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Mental Handicap Services

Volume 175: debated on Tuesday 3 July 1990

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9.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he intends to introduce a specific grant earmarked for mental handicap services.

No, Sir. Local authorities already accord these services a high priority.

Does the Minister understand the surprise that will be felt in the House on hearing that statement? One of the great fears of parents of mentally handicapped offspring is that when they die their children will have nowhere to go. Is he aware that there is wild fluctuation in the priority accorded to mental handicap services by different authorities? What is he doing to stop his right hon. Friends from exerting unreasonable pressure for cuts in local government spending which will certainly be felt in mental handicap services?

It is a funny way to cut services for the mentally handicapped. Since 1979 places in local authority homes and hostels for the mentally handicapped have increased by 57 per cent., places in adult training centres and day centres have increased by 30 per cent., and the number of local authority staff employed in residential homes and hostels has increased by 109 per cent. The facts simply do not accord with the hon. Lady's prejudices.

Life in the community for the mentally handicapped is one of the most important but least applauded reforms made by the Government. When I meet mentally handicapped people who have moved into the community I ask whether they would prefer to go back where they came from. I have never yet found one who would prefer to be back in hospital or in a home rather than in the community. It is a wonderful reform and it is about time the Opposition recognised it.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He speaks with some authority. I happen to know that he is the president of Stockport Mencap. The line that he takes is supported by patients and the professionals who look after the patients and it should be supported by the House.

Is the Minister aware of Mencap's concern about the absence of services for mentally handicapped adults? Does he accept that his figures confirm that there is a shortfall of 22,000 places—25 per cent.—in adult training centres? How did he respond to Sir Brian Rix's letter to Members of Parliament which said that if that shortfall continues there will be a lottery leading to empty hours, empty days and empty years for some of society's most vulnerable people?

What the facts confirm, to pick up the hon. Gentleman's phrase, is that there has been a 69 per cent. increase in real expenditure on facilities for the mentally handicapped in the community since 1979. That hardly makes out the case for additional protection for expenditure by local authorities on the mentally handicapped.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that specific grants would go against all the traditions of local government finance? Does he suspect that the Opposition's enthusiasm for such grants illustrates their lack of confidence in Labour-controlled councils' spending priorities?

It also squares ill with the repeated allegations of the Opposition that the Conservative party wants to centralise power that properly belongs to local government. It is a proper exercise of local discretion.