HC Deb 11 May 1970 vol 801 cc961-71

10.11 p.m.

Dame Joan Vickers

I beg to move Amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 8, leave out ' social ' and insert ' community '.

Mr. Speaker

With this Amendment I suggest we take Amendments Nos. 1, 2 to 11, 47, 13 to 29, 33, 35, 36 and 39, which seek to replace the word " social " by " community " wherever it occurs in the Bill.

Dame Joan Vickers

We are very pleased to see the Home Secretary here. I do not know whether this is a take-over bid as there does not seem to be anybody here from the other Department. The Welsh Office is represented, but what has happened to the other Ministry? Perhaps we shall later get our wish and have one Minister, which will be a great advantage.

I refer to paragraph 2 of Chapter I of the Seebohm Report which reads: We recommend a new local authority department, providing a community based and family oriented service, which will be available to all. This new department will, we believe, reach far beyond the discovery and rescue of social casualties; it will enable the greatest possible number of individuals to act reciprocally, giving and receiving service for the wellbeing of the whole community. That is one reason why I suggest that the name of the committee should be the Community Service Committee.

I am also fortified by the charming words of the Minister of State, who said in Committee: I am prepared now to listen to the Committee's views on the titles proposed, but I urge the Committee to choose a title wide enough to take in all of the functions we have now and which we envisage for the future and also not to burke the work of finding another name for the rose."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, Standing Committee B, 19th March 1970; c. 38.] The Minister had previously shown us how wide the service will be. She also said that she was not at all dogmatic on this and was prepared to listen to argument, and I am sorry that an Amendment on these lines has not been put down by the Government.

On 16th June, 1969, the Home Secretary announced to Parliament that three local authorities, Coventry, Liverpool and Southwark, had agreed to take part in the Community Development Project, which I think is an extremely good idea, and I understand its work well. This is a neighbourhood-based experiment aimed at finding new ways of meeting the needs of people living in areas of high social deprivation, and bringing together the work of all the social services under the leadership of a special project team, and also of tapping resources of self-help and mutual help which may exist among the people in the neighbourhood. This is surely what we want this committee to do, and I therefore think that the name I suggest is much more appropriate than the one contemplated.

When the United Nations set up the Temporary Social Committee of the United Nations immediately after the war it set the standard to be attained in social work programmes as the well-being of the community so as to enable each to develop his personality and at the same time to enjoy from youth to old age as full a life as may be possible. This is what we are trying to do, as outlined in the Seebohm Report. We wish to see a society which truly seeks the welfare of its members and is concerned that they shall not just live but have opportunities for abundant life.

So the name " community service " seems to cover our intentions. As far back as 1873, Canon Barnett, in White-chapel, recognised the need, and community services were started. Community centres have been able to do what we hope the Bill will do—bring people of all kinds together to work not only in the usual way, but, as advocated in the Seebohm Report, helping each other.

The name " Social Security " has not brought in the people we wanted to help. Many proud, poor people still do not seek help there. If it could have an all-embracing name, this might help. Also, those in the new department should come from different backgrounds and training. Many of them will not be social science students: indeed, in the beginning they will be in the minority. The suggestion that they will be working in a community committee for the community appeals to me and, I hope, will also appeal to the hon. Lady.

As the Government still have not made up their mind which Minister will be responsible for this—

Mr. Maddan

The Home Secretary.

10.15 p.m.

Dame Joan Vickers

We do not know. Perhaps we will be told tonight. We do not even know the duties of the different Departments. When I asked the hon. Lady to answer questions, we found that there would be a division of responsibility among at least three Departments. Perhaps we will learn more tonight.

It is not just a community of people involved: there will be a community of Ministers to deal with this problem. This makes the suggested title of the committee more sensible. It will also be all-embracing and will get away from the connotations of " social work ", " social welfare " or " social services " and will widen the idea from that of simply a children's department.

With these few suggestions, I hope that the Amendment will be accepted. This covers such a large number of services and is a real community service, as the hon. Lady said, so it should be called by its right name.

Mrs. Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)

We are obsessed with the notion that the bigger the umbrella the more efficient its covering power. This is a fallacy. The diminution of the status of health to a mere corner in the vast and impersonal Department of Health and Social Security has not benefited the Health Service. I could give many examples of this, but that would not be in order. I do not want this name, this vast, complex, complicated octopus of a name, to extend its tentacles even into the town hall.

What does the term " social service " mean to the ordinary people in the street? It means pensions, maternity benefits, unemployment pay, stamps on the card and national assistance. It would baffle the ordinary poor person if it also meant a local authority committee with many other interests and concerns as well. If the name is to mean anything, it cannot mean everything. We have to decide which we want.

I have done some consumer research on the suggestion put forward by my hon. Friend. Last week, I attended a session of the Conference of the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health, where I spoke to health officers, doctors, nurses and many others who are concerned with health and with many of the matters which this proposed local authority committee will concern itself. I put it to them whether they felt that it should be called the social services committee. I explained many of its tasks. I asked them whether they would prefer it to be known as the community services committee. All of them felt strongly, like my hon. Friend, that " community services " was the better name for the work that the Committee will do.

This may seem a small point, but it is an important one. I repeat, if we want it to mean anything, we cannot have it meaning everything. " Community services " is a wide term, but it is one which covers exactly what the committees will mean to the man in the street.

For those reasons, I support my hon. Friend's Amendment.

The Minister of State, Welsh Office (Mrs. Eirene White)

Those of us who had the privilege to serve on the Standing Committee which considered the Bill know that my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Department admitted that there were arguments in favour of various possible names. We had a very interesting discussion, and the Committee was by no means united. Various suggestions were made, but the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Worsley) confessed that he had no firm views and put forward no positive proposal. My hon. Friend said that she was open to suggestions if the Committee could get any consensus. However, I am afraid that we have had no convincing representations that any change in the name proposed in the Bill is desirable.

The hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) have suggested that we should change the name to " community services ". We have this very long list of Amendments, one or two of which would present technical difficulties if they were adopted. I will not stress that point, although it would be a little odd if my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Services was confined to community services when his responsibilities are very much wider. I do not rest the case on rather narrow technical points. We have given a great deal of thought to this matter since the first sitting of the Committee when it was originally discussed. We cannot feel convinced that a change is desirable.

There are certain objections to " social services ". Equally, there are strong objections to the hon. Lady's suggestion. In the opening paragraphs of its report, the Seebohm Committee said that we should be providing a community-based and family-orientated service, but it had no hesitation in saying that the services which it described should be called " social services " and that the committee of the local authority should be called the " social services " committee.

In Committee my hon. Friend pointed out some of the difficulties about using the word " community ". It has other connotations. In various parts of the country, we have organisations or committees concerned with race relations which are commonly referred to as " community relations committees ". In other areas we have rural community councils or simply community councils working under the general aegis of the National Council of Social Service.

We came across this difficulty when considering local government reform in Wales. In parts of Wales we are proposing a tiered system of local government where the grass roots organisation might be called a community council. So all kinds of problems would arise if we adopted the suggestion put forward by the hon. Members for Plymouth, Devonport and Birmingham, Edgbaston.

I think that two of the most convincing facts in this situation are that the local authorities appear fully to accept the name proposed in the Bill, because a number are already, prior to our concluding the legislative process, advertising for directors of social service. It would be confusing if, halfway through, we altered that. It is more particularly an indication that the local authorities are content with the name.

Furthermore, as I said, we had this discussion in Committee on the first sitting. Therefore, there has been some time since 19th March, when we deliberated on this matter, for the voluntary organisations or for local authority organisations to make representations, if they wished. Considerable attention was paid by representatives of many leading voluntary organisations to the first sitting in Committee. I have made inquiries to ascertain whether we have received any representations from those who, after all, will be working the Bill. We find that, by and large, they seem perfectly content with the nomenclature in the Bill.

As my hon. Friend said in Committee, we did not wish to be dogmatic. We have thought about this point. We fully appreciate that there are arguments for and against various names. But, after really careful consideration, we think it better to leave the name as it is in the Seebohm Report and in the Bill which gives effect to it.

Mr. Fortescue

If I may presume to intervene in something which, in my colonial service days, I would have known, without disrespect, as mammy palaver, I should like to point out that the Minister first said that she had heard no convincing representations in favour of a change of name and then, a few moments later, out of her own mouth, gave a good reason why it should be changed.

In groping for the official title of her right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman), who, we are sorry to see, is not present this evening, the hon. Lady finally described him as the Secretary of State for Health and Social Services. That is not his title. He is the Secretary of State for Social Services, which embraces the Department of Health and Social Security.

As the local authority social services committee will not embrace health at all, surely if we call it the social services committee, when the Secretary of State of State for Social Services covers, health, confusion is bound to arise—[An HON. MEMBER: " Why? "] Because the Secretary of State for Social Services deals with health and—I emphasise " and "social security and the proposed local authority social service committee will not embrace health matters. So " social services " means two entirely different things in two entirely different contexts.

Mrs. White

If the Amendment were accepted my right hon. Friend would lose his health functions entirely.

Mr. Fortescue

I do not see that. If the Amendment were accepted the local authority social services committee would be called the community services committee and would not be confused with the functions of the Secretary of State for Social Services, which includes health functions. Although I was not convinced when the debate started, in view of this undoubted anomaly I support the Amendment.

Mr. Silvester

Hon. Members may think it odd that I should even bother to intervene, but I think that there is a very important point to be considered which I made in Committee. The Minister of State spoke of the local authorities, the Seebohm Report, the social welfare workers and the Secretary of State. The only person to whom the right hon. Lady has not spoken is the consumer.

I come from a background which, if it is labelling a product, or a company, or anything, seeks to find out what the consumer thinks of the name. I may be a voice crying in the wilderness, but there is a meaning to community. I do not know what it is, and I suspect that the right hon. Lady does not know what it is. There is a meaning to social services. Why not conduct a small piece of research to find out what the people likely to use these services feel about these names and the one which is most likely to accord with the things they most want from that service? It is an ordinary standard procedure, one which the Government could easily conduct between now and the time when the Bill comes back from another place.

The right hon. Lady has conducted her own poll. She is the nearest that we have got to finding out a piece of concrete information. I am not the slighest bit interested in what the Minister thinks. My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) is having a good go at what she thinks is right. There is only one person who knows what to call this service, and that is the consumer. For goodness sake ask him.

Amendment negatived.

Dame Joan Vickers

I beg to move Amendment No. 48, in page 3, line 35, after ' committee ' insert: ' on which there shall be at least one representative of the housing committee and one from the education committee '. The object of the Amendment is to ensure that there is liaison with the other committees. We discussed this fairly fully in Committee, and I shall not go over the details again. Seebohm was very interested in this question of housing, and since the Committee stage it has been represented to me that it is a great pity that we have not been able to get this kind of provision into the Bill.

I have here a letter which says: The position about school welfare also remains unsatisfactory. It should not be beyond the wit of man to disentangle routine school inquiry work from family service activities. As things are, there is a serious risk of overlap with Section 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act. 1963, and indeed with various parts of the 1969 Act. I am worried about council tenants being evicted. Paragraph 406 of the report deals with measures to avoid homelessness. Far too many people lose their accommodation. This is particularly true of council tenants, because it is easier to evict them than it is to evict private tenants because they are in arrears with their rent. I am convinced that most people are honest and wish to pay their rent. Generally, non-payment is due to financial difficulties. They fall behind with their rent because of illness, unemployment, or some other reason which means that they cannot pay their rent.

I should like to see an arrangement whereby when a person is two weeks in arrears with his rent somebody calls on him to find out why, and then reports the facts to the committee. Far too often a family is evicted, and at the last moment the children's department of the local authority has to take over the family. In some areas the family is divided. Accommodation is found for the wife and the children, but the man has to find his own accommodation. This is a deplorable state of affairs. The whole object of Seebohm was to try to keep the families together.

There is also the problem of the private tenants. Paragraph 407 of the report suggests means whereby these people can be helped. Only recently I had a case of a man in difficulty, and I mentioned it in Committee. I am sure that the right hon. Lady will be sorry to hear that the man concerned, who at that time had lost one leg, has now lost his other leg, and he had a debt of more than £200. I have been able, through trusts, to get this money. I am sure that it will be possible for him to be rehoused by the local authority, but in the meantime there has been this rent debt. There should be ways and means of dealing with such cases earlier.

So many things are being made obligatory on local authorities that it is reasonable to ask that a representative of the housing committee and a representative of the education committee should be on the social services committee to strengthen the essential liaison. I am in no way criticising the officials, who, of course, do their best, but it is important that local representatives should take far more interest in these problems. If these representatives were members of that committee, it might avoid some of these difficulties in future.

Mrs. White

The hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) realises, I am sure, that her Amendment refers only to joint social services committees; but that is a technical defect in the Amendment which I do not wish to stress.

We are entirely in sympathy with the hon. Lady's view that there should be the closest co-operation between housing committees and education committees, on the one hand, and the new social services committee, on the other. There is no difference between us about that. We followed with sympathy the cases she mentioned in Committee and tonight, in which a housing problem had a social service aspect, and vice versa.

But the hon. Lady is asking us to make it mandatory on local authorities to include certain of their members on one of their committees. It is true that from time to time in legislation it is suggested to local authorities that if they are cooperating for various purposes they should have regard to certain qualifications in co-opted members of particular committees, but we have never attempted to dictate to local authorities which on their own members should be elected to various committees, and it is not desirable to carry further by legislation such mandatory provisions on local authorities.

This is a machinery Bill and we are trying to confine it to the basic essentials to carry out the purpose of the Seebohm Report. We hope that local authorities will bear in mind what the hon. Lady said and the general feeling of the House, for we join her in hoping for the closest co-operation among these committees. It would be wise for them to do as she suggested in most cases, but it is not for the Government to dictate to local authorities which of their own members should sit on which committees.

Cross-representation might well be a suitable way in which local authorities should act, but it would not be right for us to legislate in a mandatory sense.

Amendment negatived.

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