HC Deb 09 June 1976 vol 912 cc1420-2
8. Mr. Gordon Wilson

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received regarding the need to increase the level of assistance to help retired and disabled people retain the use of the telephone.

Mr. McElhone

No such representations have been received. The question of assistance is in, any event, a matter for social work authorities.

Mr. Wilson

Will the Minister accept that there might well be a need for a survey to be carried out by the Government with regard to giving advice to local authorities concerning their duties, in view of the low proportion of money spent on assistance with telephones for retired and disabled people? Does he agree that the increase in costs for telephone users affects very heavily those who are disabled and retired, and that the telephone forms a useful lifeline, particularly where geriatric and other care in the community has been cut?

Mr. McElhone

I do not for a moment deny that there are difficulties at the present time in attempting to satisfy all the requirements for telephones. I hope that the hon. Member will recognise that during the short period of two and a quarter years in which the Government have been in control of the country's affairs they have made an unprecedented improvement in the care of the disabled. I mention very briefly the new non-contributory invalidity pension, the new invalid care allowance, the mobility allowance, and the disabled housewife benefit, which we hope to have next year. There has been a substantial improvement in the care of the disabled.

Mr. Alexander Wilson

Although I accept what my hon. Friend said about what the Labour Government have done in relation to disabled and retired people in Scotland, may I ask whether he accepts that local authorities in Scotland have not been carrying out their duties in relation to the supply of telephones to the disabled and the old people? Given the complete separation that the SNP wants, will my hon. Friend say, if he can, what would be the cost to the Scottish people of looking after the disabled people in Scotland?

Mr. McElhone

There are two very distinct questions here. On the first, over the last five years expenditure on social work has increased by 80 per cent., as against 10 per cent. for local authority services generally.

If—heaven forbid !—the Scottish National Party ever gets power to decide these matters, I can only refer to what was said by a leading member of that party during its conference concerning its own economic policy—that these services were a bureaucratic elephant.

Mr. Alexander Fletcher

Has the Minister estimated the extent to which telephone charges and television licences in Scotland would increase in cost, particularly as between Scotland and England, in the event of a separate Scotland?

Mr. McElhone

In your interests, Mr. Speaker, I shall not be tempted to go into that matter.