second largest city in the country, with a large and increasing catchment area, is getting its fair share of funds allocated by his Department for the NHS?

Allocations to the Birmingham area health authority take place on the Resource Allocation Working Party formula, which is the same for the whole of the country. In addition to the provision which I indicated in my answer to the hon. Gentleman on 30 January was being instituted in Birmingham, I am pleased to be able to tell him that detailed planning will shortly commence for the development of the so-called "carcase block" at Queen Elizabeth hospital to provide facilities for renal dialysis, transplants, radiotherapy and cardiac surgery. Of course, the proposal will be subject to approval in the context of the strategic plans of the health authorities concerned.

Does the Minister really support the proposals to encourage Dutch nurses to come to this country to fill vacancies in the West Midlands and Birmingham area when the shortage of nurses is largely due to the cut-back in training that was instituted by the Government and the inflexible methods of part-time nursing?

The hon. Gentleman is misinformed. In fact, in the first nine months of this year the recruitment for nurse training was substantially in excess of the numbers recruited for nurse training in the equivalent nine months of the preceding year. Therefore, I do not think that the question arises.

Retirement Pensions

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what would be the administrative cost of making a cash payment to all pensioners to cover the annual amount by which the November 1978 pension increase falls short of the increase in average earnings.

The administrative cost of making a single payment of the same amount to all pensioners would be about £3 million, but such a payment could not be varied to cover each individual case. The Government think it more appropriate to take the shortfall into account, together with the general economic prospects, when the time comes to decide the new rates of benefit which will take effect from next November.

Will my right hon. Friend reconsider that answer? Does he not accept that some action should be taken to recompense pensioners for the lower than justified pension increase that they received in November due to the miscalculations of his Department? Does he accept that the higher than expected increase in earnings has boosted the national insurance funds and that some way ought to be found to return this money to national insurance beneficiaries?

I take my hon. Friend's point. As I have already said, the Government will take this into account when we look at the next uprating. I should like to draw to the attention of the House the fact that because earnings were higher than prices—by 3·3 per cent. last year—pensioners received an increase in real terms.

Would it not save a certain amount of Government expenditure if pension increases were made at the same time as the Budget so that the new pension rate could equate almost exactly with the new tax allowances in the Budget? Would not that save a lot of work for the tax inspector and the collector of taxes?

That sounds an attractive idea, but the administrative problems would be immense. We have now moved to a November uprating. We need about five to six months' forecast because of the tremendous amount of work that has to be done in making adjustments to the pensions. We are dealing with over 9 million pensioners, and it is a very big task indeed.

Bearing in mind the large heating bills that many pensioners are facing this winter and, indeed, the increase in television licence fees, would not my right hon. Friend accept that pensioners are owed about £20 and that a lump sum payment of that order would be extremely useful to many pensioners in meeting these bills?

I accept what my hon. Friend says. But if we were to make a lump sum payment, some people would get more than they were entitled to and some would get less. It would be a very difficult operation. The safest way to deal with this would be for the Government to take into account in the uprating. I emphasise that the pensioners have not lost this year. In fact, they have gained quite substantially.

Does not everything that the right hon. Gentleman said indicate that he is conceding that once again, for the second time in three years, the Government have missed the target that they set themselves in the 1975 Act? Was the Secretary of State correctly reported when, in "Pensioners' Voice", he was reported as saying that there was a statutory requirement to take these things into account but no statutory requirement to get it right? Does not that strike the right hon. Gentleman as a rather cynical approach to this statutory obligation?

I am sure the right hon. Gentleman is aware that the forecast which my right hon. Friend made last summer is the best that is available. There is no statutory obligation, as a recent court case proved, to carry that out. Obviously a Government would want to take this into account. The right hon. Gentleman reminded me about the 1975 Act. In that Act, this Government put the uprating of pensions in line with either earnings or prices. I should like to know whether the right hon. Gentleman's party will stick to that if, unfortunately, it came into office.

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he can now announce arrangements for retirement pensions to be paid on request direct into pensioners' bank accounts.

The findings of a joint working party of representatives of the banks and my Department are being studied and I will make an announcement as soon as possible.

As such an arrangement would save 40 per cent. of retirement pensioners with bank accounts from going out to collect their pensions in bad weather, and as there would be a considerable saving to public funds, why do not the Government get on with it? It is now 18 months since I raised the matter with the Minister. What is the reason for the delay?

I am expecting a report by the end of the month. There is a great deal of work to be done. As I have said, we are dealing with nearly 9 million pensioners. I am much in favour of the principle, and the introduction of such an arrangement would cover child benefit as well as retirement pensions. There are certain snags and administrative problems to be overcome, but I hope to make some progress in the near future.

Geriatric Care

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what proposals he has to allocate a higher proportion of available resources to geriatric care, whether provided at home or in hospitals or through other community provision.

In the planning guidelines issued to health and local authorities, I have asked them to give high priority to the improvement of geriatric and other services for the elderly, including domiciliary and residential provision. As indicated in the recently published public expenditure White Paper, further developments in services for the elderly will continue to be a high priority in the use of any additional funds which become available to the NHS.

As, thank God, our people are living longer and are healthier, is it not plain that there will be a tremendous strain on resources over the next 20 years? Have the Government undertaken any long-term planning—not the public expenditure White Paper projections but long-term planning—on the future level of resources over that period merely to maintain existing standards, let alone increase them?

The elderly population has increased, is increasing and will continue to increase. My Department's overall planning norm of 10 geriatric beds per 1,000 persons aged 65 years or over is being reviewed in the light of changes in demography and patterns of service. We are treating the subject extremely seriously. We are not merely sloganising about community care for the elderly. On the contrary, we put our money where our principles lie. For example, the amount of National Health Service resources set aside for the joint financing scheme increased from £8 million in 1976–77 to £21 million in 1977–78 and £34·5 million this year.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that very often when a person goes into a geriatric ward there is the feeling "Abandon hope all ye who enter here"? Is he aware of the wonderful work that is being done in geriatric re-habilitation? Will he please allocate resources to allow the elderly who go into geriatric wards to be given the opportunity to get out of them? Will he please give that top priority?

There are many competing priorities. I agree that geriatric re-habitation is extremely important. I shall take carefully into account all that my hon. Friend has said. I know that he agrees that community care for the elderly is also extremely important.

Will the right hon. Gentleman take steps now to stimulate an increased amount of attention by voluntary bodies to help those families who care for their own elderly in the community? Will he persuade local authorities to organise relief care to a greater extent than is now possible for those families that spend so much of their time looking after their elderly but who cannot do so for 52 weeks a year?

I keep closely in touch with voluntary organisations. I am especially concerned to do so with a view to improving care for the elderly. The Government's introduction of the invalid care allowance has done much to help those who are looking after elderly and disabled relatives. I shall take very much into account the point that the hon Lady makes about local authorities.

Young Persons (Subsequent Offences)

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what is the percentage of cases where those made subject to a care order under the Children and Young Persons Act 1969 subsequently commit offences which in the case of an adult would be punishable by imprisonment.

Does not the Minister agree that his answer shows the urgent need for a great deal more information on this subject to be made available to the House and to the public? Does he not also agree that such information as we do possess suggests strongly that there is an urgent need, in the interests of the public, society and young people themselves, for the Government to turn their backs on the outdated, trendy, psychological theories of the 1960s and seek an amendment of the Children and Young Persons Act 1969 on the lines frequently proposed on this side of the House?

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman feels that there is an urgent need for information, since he is therefore proposing substantial legislative action on the basis of not having information. I would have thought that a very foolish action. I do not agree that the 1969 Act is outdated. In so far as we have statistics relating to its performance, it seems to have had more effect on the level of juvenile crime than the system which preceded it.

Will my right hon. Friend resist the introduction of the ill-founded, punitive measures frequently proposed by the Conservatives? Does he recognise that many of the ill-founded criticisms of the 1969 Act have their origin in the fact that successive Governments of both parties have failed to provide the resources so that the spirit and the intention of that Act can be properly implemented? Will he give an assurance that sufficient resources will be provided, particularly to enable more care to be taken of children within the community?

I agree that the proposal made by the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) in his Private Member's Bill should be resisted. In fact, I did so the other Friday with the help of my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) and others. On the question of resources, we are taking fairly substantial action to ensure that there is more secure accommodation. By 1980, we should have approximately 350 places. We are also retaining borstal for girls and boys aged 15 and over and detention centres for boys aged 14 or over. The Criminal Law Act 1977, by raising levels of fines which can be imposed on juveniles and providing means of enforcing payments, in some cases through parents, has also helped. Special requirements can be inserted into supervision orders, and sanctions can be imposed if they are not observed. The Department has increased the number of places available for junior attendance sentences—

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the Minister, but the length of answers is getting most unfair.

Will the Minister bear in mind that the victims of these offences also have their rights? In the light of his admission that there is a grave shortage of secure accommodation, does he not think that it is an error of judgment for the Government to press on with the implementation of the transitional provisions of the Children and Young Persons Act at this time?

We are consulting local authorities on that point. We will reach our conclusion as a result of those consultations.

National Health Service (Industrial Relations)

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will make a statement on the current state of industrial relations in the National Health Service.

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will make a statement on the current state of industrial relations in the National Health Service.

15.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will make a statement on the latest state of industrial relations in the National Health Service.

I assume that these questions relate to the current industrial action by ancillary workers and ambulance men in the National Health Service. Balloting is still taking place by members of the unions concerned but the outcome should be known before the end of this week. I greatly regret the fact that Health Service workers feel it necessary to take industrial action which inevitably threatens the welfare of the patients. Services in all regions have been affected, some more seriously than others. I wish to pay tribute to the efforts and devotion of the vast majority of staff—managers, doctors, nurses and others—who have succeeded in maintaining services to patients and the community at large in the face of very great difficulties.

Does the Minister accept that industrial relations within the Health Service reached a new low yesterday when members of NUPE announced that they would take control of the number of blood donors who supply blood to London hospitals? Will not even this Government take a lead on this matter?

This matter was settled locally. The unions and management have agreed to meet all emergency requirements. They have also agreed machinery for continuous monitoring of the effect. I am sure that if these matters are left to local solutions, local solutions will be achieved.

In view of the nurses' humane decision not to strike, does the Minister think that it is fair to make them much the same offer as he has made to the ancillary workers who have done their best to disrupt the Service?

In the interests of brevity, I would refer the hon. Gentleman to the answers I have already given on this subject.

In view of the role of the Government as employer within the Health Service, does not the Minister think that there is a direct conflict of interest in the right hon. Gentleman being Minister of State, Department of Health and Social Security and also a sponsored member of NUPE? Would there not have been an uproar in this House if the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Dell) had sought to remain as Secretary of State for Trade while becoming chairman of a merchant bank? Should not the Minister make up his mind which job he wants and get rid of one of them?

The hon. Gentleman is under a misapprehension. Ministers are not employers in the National Health Service. Health authorities are employers in the National Health Service. On the question of sponsorship, my connections with the National Union of Public Employees and my membership of the Government put me in a unique position to understand both sides of this dispute. I would not wish to change it.

Does not the Minister agree that industrial relations in the National Health Service and in the public sector generally would be improved if we could revert to the old system whereby the level of wage settlements was decided in any one year, with this sector following on behind. That system was broken by Selwyn Lloyd. It would do a lot to help the nurses and all public service workers if we returned to that principle, backdated if necessary.

My hon. Friend has drawn attention to a provision in the agreement recently reached between the Government and the Trades Union Congress. There is much to be said for it.

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that present negotiations in the Health Service with nurses and other employees are difficult and delicately poised? Will he have a word with the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and advise him that the statement that he made yesterday expressing bleeding-hearted sympathy for the unfortunate speculators in gilt-edged securities, who recently made a killing, is both offensive and damaging to these negotiations?

I am sure that my right hon. Friend will note the remarks made by my hon. Friend.

Does the Minister realise that his answer over the blocking of blood supplies was completely unsatisfactory? This kind of industrial action is uncivilised and inhuman. Will he say what action he proposes to take to ensure that it does not occur again?

We shall monitor all these arrangements and we shall make sure that the inadequate service to the public caused by such actions is drawn to the attention of those concerned. The experience throughout the industrial action has been that, when that is done, there is a speedy restoration of an essential service.

Motability

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will report on the progress of the Motability scheme.

24.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will report on the progress of the Motability scheme.

Motability was established as an independent and voluntary organisation, but with Government support, a little over a year ago. Since then it has made considerable progress, particularly with the introduction of its scheme for the leasing of cars on favourable terms to disabled people with the mobility allowance. Motability also hopes, before long, to introduce a hire-purchase scheme that will be of further help to beneficiaries of the allowance.

Will the Minister take note of the RSVP scheme and report to the House as soon as he can on the question of an alternative vehicle? Will he, further, let the House know what the Government intend to do about the removal of vehicle excise duty and the consequent need for an uprating of the mobility allowance to compensate?

"RSVP" stands for replacement specialised vehicle project. I am aware of the campaign which the organisation has recently launched, and I shall be keeping in close touch with it.

The problem about any quest for a single replacement specialised vehicle is the assumption that disabled people are standard people. There is no identikit disabled person. It may be that we need to encourage a great many projects in this field. I take fully into account the point made about the uprating of the mobility allowance. We shall have in mind all that the hon. Lady has said.

Does the Minister agree that there really is continuing very great anxiety about whether the mobility allowance in conjunction with the Motability scheme will allow people who had Invacars to replace those vehicles at all? Has he given any thought to the problem of the double value added tax charge, on the vehicle and the lease, which is one of the points of concern, and has he made any representations to the Chancellor about this?

The point about VAT is very much a matter for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The point that the hon. Gentleman has made will be noted.

I must point out that the mobility allowance has represented a tremendous advance for disabled people. Even at the current level of the allowance, by next year we shall have put about £75 million a year in the hands of beneficiaries to spend with Motability if they so wish. We shall try to build on our achievements as soon as we can.

Will the Minister study the Salamander car for the disabled and their wheelchairs? It will be coming on the roads this spring. Is he aware that six of these cars per week, specially designed by Manchester polytechnic and financed by Salford council, will be provided for local residents? However, as there are 25,000 eligible disabled people throughout the country, will the Government interest themselves in the vital question of providing mobility for the disabled?

In Britain there are some 3½ million people who are disabled in one form or another. I am taking a very keen interest in this prototype. My officials have given direct advice to the development team. In addition, the project has benefited from public funds. I shall be continuing to take the closest possible interest in developments.

Drugs (Evaluation)

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what proposals he has for evaluating old and new drugs.

I shall maintain and, subject to the availability of resources, seek to develop the existing systems for evaluating new and old drugs, in which the expert advisory committees set up under section 4 of the Medicines Act play an invaluable part.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that some people in the drug industry want to adopt a double standard for testing drugs for those people with rare diseases? Will he, therefore, categorically reject double standards of drug testing for people with rare diseases and promise that the Government will intervene if the drug industry threatens to withdraw from providing special drugs for the treatment of rare diseases?

I am sure that I am against double standards on any occasion. I shall certainly draw the attention of the Medicines Commission and the Committee on the Safety of Medicines, and their associated committees, to the point that my hon. Friend makes.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the House will be grateful to him for seeking to get a code of practice on post-product licensed clinical trials in general practice, where many drug companies have been seeking to promote their drugs through trials rather than actually doing scientific work to evaluate them? What will he do in the interim, as some companies are still using bogus trials, and deluding general practitioners into participating in them, when such trials have no scientific merit and are simply designed to promote the drug?

I hope that the interim will not be sufficiently long to require major action, because the Committee on the Safety of Medicines is currently reviewing the situation and is hoping to report this summer, when we shall be in a position to take action.

Luxembourg

Q1.

asked the Prime Minister when he next plans to pay an official visit to Luxembourg.

I have at present no plans to visit Luxembourg.

Is the Prime Minister aware that I really intend to ask a question about the EEC and not about a subject beginning with "D"?

Now that the differences between Germany and France, and this country, on agricultural policy payments appear to be being resolved and the European monetary system looks set fair to start fairly soon, will the Prime Minister now reconsider the Government's decision not to join the EMS, and join forthwith?

I hope that differences between France and Germany on this issue can be resolved, so that the decision that was taken at the last European Council can be implemented. But I hope that no attempt will be made to resolve those difficulties in a way which would worsen Britain's position in relation to agricultural product prices. We must insist, for our part, that agricultural prices should not be increased to the point where surpluses continue to mount or, indeed, are maintained.

Has the Prime Minister noted that the Prime Minister of Luxembourg intends to hold a general election in his country on the same day as the direct elections to the European Assembly? Without putting any thoughts into the right hon. Gentleman's mind, may I ask whether that does not remind him that we have yet to discuss in this House the regulations for the conduct of those elections? In view of the debacle of the referendum, is it not wise that we should do so earlier rather than later?

I understand that some indication of when we shall be discussing these matters may be given, perhaps in the Business Statement that will come on Thursday.

As regards M. Thorn's other proposals, I am quite sure that I shall be as successful as M. Thorn has been in these matters in previous years, and I expect to be here as long as he has been where he is.

Is the Prime Minister aware that the British people are crying out for a leader—[Interruption.]—who, unlike the Leader of the Opposition with her European party, will stand up against the wiles and the wishes of the Common Market? Is he aware that it is now costing every man, woman and child in Britain £20 per year to be a member of this very expensive club? He would do well in an election campaign to campaign against the Common Market, especially against the recent decision to introduce the tachograph in Britain, which will mean raising prices for the people of this country and everyone else who has to buy things from the Common Market.

My hon. Friend has derived a considerable amount of his information about the cost of the Common Market from figures that I have myself given. He need be in no doubt that we shall continue to press this matter. However, that is a far different thing, in view of the decision of this country, from saying that we intend to leave the Common Market. The Government have no proposals to do that. Indeed, the best way in which we can ensure that there is a prosperous and free Europe is to work with the other countries in Europe in order to ensure that.

Prime Minister (Engagements)

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 6 March.

This morning I met the Japanese import promotion mission. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be holding further meetings with ministerial colleagues and others.

Later on in the day, when the Prime Minister comes round to thinking about the votes that took place in Scotland and Wales in the referendum last week, will he bear in mind that the people of the country are now anxiously awaiting the announcement of the date on which the repeal orders to the Scotland and Wales Acts will be introduced? Will he assure the House that there will be no unnecessary delays?

Yes. I am aware that there is a responsibility laid upon the Government and upon the Secretaries of State for Scotland and for Wales to bring forward these orders. They will, of course, do so.

Will my right hon. Friend find the opportunity today to convey appreciation to the Soviet Union for its restraint and responsibility during the conflict between China and Vietnam?

I have noted that in view of the Soviet Union's support of Vietnam Mr. Brezhnev's statements on this matter have been restrained. I am very glad—and I am sure that the whole House is glad—that the Soviet Union has been restrained on this matter. I have no doubt that this will lead China more easily to withdraw from Vietnam, and, I hope, Vietnam to withdraw from Cambodia.

May I press the Prime Minister a little further on his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Mr. Spicer)? Since the Prime Minister accepts that the Government have a duty under the Scotland and Wales Acts to lay draft orders, will he say whether those will be laid and the House given the time to debate them and to reach a decision upon them before the end of the month?

I cannot give an answer at present—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"]—because the Government have not yet considered the dates for discussion of these matters. But when we have done so of course the right hon. Lady will be informed.

The Prime Minister accepts that he must lay the draft orders and that there is a strict duty upon him to do so. Will he go ahead with that fairly quickly and then we can properly raise with the Lord President the matter of when it should be debated?

I understand that. There have been some suggestions that the Government might seek not to lay the orders, but, of course, that is not true. The Government will lay them. How far and when we should discuss these matters is a matter for further consideration by the Government. I understand that the Opposition also wish to consider the matter further. I think that we both need some time.

I suggest to the House seriously that, although the 40 per cent. requirement that Parliament inserted was not achieved, the House in its consideration of these matters should take care not to offend the 1¼ million people—a majority—who voted in favour.

There is a serious constitutional issue if we want to keep both Scotland and the United Kingdom united. That is why I think that we should all have a little time for reflection.

Will my right hon. Friend report to the House when he expects the institutional arrangements envisaged in the agreement between the Government and the trade unions to come into being?

I am making progress on the proposals for a standing commission on the subject of comparability between the various groupings in the community, especially in the public service, but not only in the public service. I am making progress with Ministers and in consultation with the TUC and the CBI. In spite of the slight derision from some Opposition Members, I hope that we shall be able to make rapid progress in setting up such an institution.

In view of the fact that a Scottish Assembly was the Goverment's manifesto commitment in 1974 and that there was a clear "Yes" majority in the referendum on 1 March, will the Prime Minister say whether he will call upon his own supporters in the Government to back their own policy?

The Government have a very good record in the sense that we have, despite great difficulties in the House, pursued this matter for over two years. We have certainly fulfilled the commitments that we gave to the people of Scotland. But I am not to be tempted any further today on what will happen after a period of reflection.

Tuc And Cbi

Q3.

asked the Prime Minister when last he met the Trades Union Congress and the Confederation of British Industry.

I meet representatives of the TUC and CBI from time to time at the National Economic Development Council and on other occasions. Further meetings will be arranged as necessary.

Does my right hon. Friend agree, notwithstanding the recent industrial disputes which involved only 1 per cent. of the entire industrial working force, that the working people, via their trade unions, have made a massive contribution to the fight against inflation? Does he agree that this is still the primary threat to the country on which the Government must concentrate? Will the Prime Minister therefore urge the CBI to take a lesson from the trade union movement and the working people and to make its contribution through prices to the fight against inflation?

There is no doubt that the attitude taken by organised workers in the country in relation to their pay and earnings in the last three years has assisted us materially in reducing inflation from heights which were undermining the fabric of many institutions to the present level. That is why the Government have taken a firm line, so far as they can in a democratic society, on the question of pay for the present year.

On the attitude that is taken by the employers, I must tell my hon. Friend that the nationalised industries have as good a record as anybody in holding prices. Their price increases have been below those of a number of firms in private industry. They have made an important contribution in that way.

Will the Prime Minister, as First Lord of the Treasury, before he next meets the CBI or the TUC, give instructions that no further public funds are to be expended on providing facilities for the Scottish or Welsh Assemblies?

I shall ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales to look into that matter. I should have thought that at the moment it would automatically follow that not much money would be spent on either of those projects.

When my right hon. Friend next meets the CBI and the TUC will he discuss with them the rationalisation of United Kingdom-based industries which appear to be cutting off their excess capacity in areas of high unemployment such as the North-West and in particular Merseyside? Is he aware that on a number of occasions recently United Kingdom-based firms have rationalised in areas of high unemployment and that industries are closing down at an unacceptable rate?

Certainly, companies are closing down or making workers redundant when there is no demand, when they are not proving to be competitive or are not able to supply the goods that other countries require. That is happening. Therefore, the task of Government is twofold, as I see it. First, we must try to ease that transition by means of protecting employment for a period of time and by ensuring that there are good redundancy payments. Secondly, we must ensure that new technologies and new jobs are introduced. That is why the Government have put so much money behind the National Enterprise Board, the new microprocessing work and in other directions.

Why is it considered to be right and proper for the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Dell) to give up his Government position when he accepts a job in the City and yet not right, necessary or relevant for the right hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moyle), for example, to give up his sponsorship of NUPE while retaining his job in the Government? Is there not—

When the Prime Minister meets his friends at the TUC council, will he tell them on behalf of all hon. Members that stopping blood donors from giving blood and preventing patients from receiving it is repugnant to all civilised people in the country?

My right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Health and Social Security has answered questions on this matter this afternoon and I prefer to leave that to him. It is not good practice or principle for the Prime Minister to intervene and express opinions on such matters where a Minister has already given an answer.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I respectfully ask that you reconsider your ruling? I was raising a question relating to hon. Members who are sponsored by TUC-affiliated unions or companies and other organisations that may be members of the CBI. I understand that the Prime Minister may not want to answer the question, but it was perfectly proper and in order.

Business Of The House

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

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a short statement about the Supply day on Thursday.

The subject for debate chosen by the Opposition will be the working of the Employment Protection Acts, which will arise on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Northern Ireland Committee

Ordered,

That the matter of rates and rating in Northern Ireland, being a matter relating exclusively to Northern Ireland, be referred to the Northern Ireland Committee.—[ Mr. Foot.]

Protection Of Prostitutes

3.32 p.m.

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Sexual Offences Act 1956 and the Street Offences Act 1959; to provide for the better protection of prostitutes from exploitation and victimisation; and for connected purposes.
In seeking leave to present a Bill for the protection of prostitutes, I am aware that it will not be a popular issue in the House in a general election year, but I am convinced that it is a reforming issue that the House should no longer overlook. The Bill seeks to amend the Sexual Offences Act 1956 and the Street Offences Act 1959 and to provide for prostitutes better protection from exploitation and victimisation.

The present laws, which are over 20 years old, have not attacked prostitution; they have merely been an invitation to treat all prostitute women unjustly. They have attacked their civil liberties and lost them many human rights. I do not hide the fact that I believe that all prostitution laws must be abolished, but the amendments are an attempt at this stage to put injustices right quickly and to jog the memory of the House about the bad legislation that was introduced in the post-Wolfenden era. The amendments should also ensure that the law applies equally to men and women.

Prostitution has grown since the 1959 Act. With the best intentions, and wishing to deter prostitution, Parliament at that time introduced this appalling legislation, which has prevented women, once convicted, from getting away from prostitution. It has given a woman the stigma "common prostitute" for the rest of her life, and forced her back on to the streets to pay the ever-increasing fines. The amendment will abolish prison sentences. Women should not be imprisoned for soliciting. That view is supported by probation officers, lawyers, social workers and even the Police Federation.

The Bill will establish one simple offence to cover all persistent street nuisances, not only soliciting, and evidence from the person or persons annoyed will be an absolute requirement. The offence will include kerb-crawling, persistent salesmen, drunks and members of religious sects who attempt to sell people records on the street. I emphasise that it is only the peculiar sexual hypocrisy of the British that would single out prostitution or soliciting as an offence.

The Street Offences Act 1959, which deals with soliciting, was a mistake. It is wrong that a woman can be in danger of a prison sentence without a shred of evidence being produced in court that anyone has been affronted by her actions. Moreover, the present laws ensure that the incompetent prostitute, the working-class girl, is the one who gets into trouble. Successful and competent prostitutes operate within the law; it is the immature, inexperienced, ageing or socially inadequate women who are the victims. These women, during a period of police observation, do not succeed in picking up a man, and they are arrested. That is usually followed by a caution or charge, fines and returning to the game to pay them.

It is a totally unjust system that a woman can be twice cautioned on the evidence of a single police officer. On a third occasion, still on the evidence of a single and often the same police officer, she can be charged with loitering with intent for the purposes of prostitution. If she pleads not guilty before the court, the same police officer reads out the evidence of his two cautions. Before any offence has been proved, a person innocent in the eyes of the law can be labelled as a common prostitute. There will be provision in the Bill to abolish the term "common prostitute".

The Sexual Offences Act 1956 will be amended to delete that part which classifies more than two women living together as a brothel. That law has forced prostitutes into the hands of organised crime, making them totally dependent upon ponces and pimps and part of a terrifying mafia. They must be able to live together to protect one another. The sooner that that happens, the better for the women concerned.

Finally, I emphasise that prostitutes and prostitution are not a menace. I have spoken with many eminent psychiatrists who say that it is accepted in their profession that prostitutes have great therapeutic value in society. In this country the Reichian school of psychiatrists uses sex therapy. Many psychiatrists accept that prostitutes are the oldest therapists in the world and are practitioners of professional therapy. Indeed, they help people deprived of sex to sort out their problems. Prostitutes deal primarily with all the sexual things that have gone wrong.

The first people to whom men go when they have sexual inadequacies and problems are prostitutes. Therefore, to some people in society there is great respectability in and acceptance of prostitution and its social and therapeutic value. It is time that the degradation, the harassment, imprisonment and fining of these women was stopped.

To sum up, this short amending Bill to existing Acts seeks to abolish prison sentences for soliciting, establish one offence to cover all persistent street nuisances with evidence from the persons annoyed, abolish the term "common prostitute" and delete that part of the Sexual Offences Act 1956 which classifies more than two women living together as "a brothel". I hope that the Bill will have the support of the House.

3.41 p.m.

I rise to oppose the bringing in of this Bill. I do so because I believe in the sanctity of our womenfolk. I believe that that view is widely shared in all parts of the House. I do not believe that any person or party is in a sole position to claim that he or it alone stands for this belief. In all parts of this House and in all sections of the community there is concern that the standards that have made this nation and protected its womenfolk in the past are in serious jeopardy.

There is an awareness that in the wake of what has been called "the permissive society" there has been a moral delinquency which has affected every part of our society.

I make it clear that no one in this House has any right to point a finger of judgment or condemnation—

I am well aware that the founder of Christianity himself, when confronted with a woman who had lost her virtue, said:

" He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her."
Today in this House I want to stand for the protection of all womenfolk—

Having run the risk of being an Ulster politician for the past 10 years, I think that I shall survive even the threats of the womenfolk on the other side of this House.

The person who has been caught up in prostitution through exploitation, victimisation, or by her own choice, has lost the greatest thing in life—the purpose for which she came into the world. She has lost her goal. All of us here today remember our own mothers, and thank God for them. We all remember the sanctity of the family and the joy and peace which flows from family life. We must also remember that the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Ms Colquhoun), who asked leave to introduce the Bill, made it clear that her objective in the end was to abolish all laws on this matter. This is only the beginning of a

Division No. 83]

AYES

[3.47 p.m.

Abse, LeoGow, Ian (Eastbourne)Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King
Aitken, JonathanGraham, TedNewens, Stanley
Allaun, FrankGrant, George (Morpeth)Newton, Tony
Ashton, JoeGrimond, Rt Hon J.Noble, Mike
Atkinson, Norman (H'gey, Tott'ham)Grocott, BruceOgden, Eric
Bates, AlfHayman, Mrs HeleneOrme, Rt Hon Stanley
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony WedgwoodHeffer, Eric S.Pardoe, John
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)Parker, John
Bidwell, SydneyHoyle, Doug (Nelson)Parry, Robert
Blenkinsop, ArthurHughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)Pavitt, Laurie
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)Hughes, Roy (Newport)Penhaligon, David
Brown, Ronald (Hackney S)Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)Perry, Ernest
Carmichael, NeilIrving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford)Rathbone, Tim
Carter-Jones, LewisJeger, Mrs LenaReid, George
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)Richardson, Miss Jo
Cockcroft, JohnJohnson, Walter (Derby S)Robertson, George (Hamilton)
Colquhoun, Ms MaureenKerr, RussellRoderick, Caerwyn
Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)Kilroy-Silk, RobertRooker, J. W.
Cormack, PatrickKing, Tom (Bridgwater)Royle, Sir Anthony
Cox, Thomas (Tooting)Kinnock, NeilSt. John-Stevas, Norman
Crowther, Stan (Rotherham)Lamond, JamesSandelson, Neville
Dalyell, TamLangford-Holt, Sir JohnSedgemore, Brian
Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)Latham, Arthur (Paddington)Selby, Harry
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)Lawrence, IvanShaw, Arnold (Ilford South)
Dormand, J. D.Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)
Drayson, BurnabyLewis, Kenneth (Rutland)Silvester, Fred
Dykes, HughLitterick, TomSkinner, Dennis
Ellis, John (Brig & Scun)Loyden, EddieSpeed, Keith
English, MichaelMcDonald, Dr OonaghStallard, A. W.
Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen)McGuire, Michael (Ince)Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)
Evans, John (Newton)MacKay, Andrew (Stechford)Stott, Roger
Fairgrieve, RussellMadden, MaxStrauss, Rt Hon G. R.
Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.Magee, BryanTaylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Flannery, MartinMallalieu, J. P. W.Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)Maynard, Miss JoanThomas, Mike (Newcastle E)
Foot, Rt Hon MichaelMeyer, Sir AnthonyThomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St)Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)Tilley, John
Freud, ClementMitchell, Austin (Grimsby)Tinn, James
Gardiner, George (Reigate)Morris, Rt Hon Charles R.Tuck, Raphael
Garrett, John (Norwich S)Morris, Michael (Northampton S)Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)Morton, GeorgeWatkinson, John

scheme to undermine what lies at the very heart of the moral fabric of our society.

If this Bill is bought into the House it will be a sad reflection on our nation. It will be a green light to many people—[ Interruption] Of course those who are laughing now know the colour of prostitution, but I must plead ignorance.

There is one phrase from the Bible that I want to leave with the House today. It is that "Her ways are the ways of death." I believe that the exploiters and the exploited, the victims and those who make them so, those who pay and those who are paid, will find one day the eternal wisdom of the eternal Book. I call upon all hon. Members to vote out this proposal today.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 13 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and Nomination of Select Committees at Commencement of Public Business):—

The House divided: Ayes 130, Noes 50.

Weetch, KenWilson, William (Coventry SE)TELLERS FOR THF AYES
White, Frank R. (Bury)Wise, Mrs AudreyMr. George Rodgers and
Whitehead, PhillipWrigglesworth, IanMr. Stan Thorne.
Wigley, DafyddYoung, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)

NOES

Alison, MichaelHunter, AdamRodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)
Belth, A. J.Jessel, TobyRoss, William (Londonderry)
Benyon, W.Kilfedder, JamesSainsbury, Tim
Burden, F. A.McCusker, H.Sims, Roger
Cant, R. B.Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)Smith, Dudley (Warwick)
Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)Mather, CarolStoddart, David
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)Mills, PeterStokes, John
Coleman, DonaldMoate, RogerTaylor, Teddy (Cathcart)
Cope, JohnMolloy, WilliamTebbit, Norman
Dean, Paul (N Somerset)Molyneaux, JamesTemple-Morris, Peter
Dempsey, JamesMudd, DavidWaddington, David
Evans, loan (Aberdare)Neubert, MichaelWainwright, Richard (Colne V)
Farr, JohnPage, Richard (Workington)Wells, John
Fisher, Sir NigelPattie, GeoffreyWilliams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Gray, HamishPercival, Ian
Hamilton, James (Bothwell)Powell, Rt Hon J. EnochTELLERS FOR THE NOES
Harrison, Col Sir Harwood (Eye)Rifkind, MalcolmRev. Ian Paisley and
Harrison, Rt Hon WalterRoberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Ms Maureen Colquhoun, Mr. Ian Mikardo, Miss Jo Richardson, Mr. Martin Flannery, Mr. Christopher Price, Mr. John Garrett, Mr. Sydney Bidwell, Mr. Arthur Latham, Mr. Tom Litterick, Miss Joan Lestor, Mr. Stan Thorne, and Mr. George Rodgers.

PROTECTION OF PROSTITUTES

Ms Maureen Colquhoun accordingly presented a Bill to amend the Sexual Offences Act 1956 and the Street Offences Act 1959; to provide for the better protection of prostitutes from exploitation and victimisation; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 18 May and to be printed. [Bill 100.]