HC Deb 09 May 1973 vol 856 cc518-36
Mr. David Price (Eastleigh)

I beg to move Amendment No. 26, in page 25, line 36, at end insert: '(2) The Secretary of State shall have power by affirmative resolution of each House of Parliament to amend the qualifying conditions for an attendance allowance in subsections (1)(a) and (1)(b) of this section'. In moving the amendment I once again declare my personal interest in improved benefits for the disabled. I have made this declaration so often that I believe I am in danger of tedious repetition. Tedious repetition is closely allied to tedious frustration, which the House will appreciate is the lot of many disabled people. I trust that the wording of my addendum is clear to the House and that it presents no difficulties to the lawyers amongst us and especially to those guardians of legal propriety, the parliamentary draftsmen.

The effect of the amendment is to enable the Secretary of State to alter the definition of the necessary qualification for the higher and lower rates of attendance allowance by affirmative resolution of both Houses without recourse to the full parliamentary procedure of amending legislation.

In my judgment the affirmative resolution procedure ensures sufficient and appropriate parliamentary control. There are others who suggest to me that this could be done by negative procedure, if not by regulation, but in my drafting I have erred on the side of parliamentary rectitude. The only possible source of objection to my drafting of this addendum might come from the Treasury. This would be on the primitive basis that any parliamentary device which makes it potentially easier for the Secretary of State in charge of a spending department to commit the expenditure of more public money in perpetuity should be resisted in principle. I appreciate the Treasury's proper concern for prudent conservation of public moneys, but in the case of the attendance allowance I do not believe that there is any danger of prudence being replaced by extravagance.

4.45 p.m.

We have a long way to go in our financial provision for the disabled before we need to concern ourselves with the risk of extravagance. Therefore, we note this possible minor criticism of principle from the Treasury and at the same time we can dismiss it as being liturgical rather than real.

My reasons for suggesting that this would be a useful addition to the clause are that it would be not only useful but positively an improvement, and I shall endeavour briefly to outline some of them. No doubt other hon. Members will be able to elaborate upon them. I am convinced that each of my reasons is in itself sufficient justification for the amendment, but that the sum of the reasons makes the case irresistible. I shall attempt to explain the reasons in an ascending order of complexity.

The first is the narrow and technical one that no one is certain that the present definition of the necessary qualification for the attendance allowance is sufficient to achieve the purposes of the Government and the House. I read with great interest an exchange in Standing Committee between the hon. Member for Rhondda, West (Mr. Alec Jones) and the Under-Secretary as to the relative importance of the two phrases "frequent attention" and "prolonged and repeated attention" in subsections l(a) and 1(b).

Let me remind the House of the relevant words in the subsection concerning qualification for the attendance allowance. I take subsection 1(a) as being representative. It says: he is so severely disabled physically or mentally that, by day, he requires from another person either—

  1. (i) frequent attention throughout the day in connection with his bodily functions; or
  2. (ii) continual supervision throughout the day in order to avoid substantial danger to himself or others".
One of the trigger phrases is "bodily functions", and I suggest that there is a good deal of doubt how this phrase could and should be interpreted. Certainly my doubts are shared by many general practitioners whom I know.

For example, does the phrase "bodily functions" include any or all of the following activities: getting in and out of bed; dressing and undressing oneself; going to the lavatory; washing, and, if a man, shaving; having a bath; having a shower; eating and drinking; preparing, cooking and serving one's own food; moving in and out of one's own bedroom; and moving in and out of one's home? The disabled person's ability to fulfil many of these bodily functions without assistance can depend as much upon the degree to which that person's home has been adapted and equipped as it does upon the degree of disability itself.

For example, one's ability to bath oneself depends upon the equipment in the bathroom. One's ability to get in or out of a room depends on whether there is a step and whether one is in a wheelchair or not. If there is direct access on to a public pavement there is nothing that can be done by way of ramping and, therefore, the step is a complete obstacle, an impasse, for fulfilling the bodily function of getting into and out of the home.

This very important but variable in-ingredient is totally overlooked in the present definition of the attendance allowance. I suggest that we are wrong to overlook it. When we consider the question of personal self-care, we must add a further and important dimension to the phrase "bodily function". At present this dimension of self-care is ignored in determining the eligibility for either rate of attendance allowance. I would argue that if a disabled person is incapable of self-care he cannot be said to be independent of help from another person in his bodily functions.

I shall not detain the House by developing these arguments further. I trust that I have said enough to establish the case that the definitions in Clause 4 are open to improvement. When the clause was debated in Standing Committee my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary admitted that this was so. He said: We shall certainly wish, as we go along, to keep all the phrases and arrangements under close review. I do not claim for a moment that we have it absolutely right. It would be surprising if we had at this early stage. Later in the same portion of his speech he went on to say: as the extended allowance is so new, we should not have enough experience to come back with new suggestions on Report, but perhaps later, when we have had more experience, if amendments appear to be appropriate we shall not hesitate to come forward with them."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee E, 20th February 1973; c. 617.] They are admirable sentiments; but without my addendum my right hon. and hon. Friends the Ministers will find it extremely difficult to introduce their amendments. They will need fresh legislation, and we all know how consuming of parliamentary time that can be, and, therefore, how reluctant are all Governments to add to their legislative programme. So my addendum helps the Government, and I am, therefore, sure that they will accept it.

My second reason in support of the amendment flows from the first. It relates to the widening of the definition of quali- fication for attendance allowance as our experience of its administration develops. This might well involve an extension of my concept of self-help from bodily functions into the wider social context. After all, modern man is a gregarious animal who is not sufficient unto himself. When we debated disability last month, I suggested that in the context of widening the definition of the attendance allowance we might consider such concepts as the ability to fulfil one's normal domestic duties appropriate to one's age and marital status.

In other words, we should add a social dimension to the concept of self-help. Of course, I accept the argument that until we have more experience of the new lower-rate attendance allowance it might be argued that it is premature to attempt to widen definitions in the clause. That is why I have not attempted at this stage to amend the definition, but I believe that it is a just reason for taking powers now for a later extension of the definition in the light of experience. That is, after all, what the Government have done in the past.

Within two years of introducing the original constant attendance allowance, very much to their credit, the Government found it both right and necessary to introduce the lower-rate attendance allowance. I am confident that this will happen again, so I wish to see the Government of the day equipped with the necessary powers.

My third reason flows from the second, and it is a wider reason for the amendment. The attendance allowances are possibly a base upon which to construct a disablement income. I trust that at this stage in the development of our ideas as to what constitutes a just and compassionate society it is not necessary to repeat the broad, strategic case in favour of some form of national disablement income.

I was glad to read in Monday's edition of The Times that my right hon. Friend had told the annual general meeting of DIG that the introduction of a disablement income to compensate for loss of earnings and extra living expenses is only a matter of time.

The Secretary of State for Social Services (Sir Keith Joseph)

I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend, but what he said gives me an opportunity to say that, most unusually, The Times has taken a phrase out of context. In fact, there was a negative somewhere in the paragraph. If my hon. Friend is not careful, I shall send him a copy of my 27-page speech.

Mr. Price

My right hon. Friend's private office, with its normal courtesy, sent me a copy, but I have had time to read only half. If the debate on the amendment had begun later I could have read the whole of the correct version. Even if my right hon. Friend did not say what he is reported to have said, I am sure that he agrees with it in spirit, as does every other hon. Member, and so we take that as read.

To achieve the strategic objective of a national disablement income, there are a number of alternative tactical routes. First, we could use the invalidity pension and the invalidity benefit as our base and build upon it. I should like my right hon. Friend to tell us how many severely disabled people will benefit and are benefiting from the new pension and new allowances.

Secondly, as an alternative, we could take the industrial injuries concept and apply it to all forms of civilian disability, however incurred. A recent Question to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary elicited the rather frightening reply that to follow that route could cost up to £1,000 million a year extra. Naturally, on a later occasion we shall wish to pursue with him the make-up of that formidable figure. I do not believe that we should abandon the industrial injuries approach out of hand at this stage, because it has the great merit of being graduated according to the degree of disability.

We could take a third route, the attendance allowance route. That is the point of my amendment. The allowances have the merit of being universal, outside national insurance, tax-free and paid regardless of age, means, or contributions. For disabled housewives who are not insured in their own right but are covered by their husbands' national insurance, the attendance allowances seem to offer a rather better route to financial provision for their disability than do the alternatives.

I recently tested with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary one of the alternatives, the invalidity pension route. He made it perfectly clear that under the present thinking, which is repeated in the Bill, it would not be available for the disabled housewife, because she would not have her insurance passport into that route. That encouraged me to think that the attendance allowances are the right base, at least in respect of the disabled housewife, if not all other categories of disabled people. It has the major advantage of overcoming the insurance difficulty.

Official thinking should move on from the primitive concept of a housewife being a non-worker simply because she is not on someone's payroll. The recent DIG pamphlet stated: The official view of the housewife as a non-worker is nonsense. The economic wreckage that the disablement of a housewife visits upon her family is often greater than would be the case if the man was disabled. Her husband's ability to work properly, and in many cases his opportunity to work at all, is destroyed. Housewives are in fact the supliers of most of our manpower. They are workers, and should be pensioned like any other workers. I am encouraged that my addendum is the right approach when I read my right hon. Friend's speech to the DIG that I have quoted, where I see the words: In introducing attendance allowance, we introduced a benefit which is based on just this basic principle, what I might call entitlement by right of disablement. I would doubt whether we have exhausted the possibility for developing that principle. My addendum gives my right hon. Friend the vehicle to develop those possibilities.

5.0 p.m.

These three routes are some of the alternative tactics by which we can achieve our strategic objective of proper financial provision for the disabled. It may be that the right answer will be a mix of the three. But I am convinced that the attendance allowance as of now appears to offer us the route by which we can make most progress in the short run. We could find ourselves having to consider different methods of provision according to age. Amelia Harris's great survey brings out very clearly the extent to which severe disability is a product of advancing years.

But these are thoughts for another occasion, as is the idea that the adult disabled of working age with limited work opportunities might look to a combination of wages and benefit for their income. We must do some fresh thinking here. We can learn from our European colleagues, as we can right across the board of provision for the disabled.

For all these good and many reasons, I offer the addendum for the consideration of the House as a constructive further step towards proper provision for the disabled.

Mr. Alec Jones (Rhondda, West)

I support any attempt to extend the provisions of the attendance allowance. All hon. Members will agree that it has done good work, and we hope for greater things from it. But what we are asked to discuss in the amendment is not whether attendance allowance should be extended to cover many other aspects of disability, nor what degree of disability it should cover, but whether the affirmative resolution is the correct vehicle for bringing about that sort of improvement which we all want.

Without disagreeing with the motive behind the speech of the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. David Price), I feel that the annual uprating Bill that we now have, which the Secretary of State used to introduce the attendance allowance at the lower rate, gives us an opportunity annually to examine the whole picture of the attendance allowance. Much as I want to improve the attendance allowance, I believe that to do it by affirmative resolution would deny the House adequate opportunity to discuss and amend the propositions that the Government may or may not make.

Sir K. Joseph

I welcome the hon. Gentleman as a potential ally, but I should not like him to continue his speech under a misapprehension. My hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mr. David Price) is surely right, because he has taken into account that, under the Bill, uprating of benefit will be possible by regulation after 1975, and so there will be no need after that date for an annual uprating Bill if the only purpose is to increase benefits or contributions.

Mr. Jones

I take the right hon. Gentleman's point. I am sorry to tell him that the alliance between us which lasted for about two-and-a-half seconds is quickly destroyed. If he is now saying that we are not likely to have a vehicle that will give us the means to improve the attendance allowance. I am prepared to withdraw my initial remarks and indicate my complete support for the hon. Gentleman, because it is clear that if we are not to have a regular vehicle whereby we can examine the attendance allowance it is desirable to put the Government on the spot by providing that opportunity.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards (Pembroke)

I support my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mr. David Price). My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has just made an overwhelming case for supporting the amendment.

All hon. Members must have been impressed in their constituency work by the enormous requirement that has been revealed for the sort of aid that the clause gives, and by the fact that their original interpretation of the 1970 Act proved to be unfounded. Many hon. Members were surprised at the way in which the Act was interpreted initially, and we very quickly had to move on. The Government have been able to move on with speed. I take the opportunity to congratulate the unit at Blackpool on the way in which it has operated. Nonetheless, hon. Members will have seen sorts of anomalies being revealed. Different doctors interpret the Act in different ways. That has been one of the greatest difficulties that have confronted the board in carrying out its functions. The board relies enormously on the reports prepared by doctors. In practice it has not proved possible to achieve a consistency of approach from doctors.

As we move into new categories we shall find that new anomalies and fresh problems will arise. It seems that it would be eminently sensible for the Government to give themselves the additional flexibility which the amendment would provide. I appreciate that on occasions it may be necessary for much more major measures to be brought forward. The amendment will give the opportunity for marginal amendments to be made year by year. The opportunity will exist to sort out some of the difficulties that inevitably will arise. I my right hon. Friend considers that the amendment is unacceptable in its present form, I hope that he will at least come forward with something comparable.

Mr. John Pardoe (Cornwall, North)

I support this moderate amendment. I hope that the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. David Price) will accept that it is such an amendment.

One approach, which is probably shared by almost all hon. Members, is that the present and proposed interpretations do not go wide enough. That is probably the view of all hon. Members, including the Secretary of State. The right hon. Gentleman would probably like to widen the scope of the attendance allowance.

That does not mean that there is a general acceptance of the principles of a disablement income to apply across the board. I happen to accept that approach in principle, but, clearly, there are differences of opinion within the parties. I accept that principle because it seems ridiculous to try to distinguish between those who are disabled by physical incapacity and those who are disabled because, for example, of old age. Indeed, people who are disabled as a result of old age may not be anything like as disabled as some younger people who are disabled through physical incapacity.

I support the amendment for two main reasons. First, are the words which are now in the Bill a sufficient description of what the Government now intend? Are they what we might like them to intend, bearing in mind that these words will be interpreted not by lawyers but by doctors, Of course, doctors are not always the best interpreters of the law of the land. I say that in the context of two cases with which I shall deal briefly. I shall give not the details but the principles at stake.

One case arose in my constituency when the first report of the medical practitioner for the Attendance Allowance Board accepted that my constituent was not able to do the things which I had said that she was not able to do. As she was not able to do them she came within the definition. However, the medical practitioner ruled her out on the ground that she was capable of dressing or undressing herself and washing and bathing. He admitted that she could do none of those things but said that the reason she could not do them was that she made no effort. On further examination it was discovered that the lady was a chronic alcoholic and was senile. It was because she was a chronic alcoholic that she made no effort to do the things which I have mentioned.

It is extraordinary that any doctor reading the regulations which he has to interpret should make a value judgment about why a person cannot do various things for himself or herself. In the instance which I have described it did not seem to be a very valuable judgment.

Secondly, there are contradictions within the interpretations made by different doctors. One case with which I have recently been dealing illustrates my point. The commissioner has given leave to appeal. I quote the words used in the medical officer's report: As regards the night, I note that he needs attention once or twice a night for toilet purposes. Thus, on the evidence, I do not accept that he ordinarily requires prolonged or repeated attention during the night. As the commissioner pointed out, that is a non sequitur. It would not be thought that a doctor would say— As regards the night. I note he needs attention once or twice a night for toilet purposes "— and conclude from that evidence that prolonged or repeated attention during the night is not ordinarily required. However, quite a number of doctors who are being put to work by the board think that such things follow.

Therefore, my second major reason for supporting the amendment is that there are contradictions arising because of the great difficulties caused by doctors' interpretations. We shall be wanting—and so, I hope, will the right hon. Gentleman —to make changes fairly frequently in the light of experience. It may well be that there will be changes after 12 months in the light of experience of the way that the Act is being interpreted. The amendment is a good one because it will allow changes to be made with the minimum of fuss.

Mr. Robert Boscawen (Wells)

I am pleased to be able to support the amendment. It seems that Parliament will have the opportunity to discuss this matter annually as it does at the moment under the annual uprating measure. Further, it has my support because it demonstrates that hon. Members on both sides of the House want to move along the road towards some form of disability income at a quicker pace than has applied in the past.

It is an indictment of our society that a responsible group such as the Disablement Income Group, which has studied the problem over many years, should write, after the Committee stage to hon. Members who sat on the Social Security Bill in Committee as follows: The reception given to all eight amendments made it clear that the Government and the Opposition have not yet determined precisely how the urgent financial needs of severely disabled people will be met. We have a long way to go in determining the right way to bring a satisfactory income to severely disabled people without their having to have recourse to supplementary benefit. The Attendance Board must be building up a great deal of information. It has not been the desire or the intention of the Secretary of State to allow the board to reveal all its cases and the experience that it has been building up. That is because the Government wish the board to get on as rapidly as possible with the job of bringing an allowance to as many people as are entitled to it. That I fully understand. But I think we are moving from that period now and it is time that we had more information.

5.15 p.m.

There is a great lack of information about severely disabled people. I do not mean statistics about them, for we are overwhelmed with statistics. I mean some of the deeper problems—for example, the psychological effects of bringing help to them and the best way of doing it. What are the financial circumstances of some very severely disabled people? We need more information, and I support what my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mr. McCrindle) called for earlier—that, as soon as possible, the Government should produce a Green Paper on their thinking about which of the three or four avenues which lie ahead for helping the disabled with a disablement income they see as the best way forward.

There is a lot of confusion. I confess that I have doubts about some of the ways forward which have been suggested. I believe that on Saturday my right hon. Friend referred to the entitlement by right of the disabled to some benefit. I say "to some benefit" because I have not read his speech in full, and I do not know which one he was referring to. I believe that it should be entitlement to a long-term benefit by right of disablement and that we have to get over the snag of the continuity principle in the case of the disabled housewife.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I hesitate to interrupt the hon. Gentleman but he is going a little wide of the amendment.

Mr. Boscawen

Perhaps I was going a little wide, Mr. Speaker, but I think it is important that Parliament should have the opportunity annually to discuss the principle contained in the amendment. I may be trespassing on future amendments, but I want to emphasise that the whole climate of opinion in this House and the country is moving towards a disablement income, and that part of the catalyst in this climate has been not only the outside bodies but the Secretary of State himself. I welcome what my right hon. Friend said to the Disablement Income Group and some of the principles he enunciated, and I hope he will enunciate a few more today.

Sir K. Joseph

It is very much easier to be negative if hon. Members have been nasty to me than when they have been rather pleasant. My hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mr. David Price) has put forward such a modest and sensible proposal, as it seems at first sight, and has been so briefly yet so strongly and warmly supported by hon. Members on both sides of the House that it is not a pleasure to me to spell out the reasons against his amendment.

I want first to say how much it staggers me, as one who was a Member of this House for about seven or eight years before the Disablement Income Group was formed, that this subject was kept in the quiet for so long—for decades, for generations. I doubt whether it is over going to sleep again. Whether we operate by way of regulations or rely on legislation, I do not think there is the slightest possibility of the subject going to sleep again.

My hon. Friend the Member lot Fast-leigh is a forceful advocate and very well informed. He referred, as a man with ministerial experience, to the constitutional point under which it has been the practice up till now for new benefits or changes in existing benefits to be the subject of legislation rather than of regulations This is a precaution that Parliament has generally accepted as sensible in order to put some restraint, by way of an obligation to go by the legislative route, on the creation of new public expenditure.

My hon. Friend and other hon. Members will accept that the constitutional point has not obstructed the insistence on new benefits for the disabled. In July 1970 the Government introduced the Act for the attendance allowance at the higher rate, which had been conceived by the Labour Government. In 1971, in the up rating Act, we introduced the invalidity benefit package which was our own invention, and in the uprating Act in May 1972, before we had even completed distribution of the higher attendance allowance, we brought in the lower rate attendance allowance. So, as hon. Members have recognised, we have made a reasonable start.

But there are some dissatisfactions. Hon. Members have pointed to some cases where judgments have differed. My hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Nicholas Edwards) kindly paid a well-deserved tribute to the departmental unit at Blackpool. I pay tribute also to the Attendance Allowance Board itself and to all the doctors who work for it. The record of sympathetic judgments on the part of all those concerned cannot be bad when we reflect that the Government originally estimated that the higher rate allowance would go to 50,000 people. In fact, it has been awarded to well over 100,000 people, of whom, unfortunately, some thousands have died or have gone into hospital. There is an award now in payment to over 90,000 severely disabled people. It may be that the Government's estimate was wrong, but what cannot be substantiated is that the attendance allowance has been in general unsympathetically applied.

Now we must see, as my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh said, how we get on with the new lower-rate allowance, the payment of which begins next month. As the Government announced last week, we are going to accelerate the payments to the second group of recipients—the children—bringing them forward from December to October this year.

But, as I nave said, there are dissatisfactions. My hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh, when he gave a catalogue of the factors which doctors ought to consider, was aware that he was quoting from the catalogue of factors which a doctor completing a form for the board is required to consider. It is the doctor's job to consider all relevant factors, and I think the House has to face the fact that, in a scheme so inherently dependent on the judgment of the many people involved, there may always be some difference in opinion on any particular case.

Nevertheless, if a claim is refused, a review can be requested, and then there is a visit by a Department doctor in order that there should at least be some centralisation of the appeal machinery. I shall not comment on the individual cases quoted because that would not be proper. The decisions are the board's, and I have every confidence in its intention to make the right, and, where in doubt, the sympathetic, decision.

I come now to the main point of the amendment. There is no desperate urgency about the position because we have one more uprating Bill under the present proceedings. There is to be one in 1974. From 1975 onwards we shall have power, if Parliament approves this Bill, to alter benefits and contributions by way of regulations. The House will be aware that we introduced this power because it was the only way to make certain that we could honour our guarantee of an annual uprating. No Government can commit themselves to finding legislative time in a particular session, but they can commit themselves to finding time to introduce regulations. But that is a point which goes in support of the amendment.

In the light of the pressure to improve the treatment of the disabled, I cannot imagine that a Government of the day will ever lack a vehicle or be unwilling to create a vehicle by which to bring about improvements. My hon. Friend will have realised that the benefits can be uprated by regulations each year, and there is an automatic vehicle in the up-rating regulations. I assure him that, if the time is ripe, if the economic conditions allow and if we have arrived at a proper assessment of priorities, the Government will not be restrained by any lack of legislative opportunity during the remainder of this Parliament.

In the light of these considerations, I hope that my hon. Friend will not press his amendment, but will rely upon the force of the lobby in the country and in the House and rest content that the pressure will remain upon Governments so that his amendment will not be necessary to achieve the aims we all want.

Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West)

I welcome the amendment and congratulate the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. David Price) on the eloquence and sincerity with which he moved it.

The hon. Gentleman is right in saying that there is an advantage in flexibility and in the Secretary of State having the opportunity to alter the criteria of both the higher and lower rate attendance allowance without the need to bring forward legislation. There is no risk of extravagance towards the disabled. He is right that the criteria, however well chosen, are bound to be open to equivocation and susceptible to improvement. Whatever criteria are chosen are as likely to be dependent on the availability and adaptation of the house or room in which a disabled person lives as on that person's degree of disability.

I agree with the hon. Member for Eastleigh that there is a need—I would say an earlier rather than a later need— to move towards social criteria and making the capacity to perform or otherwise normal domestic and social activities appropriate to a person of that age and sex. That is the goal in terms of a definition at which we should aim. The achievement of that aim would be facilitated by acceptance of the amendment.

I accept, too, that the attendance allowance is probably the most suitable vehicle for moving towards a national disability income. I agree also that the universality of the attendance allowance —the fact that it is outside the national insurance system and tax free, combined with graduation according to the degree of disability in the industrial injury system—probably points the way forward.

We should not be too much put off by the £1,000 million cost that has been estimated for such a benefit. The cost clearly depends on whether the benefit is tax free, the criteria of disability involved and the scope.

Having said all that, I am in some sympathy with what the Secretary of State said. The real difficulty here is not the lack of flexibility or the linguistic criteria by which one defines "disability". It would be valuable to have an opportunity to discuss and examine the progress in the coverage and scope of the attendance allowance, particularly in the absence of an uprating Bill in 1975, but the real block is not there. The key part of the Secretary of State's speech was when he said that the Government proposed to move forward if economic conditions allowed and in accordance with the economic priorities of the Government at that time. That is the gist of his words—I may have paraphrased them. The real reason why we are not moving forward faster is not the difficulty of language and not that those who have to administer the benefit are unduly restricted by the criteria. If he were so minded, the Secretary of State would not find it impossible to introduce a small Bill to extend the criteria. The real reason is finance, and we dodge the issue if we pretend otherwise.

5.30 p.m.

At present very few even of the severely handicapped are getting help. The Secretary of State said that 90,000 persons are getting the attendance allowance at the higher rate, but the Government handbook "Impaired and Handicapped in Great Britain", published in 1971, estimated that there were nearly 1¼ million people who were severely and appreciably handicapped in Great Britain. For 90,000 to be receiving help does not take us very far.

Even by 1975–76 the lower attendance allowance will cover only up to another quarter of a million. The Government have perhaps overestimated the rate at which claims will come in, and by that date the number may prove to be rather less than was at first thought. At present not even the very severely handicapped are covered and by 1975–76 perhaps one-third or one-half of the half a million very severely and severely handicapped will be covered. We are making some progress, but it is a fairly unsatisfactory rate of progress. What count are the economic priorities and the willingness of a Government to give more priority to the disabled. That is far more important than providing greater flexibility in criteria.

Although those are perhaps harsh words, I still remain in favour of the amendment. It is desirable to have an opportunity for discussion, and greater flexibility is desirable. But that is not the blockage. What is wanted is for the Secretary of State to use this amendment as an opportunity to offer greater resources to the movement towards a national disability income. We need a more forthcoming Secretary of State if we are to make progress towards the object we all wish to achieve.

Mr. David Price

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, as always courteous, referred to my first series of points. The list of bodily functions I gave did not come from the official list; it is my own list. One or two items in my list are not included in the official list. Perhaps my hon. Friend's Department will consider this point, and he and I might possibly talk about it. There is even doubt about the phrase "bodily functions". If my right hon. Friend will do that it will assist me greatly in seeking to withdraw the amendment. As it is a major factor which concerns the 1974 uprating Bill, that would cover the substance of my second point. My third point, which I pinned on this narrow amendment, goes wider, and I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his comments.

My right hon. Friend referred to the lobby in the country and the House which will not allow the subject of disability to go cold. I shall continue to be a member of that lobby—it would be surprising if it were to be otherwise.

I speak for many of my right hon. and hon. Friends and for many right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition benches in saying that I hope that in the not too distant future, when my right hon. Friend and his team of Ministers have deliberated further, a Green Paper will be issued. That would be immensely helpful to all of us who are concerned with disability and it would clarify the situatiton rather more than would continued general debate.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his outstanding courtesy. That is no more than we have come to expect from him, as opposed to what we have experienced in the past from other right hon. and hon. Members on the Treasury Bench.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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