HC Deb 10 November 1976 vol 919 cc403-6
12. Mr. Teddy Taylor

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the operation of the Social Work (Scotland) Act.

Mr. McElhone

In the seven years since most of the provisions of the Act came into operation, the social work services have developed into a major instrument for helping people in need and for promoting the social welfare of the community generally. The increase in local authority expenditure on social work—which has almost doubled in the last five years—is reflected in substantially increased staff and other resources.

Mr. Taylor

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that children's panels set up under the Act have been undermined by the fact that List D schools are greatly overcrowded and in some areas social work departments are overloaded and can only cope with emergency cases? Does he think, as many of us on this side do, that it would be a good idea to re-establish a separate probation service?

Mr. McElhone

I do not share that view. Perhaps I may give the figures of the numbers involved in social work in Scotland. In 1970 the figure was 7,978, while in 1974 it was 12,800. The hon. Gentleman has several times raised with me the question of waiting lists at List D schools. Indeed, this was the subject of an Adjournment debate. In June 1975 there were 576 on the waiting list, and on 17th October of this year that figure was down to 362. Next week my Department is having a meeting with all the people involved in the running of List D schools and on the agenda, at my request, is a proposal to look at the whole question of List D accommodation. I have recently visited many of the List D schools. I found that one in Aberdeen had 20 empty places. I want that examined. I believe that we should look for a better way of allocating places and that if we were to succeed in finding it the figure of 362 would be substantially reduced.

Mr. Gourlay

Is my hon. Friend aware of a considerable lack of liaison between regional social work departments and district housing authorities, particularly in relation to the problem of battered wives? Will he consider transferring the social work departments to district council authorities?

Mr. McElhone

That is not a matter for me. I realise the concern that exists about battered wives, and I can tell my hon. Friend that in Edinburgh on Monday my hon. Friend who is responsible for Scottish housing and I will be meeting a joint group of the housing and social work departments of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to discuss the problem to which my hon. Friend has referred.

Mr. Younger

Will the hon. Gentleman take the greatest care to ensure that reductions in social work expenditure do not lead ultimately to increased expenditure? For example, is he aware that on a grant of less than £100,000 the Royal Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children spends £500,000 every year on essential work, and that if this grant were withdrawn the net cost to the Exchequer and public expenditure would be very much greater?

Mr. McElhone

I am aware of the great work done by the Royal Society. We all applaud its efforts. It does a wonderful job all over Scotland. Subventions come in the main through local authorities as social work provision, and the Government have not asked local authorities to make any cuts at all. The provision for social work in the rate support grant settlement for 1976–77 was 3 per cent, above that for last year. I appreciate the many demands made upon local authorities for social work, but the priorities within a region for social work and other services are determined by local authorities. It is not an easy task for them, and we are co-operating as much as possible. I hope that the initiative that I have taken with church leaders and other bodies will help in some way to take care of the problem rightly raised by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Gordon Wilson

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that a year has elapsed since the debate on the Children Bill when he indicated to the House that working parties were looking into the provisions of the Social Work (Scotland) Act? What has happened since then? When will these bodies report, and when can action be expected in terms of legislation?

Mr. McElhone

A number of committees are considering the whole question of the Act about which the hon. Gentleman asks and in which he took a great interest when it was going through the House. My right hon. Friend has been consulting many bodies on the whole question of children and children's panels and reparations. I hope that the submissions coming in will be made known in a statement by my right hon. Friend some time in the near future.

Mr. Robin F. Cook

Is my hon. Friend aware of the statement by the Lothian Regional Council that if the Government do not alter their position on the rate support grant the council will be required to cut home help services by 10 per cent, and close at least one old folk's home? How can that be reconciled with the spirit of the Social Work (Scotland) Act?

Mr. McElhone

I am not aware of the position with regard to home helps in the Lothian Region, but I take it that what my hon. Friend says is correct. Perhaps I can give the figures for the total number of home helps. In 1970, 33,000 households were receiving home help services. In 1974, the number was 56,000. In Glasgow, the area which I know best, although there was a rationalisation of home help services, more families were getting the service from home helps; but I appreciate the position outlined by my hon. Friend.

Mr. Russell Johnston

The fact that there is no List D accommodation at all in the Highlands Region is a matter of grave concern in the region. Can the hon. Gentleman see his way to reconsidering his attitude to the Kinmylies project?

Mr. McElhone

The hon. Gentleman refers to the Kinmylies project. I had a good meeting with the Highland Region in St. Andrew's House on the whole question of List D provision in the Highlands Region. The region appreciates the difficulties of the Government at the present time. I said that although we were keen on the project we were considering looking at the phasing of it. I want to be honest with the House. I cannot give a date, but the whole question of List D provision and the way in which it will be disbursed into local authorities' care is being actively considered by my right hon. Friend.