HC Deb 24 October 1979 vol 972 cc409-11
11. Mr. Gordon Wilson

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he is satisfied with the provision for residential care of mentally handicapped children in Scotland.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Russell Fairgrieve)

One can never be satisfied with the scale and nature of provision in this sector, but this is primarily a matter for decision by local authorities and health boards in the light of their assessment of need and of the resources available.

Mr. Wilson

Does the Minister agree with the main conclusion of the Peters report on services for the mentally handicapped in Scotland that insufficient has been done to take care of those who are mentally handicapped in community care? Bearing in mind his passing of the buck to local authorities and health boards, will he assure the House today that, notwithstanding Government cuts, he will do his utmost to increase expenditure for the care of these vulnerable sections of the community who need help?

Mr. Fairgrieve

I accept the conclusions of the Peters report, but, as I said, if the resources are not available to implement such reports, we cannot do it at this stage.

The Government's policy is to treat unfortunate people, such as the mentally deprived, in the community. Only yesterday, prior to the BBC broadcast, my right hon. Friend made it clear in a statement that he expects economies in public spending to be made without adverse effects on priority groups such as the mentally handicapped.

Mr. Henderson

Will be Minister confirm that, despite much talk about cuts in public expenditure, in terms of the Health Service in Scotland there are no cuts in this current year?

Mr. Fairgrieve

That is correct. We have said that the Health Service will be defended against expenditure economies. We have made it quite clear that that is our policy.

Mr. Douglas

Does the Minister accept that when we refer to these sections of the community we all have a great responsibility because, in the main, they have no voice of their own? Therefore, will he assure the House that he will monitor the effects of the cuts in public expenditure to ensure that the resources are devoted to where he thinks they should be directed? Will he also indicate that the care of the mentally disadvantaged will be enhanced, not retarded?

Mr. Fairgrieve

Of course. It is also to be hoped that, when local authorities consider their commitments and priorities, those in the groups mentioned by the hon. Gentleman will be defended against adverse effects on them.

It is interesting to note that in 1976, when the Labour Government made bigger cuts, they were expenditure economies then. They are not cuts now.

Mr. Costain

Does the Minister consider that we are at some disadvantage in being able to assess the problem because we do not have a register of the mentally handicapped similar to the register of the blind?

Mr. Fairgrieve

I accept that and I will look into it.

Mr. George Robertson

How can the Under-Secretary say that in some way he will defend the mentally handicapped in the community, when his colleague, the Minister for Social Security, has publicly told the disabled that they will have to bear their part of public expenditure cuts that are being used by this Government to redistribute social resources into the pockets of the rich and wealthy through the tax cuts?

Mr. Fairgrieve

Might I remind the hon. Member of what his colleague the then Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Government, said in 1976 when he made his expenditure economies: I am afraid that there is no way of reducing this gap without tightening our belts. It's no good any party promising enormous in creases —in wealth for everyone— in Government expenditure. Our first job is to get the economy into some sort of balance again. What I am saying is that when local authorities consider their priorities for expenditure, we would expect that there would be areas where economies are available without prejudicing those who cannot look after themselves.