HC Deb 30 November 1967 vol 755 cc638-41
Q6. Mr. Marquand

asked the Prime Minister whether he will appoint a Secretary of State for Social Affairs, with a seat in the Cabinet, to draw up and administer a poverty programme.

The Prime Minister

The House already knows of the duties of my right hon. Friend the First Secretary of State, as a very senior member of the Cabinet, in this field. I am not convinced that the creation of a new Department, bringing together the functions of a number of my right hon. Friends, would make for good administration, but I would be happy to consider any detailed arguments my hon. Friend would care to put to me.

Mr. Marquand

Will my right hon. Friend agree that, leaving aside the question of creating new Departments, if we are to have an effective incomes policy in the post-devaluation period, a poverty programme incorporating the phased introduction of a minimum wage will be more urgent than before, and can he at least set up an inter-departmental committee to examine that aspect?

The Prime Minister

These matters are being considered inter-departmentally under the general guidance of my right hon. Friend the First Secretary. My hon. Friend will be aware of the statement made in the debate earlier this week by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Social Security on the situation following devaluation.

Mr. Montgomery

As the Bill to increase family allowances gives a lot of help to people who do not need it and not to those who do need it, will the Prime Minister tell us exactly what the Government intend to do about the real causes of poverty in the country?

The Prime Minister

My right hon. Friend dealt with the question very fully in the debate on the Second Reading of the Family Allowances and National Insurance Bill, and the subject was also debated last summer. On the special problem of shielding those in greatest need from the effect of higher prices after devaluation, I have nothing to add to what my right hon. Friend said earlier in the week.

Lord Balniel

Is the Prime Minister aware that the statement made yesterday by the Minister of Social Security on how the Government are to protect the poorer sections of the community from the impact of devaluation is widely regarded as being evasive and complacent? Can he reply to this quite simple question: is it his intention to introduce legislation which will take effect before the winter in order to help the poorest sections of the community against the impact of devaluation?

The Prime Minister

We have done that with the Bill at present going through the House—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—and with the increase in the old-age pensions which happened earlier. I have nothing to add to what my right hon. Friend said, because the noble Lord will be aware that the expected increase in certain prices is not, by the trades themselves, expected to take place immediately, and the help we shall give will be pari passu with the need for it.

Mr. Tapsell

Is the Prime Minister aware that his answer is at complete variance with what the Minister of Social Security told us yesterday, when she made it perfectly clear that the Family Allowances and National Insurance Bill, which was introduced before devaluation, was quite separate from the pledge he gave that the vulnerable sections of the community would be protected from the serious price effects of devaluation?

The Prime Minister

That is exactly what I was trying to say to the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] That Bill was introduced in the face of great criticism from hon. Members opposite, when the announcement was made last July. It is entirely separate, as my right hon. Friend has said and as I have said, from the references in the statement of my right hon. Friend the former Chancellor of the Exchequer about helping those in greatest need. They will be helped as the increases in prices affecting them begin to take effect. That is what my right hon. Friend had in mind yesterday.

Mr. Heath

As the Prime Minister, in his broadcast, pledged himself to take these special measures, those must be in addition to the Bill at present before the House. If the Prime Minister has to wait until the poorer sections of the community suffer before introducing the legislation does he not realise that this is quite unsatisfactory and is not carrying out his pledge?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. In the broadcast and in the House, I said that we should act to protect them, and we shall do so as that protection is needed as a result of rising prices. I shall not take from the right hon. Gentleman any questions about the lower-paid people.

Mrs. Jeger

Is not my right hon. Friend aware that already many of these most vulnerable groups are suffering from increases in electricity charges, council house rents and school meal charges, and that some amelioration is most urgent?

The Prime Minister

The question of school meals was part of the announcement made in July, with which we are now dealing in legislation. I have already informed the House of the position over council house rents. The increase in electricity prices, which has been explained in the House and was announced as long ago as last May, at the beginning of the Whitsun Recess, has nothing to do with devaluation. The devaluation effects will be on certain food prices, which have not gone up yet as a result of devaluation—that is, apart from the very serious increases in certain meat prices due to the foot-and-mouth epidemic.

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