HC Deb 06 April 1962 vol 657 cc821-48

As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

11.5 a.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Holborn and St. Panoras, South)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

This is a happy little Bill. It is the first of this part of the Parliamentary Session's crop of Private Members' Bills to reach its Third Reading. I feel very privileged and not a little lucky in having had a hand in piloting it through the House to this stage. I am sure that I am not tempting Providence in assuming that the Bill has earned, and will continue to earn, nothing but good will from both sides of the House. In making that assumption, I particularly thank the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary for their generous co-operation.

There is no secret about it that there has been a change in the Government's attitude towards this piece of legislation, because they have made it possible for expenditure under the Bill to rank for rate deficiency grant in England and Wales and for Exchequer equalisation grant in Scotland. Authorities which qualify for these grants are, in the main, the poorer authorities, and it is in the areas of those authorities that the social responsibility for looking after the needs of elderly people is so acute.

The Bill was improved in Committee. For that, I owe my thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Miss Vickers). By her Amendment she helped to make the purposes of the Bill more explicit.

The Bill had two main purposes. The first was to enable a local authority to provide a meals service and recreational facilities for elderly people. The second was to extend the kind of assistance which a local authority may give to voluntary agencies. It was in the latter respect that my hon. Friend's Amendment helped, because it spelled out the scope of this assistance beyond all measure of doubt. In future, a local authority can incur capital expenditure in helping voluntary agencies to provide kitchens, vans and even staff. This is now quite clearly written into the Bill so that there can be no doubt about the scope of the assistance.

I think that we are all aware that in some parts of the country local authorities already helped voluntary agencies in this way, because they introduced Bills into the House to do so. Other local authorities were not quite sure how far they could go in doing this. They had a measure of doubt about the matter. The Bill will clear up any doubts which may exist.

Lastly, I should particularly like to thank the hon. Member for Bradford, East (Mr. McLeavy), because it will be within the recollection of all hon. Members who are present that on two previous occasions he has introduced a Bill almost identical with this. But such are the fortunes, or lack of fortunes, which sometimes afflict Private Member's Bills, that he was not able to get his Measure through the House. It is therefore with particular pleasure that we see him in his place this morning. Personally, I am grateful to him for his advice and the friendly co-operation which he has shown me during the past weeks. He appreciates the intent of the Bill and the value of the work done by the voluntary agencies and, as we hope, by local authorities in providing meals and recreation facilities for elderly people.

At the turn of the century, it was possible for a senior Minister in this land to say that he believed that there were some 11 million people living below the poverty line. Such have been the advances since then that today there are far fewer than that who are living below the poverty line, but most of us are well aware that there are people who are close to it and sometimes below it and whose lives always centre around it. Invariably they are people who are getting on in years, people who, because of slump and war, have had no opportunity to save for their old age, people now getting into their late sixties and early seventies. It is those people who will be especially helped by the Bill. They are people to whom an extra few bob a week may well come in handy, as nobody will deny.

But those of us who have studied their needs and seen them in their homes will recognise that in many cases the greatest help which can be given to them is to provide them with a service which they need, sometimes home helps, sometimes by making sure that there is someone who can regularly visit them and provide them with a meal which they may not be well enough to provide for themselves. We all know that elderly people living alone find it a dreadfully dreary job to cook for themselves.

I saw some of this work before I came to the House when I was employed by the British Broadcasting Corporation. One morning, I went out with a portable tape recorder and accompanied one of the voluntary agencies, the W.V.S., on its rounds when it provided various north London homes which were occupied by elderly people with a hot meal at mid-day, part of the famous "Meals on Wheels" service. The meal was wholesome and obviously needed. But beyond that the Meals on Wheels service provided a service not easily recognisable by the name itself. It provided human contact for these elderly people with those living a more active life in the outside world.

The people who came with meals were friends. There was the accepted joke. There was the news from the outside world. The W.V.S. people were trained to study the needs of the recipients of the meals. As we know, old people are proud and often do not seek medical assistance when they need it. It needs only a skilful question or two from a trained visitor who is on familiar terms with them to discover whether an elderly person is really all right when he responds to the question, "How are you today?" with the reply, "I am all right." If the question is pursued a little further, it will often be found that he is not as well as he maintains.

Through an expansion of this service, we will be doing something more for elderly people than providing them with a much needed well-cooked meal. We shall be bringing them into contact with life and showing them that they are not neglected, and we shall also be looking after their other needs. Already the voluntary agencies, the W.V.S., the British Red Cross, the Invalid Meals Service in London, and others, provide many meals for elderly people. I do not have the figures for last year, but in 1960 the W.V.S. alone provided about 2½ million meals for elderly people.

That is a tremendous achievement for a voluntary organisation of which it has every right to be proud. Its target is 4 million meals a year and it has been suggested elsewhere that we ought to be able to provide about 6 million meals a year for elderly people. I do not know how accurate that figure is, but we are on the way to meeting that target. I hope that by making it the responsibility of local authorities in areas where the voluntary agencies are not well organised, or even non-existent, to undertake and expand the service, and, where the voluntary agencies are already well organised, to assist them to do even better, the Bill will help towards that target. In the purposes of the Bill, there is no conflict as between those who wish to preserve the voluntary spirit of cooperation in our society and those who feel that the local authorities, the public services, also have a part to play. In this respect there is scope for ever more fruitful co-operation.

Apart from the fact that I was first brought into direct contact with the work that is being done by providing meals for elderly people through my work with the B.B.C., being elected to represent my own constituency of Holborn and St. Pancras, South has reminded me of the constant need in this country to expand such domiciliary services for elderly people, because my constituency does not have many rich people. There are many poor dwellings and many elderly people who are left there as the younger folk have grown up and moved outside London or to the newer suburbs, leaving parents behind them, parents who are often widows or widowers living in tall and decaying late Victorian or early Edwardian houses. It is in such places that we find the people for whom the Bill is designed. It is little wonder that St. Pancras, including my constituency and St. Pancras North, of course, contains a proportion of elderly people higher than the national average. That is a picture which can no doubt be repeated in the inner heart of other big cities. It was therefore with particular pleasure that I introduced this Bill.

There is one small point which I should mention which was referred to in Committee. It might be thought that the Bill does not apply to another category of people—although it does—and I remind the House that in addition to helping those who are elderly there is no reason why a local authority or voluntary agency should not be able to provide a meals service or recreation facilities for those who are substantially or permanently handicapped by illness. Those are groups which should also quality and which come within the terms of the Bill.

It only remains for me to thank the House for the kind reception to the Bill which I commend to the House.

11.20 a.m.

Mr. Frank McLeavy (Bradford, East)

It is for me a very great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. G. Johnson Smith). I should like first of all to congratulate him upon a very excellent Third Reading speech in which he has given very clearly the details of the purpose of this very important Bill. I ought to say that when the hon. Gentleman was successful in the Ballot for Private Members' Bills he immediately told me that he wished to take over my old original Bill. I was obviously delighted to think that the hon. Member was so concerned and interested in the welfare of the old persons throughout the country.

It is indeed a great honour for the hon. Member so early in his political career in this House to achieve what I believe will be the passing of a Bill of such human value to society. I hope that he will see the fruits of his labour in the improved welfare of the elderly people. I should like to thank him for his personal reference to myself. I feel very proud today that the efforts which I made some years ago are now becoming fruitful and that the provision which I believe is essential for the health and well-being of the old people will be extended by this Bill. I hope that the hon. Gentleman who brought forward this Bill will have great personal pleasure in having been instrumental in bringing about this tremendous change.

The provisions of the Bill are designed very properly for the closest co-operation between the local authorities and voluntary bodies. The voluntary organisations should not in future be restricted by the lack of finance, manpower, equipment or accommodation for the work which they wish to extend. We think that the provisions of the Bill will be applied by local authorities on a very broad basis. Local authorities, we presume, will first examine the extent to which these services are necessary in their respective areas. They will then consult existing voluntary bodies to see how best the services can be extended. In some cases the local authorities will have to run the services themselves. In other cases they may find that the services can be better provided partly or wholly by voluntary bodies mainly financed by the local authorities.

The eventual aim must be to provide meals—at least one meal a day—for those in need. This, coupled with recreational facilities, will provide some of the answers to the problems of poor health and loneliness of old people, because personal concern and contact will be more firmly established than ever.

The provisions of the Bill will keep many hundreds of old people out of hospital and will relieve the shortage of hospital beds for general use. They will reduce the needs of old people to use the homes provided by local authorities. Therefore, much of the cost of these services will be offset by savings in the cost of hospital beds and the provision of homes by local authorities. May we express the hope that local authorities will apply these provisions to the fullest extent. We owe it to our old people, and we ought to try as soon as possible to bring into being a real, comprehensive scheme for providing these services throughout the length and breadth of the land.

I could not sit down without joining with the hon. Member in paying a tribute to the voluntary organisations in this field. They have done a magnificent job over the years. I have personally been in the closest contact with them for many years. The W.V.S. and all the other organisations, too numerous to mention, in the various localities have done magnificent service. They have pioneered this great human work for the old people. I know in my own City of Bradford how proud the citizens are of the work done by the W.V.S. there and the various other organisations for the welfare of the old people.

I re-emphasise what the hon. Member said: we do want to feel that, so far as it is humanly possible consistent with the provision of an adequate service for the old people, the fullest possible use is made of the volun1tary organisations, not so much as agencies in the broad sense of the term but as co-operating with local authorities as equals in the organisation of a real service in the localities. I always say that one voluntary worker is worth twelve paid workers, because the voluntary worker is doing it because his heart and soul are in the work and he wants to carry out this human social service to his fellow human beings. Therefore I, along with the hon. Member, am extremely anxious that the voluntary organisations shall be used to the fullest possible extent where they can do the job which is required to be done.

If they can do it without any additional staff, well and good; we shall be very happy to see them do it. However, it may well be—I know that in Bradford it is so, and it must be the same throughout the country—that these voluntary organisations are restricted in their activities by the lack of personnel and funds. If the local authorities will direct their attention to these two essential points, making available the necessary additional manpower and providing the reasonable funds which are required to bring about an efficient organisation in the various localities throughout the country, then I believe that we shall achieve the object in view, the provision of an adequate service.

It is only fair to say that the hon. Member's Bill is supported wholeheartedly not only by both sides of the House but by local authorities of all kinds throughout the country and by the voluntary organisations. In this Bill we see a great opportunity of further extending this country's social services, which are among the greatest treasures which we have and the envy of the world. I am grateful that the hon. Member has brought forward this Bill, which will be of far-reaching advantage to the old people. I believe it is a kind of old people's charter. It is something which says that at last Parliament and society all around are accepting more closely their responsibility for the old people of this country. I believe it will give to them a great feeling of relief that after so long we have recognised this responsibility and are coming to the rescue, so to speak, of the voluntary organisations.

We are going to help them extend the service. We shall supplement it in certain ways, and we shall make sure that at long last this very desirable and human service is widely provided. I hope that all we hope for in the Bill will be realised, but this will depend upon the spirit and good sense of local authorities and voluntary organisations throughout the country. Given all the assistance and good will and sympathy that can be given by the local authorities, the voluntary organisations and public, I believe that this Measure will mean a tremendous human improvement and that it will be welcomed by society generally.

11.31 a.m.

Mr. Dudley Williams (Exeter)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. G. Johnson Smith) on bringing in the Bill. It is known to the House that I take a serious interest in private business and especially in Private Members' Bills. I certainly think that this Bill commends itself to all hon. Members, but I should like to make one or two points about it which I hope will be of help not only to the people who will have to administer the powers granted under it, but also to those who are charged with the conduct of the country's finances.

We should face squarely the fact that the Bill may cost a good deal of money to administer, and I hope that local authorities will realise the importance of making use of voluntary organisations. I am most distressed when I go round the country to find the number of people who do nothing whatever outside their actual employment. They go home at night thinking that they have done their duty and that there is no need for them to take an interest in any other form of activity. Many people need to wake up to the fact that a great deal of voluntary work needs to be done. There is nothing more valuable than the work carried out for old people by the Women's Voluntary Service.

I hope that we shall not see a recruiting drive by the local authorities as a result of the Bill, which could only impose a burden on the national finances and on the taxpayer. I hope that we shall see the consciences of people being stirred and see them moved into those voluntary organisations which have played such an important part in the country's activities for many years. I hope that we shall see more and more people helping them in their work.

I wonder whether my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health can say whether any estimate has been made of the cost which is likely to fall on the Exchequer for operating the terms of the Bill. I should think that it is very difficult to make any estimate at this juncture, but I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to give us some guidance. I should also like to have confirmation of the statement made by my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South that people who are not necessarily old could fall within the scope of the Bill. I know of many distressing cases of people at a very early age who are ill with incurable diseases. I know of people who have to go to hospital, which is not always desirable except as a last resort, and I know of their difficulty in obtaining nourishment.

I was glad to hear that these people will fall within the scope of the Bill, but it will appear from Clause 1 that the Bill caters only for old people. I do not know who old people really are. We have one hon. Member of this House, who unfortunately is now ill, who is 90 years of age and he certainly does not strike me as being an old person. I should like to feel that people who are probably well below my own age but have been struck down with one of these incurable illnesses can look for the assistance of voluntary services under the Bill. I understand that in many cases voluntary organisations already give assistance to such people, but I should like to be assured by the Parlia- mentary Secretary that those organisations will not be restricted in any way by the intrdouction of the Bill.

11.35 a.m.

Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, West)

I join the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) in congratulating the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. G. Johnson Smith) both on his choice of Bill and on the way he has steered it through its various stages. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South, in a delightful speech this morning, proved once again that he brings to the House a warm heart as well as a good head. I am glad that I was here to hear his Third Reading speech.

I also congratulate the hon. Member on achieving the apparently impossible and converting the hon. Member for Exeter, who was responsible for blocking the Bill when it was brought forward originally by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, East (Mr. McLeavy). It is conversion only equalled by Saul of Tarsus. It is a good thing for the old folk and for the House that the hon. Member for Exeter has seen the light, as he so evidently has.

Mr. Dudley Williams

On this occasion, the Bill has been explained much more admirably by my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South.

Mr. McLeavy

I never had the chance of explaining it.

Mr. Thomas

I will leave it there, because there is a good spirit in the House and I want to speak on this Bill.

It was my privilege in the early days after the war, when we were laying the foundation stone for a new Welfare State, to hear a great many hon. Members and right hon. Members in the House express fears that the greater measure of social security which was being introduced in the post-war era would suffocate the voluntary spirit. The history of this island proves time and time again that where there is no voluntary spirit a community becomes and and loses something of imperishable value. But with the passing of the years it has been proved beyond peradventure that the British people will find ways of giving voluntary service. Despite the tribute which my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, East has paid to our social services—which are no longer the envy of the world because, as the House will know, some countries have better social services than we have—and despite all the privileges and advantages of our social services, there are gaps to be filled. The Bill is highly important because it will fill a very serious gap in the Welfare State.

The Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance has drawn our attention over the years to the vast increase in the numbers of elderly folk in our community and the consciences of our people have been disturbed by the needs of folk who ought to be cared for by the young and able-bodied. The cornerstone of our Welfare State surely is that the strong care for the weak and the rich care for the poor. We do it socially so that there is no patronage but a sense of service where a community, young and old, combine in caring for all who are in special need.

I believe that the Bill will meet more than a physical need on the part of the old folk. It will meet the need for fellowship. Recently my attention was drawn to a case where a baker was delivering a loaf of bread every day to an old lady who lived alone. He said to her, "I know that you are not eating this loaf of bread. You cannot eat this bread on your own. I think I had better call every other day." The old lady replied," Oh, no. You are the only person who calls whom I can talk to." I believe that if we could find the measure of how much loneliness there is among old folk who have outlived their own loved ones or who for some other reason are isolated we would be appalled at the number of old folk who have been forgotten in our community. This Measure will, I believe, bring new hope to old folk who are lonely and who are not likely to have a caller each day of the week.

High tribute has been paid to the W.V.S., the Red Cross and other voluntary organisations for the way in which they have been good Samaritans to elderly folk in the matter of providing meals. I join in that tribute. I recently paid a visit in Riverside, Cardiff, West to the W.V.S. centre, where I saw a great number of old folk whom I knew enjoying a meal provided by voluntary service. There were ladies there who need not have left their own homes to wait on the old folk. There were some working in the kitchen, whom I knew to be reasonably well off in life and who could have spent their time playing bridge or working for the party opposite. But, instead, they saved their own souls by voluntary service. It thrilled me when I saw the people who were giving themselves in good fellowship to old folk whom they had never known before but whom they treated as though they were their own folk.

Parallel in that ward and in the City of Cardiff with the meals in buildings service is the Meals on Wheels service. This, I believe, is tremendously important, because old folk will not be bothered to cook a meal if they are on their own, and especially if the years have brought infirmity. It is only through the voluntary agencies—and now, I hope, the local authorities with the voluntary agencies—which reach them with a cooked meal that they are likely to have the assistance to which, goodness knows, they are entitled.

I am pleased that the Bill gives local authorities power not only to provide meals but to provide recreation for old people in their homes or elsewhere. Quite clearly, a new approach to the problems of our aged folk is breaking through. In the City of Cardiff we have, it is estimated, between 30,000 and 35,000 old-age pensioners, all of whom, I suppose, qualify for some facilities to be made available to them. Could the Parliamentary Secretary when replying, or the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South, who probably knows the Bill better than the hon. Lady does, tell me whether the Old-age Pensioners' Association, which has branches in all our constituencies in great numbers, will be able to have assistance under this Measure to provide recreation for the old folk? Whenever I visit on old-age pensioner's branch—and I have six or seven in my constituency—I find them entertaining the old folk and providing cups of tea. It is a voluntary activity amongst themselves. I should have thought that under this Measure it would be possible for local authorities to use these voluntary organisations as well to provide recreation for these old folk. If this is included it will be even a more substantial Measure than I had thought at first glance.

I do not under-estimate the change that this Measure will bring into the life of our old people. I hope that the local authorities will follow the advice given by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, East, and I say to him that this is a day of which he has every reason to be proud. The House understands how Opposition Private Members' Bills from time to time get suffocated, but it remembers who shows the initiative, and my hon. Friend has a very honourable record in trying to get what now the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South has succeeded in getting for the old folk.

I hope that the local authorities will be liberal in interpreting the terms of the Bill and will realise that the conscience of the British people is disturbed by the need of these old folk. I trust that the House will give its blessing to this Measure and that it may soon reach the Statute Book.

11.47 a.m.

Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)

I am very glad to be able to join with other hon. Members in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. G. Johnson Smith) on his success in the Ballot, his good sense and his charming Third Reading speech. I should also like to congratulate the hon. Member for Bradford, East (Mr. McLeavy) on having his name first among the names of those backing the Bill and on all his good work in the past. I am profoundly grateful to my hon. Friend for having reminded the House in his Third Reading speech of the specific point which I raised in Committee that people who are sick, sometimes permanently sick, but not necessarily aged should have the benefit of the advantages which his Bill produces. That, I believe, was a most important point, and I am grateful to him for dotting the i's and crossing the t's of the assurance that he gave me in Committee

The one point that I want to make about the Bill is that it is a substantial step forward in the right direction for our welfare social services. It is another step towards seeing that the welfare ser- vices of the nation are directed to the benefit of those who most need them. In the past, far too much welfare effort has been dissipated in directions where, frankly, it was not needed. The Bill is directing the effort entirely to those in need, and for this reason I believe it to be a particularly fine Measure that redounds to the credit of the two hon. Members I have mentioned. I believe that hon. Members on both sides of the House are showing the way that the welfare services of the country should go in the future.

Like other hon. Members, I wish to pay tribute to the work of the voluntary services, but I cannot help but be reminded, through the speech made by the hon. Member for Bradford, East, of the slight difficulty that one of my right hon. Friends got into some months ago when speaking on military matters. If I remember correctly, my right hon. Friend said that he preferred one English volunteer to ten German conscripts. The hon. Member for Bradford, East said that he preferred one W.V.S. or other voluntary worker to twelve paid workers. I hope that the hon. Member will not get into too much trouble with the salaried welfare workers in Bradford.

Incidentally, it is right to point out that many young men take part in these voluntary services. Many of them devote hours of their time to this work, even though they are newly married. We have all heard of various voluntary clubs like the Lions Club and the Round Table. One could go on naming them for a long time. This work is not entirely the sphere of the ladies. As my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) reminded the House, these voluntary workers are not only seeing their duty but doing it. They are a fine manifestation of the spirit which is abroad in this country.

In paying my tribute to these voluntary services I express the view that it is particularly gratifying that the Bill is a step in the right direction.

11.51 a.m.

Mr. A. E. Hunter (Feltham)

I am pleased to be able to take part in the Third Reading debate on the Bill. In the previous Parliament, when my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, East (Mr. McLeavy) introduced a similar Bill, I took part in the debate on it, in an endeavour to persuade the Government to make it law. It therefore gives me a double pleasure to be able to congratulate the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. G. Johnson Smith) whose constituency I know so well, upon introducing a Bill of this nature and obtaining the unanimous support of the House. The hon. Member is correct when he says that there are many poor old people in his district. There are many poor aged people in all our towns and oities, and the Bill will definitely bring a service to them, and also to the infirm, as I have been pleased to learn today.

I remember when the Meals on Wheels service began in Feltham a few years ago. I had the pleasure of going round on the first day with the W.V.S. when they were serving the first hot meals. I was able to appreciate the pleasure which that service was going to give old people, some of whom cannot always cook their own meals. We also have a service which enabled a person, for a modest charge, to obtain a meal in certain restaurants. Both services are appreciated and I have seen the old folk enjoying their meals in the restaurants.

The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South told us that about 2½ million of these hot meals are served each year, and that it is hoped to reach a total of 4 million. The hon. Member even expressed the hope that it would eventually be able to reach a figure of 6 million. We can all join in that hope. The Bill will enable local authorities to help in providing this service in areas where it is difficult to obtain voluntary workers, because of the size of the area or for other reasons.

I also support what my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) said about recreation for old people. That is very important. As the years go by old people often become lonely, and need fellowship and friendship. In my constituency various Darby and Joan clubs and old-age pensioners' associations play a useful part in community life. They have weekly meetings, where they play card games and dominoes, and talk and also have tea. Some even have their own concert parties, and some of the old people give singing performances not only in their own clubs but in others. It is a case of the old helping the old. Some of their activities to assist each other show that the community spirit is alive in this country.

In addition, some of these old people's clubs arrange four or five visits to the seaside each year—from the London area to places like Brighton and Eastbourne. The old people love these seaside visits and also the theatre visits at Christmas. All that, linked up with the Meals on Wheels service, the restaurant service and the recreational facilities provided, does a great deal for the old people, and this Bill will assist these efforts.

However much we expand our social services—and no one wants to do so more than my hon. Friends and I—a gap exists. I trust that pensions will be increased, but if old people are infirm they cannot always cook a proper meal. These hot meals, taken to them during the day, are an enormous benefit. Further, there is the question of illness. A W.V.S. or voluntary worker who visits these homes is able to call the health authorities when necessary, in order to ensure that the old people receive medical help.

It gives me great pleasure to support the Bill. It is not a large one—it is a simple one—but it is one of great humanity. I am sure that the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South is pleased to have had the honour of introducing it, and to know that it will receive a unanimous Third Reading. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, East also feels repaid for his past efforts. The Bill will bring benefit and great assistance to many of our old people. Like other hon. Members, I should like to extend my thanks to the W.V.S. and other voluntary workers for their work for the old people.

11.57 a.m.

Dr. Alan Glyn (Clapham)

Like the hon. Member for Feltham (Mr. Hunter) I have been round with the W.V.S. on its Meals on Wheels service. I agree that it brings to the homes of old people not only a meal, which they may be unable to cook for themselves, but also friendliness. The people who receive these meals wait anxiously not only for those meals but for the charming human contact that goes with them.

The hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) said that his hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, East (Mr. McLeavy) had been responsible for a similar Bill in the past. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. G. Johnson Smith) will enjoy sharing in the praise that has been expressed for the work that has been done in this connection, both now and at an earlier stage. I congratulate my hon. Friend. We all know of his feelings in the matter, and the work which he and the hon. Member for Bradford, East have done for the old people.

This is a great triumph in my hon. Friend's Parliamentary career. Small though the Bill is, consisting of only one-and-a-half pages, it brings about a revolutionary change in relation to services for the old people, in that it enables local authorities to give just that extra little help where it was lacking in the past.

The hon. Member for Cardiff, West raised the point which should be re-emphasised. Unfortunately, in this century many of our young people are failing to bear their full responsibility for the old.

Mr. G. Thomas

I should like to tell the hon. Member that the young people of Ely and Fairwater and Cardiff, an area which he knows so well, are undertaking a survey into the needs of the old folk who are living alone. That is a very encouraging feature, bearing in mind what the hon. Member is saying.

Dr. Glyn

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that information. I know that the arguments which he adduced in his speech, and which I am now urging, will spur on young people in this country, and may cause them to realise that even with an increase in the social service facilities, their responsibilities and obligations to the old people are as great as ever. In fact, with increasing longevity, it may be that those responsibilities, both from the family point of view and from the point of view of the community as a whole, are increased.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will emphasise that these services are not confined to any particular age group, but that the infirm and those who are unable to look after themselves can benefit. This point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams). I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will clear up any misunderstanding which may exist among members of local authorities about the scope of service operated by the W.V.S.

My constituency is one of the biggest in that part of the country, certainly in London, and there the W.V.S. operates a Meals on Wheels service together with other services. Vehicles and drivers are provided by the local authority, and the L.C.C. subsidises the cost of the meals. But the actual service is provided by members of the W.V.S. The provisions in this Bill will enable the service to be expanded and that is something which we all want to see. I hope that as a result of this debate people will be encouraged to give their services in a voluntary capacity. At Wandsworth—I make no apology for mentioning my own constituency borough—we have started a luncheon club which has gained considerably, and will gain, from the help given by local authorities.

It is not only a question of providing a service which cannot be bought. The whole idea behind the service and the fact that people visit their homes, makes the old and infirm realise that they are not forgotten, that they are still members of the community; that the work which they have done in the past is appreciated and that their company is still enjoyed.

I hope that the local authorities will be enabled to assist the Darby and Joan clubs. Many of my constituents belong to several of these clubs. It is just the cup of tea and biscuit, or the raffle for some small article which attracts them, and the fact that belonging to a club enables them to overcome the dreadful feeling of loneliness which afflicts some people. It may be that their children have left the district and in the latter part of their lives these people have been left utterly alone. They look forward to their visits to the clubs where they will enjoy the fellowship which they appreciate so much

I do not know how much more we can increase the services. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has an idea of the number of people who ought to be enjoying the Meals on Wheels and other services but are unable to do so because of the cost. I know that there are a large number of people for whom the provision of meals is a far more important and useful service than is represented by the advantage of an increase in their pension. We must recognise that with old people it is not always the amount of money which they possess which is important. Often the services which can be provided for them are much more important. Many old people are unable to cook for themselves. Frequently they have no stove on which they could cook meals. Again many old people do not feel inclined to prepare a meal just for one person.

Although this is but a small Bill, the contribution towards the social services of the country which may be made by its provisions is enormous. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South and the hon. Member for Bradford, East on introducing this Measure which I am pleased to note has been welcomed by hon. Members on both sides of the House.

12.6 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)

May I commence on the same note as the hon. Member for Clapham (Dr. Alan Glyn) concluded his speech and add my congratulations to those which have been extended to the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. G. Johnson Smith) and to my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, East (Mr. McLeavy) on introducing this Bill.

This is one of those happy occasions when, by general agreement, an all-party Measure is introduced in order to do good to others. I have been asked to express my good wishes for this Bill on behalf of the old-age pensioners' associations in West Ham. For many years the associations have enjoyed the benefit of assistance from the local authority in the shape of financial grants and other help and the services rendered by members of the W.V.S. This Bill will enable a Meals on Wheels service to be enjoyed and help and assistance to be provided in other ways.

I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will confirm that such assistance will not be confined to old-age pensioners. There are many other people—unfortunately there are a large number of them in my constituency, the blind and the infirm—who also need help. In my constituency there is a workshop where blind persons are employed and enabled to earn money with which they can meet some of their needs and enjoy some sort of recreation. I hope that the provisions in this Bill will enable further assistance to be provided.

Mention has been made of the outings which are arranged for old-age pensioners, and this is one way in which local authorities can help. The clubs and associations for old-age pensioners have to operate on restricted budgets and the old people are charged perhaps a penny or twopence a week and supplied with tea and cakes. But the associations take great pleasure in arranging outings during the summer for the old people, and it is remarkable how the old folk look forward to such outings. It would seem that the pleasure which the old people derive from those outings may add to the length of their lives. I know one old chap, 89 years of age, who recalls the wonderful time he enjoyed on a trip to Southend last summer. He is preparing for the outing which is to be arranged for the coming summer. I said, "I hope that on your 90th birthday you will be able to go on one of these trips", and he said," Oh yes, I have made up my mind that I shall be going then and I have booked my seat for it" These outings give these old people some desire to live. As I say, this man is looking forward to an outing on his 90th birthday, and this Bill will enable local authorities to help financially in providing these amenities.

Another thing of importance is that during the dark, dreary, and miserable days and nights of winter when the old people have nowhere to go and nothing to do, my associations run outings to such places as Wembley to see the ice show. It is surprising how elderly people look forward to seeing young people skating around on the ice. They book their seats from one year to the next. Last winter they went to the ice show at Wembley, and they have already made their bookings for the next show. I pay tribute to the management of some of these theatres for providing cheap tickets for elderly people, and for announcing over the loudspeakers that a party of 100 old-age pensioners from, say, Holborn have arrived to see the show.

This Bill will give local authorities the chance to support and finance some of these outings, because it refers not only to Meals on Wheels but also to recreation, and going to theatres is certainly recreation even though the old people do not skate but merely watch the youngsters on the ice.

The Bill also says that local authorities may make available furniture, vehicles, or equipment, whether by way of gift or loan. I congratulate the sponsors of the Bill on having this provision in the Bill, because often local authorities have an old piano in the town hall which they would be only too pleased to give away to an old-age pensioners' club, and this Bill will enable them to do that. Also, chairs and tables which may be regarded as obsolete by a local authority would probably be greatly appreciated by some of these clubs.

Lastly, I hope that local authorities will not take the view that as this Bill is merely permissive they need not do anything to help old people. I hope that they will not take the attitude that because they are not compelled to do something they will make no attempt to help. I hope that local authorities will make as much use of the provisions of the Bill as possible, even though doing so may mean the addition of a penny or halfpenny on the rates.

What difference would it make if the action of a local authority resulted in that small increase in the rates? I am sure that there is not one elector in any borough who would object to a local authority making a contribution of £X to old age pensioners to help their club or to give them an outing. I therefore ask all local authorities to use the provisions of the Bill to the utmost, and not do what some local authorities have done in the past and say that because they do not have to do something they will not do it because it may mean a penny or so on the rates.

Dr. Alan Glyn

Most London boroughs, and certainly my borough, help considerably. This may not be the case throughout the country, but certainly in London the boroughs help as much as they can.

Mr. Lewis

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that most, if not all, London boroughs help, but there are various other permissive Acts which allow an authority to do things but it does not do them. For example, local authorities are permitted to give so much to the arts and to local theatres, but some local authorities do not take advantage of these provisions because they say that assistance would mean the addition of, say, 2d. on the rates.

I repeat that I hope local authorities will not say, "We would like to do this, but it will mean paying out a few thousand £s more." I am sure that, irrespective of their political opinions, 99 per cent. of the people of this country would support a local authority if it spent a reasonable sum helping old-age people and the infirm by taking advantage of the provisions of this Bill. I therefore ask the House to give the Bill an unopposed Third Reading, and I wish it well in its application by local authorities.

12.17 p.m.

Mr. W. R. Williams (Manchester, Openshaw)

Before the Parliamentary Secretary rises to bestow the Government's blessing on the Bill, as I hope she will, perhaps you, Mr. Speaker, and the House would allow me, in a more or less official way, to associate hon. and right hon. Members on this side of the House with the Bill and with the speeches which have been made this morning.

I do not propose to speak for any length of time, because I think that in some respects this has been a model debate. I think that practically every aspect of the problem has been touched on, and I am not one of those who believes that repetition for the sake of repetition adds anything to any debate or to any substantial Measure. However, I associate this side of the House with the congratulations extended to the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. G. Johnson Smith) for his work on the Bill. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that this is the culmination of a long struggle by hon. Members on both sides of the House, and I should like to mention particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, East (Mr. McLeavy), because I have from time to time been associated with him in some of the efforts that he has made in this connection.

I think that I must correct one small mistake made by the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams), when he said that he had been convinced by the speech made this morning to support the Bill which he had opposed so vigorously before, the assumption being, I take it, the speech of my hon. Friend had not convinced him. Just for the sake of the record, may I say that my hon. Friend was not even allowed to make his speech in support of the Motion that he had before the House, and, therefore, I am afraid that the argument of the hon. Member for Exeter is rather invalid on that point. Nevertheless, like my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas), I am glad to see any penitent coming to the Box, even if it is at the eleventh hour, and we are glad to welcome him.

We are only laying down new opportunities. We are only providing new media, new vehicles. We are providing opportunities not for this House, but for local authorities, the young and the middle-aged to do more for old people than they have done in the past. I ask the Press and those who are here representing the B.B.C. and the Independent Television Authority to regard this debate as something which is well worth publicising because of the great possibilities which may emerge from it for the old, the sick, the disabled and the crippled. I hope that, if they can, they will make an appeal particularly to young people.

When I was a boy in Cwmyglo, in North Wales, a little village of about 200 people, there was a great deal of poverty. This poverty could not be overcome by Public Assistance or anything like that because the bulk of the people were too proud to go for Public Assistance. It was done by families trying to help one another. About three doors from me, an old lady, Mrs. Jane Owen, lived, and every Sunday my brother and I had to take a bit of Sunday dinner to her. I used to hate the job because I was hungry myself. We did not have very big meals during the week and we looked forward to the Sunday meal. I was very fed up because, before I could look at my own nosebag, I had to make sure that I had taken Mrs. Jane Owen's dinner in. Looking back on it, I think that this was a great thing that my parents did for me in my early days. I should like an appeal to go out from the House that parents today should accept it as an obligation upon them to try to encourage our boys and girls to think that it is a great service to look after old people in their poverty and loneliness.

Tomorrow, I shall be going to the old-age pensioners' annual dinner in my constituency. Believe me, this will be the chirpiest and happiest event of the year for me, because although these folk are old in years they will probably be the youngest at that party. It will give them a big kick when I tell them that we in the House of Commons are thinking about them in their poverty, loneliness or sickness and trying to provide ways and means whereby others can help them a little more.

I always regard loneliness as worse, perhaps, than poverty in the long run. A person can stick an awful lot of wanting something to eat but he cannot stick the boredom and depression of loneliness. Many people in my constituency, in the W.V.S. and the church and chapel organisations, are taking increasingly upon themselves the job of visiting old people in their houses and asking them to come to their own houses in return. In this way, old people are being brought back into the wide stream of common community interest.

It is in that spirit that I associate this side of the House officially with what has been done in the Bill. It provides only the vehicle, of course; the inspiration and the drive must come from others, men and women, old, middle-aged and young. I warmly support the Third Reading of the Bill.

12.23 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Miss Edith Pitt)

I am in a very happy position this morning, the tenth speaker on a Bill in a debate in which all hon. Members on both sides have spoken in complete harmony. As will be known from the Bill's earlier stages, which it passed through very expeditiously, it has the full support of the Government. The Government welcome the proposals in the Bill to enable local authorities and voluntary organisations in partnership to extend the services for the care of the elderly, particularly in their own homes. I stress that it is my right hon. Friend's policy, which I myself warmly support, to encourage partnership between the statutory agencies and the voluntary organisations.

All our speeches today have stressed the value of the service which the Bill will enable to be more extensively provided. Such service is already provided by some authorities who have sought private powers. We all know that one of the great problems of old age is loneliness.

I can add from personal experience to what has been said already about the value put by old people on visits, on the human contact, to quote my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. G. Johnson Smith). In the days when I earned my living as a factory welfare officer, it was a very pleasant part of my job to keep in touch with the pensioners of the firm. I never had to talk when I went to them. I sat at the receiving end while my old pensioner friends talked to me. It is so important in connection with the Bill's provisions that not only may a hot meal be provided for people who might not otherwise take the trouble or be able to provide it for themselves but that someone will call upon them who is interested and who will put them in touch with other branches of the social service if there is need.

The purposes of the Bill are particularly well suited to the voluntary organisations. My right hon. Friend is confident that the local authorities with these additional powers will do all they can to help the voluntary organisations to make their maximum contribution. Where the voluntary organisations are not able to provide a service in a particular area, the local authority will now have power to provide it directly.

When they do so, or when they use voluntary organisations as agents under the new Section 31 (1) proposed by Clause 1, authorities should not make charges for meals which would cause recipients to have recourse to National Assistance for help or for additional help in meeting the charges. One hopes that the charge would be within the means of the recipient while, at the same time, of course, preserving the independence of the recipient.[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] I gather from the approving voices about me that this has the full support of hon. Members.

Mr. Hunter

I think that most of them charge Is. I do not think that anyone charges more.

Miss Pitt

I should hope that a figure about that would be fairly general. I support the view that the charge should be reasonable, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend can rely on local authorities to exercise discretion in this way. I put it on record again that this is something to which he attaches great importance.

My right hon. Friend and the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance will be reviewing the position from time to time to see how the various schemes are working. Accordingly, there has been no Government Amendment to the Bill today. As hon. Members who served on the Committee will recall, I gave notice that we were considering the point about charges and I reserved the Government's position. However, the Government have given the matter consideration, and—I having made this statement of the Government's view today—we feel that we can rely on local authorities to be reasonable. As is usual, we shall, when the Bill reaches the Statute Book, give local authorities guidance on the point.

The hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) asked whether the provisions of the Bill in regard to recreation would extend to voluntary organisations such as the old-age pensioners' associations, I am advised that the answer is "Yes". I think that that answers a question asked by several hon. Members.

My hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams), who is no longer with us, asked whether I could give an estimate of the cost involved. I cannot give any estimate because we do not know to what extent the local authorities will use their powers, but, as we have all expressed our warm support, I hope that they will use their powers extensively.

A number of hon. Members asked me to say what the position of the disabled is. In particular, I was asked to confirm the statement of my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South that the provision would extend to the disabled. I want to make it clear that the Bill does not cover the disabled, but, as my hon. Friend said in Committee, powers to provide services for the disabled already exist in Section 29 of the National Assistance Act. That was the point my hon. Friend had in mind in raising the matter this morning.

There is a distinction, because the Bill extends to district authorities and enables them to provide meals and recreation, whereas the powers of local authorities in connection with welfare services for the disabled under Section 29 of the National Assistance Act apply to counties and county boroughs. Therefore, it would be a little difficult to consider extending the Bill into a field which is limited to counties and county boroughs.

What matters is to know that the power is already there under Section 29, and I have no doubt that the more widely voluntary organisations are able to provide meals for old people the more widely they can be made available to the disabled in the same area, because it would still be covered by powers already possessed by the various local authorities.

It is Government policy, which I am quite sure is warmly supported by every hon. Member who is here today, to encourage and help old people to remain in their own homes. That is the right thing. They want to be in their own places with their own bits and pieces around them. They very much cherish their independence. The Bill will make a contribution towards enabling people to stay on in their own homes, particularly those who are becoming a little infirm. The Bill, which extends the support which can be given through local authorities and voluntary organisations, is fully deserving of the encouragement that has been given this morning. All of us who have played our part in this modest—by comparison—but important Measure will have good reason to feel happy that we have helped in a Measure which will help in the comfort of elderly citizens amongst us.

Finally, I want to pay my own tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South for choosing this Bill when he was fortunate in the Ballot. I know that with his full support I may extend the tribute also to the hon. Member for Bradford, East (Mr. McLeavy) who has long pursued this cause. I am very glad to express Government support and my own most warm support for this Measure. I am happy that the House is prepared to speed it on its way.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.