HC Deb 03 July 1981 vol 7 cc1138-202 9.32 am
Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

I beg to move, That this House welcomes and endorses the aims of the International Year of Disabled People; calls on Her Majesty's Government to pursue policies consistent with these aims; and urges the Government to initiate discussions with all the relevant organisations, before the end of 1981, on a programme of action to maintain the impetus of the International Year in the years ahead. This is a debate about the well-being and status of well over 5 million of our fellow citizens who are disabled by physical, mental or sensory impairment. It is a debate that takes place wholly in Opposition time. If anyone thinks that it is long overdue, let me emphasise at the outset that the debate would not be taking place at all if it had been left to the Government to arrange.

It is my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition who has given this debate priority over many other pressing claims on the limited parliamentary time available to him. He has a totally genuine and abiding concern to make life better for disabled people, and it is he who should be thanked by everyone who speaks in this debate, not excluding the Minister, for the opportunity that he has given them to do so.

Our main purpose in providing time for the debate is to give the House an opportunity to endorse the aims of the International Year of Disabled People—IYDP. It was as a Minister in the Labour Government, on 19 March 1979, that I had the honour to be invited to make the opening speech in the debate at the United Nations in New York on what should be the aims of the international year.

It was perhaps the most important international meeting ever held on the problems and needs of disabled people. Britain's proposals at the meeting played a major part in deciding the aims of the international year. They are thus aims that are very largely British made, and I am sure that they will be strongly endorsed from both sides of the House today.

We have two other purposes in the debate. In the first place, we want to put it to the House that practice is as important as precept and that in endorsing the aims of IYDP the House should also seek to make sure that the Government's policies are consistent with them. We also want to ensure that IYDP is not just a 365-day wonder. We want the international year to have an ongoing effect, and to that end the motion calls upon the Government to enter urgently into discussions with all relevant organisations, not least the voluntary organisations in which this country is fortunately so strong, on a programme of action for the years ahead.

In summary, the aims of the International Year of Disabled People are, first, to increase public awareness of the needs of disabled people and of their abilities; secondly, to ensure that disabled people can participate on terms of equality as fully integrated members of society; thirdly, to save as many people as possible from becoming disabled by maximising the prevention of disability; and, fourthly, to promote more positive attitudes towards disabled people and an acceptance of their undoubted right to full citizenship.

The word "International" in IYDP is also deeply important, for if our problems in trying to improve the standard and quality of life of disabled people are difficult those of Parliaments and Governments in the Third world are intimidating by comparison. In addition, therefore, to meeting our responsibilities here, we must have regard to the urgency of the claims on our attention of disabled people in the poorest countries. In the case of their claims, urgency was never more urgent.

More than 500 million people are disabled in the world today. In every country at least one person in 10 has a physical, mental and sensory impairment. Yet even these figures do not tell the whole story, for disability is a family affair that affects vast numbers of people who are not themselves disabled. By definition of the word "family", if one member is disabled the family as a whole is involved in the problems of disability. The child of a disabled mother is involved, like the mother of a disabled child. With countless millions more, their lives are profoundly affected by disability in the family.

That is why it is so important to think in terms of the disabled family. It also explains the United Nations' estimate that no less than 25 per cent. of the world's population is affected directly or indirectly through family by the problems of disability. That may seem a surprisingly high estimate, but in fact a Gallup poll commissioned jointly by the BBC and New Society to mark IYDP in January this year found that 29 per cent. of those interviewed had a disabled person in their family. Truly, any society which fails to respond effectively to the problems of disability accepts not only a huge loss of human resources but a cruel waste of human potential.

Nearly three-quarters of the world's 500 million disabled people lack the help they need to live a full life. They can be found in every part of the world, but by far the greatest numbers live in the Third world. Here poverty joins with impairment to poison the hopes and diminish the lives of disabled people and their families.

It is a daunting fact that on present forecasts 15 out of every 100 children born in the Third world in this International Year of Disabled People will die before their first birthday. One-quarter of the rest will suffer from deficiency diseases and three-quarters will lack any kind of modern medical care. Again, millions of people will become avoidably blind and others, even more grieviously, will become preventably both deaf and blind. Another stark fact about the scale of the challenge facing us internationally is that there are more disabled people in India today than there are people in Britain.

That is the case for a redistribution of resources in favour of disabled people, not only within individual countries but between countries. We live in a world of obscene disparities of wealth, literacy, health, opportunity, life expectancy and hope; and we shall never have a really safe and stable world community while we have the gross and glaring inequalities which so divide and disfigure the world today.

Let no one say that the resources are not available to achieve a better life for the world's disabled people. For the truth is that too much is spent on the munitions of war and too little on, as it were, the munitions of peace. If only 1 per cent. of what is now spent on armaments were to be spent on the prevention of disability and the rehabilitation of disabled people, the lot of the disabled in the Third world would be quickly transformed. That is why we must insist that the problem is not one of resources but of political will and priorities.

Improving public attitudes to the disabled is also very important. The able-bodied of today are often the disabled of tomorrow, and we must challenge people everywhere to think more deeply about the problems and claims of disabled people. For centuries, disabled people have been stigmatised due to fear based upon ignorance and misinformation. Massive public awareness campaigns are needed to help the non-disabled to see that it is often their negative attitudes that disabled people find hardest to bear.

Such campaigns must also stress the potential of disabled people. They have abilities as well as disabilities, and everyone must be made aware that rehabilitation is about emphasising that what a person can do is more important than what he or she cannot do. Our 5 million—and the world's 500 million—disabled people have the same rights as all humanity to grow and to learn, to work and to create, to love and to be loved. Without these rights they are gratuitously further handicapped by the loss of opportunities and responsibilities which should be theirs.

The aims of IYDP also argue the case for helping disabled people to live at home, as fully integrated members of society, as opposed to providing for them in institutions. That makes good sense economically as well as meeting one of the main aspirations of disabled people. Yet all of us want to do more than simply stay at home. We want to get out to cultural, social and other events. Most of us also want to go out to work if we can. That applies also to disabled people, and access to public and social buildings is essential if they are to play their rightful part in the normal activities of life. In fact, such access is as crucial to the enjoyment of a full and fulfilling life as all the aids and practical help with which disabled people can be provided by a caring society—and for the disabled, as for everyone else, "access" is not just about getting into and around public and social buildings. It has the much wider meaning of going somewhere and being accepted.

All of IYDP's aims are deeply important, but none more so than that which deals with the prevention of disability. There is a pressing need to extend primary health care to all communities and, by new and expanded programmes of immunisation, to step up our assault on the six major diseases of childhood. In this regard there is no reason whatever why poliomyelitis should not be totally eradicated in the present decade. Here, most certainly, however, active co-operation between the developed and developing countries is a vital necessity in achieving success.

The aims of the international year cannot all be achieved at once, either here or anywhere else, which is why IYDP must be seen not just as a year that can soon be forgotten but as the start of a new era. Our concern must be to win for disabled people the opportunities that all other people take for granted—and I repeat that I mean opportunities to work and to enjoy all kinds of leisure pursuits. In breaking down the social and architectural barriers we shall also make it possible for disabled people to decide things for themselves, as full citizens, instead of always having decisions made for them.

Here in Britain there has been major progress in providing new help for disabled people in the past decade, but there is still very much more to do if the aims of IYDP are to be achieved in the foreseeable future. It is, of course, easier for Opposition spokesmen to advocate new measures than for Ministers to find the money needed for their adoption. In this field, however, as I was pleased to hear a life-long Conservative say at a recent meeting on IYDP, never before was there an Opposition as entitled as we are to argue for more resources for disabled people. He was referring to the fact that in my five years as Minister for the disabled, even at times when public spending in almost every other field had to be cut back, there was rapidly increasing expenditure on new help for disabled people. Spending on cash help alone for chronically sick and disabled people rose from £474 million in 1974 to £1,574 million in 1979. That was an increase of £1,100 million. Again, spending on centrally provided services for the disabled almost trebled. In real terms, these were very substantial improvements and they were achieved in economic conditions of great difficulty.

Yet now, notwithstanding the present Government's clear electoral undertakings to disabled people, the emphasis is on cuts in provision and every call for further advance is drowned by talk of retreat. The charge of broken pledges is by no means mine alone. Let the Minister look, for example, at the speech of the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Benyon) on 24 March in the Standing Committee on the Social Security Bill. It is a speech well worth the attention of hon. and right hon. Members on both sides of the House, and I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for the honesty of his approach. The hon. Gentleman recalled that in the manifesto on which he stood for election in May 1979 and on which every Minister in this. Government was elected, it was pledged that the worst-off would be protected. He then went on to say: Yet it appears that we are doing precisely the reverse of what we said in respect of the disabled."—[Official Report, Standing Committee G, 24 March 1981; c. 232] That was the hon. Gentleman's charge against a Minister and a Government in retreat from their own pledges. It was a grave charge from an hon. Member who takes a close and sustained interest in this field, but one provoked by the Government's actions in causing increasing hardship among many of the needful disabled people in Britain today.

In fact, ours is the only Government in the world to be marking IYDP by a gratuitous cut in the incomes of the disabled people. To the Government's shame, most disabled people in this country will be poorer at the end of IYDP than they were at the beginning. Invalidity benefit has been cut this year by nearly 5 per cent. in real terms, for 650,000 people whose working lives have been cut short by long-term sickness and disability. For a single person the cut is £60 a year and a married couple lose £96.

The excuse given by Ministers is that invalidity benefit ought to be taxed, that it will be taxed as soon as they can get the necessary legislation ready, and that in the meantime they are cutting its value because the Government need the money that would be raised if the benefit were already taxable.

Yet the fact is that hundreds of thousands of the victims would still fall below the tax threshold if the validity benefit were to be taxed. For them a cut in income means going without not luxuries but essentials. In turn, that can mean added and avoidable pain and suffering. They are thus being hurt—some would say mugged—as a matter of deliberate choice by a Government who, in a single day, made the richest 5 per cent. of taxpayers better off by £1,400 million. For the poor and disabled, they cut benefits. For the rich and fortunate, they cut taxes. How can that possibly be consistent with the aims of IYDP? Certainly, it is a very strange kind of equity.

The cut in invalidity benefit is widely seen as this Government's unkindest cut of all. Yet it is only one among many attacks on the living standards of disabled people. Look, for example, at the fivefold increase in prescription charges under the present Government. Or again, look at the effect on disabled people of the Government's so-called "simplification" of the supplementary benefit scheme.

Mr. Peter Large, the honorary parliamentary spokesman of the Disablement Income Group, in a recent statement for DIG entitled "Disastrous Years for Disabled People", said: disabled people were among the worst off on supplementary benefit and are now even worse off following the 'simplification' of the scheme. The very title of the DIG's statement, which compares the Government's election promises with their performance in power, is itself a damning criticism of the policies that: they have pursued in the past two years.

Nor is the DIG alone in the strength of its criticism. Indeed, Professor Peter Townsend, the chairman of the Disability Alliance, towards the end of a critique of the Government's economies at the expense of disabled people, wrote recently: …the prospects in the early 1980s for the disabled population are gloomier than at any time in the last two decades. Professor Townsend, like Peter Large, dealt not only with cuts in invalidity, supplementary and other cash benefits but also with services for disabled people. In particular, both spokesmen laid stress on the increased charges for home helps and the fact that many disabled people are now unable to pay for the amount of help they need. Commenting on this in a statement timed for today's debate, the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation observed: The Government has consistently requested local authorities not to charge people on supplementary benefit for home helps, but has also taken specific action to ensure that no additional supplementary benefit can be paid to meet any charges. We believe that this is particularly disgraceful as an example of the two millstones of central and local government grinding disabled people in the middle". How does the Minister respond to that statement?

How also does he explain the decision which has now been taken by 14 national charities, including RADAR, to institute legal proceedings against his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for failure to use the powers available to him to help disabled people to secure their rights under the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act? This is an extremely serious and, I believe, unprecedented situation. I hope that the Minister will at least acknowledge that in his reply today.

The other charities are, the Spastics Society, the Muscular Dystrophy Group of Great Britain, the Multiple Sclerosis Society, the National Association for Mentally Handicapped Children and Adults (MENCAP), Age Concern, Arthritis Care, the Association for Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus, the Disabled Drivers Motor Club, OUTSET, the British Polio Fellowship, the Leonard Cheshire Foundation, the Royal National Institute for the Deaf and the Spinal Injuries Association.

Those are not organisations that will derive any pleasure from taking legal action against the Secretary of State, least of all in this International Year of Disabled People. Yet they are plainly determined now to see that the law is properly enforced. They also see themselves as acting in the public interest. For Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons the Act is about helping disabled people, wherever possible, to live at home. That is as much in the interest of the taxpayer and ratepayer as it is of disabled people. In a reply on 11 May, the Under-Secretary of State—the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young)—informed me that it can now cost over £20,000 a year to keep a person in hospital. It cost nothing like that fully and humanely to apply all the provisions of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act. Yet many severely disabled people will find themselves in hospital if the Government continue to enforce spending cuts on local authorities that can provide the alternative to hospitalisation.

For the Government to put extreme pressure on local social services departments to cut essential expenditure is, therefore, as self-defeating as it is inhumane. The best way to spend money in the service of disabled people is to give them the right help, in the right place and at the right time. This cannot, of course, be done unless we know who the disabled are and have fully assessed their needs as individuals. That is why the work of OUTSET, the organisation concerned with full identification of disabled people by household surveys, is of the first importance. Instead of pressurising and bullying local authorities, the Government should be drawing their attention to OUTSET's expertise in identifying disabled people at risk.

Our debate today comes at a time when unemployment is at its highest since the 1930s. Yet one aspect of last month's grim and shocking figures that did not catch the attention of the media is their tragic effect on the employment prospects of disabled people. The sad fact is that unemployment among the disabled is very much higher than unemployment among the able-bodied. I hope that in this debate, at least, there will be time for Members on both sides of the House to reflect on the plight of those, not least the younger disabled, for whom unemployment is a deeply demeaning and further handicap. In seeking dignity and not the dole, they become doubly handicapped and suffer double despair.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) has made clear both to the Secretary of State for Employment and the chairman of the Manpower Services Commission, the House wants to be informed of the outcome of the MSC's review of the quota scheme at the very earliest possible date. Is there anything that the Minister can tell us today about the Government's intentions?

In Labour's years of power, increasingly high priority was given to housing for the disabled. Now a survey by the housing charity Shelter shows that in 1980 the number of new housing units for the disabled was cut by 32 per cent. compared with a cruel enough cut of 23 per cent. for housing generally. So in finding somewhere to live, as in seeking jobs, the disabled find themselves at the back of the two longest queues in Britain today.

When the Minister replies he will no doubt speak of initiatives taken by Government Departments in recognition of IYDP. Let him also, however, list the cost of the initiatives that he cites. If the Education Bill is to be cited, let him frankly concede the truth of the general criticism among disabled people and their families that the Government's policy is one of Warnock on the cheap. Let him also concede that in this case, as in most others, a thimbleful of resources counts for more than a bucketful of good intentions. In the debate on IYDP in another place on 14 January, Baroness Young said, in speaking for the Government: I have no doubt that in the course of the debate the Government … will be asked to find more resources for a great many good causes, and I am equally certain that I shall have to resist".—[Official Report, House of Lords, 14 January 1981; Vol. 416, c. 53.] That was a frank admission at the commencement of IYDP of the Government's firm resolve to resist calls for additional spending. What Lady Young did not say was by how much expenditure on disabled people is being reduced this year by the cut in invalidity benefit, the so-called clawback of benefits under the terms of the Social Security Bill and in other ways. It will be helpful if the Minister can make good that omission in his speech today.

There are a number of specific further questions which I would now like to put to the Minister. The first is about the advice given to disabled teenagers in the new leaflet "Non-Contributory Invalidity Pension," NI 210/Nov 80. The Minister must now be aware that the advice given about supplementary benefit on page 4 of the leaflet is wrong and thus misleading. How soon will he be amending the leaflet? I am sure that the Minister will agree that errors of this kind seriously compound the already difficult problems of take-up of benefits among disabled people.

The Minister must also be aware of the very keen sense of grievance among the charities that work daily with and for disabled people about the heavy new burden imposed on them by the Government's doubling of VAT. Tim Yeo, the director of the Spastics Society, has said that in consequence of the Chancellor's minor extension of relief from VAT in the last Budget his society will save only £6,000 of the £250,000 that it loses annually on VAT and that the sharp rise in petrol duty will cost the Spastics Society another £30,000 per annum. These are striking figures which the Minister must not try to sweep under the carpet today. Brian Rix, speaking on the same subject as secretary-general of MENCAP, commented: We are running a service for charity and we are being clobbered. I could quote many other distinguished representatives of the voluntary sector to the same effect. They are people who pioneer and provide services, education, treatment and training for people with disabilities. Their contribution is a valuable one, but they are held back in seeking to do more by the Treasury's hand in their till. Is there anything that the Minister can say today to reassure the charities that at least he accepts the force and justice of their case? Moreover, what action is his Department taking to help charities to make good the ravages of the Treasury?

My next question concerns access to schools for disabled children. Peter Large has put it to me in an important comment that there is a danger that local education authorities will be their own judges in deciding whether it is practicable and reasonable to make their new schools accessible. They could easily argue that this is unreasonable if there is an accessible special school in an authority's area The point is well argued and Mr. Large suggests an amendment to the Education Bill to ensure that at least one ordinary school in every local authority area is made accessible to, and convenient for, the use of disabled children, disabled teachers and disabled adults who may use the school in out-of-school hours. Is the Minister prepared urgently to discuss this suggestion with his colleagues at the Department of Education and Science to see whether they can help?

All too often in public debate on the needs of disabled people there is too little emphasis on the special problems of people who are mentally handicapped. The documentary "Silent Minority" has now fortunately heightened public interest in people who live in long-stay mental handicap hospitals. What all of us must recognise is that there is another way and that in this field as in so many others the voluntary sector has been the pathfinder. Severely mentally handicapped children can learn to take their place in the community if they can attend units like the Spastics Society's Beech Tree House. We need more such units and I am very concerned that the guidelines for matching funds announced by the Secretary of State as long ago as last September have still not been published. Is it possible for the Minister to give us indication of the guidelines before we conclude today?

As I said earlier, the prevention of disability is one of the principal aims of IYDP. Yesterday the Spastics Society, in publishing its report "Who's Holding the Baby Now?" as its response to the Government's White Paper in reply to the Short report on perinatal and neonatal care, accused the Government of a "gross abrogation of responsibility" and also posed the question: How may we rest satisfied when we know that so many newborn infants die or are damaged because of the lack of trained staff and facilities?

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

I do not know which report the right hon. Gentleman is referring to when he speaks of the Short report. Perhaps it is the Select Committee's report on perinatal and neonatal mortality. If so, I remind the right hon. Gentleman that that was a unanimous report of right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House and it is inaccurate to ascribe it to one hon. Member. Hon. Members on both sides played a major part in its production.

Mr. Morris

I was using a form of shorthand. I appreciate that the report was unanimous and I know that the hon. Gentleman, my right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Ennals) and others did excellent work in the Select Committee.

The Spastics Society's report is one of considerable importance and I have no doubt that my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones), who has campaigned hard and long on this important issue, will want to discuss it further. Meanwhile, I hope that the Minister will do his best to make a positive response to the deeply serious questions posed by the Spastics Society's report.

Of course, not all recent developments have been for the worse. As I said, the charities that work with and for disabled people are constantly striving to do more and two charities with very honoured names, the Eleanor Hamilton Education Trust and the Heinz and Anna Kroch Foundation, own Possum Controls Ltd., a company dedicated to the production of electronic aids for disabled people.

Possum has developed a remarkable new microprocessor to enable severely disabled people to work at home. It is designed to store an indefinite amount of information on cassette tapes and, if requested, can transfer information by telephone from one text processor to another. This enables the disabled person to transmit to, and receive back from, a secretary or other person at a company office. The processor has been developed to use a normal keyboard in the case of a secretary. The great majority of Possum typewriter systems at present in use through the NHS could, I am told, be converted to text processors on site.

I understand that the Minister made a recent visit to Aylesbury. He will know, therefore, that the new microprocessor could assist even some of the most severely disabled people to become taxpayers. He will also be aware of the wide range of equipment for rehabilitation and communication that is available and of how helpful it would be for such equipment to be supplied for the education of disabled children and young people.

I hope that the Minister" will not neglect the importance of modern technology in the service of disabled people. Indeed, I hope that he will pay a well-merited tribute to all British enterprises that are giving leadership in this field and that he will help them all he can to help more and more disabled people both here arid abroad.

The IYDP is not just an occasion for the United Nations and the capital cities of the world. It is a year in which everyone can make his or her contribution. It will depend mainly for its success on what all sorts of organisations and people, especially local groups and individuals, can achieve in their communities all over the world. The IYDP is our best ever opportunity to get through the barriers of public indifference and ignorance and its message presents a very special challenge to legislators and Ministers.

The motion rightly concerns itself not only with the present but with the future. In calling for a programme of action for the years ahead, the motion prompts attention for the charter for the 1980s for disabled people worldwide. The charter is the work of the World Planning Group which, linked to the United Nations' declaration of 1981 as the International Year of Disabled People, has drawn up a statement of consensus about priorities for action in this decade. The World Planning Group met under my chairmanship and its members were drawn from the North, South, East and West of the world and from rich and poor countries alike. In the words of Rehabilitation International: The charter was developed on the basis of the most extensive international consultation ever undertaken in the fields of prevention and rehabilitation. Its text was reviewed, over a three-year period, at national and international conferences in every region of the world.

The document lists more than 40 recommendations for action at the community, national and international levels. Every country is urged by the charter to prepare a comprehensive plan in the light both of these recommendations and its own circumstances. It seeks full participation and equality and is seen by all who contribute to its making as a document of lasting benefit to disabled people everywhere.

Aiming at the new era, indeed, providing its agenda, the charter for the 1980s is being presented this year to Heads of Government all over the world. It will be presented in Britain in November and will ask the Government to do all in their power to speed its implementation.

The knowledge and skills now exist to enable each country to remove the barriers which exclude disabled people from the life of the community. It is possible for every nation to open all its institutions to all of its people. What is too often lacking is the political will to proclaim and translate into action the policies necessary to bring this about. Yet a nation failing to respond to this challenge fails to recognise its own true worth.

Robert Burns saw a future where man to man the warld o'er shall brothers be". I believe that that is how most people will want to see the International Year of Disabled People. They will want it to have been about fraternity and man's humanity to man. I know that there are hon. Members on both sides of the House who profoundly hope that that turns out to be true.

10.8 am

The Minister for Social Security (Mr. Hugh Rossi)

I congratulate the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) on initiating the debate. The Government readily accept the motion.

The right hon. Gentleman enjoys the enviable distinction of having been the first Minister for the disabled, not only in this country, but in the world. It is a distinction which he wears with great pride. As his successor but one, I find my work as deeply challenging, richly rewarding, and of as intense and, I trust, abiding interest as the right hon. Gentleman found it.

My one regret—I know that the right hon. Gentleman fully appreciates it, because he faced such problems—is that I come to the task at a time of grave economic difficulty and against a background of world recession.

Mr. Michael Welsh (Don Valley)

Always the same excuse.

Mr. Rossi

Facts are facts for a' that. Robbie Burns did not say that, but it is true.

It is impossible to contemplate the enormity of what is required to be without a deep sense of frustration at the current lack of resources to do it. However, notwithstanding the difficulties with which we are faced, it is a cause of some pride that the disabled were the one group in our society whose needs my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer was able to recognise in his last Budget. He was able to make additional provision, albeit modest, for them. For example, it was possible to exempt from VAT adaptations to disabled drivers' cars, to double the tax allowance for blind people and to increase the mobility allowance well in advance of the level of inflation.

Local authorities as a whole have responded to the request of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to protect the most vulnerable sections of our community from whatever economies they might be obliged to make.

Thus, since 1978–79, current expenditure on the personal social services has increased by almost 5 per cent., most of the increase being in residential care for the young handicapped and in the adaptation of homes. Additionally, local authorities' support for the social services voluntary sector has increased by 8 per cent. in real terms.

The right hon. Gentleman naturally pointed to a number of areas where we would wish to do better, and where measures have had to be taken with a heavy heart indeed. But when he was talking of the Labour Government's record I noted that he was careful to talk of increases in cash terms. I am talking about a modest increase but, nevertheless, an increase in real terms. I ask the House to be fair about that matter.

Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

I accept what the Minister says about the increases. To help the House, will he cost them? My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) costed his increases. Will the Minister cost his?

Mr. Rossi

I do not have the figures here, but I shall let the right hon. Gentleman have them if he is interested.

We see all about us a great deal more to be done. Legitimate criticism can be made, has been made, and I am sure will be made during the debate, about the real gaps in provision that still need to be filled. However, that should not disguise the fact that we are still making progress. The pace is not as fast as I wish, but it is as fast as the economy permits.

The real problem is that during the last decade or so we have been seeking to make good the neglect—indeed, the ignorance—of centuries. After all, it is not so long ago in our history that the House passed legislation the Vagrancy Acts to protect upright citizens from being molested in the streets by the wounded heroes of Wellington's armies and Nelson's navies. Public attitudes have, thankfully, undergone a profound change since those days, and the House has responded to that.

Despite that, we are still living in the shadow of more recent attitudes when disability, especially mental disability, was regarded as something shameful. Families afflicted with it tended to hide away what they considered to be their shame. They bore it with fortitude and with the traditional stiff upper lip, and when they found that they could no longer cope, the support offered by society was large institutional buildings in which the problems could be hidden even deeper from sight.

Today there is a greater understanding of the difficulties and problems. The institutional solution is no longer acceptable. In recent years there has been a great drive to bring the mentally handicapped out of the large institutions and into smaller community-based units. Between 1969 and today the numbers of mentally handicapped children in hospitals have fallen from 7,100 to about 2,000. However, there still remain 15,000 fully able-bodied mentally handicapped adults in large hospitals who should not be there. That is unacceptable.

Before we condemn our forefathers too censoriously for the inheritance of large, inappropriate institutions that we are now having to find the ways and means to replace as quickly as possible, let us remember the enormous strides that have been made in medical understanding of disabilities in recent years, and also in physical and electronic aids for physical disability, which has never been possible until now. It is simply not possible to provide and replace aids and to undo the work of centuries overnight.

It is important to ensure that public attitudes keep pace with the fast-expanding frontiers of knowledge in that area. Thus, we can ensure that the disabled will enjoy the advantages of the new discoveries as quickly as possible, and be enabled to participate in and be accepted into normal everyday human activities. It is precisely to do that that the United Nations declared 1981 the International Year of Disabled People, with the aims that the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe recited—which, therefore, I do not need to repeat.

The Government were sponsors of, and the most willing signatories to, that declaration. Therefore, to a certain extent the motion before the House is superfluous. However, it is timely. We are little more than halfway through the year. It is as well to review progress, to take stock of all that has been achieved and to consider what remains to be done to take advantage of the IYDP in promoting the cause of the disabled.

The past six months have been a tremendous success. The voluntary organisations, the general public, and the media have risen magnificently to the call. Scarcely a town or village in Britain has not some activity, some happening, connected with the year. In the past month alone I have visited a county fair that had a display for the disabled, opened a travelling exhibition at the Guildhall in London connected with the Disabled Living Foundation, released 25,000 racing pigeons across the Channel in aid of the Blackpool and Fylde blind, attended a large open-air picnic at Kempton Park racecourse organised by the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women, hosted a reception for people from the Leonard Cheshire foundations all over the world, in addition to attending a number of meetings, conferences and discussions with a whole wealth of voluntary organisations.

The activity is continual and incessant. Much has been due to the considerable efforts of the Voluntary Organisations Committee, for which we have provided funds in England of more than £250,000. We told the committee that its job was to stimulate and co-ordinate the non-Government response through the year. We gave it the funds to enable it to do that and we gave it our support wherever possible. It started its planing in 1979, and the results of its energy, enthusiasm and good sense are now apparent to all of us throughout the country. I should like to express my warmest admiration for what it has achieved in the first half year and to give it my good wishes for the next half year. If it is not inappropriate, I single out for special mention Mr. Kit Aston, who has been the driving force behind all the committee's activity.

This emphasis on the voluntary sector does not mean that we do not recognise that the Government, too, have a role to play. In answer to parliamentary questions over the past few months various Ministers have outlined a whole range of activities by different Departments in response to the International Year of Disabled People. The Departments, too, are taking the opportunity of the year to consider what policies affect disabled people and how, when resources can allow, these can be improved. The process did not start with the year, but the year has given it greater emphasis.

Hon. Members are aware of what is being done, but it will not do any harm to remind ourselves of some of the things that the various Departments are doing. The Department of Employment has its continuing "Fit for Work" award scheme, which is being stepped up this year. Greater encouragement is being given to employers to implement conditions that make it possible for the disabled to work within the community and to fulfil themselves in an occupation.

The Department of the Environment has initiated a design award for the housing of disabled people and a competition among architects for design for access to buildings by disabled people, and has engaged on a programme of adaptation of public buildings to make them accessible to disabled people.

My Department is funding the Voluntary Organisations Committee for the year. We have issued a revised booklet, "Help for Handicapped People", and the committee is setting up and sponsoring an international seminar on the prevention of disability, which will be held at Leeds castle in November.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has introduced a £1 million scheme to assist the movement of mentally handicapped young people into the community.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

My hon. Friend has just announced that a seminar will be held at Leeds castle later this year that will put forward proposals for preventing handicap. Can he tell us at this stage whether the recommendations of the Select Committee on Social Services in its report on neonatal and perinatal mortality will form part of the proposals and recommendations to be put forward by the Government? They could make a major contribution to reducing the numbers of babies born with a handicap.

Mr. Rossi

As my hon. Friend knows, the report is being considered by my right hon. Friend, and he will make an announcement on it in due course. The seminar at Leeds castle will be a convening of international experts from all parts of the world, who will study the problems and indicate ways in which we can make progress in preventive medicine.

The Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland Departments are all working actively in promoting the International Year of Disabled People in their own regions. The Department of Transport has a mobile exhibition which is travelling around the country, because mobility for the disabled is a major factor in their lives. The Department has organised a rally for disabled drivers in Silverstone in June.

The Department has also been discussing with Car Bodies Ltd., of Coventry, ways of making the London taxi more accessible to disabled people. The existing model presents considerable difficulties to the elderly and disabled. As a result of those discussions the new model of the taxi, which is planned to go into production in [983, will be fully accessible to wheelchairs and will incorporate features that will make it easier for less severely disabled people to use. The Department is also now reviewing the regulations concerning the use and abuse of the orange badge system, again to seek to make life tolerable for disabled people.

There is a whole range of activities, both in the voluntary and official sectors, regarding the International Year of Disabled People.

I know that it is sometimes regarded as fashionable in the House to knock this country, because of dislike of the Government and because the Government are regarded as fair game, but incidental to that the country also becomes knocked. Let me read from an unsolicited letter that I have received from Mr. George Wilson, director of the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation, who has just returned from a visit to the United States. He says that people in the United States are amazed at the way in which the International Year of Disabled People is receiving publicity and attracting attention from the community in Britain. He says: I think that after being in a number of countries during the year Britain has really made more out of the year than any other country that I have visited. He continues: In my meetings on the international rehabilitation field I became even more aware I think of the fact that we are an extremely sophisticated country in the disabled field and that we have a system of information and provide a system of aid which though not perfect is well in advance of others. That unsolicited testimonial is something of which we can all be proud. George Wilson is speaking not for the Government or for the Opposition but for Britain, and that is how Britain is viewed in the context of the International Year of Disabled People throughout the world. We in this House should be intensely proud of that, rather than adopting our perpetual habit of wearing sackcloth and ashes, beating our breasts and saying what a poor show we are putting on all the time.

Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport)

I do not think that anyone would wish to denigrate many of the praiseworthy initiatives of local authorities, voluntary organisations and even the Government, but the House would like to hear what resources will be made available. It is the absence of financial resources in particular that results in voluntary bodies and local authorities experiencing a severe squeeze at present. We are halfway through the year, so it is reasonable for the House to ask the Minister what extra resources will be put into the area of disability. We know that the Minister's intentions are good but we want to hear what pounds and pence will be made available.

Mr. Rossi

I have already stated the growth, in real terms, that has taken place and is taking place—nearly 5 per cent. in the social services, for example—and I have indicated areas of increased assistance to the disabled that were announced by my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his recent Budget. That is all that we can manage at present. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman; I do not demur from the fact that we should like to do a great deal more.

Any Minister who holds a particular brief likes to show something for his tenure of office. It is certainly not for any lack of will or desire that I am not doing a great deal more than I am doing at present. However, I have to bear in mind what the country can afford and what is available to me. At the end of the day our priorities as a nation must be to get our economy back on a sound basis. Until we earn the money by increasing our productivity and selling our goods abroad we shall not have the cash that we want to spend on all these desirable and necessary objectives.

I was asked a number of questions of detail by the right hon. Gentleman. First, I shall answer his question about the international aspect of the Government's initiatives in this International Year of Disabled People. As well as the international conference to which I have just referred, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has made a grant of £34,500 towards equipping a rehabilitation centre in Zimbabwe. There has also been a funding of £50,000 to the Leonard Cheshire Foundation for a new home, also in Zimbabwe.

I am scouring the National Health Service for surplus equipment—for example, mark 2 or 3 wheelchairs which our people feel should not be issued to them now that mark 7 or 8 wheelchairs are available. Obviously, everyone wants the latest model. We have provided 130 surplus wheelchairs, for example, to Egypt. So we are continuing to do what we can within the limits of our current resources to help not only at home but abroad.

There are other ways in which the Government can mark the International Year of Disabled People. There is the legislation, to which reference has been made, to implement the recommendations of the Warnock report on education of children with special needs. But I am also glad that we have been able to provide assistance for the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley)—the Disabled Persons (No. 2) Bill. This Bill is being discussed today in another place. We have been able to assist the progress of the Bill. Indeed, the Government have offered a number of suggestions for strengthening it—increased fines for taking a disabled person's parking place and provision for improved signposting facilities for disabled people. In another place, amendments have recently been put down to strengthen the access provisions of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 and to prevent misuse of the disabled person's orange badge. I understand that that Bill also provides for access to schools, which the right hon. Gentleman asked about.

No debate on disability would be complete without detailed consideration of the problems of access. The House will be aware that the Committee on Restrictions Against Disabled People—CORAD—was funded by the then Government in January 1979 as an independent committee. It has full Government support and is continuing the campaign of its predecessor body to improve access as well as investigating all aspects of discrimination against disabled people. I hope that it will report by the end of this year.

The Committee on Restrictions Against Disabled People is sponsoring "Access Week". It believes that improvements in access are best achieved by the efforts of local groups who are aware of their local problems and needs. It has not therefore itself sponsored many national events, preferring to leave it to local groups of people to organise whatever they think fit. That committee has seen its role as publicising and encouraging support for "Access Week". From all reports, it seems to have been very successful.

Since I am Minister for the Disabled, access must be a subject of vital interest to me. The Government have affirmed their commitment to improved access for disabled people, and I have been personally involved in a variety of initiatives. For instance, I recently held a meeting with the Association of Cinematograph Exhibitors and Managers and the Society of West End Theatres. I was delighted to hear at those meetings of their concern to make provision for disabled people and what they have already achieved in this respect. They agreed to consider further and report back to me on my suggestions for providing a range of seats at a range of prices for disabled people, for putting in induction loops, and for allowing the entry of unaccompanied blind people and their guide dogs.

Finally, I take this opportunity of announcing a further initiative that we are to take to mark the International Year of Disabled People. I have decided to hold a competition for an award to recognise interesting new projects undertaken by voluntary organisations to enhance the quality of life for disabled people. I think that the detailed criteria are best left to be settled by the panel of judges who have agreed to consider the entries. I am glad to say that Kit Aston, the chairman of the English voluntary organisations committee for the IYDP, has agreed to chair the judging panel and that Brian Rix, of MENCAP, and Elizabeth Fanshawe, of the Disabled Living Foundation, together with Dr. Elizabeth Shore and Bill Utting from my Department, have agreed to be the panel. They will be announcing further details as soon as possible.

These measures may be modest, but I hope that the House will recognise that we are seeking to do whatever we can to promote the objectives of the IYDP in the best way that we can and, in the terms of the motion before the House, to consult as widely as possible the various organisations concerned to make sure that the IYDP is a continuing and abiding success.

I congratulate the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe on his splendid achievement in producing the charter for the 1980s, which cannot help but be relevant both here and, more importantly, in the developing countries. I understand that it is to be presented formally to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in November, and I hope that that will serve as a focus for the aims and objectives of the IYDP and give an impetus into the eighties. Naturally, I look forward to receiving my own copy.

It is more important than anything else in this International Year of Disabled People to ensure that the initiatives started in it do not come to an end, and that at the end of 1981 people do not give a great sigh of relief and say, "Thank goodness that is over. We can now sit back and worry about something else." We must regard it as a launching pad for the future. There has been far too much neglect of this issue, engendered by ignorance over the centuries. Now. we are becoming aware, not only of cause, but of ways to remedy effect. The nation has made a tremendous response to the IYDP. There is a wealth of good will. We must build on that well into the future. I know that that will be the wish of all hon. Members.

10.40 am
Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

The House has just listened to two speeches, and it will be called upon to assess and decide which had greater relevance to and importance for the International Year of Disabled People.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) made a striking and distinctive speech, and I congratulate him warmly. I am sorry that I cannot pay the same tribute to the Minister for Social Security, who has just made a very distressing contribution.

I listened very carefully to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe, and I recall that he asked a number of significant questions. He asked about the cut in invalidity benefit affecting 650,000 people. No answer was forthcoming. He asked about prescription charges" upped fivefold. There was no answer. He asked about the simplification of supplementary benefit. There was no answer. He asked about the cut in services. There was no answer. He asked about the 14 charities taking action against the Secretary of State. There was no answer. He asked about the quota system. The answer was "Fit for work", which is fine in itself, but on the quota system—

Mr. Rossi

A number of these questions have been asked on previous occasions and have been answered on previous occasions, including those on invalidity benefits, prescription charges and the rest. I did not think it right to detain the House in what I felt was already an overlong speech by going over matters with which right hon. and hon. Members were extremely familiar. I can also tell the right hon. Gentleman that the quota system is before the Manpower Services Commission, which is considering the matter. It will be reporting to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment. Until that report is available I am not in any position to comment. I have no wish to avoid these pertinent questions. I did not deal with them either because they had already been advanced and answered in the House or because the information was not readily available.

Mr. Ashley

We appear to have an answer on one issue, that of the quota. It is an inadequate answer, but it is an answer. But it is not clever of the Minister to answer one question when I have repeated half a dozen put to him by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe. It is grossly inadequate to say that they have been answered already and that the Minister did not want to detain the House by dealing with them again. The opportunity presented by this debate is to allow the Minister to detain the House and to answer questions put to him. That is the purpose of the House of Commons. That is the reason for the debate. The opportunity has been provided, and it is no answer to say that a response has been made to these questions in the past. Those past answers were inadequate. The Minister is evading his responsibility to respond to my right hon. Friend.

There are a great many more outstanding questions, but I ought not to go on repeating what my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe said.

The Minister is on rather sticky ground and choosing a very bad example when he suggests that George Wilson has complimented the nation and, ergo, the Government. George Wilson is the director of RADAR, which is one of the charities complaining about the cuts imposed by the Government. George Wilson is one of those who are running to the courts saying that the Government are failing in their duty. If the Minister persists in quoting George Wilson, I can tell him that he has chosen a very bad example and damned himself out of his own mouth.

I am sure that other right hon. and hon. Members will want to take up the theme of the Minister's failure lo respond to my right hon. Friend's questions. I had prepared a very long speech, but I shall have to cut its length because I see a large number of my right hon. and hon. Friends waiting to intervene.

It is just a year since I attended the meeting in Winnipeg which drew up the internatinal charter. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe played a very important and outstanding role there. I was extremely moved to see the energy, dedication and idealism of the delegates. It was a marvellous experience.

The figures were emphasised and reiterated constantly: the 5 million disabled, the 1 in 10 disabled in every country, and the 350 million without the assistance that they need. So, too, were the declared aims of the charter: prevention, rehabilitation, integration and public awareness, and the 40 targets for action. These are very important objectives which can be attained if we work and fight for them, but only by a persistent and sustained international campaign to which I hope we shall contribute.

It was right and necessary to assess the international dimensions, and I am glad that the Minister referred to the charter, as did my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe. But we need greater discrimination in favour of disabled people both at home and abroad, and we need to redistribute resources not only within national boundaries but across them.

For all the fine words in Winnipeg and elsewhere we have to understand that this assistance and this redistribution of resources will not emerge merely from rhetoric in Winnipeg, admirable though it may have been. It will derive only from actions in every locality, town, city and country. It is the individual efforts which count. It will be done by the little bloke or the old lady in the parochial area making his or her contribution. It does not depend on what politicians say on these international occasions.

The necessary assistance and redistribution will also emerge from the hard policies adopted in the House and from our personal attitudes. It is by this simple yet exacting standard that we in Britain have had very little to boast about recently, and I was sorry to hear the Minister imply that by criticising the Government we were knocking Britain. We do not want to knock Britain. A lot has been achieved by all Governments. Nor do I wish to detract from what the present Government have done, though it is not as much as we did when we were in office. I am trying not to be party political, but the Government have not done enough, and insufficient note has been taken of the £1,000 million devoted to disablement during a time of very great economic hardship when the Labour Government were in office. There is no point in saying that we have economic problems now. Of course, we have. But it is the job of the Minister and his Secretary of State to fight their corner in the Cabinet and to win that battle.

It had been my intention to deal with four or five issues. However, in view of the number of right hon. and hon. Members who wish to contribute to the debate, I shall confine myself to one aspect which troubles the House deeply. It is the problem of mentally handicapped people. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe said, it was highlighted in the film "Silent Minority".

From time to time there is a tremendous outcry about the conditions of mentally handicapped people, but it dies down very quickly. It all seems to run into the sand. I have tried to analyse it, and I have reached the conclusion that when people are confronted with the appalling conditions in which mentally handicapped people live their conscience is disturbed and they want genuinely to help. But because there is something perhaps a bit off-putting about disabled people, the public do not want to know. So we have this paradox. People want to help, yet they really do not want to know. This explains the surge of anxiety followed very quickly by the feeling "Let us forget it".

We have to deal with that reaction, which is understandable but unacceptable. Hon. Members may have seen my early-day motion on the conditions of handicapped people. I thank those who have signed it for their support. However, one or two hon. Members, incredibly, have refused to sign it. They ask me for evidence of these bad conditions in institutions. I am sure that hon. Members who have been active in this sphere will be appalled at their reaction.

The film was eloquent testimony to the conditions. It was only one example and illustration of the invaluable and authoritative reports ranging from the Curtis to the Jay reports and the evidence of such outstanding people as Maureen Oswin, in her moving book, Larry Gostin, with his wonderful work for underprivileged people denied their fair rights, and Ann Shearer, in her brilliant articles in the newspapers. Those people do not agree with every dot and comma of policy. They argue a little. They are, however, unanimous that our large mental institutions are undesirable places for mentally handicapped people to live in. People, whether mentally handicapped or not, should live in homes—either family homes or small community homes. They should be provided with the appropriate level of individual care and attention.

It is remarkable how few, if any, people dissent from this view. Yet only slow and tedious progress has been made. It is true, as the Minister stated, that the figures for the priority group, the mentally handicapped children in large institutions, show a reasonable fall. My figures are not as up to date as those of the Minister. My figures show a fall from 7,000 in 1969 to less than 3,000 today. I think the Minister mentioned a figure of 2,000.

Mr. Rossi

The figure was 2,800 in 1979. Those are the last official figures and there has been a further improvement in the situation since that time.

Mr. Ashley

That is not so bad. The figure is 2,800. Mine was 3,000. I am out only by a couple of hundred. The fall is probably a recent development. It is reasonable. However, the Minister did not analyse the figures. The fall is not a real gain, although it appears to be so from a superficial glance at the figures. I understand that the figure is falling partly because very few children are now being taken into hospital for long-term stay. That is welcome. However, those who are there are not coming out. Ann Shearer, a renowned expert in this field, estimates that for those children for whom the hospital bed is home, the chance of leaving has hardly grown at all. All that is happening is that as they grow older they no longer show in the statistics. They become mentally handicapped adults in institutions.

We cannot be content to write off so many children by leaving them in institutions when the Spastics Society has shown so admirably what can be done if they are placed in stimulating and supporting homes like its Beech Tree House. I acknowledge the concern of hon. Members on both sides of the House about this problem. I welcome warmly the statement by the Secretary of State that the Government want to get children out of hospital as fast and as fully as possible. However, this concern is of no real value without the will and the resources.

I wish to examine the question of the Government's will. I asked in a parliamentary question a week or two ago whether the Government would give a date for the closure of children's wards in long-stay hospitals for the mentally handicapped and the transfer of those children into well-staffed units. The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security admitted that large hospitals do not provide a favourable environment for children to grow up in. In other words, the hon. Gentleman agrees with everyone else and with hon. Members on both sides of the House. He added, however, that since local circumstances vary widely, and particularly at a time of restraint on public expenditure. it would be impracticable to impose a date by which children could be removed. I am sick of the word "impracticable". It is a standby for Ministers who do not intend to do anything.

It would be foolish to say that there are no practical difficulties, but I do not like this umbrella word "impracticable" being trotted out too often by Ministers of too many Governments. I understand the Government's difficulty over Government expenditure. They have a problem. Nevertheless, public expenditure restraints should not pre vent their naming a date. No date means no will for action. The Government have to change their mind. They have to give a date that can be agreed or challenged. I hope that before the debate ends hon. Members will hear some answers to important questions.

Children are the priority. Not far behind are the adults trapped in unsuitable hospitals. According to Ann Shearer, St. Lawrence's hospital, Caterham, has 1,350 inhabitants. The development team, in its confidential report on the hospital, felt that hundreds could leave tomorrow if they had somewhere to go—which, of course, they have not—and that, in all, between 600 and 700 should find alternative homes. There are between 600 and 700 in this institution simply because they cannot find homes. That is a shocking situation. Why do they not have homes to go to? Most problems discussed in the House, whatever their nature, hinge finally on the adequacy of resources. Ministers have to solve these problems. In this case it is the location of resources, not the finding of resources, that is equally important.

The vast majority of mentally handicapped people living in National Health Service hospitals do not need medical treatment. They need support and accommodation, which is the responsibility of local authorities. It is often suggested that joint funding is the vehicle by which resources will be transferred from the National Health Service to the local authorities, as they should be. But joint funding is a gesture and little more.

Joint funding it not only inadequate in size; it is faulty in its nature. It provides only a temporary source of funds, and no one can pretend that mental handicap is a temporary matter. It is understandable that local authorities are cautious about joint funding.

As the Minister stated, the Government are about to issue a Green Paper on the transfer of funds from the Health Service to social services. That paper will be of great importance. I hope that it will contain some imaginative and realistic proposals. There will be an important debate in the House when the paper comes before us.

The reality simply must be faced. If the House wants local authorities to provide community homes for the mentally handicapped—hon. Members on both sides of the House are in no doubt about that—it must give them the money to do so. If it does not do so in the form of a special or earmarked grant, the obvious danger is that the money will not be spent as the House intends.

However strong the will and however great the transfer of resources, it will take time for our large mental institutions to dwindle and die. I end with this comment. While they exist, the rights of those living in them must be protected, so I particularly welcome the formation of the Advocacy Alliance, which will provide a friend and advocate on a one-to-one basis for some of the most vulnerable and forgotten people in the hospitals. It will give much needed long-term friendship, emotional support and advice for patients, and it will help to prevent abuse and uphold their human rights and statutory entitlements. It reflects great credit on the organisers and deserves:the warm support of the House.

We must stiffen our resolve to solve the appalling problem. We need a new sense of urgency. Above all, we need the political will to rescue those people whose lives are literally in our hands. I ask the Government to act now.

11.1 am

Mr. Paul Dean (Somerset, North)

I am pleased to follow in the debate the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley). The whole House acknowledges the work that he has done for the disabled and admires the way in which he has triumphed over personal disability.

Our Friday debates provide a good opportunity to stand back from the picture, review progress and assess where we have come from, where we are now and where we hope to go. The speeches so far have tried to do just that.

I declare an interest, not in the normal parliamentary sense of the word but as a war pensioner. I was also the Minister responsible for social security and war pensions between 1970 and 1974. Indeed, it was my pride and joy to present in 1970 a Bill which, among other things, introduced the attendance allowance. I claim no credit for that. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. However, we have made a great deal of progress since then under both Conservative and Labour Governments, including this Government, as illustrated by the speech of my hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security. Over that period we have become more aware of the needs of the disabled and more responsive to them. Perhaps equally significant, there are far more disabled people in the community now than there were 10 years ago. They set us a marvellous example of courage, determination and cheerfulness.

There has been progress. However, there is a danger that we shall begin to lose momentum unless we are careful. I say that for two reasons. The first and obvious one concerns economic circumstances and the strains on the rapidly growing social security budget; but there is a second reason. Following the progress that has been made, we are not really sure where we should be going.

How can we maintain the momentum? How should we continue to push frontiers forward in spite of economic restraints? How can we avoid disappointing expectations created from both sides of the House? It is as well to remind ourselves that the disabled are not a race apart. They are the same as all of us, except that they have special needs. That should be our starting point. They have the same hopes and fears and the same need for companionship within a family, for food and shelter, for work in satisfying occupations, and for income. Their needs are the same, only more so. The business of living, moving and working costs them more.

I shall later refer to those needs, but, first, let me deal with two special categories. The first consists of the war disabled. No debate on disability would be complete without a word or two being said about the war pensioner scheme. Here again, steady progress has been made over the years. I pay tribute to those who run the scheme and to the voluntary organisations such as the Royal British Legion, the British Limbless Ex-Servicemen's Association and many others who over the years have kept Ministers up to the mark.

However, we must recognise that the biggest chunk of war pensioners—those whose disability dates from the Second World War—are now either over or approaching retirement age. I hope that my hon. Friend can assure the House that in his approach to the war pension schemes the hallowed phrases "attributable to war service" or "aggravated by war service" will be generously interpreted. As men who suffered in war reach retirement age it is not easy to decide which of their ailments is a natural process of ageing and which is attributable to or aggravated by their war service. The older that they get, the more important it is that those interpretations should be generous.

The second category, which has been referred to in every speech so far, is that of the mentally handicapped. Here again, progress has been made over the years and attitudes have been revolutionised. We all pay tribute to the staff in our long-stay hospitals in performing their difficult task. For most of it is a case of out of sight, out of mind. It is generally agreed that the emphasis should shift increasingly from long-stay to small hospitals and supporting services in the community. I was glad to hear my hon. Friend state that that was the Government's priority. No doubt the Green Paper will focus attention on that. We hope that it will create a new impetus.

Returning to the three aspects that I mentioned, I come first to living and moving for the disabled, which is a vast topic involving Government, local authorities and the voluntary bodies, which do magnificent work. Let me give one or two obvious examples of where progress is required. First, the design of homes can make all the difference between mobility and independence and immobility and dependence.

As the vast majority of disabled people are elderly it is most important that in the design of homes we should become more disabled-minded than we are at present. There are baths which are difficult for elderly disabled people to get into and out of without help; there are taps and knobs with which arthritic hands find it difficult to cope. They are simple examples of the fact that in the design of homes we are nothing like as disabled-minded as we should be.

Access to buildings has been mentioned, and I was delighted to hear the Minister announce that there will be a public competition in this regard. In all too many cases public buildings seem to be designed to keep disabled people out rather than to allow them easy access.

With regard to vehicles, the Motability scheme has done a great job, but there are still many unresolved problems. We all welcomed the comparatively new mobility allowance that was introduced by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) when he was Minister with responsibility for the disabled. That was a welcome new development, but what about the blind?

Are we in danger, in making progress in allowances for the disabled, of neglecting the special needs of the blind? What about those who have retired?

Surely the time has come for us to take a good, hard look at the various aids to living and moving for the disabled. We need to draw the strands together and to ensure that there is much better publicity for the good practices. I am calling not for expensive new programmes but for better co-ordination and a sharper focus on what is being done already.

The gowing unemployment affects the disabled as well as the able-bodied, but it affects the disabled much more, and the organisations of the disabled are worried that these problems will be aggravated by the Rayner proposals that registration at a job centre should be voluntary for those getting unemployment benefit. The organisations fear that disabled people could easily lose contact with the disablement resettlement service. I hope that the Government will be able to reassure disabled people in this regard.

In present conditions, the existing quota scheme is becoming inadequate. We have now reached the stage, with the present levels of unemployment, at which we should devise positive incentives to employers to employ disabled people. There are various ways in which this could be done, and I do not want to detain the House by going into detail. What about the possibility of an abatement or rebate in respect of employers' national insurance contributions if they employ disabled people? We are getting used to the concept of rebates or abatements within the national insurance scheme. The Government are to introduce an arrangement under their short-term sick pay proposals. If the suggestion is regarded as impracticable, it should be possible to give a positive incentive through the various schemes run by the Department of Employment and the Manpower Services

I hope that in the all-important matter of working the Government will agree that it would be better to give positive incentives than to try to compel employers to employ a certain percentage of registered disabled people. It would also have the advantage of encouraging disabled people to register as disabled.

With regard to income, there is now a bewildering variety of cash benefits for the disabled. One has been built on another by successive Governments, in the manner of a jigsaw. Hon. Members on both sides of the House and the disabled organisations have a common objective—a comprehensive system of cash benefits to help meet the extra costs of disability. But there is no agreement about the best way of achieving that comprehensive objective.

There are various possible routes. I am sorry that so far the Government have not felt able to draw all these possibilities together into a Green Paper so that they can be fully discussed by the organisations concerned. I do not believe that a Green Paper would necessarily raise expectations which could not be quickly fulfilled, nor do I accept that it is sufficient for consultations to take place between the DHSS and the organisations outside. Ministers and officials are far too busy in their day-to-day activities to take the long look that is required. I hope, therefore, that the Government will reconsider the possibility of publishing a Green Paper.

We came a long way in the 1970s, but we are now in danger of losing our way and losing momentum for the 1980s and the 1990s. We have built allowance on allowance; we have built service on service. There is now a need to stand back and to look at the whole picture. We need to draw the various strands together into a comprehensive cash and care service designed to enable disabled people to live, move and work as nearly as possible like able-bodied people.

I am not asking for vast additional expenditure. That would be wholly unrealistic this year or for the foreseeable future. But we could very well find ways in which existing money could be used to better effect. I suggest to the House and to the Government that this is the right time to set up a high-powered review—be it through a Royal Commission or a committee of inquiry—to look at the progress of the last decade and to chart the way forward for the next decade. That would be a fitting British climax to the International Year of Disabled People.

11.18 am
Mr. Lewis Carter-Jones (Eccles)

I shall not follow the line pursued by the hon. Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Dean). I shall deal with one important element in the International Year of Disabled People—prevention. It has been touched upon and hinted at today.

The Minister said that no more resources were available. What I have to suggest would involve a saving and reallocation of resources to the betterment of the lives of disabled and handicapped people.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) is not present, because he and my right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Ennals) served on the Select Committee which dealt with perinatal care, and they did a first-class job of work.

I suppose that I started the campaign on perinatal care in 1976. The Spastics Society took it up in 1978, and the present Secretary of State for Health and Social Services shared a platform with my right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) in Trafalgar Square, when we launched the campaign. Then the Select Committee reported, and the findings of the Select Committee are crystal clear: if we spend money on better perinatal care we shall save money.

Although I think that it was originally my figure, in today's edition of The Guardian the hon. Member for Macclesfield is quoted as saying that a disabled child who has a normal expectation of life will cost the State between £300,000 and £500,000 in its lifetime. There is a good start for the Minister to make in IYDP.

Out of the 156 recommendations of the Select Committee, my right hon. Friend will be pleased to know that one has been accepted so far. That was my new clause on Warnock in the Education Bill, but it had no resource implications.

I am very glad that the hon. Member for Macclesfield has returned to the Chamber. I should like to tell him that I have just paid him a tribute. In these matters he has fought hard to improve perinatal care, to save money and to reduce anxiety and suffering.

Mr. Rossi

I wish to make it clear that the Government take the report of the Select Committee most seriously. Copies have been sent to all health authorities. The Department is in discussion with the various professional bodies concerned to see how best the recommendations can be implemented. It is not a question of the Government not wishing to do anything; we are actively pursuing the recommendations with the bodies concerned.

Mr. Carter-Jones

I should like to go along with the Minister on this matter, but only yesterady another report was issued by the Spastics Society—"Who's holding the baby now?" —in which the final remarks, attributed to Tim Yeo, are a converse reply to what the Minister said: most of the arguments used by the Government to avoid acting on the recommendations of the Social Services Select Committee are wholly untenable … The Spastics Society hopes to ensure that sustained public and political pressure will compel the Government to take the action which is so plainly and so urgently needed. That is the latest response from 11 experts in the field, strongly supporting the Select Committee's arguments on perinatal care.

Let us look at where the other cuts are taking place. I happen to be the chairman of the British committee of Rehabilitation International, which says "If you have not prevented handicap, do something about it. Rehabilitate people wherever possible." Within the National Health Service the most severe cuts are coming in rehabilitation and rheumatology units. The cuts are being most severely felt by the very people who could bring the disabled back into the community. I would help the Minister if he would launch an attack on the glamour-pants of medicine, the esoteric lads.

I happen to believe—here I use a phrase that is not often used—that the sooner we get a bit of bowels and bladder medicine the better, because 1 million people in Britain suffer from incontinence, and they are still shut away and ignored. We could do things for them with micro-technology. We could do things with new materials. We could nurse them in the community. We could bring them into our lives. We ought to do so, but that will require a different sort of priority with regard to spending in the NHS.

Normally in this House we pay tribute to Mr. Peter Large, the honorary parliamentary adviser to the Disablement Income Group. Today I have the permission of his wife to refer to her. Susie Large sustains Peter to a very large extent. He is in a wheelchair. But she suffers badly from a kidney disease. Another realm of priorities at which we ought to look carefully is kidney patients who can be cared for by continuous ambulatory peritoneal dialysis. That means that people can walk about and be treated as they do so.

In parliamentary replies I have been told that there is a risk of peritonitis. But Susie Large says, "That is my choice. It gives me relief and freedom. I decide. If the medical adviser whom I consult says 'By and large, Susie, this is what you ought to do', that is what I shall do—but the decision shall be mine."

The sooner we develop greater co-operation between the disabled person and the family and the medical, paramedical and nursing professions the better, because that will save infinite resources and we could deal with kidney sufferers much more effectively by that method.

Reference has been made to the film "Silent Minority". Because of the overwhelming numbers of people in long-stay hospitals, they cannot be given proper services. The inadequate services that they receive go on for year after year. A small sum of money is spent on each person over a long time. That, too, is false economics.

The Spastics Society, MENCAP and MINE) have clearly revealed—the Spastics Society in particular, at Beech Tree House—where they can give attention and training to children, who, although the training may be expensive, will respond within two or three years and will be able to live within the community at a much lower cost factor.

It is economically sound if it is morally right, and we should implement these things with a sense of urgency. What is lacking in IYDP is a sense of urgency. We are having lots of paper, but not much action.

Disabled people have a role to play in our society. I have a bit of good news for the House. My right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South, who is severely handicapped, has shown what can be done. No one can say that any money spent on him has been wasted. He has paid back over and over again any money spent on him in education or technology. Many people can be happy that he has overcome his disability. A substantial number of people have helped him to do so, including his family and his wife. He would be the first to pay tribute to them.

But there are times when my right hon. Friend needs his equipment, and several people have contributed in that sense. The DHSS has been helpful, as has Southampton university. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree that his operator has been helpful. He has coped with his disability and has taken part in our community. He has made a substantial contribution to the lives of disabled people in Britain.

It is nice to be able to say that my right hon. Friend's piece of equipment is now to be taken over by POSSUM and the National Research and Development Council. It will be of infinite benefit to many of the deaf, but it will have a commercial fall-out as well. If that makes a profit, that profit will go straight back to provide more equipment for the disabled. That is a happy story.

I treat disabled people as people who have a contribution to make to our society. They have a role to play. It must be not a passive but an active role.

Some people seem to think that POSSUM is brand new, but it has been going for some time. I have been trying to sustain it for about 17 years. The three survivors of the old POSSUM days are Paul Bates, the longest surviving respiratory polio victim in the world, who caught polio in the Malayan campaign, Christopher Docwra Jones, a solicitor with polio, and Ken Winter, a multiple sclerosis victim. All three are paralysed and all three are leading a full life. Paul Bates exports specialised hospital beds from his own bed through the medium of the equipment.

These things can be done and they must be done, but a tremendous amount of co-operation is required, and a great deal of give and take between the disabled person, his or her family, the medical and paramedical professions and the nurses. They must decide how the equipment is to be used and exploited. It is the medical profession who can say "Yes, you ought to take it now" and decide the short-term, medium-term and long-term benefits to be derived from such equipment.

I wish to put two questions to the Minister. RADAR tells me that it is particularly worried about the reviews of mobility and attendance allowances, which may be necessary but which do not always have the outcome that they ought to have. Frequently, people whose situation has worsened lose those allowances. A family trying to support itself needs that aid. Will the Minister assure us that no attempts will be made to cut public expenditure by that method?

Mr. Rossi

I can give the hon. Gentleman that absolute assurance. There is no intention that that should happen. These judgments—mostly medical judgments—are taken by independent adjudicating authorities. Of course, as the hon. Gentleman knows, when hon. Members write complaining about individual cases we have them looked into as best we can. There is no overall policy which requires or demands—indeed, it would be illegal for us to seek to do such a thing, that those independent bodies should be influenced by our requirements as regards savings in expenditure. We do not do that and we would not do it.

Mr. Carter-Jones

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. I wish to goodness that Hansard was read as avidly as The Sun, The Star and the Daily Mirror, so that everyone knew the rule that if ever an attack is made on a person's mobility or attendance allowance he should appeal. I hope that the headlines will be "If you are about to lose a benefit, appeal and ask for a review."

Secondly, I was asked to point out that in the age range 16 to 19 years there seems to be an anomaly whereby a disabled person receiving education is supported sometimes by the social services and sometimes by the education services. It may be said that there is no difference, as both are local authorities. Apparently, however, there is an interpretation which is causing worries to RADAR and which I would like clarified. Can the Minster give an assurance that if aid is given by social services a person receiving education will not have his non-contributory benefit cut off?

I have used up my time. I do not think that I have really spent one penny, although I have shifted millions of pounds in various directions. I want that money spent more wisely. Of course, I should like a few million pounds extra for other purposes and other benefits. I have spoken to the Minister. He and I—I was there briefly—went to the BP "Challenge to Youth" competition yesterday. It was absolutely first-class. I put it to him that where we have not prevented handicap we must give the people concerned our full support. As the hon. Member for Somerset, North said, that will mean aids in the home, environmental controllers and communications systems.

Given my interest in these matters, I am saddened to see people re-inventing the wheel over and over again. I wonder whether at some time we could set up a system which would, first, encourage the young, as BP did, to produce new equipment. Secondly, we should ensure that money is not wasted on re-inventing the wheel. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe allowed me a provision in his first-class Act—section 22—which I believe has been upset—"sabotaged" is a hard word—by the Department. The section was an attempt to find out what research was being done on this. Thirdly, will the Minister consider the allocation of a sum of money by a committee of experts to say that particular developments are worth pursuing? We shall see something of this in an exhibition at the House in the near future. We shall see what it is possible to do.

I end with this plea. It is low morality and poor economics to ignore the needs and requirements of the disabled. Given intelligent support, they can make a massive contribution to our society. To coin a phrase, given the tools and the means they will appear as a positive asset and not as a liability on the country's balance sheet.

11.37 am
Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)

The hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones) will, I am sure, have found a full response in all parts of the House to some of the suggestions that he has made. His expertise and knowledge of the subject of disabled people, coupled with the years of service that he has given to them are most moving, if I may embarrass him by saying so. He is also a brilliant and persuasive speaker. For that reason, too, there will be a tremendous response to some of his suggestions.

As one who is less expert on the subject and was not a member of the Select Committee, I wish to make two brief points. 'They are local points, but they have a wider general interest. I declare a particular interest as a governor of the Royal National Orthopaedic hospital and, in a local context, as vice-president of the Harrow Association for the Disabled, of whose work we are extremely proud, particularly in this International Year of Disabled People.

At the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital several years ago, I was one of those who pressed for the self-elevating wheelchair. It took a long time to persuade the bureaucrats at the DHSS that such a simple idea was a good one, but eventually it prevailed and I was grateful for the response after a great deal of time and work had been spent on the idea. This shows that officials—this probably applies to parliamentarians as well and, indeed, to members of the public—have preconceived in-stitutionalised notions abut various types of disability. It takes a great deal of time for people to adjust to the idea of a dynamic and progressive concept of getting disabled people to lead completely normal lives. I share the view of the hon. Member for Eccles that that must be the aim and that disabled people should also be able to play their full part in the economy. There is no intrinsic reason why that should not be done, provided that additional resources at the margin are devoted to it.

In Harrow we have another poignant reason for thinking about the disabled and those who are disabled through tragic accidents, as Police Constable Philip Olds resides in the borough. The case has now been heard and the sentences passed. It behoves me simply to remind the House of the tragedy facing that young man, struck down by a gunman around Christmas time in a wholly unnecessary and tragic incident. I do not think that I shall embarass him if I pay tribute again to his courage and determination. In Harrow we have been extremely moved and are very proud of him. He will be visiting the House shortly at the invitation of my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Page), in whose constituency he resides. It can take Police Constable Olds a whole morning to get dressed and shaved. It is sometimes difficult for us to understand the effort and tenacity that goes into that.

Some disabilities arise as a result of congenital and medical problems of one type or another. Those disabilities may be both mental and physical and may sometimes be combinations of both. In such cases it is even harder for the person involved to deal with the disability. However, we should also think of those who have suffered disability as a result of an accident. The orthopaedic hospital is proud of its recently developed self-contained two-dtorey display house, which shows how the disabled can manage to live in a normal environment. We have been able to develop the idea of the lift hoist. That is not a new idea, but it allows the disabled to go upstairs They are no longer condemned to living and sleeping on the ground floor. They can go upstairs to bed in the normal way.

An interesting facet of that basic and simple idea is that lift hoists are more expensive than they need be because most stairways are curved. If only there were more houses, and more older houses, with straight stairways, lift hoists could be cheaper. I hope that those who are technically qualified will consider that basic yet irritating problem to see whether technology can overcome it and make the hoists cheaper.

My main reason for intervening briefly is to refer, as other hon. Members have done, to the problem of access. I have permission to quote from a copy of a letter that was sent to me from the chairman of the Harrow Association for the Disabled, Mr. Tim Shapley. He is permanently confined to a wheelchair but has done marvellous work for all sorts of disabled people, not only in the borough of Harrow but in other parts of the United Kingdom. Some time ago he was asked by my noble Friend Lord Gowrie, Minister of State, Department of Employment, to accept an appointment and to work on some of the advisory services for the employment of the disabled. I do not wish to take up too much time, but these issues are extremely important.

The letter is dated 22 June 1981. Mr. Shapley wrote: In April, on your behalf, Mr. X"— there is no reason why I should mention the name— invited me to become a member of the London NW Area Committee for Employment of Disabled People, and I accepted the appointment. In early May, Miss Jennings telephoned from Bryan House." Bryan House is the North-West London headquarters of the Manpower Services Commission— She has been asked to arrange, before the Committee's official first meeting, a meeting of a panel—chairman plus two members—to consider the submissions for the 1981 Fit for Work Award Scheme. The proposed date was suitable to me and the venue was to be Bryan House. I asked her about access, as I would be wheelchair-borne, only to be told that this had not changed since my visit there in March 1980; this had been a visit for a meeting of London DAC chairmen." — that is, a reference to the Disabled Advisory Committee— I had then been very critical of the access provision to that building. When alerted," — that means after someone has arrived— the attendant carries out a portable wooden ramp and lays it over the flight of steps. It is made such that it fits closely over the steps and gives a gradient, I estimate, of between 1 in 1 and 1 in 2! The British Standard quotes a maximum of 1 in 12! Two attendants failed to push me up this man-made escarpment, and help had to be sought. It was an alarming and hazardous experience, the like of which I had not endured before, and shall not willingly again. Back to Miss Jennings, who, when I told her of that incident, agreed to try to arrange a more suitable venue. This was not found possible and the meeting was held at Bryan House without me. Subsequently, dated 5 June, came the notice of the first meeting of London NW Area CEDP on 25 June—at"— guess where— Bryan House! I feel that I must make a stand on this matter, not just for the occasional visitor, like myself, and not only for the employment or non-employment of disabled staff within that complex, but also on the issue of this shameful example set by a Government Department. I believe that to condone this lack of action, since I made people aware of the need 14 months ago, would be to betray all that I and many others have been campaigning for for so many years. By copies of this letter I am apoligising to my chairman.… for my absence from the panel and from the first meeting". A copy of the letter was sent by Mr. Shapley to my hon. Friend the Minister and to others. I do not need to quote the rest of the letter because only two brief paragraphs remain. However, the letter highlights the need to move energetically forward, particularly in the IYDP, to meet the problem of access. It is not true that substantial improvement has been made. However, there are certain exceptions to that For example, there has been a tangible amount of progress in cinemas. Public buildings and Government Departments are not giving a lead or setting an example.

Perhaps the word "shameful" is a bit strong. I am not mounting an attack on my hon. Friend the Minister. However, we must not just talk about the subject, we must take action. Recently I carried out a relatively easy project which did not reflect the problems faced by the genuinely disabled. However, I pushed a trolley, heavily loaded with luggage, round a railway station. I went through double doors and down awkward passages and so on. I found that it was hard enough for an able-bodied person to do. Therefore one can imagine how difficult it is for the disabled to get around in a normal way. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will be able to deal with that matter if he speaks at the end of the debate. I believe that the Minister has sent a reply but I have not seen a copy of it. Therefore, I shall not prejudge the response, but I hope that it will be positive.

I have made my small contribution to the debate. Other expert hon. Members will follow who will have more to say. However, it is time that the House gave a lead. It is time that we said that we shall no longer merely speak about such matters but that we shall take action.

11.46 am
Mr. David Ennals (Norwich, North)

I declare an interest, because I am a disabled war pensioner. In addition, I have a son who is a mobility training officer for the blind and a daughter-in-law who is a speech therapist. Therefore I am surrounded by people—both in the House and in my family life—who are concerned with disability.

I warmly welcome the point made about access by the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes). I am not certain that the time is not ripe for all hon. Members to consider whether there should be a statutory obligation for all new and converted buildings to provide adequate access for the disabled. This year, I have been much impressed by several of the access groups established in different parts of the country. They are not only producing a guide on access to various public services, but are bringing pressure to bear as regards buildings that the disabled have difficulty in entering.

I entirely agree with the tenor of all the remarks made from the Back Benches. I do not wish to imply that I doubted the sincerity of the Minister's approach to this problem. I sympathise with him in his problem. I am sure that there is a range of things that he would like to do. However, the Government will not give him the resources to do most of them.

The right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) intervened earlier, but I should like to put the question more specifically. The Minister did not mention the cost of the modest actions taken by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Budget. We welcome them and the actions taken by other Government Departments, including awards, plaques, competitions, and so on, but we should compare the cost with the savings that the Government have made by cutting the benefits of the disabled. The country is entitled to be given the figures. The right hon. Gentleman for Plymouth, Devonport asked the question and the Minister has had time to find an answer. Therefore, I hope that he will give an answer before the debate ends.

A problem arises about resources in relation to local authorities. In the Select Committee—at which the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) was present—the Secretary of State said that some local authorities were spending up to 5 per cent. more than they had spent the year before on social services, including services for the disabled.

On the same day that the Secretary of State made his statement in the Select Committee those authorities were threatened with being clobbered by the Secretary of State for the Environment for spending too much. The two Secretaries of State must get together. Do we want local authorities to fulfil their responsibilities to the disabled or do we want to say, "No, you must cut back on expenditure"? They cannot speak with two voices.

In Britain we should have a special interest in the International Year of Disabled People because we were the co-sponsors of the proposals. I feel a sense of pride that the proposal, for which we had a good deal of responsibility, is being carried out across the world. I join other hon. Members in congratulating the committee, under the patronage of Prince Charles, on the work that it is doing. Local authorities are thinking seriously about what present to give Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer to celebrate the wedding about which we are all happy. I would imagine that Prince Charles, rather than receiving gifts, of which, no doubt, he has countless replicas, would be much happier if the gifts were the action taken by local authorities, specifically to help the disabled in their areas in memory and recollection of the happiness of the Royal wedding.

I congratulate the local committees because they will form the basis for action that other hon. Members have said will be carried on long after this year has passed. In my city of Norwich the lord mayor is the inaugurator and chairman of the committee. He and his successor, the lord mayor-elect, together with the voluntary organisations, have given an enormous amount of time to the problems of access, which among other things, were raised by the hon. Member for Harrow, East.

I could not make this speech without paying tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris). In my time as Secretary of State he was part of my ministerial team as Minister with responsibility for the disabled. I believe that in most parts of this country and the world he is still thought of as the Minister for the disabled. He has dedicated the past 11 years to the problem of the disabled. In preparing my speech, I looked at a list that we prepared when in Government of 169 initiatives which were taken by the Labour Government to help the disabled. Those included the non-contributory invalidity pension for men and single women, the mobility allowance, the non-contributory invalidity pension for housewives and the invalid care allowance which were all part of the extra resources to help the disabled or to help people looking after the disabled. Massive improvements were made at that time.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Dean) is no longer here, because he said how proud he was that he was able to introduce a Bill which included the attendance allowance. The wording of the attendance allowance provision was precise to the dots and full stops of the Bill with which I was involved with Richard Crossman when he was Secretary of State. That and the invalidity pension were the ony parts of the Bill that fell in the election, and they were incorporated in 1970 in the Labour Government's legislation.

Whatever role the Government take there is no doubt that the voluntary organisations bear an enormous burden. It has been said before in the House—I have said it three times and repeat it for a fourth—that the Government must again consider how they can better help the voluntary organisations. I have mentioned the Spastics Society, but so many others can be included which deal with specific types of deformity, illness and disability. Those organisations have been heavily hit by the 15 per cent. VAT. Perhaps it would be unreasonable to suggest that they should be zero-rated, but the proposal was put forward in the Finance Committee that for them VAT should remain at 8 per cent. to ease some of their burdens.

Local authorities are having to cut the services for the disabled, and the voluntary organisations to which they look are simultaneously facing grave difficulties in doing their work and, in some cases, having to cut back on the services provided.

It is undoubtedly true that in general the disabled will be worse off financially at the end of the Year of Disabled People than they were at the beginning. That is a sad fact, which cannot be gainsaid. If it can be gainsaid, let the Minister say so when he replies.

My right. hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe mentioned that unemployment was higher among the disabled. The figure that I have is that it is 50 per cent. more likely that disabled people will be unemployed than those who are able-bodied. Once disabled people are out of work it is more difficult and takes them longer to get back into work again. That links with the cut in job training and vocational training.

Reference has been made to housing. In my constituency the moratorium on council house building has hit five sheltered housing schemes, some of which would have provided special facilities for disabled people. All the plans were laid. They are ready and waiting for the local authority to have the authority to proceed.

We have seen cuts in the social services—in home helps, physical aids, telephones, and hospitals for the disabled and, as has been said by my right hon. Friend, RADAR is proposing to bring legal action in some cases. I shall not say more about that.

Most serious of all has been the Government's decision in their public expenditure cuts not to exclude the disabled from the Social Security Act 1980—under which, as well as the unemployed, those on sickness benefit, industrial injuries benefit, invalidity benefit, together with adult dependants, all face cuts. That means that at a time when there are fewer services to help them they have less money available with fewer jobs to bring in a substantial income.

Those who are dependent on benefit find life difficult at a time when inflation is higher than it was two years ago. We must ask what the position will be next year. I do not know. I feel no confidence that even the reduced rate of increase in benefits that has been set for November this year will even be 1 per cent. lower than the inflation rate. My fear is that next year inflation will still be rising at a time of cuts in benefits. Already, bad is in danger of becoming worse.

Much of what I wanted to say has been said by the hon. Member for Somerset, North. While we were in office, as I have mentioned and as the House knows, we introduced a range of new benefits in addition to the invalidity benefit that the hon. Member for Somerset, North referred to, as well as the attendance allowance.

We have a network of benefits and we clearly need to work ut details of a comprehensive disability income to bring together all the different benefits so that we can produce a scheme the payments from which are based on the degree of disability of an individual and not on the cause of that individual's disability. When I was Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and I were preparing a discussion document. I agree with the hon. Member for Somerset, North that now is the time when such a measure should be considered.

Everyone recognises that there will not be big money available in the next two or three years, but anyone who has been in Government knows that introducing a new benefit, which will be complicated because it will relate to a range of other benefits, requires a great deal of thought and consultation. That process should be taking place now. I hope that the Government will soon announce that they have decided that although the money is not yet available the will is there and that they will publish a Green Paper outlining a range of ideas so that voluntary organisations can consider what would be the best forn1 of benefit.

My final point relates to the small number of vaccine-damaged children. As Secretary of State, I introduced a scheme that provided that those who, on balance of doubt, were seriously disabled as a result of public vaccination policy, should be given a grant of £10,000. We did not know how many would apply and what would be the ages of those in the groups that would be approved, either on initial application or through the tribunals. The payments began shortly before the general election.

One matter causes me great concern, and I believe that the integrity of the Secretary of State is involved. On 12 March 1980, the three Labour Members who had been most involved in the matter—my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe, my right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) and I—saw the Secretary of State to review the scheme and its working. A number of matters were raised, including whether £10,000 was still appropriate. One matter that greatly concerned us was how we should handle the £10,000 grants, which might be spent over many years or put aside to be spent later, for the purpose of assissing supplementary benefit. We said that the group involved was defined by Parliament and that the payments should not be taken into account in assessing supplementary benefit.

Four months later the Secretary of State courteously and kindly dealt with all the points that we had raised. He said in a letter to me: You raised the matter of the treatment of vaccine damage payments for supplementary benefit purposes and in assising charges for social services. I am glad to say that the Regulations to be made under the Social Security Act will make it possible for such sums to be disregarded in assessing payments of supplementary benefit. The Secretary of State was glad to give me that news, I was glad to pass it on to Mrs. Fox and the Association of Vaccine-Damaged Children, and she was glad to pass it on to those concerned.

However, we learnt later that the Secretary of State had got it wrong and, in spite of further meetings, the right hon. Gentleman confirmed that that was not what he meant. I cannot see how that letter can be read in any other way except that the £10,000 paid to kids who hae suffered desperately as a result of public vaccination policy should not be taken into consideration. If the grant is taken into account, those over 16 will lose £10.95 a week. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to look again at that matter. It is a serious problem for a small group of people.

Despite any criticisms that we may make about the Government's parsimonious attitude towards the needs of the disabled, we all ought to express our commitment to everything that anyone is doing to make the lives of disabled people as full, rewarding, rich and real as possible. We all want the enthusiasm stimulated during this year to be carried on for the next decade, so that the disabled never again feel that they are underprivileged.

12.5 pm

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

I feel humble in participating in the debate, because I am an amateur compared with those who have spoken so far. The right hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Ennals) is a former Secretary of State for Social Services, and his knowledge about the disabled is deep and profound. The dedication of the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) and the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones) to areas of handicap is renowned not only in this country but internationally. In addition, my hon. Friend the Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Dean), when he was a Minister in the DHSS, made a contribution to assisting the handicapped and promoting the interests of handicapped and disabled people. However, although I feel a mere amateur, I am a member of the Social Services Select Committee and I have taken a considerable interest in matters relating to the disabled, not least the Select Committee's full inquiry into perinatal and neonatal mortality.

I wish to raise two issues—the role of voluntary organisations in assisting handicapped and disabled people and some of the recommendations of the Select Committee in relation to perinatal and neonatal mortality.

However, may I deal with one other matter? The right hon. Member for Norwich, North has been involved with the national body that helps vaccine-damaged children. I hope that the Secretary of State will respond positively to what the right hon. Gentleman said about the disregard. Bearing in mind the handicap of some of the youngsters involved, the lump sum payment of £10,000 is a pittance.

Mr. Ennals

May I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks and point out that only 260 people over 16 years of age are involved?

Mr. Winterton

That puts the matter in proper perspective and demonstrates that the sums likely to be involved are small.

It seems that applications for the grant are being dealt with very slowly. It is sad that consideration of the cases submitted on behalf of children who have been damaged because of public vaccination policy are being processed so slowly. I know from a conversation with the Minister of Health last night that he is deeply concerned about the problem and would like to see it tackled more promptly and positively.

Voluntary organisations play a massive and important part indealing with the problems of handicapped and disabled people in this country and abroad. I refer not only to large but to small organisations, and not only national but local organisations. Many of our constituents are fortunate in having large numbers of voluntary bodies manned by people concerned about their less fortunate fellows. My constituency has branches of MENCAP, MIND and the Multiple Sclerosis Society. I am president of the Macclesfield Multiple Sclerosis Society, which is doing wonderful work for the severely handicapped.

Some hon. Members are more expert in advancing the cause of the disabled—for example, the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South, the hon. Member for Eccles and my hon. Friends the Members for Somerset, North and Ablingdon (Mr. Benyon). Unfortunately, the latter is not in his place. I hope that he will participate later in the debate. I can do no more than draw attention to the problems faced by the handicapped and to urge the Government to do more for them.

I am a fairly healthy Member of Parliament, so I can take part in sponsored walks, sponsored jogs and other events to raise money for various charities. That draws attention to the problems of the handicapped. I hope that it urges more people in the community to devote more time and resources to helping the handicapped and the disabled in our society.

I wish to pay tribute to the Heathfield high school, in Congleton, the borough in which I live. A week last Sunday it organised a 20-mile sponsored walk as its contribution to the International Year of Disabled People. It is a positive illustration of the way in which youngsters wish to become involved in helping the disabled. I pay tribute to the students, the headmaster, Mr. Savage, and the staff for taking so much trouble to organise the walk. In my case, it was a 20-mile jog. I raised a large sum of money. I am grateful to the people and the organisation that sponsored me.

The way in which voluntary organisations play their part is amazing. I am involved with the Macclesfield Council for Voluntary Service. That excellent body, under its splendid general secretary, Mrs. Marjorie Gray, together with the former clerk to what was the Macclesfield borough council before reorganisation, Mr. Walter Isaac, was the launching pad for a project to build a narrow boat for the disabled. The boat was constructed by the apprentices of Cammell Laird, in Birkenhead. Obviously, it had to be paid for. It is another illustration of how many voluntary organisations can help to make the lot and the life of the handicapped and the disabled so much more worth while and constructive, and help them to feel that life is worth living.

Recent years have seen a tremendous development in riding for the disabled. I have not been able to make much contribution to that as yet. However, I am president of the Macclesfield Riding for the Disabled Group. People are aware that the disabled and the handicapped want to take a positive role in life and participate in all the joys, pastime and leisure-time activities that are enjoyed by those who are healthy in every way.

When allocating resources the Government should consider the tremendous role played by voluntary organisations. They should consider allocating additional resources to the various organisations that act as umbrella bodies for voluntary bodies. There is no doubt that money devoted to voluntary organisations is money well spent.

Many contribute their time, effort and skill voluntarily, without reward, to ensure that that money is put to good effect.

The Education Bill currently passing through the House deals with special provision for the handicapped and the disabled. It encourages local education authorities to help handicapped youngsters to take part in education in normal primary and secondary schools. An excellent new secondary school in my constituency, the Fallibroome high school, has been designated to take disabled children. It is a brand new school. In the late 1970s, prior to one brick being laid, I raised with the local education authority the need to provide for the handicapped.

However, that school was not constructed with the handicapped in mind. Large sums of money will have to be spent on adapting the school to take the handicapped. I recently met the parents of the handicapped children. They are delighted that the school has been designated to take their children. It has a fine reputation, an excellent headmaster and a splendid staff, and lies in a pleasant part of Macclesfield.

Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Brent, South)

The hon. Gentleman has put his finger on the nerve centre of the problem. If only access and other facilities were provided for at the planning stage, millions of pounds would be saved.

Mr. Winterton

I endorse the hon. Gentleman's remarks. I pay tribute to him. His reputation in dealing with matters concerning the disabled and the handicapped is well known. He has highlighted the fact that our planners ignore the disabled and the handicapped. It would cost little to widen doors and instal ramps when the builders and contractors were on the site erecting the building. I hope that as soon as resources are available my hon. Friend the Minister will ensure that the Department of Education and Science allocates resources to local education authorities to ensure that schools designated to take the handicapped can do so with the minimum of inconvenience to the staff, the pupils and, above all, the young handicapped students.

I turn now to the neonatal and perinatal mortality report of the Select Committee. Although I fully appreciate the Government's response to the report, and the intervention by my hon. Friend the Minister, I am concerned about their response to the Select Committee's recommenda-tions. It is less than adequate. When the medical profession is virtually united behind the recommendations, when our advisers, Professor Richard Beard of St. Mary's hospital, Professor Osmond Reynolds of University college hospital and Professor Eva Alberman have clearly said that a great deal of action is required by the Government, their response has been less than helpful in the aim to reduce the number of babies born handicapped.

The hon. Member for Eccles referred to the Spastics Society publication "Who's holding the baby now?" It contains observations and views from 11 experts who say why the Government should take action to reduce perinatal and neonatal mortality. The charter for the 1980s, which has been presented to the Minister and is reflective of the views of many organisations that represent the handicapped and the disabled, has deplored the declining role of midwives. It stressed the need for well-trained general practitioners to be more involved in maternity care. The charter produced fresh evidence that expert neonatal care can save lives without causing severe handicap in survivors. It calls for the introduction of a national structure for neonatal intensive care.

What is more—I appreciate the financial and economic difficulties facing the Government—it urges the Government to earmark expenditure for improvements in maternity and neonatal services.

The hon. Member for Eccles referred to Tim. Yeo's contribution to the publication. The one sentence from the final paragraph that he did not refer to was: What is at stake is the survival and well-being of future generations and this is an issue which transcends political differences. That is a significant statement, which I hope will be taken on board.

Although the Government's reply acknowledged that skilled neonatal intensive care could reduce the incidence of handicap, it went on, sadly, to state: in the present state of medical knowledge and within the limited skilled manpower available, any hasty or inadequately prepared expansion of intensive care could well increase instead of reducing the number of handicapped survivors. In fact, that goes entirely against all the views of a majority of the medical profession and those that specialise in the subject. It certainly goes against the evidence of our specialist advisers, who are renowned in this field. I. repeat their names: Professor Richard Beard, of St Mary's; Professor Osmand Reynolds, of University college hospital; and Professor Eva Alberman, an expert statistician who has made a tremendous study of this area of medicine.

The provision of neonatal surgery cannot be left to discretion of regional health authorities, because it results in an unequal distribution of facilities. Let me quote an example. There are two paediatric surgeons in Brighton, 60 miles from London, where there are eight specialist paediatric surgeons in three children's hospitals. In East Anglia, represented in part by the right hon. Member for Norwich, North, there is none. In each of three other large centres in England there is only one paediatric surgeon, who has to provide a 24-hour service, seven days a week, single-handed. When he or she is sick or on leave the service inevitably breaks down.

In 1971 the DHSS, of which my hon. Friend is now a leading Minister, recommended the establishment of regional intensive care units. By 1980—as the right hon. Member for Norwich, North and other members of the Select Committee on Social Services know—only eight out of the 15 regions in England and Wales had established such units. While the DHSS estimated that 320 neonatal intensive care cots would be needed by 1980, only 160 had been created. Many experts believe that at least 650 such cots are required—one per 1,000 births.

Staffing in this vital area of medicine is, unfortunately, equally unsatisfactory. In 1978 only 63 per cent. of special and intensive care nursing establishments recommended by my hon. Friend's own Department in 1971 were in post. I believe that even the 1971 recommendation was inadequate. We found in our visits throughout the country that in many of our hospitals equipment in intensive care units was seriously deficient. In England in 1978 there was a 45 per cent. shortfall in neonatal ventilators. The ventilation of a premature baby finding it difficult to breathe is vital, because if babies cannot breathe their brains and their bodies are starved of oxygen and they will be permanently disabled and handicapped. The longer a baby is unventilated, the more severe the handicap.

I pay tribute to our medical profession. There is no doubt that Britain has the high specialist knowledge, the medical expertise and—although in some cases we have to buy it from abroad—the equipment to ensure that babies are not born handicapped. As I said when the Government were kind enough to find time for a debate on the Select Committee's report, the Government must face the fact that the consequences of failing to put financial resources into intensive care of sick, new-born babies mean that infants are dying unnecessarily, which causes suffering to their families. Those that survive often suffer unnecessary handicaps.

I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), now that he has returned to the Chamber, for all that he has done over many years for the handicapped in this country and for the example that he has set internationally. As the right Gentleman knows, discussion of the prevention of handicap is a vital part of a debate on disablement. Therefore, I ask my party when it is in Government "Please implement the recommenda-tions of the Select Committee on Social Services in its report on perinatal and neonatal mortality." I believe that the cost would be modest. We put a figure of £25 million to £30 million on it, but even if it is five times that amount—£150 million—in the course of four or five years that money will be recouped 10 times over by the Government. There is no doubt about that, because babies would not be born handicapped. We should not be causing suffering and heartache to so many families that lose children because of the failure of the hospital service to provide the intensive care that is required up and down the country. There is a huge disparity between, for instance, the West Midlands region, which has taken a grip of the matter, and the Northern region, where, sadly, there is inadequate provision.

My hon. Friend's devotion to the handicapped is well known. Unlike the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South, I believe that my hon. Friend made a very useful contribution to the debate. I greatly value his speech. It has given me heart and has shown that the Government are taking initiatives. However, I make the following plea to the Government: "Please take on board and implement as soon as possible the recommendations of the Select Committee on Social Services on perinatal and neonatal mortality". If they do so, they will be praised and thanked by tens of thousands of people and they will save money. I know how important that is to this Government.

12.28 pm
Mr. Geraint Howells (Cardigan)

I am sure that we all agree that we have heard some excellent speeches from hon. Members on both sides of the House. We are all urging the Government to take action now to help the disabled. Some hon. Members have been a little emotional perhaps, but rightly so, because this is such a sensitive issue.

Perhaps many hon. Members are not aware that the Disabled Persons (No. 2) Bill of my fellow countryman, the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley), has had its Third Reading in another place this morning. On behalf of all hon. Members here today I congratulate the hon. Member on his efforts to help the disabled in this way, and I wish him the best for the years to come.

The majority of us speaking here today are among the lucky ones—the able-bodied and healthy who can go about their daily lives and earn a living with the minimum of difficulty. It is fitting that while we express gratitude for our good fortune we should draw attention to the problems of the disabled, resolve to make a greater effort to improve the quality of their lives and ensure that their integration into society is made possible and easy.

It is time that we stopped patronising the disabled and, instead, exercised positive discrimination in their favour. They should be made to feel not that they are the recipients of charity, as has so often happened, but that they are full members of our society who can play a useful role, particularly if given the right encouragement and facilities.

The International Year of Disabled People, in honour of which this debate is being held, has been of value in that it has focused attention on the problems that disabled people face. I believe that the organisers in this country feel that some benefit has already resulted from growing public awareness of those problems. However, as they point out, it is important not to lose the impetus of the good will and new attitudes that have been created throughout this year. This year should serve merely as a springboard for further progress over the next decade.

My right hon. and hon. Friends and I are anxious to see more progress with education both for the physically and the mentally handicapped. The Warnock report's recommendations pointed out the advantages of integrated education, but we were disappointed that neither the Education Bill nor the White Paper on special educational needs referred to the provision of the extra resources needed to implement successful integration. Backward-thinking ILEAs would easily be able to find excuses for relegating integration to the bottom of their lists of priorities. We want legislation to provide for more teachers with special skills and to give a higher priority to integration on the basis of encouragement from central Government.

We should like an attempt to be made at greater provision at both ends of the education spectrum. Special nursery education would be valuable in preparing a child for school and for integration into the system. Further education after school could be geared to preparing a handicapped young person for employment, teaching skills that could give that person a better chance in the employment market.

The Government do not seem to accept that if priority is to be given to the handicapped in education, additional financial resources must be provided to build ramps, fund the provision of extra teachers, and so on. Until they accept that, very little progress will be made in this direction, especially in a time of financial stringency. That is particularly sad in the International Year of Disabled People.

When the handicapped person leaves school or college, he or she faces a new set of problems, one of which is employment. All training schemes should be open to the physically handicapped and the able-bodied alike. That would be another stage in the process of bringing the physically handicapped into society and helping them to lead a more normal way of life. It is important, too, that employers should accept their responsibilities and take on the mandatory number of disabled people. That rule should be more strongly enforced.

More publicity should be given to firms about the grants that are available to improve facilities for the disabled.

There should also be greater efforts to improve employment opportunities for disabled people. Not only would this improve the morale of the handicapped person; it would ensure that he or she could become a net giver to society. A positive lead in this should be given by public authorities, including local and health authorities which have not always played a full part in this respect in the past. In future they could be turned into an effective channel for implementing change.

Here, I should congratulate some of the county councils in Mid-Wales for taking over a factory belonging to the Royal British Legion at Llanwrtyd Wells and employing disabled people from many counties in Mid-Wales. I wish this venture the best of success, and I hope that county councils in the area will give it every possible support.

There are many ways in which we could improve the lives of the disabled, a few of which have been outlined very forcefully by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House. But my colleagues and I on the Liberal Bench here and in the other place have emphasised the importance of access to public buildings and the stronger enforcement of the rules governing access. We are glad to note that the Government have bowed to strong pressure in amending the Disabled Persons (No. 2) Bill to provide for this.

However, we would have been more pleased if the Government had accepted the case for an access officer in local government to liaise between owners, developers and planning departments and give guidance on how to cope with access problems. This work could probably be given to an officer already employed by each authority and would not cost more money to the taxpayer. I believe that such a person is already in post in some authorities.

I could go on for a long time. However, in my view we should have one principal aim, bearing in mind that six months have already passed of the International Year of Disabled People. Many improvements have been made in the past six months by the Government and by charitable organisations. But let us urge the Government and others to give a helping hand to the disabled during the coming six months so that they can look ahead during the 1980s and 1990s to prosperous lives.

I hope that the Minister will announce that the Government propose to review their housing policy and that they intend to allocate money to housing authorities to help the disabled to be housed properly. I hope too, that the Government will look again at the benefits. Some will say—and I tend to agree—that they are too complicated and not generous enough.

We plead for disabled people. Give them more money. They deserve it. It is much easier for us, the able-bodied people, to do with a little less and to look after the interests of those who unfortunately are less able than we are.

12.39 pm
Mr. D. A. Trippier (Rossendale)

It is a pleasure for me to be called immediately after the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr.Howells), and I congratulate him warmly on his speech.

My hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) said at the beginning of his speech, with his customary modesty, that he felt that he was something of an amateur in this debate, bearing in mind the excellent speeches that had been made. I, too, feel an amateur—in fact, extremely inadequate—having listened to some excellent speeches from right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House.

I welcome this opportunity to advocate once again the cause of the 5 million people in the United Kingdom who suffer from some form of handicap. I believe firmly hat no matter how much is said, printed or broadcast on the subject, the case for the advancement of disabled people in this crucial International Year of Disabled People can never be overstated.

As a co-sponsor of the United Nations resolution, the present Government have performed admirably in recognising the problems confronting the disabled and actively pursuing their solution. It has to be remembered that IYDP is not solely about spending money on the disabled. It is about changing attitudes. I appreciate many of the points made by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) in his impressive opening speech. If anything, his speech was spoilt to a certain extent by being a little too political. Opposition Members tend to try to castigate Conservative members over the Government's expenditure on defence. The impression that they apparently seek to give the outside world is that we are happy to incur this expenditure. That is not true. We have made clear, as a Government, that we believe in multilateral disarmament and that we would wish to spend the money that goes on defence in other directions. However, this is simply not possible. It is a "con" for the Opposition to try to put across this message.

To illustrate the continued commitment that we have to the International Year of Disabled people, I point to two examples in the area of tax relief, where the Government have doubled the tax allowance for blind people and, at the same time, exempted from VAT adaptations made on disabled drivers' cars. One has also to consider the Government's record regarding the mobility allowance, which has not only been raised in value faster than the concurrent rise in prices but has been allocated to about 15,000 people sooner than the previous Labour Government had intended.

The Government have also protected the supplementary benefits of the disabled against price rises and have brought forward regulations under the Companies Act 1980 to help to ensure the employment of disabled people. The Government have also been active in introducing new legislation geared towards breaking down many of the barriers that confront disabled people on a day-to-day basis. In education, one of the prime areas available for bringing the disabled into the mainstream of society, the Government have placed the current Education Bill before Parliament. When the Bill becomes law it will do much to upgrade the education of handicapped children.

Apart from legislation, the Government have been active in advancing preventive measures. There have been Government-funded campaigns on rickets and health care and a United Kingdom contribution to the establishment of the International Spinal Research Trust.

One of the most rewarding areas of Government involvement has surely been the promotion of voluntary organisations in disabled care. Next Saturday I shall be privileged to open a gala in my constituency run in aid of the International Year of Disabled People. A considerable number of voluntary organisations will be taking part. Hardly a week passes when there is not some function in my constituency raising money for this worthy cause.

The Minister of State was right in saying that there has been a marvellous response in the first six months of this year. I hope that it will continue. Voluntary organisations provide a greater amount of effort in personal social services than the statutory social services of local government. Aid to the voluntary sector has once again come in the form of tax relief, specifically income tax relief. Moves by the Government in this area have initiated a resuscitation of covenanting, which, in turn, has had a most favourable effect on various charities. Yet, however much has been accomplished—and the Government's achievements are notable—there will always be a need to do more. No other sector of society deserves more direct attention from the Government, as no other sector has so few alternatives available.

The disablement costs allowance is the most cogent means by which the Government can uphold our manifesto pledge that called for the establishment of a coherent system of cash benefits for the disabled. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to adopt the DCA as soon as funds are available, so that the Government can effectively redress the imbalance that they inherited in disability benefit payments. Although it is not intended to provide a sufficient income on which to live, the DCA will monetarily compensate handicapped people according to how much their disability prevents them from leading a normal life. It would be a tax-free, non-contributory benefit, allocated to all registered handicapped people, without making any distinction on grounds of sex, age or marital status, or according to where, how and when the disability arose.

One sure way to test progress in advancing the position of the handicapped is to try to see things from their point of view. For example, we should ask ourselves whether, if we were confined to a wheelchair, we would consider access to public buildings adequate. Much has been done to make public and other buildings more accessible. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security on his many initiatives to that end. However, from the view of the handicapped person it is obvious that more needs to be done.

Even more important is society's attitude to the handicapped. Much more needs to be done to integrate the disabled into society. I applaud the recent advances in the media, especially on radio and television, in removing the label "disabled" from their programmes featuring individuals with a handicap. In that way, much has been done to help people with a disability in their fight to be accepted by society on an equal footing.

I strongly urge the Government to continue their fight on behalf of the disabled. Specifically, although a promising start has been made they should push forward with as much speed as is practicable to integrate the physically handicapped with other children in schools. That will help to erode a major barrier in the disabled person's fight for acceptance right from the start. Happily, I am not alone in that belief. According to a recent Gallup poll, 71 per cent. of the United Kingdom population favours the integration of even severely physically handicapped children with normal children in schools.

Another area in which I press the Government to remain steadfast concerns the 3 per cent. quota system for the employment of disabled people, which is under review by the Manpower Services Commission. It is generally believed that the MSC will recommend weakening or possibly even scrapping the system, which would be a severe setback for the registered disabled. Critics cite various reasons for doing away with the quota system, including the fact that, due to the small number of registered disabled, it is numerically impossible for all businesses to comply with the 3 per cent.

However, the failing is not with the legislation but with its enforcement. Since 1944 only 10 prosecutions have been instituted. The maximum fine levied has been £100. Obviously, disabled people do not feel that their right to employment has been effectively safeguarded, and hence do not register as disabled. Yet, if we convinced our handicapped population that if they registered as disabled the Government would actively enforce the quota legislation there would be more than enough registered handicapped people to enable all qualified industries to meet their quota.

The Government's commitment to disabled people is beyond doubt. Yet, for all the progress that has been made, our effort must continually be concentrated in this area. The problems faced by the handicapped did not suddenly arise during the International Year of Disabled People, and they certainly will not fade away with its passage. That is why we must ensure that what we do now will pave the way for continued progress in the future.

The problems that confront our nation's disabled are problems that transcend party lines. Each Member of Parliament has a duty to advocate the cause of the handicapped in his or her constituency. I am confident that the Government, as well as each individual Member of the House, will take up the challenge and work tirelessly for the advancement of the disabled.

12.50 pm
Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Brent, South)

I want to challenge the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Trippier) on three points, relating to the blind tax allowance, mobility, and voluntary organisations, but I hope that he will forgive me if I do so in the course of my contribution.

I thought that the hon. Gentleman's comment about the political content of the opening speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) was misplaced. As the hon. Gentleman said, we have to listen to the disabled themselves, but my right hon. Friend gave chapter and verse for what the disabled have been asking the Government to do. In dealing with the catalogue of desires put forward by the various organisations, my right hon. Friend demonstrated beyond peradventure that the disabled and the handicapped have been asking for bread and—if I may mix my biblical metaphors—have been given not a stone but the crumbs from the rich man's table. Therefore, it is the hon. Gentleman's apologia for the Government's action, while well-intentioned, that has been entirely misplaced.

When my right hon. Friend opened the debate he rightly put the subject in the context of the international situation. I should like to follow his points by reminding the House of the excellent work that has been done for the disabled in the Third world by the organisation called Intermediate Technology, established by the late Dr. Schumacher. It has done a great deal throughout the world, particularly in Asia and Africa, to find ways and means of helping the disabled which are not too costly or too technological.

On Monday of this week, in Strasbourg, the Council of Europe, which represents not the Common Market group of countries but 21 nations, finalised a document, which will be put before the Council of Ministers, containing many of the proposals that my right hon. Friend made today.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) and the hon. Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Dean) mentioned the special needs of the mentally handicapped. I remind the House that when we talk of the mentally handicapped we are not talking of the mentally ill. They are two vastly different categories of people. I invite the Minister, if he has time during the recess, to visit Denmark to study the percentage of the gross national product devoted to the mentally handicapped and Denmark's advanced way of bringing the mentally handicapped into the life of the community. It is about 10 years in advance of what we have been able to achieve. There are some extremely useful lessons to be learnt and I am sure that the Government would benefit if the right hon. Gentleman could find time to visit Denmark.

It has emerged from the debate that it is no good the Government mouthing pious platitudes when, at a stroke, the Secretary of State for the Environment cuts all the resources, because the care of the disabled involves the need to increase public expenditure.

With regard to the services for the disabled at the local level, the cuts in the rate support grant have been disastrous in many areas. It is not possible to cut public expenditure without harming those in the community who are least able to cope with those cuts—the disabled, the handicapped and the elderly.

The services which are required to enable the physically disabled to slay in the community in their own houses rest—in spite of the good work being done by local voluntary organisationsto a —great extent upon the expenditure of local authority money. I join the Minister in paying tribute to the voluntary organisations. With the cuts in local government expenditure, we have been penny wise and pound foolish. We save on the rates but increase taxes, or we increase taxes but save on the rates. But the inevitable consequence of a cut in the rate support grant has been that the cut in social services means greater hospitalisation.

I give an immediate example. Cuts have been necessary in many areas of our social service departments, such as home helps. In my area we have six social service groups. A recent survey in one of them showed that 120 persons were being kept out of institutions, and that of that number, 40 would have needed geriatric beds, which are not available. But in the Willesden general hospital for geriatrics, the cost is £37 a day, or £260 a week. That is why I say "Penny wise, pound foolish"—because the cuts in home helps, the meals-on-wheels service and all the things that keep disabled people within the community mean that the Chancellor of the Exchequer must find far more money for the NHS, and the Secretary of State for Social Services must deal with the problems.

I sometimes wonder what idiotic computer in Government Departments could produce the answer that this saves the citizen rates and taxes.

In my constituency I am very fortunate. The hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) and I share the same area health authority. I have a progressive local council which has given some priority to the disabled. In consequence, [the cuts have not hit the Brent social services department because the council has been prepared to cut elsewhere. However, one thing that we have had to do is cut expenditure on holidays. The Minister pointed out correctly that the problem of disablement was a family affair. For a family coping with a disabled person, being able to get a fortnight away is crucial to the health and well-being of the family.

I give five other quick examples of the effects of the cuts. The supply of telephones has had to be reduced in many areas. Telephones are the lifelines for disabled people who cannot get about and who need to be able to make contact with others. They are lifelines also for elderly persons living alone and coping with loneliness.

The restricted supply of aids in the form of bath and lavatory supports has been a disaster. The cuts in conversions in homes to provide downstairs lavatories for people who are no longer capable of climbing stairs is also to be deplored.

Reference has been made to the actions of the voluntary bodies. In the urban aid grants and other moneys available there has been a cut in the pump priming of voluntary bodies, all of which need some grant aid to keep going.

In my constituency I have the good fortune to have the Brent association for the disabled, which is an umbrella movement for a number of voluntary organizations—multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy and other disabilities. That body is also fighting to retain its grant. Fortunately, my council has been able to retain it, but in other areas that has not been so.

The Paddington Churches Housing Association had a house designated in association with a voluntary mentally handicapped organisation in my area, which would have been able to bring mentally handicapped people into the community. Because of lack of funds, the Housing Corporation wrote to me yesterday saying that the grant had not been made and that the house would not be made available, but that if the association would like to apply later on, it hoped for success. In the meantime the persons concerned must remain in institutions, and one wonders for how long?

The platitudes that we express and the desire that Government and Opposition share to help in these matters are all very well, but as several of my colleagues pointed out, without the resources to put these things into operation we are merely do-gooders in the community without any practical effect. I hope that the International Year of Disabled People will not go down as the year in which Britain's contribution was to make savage cuts in capital programmes—for example, the building of new day centres for both the mentally and the physically handicapped has virtually ceased, and we shall reap the harvest of that for the next 10 years—with a fantastically bad effect on the future of integrating handicapped people into the community.

I make two special pleas. The hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Howells) said that most of us were fortunate in being healthy and that we should therefore be prepared to give something of our substance. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Ennals), I am disabled. I have been severely deaf for 19 years. As my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones) pointed out, thanks to technology and the two National Health Service hearing aids that I am wearing, probably few people realise that I am deaf. Indeed, I probably hear more of the speeches than most hon. Members, but perhaps I am just more conscientious, as I need to concentrate more in order to hear.

I intended to interrupt the Minister, but he beat me to the punch—I am grateful to him—in referring to the electronic loop system in public places. Hon. Members on both sides have talked about access. Access for those with impaired hearing means access to people. That means being able to listen and talk to people. The electronic loop system and the free National Health Service aids—of which 1,200,000 entirely free of charges have now been issued, Britain being the only country in the world to have done this—enable me to have that access.

This Chamber is one of the few places in London which has an induction loop system, by which I am able to hear distinctly and clearly every word of the hon. Member who is speaking. I warn my colleagues, however, that at least 35 hon. Members are deaf—but as most of them are too proud to wear hearing aids the system does not help them at all. One has to choose whether to listen electronically or not. If I listen electronically I hear all the gentle soothing words of the Minister without any interruption. Very often there are a large number of interjections and comments such as "Rhubarb" and "Rubbish". To hear them, one must turn over to acoustics. You may agree, from your own experience, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that that part of the debate is sometimes far more interesting than the speech being delivered.

The 1970 Act introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe provides for access for the disabled. The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) made a powerful speech about access, on which I congratulate him. I repeat the point which he made most forcefully. My right hon. Friend's Act provided that before any new building to be used by the public receives planning permission the developers or builders must provide proof that they have endeavoured to meet the problems of access.

In the 11 years following that Act, however, whereas there has been some advance in the widening of doors and the provision of ramps there has been no advance at all on electronic loops until recently, when a well-known company with a department store in Oxford Street—as I am a Co-operative sponsored Member and this is not the place for commercials, I shall not give the name—provided money to put electronic loops into churches. I recently opened a similar system in the Unitarian church in Cricklewood.

This is a simple matter and inexpensive, yet nobody is taking it up. It is important that it should be taken up at the planning stage. To take an example, I have been fighting for four years to get such a system at the National Theatre, where the most marvellous plays in the world are available to 95 per cent. of those who attend, but not to me—I cannot hear a word.

Five years ago the decision was taken to have electronic loops in all three theatres. However, that has proved impractical and impossible because the expense is now so much greater. Had the work been done when the building was erected the cost would have been negligible. I should like the Minister to turn his attention to that problem and to discuss with the Department of the Environment the possibility of sending a circular to all local planning authorities to the effect that no public building should be given planning permission until provision has been made—if people need to be able to hear—for electronic loops. People go to church to hear the word of God, but they also hope to hear the words of the padre who is preaching. Therefore, some move should be made in that direction.

I congratulate all the blind organisations, including the Royal National Institute for the Blind and the National League of the Blind and Disabled, on the pressure that they put on the Government about the whitewash of the last Budget's tax allowance for the blind. This is the first time in the history of the House that those receiving a tax allowance have asked for it to be returned and have rejected it. They have done so because there are 10,000 blind people in employment who pay taxes while there are 120,000 blind people who are not affected.

It would seem that something is being done for the blind, but the majority of the blind are not affected by the provision. Therefore, the organisations involved told the Chancellor of the Exchequer to take the allowance back and to share it equally among all blind people and not only among those who have the good fortune to be in work.

In this IYDP an anomaly in our law affects the blind more than any other disabled group. In employment, unlike others, a blind person falls into one of two categories. If he is in open employment he falls into category one and if he is in sheltered employment he falls into category two. As the law stands, a person who has been successfully rehabilitated from the sheltered workshop to open employment is not allowed—unlike other disabled people—to return to sheltered employment. The reason is that the number of places in workshops is limited. It is said that if a person can work on the open market he must not occupy a sheltered place.

At a time when 3 million are unemployed, the first to find themselves on the dole queue are the disabled, the blind and deaf. The ratio of unemployment among the blind is two-and-a-half times the norm. However, the blind unemployed person who has the ability to find work on the open market is debarred from returning to the sheltered workshop. As a result of the categories embodied in law, they are debarred from employment in the community. It is time that the Minister with responsibility for the disabled had a word with his Department's legal officers about changing the law to ensure that the blind are not disadvantaged compared to paraplegics.

I turn to the way in which the public expenditure cuts have meant a practical cessation—among all local authorities—in the provision of sheltered workshops. Few sheltered workshops are being completed or are in the pipeline. For the next 10 or 20 years the blind will feel the effect of that.

The organisations for the blind wish to be included in the same category as the general allowance on mobility. There are several general allowances, and mention has been made of the different measures that seek to help the disabled. The blind would find it acceptable if their allowances were merged with all others. That would mean that they would lose £1.25 on supplementary benefit and some tax allowances. However, that would be worth while, because it would enable them to enter the main stream. They do not want competition between one sector of the disabled and another.

The only disabled people who are not entitled to be considered for mobility allowance are the blind. However, the blind find it just as difficult to get to and from work and to remain in the community as any other disabled group. That is an anomaly that the Government should put right. The cost to national expenditure would be practically negligible, and that is one of the things that even this Government could do.

I have drawn attention to the problems of the deaf and the blind. Every hon. Member who has spoken, from both sides of the House, has demanded that there should be more resources to deal with disablement problems. We give thanks that the disabled can cope. We share the point made by the hon. Member for Cardigan that we must spend time and trouble on behalf of those who cope with their disabilities with magnificent courage day in and day out. If the House does not have the compassion to give them that assistance, the House should be ashamed of itself.

1.10 pm
Mr. Tom Kenyon (Abingdon)

I have found the debate very stimulating, with excellent speeches from both sides. It is good to find such unanimity of view both on the importance to do more for the disabled and handicapped and on the great importance of the International Year of Disabled People.

When the International Year of Disabled People began, a number of disabled people were concerned that their cause would be thoroughly "taken up" for part of the year and then dropped for the next fashionable cause for public attention. If there is one lesson that we should learn, it surely must be that we should not take up the disabled for one year and then drop them. We must realise that their problem is permanent. We must endeavour to integrate the disabled properly into society all over the world and to make more provision and resources available so that they can live as happy, normal and unpatronised life as they can, and so that their special needs can be met.

One of the problems in this country is that we are skint. I wish to take up a point that the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Pavia) made in his excellent speech—and I hope that I may say that without being patronising. He spoke about public expenditure cuts. But that is not what has happened in the past two years. Public expenditure has gone marching on as fast as ever, if not faster. Our problem is to ensure that the public purse, which is the responsibility of Government, can afford the improvements that we make.

I take up, without impertinence, a word that the hon. Gentleman used. The word was "compassion". I have been sitting here all morning waiting for someone to mention compassion. I regard such a word with the greatest suspicion. I know that the hon. Gentleman was genuine when he used it, but I regard with suspicion speeches made about the disabled and the handicapped that use the word "compassion". I am reminded of the saying The louder he talked of his honour, the faster we counted our spoons". When I hear political commentators talking about the problems of the disabled and compassion at the same time, I become covered with a thin layer of cynicism.

From my short experience of the House, I believe that politicians are a kind, sensible, pragmatic breed. We must ensure that in spending the money and making resources available for the disabled we do what is expected of us. If we do not, about 700,000 people who, for all I know, voted Conservative at the last election will not vote Conservative at the next. That is a healthy view for politicians to take about their obligations to society. If we do not do what the voters believe we should do they will not vote for us. That is a fair point to make for the Government to bear in mind.

The Government must be aware that many of the disabled in our society do not believe that they have been fairly dealt with in the past two years, especially in this international year. The Government also know that if the disabled are worse off at the end of our tenure of office, many will not vote for us.

Mr. John Ryman (Blyth)

Provided disabled people are helped, the reasoning behind the hon. Gentleman's speech may not matter. But is he saying that the Government should increase public expenditure on the disabled for reasons of political expediency and lest they lose votes?

Mr. Benyon

I was merely making a good healthy admission of vested interest in doing what is right. Spending money also gives us a warm glow. My point is that compassion is a private matter concerning what I do with my time and money. We should not talk of compassion when we are spending other people's money.

Many disabled people feel that they have not done particularly well since the Government came to office and they believe that the cuts of the past two years have fallen unfairly on their shoulders. They are particularly aggrieved about the 5 per cent. derating of invalidity benefit. Such actions may be taken with the best of motives, but there is often a delay in subsequent up ratings and the balancing of the books for the disabled.

Unemployment is as important a problem in our society as any of the other four horses of the Apocalypse. It is a disease and a problem in many Western countries. We shall hear much about unemployment during the forthcoming by-elections, and I dislike politicians giving the impression that all that we have to do is spend and care a little more and we shall be able to lop 1 million off the unemployment figures. That is not true.

Our huge unemployment problem is here to stay, and it is a major problem for the disabled. If we consider the plight of a healthy man of 25, 35 or 45 searching for a job, we can realise why a man of the same age who has a mental handicap or physical disability may have to face the prospect of never working again.

Many disabled people will have to struggle intensely to get employment. It cannot be the Government's intention to put further obstacles in their way and, therefore. I hope that consideration will be given to tapering invalidity benefit, especially for multiple sclerotics, who cannot work full-time. Even if they can find work, they can do only two or three days a week because they get very tired. If they earn more than £15 a week they lose the whole of their invalidity benefit. A system of tapering should be introduced as a matter of the highest priority.

I want to talk briefly about the problems of mental handicap, which have been debated frequently this morning. One of the root problems that we face as a society is that mental handicap is unfashionable—partly because people do not want to identify themselves with mental illness in the same way that they are prepared to identify with cancer, heart surgery or more respectable illnesses.

I noted with great interest the public reaction co the television programme by Nigel Evans called -Silent Minority". It highlighted the problems faced by both inmates and staff at St. Lawrence's hospital, Croydon, and Boroughcourt, close to my constituency. I know that Nigel Evans' concern about the problems in both establishments is genuine. Nevertheless, the programme caused a great deal of distress, which was well vaunted in the press. What was not so apparent was the degree of distress that it caused the staff in both hospitals. Their problems in finding recruits to do such difficult work have been made more difficult. I am not sure whether it came out fully in the programme that 35 injuries per month are caused by inmates to the staff of Boroughcourt. That gives some idea of the dedication needed by those who perform such a specialist and honourable role in our society which many of us would not perform.

The public reaction to the programme was interesting. I spoke to someone who had attended a meeting about St. Lawrence's hospital. It is better that he should remain nameless. However, what I say is absolutely correct. There was a great sense of public outrage at the meeting. As a society, we have never been so concerned about the issues that pass across our vision. However, never are we prepared to do anything about them. We are prepared to be concerned, but not to be committed to taking action. At that meeting the blame for all things that went wrong—for example, that the psychiatric hospitals were large and full and conditions bad—was put down entirely to the iniquities of politicians.

I am a new boy in this place. I am prepared to accept that the public blame us for practically everything. That is part of the occupational hazard of being a politician. However, the attitudes taken to mental handicap, and the unsatisfactory conditions which prevail in hospitals—they are too large, and local authorities have difficulty in breaking them down—are nothing to do with politicians but are due to the public prejudice against mental handicap and the pressures applied to local authorities to prevent them from releasing people from psychiatric hospitals back into the community. I have various examples of that. I am trying to show that if the public do not like what they see it is no good blaming us, because they staring at a mirror reflection of themselves.

I play some part in the affairs of a charity called the Guidepost Trust. It does the wholly admirable job of extracting from psychiatric hospitals people who have been long-stay patients but have recovered sufficiently from their illness to play a part in society in a small unit. The trust purchases houses, or gains them from local authorities or housing associations, and creates a small family unit with a caring group to tend the needs of the inmates. It does its best to introduce them to a more normal life in society.

I know that one problem faced by the trust, which is reflected by other charities, is that when a house has been selected there is often a clamour from neighbours, who say that their houses will instantly devalue, that they are afraid that their children will be mugged, beaten or sexually assaulted, that the inmates will automatically be prone to theft and petty crime, and that the whole idea is a disaster. Although they usually couch their objections in the most ambiguous way, the meaning is entirely clear.

I have an extreme example, but one that is worth relating. A fellow Member received a deputation of constituents who came to see him because of a house that they said was opening in his constituency. The house was under the care of the Giudepost Trust. My colleague did exactly what any Member would do. I have complete sympathy with him, and do not criticise him for the part that he played. His constituents told him that the inmates of the house were unruly and that the neighbours feared for the safety of their children.

When I researched the matter,, I discovered to my great surprise that the house in question had never been occupied. That example gives some idea of the prejudice against getting people out of psychiatric hospitals and back into the community. I have also had reported to me that the Croydon borough council has had to turn down applications for such houses to help people get back into the community—applications that it would otherwise have passed.

There is a practical measure that can be taken at no cost. All hon. Members can play a part by educating our constituents about the problems caused by their prejudice, which is just as potent, damaging and hurtful as racial prejudice. We should assist organisations such as MIND and the Guidepost Trust to get people out of psychiatric hospitals when they can safely come out. Only a very small minority of mental illness is connected with violent crime or sexual assault.

Many people in the psychiatric hospitals have been there for 10, 15 or 20 years. Their real problem is that of institutionalisation. Because their illness is unfashionable, their family and friends do not want to know, have moved away, or cannot cope because they have problems of their own. All that the patients concerned want is a friendly hand—a Samaritan approach. There is no need for specialist knowledge. Good, sound, common sense is all that is needed. Such patients can come out and manage to play a far more fruitful role in society and—which is very important—at less cost to the community than keeping them in the psychiatric hospital.

Another way in which the Government can help organisations such as the Guidepost Trust is by assisting in the administration of housing association funds. The funding and administration of the associations have recently been streamlined. I applaud that, but I am not sure that the respective offices throughout the country fully understand precisely how the administration works. We hope that it will improve.

A voluntary organisation has many jobs. First, it has to negotiate with the psychiatric hospital; secondly, it has to open a training unit in the hospital; thirdly, it has to find a house in the community; fourthly, it has to move the people out of the training unit when they are ready. It is very difficult for it to do that in the time scale that I understand has been laid down in the Housing Corporation's new rules. The corporation has a strict adherence to the year end, so if the house has not been chosen to coincide with the year end of a housing association's allocation of funds, one is likely to lose it, Therefore, a degree of tolerance would be very useful, if it could be provided. That is a practical suggestion which would cost nothing to implement and would be extremely helpful.

To make another practical suggestion, I shall refer to the Department of the Environment's consultative document "Assistance with Housing Costs". The proposed reform aims to shift responsibility for assistance with rent and rates from supplementary benefit to rent and rate rebates. The proposed reform must increase the number of people caught in the much-vaunted invalidity benefit trap.

Perhaps I may briefly explain that the rate of invalidity benefit is just too high for invalids to qualify for the lower rate of supplementary benefit. Thus, because they never qualify for that lower rate they can never get on to the higher rate of supplementary benefit. In net terms that means that because they are invalids they are often £3 to £6 a week worse off because of their disability. It seems to me that my hon. Friend the Minister—I have tackled him on this before—is sympathetic. However, I also concede that at the moment the Government are strapped for cash and cannot rectify the problem. I am sure that they will give it a high priority as soon as they can. Nevertheless, we do not want people to fall into that trap, and the proposed reform from the Department of the Environment must ensure just that.

Normally, a person on invalidity benefit is entitled only to short-term supplementary benefit. Once housing costs for rent and general rates are excluded few of them are likely to qualify for the ordinary rate short-term benefit. One would expect, with rising rent and rates, that more invalidity pensioners would become entitled to short-term supplementary benefit. Once rent and general rates are excluded, they will be able to qualify only if they have substantial additional requirements.

One of the major problems with the proposed reform is that people in this position are likely to worse off. In terms of weekly income, they will be living below supplementary benefit levels, even on the basis of short-term benefit. If they just fail to qualify for short-term benefit. If they just fail to qualify for short-term supplementary benefit, or if their income equals the level of their supplementary benefit for normal, additional and non-rebatable housing requirements, they will be transferred to rebates. If their income equalled their supplementary benefit requirements they would now, on supplementary benefit, be entitled to 100 per cent. assistance with their housing costs. Rebates, however, are based on a percentage of rent and general rates. Claimants must pay the base percentage—40 per cent.—of those items.

That amount is then adjusted down or up by a percentage taper based on the difference between their income and their rebate needs allowance. Theoretically, there could be a person whose income equalled his supplementary benefit requirements and his needs allowance. On supplementary benefit, 100 per cent. of rent and general rates would be met. Only 60 per cent. of that would be met from rebates. If rent was £10 and general rates £4 a week, such a person would be £5.60 below the current supplementary benefit levels after transfer to rebates. I hope that the Government ill examine this point urgently to ensure that matters are not made worse

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)

Order. Before I call the next hon. Member I should warn the House that the winding-up speeches will begin at about 10 minutes past 2, and that five hon. Members wish to speak before then. If the time can be divided appropriately, we shall hear them all.

1.34 pm
Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield)

Thank you for calling me, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall endeavour to respect your request.

I welcomed the contribution by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), recalling, as I do, the years of work that he has done on this subject, particularly from 1974 to 1979. I have here a list showing the progress made for the disabled during that period. I was terribly disappointed—even shocked—at the Minister's contribution. It gave no indication of help for the disabled. Countless words have been spoken from the Dispatch Box about what is to be done for the disabled within the social services sphere. Such things have now come about.

The list of achievements during the period 1974–79 covers nine pages. Judging from what the Minister said earlier about the Government's intentions, they will be hard put to it to fill half a page, let alone nine pages. Yet here we are half way through a Parliament and we are making no progress at all.

I must take up the point that has been made about compassion. I was surprised to hear the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Benyon) use the word. He appears to be unaware that the Prime Minister herself applies it to these unfortunate people whom we are supposed to be trying to help. We are not making a very good job of it. The hon. Gentleman appears to view with suspicion what his own leader says should be done for these unfortunate people.

Mr. Tom Benyon


Mr. Hayes

No. I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman, in the interests of those other hon. Members who wish to speak.

We hear a lot about 1981 being the year of the disabled. Its title may be prefaced by "United Nations" or "International". However, I should have thought that every year should be a year for the disabled, and I hope that some of the recommendations made by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House today will be implemented fully by this Government in the not too distant future.

Again and again we hear the Secretary of State for Social Services saying what he wants to do for people who are dependent upon social services. However, we have an awful difficulty with the Secretary of State for the Environment. As fast as county councils and other large authorities responsible for social services want to spend money, he clobbers them on the rate support grant so, that they cannot get on with the job that they are supposed to be doing.

When my own county was Conservative-controlled, the council listened to the Secretary of State for the Environment and cut back on social services. Since May of this year, when we had a political turnround on the county council, we have had a great deal of catching up to do. The council has imposed an 18p supplementary rate to finance the progress it wishes to make. But here again the Secretary of State for the Environment has clobbered Nottinghamshire county council because of that supplementary rate, which is required desperately for what must be done for those in need.

I suggest that the Government have a mountain to climb, bearing in mind the number of improvements that have to be made for the disabled, and that they have not yet put on their climbing boots, let alone begun the climb.

In my constituency we have a scheme that is related to the youth opportunities programme. Twelve youngsters with two supervisors have carried out a survey in the area.

The results are appalling. It is all very well to say that grants may be made to local authorities to improve access to public buildings for the disabled, for example. We have to consider the private sector as well. I have in mind the small shopkeeper with a steep step at the door of his shop, denying a disabled person entry to purchase goods from him. We need to help in that direction, too, as the survey showed.

The Government's performance up till now has been appalling and shocking. They must wake up and live up to their responsibilities.

Many people have been shocked to learn about the amount of money to be spent on defence over a number of years. This will have to be met at the expense of things that we want to fulfil outside defence. So many times one hears Secretaries of State say from the Dispatch Box "We would like to do it but we have not got the money. If you want that, you will have to go without something else." Yet the Government can find every penny that they require for defence to provide weapons that destroy life. Here, today, we are talking about preserving life and helping unfortunate people who are not as well off as ourselves.

I ask the Government to stop paying lip service to their intentions regarding the disabled. I hope that they will get stuck into the job and find the money so desperately needed to help these unfortunate people.

1.41 pm
Mr. Michael Welsh (Don Valley)

It is a little embarrassing, having given notice early in the week of a wish to speak in the debate, and then spending much time preparing and writing a speech, to find that time is so restricted that one has to rush the speech. I shall of course take notice, of your recommendation and try to be brief, Mr. Deputy Speaker, so enabling more hon. Members to speak.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) on his success in obtaining a debate on the Floor of the House. Hon. Members should be concerned about disabled people not only in this country but throughout the world. It has, however, required a Supply day, provided by the Labour Party, to get the issue on to the Floor. Concern is shown by deeds. The international sphere of the disabled is sometimes forgotten, because hon. Members tend to concentrate on those who are near, dear and close to us.

I wish to refer to local authorities, the Government and industry. There is no escaping the fact that cuts imposed by the Department of the Environment mean cuts in local authority social services. I should like to give one of many examples. The HIP allowance covers local authority housing, including repairs and adaptations of houses for the disabled. The allowance has been cut savagely year after year. My local authority built 1,500 houses for two years running while the Labour Government were in power. In this financial year, due to the cut in the HIP programme, it will not build one house. It will build some bungalows for elderly citizens, but a planned building programme for the disabled has been slashed. Conservative authorities also say that they are cutting back savagely on money to adapt houses for the disabled. This is a disgrace. Will the Minister consider asking for a special allowance for the adaptation of houses for the disabled, to be administered through the social services agencies and not through the housing agencies? This will ensure that some action can be taken.

Will the Minister state that he is opposed to any lowering of the 3 per cent. norm for employing disabled people? Will he inform the House of the percentage of disabled employed in the Palace of Westminster? Do we employ the 3 per cent.?

Has there been any dialogue between the Secretary of St ate for the Environment and the Minister for Social Security on enterprise zones? Will the factories and other buildings in enterprise zones provide access for the disabled, with ramps, and proper toilet facilities? Will enterprise zones be subject to the 3 per cent. quota? It is immoral if the great growth area that the Government plan debars the disabled.

Industry has not been mentioned in the debate. I worked in mining, and in an extractive industry a tremendous number of people are hurt and disabled. I draw attention to two problems. The first is deafness, which is important in all industries. Many people do not realise that deafness is a great disability, and is particularly common in modern industries. A man has to work for 20 years in one place before he can claim benefit. Will the Minister consider reducing the period?

A lad called John West from Woodlands, the village next to me, appealed to the commissioner after he had become deaf. The commissioner's report was that deafness had been caused by his place of work, but he could not get benefit because he had not worked there for 20 years. That is stupid. As we make progress with new in dustries people will move from industry to industry, and the limit must be decreased. An article in The Observer on 9 December 1979 shows how serious the problem is. It stated: At least two million people are thought to be at risk of going deaf because of their work. Let me quote one more example. Emphysema and bronchitis are great disabilities among miners. Rightly, for pneumoconiosis, disability benefit is paid. However, I can meet one man in the street, coughing and spitting, and say "Poor old Jack. What's up? Is it pneumo?" He says "Yes, 50 per cent., Mick." I know that he has not got long on the planet with 50 per cent. Further down the street I see Joe, who is also coughing and spitting and resting near the wall after he has walked about 50 yards. I say "How are you going, me old lad? What's up?" He says "Emphysema bronchitis." He will not be here long, but he does not get a penny. I believe that we are the only country in Eastern or Western Europe that does not accept that emphysema and bronchitis are industrial diseases. I should like the Minister's comments.

In the closing stages of the Coal Industry Bill 1980 the Minister said that he would set up a committee to consider emphysema and bronchitis in the mining industry. He looked forward to implementing any recommendations, even if it cost more money. What progress has been made?

If the Government want to help people in my great industry of mining and throughout the country, and help disabled people to lead a normal lif—to help them pursue felicity, as John Milton said, and the happiness that they should be allowed to pursue —they must will the means for them to do so.

1.49 pm
Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore)

I apologise for not being present for the whole of the Minister's speech. This was due to the fact that I was dealing with a constituency problem, 450 employees of Revlon, in Maesteg, having been declared redundant today. Whether the company employs its full quota of disabled people I do not know, but I am aware that the news will worsen the chances of the disabled in my constituency getting a job in the Maesteg area, where 20 per cent. of the population is unemployed.

The motion calls on the Government to reverse their policies in the International Year of Disabled People. I hope that they will pay heed to the call and to the pleas from hon. Members on each side of the House.

As this is the International Year of Disabled People, I want to highlight the United Nations resolution. The General Assembly, in proclaiming the international year, established five principal objectives. The first three were: Helping disabled people in their physical and psychological adjustment to society. Promoting all national and international efforts to provide disabled persons with proper assistance, training, care and guidance, to make available opportunities for suitable work and to ensure their full integration in society. Encouraging study and research projects designed to facilitate the practical participation of disabled people in daily life, for example, by improving their access to public buildings and transportation systems". I share in the satisfaction that the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) had this morning in getting his Bill through the other place. Unfortunately, the Government seemed to have forgotten their promises to the chronically sick and disabled people. The public services which matter most to the disabled people who are in greatest need are social security and personal social services. Instead of protecting these services, the Government have singled them out for cuts. More generally, the Government's attitude appears to manifest an insensitivity to the interests of disabled people.

The number of disabled people who depend for their income on social security benefits is very large—perhaps 2 million retirement pensioners and 1½ million people under retirement age. The Government's actions in social security have been to the disadvantage of disabled people. The Government's first Budget in 1979 brought a switch from direct to indirect taxation. The overall effect has been to the disadvantage of disabled people. The sharp rise in prescription charges has also had adverse effects, mainly on disabled people.

The biggest blow to disabled people was delivered through the Social Security (No. 2) Act 1980, which gave the Government power to increase invalidity benefit this year by 5 per cent. less than prices, and to abate it further in the two years following. The Act also redefined the period of interruption of employment in a way which will lead to a drop in income for many sick and disabled people and act as a disincentive to work.

The Government's drive against fraud and abuse is likely to deter disabled people from applying for benefits to which they are entitled. There is increasing evidence of a low take-up of benefits among disabled people.

The personal social services are of particular importance to disabled people, yet the level of services such as home helps and meals on wheels falls far below what the DHSS thinks necessary. These are now under threat from the public expenditure cuts. Cuts in training and research will reduce the prospects of improvement in the services. Relations between the personal social services and other services will also deteriorate, with damaging consequences for day-to-day co-operation and long-term planning.

In this International Year of Disabled People we should call for a reversal of Government policy in social security and the personal social services. Any acceptable approach to solving the country's economic difficulties must abide by two principles: first, the protection of those in greatest need; secondly, planning for the future.

In this IYDP we should insist that the Government restore spending on the personal social services at least to the level previously planned, bring the provision of domiciliary services into line with the Government's guidelines as quickly as possible, ensure full implementation of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970, and speed—that is what I am doing now, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to try to complete most of my speech to allow some of my hon. Friends to participate—the development of an adequate community service for the mentally ill and mentally handicapped, and take full account of the needs of people with disabilities in the forthcoming reform of the Health Service.

I have pages and pages of speech notes, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I shall not have the opportunity to refer to them. I have letters from the Council of Social Services in Wales, which I should have liked to quote. However, I must mention the check list of the Labour Party's achievements between 1974 and 1979—the noncontributory invalidity pension; mobility allowance; the extension of the non-contributory invalidity pension; social security benefits, including benefits for disabled people; attendance allowances payable to foster parents; the pneumoconiosis compensation scheme; and industrial disablement benefit for victims of byssinosis.

I could continue in depth and detail about what the Labour Party has achieved in Government. It is a 10-page catalogue of caring and sharing, introduced by a Government of a party that cares and is prepared to share.

I suggest that the Government—and particularly the Minister present—who boast and cry crocodile tears in this House about the unemployed and the disabled, should do something about them—and soon.

1.57 pm
Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarvon)

Having got a Bill through this place after speaking for only three minutes about it in the Chamber, I do not suppose that I can expect much more time to expand on the subject today. I am grateful for the remarks of the hon. Members for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) and for Cardigan (Mr. Howells) in the context of that Bill, and to all hon. Members who have assisted its passage.

Obviously, I shall have to curtail what I wish to say, but I want to refer to three or four points of major importance.

I pick up immediately the point about pneumoconiosis sufferers and those who suffer from similar diseases—emphysema and chronic bronchitis—not only in the coal industry but in the slate industry. There is widespread evidence that these people are suffering from an industrial disease and that they are not getting benefit. The Minister should examine that matter.

When talking about the needs of the disabled, we are obviously talking in the context of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970—the major legislation brought forward by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris). Over the years that can be seen in context to have done tremendous work. Unfortunately, not all of its provisions are being fully implemented, because of the squeeze on local authorities and others. There is evidence that among certain local authorities there is a refusal to assess the needs of disabled people. I have heard from the Wales Council for the Disabled that it is almost certain that the requirements of section 1 of the Act are not being implemented fully, but the Welsh Office does not admit to that. There is a discrepancy between the number of people who come on to the rolls of local authorities as registered disabled and the number known to exist in our communities.

Secondly, even where needs are recognised as existing, there appears to be a failure to provide the facilities prescribed, particularly those under section 2. One thinks of telephones, home helps, meals on wheels and holidays.

The Minister has had representations made to him by RADAR on the question whether Wiltshire county council is undertaking its statutory responsibilities. He decided not to set up an inquiry because the complaint did not relate to a named individual. I believe that there is a need for the Government to look into the working of the Act. Whether or not a named individual is involved it should be the Government's responsibility to ensure that the legislation works.

There is widespread evidence of withdrawal of services in many areas because of the economic squeeze. I hope that the Minister will confirm that it is up to local authorities, when they have a statutory responsibility, to raise the rates, if necessary, to pay for undertaking those responsibilities. It is no use our giving responsibility to local authorities if we do not expect them to carry it out, whatever the consequences.

I turn briefly to access, which is a main part of the legislation which I pressed through Parliament with the support of all parties. There has been some progress on access, and I welcome the movement shown by the Government over the past few weeks. Nevertheless, certain aspects are still unclear.

One such aspect relates to the use of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971 for the purpose of ensuring access for disabled people by means of planning conditions. Section 29 of that Act apparently allows local authorities to lay down conditions, but for 10 years local authorities have been unaware of their powers. Indeed, when I circularised local authorities in Wales I received varying replies. The borough of Lliw replied: My Authority has never refused to grant planning permission on the grounds of inadequate provision being made for access by disabled persons as it is considered that such a reason for refusal would be ultra vires. Even the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, in a letter to me, said: planning permission could not be refused (or legitimately delayed) on the basis of inadequate provision for disabled persons. This forms part of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971 and the Government have assured us that a circular will clarify the matter. I have seen the draft circular proposed for Scotland, which leaves the matter very much in mid-air. I therefore press the Minister strongly to be very much involved in the drafting of the circular to ensure that it is unambiguous, so that local authorities know where they stand and know that they can use planning permission as one of the levers. But planning permission is only one aspect.

Another aspect concerns building regulations. In a similar round of correspondence I received a letter from Mr. Graham Davies, planning officer of Monmouth council, stressing strongly that building regulations were the right way to try to deal with the needs of disabled people inside buildings and that these were useful not only for new buildings but for adaptations to existing buildings where there is also a need to trigger building regulations.

I draw the Minister's attention to the situation in Sweden. I know what he said about carping that things are not as good as they should be in Britain. We have a proverb in Wales "Nid da lle gellir gwell"— things are not good if they could be better. In Sweden, they are better. I should like to see the same standards here. Section 42a of the building byelaws there lays down conditions not just for new public buildings but for ordinary dwellings—that there should be an entry without a step to every house, a door through which a wheelchair can go and toilets downstairs. Any building of more than two storeys should have a lift. The provision of basic facilities of that kind, not just in public buildings but in all buildings, will then lead to the disabled not being catered for as a special group, because there would be no need. I quote from a Swedish fact sheet on this matter: A handicap is thus not a characteristic of a person with an injury or illness, but a relationship between the person and the environment. That is well worth recalling.

Finally, I draw the Minister's attention to the situation in Wales with regard to mental handicap. The Minister knows my interest in this matter. The Welsh Office is considering what it calls an all-Wales plan for the mentally handicapped. Ten years after pressure was applied for the integration of mentally handicapped people into the community the Welsh Office has drawn up a new plan for 49 36-bed hospitals for the mentally handicapped. That will not integrate the mentally handicapped into the community. We want people to be brought into living communities. We do not want merely smaller and better hospitals. Integration may require resources. However, I hope that the Minister, in his umbrella capacity, will take this up with the Welsh Office. There is great concern in Wales, because people feel that we are not making any progress.

Much more could be said. I hope that in six months—at the end of the IYDP—we shall be able to say that lasting progress has been made. I hope that more progress will be made and that the IYDP will not be a one-off event that will be forgotten after 31 December.

2.5 pm

Mr. John Ryman (Blyth)

At this hour, I shall naturally keep my remarks brief.

I wish to draw the Government's attention to the difficulties that arise from the legal enforcement of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970. Although I join in the many congratulations that have been offered to the author of that Act and to the Labour Administration that enacted the Bill in May 1970, experience has shown that it is difficult to enforce. The primary reason for that is that, although the Act is laudable in intention, the wording of section 2 is cumbersome. Under the Act's provisions, there is no set procedure for enabling anyone to seek the Act's enforcement.

The Government have correctly been criticised because they know which authorities are not conforming to the Act from certain inquiries that they initiated. Unless and until the Government take action against those authorities, those individuals who are victimised as a result of lack of enforcement of the Act will be powerless to take action. The plain fact is that it should not be necessary for charities, which are contemplating asking the Attorney-General for permission to commence proceedings, to compel the Government to take action under the Act. It is an appalling state of affairs when a charity must seek leave of a Law Officer in this Administration for permission to sue a Secretary of State for not complying with his statutory duties. That is an expensive and difficult piece of legislation that may well fail, because it is not clear that the necessary machinery exists. Even if the Government have not got a legal obligation they have a strong moral obligation to ensure that district authorities that neglect their duties make adequate provision for the disabled within their jurisdiction.

The Government have a list of the local authorities involved. They include Richmond, Wiltshire, Oxfordshire, West Sussex, Brent, Barking, Gwynedd and, I regret to say, Northumberland. Specific complaints have been made about those local authorities. They are not complying with the Act. The Government have known that for several months and have initiated inquiries in those areas. It will be a disgraceful state of affairs if the Government fail to take action. The Government know those authorities that are not complying with the Act. They know the steps that can be taken to compel such authorities to comply with it, yet they are not taking them. The Government were not slow to appoint health commissioners in South London after an allegation of overspending. That decision was wrong in law, as was decided by a High Court judge who heard the application in the Divisional Court. The Government may not have been slow to resort to the appointment of health commissioners, yet they appear to be powerless to deal with local authorities that are blatantly ignoring the law.

The record of the Government in substantially helping disabled persons is absolutely disgraceful. The Minister has treated the House today to a homily couched in complacent and self-satisfied language. He has failed to convince me and many other people in the House and in the country that the Government are serious about a sustained effort to help the disabled. I recommend much stronger action to the Government.

2.10 pm
Mr. Alfred Morris

The House is often said to be at its best when discussing the problems of the least fortunate in our society and by common consent this debate is about people who, in the absence of appropriate help, are among the most vulnerable. With appropriate help, as was said earlier in the debate by the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Howells)—who kindly informed me that he would have to leave before the final speeches—disabled people can be net givers to society. That is, of course, what they want to be. They want to work, not to languish. They want the dignity of being taxpayers, not the dependence of supplementary benefit.

Like the Minister, I pay warm tribute to Mr. Kit Aston, the extremely hard-working chairman of the English voluntary organisations for IYDP and to all his colleagues. I extend my appreciation also to Kit Aston's counterparts for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Their work has been of superb service to disabled people all over Britain. I wish them all possible further success in their endeavours during the rest of the year.

At the same time, I wish to congratulate the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) on the Third Reading today, in another place, of his Private Member's Bill. Some very old hands in legislating for the disabled have taken part in the debate. I know that all of them will join with me in extending their congratulations to the hon. Gentleman on this very special day for him.

We have heard many distinguished speeches from both sides of the House in the course of this important debate. In most cases, they raised questions for the Minister to answer. I did the same in opening the debate and I hope that the Minister will do his best to answer my questions and those of other right hon. and hon. Members to the fullest possible extent. To do so, he will need more time than me to wind up and I shall be glad to allow for that in the length of my speech.

The hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Trippier) implied that the changes that the Government have made in the supplementary benefit scheme are advantageous to the disabled. I must, therefore, remind him and the I-louse of what was said by Mr. Peter Large, the honorary parliamentary spokesman for the Disablement Income Group, in a recent statement: Disabled people were among the worst off on supplementary benefit and are now even worse off following the 'simplification' of the scheme. There could be no more reliable spokesman for the disabled on this matter and I know the hon. Gentleman will accept what he says.

The hon. Gentleman made a withering attack on the present Government for their policies towards the disabled in our last debate on 12 June 1980. He said then: The Government can recapture respect only if the Conservative Party shows that it has the interests of the disabled at heart. There is no moral justification for this action. He was referring to a cut in the real value of invalidity benefit. He went on to say: We would be more credible and worthy if we thought the unthinkable and admitted that we were wrong."—[Officia1 Report, 12 June 1980; Vol. 190, c. 867.]

Mr. Trippier

I meant on that point, and only on that point.

Mr. Morris

The hon. Gentleman voted with the Opposition in the Division that followed. I fully accept his genuine interest in seeking to help the disabled, just as I hope he will accept the genuiness of our concern in the arguments we have adduced today.

The hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Benyon) said he did not like the use the word "compassion" in debates about disability. Here there are differences of taste. I am reminded, however, that at the start of the proceedings on the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Bill in December 1969, the right hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) suggested that we should all exercise a self-denying ordinance and not use the word "compassion" until the Bill became law. We never used that word during the whole of the Bill's proceedings.

The Minister has already partly responded to what I said about the crucial importance of adequate local services for disabled people. He is, of course, right in saying that many local social services authorities have been increasing their spending on personal social services, but the important point is that they have been doing so in defiance of Government policy. First, the Government bully them to cut spending on personal social services. Then Ministers seek credit for the fact that local authorities have defied them.

Age Concern says in a valuable leaflet: With more of us living to a very old age, and with the numbers of old and disabled people continuing to rise, services must be rapidly developed just to keep pace with increasing demands. That is an important point for the Minister and for all of us to bear in mind in this debate.

The hon. Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Dean), in an extremely important speech, referred to the Rayner report and its proposal on the registration for work of disabled people. George Wilson, the director of RADAR, has said: When somebody becomes disabled, he is likely to feel despondent and may feel his disability will prevent him from ever working again. His depression may lead him to the conclusion that it is a waste of time registering for employment. This is precisely the time when the Disablement Resettlement Officer should be intervening to assess his abilities. That is the case against voluntarism in the matter of registering for work. Thus, I hope that the Minister will respond positively to the comments of the hon. Member for Somerset, North.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones) referred to the importance of rheumatology and rehabilitation. He will agree that it is most important that the House should know of the threat that now hangs over the future of the rheumatology and rehabilitation wards of St. Mary's hospital in West London. I have had a parliamentary reply today setting out the number of people and organisations that have expressed deep concern about the future of the two wards. I hope that the Minister will take very seriously the widespread concern about the future of these wards.

The disabled do not want pity; they seek and deserve genuine respect. The IYDP is our best-ever opportunity to break through the barriers of public indifference and ignorance about their claims. Let us all try to make sure that it succeeds.

2.17 pm
Mr. Rossi

By leave of the House, I shall reply to the debate. I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) for allowing me time. I want to answer as many as possible of the points raised in our excellent debate. The House was at its best, as it always is when right hon. and hon. Members with a deep interest in a subject take the trouble to be here and to speak their minds on matters that concern them deeply.

I am glad that, apart from an occasional lapse, the debate has been free from political diatribe. Obviously, the Government's position on expenditure, and so on makes us fair game and I do not complain about that. When a Government make cuts any Opposition would make such points—we did so during the time of the previous Labour Government—and the Government have to take it on the chin. We do the best that we can.

The right hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Ennals) threw down a challenge and said that disabled people would be worse off financially at the end of the year than they were at the beginning. Despite the stringent constraints on public expenditure and the necessary steps that we had to take last year in abating the invalidity benefit, social security spending on the disabled and the long-term sick has grown in real terms by 8 per cent. over the past two years. It is now running at more than £2 billion.

Those cash benefits are being paid. The abatements of last year must be seen in the context of an overall expenditure of £2 billion and a growth in real terms of 8 per cent. in two years. The disabled will not be worse off at the end of the year. I throw back that challenge in the right hon. Gentleman's teeth.

Mr. Ennals

Will the Minister say how much has been saved by cuts in benefit that affect disabled people, compared with the additional expenditure on the various projects to which he referred in his speech?

Mr. Rossi

I shall write to the right hon. Gentleman. I have to deal with a number of other matters. I am trying to give him the global picture, because that is important. There has been a growth in expenditure in real terms during the past two years. I concede that much of that growth relates to the increase in the mobility allowance and the direct action by the Government in November 1979 of phasing in those aged 61 to 64. There has been a great growth in the number of mobility allowances payable, quite apart from the fact that by next November we shall have increased the mobility allowance by 65 per cent. since we took office.

Those are no mean achievements at a time of great economic difficulty. I reject the party political points which, naturally, we expect on such occasions. Even on matters other than cash benefits, in cash terms—I do not have the real terms figures—there have been increases in the finance services for the disabled—for example, wheelchairs and artificial limbs. In 1978–79, £48 million was spent on those services. In 1980–81 it was £71 million.

The Manpower Services Commission has increased expenditure in cash terms on employment rehabilitation. In 1978–79 it spent £11.6 million and in 1980–81 £13.1 million. On other services, such as sheltered accommodation, during the time of the Labour Administration in 1978–79 the MSC spent £33.9 million, and under this Administration in 1980–81 £49.7 million. Again, those are cash terms comparisons. Despite the difficulties, the Government need not be ashamed of their expenditure record on the very deserving and needy sections of our community.

The hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones) raised a number of specific points. He mentioned the Spastics Society report "Who's holding the baby now?" We are aware of the report, and also of the report that it published in May which was sent to my hon. Friend the Minister for Health. We are considering both reports carefully. My hon. Friend will discuss them with the Spastics Society in the near future. Our aim is to reduce further the number of perinatal deaths and handicap. We have given a high priority to that in our policy handbook "Care in Action".

The hon. Gentleman referred to Mrs. Large. She is a wonderful person. He mentioned the question of continuous ambulatory peritoneal dialysis. We keep in touch with developments in the treatment of chronic renal failure. We welcome the advances that improve the range of choice available. We are watching carefully the development of continuous ambulatory peritoneal dialysis, which appears to have a valuable role in the short-term treatment of kidney patients, although its long-term effects are not yet known. The introduction of a particular form of treatment for a particular patient is a matter of judgment for the individual consultant. It is for him to decide the treatment in every case. I hope that that answer is of some help to the hon. Gentleman.

The hon. Gentleman asked about Possum microprocessors. I recently had the pleasure of going with him to the firm and looking at, and learning with great interest about, the work that it is doing. Special equipment can be provided on free, permanent loan to the disabled person at work by the Manpower Sevices Commission, and this is being done.

My hon. Friend the Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Dean) made a number of pertinent points, as usual, about the problems of the disabled. I am grateful to him for his remarks about the war pensions scheme. I gladly endorse his tribute to the ex-Service organisations. We are, and shall continue to be, as generous as possible in applying the provisions of the scheme where questions of attributability of service or aggravation by service are concerned. We always give the war pensioner claimant the benefit of any reasonable doubt. We are particularly sympathetic to claims from Far Eastern prisoners of war, on account of the deprivations that they suffered and because the symptoms are only now beginning to emerge.

As a result of developments in medical knowledge, we now accept for pension purposes cardiovascular disease other than such disease of rheumatic or hypertensive origin occurring in leg amputees.

My hon. Friend also raised what is becoming the perennial question of a Green Paper. It is, and will continue to be, the Government's long-term objective to remove the anomalies over multiplicity of benefit and provision, and eventually to arrive at a general disablement benefit. Work on this matter is going on all the time.

The Social Security Advisory Committee has chosen benefits for the disabled as one of its key interests for 1981 and has set up a working party to look into the subject. No doubt the committee will comment in its first annual report. However, I must repeat what I have said on previous occasions, that it would be cruel of me at this stage to raise expectations by publishing a scheme for a general benefit when there is not the remotest chance of the enormous amount of additional resources that would be required being available for such a scheme.

The hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Pavitt), who has a deep interest in many matters relating to the disabled, raised a number of points. I have concerned myself deeply with the matter of induction loops. I think it right that they should be considered at the planning stage of any new building to which the public will have access.

I join in congratulating the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) on the fact that his Disabled Persons (No. 2) Bill has achieved its Third Reading in another place. The Bill, which will receive all the fair wind that I can give it when it returns here, will enable local authorities to lay down requirements at the planning stage for loop induction systems in buildings. I hope that that will meet the point of the hon. Member for Brent, South. We intend that the matter shall be drawn to the attention of local authorities and mentioned in the British standards to which developers will have to conform.

I have been told that I have only half a minute to go. I still have a whole wedge of questions to answer. I am sorry that I cannot answer them all. If hon. Members would like to write to me on the matters that concern them, I shall answer their letters. However, some of the questions today may have been rhetorical. The figures of housing starts for the disabled are not happy, but the adaptations are very good indeed—

Mr. Ashley

That is a shocking reply.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House welcomes and endorses the aims of the International Year of Disabled People; calls on Her Majesty's Government to pursue policies consistent with these aims; and urges the Government to initiate discussions with all the relevant organisations, before the end of 1981, on a programme of action to maintain the impetus of the International Year in the years ahead.

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