HC Deb 26 July 1960 vol 627 cc1511-25

2.17 a.m.

Mr. B. T. Parkin (Paddington, North)

I have notified the Home Secretary and sent him particulars about a constituency case which I desire to raise. I shall in the course of my remarks be quoting, no doubt, a number of other examples from my constituency. I want to make it clear at once that I am perfectly well aware that had I wished to deal with these cases piecemeal I should have had the most courteous attention from the Minister and his Department in dealing with each of them, and there would be no advantage in dealing with them publicly unless I wanted to make a rather wider case.

My case and appeal to the Home Secretary tonight is that the time has come for a lead from him to indicate that as Her Majesty's Secretary of State for the Home Department he is prepared to play a much more energetic rôle in the political co-ordination of the welfare services, that there is an opportunity open to him now to enable the Home Office to play a much more positive rôle in our welfare services instead of the more negative rôle of waiting until citizens are in trouble and then looking after them while they are locked up.

I shall not attempt to traverse again the ground of example and argument to demonstrate to the Home Secretary that there are large parts of London and, as I have since gathered from colleagues of mine, portions of other great cities where the welfare services have to a large extent broken down and where there is a large measure of social breakdown which requires energetic action. The Home Secretary has already replied encouragingly to me on representations that I have made on this subject.

The letter which I sent to him previous to this debate was prepared, strangely enough, by a citizens' advice bureau. The letter which the bureau sent to me said: We assisted this old lady of almost 72 to write to you regarding the trouble between herself and her West Indian landlady. We know the lady very well and, together with the West Indies Migrant Services Division, the Welfare Officer of the Paddington Public Health Department, and a number of the Mayor's Committee, we have been trying to assist her in her difficulties. At the present time, she tells us that she is too frightened to return to her home during the night and has spent several evenings on Paddington Station when friends could not put her up. We do feel that she is suffering very badly at the present time, and we should be very grateful if you think you could in any way assist her to be re-housed. That short letter is a clear summary of the complications that can ensue and the need for co-ordination between different departments. It seems to me almost a counsel of despair, and a lamentable thing, that the C.A.B. should write to me and say that it has failed in every way to solve this old lady's problem and ask me to get her rehoused, because it ought to know that a Member of Parliament has no influence and no standing in the matter of rehousing people.

Furthermore, we are faced with the situation in which this would be a victory for the landlady. We should be rehousing this old lady because she was being terrorised and had to spend the night on Paddington Station. That means that the landlady would get vacant possession and the thing she has been trying to get—an increase in income at the expense of the good landlord who treats his tenants properly.

The first thing that occurs to me is that it is necessary to re-establish order. The first thing required is to send the police into the house to make it perfectly clear what the law is on this matter and to see that the old lady can get safe access to her own controlled and uncontested tenancy in her own home. If I am to plead with the Home Secretary to undertake this co-ordination of welfare services, surely the first thing is a more positive role for the police to play, because the police primus inter pares should be among the agents of the Welfare State.

They would be much happier in their work if they had more positive tasks to do. The Home Secretary will be aware of the implications of this very delicate situation. The police, as we know, have a very difficult task in this matter of racial tensions, but I am certain that it is not right that all the work that has gone into improving racial relations, all the patient work that has been devoted to get better understanding, should be put in jeopardy because of the behaviour of one avaricious and rapacious old woman. It is right to risk raising this matter publicly in order to say that a bad landlord, whatever the colour of his skin, should be warned of the consequences of his actions if he makes the life of his tenants unbearable.

I want to develop the question of the police attitude to the problems of racial antagonism because, as the situation is at present, they get into trouble whatever they do. Earlier this week Her Majesty's Government were apologising to the Government of Ghana, but there are some people who deserve apologies and do not get them.

A few months ago I was by chance in the Portobello Road on a Saturday afternoon when an open-air meeting was being held at which the characters of passers by were being assailed by an individual preaching racial hatred. I have no objection to people at Speakers' Corner saying what they like, but to intrude on a thoroughfare where people have to go about their business is another matter. I know that today the British Caribbean Association has decided to ask the Government to introduce legislation on this subject in the next Session.

Sir James Duncan (South Angus)

I used to be the Member for North Kensington. It has been a public meeting place for donkeys' years.

Mr. Parkin

That is to some extent true, and I accept the expertise of the hon. Member. I am grateful for the support he has given me on previous occasions when I have been dealing with this subject. But in this particular case it seemed to me that the meeting was intruding on people and that it was not a meeting that was available for those who chose to attend it.

Let me develop the point of how the meeting was conducted. There was an indifferent audience so long as the speaker was making a theoretical case. How he enlarged his audience was by insulting individuals passing by, and there is a point where the police in those circumstances should be instructed to stop the meeting. I will quote one example of what happened. An old lady with her shopping bag full of vegetables, stooped shoulders, was shuffling along the road. She heard words from the speaker which made her hardly believe her own ears. She went up and listened and then pointed towards him and said something about Nazism, and he said, "You filthy old Jewish cow, get back to Tel-Aviv."

After that I approached the police officer standing near the speaker and said: "I wish to make a complaint that this man is inciting disorder by insulting people in the street." The police officer said. "If you do not like it you can go away." I do not want to give any particular gloss to that remark. It was said in reasonably good humour, and it is true that I could go away. It is also true that shortly afterwards the speaker packed up and went away. Several passers-by stopped and told me they were glad I had made a protest because they suffered a good deal from this sort of thing. What the old lady said in a strong refugee accent was, "If I was a Jew I do not know what I should think, but I am a Catholic and I had to leave Hitler because of this, and now I find it here."

I could go away, true, but where could that old lady go? She lives there. We were glad to give her a home. I hope we are still proud and glad to let her feel she has a home in this country. I submit to the Home Secretary that it would help if he gave the police instructions that when an open-air speaker leaves the theory, doctrine, and argument and begins to attack individuals with personal insults it is right to warn him that he must either cease or close the meeting. I do not think that that is an intrusion on personal freedom.

Sir Leslie Plumber (Deptford)

Does my hon. Friend appreciate that all the Home Secretary has to do is to 'bring to the attention of the police the Public Order Act, 1945, which specifically gives the police power to interfere when people are being insulted in this way?

Mr. Parkin

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that the powers are there, but much depends—I do not want to digress into a debate on racial tension or the colour bar—on the initiative taken by the Home Secretary himself in giving a lead to the police so that they take positive action. I want him to give a directive to the police that they must use the powers which they now have to deal with this landlord who has made this old lady's life a misery and with people who take advantage of the situation.

I am well aware that there are people willing to snatch at this story about one bad landlord and to use it for propaganda purposes in the interests of a cause which would not get support from any hon. Member, but it seems to me that the police must take an equally strong line in dealing with any situation in areas of this kind where tension can develop.

There is something else which could help this old lady, and that is a tenants' association. Tenants' associations have been formed in some London boroughs and have already been very successful. There is one in my constituency. It has 400 members and it conducts its affairs energetically and effectively. But it is rather terrifying to discover that in a certain area all the normal processes of government, central and local, have broken down and are being conducted by an independent organisation. I say "terrifying" because not all of them are well conducted.

It is encouraging to find one which has sprung to life spontaneously and which is dealing with the situation well, but it has obvious dangers and the Home Secretary has received a letter from one to say that it is tired of asking for police protection for the tenants and that it is now conducting its own policing of the tenants who are exploited by landlords in that area. Here we have an interesting case of an association, which was formed to combat the evils of the noisy and vicious clubs and even to promote an activity in which it could easily have become anti-immigrant, finding that if it is to do its job properly, it has to look after the interests of a large number of coloured tenants who are being exploited by the landlords.

The case for more co-ordination of the welfare services has been made and accepted. The Home Secretary himself has written to me several times since last I approached him on this subject in the House. The Younghusband Report its having its effect and welfare officers themselves have got together and are co-ordinating their work well in advance of any advice which might be offered by amateurs like myself.

The London County Council has an admirable system of drawing up guides which in different divisions cover the activities of all welfare organisations, official and unofficial, subsidised and voluntary, with the names, addresses, office and functions of all of them—London County Council M 107. I should like to think that a copy of that guide was in regular use in every police station. I should like to think that policemen were encouraged to help people to go to those branches of the welfare services which are open to them.

What I want to see, and what I am pleading for tonight, is more political coordination. I want to know what happens to the information which is collected. I mentioned clubs, and it is not long since two hon. Members for Paddington constituencies waited on the right hon. Gentleman and discussed with him the difficulties facing the Borough of Paddington. He will know that the Borough of Paddington has made other representations to the Home Office not unconnected with this evil.

There is the problem of advertisements in shops for prostitution. There has been an appalling and scandalous development in Paddington. The shop windows are full of the most precise information, giving measurements and details of perversions that are available, and apparently there is nothing that the town clerk can advise his borough council to do in the matter. In despair the council has written to Members of Parliament for the borough, and they have approached the Home Secretary. If he were willing to introduce legislation to deal with that problem, I have no doubt that this House would pass it through with the minimum of delay and would be willing to sit late to permit it to go through. I am sure that he has only to ask for all the powers that he wants and he will get them, but he must accept that this is a development—which I hope he did not foresee—about which he was warned at the time because of a partial attack he made on another problem.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in the annual report of the medical officer of health for Paddington there is revealed a startling increase in the number of cases of venereal disease, and a steep increase in the number of people suffering from gonorrhoea going for treatment at St. Mary's Hospital? Of course, this is not a notifiable disease, and no precise statistics are available. There is a comment that it is thought that a few promiscuous women are responsible for the spread of the disease, but what an appalling situation with which to be faced, that in these days this disease should now be increasing. There is no reason why it cannot be conquered and overcome. Where does the co-ordination come in? Where does the information find its way to so that there can be a political study?

When I last appealed to the Home Secretary on this subject I asked him to designate certain areas of social breakdown, drawing a parallel between the areas of economic breakdown which were designated for special treatment in the days of the depression and widespread unemployment. It was an idea which was not turned down by the Home Secretary, but I do not know how far he has got with it. If he has got any further, he ought to tell us what he is going to do. What would be the tests for such an area of breakdown?

The last time I spoke I gave examples of the large numbers of children in the care of local authorities.

The last report of the medical officer of health, to which I referred a moment ago, showed a considerable increase in the number of suicides in the Borough of Paddington. Interesting enough, the high figures for suicides are in the wealthier wards of the borough, not in the poorest. The poorest people manage to survive. It seems that suicide is a middle-class affliction, but there must obviously be some special feeling of not belonging, or some special sense of loneliness or breakdown in an area like ours for us to be distinguished in this unfortunate way. Who looks at it to try to find out what is the remedy?

The co-ordination of welfare work is making enormous progress, but we have still to hear about political progress. Surely it must be obvious to hon. Members how difficult it is for us to discuss one subject in isolation. Later on a number of my hon. Friends, I believe, will speak about housing difficulties in their constituencies in London. Yet how can one discuss a comprehensive plan for housing? How can one get at the root of the housing problem unless one is prepared to discuss also an employment policy for London? If we are going to discuss an employment policy, the planning or the guidance, by whatever means available—incentive or control—of industries, some sort of decision must be made as to whether we can afford unskilled industries in the London area as well as the enormous number of skilled jobs required to service a capital city.

That, of course, links up with the job of the education authorities to train people for jobs. We must discuss, first, which people we are prepared to continue to house in London. Surely there must be some co-ordination with the Ministry of Transport. We have to decide which are the people whom we desire to house in the centre of London. Are they to be only the people who have to do the servicing, the semi-skilled jobs? Which of them are we prepared to transport from the outer ring to work inside London?

The two problems are inextricably linked, and it needs a Minister of the calibre and status of the Home Secretary to deal with the matter. We have debates from time to time on the conditions of old people, but, of course, it is not possible to discuss old-age pensions unless we discuss housing and it is not possible to discuss the housing of old people without discussing the supplementation of their pensions and the special cost of living index that would be desirable in different parts of the country.

The Minister of Housing is also the Minister of Local Government, but local authorities are themselves the agents for many departments of the welfare services and their experiences ought to be fed back to some centre point. My reason for insisting that it is the Home Secretary and not just one of the welfare departments who might be made the overlord is this. I want to make this additional proposal tonight which I embodied briefly in a Question and to which I received a not unfavourable reply.

Would it not be a useful thing if once a year, in the same way that we have a Defence White Paper followed by a discussion of individual Service Estimates and an economic survey with a general examination of how we are doing economically, followed by a general debate, before we get down to the Budget, the Finance Bill and the details—would it not be a good thing if the Secretary of State for the Home Department were able to introduce a social survey covering the whole range of social services which could be debated in general as a matter of co-ordination and followed by debates on individual Estimates dealing with branches of the welfare service—a sort of grand design, an annual assessment of how we are doing in dealing with such problems?

The first of those surveys to be published would be a very fascinating document because, of course, it would mean, if a clear view were to be presented, examining the motivations which were behind the original institution of the particular social services and seeing how far these motivations were valid today and how far they had been changed. We could examine, for example, the original motivation concerning council houses and whether it was necessary to change our concept completely of council houses—should there be mixed users, are the councils to be developers and should they be enabled to make the enormous cost of land earn its own living by putting the lower storeys into use as shops and offices and thus getting the sites above them for nothing and only having to pay for the extra steel construction involved in high building. How can such a subject be discussed except in relation to others and except under the guidance of one of the senior Ministers?

The original motivation of retirement pensions, at least in the eyes of the trade union movement and the Labour Party, was to get people off the labour market at a time when it was said—I said it myself in this House—that we in the Labour Party took it for granted and did not give the second thoughts which we ought to have given in 1945; so much was the desire to see the retirement pension and the desire to see the end of a system by which old-age pensioners getting 10s. a week were kept in employment while their own sons were sacked. Those old days have gone. We have learned a lot about geriatrics and ways of keeping people happy during a much more prolonged old age.

What was the original motivation of the family allowance? Whatever it was, it does not apply today. There is no need today to encourage large families, there are plenty of people who are able and glad to raise them. But there is a case for looking at the position of young married couples with one child because they are the people who are in the worst financial difficulty. The woman has ceased working and they have to pay the highest rents.

These things should be debated, not because some back bench Member gets an opportunity to raise the matter on the Appropriation Bill but as part of a debate every year to see how well we are doing in each of the welfare services; how the resources ought to be deployed and how much co-ordinating Ministers are able to bring strong political directives and say that there must be more measures and subsidies in certain areas to deal with bad signs as they begin to develop, as is the case in my constituency and in other parts of west London.

My final argument in support of my proposal is that it will, I hope, satisfy hon. Members who for a long time have been trying to find a way to get better control by the House of Commons over Estimates and public expenditure. It would enable them to see in one prospectus the proportion of the national income being spent on the social services and to see that it was properly spent. Perhaps this is one of the most important arguments in favour of the proposal because there are anxieties about this on both sides of the House but from different angles. Hon. Members on this side of the House have grave doubts whether the affluent society is developing in the right way. We think that the wrong kind of things may be advertised and people will be taught to demand luxuries when they have not the necessities. We should like to see them demanding their own front door and decent plumbing inside the house with a much greater insistence. We fear that if the great power of advertising does succeed in laying spurious attractions before a large part of the population instead of the basic necessities of the social services, it may be more difficult to sustain the social services at their present level.

I am not pretending to take a party line about this matter. Both parties have changed and developed their views about the social services. But there is a certain relentless economic propaganda pressure against more public expenditure which ought to be brought out into the open and the only way to do that is to have an annual debate along the lines I have suggested.

2.50 a.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State to the Home Department (Mr. Dennis Vosper)

By leave of the House, I should like briefly to reply to the hon. Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin), who has in fact continued a debate he initiated on a similar occasion on 16th March. On that occasion my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary replied briefly and said he would examine the arguments put forward by the hon. Member and reply to them, which he did, by letters, to which the hon. Member has referred.

I shall bring to the notice of my right hon. Friend what the hon. Member has Kid tonight. There is a difficulty, as he will appreciate, that this is a very wide-ranging debate. He asked for a co-ordinating Minister, or overlord, for the social services, who could take responsibility for all these things. In practice, that does happen through the interlocking of Government Departments and Ministerial committees. It is more difficult for any individual Minister to reply to the different problems the hon. Member has raised, but, before returning to the general issue, I should like to deal with four points the raised which are the responsibility of the Home Office.

He mentioned, first, the case of a constituent about whom he wrote to my right hon. Friend on 23rd July, a lady who had to resort to sleeping at Paddington Station. I think that a very tragic case. To what extent my right hon. Friend or his colleagues can help, remains for consideration, but my right hon. Friend is asking the Commissioner of Police to look into the case to see whether any police action is possible. The hon. Member will appreciate that, unless some criminal offence is involved, the extent to which the police can intervene in disputes between landlord and tenant is limited, but I shall undertake to see that the case is looked into and whether any other action can be taken.

As to the meeting in Portobello Road, that is a matter of which I have not had previous notice and which my right hon. Friend would prefer to leave to the Commissioner of Police, to whose notice I shall see that it is brought. He raised two other matters—

Sir J. Duncan

My right hon. Friend will recognise that Portobello Road is a place where rough words are often used. In fact, I have had everything thrown at me in my time there. It is the sort of place where one has to take hard knocks and to receive them. I think the hon. Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin), with whose case I have a great deal of sympathy, must realise that with the very great shortage of police today they have to exercise a great deal of tact about these things. I do not think that his case, however rude the language that was used, ought to be taken a great deal of notice of. I have had the same sort of thing hurled at me many times.

Mr. Parkin

Of course, the ex-Member for the area is no longer there. My complaint was that the old lady had to go on living there, but three policemen were on continuous duty and two could have helped if they had instructions to get in early before trouble started.

Mr. Vosper

I have not had the experience of the Portobello Road which my hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan) has had, but there is much in what he has said. It would be better to ask the Commissioner to take notice of the point which has been raised.

The hon. Member for Paddington, North mentioned the problem of clubs, which I realise is a problem in his constituency and in neighbouring constituencies. It is a matter on which I personally receive representations. I cannot go further tonight than to say that the representations made by the hon. Member and his colleagues on that occasion have been taken into account. In the legislation which my right hon. Friend hopes shortly to bring before the House, I do not think the hon. Member will find himself disappointed about the extent to which it will deal with the points problems he had in mind and which are of such concern in Paddington.

He also raised a matter arising from the Street Offences Act. I think he will understand that the purpose of the Act was to clear the streets. Speaking from the point of view of Paddington, if my information is correct, the Act has been particularly successful in that respect. He quite rightly went on to suggest that the advertising nuisance, to which the attention of my right hon. Friend has been drawn, arises from that. It is a much more difficult problem to tackle than the problem of street offences. We will examine that further, but I cannot give an assurance that it is capable of solution because of the difficulty of determining what might be an offensive advertisement and what might not.

The hon. Member feels that the social services, though excellent in themselves, are to some extent unco-ordinated and sometimes directed at the individual rather than the family. A criticism which has often been made is that the social services do not regard the family as a unit but that each is directed at an individual member of the family or some aspect of him and that on occasions they may be at cross-purposes. At times there may be some substance in that criticism. I speak with experience of three Government Departments with responsibility for social services. But I think the hon. Member will not suggest that no action has been taken. As long ago as 1950 the Home Office took the lead, with the Ministries of Health and Education, in sending a circular to all major local authorities requesting that a designated officer be appointed for co-ordinating activities in child welfare. That is a specific example of co-ordination in the social services.

The Younghusband Report accepted that there had been a high degree of co-ordination and referred specifically to the development of child welfare. It found that practically every major local authority had set up co-ordinating machinery and had appointed a designated officer. The Committee recommended further co-ordination. That has been under consideration by the Government, and I can assure the hon. Member that he will not have long to wait before he sees some news about the conclusions reached.

He suggested tonight, as he did in a Question to my right hon. Friend, that there should be a social survey equivalent to the Economic Survey or the Defence White Paper. As he said, my right hon. Friend gave him a favourable response to that Question and undertook to consider the suggestion—and that is being done; but to produce a social survey on the lines of the Economic Survey would be a major undertaking. If he had had any experience of the machinery behind the production of the Economic Survey he would know what I mean. This is therefore not a matter on which the Government could give an early decision; it involves the Treasury, the Home Office, and the Ministries of Health, Pensions and National Insurance, and Education, if not Labour, too.

If a social survey of that kind were to be comprehensive, it would involve much work and considerable expense. While my right hon. Friend is considering it, it will take some time to consider it and it is not a development which could be undertaken lightly.

In general, while it is possibly difficult for one Minister to answer such a wide-ranging debate as the hon. Member has initiated, this does not mean that Departments and Ministers do not discuss and co-ordinate matters which require the interest of more than one Department. Government machinery provides specifically for that problem. I am always impressed by the fact that visitors from overseas are in their turn impressed by the extent to which our social services have developed. No Minister would suggest for a moment that that development has reached its conclusion, nor would I suggest that the co-ordination is perfect. We are striving to improve the co-ordination and there has been much improvement in this respect over the last ten years.

When my right hon. Friend replied to the hon. Member in the previous debate, he made quite clear that he, not so much in his capacity as Home Secretary, but as a senior member of Her Majesty's Government, was interested in co-ordinating services on the home and social front. I have plenty of reason to know that that is his concern. I will ask him to study what the hon. Member has said and in so far as it is relevant, I will bring it to the notice of other Ministers and Government Departments concerned. Over and above that, I accept that there is a continuing need for the co-ordination and development of the social services. Any points that the hon. Member has raised in respect of his own constituency I will cause to be examined by the Minister concerned.

Mr. Richard Marsh (Greenwich)

One point raised by my hon. Friend which has important repercussions is the question of the growth of the number of cases of venereal disease, which has been quoted as a particular problem in Paddington but which is becoming a serious social problem and which until about 1957, under Defence Regulation 33B, was the specific responsibility of the Home Office. I am not sure whether the right hon. Gentleman has had notice of this, but has he any comment to make on this problem and the responsibility which his Department has exercised concerning it in the past and which it may well consider exercising again?

Mr. Vosper

It is common knowledge and beyond dispute that the increase in the incidence to which reference has been made is borne out and is something that disturbs my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Health or his successor. In so far as Home Office responsibility is concerned, I will look at the point. I have not had notice of it, nor do I know to what extent the Home Office can help. I would not want to dispute in any way the seriousness of what the hon. Member has said in that connection.

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