HC Deb 07 June 1957 vol 571 cc1587-605

12.5 p.m.

Sir Keith Joseph (Leeds, North-East)

This week is a notable one for the health of this country, and, I think, for local authorities also, because in this week we have had the publication of the Percy Report on the Law relating to Mental Illness and Mental Deficiency, and now we are, I hope, about to hear Government policy on the Percy Report on the Rehabilitation, Training and Resettlement of Disabled Persons.

Anyone approaching the subject of disability must be humbled before the suffering of its victims and the distress caused to their families. One is also humbled by the dedicated efforts and initiatives throughout many generations of the voluntary bodies who have led the Government and local authorities to so much good action today and by the selfless devotion of all those who care for disabled people. If, during the debate, one is forced to talk in generalities, I venture to suggest that no hon. Member ever really forgets that disabled people are people and not cases.

Disability presents both a human and an economic challenge. It is the duty of the community to minimise the intensity and the length of suffering of disabled people and at the same time, for economic reasons, to minimise the number of passengers who have, through no fault of their own, to be carried by their fellow citizens. The numbers are very large. At the moment on what is only, after all, a voluntary register there are 800,000 disabled people in the country. The British Medical Association reckons that there would be 50,000 new candidates for comprehensive rehabilitation each year.

A high percentage of those people are away from work or from active life for a very long time. Indeed, in mid-1954 there were no fewer than 85,000 people who, because of disability, had been away from their work for between six months and two years. Compared with this scale of industrial inactivity, the magnitude of strikes and industrial disputes is absolutely dwarfed. Disability and industrial sickness are far bigger problems, though they seldom reach the headlines, than the completely trivial amount, in absolute terms, of loss of production due to strikes. It is our job, I believe, to rehabilitate all that we can to the maximum degree of activity in life, including work.

The excellent Piercy Report, about which I hope we shall hear the Government's reaction, concentrates on three main themes: discovery of disability; the assessment and rehabilitation of the disabled; and employment and amenities for them.

On discovery, the Report stresses the importance in the case of young people of finding the disability as soon as possible after the child leaves school, if not earlier, so that there can be no drift before the child finds a proper job, because drift leads to demoralisation and deterioration. I must confess that I was very disappointed that after the rather shocking disclosures made in the Glasgow survey of disabled youths in 1954, in M.R.C. leaflet No. 28, the Piercey Committee, despite its excellent work, did not, in all its three and half years of activity, follow up those figures and tell the country whether there had been an improvement since then. I hope we shall hear that there is to be some follow-up of that rather worrying report of drift and demoralisation on the part of disabled youths in Glasgow.

If discovery is important for young people, it is equally important that disabled adults should have a full assessment made of the prospects in front of them as early as possible. Here the stress on discovery in the Report marries up with its stress on assessment and rehabilitation, because early discovery and also accurate assessment and proper rehabilitation depend upon a very alert general practitioner.

To pass to the second theme of the Report, it stresses that the activities of the general practitioner are absolutely central to the problem. It says that the general practitioner is not even getting enough training about disabilities and the rehabilitation of the disabled. It recommends that medical students should learn more about the subject, that the Ministry of Health refresher courses should contain rehabilitation lectures, and that easily and quickly read leaflets should be issued to all general practitioners by local authorities about the facilities for rehabilitation in their areas. The Report emphasises throughout that if a disabled person is to be restored to optimum activity in life he must be treated from the beginning to restore his confidence, his self-reliance and his belief in himself.

That means that the doctor must have that confidence that he can restore the patient to maximum activity. It seems to me most sensible that the Report should stress that rehabilitation is a single and continuous process, that treatment must not be palliative but, to use the words in the Report, should be planned, intensive and disciplined. The treatment by doctors must be "purposive and not diversionary".

The Report makes three main proposals: first, that the practitioner should be better trained; secondly, that there should be resettlement clinics in which the consultant, the general practitioner, the social worker, the almoner, the disablement resettlement officer and the local welfare authority should get together to discuss the progress made, and where—I consciously avoid the word "rehabilitee" —the patient can see what future is available for him. The Committee makes a very sensible suggestion in putting forward the idea that there should be at once an inquiry into the rehabilitation prospects of all those who have been on sickness benefit for more than six months. The third and equally important proposal is that there should be comprehensive rehabilitation centres marrying together the medical and the industrial training rehabilitation which the Report stresses must go hand in hand.

It is only fair that one should say that the 15 industrial rehabilitation units which carry out vocational training as well as disablement rehabilitation will be less needed the better the medical rehabilitation that is carried out in the hospital. In fact, I have been given to understand that of all the people who passed through one medical rehabilitation centre in a two-year period, only 2 per cent. needed to be passed for completion of their rehabilitation to an I.R.U. If that is the picture ahead, we must be delighted that the hospitals can rehabilitate to active employment such a large proportion of those who are disabled. Of course, the I.R.U.s will retain their purpose of vocational training and of training the residue of people who cannot be fully tackled by the hospitals.

I confess that there is one disappointment in this Report, excellent though it is, and that is that after three and a half years' work there are not enough statistics to get one's teeth into. I will give an example. There is a complex which, I believe, affects many disabled people and which is quite understandable; I make no suggestion whatsoever of malingering. It is the complex of compensation.

There is a vicious circle here. Insurance companies will not settle a compensation case until there has been medical finality. Any person with symptoms subconsciously tends to retain those symptoms, because they are the proof of his disability, until his case has been settled. I believe it is absolutely true that a man who has lost a limb shows no such complex because he can point to his stump and say, "I was disabled; nobody can deny it." But that is not true of someone with a hurt back or with some less visible evidence of a disability.

I am not making this statement out of the blue. I have some figures to quote. I cannot vouch for them, because I am not a technical man, but I am told that of all the cases of a similar sort which passed through one rehabilitation unit in a two year period, in those cases involving compensation claims there was a period of 33 weeks between the disablement and their return to optimum activity. Of those 33 weeks, they spent 7½ weeks in the rehabilitation centre and 25½ weeks at home before and after re habilitation, whereas those people with no compensation claims spent only 17 weeks between disability and return to optimum activity, of which six weeks were in the rehabilitation centre and only 11 weeks at home before and afterwards.

If that is so—and, obviously, this is too big a subject on which to make suggestions now—it is a case for an inter-Departmental inquiry to see whether some method, possibly the Canadian method, should be followed, whereby while agreeing on compensation in principle, although not the amount, this gap between compensation and non-compensation cases might be narrowed. If I criticise the Report, that is the only reason, that there are not quite enough statistics to get one's teeth into.

The third factor stressed by the Report concerns the employment and amenity prospects for disabled people. Here the object must be to enable disabled people to get work on their own merits. If a man cannot get a normal job, an effort should be made to fit him into one of the quota or designated schemes, and if that does not work he should be given sheltered employment by Remploy—which is very properly praised—or in a local authority workshop—which should, the Report suggests, be multiplied in number—or, failing that, he should be given home employment if that is practicable.

Only if all these alternative employments are impracticable does the Committee go on to discuss what amenities should be provided by the community to make life for the disabled person and his family less intolerable. Here there are three important proposals. The first, which was warmly welcomed by the Press when the Report was published, is that the suitability, quality and training of the disablement resettlement officer should be improved. I accept this entirely and I hope that we shall hear that the Ministry also accepts it.

I want to make one suggestion. The job of the D.R.O. is to do two things. He has to open doors for employment to people who are either thought not to be or are not in fact 100 per cent. well. Secondly, he has to try to get work for these people to do in Remploy or local authority workshops or in the form of home activities. Excellent as those D.R.O.S may be or may become, they are not as qualified to open these doors for employment and work as are ex-tycoons, retired executives.

Surely one could find some retired executives with enthusiasm for this sort of endeavour who would give part-time service to help the D.R.O.'s by introduction. I am sure the D.R.O. is an excellent technical man, but he may not know the people concerned as well as these volunteers—whether with or without pay it is not my business to suggest. Such a person might help in finding employment.

The second constructive proposal in the Report on this subject of employment and amenities is the suggestion for an extension of local authority activities. The Report proposes that what are now merely permissive non-grant aided activities should be mandatory and block grant aided.

I should like to quote a phrase from the Report as evidence of the Committee's understanding approach to the subject. It speaks of the co-operation that it would like to see as sensitive contact and willing collaboration between the myriad different authorities involved in this subject. It is suggested that for local authorities there should be a register, and that they should run transit and permanent hostels. They should spend money to adapt homes to make life as easy as possible for the disabled person and his family, and it is also suggested that more money should be spent on clubs and workshops.

In the City of Leeds, of which I have the honour to represent one-sixth, the local authority has built most imaginatively and constructively on the work of the large number of voluntary societies which handle this sort of problem. I was much moved a few weeks ago, when I spent part of an afternoon in the handicapped persons' club, to meet the local authority and voluntary workers who look after people and to talk to some of the handicapped who go there to get company and some purpose in life which otherwise would be denied to them by their difficulty in moving.

It is extraordinary how, to a fit person, these people seem to communicate a self-reliance and a serenity that is hard for the layman to understand. I believe that the people who are conscious of the disability that has come upon many of them in adult life would be wonderful proselytizers in the voluntary welfare work which, up to now, has only been carried out by a small section of the community. So many have said to me, "If only we had known before the disability occurred to us what some of our colleagues were suffering, how much we would have tried to do for them." If more people would say that in the workshops and the factories, I believe that the voluntary activities upon which local authority action must partly depend would get more recruits. This expansion of local authority activities, of course, involves the main cost of what is recommended in the Report, about £6 million, and I hope that we shall hear from my hon. Friend about what the Government feel they can do towards that.

The co-operation between all the bodies concerned which is at the heart of the proposals in the Report will not be achieved by any directive from Whitehall; we all know that. There is, however, a method which Whitehall can employ which will stimulate, as far as possible, both high standards and cooperation. I refer to the provision of statistics. There may here be a question of grant aiding which will justify us in asking for them. If we can acquire more and more records of the time lag between the reporting of disability and the return of the disabled person to optimum function, be it in a job, in a sheltered workshop, or at home, we, and all informed public opinion, will be able to compare the performance of one area with another. This, I believe, will provide the main discipline by which we can both keep high standards and make sure that those standards are always being raised with new scientific discoveries.

It seems silly that we should spend, as we are now spending, large sums of money on rehabilitation so that people can work and then, for lack of the initiative and drive, or for lack of understanding from employers, perhaps, in many cases, there is a long gap between the ability of a man to return to work and the availability of a job for him. A man is inevitably demoralised by such a gap, and, from the economic point of view, a great deal of the expenditure goes to waste.

I have not the time to discuss the enormously important side of the subject concerned with the special cases, the paraplegics, the spastics, the deaf and the blind, and the epileptics. I omit them not because I do not fully realise the vital importance of their problems, but because I would not venture to be impertinent enough to try to discuss them now and say the many things which should be said in so short a time. I hope that we shall have an opportunity, at a later stage, of returning to that subject.

I believe that the community can be proud of its achievements, based on the voluntary initiative of selfless, dedicated and imaginative people, which has led to what is now a great communal effort. I recognise that the Tomlinson Report on employment opportunities was a milestone, and I hope that, in years to come, people will look back and say that the Piercy Report on medical rehabilitation, also, was a milestone. The time is approaching when, I believe, we shall be able to have a third report which will not discuss how to cure the disabled, but will discuss the prevention of disability. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able today to welcome the Report and tell us what action the Government are to take upon it.

12.23 p.m.

Mr. Edward Evans (Lowestoft)

The hon. Member for Leeds. North-East (Sir K. Joseph) has done a very useful service, in his wide and sympathetic approach to this problem, in raising this matter in the House today. I hope he will not misunderstand me when I say that we shall be very disappointed if this is to be the only opportunity the House has to discuss this very important Report. When the Government Departments have gone a little further into their examination of the matter, which I know they are now doing, I hope that there will be time for us to have a real debate on the Piercy Report, which is a document of such outstanding value and importance.

There are two specific points I wish briefly to refer to. The hon. Member for Leeds, North-East mentioned the Exchequer grant to local authorities, a matter which I regard as vital. With all the good will in the world, and all the help from voluntary societies, local authorities are inhibited from implementing the recommendations of the Report and also the recommendations from the Advisory Council set up by the Minister which have been in their hands. I hope that members of the Government present will accept the importance of making available to local authorities which have already opted into the scheme financial resources to enable them to carry on the work.

There is one technical matter arising out of the Report—which, on the whole, I very warmly support—about which I feel very strongly, and I hope that we shall hear from the Parliamentary Secretary that the Government have it in mind. I thought that the Report was a little timid on the subject of the D.R.O. To my mind, it is vital to have an effective disablement resettlement officer in all services. The training is utterly inadequate, and the prospects are very meagre. They are a part of the great establishment in the Ministry of Labour, and I urge the Minister to make use of the special facilities for placement services run by the voluntary societies. I have in mind particularly the excellent placement service run by the National Institution for the Blind.

Placement means not only finding a man a job; placement means keeping a man happy in the job, not only vis-à-vis his employer, but also vis-à-vis his workmates. I hope, in this connection, that the Minister will have very high regard for the services which have been rendered by the voluntary societies and the very highly specialised welfare work done by what we call, in this field, the missioners. It is almost impossible for a D.R.O. to get sufficient specialised knowledge of the various types of disability to be an effective all-purpose officer.

There is a great deal one could say. In conclusion, I re-emphasise the hope that we shall have a full opportunity to discuss this Report in the House later in the year.

12.26 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour and National Service (Mr. Robert Carr)

I very much welcome this opportunity of saying something about the Government's attitude towards the Piercy Report, particularly, if I may say so, since the matter has been raised in such an understanding and penetrating way by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph). As he and the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) said, this is a very wide subject, and all I shall attempt to do today is to give a progress report on what the Government have been doing in considering and acting upon the Report since it was published six months ago. I certainly should not object to the suggestion that later on, if opportunity arises, we might go into it more fully.

First of all, I will take this opportunity, on behalf of the Government, of thanking Lord Piercy and his Committee for having undertaken this formidable task. Some people did at one time impatiently ask when the Report would be forthcoming. That was, I think, an easy thing for those not on the Committee to ask, and I do not think that any criticism can be levelled at the Committee, for it dealt with this wide and complex subject with speed and thoroughness.

In the concluding part of its Report, the Committee makes 46 specific recommendations, and obviously I cannot deal with all of them. All I can do is to try to indicate what the Government think about the most important of them. Before I come to that, it is worth noting, I think, with considerable satisfaction, the general judgment of the Piercy Committee on our services for the disabled. Among all our social services, what is done for the disabled is something of which we may be justly proud in this country, however much we may be conscious of further improvements we still wish to make. It is very satisfactory to find the Piercy Committee, after looking so closely into the matter, coming to that conclusion.

In its summary at the end of the Report, the Committee draws attention to a number of impressions, two of which I want to mention. Firstly, the Committee says that it formed an impression of the completeness of the statutory provision which now exists for the services of the disabled. Another impression it mentions is that the facilities for enabling disabled persons to get suitable employment are comprehensive and well established, needing little change or development. That is a remarkable thing to be able to say. Not so very many years ago, what we now regard as the ideal in our services for the disabled, that is, bringing people back into full life in the community, would have been regarded as virtually unattainable. The success with which the task is now tackled and employment is found in which disabled people can adequately contribute to the community's life, a comparatively few years ago would have been thought, if not impossible, at least highly idealistic. We should be pleased with the progress which has been made.

I had better say a word now about how the Report is being dealt with by the Government. Since it was published in November last year, it has been carefully studied by my right hon. Friend and by the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of Health, the three Ministers jointly responsible for the appointment of the Piercy Committee. Several other Government Departments are also concerned, and the responsibility for co-ordinating action on the Report has been entrusted to the official Standing Rehabilitation and Resettlement Committee. In addition, my right hon. Friend has also had the advice of his National Advisory Council on the Employment of the Disabled.

Through all these channels good progress has been made in considering the Report, although, as I am sure it will be realised, this is not a task which can be completed quickly. As I have said, all I can do today is to report progress and deal with the most important of the 46 recommendations which the Report contains. Some of these recommendations do no more than reaffirm existing practice or suggest minor administrative changes which have been already in many cases put into effect. A few of the recommendations will involve legislation, and for that reason I cannot deal with them in this debate. Others envisage important changes which can only be brought about gradually. Others would require additional Government expenditure; and here, as in other fields, we have to keep in mind the pressing need for economy which was emphasised in the Piercy Committee's terms of reference.

Subject to this, I can say on behalf of my right hon. Friends that, in general, they welcome the Report and intend to press on, wherever possible, with implementing its recommendations. In some cases discussions are still going on between the Government Departments concerned or with local authorities or other interested bodies involved, so it is not yet possible to give the Government's final decision. I can mention considerable progress in actual decisions or towards actual decisions in relation to many of the recommendations.

The recommendations fall into five main groups. The first group concerns hospital and medical services. The Committee regarded as the single most important factor in medical rehabilitation the attitude of mind in which the individual doctor approaches the treatment of his patient. My hon. Friend had something to say about that. Of course, the medical profession has a vital rôle to play in this. I think this is widely accepted by the profession, and, indeed, those who gave evidence on its behalf to the Committee recognised that many consultants and general practitioners are still a little slow to adopt the rehabilitation approach and often need more information about its scope, nature and potentialities. But the profession itself is playing a most useful part in promoting this educational process; and all the Departments concerned are considering, in conjunction with the profession, what can be done further to give the general practitioner and the consultant the information and knowledge they need about this subject.

So far as the hospital rehabilitation service is concerned, the Committee regarded the present pattern and the present trends as being on the whole satisfactory. But they thought that the organisation needed some tightening up and that developments were required in certain directions. For example, the Committee drew attention to the value of what it called planned and purposeful physiotherapy and hoped that the use of existing resources on these lines, as already practised in many hospitals, would lead to better results, even without any actual expansion of the resources available. The Committee considered that development should await the results of a review of the use of resources on that basis.

The Committee also commended the tendency of occupational therapy to move towards more realistic occupations and to concern itself with advice and help on how to live with a disability. The Health Ministers will shortly be advising hospital authorities on all these matters. They will also ask hospital boards to consider the Committee's recommendation for a rehabilitation committee to be set up by each board to further the suggestions made in the Report in relation to the hospital service.

Another important recommendation which will be taken up is that for setting up in every major hospital as a normal feature of its work a resettlement clinic to review difficult cases of disablement. A few hospitals already use this technique with success, and the purpose of the recommendation is to stimulate its wider adoption throughout the whole hospital service.

We should realise that a resettlement clinic which brings together all the workers involved in the treatment of the patient is a valuable instrument, not only in dealing with the individual problem, but also in promoting the close co-operation of all the different agencies concerned in rehabilitation and resettlement, and in acting as an educational medium for the medical profession. That is a point to which the British Medical Association attaches much importance.

In referring to the development of the hospital service, the Committee recommended that the major share of any resources available for capital development should be devoted to the hospital side. The Government have allocated and are allocating each year a larger capital expenditure for the hospital service, and hospital boards will be asked to have regard to the needs of rehabilitation departments in drawing up their capital programmes; but clearly the rate of development must be conditioned by the availability of funds, and also, let us not forget, the availability of staff, which is an important matter. It is essential that we should make the best use of existing resources before seeking to enlarge them further. As my hon. Friend made clear in some of the facts and figures he gave, this development of rehabilitation offers a most hopeful field not only for relieving the suffering of the people concerned but also for greater economy in the long run in the operation of the services.

The second main group of the Committee's recommendations relates to industrial rehabilitation. The Committee recommended that while the larger share of what can be spared from the national resources for capital development for rehabilitation should for the present be devoted to the development of the hospital rehabilitation service, some important industrial areas now without industrial rehabilitation units should be supplied with them. It also proposed that all new developments for industrial rehabilitation units or hospital rehabilitation centres should be planned with the facilities and needs of the other services in mind, so that we do not get overlapping and wasting of resources. My right hon. Friends are studying these recommendations.

There are areas where I should like to see additional industrial rehabilitation units established as soon as circumstances allow, but here again I am afraid the expansion must be governed by the need for economy to which I have already referred. The same consideration applies also to another principal recommendation in this group made by the Committee, namely, the proposal to set up on an experimental basis two or three comprehensive centres which would combine facilities both for hospital and industrial rehabilitation as well as for assessment. There are various views about the actual merits of this idea and the practicability of it. The recommendation needs careful thinking out and is still under consideration.

Sir K. Joseph

Is the unit being built at Winchester in fact a comprehensive one?

Mr. Carr

I am afraid I should require notice of that. I am sorry, I am not informed on that point. I shall have to write to my hon. Friend about it.

Another of the Committee's recommendations proposed that the minimum age for industrial rehabilitation should be reduced from 16 to school-leaving age. That is a recommendation which we propose to accept. I think that when talking about industrial rehabilitation it is worth putting on record some of the results. My hon. Friend referred to the lack of statistics, and I think that these are worth putting on record. About 80 per cent. of the persons leaving industrial rehabilitation units are normally placed in employment or sent to training within three months of completing their courses.

The figures for the most recent six-monthly period for which there are statistics show that of every 100 rehabilitees— I will use the awful word mentioned by my hon. Friend—completing an I.R.U. course, 47 were placed and 15 sent to training within one month—that is, 62 per cent. were dealt with within one month; twelve were placed and five sent to training between one and three months; six were placed and two sent to training between four and six months; and only thirteen out of every 100 were unplaced six months after leaving the course.

That should be compared with the figures which we have showing the length of time for which these people who come to the courses were out of work before they came. On the whole, from figures we have obtained, 18 per cent. had been away from work for three months or less, 14 per cent. had been away from work from 4 to 6 months, 36 per cent. had been away from work for between six months or two years, and no less than 32 per cent. had been away from work for more than two years before they came to these rehabilitation courses. If, therefore, we compare the periods which people were away from work before they came to the courses with the speed with which they obtained work after completing the courses, we have a remarkable achievement which indicates very clearly the scope of this type of work.

The third main group of recommendations contains a number dealing with the welfare of the disabled. The first recommendation under this heading is the important one and was mentioned by both hon. Members, namely, that local authorities should be grant-aided by the Exchequer in their expenditure on these services. This recommendation must be considered in the context of the Government's decision to introduce a general Exchequer grant covering a large number of services, including the local health services provided under the National Health Service Act and the Exchequer contribution to local authorities for accommodation provided under Section 21 of the National Assistance Act.

In the Government's view, it would be inappropriate in these circumstances to introduce a new percentage grant for welfare services for disabled persons, but the question whether some allowance should be made in the total of the general grant for the first fixed grant period to take account of development in these local authority services for the handicapped will be considered when the amount of that grant is determined.

Mr. Edward Evans

That is a most important statement, which needs clarification. Does the hon. Gentleman mean that the block grant will be static and not able to be expanded in what, in the view of the Report, is essentially an expanding service?

Mr. Carr

As I said, this is an important statement, and I cannot add to it or expand on it this morning, except to emphasise that the essential content of the question of these services will be considered when the total grant is fixed.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of Health hopes shortly to be consulting local authority associations about a circular which he would propose to issue to local authorities drawing their attention to a number of the Committee's recommendations as to the way in which the welfare services could usefully be developed. My right hon. Friend regards all these recommendations, which include increased provision of day centres, wider provision of occupational home work, more help in supplying personal aids, and so on, as of great value.

Mr. Alfred Robens (Blyth)

The question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) is a very important one, and I quite understand that at this stage the Parliamentary Secretary is not, perhaps, fully informed about it. The Minister, however, is himself present this morning, and I was wondering whether, at some stage in the Adjournment debate, he could enlarge on the point raised by my hon. Friend. The responsibility is obviously that of the Minister rather than of the Parliamentary Secretary.

Mr. Carr

My right hon. Friend will, I have no doubt, hear and consider what the right hon. Gentleman has said, but I think it most unlikely that anything could, or indeed should, be added to the statement I have made, because these are matters which have to be gone into with the local authority associations. The procedure for doing that is well known and should be followed.

The fourth group of recommendations concern the employment services for the disabled which are provided by the Ministry of Labour. The Committee proposes no fundamental change in these services, but suggests a few minor improvements in the registration scheme relating to such matters as the qualifying and maximum periods of registration, voluntary removal from the Register and the registration of hospital patients. My right hon. Friend has decided to accept these recommendations, some of which involve amendment to the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act and some amendment to the relevant Regulations. A further recommendation dealing with the position of aliens is still being considered.

I come now to the Committee's recommendations about the important subject of D.R.O.s, to which, I was glad, both hon. Members paid considerable attention. The Committee had a considerable amount to say about the selection and training of these disablement resettlement officers and these recommendations also have been accepted and plans are being worked out for a longer initial training course.

Mr. Evans

How long?

Mr. Carr

I said that plans are being worked out. In due course I will be able to tell the hon. Member, but that is not yet completed. It will be, we hope, a substantial increase over the existing period.

I am sure that in what my hon. Friend and, indeed, the hon. Member for Lowestoft said, they did not in any way wish to belittle the excellent work which is being done by our D.R.O.s at the moment.

Mr. Evans

Hear, hear.

Mr. Carr

Although I paid attention to what my hon. Friend said, I must say that his remarks on this aspect were those with which I felt less in agreement than anything else he said. In selecting our D.R.O.s, we pay attention to their ability to make the sort of contacts which are essential and I believe that their success in doing so is very great. We try to take a wide view of what constitutes placing. I should like also to assure the House that we value very greatly the work of voluntary bodies in this direction.

That leads me to the placing in employment of the blind, about which the Committee had something to say. The Piercy Committee considered that while good work was being done by some local authorities and voluntary bodies, the present patchwork of administration might well have had the effect over the country as a whole of providing for the blind a service inferior to that provided for other classes of disabled. The Committee, therefore, recommended that my Department should assume responsibility for putting the placement of the blind on a satisfactory footing and should normally provide a placing service for the blind as it does for other disabled people, although other bodies which now carry out the work satisfactorily should continue to do so if they wish. All I can say about this recommendation is that we are studying it carefully, but I am not yet able to announce any decision about it.

Mr. Evans

Would the hon. Gentleman not agree that the best placement in that sphere is by the body I mentioned and that the work of placement in other sections of blind welfare does not compare with it?

Mr. Carr

I certainly would not in any way belittle what is being done. Perhaps what was felt by the Committee was that the standard of the placing service for the blind was not as uniformly good over the whole country as for other classes of disabled persons. That was, perhaps, something which could best be looked after by bringing it in, as in the case of the other services, with the Ministry of Labour.

My right hon. Friend has accepted the Committee's recommendation that the present scheme of providing sheltered employment through Remploy should remain in force and that the Ministry should continue to assist the valuable work done by voluntary bodies in this direction.

So far, I have spoken in the main about the activities of the. Government, but before I conclude, I think that the House would wish me to say something about the rôle of the voluntary organisations, which have been referred to in passing in relation to a number of different subjects and which should be referred to also as a whole. The Piercy Committee rightly pointed out that these voluntary services are an essential part of our British social life and social services and the Committee paid a well-deserved tribute to what voluntary service has done in providing the means for developing new branches of social work.

The Committee, however, came to the conclusion that, perhaps, in order to allow voluntary bodies to continue in the future as effectively as in the past, the time had come to set up a working party, or some similar body, which would be able to reach conclusions as to how they should fit into the pattern in the future. The House will probably like to know that the National Council of Social Service and the Central Council for the Care of Cripples has set up an inquiry into the welfare of the disabled and is to consider local and national organisation and problems, and all related subjects. The Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Health are both represented on that committee of inquiry.

In conclusion, I should like to assure the House—and I hope that what I have said will be some assurance on this point—that the Government regard the Piercy Report as an important and valuable one and, subject to the needs of economy, intend to maintain the progress which, I think, has already been made in the first six months since its publication. The Standing Rehabilitation and Resettlement Committee is, as I have said, the official body responsible for co-ordination of work between all the Government Departments concerned. As its name implies, it is a standing committee. It is keeping the whole matter under review, and will be publishing a report later this year on the progress made. That, also, will be an opportunity for the House to know what is happening.

I should like to thank my hon. Friend for raising the matter, and so giving me the chance to report on what we have been able to do in the six months since the Report was published, and I assure him and the hon. Member for Lowestoft that the views that have been expressed, including those on which I have not been able to comment, will be noted and carefully considered.