HC Deb 26 June 1969 vol 785 cc1706-7
Q5. Mr. Whitaker

asked the Prime Minister whether he will state the order of priority, on the grounds of urgency, of the social problems requiring Government money.

The Prime Minister

The Government's priorities are expressed in the allocations of public expenditure announced from time to time. For expenditure in the years 1968–69 to 1970–71 I would refer my hon. Friend to the White Paper Cmnd. 3936 published in February this year.

Mr. Whitaker

Should not the country mobilise all its resources to eliminate all homelessness in view of the permanent damage done to the children of broken families which results from that, before embarking on luxuries such as colour television?

The Prime Minister

This is one of the important priorities. The point that I wish to make—and this is why I use the word "allocations"—is that for very many years, for generations, for successive Governments, however high the priority that is given to one particular subject, it cannot have an absolute priority over all others, in the sense, for example, that education should have priority over social security benefits, or the other way around. At the margin, the test has to be made within the expanding but limited total of Government expenditure. This is expressed in the allocations published in the Vote on Account and in the White Paper.

Mr. Thorpe

In support of the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Whitaker), is it not a fact that there are people living in upwards of 2 million houses which should be condemned as unfit, some of which will not be demolished for upwards of seven years, and most of which are without running water and indoor sanitation? Surely this is one of the greatest social evils, from which many other evils flow?

The Prime Minister

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman about the social evils of overcrowding and about houses inherited from past generations, indeed from the past century which lack all the necessary amenities. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman will play his full part in the later stages of the Housing Bill this afternoon which deals to a unique and unprecedented extent with the help being given by the Government for modernising many of these houses.

Mr. Hooley

Would my right hon. Friend agree that in relation to housing the sense of priority of Tory councils in the country is slipping disastrously?

The Prime Minister

I do not think that one would use the phrase "social priorities" in connection with most of the Tory councils. On the other hand, I think that my hon. Friend may be being unfair, because we have seen a considerable degree of Press reporting and briefing to the effect that they are not able to take their own decisions, but are co-ordinated by right hon. Gentlemen opposite.

Mr. Astor

Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that provision for disabled people, especially the civilian disabled, including housewives, is quite inadequate? Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that their problems will be given a high priority in considering the allocation of resources?

The Prime Minister

I think that the hon. Gentleman is right to bring before the House one of the many unsolved problems of the social services with which the House has tried to be concerned. I think that the hon. Gentleman will welcome the great progress made, and the vastly increased social security expenditure under this Government as compared with the previous Government in the matter of disablement, but I should not disagree with the hon. Gentleman's reference to the continuance of this problem.