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Volume 977: debated on Tuesday 29 January 1980

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asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what is the latest estimated saving in the field of social services which he expects to make during the current financial year.

Before answering the hon. Gentleman's question, I hope that I may be permitted to extend our best wishes to Mr. Speaker on his birthday.

Local authorities have been asked to reduce their overall current expenditure in 1979–80 to a level of about 1½ per cent. below that for 1978–79. It is not yet possible to estimate how far authorities will make part of this saving in the personal social services.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the cuts in spending are causing the closure in Liverpool and in other cities of old people's homes, children's homes and establishments for the physically and mentally handicapped? Does he agree with such policies that attack the most vulnerable in the community?

It is up to individual local authorities to decide how best to achieve the reductions in the light of local circumstances. As I have been around the country visiting social services departments, I have been impressed by how many have been able to meet real needs more effectively while, at the same time, spending less public money.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important that every encouragement be given to the elderly to stay in their homes? Will he ask our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to reconsider paying a shortfall on pensions? Failure to do so would be a breach of a moral obligation.

I understand that that matter was raised extensively in Standing Committee this morning. My hon. Friend gave a full answer concerning the Government's position.

Is the Minister aware that, within the area health authority that serves both his constituents and mine, cuts in social security benefits have led to serious consideration being given to the closure of a children's home? While that is being considered, the Harrow school—registered as a charity in the same area—gets a tax relief of £36,000. Is not that obscene?

It is for the Home Secretary to decide the law on charity. It does not concern my Department.

Has my hon. Friend given any thought to how much money could be saved by the National Health Service if we investigated the abuse of its facilities by tourists from other countries, with which we do not have a reciprocal arrangement?

That subject is under active consideration within the Department. At the same time, we are urging other countries to extend the same hospitality as we offer visitors to our tourists when they are overseas.

May I, Mr. Speaker, endorse the birthday congratulations that have been extended to you. We offer you our warmest best wishes.

Has the Minister seen the charge that appeared in The Times today by the Bishop of Coventry that the Government's policy of reducing personal social services by 7 per cent. is inconsistent and self-contradictory? Has he also seen the statement by the president of the Association of Directors of Social Services that this policy will tear families with disabled children apart? When will the Secretary of State stand up to the Treasury and end this mean and demeaning policy?

In 1977–78 the Labour Government cut local authority current expenditure by 2 per cent. in real terms. That was a much bigger cut than we are seeking this year.