HC Deb 14 November 1972 vol 846 cc191-4
2. Mr. Meacher

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will make a statement on the assistance being given to the families of thalidomide children.

3. Mrs. Castle

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what assistance is now being given to the families of thalidomide children.

19. Mr. Ashley

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what action he is taking to ensure the welfare of thalidomide children; and if he will make a statement.

31. Mr. Edward Taylor

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he is satisfied with the degree of assistance being given to families of thalidomide children; and if he will make a statement.

Sir K. Joseph

As far as I am aware, these children are receiving all the help from my Department for which their parents have applied and to which their situation entitles them whether in cash or kind.

Mr. Meacher

Does the Secretary of State acknowledge that, casting aside all the legalisms of this case, he has an unavoidable moral responsibility to these children and that until he discharges it the sympathy expressed in the Prime Minister's letter published today will otherwise appear the cheapest complacency? Therefore, will not the Secretary of State carefully reconsider the setting up of a national fund for immediate and much fuller financial provision for these children before the time for their benefiting is altogether lost?

Sir K. Joseph

I am not aware of any case where the children or their families are being denied benefit to which they are entitled. The wider question which the hon. Gentleman raises trenches upon Questions to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister later this afternoon.

Mrs. Castle

Does the right hon. Gentleman think that he is discharging that special moral responsibility to which my hon. Friend has referred? Will he not at the very least call a conference of all the Departments concerned to ensure that these unhappy children are getting the housing facilities, the training facilities, the transport, the personal attendance and all the other things they need? Will he also, in keeping with the Petition just presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley), amend his Social Security Bill to ensure that all severely disabled children and young adults have an adequate income as of right for life even though they cannot be eligible for an invalidity benefit?

Sir K. Joseph

I doubt whether it helps very much to deal in generalities with the individual needs of the children and households concerned. I introduced my answer with the words "As far as I am aware". Without raising the hopes of any particular household, I will always be very interested to receive information about failures in the medical or training or other services to which these households may be entitled, but I am not sure that a conference such as the right hon. Lady suggests would advance the human purposes which she has in mind.

Mr. Taylor

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is concern about the fairness and effectiveness of our legal procedures when the claims of these young children after about 10 years are still unresolved? Although it would be wrong to allocate blame to either party without knowledge of the full facts, in view of my right hon. Friend's sympathy for the problem of these children will he at least offer the good services of himself and his Department to bring the parties together, if possible, and perhaps act as an arbiter in this problem?

Sir K. Joseph

There is a case before the courts and I must be very careful in what I say. I do not think I am called upon to take any action such as my hon. Friend, with the best of intentions, suggests.

Mr. Ashley

The Secretary of State has gone to great lengths to meet and make contact with all kinds of disabled people, and disabled people warmly appreciate this. I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's desire to avoid entanglement in the legal process, but as the thalidomide children face special problems will he meet the parents and the children to assess their problems and evaluate what further can be done, and ask the Prime Minister for a commitment that there should be a complete rethink of all the problems raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House?

Sir K. Joseph

I think I have shown that I am always willing to meet individuals or their families where some good might come out of the meeting, but I do not want to raise hopes of general solutions from my Department when they might not be justified.

Mr. Astor

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that modern technological developments can often make life more constructive and more independent for even the most severely handicapped people? Might not this be a justification for a national fund which could provide this expensive equipment where necessary?

Sir K. Joseph

I believe that in the case of these children great ingenuity and efforts have been made by all the professions and services that can help them. I am not aware of any restriction of medical and prosthetic help on financial grounds.

Mr. Alfred Morris

The Secretary of State has spoken about his departmental responsibilities. Will he join hon. Members on both sides of the House in telling the Distillers Company that it must now quickly face up to its moral responsibilities in affording these children the just and honourable compensation which is well within the company's means?

Sir K. Joseph

The hon. Member with great sincerity is begging a number of questions. I cannot respond in the way he wishes. There is a case before the courts, and the issue he raises must be left to that.

Mr. Marten

Following up the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward Taylor), if there is evidence that some of these children are being deprived because of the delay in the settlement of the legal action would the Government consider—I do not want an answer immediately—whether there could be an interim advance of the possible damages, which could help these people until such time as the damages are awarded and then the advance could be deducted?

Sir K. Joseph

That goes beyond the Questions and beyond my departmental responsibility. I say again that if any such household believes that it is not getting the full range of services for which I am responsible, I am eager to hear of the deficiencies so that I can try to put matters right.

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